You don’t know Dana, but if you did you would know that Amy Fisher: My Story, by Amy Fisher and Sheila Weller, is exactly the kind of thing that he would give as a gift: pop cultural, bargain bin, and connected in some way to a shared experience. The first two points are apparent enough, but the third requires a little context: In the summer of 1992, Dana and I drove from San Diego to St. Louis to Seattle and then back to San Diego over the course of a five-week stretch, all the while following the Long Island Lolita’s story by reading the top half of the USA Today in the paper dispensers that were outside whatever Denny’s we were eating our Grand Slams at that morning. That’s how simple the story was: You could get all of the pertinent details by reading only the top half of a paper that was known more for its use of color than it was for its journalistic integrity.
We were obsessed with the story—obsessed with the thought of a 17-year-old girl ringing a doorbell and then shooting a woman in the face, obsessed with Jan Hooks’ impersonation of Mary Jo on Saturday Night Live, obsessed with the coverage that was over the top, even for tabloid journalism, but obsessed mostly with the last name of the young girl’s alleged lover and accomplice: Buttafuoco. Buttafuoco. We couldn’t get enough of this word that was a proper noun but that sounded so common. We would use it when someone cut us off in Wyoming: “Hey, get a look at that Buttafuoco.” We would use it to casually refer to one another: “What are you having this morning, Buttafuoco?” We would resort to it as an exclamation in moments of frustration: “Buttafuoco!” Along with American Music Club’s Everclear, which got stuck in the tape deck of my dad’s borrowed car and was consequently the only thing we could listen to for thousands and thousands of miles, Buttafuoco, and by extension Amy Fisher, defined that trip.
Which is why I was hardly surprised when, four years later, as a birthday gift, I received the book in the mail. The inscription, dated 10/4/96: “Kirby, there’s a little Buttafuoco and a little Amy Fisher in all of us. But a lot of Buttafuoco in Amy Fisher. Prepare to meet your savior. Happy birthday, Dana. Yo, Joey!”
|How much do you think she hated having her weight broadcast to the world?|
This is the book that Leu is talking about when she points to the shelf and says, Do you really need them all?, if not by title then at least by kind: The kitschy novelty book that served its purpose as a gift or as a joke but that was never actually intended to be read all the way through and thus does not deserve to occupy the space that could be otherwise reserved for something that’s, you know, useful. Can we at least agree to keep only the books that you have either read or intend to read someday? is the implied question. Is that too much to ask? Nope. Not too much to ask at all. Only problem is that I plan to read them all. Someday. And as I recently discovered, even a memoir by Amy Fisher can teach us a lot about storytelling, passion, and Buttafuoco.
And now, without further ado, from the home office in Nassau County—aka, Long Island 90210—the Top 5 things I learned from Amy Fisher: My Story.
5. Don’t put out in the first 106 pages. For a young woman who, by her own account, has hardly mastered the art of self-restraint, Fisher the Narrator comes across as a bit of a tease. Oh, sure, she front loads the story with details that are just lurid enough to make you want more—on page 1 she reveals that “Joey himself never wore underwear” and on page 3 she lets us in on some of her extracurriculars when she claims “I never did tricks at night—just after school”—but the majority of the first third of the book withholds information in a way that entices the reader to continue with thirds two and three.
“I knew what I really wanted from Mary Jo, what would have made everything different that day and all the days after that,” she writes on page 6. “You won’t believe me if I tell you, now, what it was. But I think you’ll understand once you know a little bit more about my life. So I’ll save it for later in this book.” Translation: Don’t put me down just yet! Please! Pretty please!! Pretty, pretty please with some Sapphic undertones on top!!! What? The Sapphic undertones did the trick?! OK. You got it. How about this, from page 85: “I think I’m strong and tough, but then an attractive man comes along and I turn to Jell-O. (Sometimes it can be a girlfriend, as you’ll soon see.)” And, finally, if girl-on-girl action isn’t your thing, then maybe family drama is: On page 105, she resorts to the tug of a good old-fashioned family feud: “This was the beginning of me choosing Joey over Mary Lynn [an influential aunt]: a dangerous choice. The forced rift would be complete in a few weeks. But I’ll explain that later.”
You have to hand it to someone at Pocket Books who might not have had a corner office then but surely does now. The only people who are going to pick up this book are the people who are already familiar with the story, and this is a tabloid- rather than a book-length tale, so you have to give the casual browsers some reason to keep reading, especially when they have heard it all before. What better way to do so than by promising that the really juicy stuff is just up ahead?
The kicker: I still don’t have any idea what Amy wanted from Mary Jo—my best guess, seriously, is a hug—and if there was any lesbian action that may or may not have included Jell-O, I must have missed it. And don’t think I didn’t double back. Repeatedly.
|If I ever cut a record, this will be the cover.|
4. The auto part of a celebrity autobiography writes even less than I thought, and I thought they wrote jack fucking shit. Amy Fisher: My Story claims to be “by Amy Fisher with Sheila Weller,” though a more accurate billing might be “by Sheila Weller, with Amy Fisher somewhere in the room stretching her gum and twirling her hair while Weller clacked away at the keyboard,” a credit that, admittedly, would have struggled to fit on the front cover. Fisher might have related the story to Weller, but if she actually wrote five words of it I’ll eat Joey Buttafuoco’s tracksuit.
