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Status: Yes, he's a hoaxJ.T. LeRoy is either a) an extremely shy young man who, at the age of 13, while living a life of abuse and prostitution on the streets, met a psychologist who encouraged him to write down his experiences, which he did, thereby propelling him to literary stardom (now in his mid-twenties, LeRoy has three books, one of which has been made into a movie); or b) a woman in her late-thirties called Laura Albert who, for the past eleven years, has crafted an elaborate hoax to make people believe that LeRoy is a real person.
Stephen Beachy believes that option B is correct, and he lays out the reasons why in an article appearing in the current issue of New York Magazine. His basic argument goes like this: Laura Albert (aka Emily Frasier) is the woman who supposedly took LeRoy in when he was a young teenager. Beachy thinks she didn't take him in. She invented him. For years no one ever saw LeRoy. Blaming shyness, he would only talk on the phone or via email. Beachy suggests that Albert was the one doing the talking. When LeRoy finally did start to make public appearances (in 2001), he would conceal his features with a wig and sunglasses and avoid talking to people. Beachy believes the LeRoy seen in public is an actor hired by Albert. Then there's the odd fact that all of LeRoy's royalty payments go to Albert, or members of her family.
Beachy offers up plenty of other suspicious pieces of evidence, and I'm inclined to think he might be right. The biggest point in favor of LeRoy's reality is simply that it would be pretty outrageous for anyone to devise such an elaborate, and long-lasting, hoax. But then, outrageous is something hoaxers do well.
I suppose with time we'll discover the truth behind this story. My guess is that if LeRoy is a hoax, Albert will try to "kill him off" at some point when it becomes too difficult to continue the deception.
Update, January 4, 2006: Laura Barton has managed to interview JT LeRoy in person, and reports about her experience in the Guardian. She's not at all convinced that the person she interviewed really was LeRoy. She writes:
What strikes me most is the inarticulacy of LeRoy's speech. The delivery is stilted, the distinctive LeRoy vocabulary neutered. And while there is no reason for authors to be verbally articulate, I cannot find the pulse here, nor an intensity that in any way relates to the work of JT LeRoy. He seems distant, not only from our conversation, but from the work and his own argument. Much of what he says is identical to the phrases used by Albert in our telephone conversation, and it is hard to decipher whether this is LeRoy speaking Albert's words, or whether Albert was simply recycling LeRoy's. Whoever this is, sitting so sweetly beside me in the back of the car, I'm not wholly convinced it is the person who wrote the books. I would say two things with some certainty: I think it's a woman, and I think she's a real cutie pie. But whoever she is, our conversation seems cursory, a mahogany finish sprayed onto the solid wood beneath.
Update, January 9, 2006: The New York Times has revealed that the person appearing in public as LeRoy seems to be Savannah Knoop, the half-sister of Geoffrey Knoop (the guy who supposedly helped rescue the teenage LeRoy). I've posted an entry about this new evidence here.
Update, February 6, 2006: Geoffrey Knoop, the partner of Laura Albert, has admitted that Albert wrote all of JT Leroy's books. He also concedes that the face of JT Leroy, whenever Leroy made any public appearances, was his half-sister Savannah Knoop. The New York Times has quoted Geoffrey Knoop as saying: "The jig is up... I do want to apologize to people who were hurt. It got to a level I didn't expect." Knoop also says that he doubts Laura Albert will ever admit to being JT Leroy: ""For her, it's very personal. It's not a hoax. It's a part of her."
Status: Weird, but trueIf you've ever wondered what it would be like to subsist on a starvation diet, such as the kind millions of people endured during the reign of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, now you have your chance. A restaurant has recently opened in Phnom Penh called the "Khmer Rouge Experience Cafe." It serves up the kind of watery gruel people actually ate in the killing fields, with a "'theme menu' of salted rice-water, followed by corn mixed with water and leaves, and dove eggs and tea." To round out the ambiance, "the waitresses are barefoot and clad in the black pajamas and red-white scarves of the guerrillas. Speakers blare out tunes celebrating the 1975 toppling of U.S.-backed president General Lon Nol and the walls are adorned with the baskets, hoes and spades Pol Pot hoped would power his jungle-clad south-east Asian homeland to communist prosperity." This place could give Rainforest Cafe a run for its money.
Actually, the Khmer Rouge Cafe seems like yet another example of Reality Tourism, in which the idea is to offer tourists grim reality, instead of fun and comfort. Other examples include an amusement park planned for outside Berlin where people will experience life under communism, and a camp in Croatia where tourists get to find out what life in a communist-era hard-labor camp would have been like.
