By TOM CHESEK
His adventures include being attacked by a rabid coyote, abduction by an obscure doomsday cult — and forced labor on an Amish farm, as a result of his having toilet-paper’d the farmer’s buggy (he also managed to impregnate and run off with the farmer’s daughter).
He’s Fake Dave Cicirelli, and beginning in October 2009 the real Dave Cicirelli chronicled his ersatz odyssey in an epic series of Facebook posts, keynoted by the sudden announcement that he was quitting his job as a successful and award-winning art director in NYC, in order to embark upon a soul-searching westbound walking sojourn. By the time that the Facebook version of Dave returned to Intercourse, PA “to adopt the Amish way of life…leaving the world of facebook with a heart full of sadness,” he had amassed hundreds of new friends and even a stalker or two — while an increasingly isolated Real Dave was laying low from the world in his former family home.
The River Plaza native tells his double-life story with double-edged candor and humor in the memoir Fakebook: A True Story. Based on Actual Lies, just released today, September 17 by Sourcebooks — and on Thursday evening, September 19, the first-time author comes to River Road Books in Fair Haven for a 7:30 pm reading and signing appearance that promises to reunite the real-world Dave with several of the Facebook friends who played a part, consciously or not, in the social media saga. Your upperWETside correspondent talked with Cicirelli about playful lies and rippling repercussions, before Oprah or Jon could get to him. Read on…
upperWETside: You grew up on what we like to call the greater Red Bank green, so was it important to schedule a local reading and signing, for what we’re guessing is one of the earliest appearances you had lined up for the book?
DAVE CICIRELLI: It’s THE very first, right after the book goes on sale Tuesday. I thought that for the first promotional appearance it was important to do something in Monmouth County — a lot of the people who are mentioned in the book are gonna be there. So in a lot of ways it’s a celebration of Home.
For me and for pretty much everyone who goes on Facebook regularly, so many of our Facebook friends are people we grew up with…third grade soccer camp, tenth grade lab partners…and when you get back in touch like that, even after a lot of years, you realize the strength of those connections.
Lying on Facebook…we all kind of do it, right? Some of us more than others…ahem. Even if we’re not spinning outright tall tales and fish stories, aren’t we all just making our relationships, our work, our lives seem just a little bit sweeter?
That was kind of the point to everything…everybody lies a little bit. There’s a distance between our profile and or reality. We have personas that we put out there…we’re our own paparazzi and our own spin department, at the same time that we’re peering into others’ lives and drama.
So I entered into this with the idea of discovering just how much people are willing to believe…you know, why lie just a little when you can lie a lot? But if it was all a practical joke, then the intention was to have the joke be on me…it was all going to be about my bad decisions, and disasters of my own making.
There’s a suggestion that you, the “Real Dave,” eventually became jealous of the attention that “Fake Dave” was receiving. Could you consider this book project to be Real Dave’s Revenge; since you’re the one with the book deal, and you get to make all the glamorous personal appearances…
That’s a good way to put it…my relationship with myself became complicated. It started as an escapist fantasy, in which I would become more popular than ever, by not being myself. People were weirdly sympathetic to Fake Dave, as an expression of their own desire to cut loose and wander. But I became aggravated with the fanfare that Fake Dave was getting, and I think he’s had his day.
The flipside to that level of attention might be the seriousness with which a lot of people took everything that you posted…I get the impression that you were very careful to not be a confidence man; to step away from situations where your more fervent followers could invest so much of themselves that they might get hurt or cheated…
For sure, people would have sent money, would have dropped what they’re doing to come to my rescue, if I asked them to help me out…it’s a little scary to think about. The whole thing is very morally complex. If you look closely at the book you’ll see that I never reported danger unless it was in the past tense…you know, this happened to me yesterday; I got in trouble because of some dumb thing I did last week. So there was never a situation where it was a fake cry for help. It would have been easy to turn it into a fraud situation, and you can see how someone might use other people’s good nature to take advantage of them.
There seems also to be a conscious effort on your part to post from places like Amish country; a cult compound or a Mexican backwater…places that are a lot less connected to the mainstream than most; places where it’s harder to verify someone’s location?
You’re the first person to pick up on that, I think! There was a definite plan to have Fake Dave get involved with Amish people, join a weird cult…I figured it would be a leap for some to think that I was fictionalizing my profile.
Yet you’re kind of teasing them all along with outlandish and fanciful stories. Looking at your bio, it’s pretty evident that you enjoy your work as an art director, and you’re proud of your accomplishments, so shouldn’t it have been a tip-off right from the start, when you just up and announced that you were quitting your job?
No, actually that was the whole initial premise…a big part of why everything worked as well as it did. The idea of wanting to quit your job, to hit the refresh button on your life, is something that’s incredibly relatable to everyone. They could completely sympathize with Dave, even if they could never bring themselves to do such a thing, and that’s what drew them into the story.
And then there are the Photoshopped images that you’d post, which we got a kick out of…a lot of them aren’t much more sophisticated than just pasting someone’s head on someone else’s body.
I just wanna make it clear that those do not in any way represent my best work! I’m actually a very good and professional art director…and this stuff was very, very rushed; done late at night with an immediate deadline and the clock ticking. I’m stunned that people really took some of this stuff at face value!
So what’s in the future for the author of FAKEBOOK? Publishers love sequels, so what could you do for a followup? Could this become the next SUPER-SIZE ME for you?
What’s next, well, certainly a vacation…I could use a week on the beach drinking Mojitos. I have a few ideas…but my focus is on Fakebook for right now. We’re just getting underway with promoting it…I’m very proud of it!