My books are a flagrant mixture of real and made-up events and characters. I really enjoy the literary license that brings, and I think it makes for a better story over all. (If James Frey would have just copped to that at the outset, Oprah would still be his pal today). Consequently, I get a lot of questions from people about what was real and what was fiction. The following, from pages 61-62 of The Radical Leap, is exactly the way it happened. And the photos are of the very tree (and apartment) in question:
I ignored the message light, stepped through the sliding glass doors of my apartment and drank in the view from my porch. The darkening water of Mission Bay was starting to dance in the oncoming twilight as a light breeze stirred the palms.
I had a unique relationship with that palm tree at the end of the walkway; it was a sentry, watching out for me from its vantage point 80 feet up in the sky.
One morning about a year earlier, I had woken up in a blue funk. I was impatient with myself and with my career, and I was more than a little bit lonely. Recently divorced and re-located to San Diego, I was trying to find my new identity as a 40-something single guy coming to terms with the apparent unreliability of matters of the heart. I was weathering a difficult time in my life, and this San Diego morning, sunny and breezy to the rest of the world, was bleak and stormy on this side of my eyeballs. So I set out on what I hoped would be a therapeutic stroll in the reliably salty sea air.
I headed down the path and turned the corner onto the walkway alongside the bay, passing directly through the shadow of my towering palm. I heard a loud clattering and, a split-second later, felt a sudden and forceful thwack on the top of my head. A young couple sitting near the water jumped up and looked over at me in surprise.
I had almost lost my footing but managed to stay upright, even though I was a bit dizzy and disoriented. I looked down, and there by my feet on the sidewalk was a gigantic palm frond, its long, spindly fingers waving in the breeze in a mischievous gesture of greeting.
That son-of-a-bitch palm tree had staked me out; it had known my routine, waited for me to pass unwittingly into its target zone and then, with perfect marksman timing, from eighty feet up, it had let go one of its hands and smashed me on the head.
I had given a tentative wave to the couple to let them know that I was all right and had offered an embarrassed laugh to acknowledge the absurdity of the scene that they had just witnessed.
Then I had looked up at the tree’s remaining fronds, but they hadn’t looked back and seemed, in fact, to look away suddenly so as not to be caught in the prank. “What? Is there a problem? I didn’t do anything,” is what I would have said had the roles been reversed.
Then I had noticed something truly odd: the day seemed brighter and the breeze was invigorating; I felt good.
Sometimes it takes a smack from an old friend to snap you out of a deep funk. There was no law that said a new friend couldn’t do that, too.