I’ve got no dark secrets. I wasn’t beaten up, my parents were kind to me and there was a low crime rate where we lived. -- Will Ferrell
Los Angeles, California: Writer Billy Mernit, who up until recently has cannily avoided undue media scrutiny by having a number of his screenplays unproduced and a first novel as yet unpublished, shocked at least a couple of people in the film and literary world Wednesday by going public with the tragic truth about his childhood:
Mernit had established his writerly credibility with veiled references to a traumatic upbringing, but a recent encounter between Living RomCom and the author’s parents in NYC caused Mernit to come clean and admit that he had, in fact, always lived a dismally normal life.
Like so many of his writing contemporaries, Mernit had for years intimated that he’d grown up in a broken home with abusive parents, had battled various drug addictions, been scarred by traumatic relationships and suffered bouts of mental illness. But Mernit’s parents expressed only total bewilderment and perplexity upon hearing of these claims, when Living RomCom ran into the elderly but still young-at-heart couple in a Food Emporium on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.
“We absolutely love our son,” said father Richard Mernit. “We completely supported him both financially and emotionally when he was growing up –”
“And it was a very safe home environment,” his wife DeeAnn chimed in. “We’ve been happily married for over half a century and we never had any real problems.”
“We’re just so glad that he’s been able to do pretty much everything he’s wanted to do in his life,” added Mr. Mernit, “and that he’s never actually gotten into any sort of serious trouble.”
Contacted by phone here in Venice Beach, Mernit at first blustered through a series of denials about this accusation of normalcy, but finally changed his story when he was told that a longtime buddy had backed up his parents’ assertions: “The guy practically had like, a charmed life,” this friend since high school (insisting on anonymity) disclosed. “I mean, we all smoked some weed and skipped some classes back in the day, but Billy was always a guy who had his head together. I can’t remember any time he ever really came to me with like, y’know, an issue.”
Confronted with this quote, Mernit broke down and sheepishly agreed to set the record straight in person. “I realize now that I was only fooling myself,” the scribe confessed, in a tell-all candid interview which will not be aired on any of the major networks anytime soon. “I was trying to come across as, y’know, a writer –” (he accompanied the phrase with mimed quotation marks) “—by um… exaggerating certain aspects of my personal history, and in doing so, I may have caused some innocent people unnecessary pain. Well, minor annoyance,” he corrected himself, “or at least, vague discomfort. If they even knew about it. But at any rate, I want to apologize and make amends.”
Under questioning, Mernit was forced to admit that he did in fact have a perfectly friendly and loving relationship with his older brother John (not, as he’d once suggested, a long estranged, manic-depressive “cutting edge” indie filmmaker, but a well-adjusted executive TV producer at National Geographic) and with his sister-in-law Kathy O'Dell (not “doing time in the pen” in Baltimore, as Mernit once indicated after too many martinis, but a rap sheet-clean Dean of Art History at the U of Maryland).
“...No sexual identity crisis… no physical disabilities… growing up on the south shore of Long island, I never even got mugged… I guess the only way to describe my childhood truthfully is…” After a long, tortured pause, the writer’s next word came out in a pained whisper. “…normal.”
Normalism, as it’s sometimes termed, is a condition that afflicts an increasingly large percentage of writers, as more and more aspiring screenwriters and novelists -- college-educated, writing program graduates -- have emerged from suburban middle-to-upper class backgrounds. Unlike victims of alcoholism and other diseases, the Normaholic victim has no 12-Step program to turn to for help.
“You have no idea how hard it’s been, harboring this shameful secret,” said Mernit. “With all of my colleagues writing from deep psychic wounds, drawing on such colorful dysfunctional family backgrounds – and here I’ve been stuck with these disgustingly well-adjusted parents! No abuse, no divorce… How the hell am I supposed to come up with good material?” The writer shook his head mournfully. “And it’s not as if I could tell anyone about this. I’d probably get my artistic license revoked!”
Rather pathetically, Mernit went on to cite a longtime struggle with resisting sweets, battling a caffeine addiction, and a tendency to spend too much time on-line as among the supposedly horrific obstacles he’s had to grapple with in “facing each day as a functioning writer,” but Living RomCom had long since stopped listening.
Less than 24 hours after his interview, Living RomCom received an urgent e-mail from Mernit in which he once again tried to make a case for having lived a more traditionally tragic author’s life.
“I went to see a past-lives channeler last night,” wrote Mernit, “and it turns out that I was once a Holocaust victim, before that a suicidal schizophrenic inmate in Bedlam, and in the dawn of civilization, a Serengeti desert warrior prince who slept with his sister and then got murdered, cooked and eaten by her family. So evidently I’ve been drawing on plenty of traumatic experience in my work, without being consciously aware of it!”
Nice try, Billy.
And you call yourself a writer?