Status: Fake PersonHoax forum regulars are familiar with Cillit Bang (a brand of cleaner) and its over-the-top advertisements. Now it seems that Barry Scott, the fictional Cillit Bang spokesperson, has materialized in cyber space with his very own weblog. As if that wasn't enough, Barry Scott has also begun leaving comments on other people's weblogs. Tom Coates, of plasticbag.org, reports that after he posted an entry about his father, whom he hasn't seen in over thirty years, Barry Scott left a comment (as well as a link to cillitbang.com):
"Hi Tom, Always remember one thing. Life is very, very short and nothing is worth limiting yourself from seeing the ones you love. I hadn't seen my father in 15 years until 2 years ago. I was apprehensive but I kept telling myself that no matter how estranged we'd become there was no river to wide to cross. Drop me a line if I can be of any more help. Cheers, Barry"
Seems like an oddly personal message for a faux person... and a very elaborate form of comment spam. Cillit Bang, Scott's creators, later apologized for the comment. But not before Barry left another message:
What the f***? Can't a viral advertiser be human, have a father he hasn't seen in 15 years, or make a non-job-related personal post on another website?
Status: TrueThe photos of his hands and feet look like they were photoshopped to add an extra digit (kind of like this ad), but they weren't. Devender Harne was born with twelve fingers and thirteen toes. That seems like it would be pretty useful. It certainly helps him type faster. It may also earn him a place in the Guinness Book of World Records. (via J-Walk)
Status: TrueA recent news story about a python swallowing a gator has been receiving a lot of attention. It's already been posted in the forum (by Stephen), but I've been getting so many emails about it that I decided to post it here as well. These are the facts, as I understand them: The body of a six-foot gator was found last week in the Everglades, inside of a python. The python had tried to swallow the gator,
Status: TrueBelow is an email that's going around. Maybe it's been circulating for years, but I received it for the first time today. It makes a claim that seems dubious at first. But, upon experimentation, appears to be true. At least, it's true for me. There must be a scientific explanation for this phenomenon. The question is: does it hold true for everyone? And is it possible to counteract this reflex through force of will?
This is so funny that it will boggle your mind. And you will keep trying it at least 50 more times to see if you can outsmart your foot. But you can't!!!
1. While sitting at your desk, lift your right foot off the floor and make clockwise circles with it.
2. Now, while doing this, draw the number "6" in the air with your right hand. Your foot will change direction!!!
I told you so... And there is nothing you can do about it.
Status: TrueIt sounds like a joke. Jennifer Wilbanks, the Georgia woman who made headlines earlier this year by disappearing shortly before her wedding only to surface a few days later in New Mexico claiming (falsely) that she had been kidnapped, thereby earning herself the nickname 'The Runaway Bride,' is running again. But this time it's in a marathon. And it's for real. At least, her name is listed among the contestants in the Chicago marathon. Of course, if she really wanted to add to her notoriety, she could pull a Rosie Ruiz. (via Marathon Pundit)
Status: HoaxNews reports that circulated earlier this week claimed Microsoft had developed "a cheap, disposable pre-recorded DVD disc that consumers can play only once." The idea was that the single-play DVD would be an alternative to renting movies. The same report claimed Bill Gates had appeared in a video "dressed in a sailor suit pretending to audition for the blockbuster Titanic... [to pitch] Hollywood with the proposition that only Microsoft could solve its piracy problem by making its DRM software a standard across every home entertainment playback and recording device." None of this (the single-play DVD nor the Bill Gates pirate video) was true. However, it's not clear where the false story originated from. Microsoft itself has suggested it appeared to be inspired by "an existing feature within Windows Media DRM that allows for single-play of promotional digital material." So single-play DVDs may be a hoax (though I'm pretty sure they're technically possible), but what I wish Microsoft would develop is a DVD that doesn't scratch. Whenever I'm watching a DVD only to have it either freeze or skip back to the beginning of the disc, it really makes me long for the good old days of VHS.
So I'm back from Pittsburgh where I was attending a memorial service for my great aunt who died recently at the age of 90. Though it was a sad occasion, it did give me a chance to catch up with a lot of family members, some of whom I haven't seen in over twenty years. (Like many families, funerals seem to be the only time when we all get together as a group.) I also took the opportunity to see some of the sights around Pittsburgh, such as the Pittsburgh Incline, the Andy Warhol Museum, and Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater. Besides the Warhol Museum, the most offbeat thing I encountered was a giant pumpkin at a farmer's market I stopped at while driving out to Fallingwater. It weighed 400 lbs. That's big, but a far cry from the world's biggest which, according to this National Geographic article, clocked in at 1,385 pounds.