Weller smartly gives herself a little room to maneuver by delineating between Fisher’s (allegedly) first-person account and Weller’s more objectively journalistic sections, but even the parts that belong to Fisher are owned by Weller. “The two men, Joey and my father, were doing this little dance with each other, and I was almost the conduit, the link,” writes, um, Amy. Uh-huh. Riiiight. Or: “As I walked through the cool sand next to my supportive mom—both of us hugging our chests in our big sweatshirts—it actually seemed that my messed-up life was a piece of deadwood I could toss out to see till it sank to the bottom of the ocean.” Or…. You know what? Never mind. You get the idea.
Look, it’s not that I don’t think Fisher is capable of telling her own story. After all, Weller includes an anonymous, “authoritative” source that says, “Amy Fisher is a very bright girl. If two or three things had been different in her life, she could be on her way to becoming a doctor now,” and who am I to argue with an anonymous, authoritative source? No, it’s not that I don’t think she’s capable of telling her own story. It’s just that I know she didn’t.
3. Nothing dates a story like a reference to a technology that was once cutting edge but that is now passé. Beepers are to the Amy Fisher story as cell phones were to The X Files, which is to say that neither Fisher/Buttafuoco nor Mulder/Scully could have existed without their respective enabling devices.
On the morning that Mary Jo was shot—well, technically pistolwhipped then shot—Joey “beeped” Amy three times while she was in class (hello!), and she had to excuse herself to call him back from a pay phone in the hall. How great is that? Beepers. Pay phones. Can you picture Amy asking the girl who sits in front of her for some change. “PSST! Do you have a quarter? I’m conspiring with sleazebag boyfriend to kill his wife, and he wants me to check in.” Then, 20 minutes later, five minutes after she has returned from the first call. “PSST! Sorry. This is so embarrassing, but….”
What’s even funnier than the technology itself is that Weller felt a need to justify teenagers carrying portable gadgets that would make them accessible at all times. She writes, “A teenager having a beeper was not the big deal the media made it out to be. Although the beeper’s origins as a device to help crack dealers wheel and deal gave it an outlaw cache, it and the car phone were becoming teen communication fads.” Footnote after “fads”: “Beepers were not allowed at John F. Kennedy High. Amy’s ability to use hers surreptitiously in the school relied on her habit of setting it on Vibrate [cap hers], which made its beeping noiseless—and undetectable by her teachers.” Insert Dramatic Chipmunk music here.
This tendency to over-explain bogs Weller down throughout the book. Take, for example, her need to translate guido culture’s slang. She sensitively glosses a code that is as rich as the Navajo language that baffled the Axis forces in World War II when she identifies “What’s up?” as the translation for the otherwise impenetrable “‘Sup?,” though she does think her readers savvy enough to keep the “s” contracted.
|Honestly, I don't know if this is Mary Jo or Jan Hooks.|
To hear Amy tell it, though, she wasn’t a prostitute prostitute. She would prance around the room in the lingerie that Joey bought for her while her clients took care of themselves. Basically, Amy would be in the room while someone else did all the work. Come to think of it, Amy the Prostitute wasn’t too dissimilar from Amy the Writer.
The book actually sheds a lot of light on the escort industry, including the way in which they launder their money (they pay to use the credit card machine of legitimate businesses such as florists, laundries, and car services) and the role of the driver, who is not only the driver but also the bodyguard and the collector. Joey was kind of a driver and kind of a cocaine dealer—he was known in those circles as “Joey Coco-Pops”—but in Joey’s typically classy way, he was also the poacher, as he would hang around the parking lot where the working girls would be waiting for their next call and he would pass out the card of the competing Madame for whom he worked, essentially trying to lure them into free agency. Leave it to Joey to solicit the solicitors. Times like this, I swear, I find it damn hard not to love this man.
Weller doesn’t focus exclusively on Joey’s involvement in the prostitution ring, however. One story illustrates an inventive way in which the girls make sure they get paid: “Often they [the prostitutes] just roll their johns; get them into motel rooms, even doorways, grab their wallets out of the pockets when their pants are down, and split.”
Note to self: going forward, keep your wallet in the glovebox.
1. Joey is soooooo Buttafuoco. And finally, I leave you with this image, which requires no setup or subsequent elucidation and which garnered a “Whoa!” from yours truly in the margin, and if you are underage or even the least bit squeamish just stop reading now. No, I’m serious. OK, but don’t say I didn’t try to warn you. Here it goes, brace yourself. Amy writes, “Joey was so sexual, he could go much longer than I. When I was exhausted and couldn’t do it anymore, he would jerk himself off and, like a kid with a squirt gun, spray his semen around the room.”
I think the only thing left to say after that is “You’re welcome!”
|Number 764,961 on Amazon's list of bestselling books. Prices range from one penny used to $223.18 new. Seriously. Maybe I shouldn't have marked it all to hell.|