The Ransom of Samantha – by Merrill Markoe
Photos by Levi Mandel
This story originally appeared in our June 2014 fiction issue.
Samantha went to YouTube and clicked Make a Video Response.
“Hi,” she said after the countdown, making sure her copy of Masters of Despair: The Big Book of Philosophy was open to the quote by Schopenhauer about how ending your own life “can be compared to waking up after a horrible nightmare.”
“It’s me… I dissolved 40 Ambien into this bottle of Jack Daniel’s. In a few minutes I’m walking into the ocean. Don’t bother looking for me. It’s high tide. Fourteen-foot waves… Like anyone gives a fuck about me anyway.”
Then she clicked Upload.
She was still debating whether to wear her amazing vintage peacoat, because San Francisco nights were freezing cold, when she heard a noise and felt something wet over her nose and mouth.
“What the fuck?” she was saying, as everything went dark. How had she managed to drown without going to the beach?
The detective who showed up at 5 AM was not much older-looking than Samantha’s friends. (Not that Samantha ever hung out with clean-cut guys like this. Why should she when there were still heroin addicts in bands who needed a doormat?)
“Policy is to wait 24 hours,” Officer Stratton said. “A lot of times a kid’ll show up. Did you check her computer history? Her Facebook status?”
“No,” said Jen, feeling stupid about how she hadn’t wanted to violate her daughter’s privacy.
“Mind if I have a look?” said Officer Stratton, opening Samantha’s laptop. The first thing he saw was a YouTube announcement that a video had been successfully uploaded.
It’s easy to write a novel: Just keep typing until you have something that is very long and mostly lies. But getting that mess published is another beast entirely—unless you are famous, in which case your every utterance is assumed to be worth printing. As a result, there are a ton of embarrassing books with famous names attached to them. We sampled a few to see whether they were really that bad and found that yes, they were.
THE JUSTICE RIDERS
Chuck Norris, Ken Abraham, Aaron Norris, and Tim Grayem
B&H Fiction, 2006
Who knew that Walker, Texas Ranger, would be the best ridiculous-name-giver since Stan Lee? If you want to read about “Ezra Justice” as he teams up with English sharpshooter “Reginald Bonesteel” to fight “Slate Mordecai” and teach the Wild West about the Bible, The Justice Riders is the grocery-store paperback for you! The book wraps up with Justice sharing the gospel with Mordecai, then shooting him dead after the bad guy rejects Jesus—which is sort of Norris’s worldview in a nutshell.
The plot of Paradise Alley is a predictable yawn about three brothers in 1940s Hell’s Kitchen who get involved in underground wrestling in search of a quick buck and learn heartwarming lessons, but Stallone’s prose makes what could have been a merely mediocre novel memorably awful. He was likely aiming for a Dashiell Hammett–esque hard-boiled style but winds up sounding both simplistic and overly fond of the stalest stereotypes of New York City tenement life. When your fight scenes include lines like “Patty McLade dropped to the floor like a whore’s nightgown,” it’s time to go back to writing movies that are mostly inspirational jogging scenes and anguished grunts.
Nicolas and Weston Cage
Virgin Comics, 2007
One time, Nic Cage and his black-metal crooner son, Weston, came up with an idea for a comic book about the child of a slave who was killed in the 1860s and gets resurrected by black magic to clean up the streets of post-Katrina New Orleans. Then they got an artist and a writer to make their dreams into reality, because the Cages are not like you or me. This book is like if Spawn impregnated the Candyman with his demon seed on the set of Treme while a cuckolded Todd McFarlane masturbated in a corner. In other words, it’s fantastic.
Christopher Isherwood and His Twink: How to Date a Gay Novelist Who Is Older Than Your Dad
When I was 25, I moved to Berlin with a beat-up copy of Christopher Isherwood’s The Berlin Stories tucked in my bag. Like many hobosexuals and fagabonds before me, I considered the book a lodestone, a guide to transmuting aimless searching and polymorphous desire into meaningful experiences. So when I heard that Farrar, Straus, and Giroux was releasing The Animals,a collection of the letters of Isherwood and his longtime lover, artist Don Bachardy, I knew I had to read it.
Bachardy met Isherwood when he was 18 and Isherwood was 48 (a year older than Bachardy’s own father). Despite the age difference, the couple spent the next 33 years together. Though love affairs and artistic exploits frequently sent them ricocheting around the world, they maintained a deep and unbreakable connection. They expressed this affection (and frustration) through “the Animals,” personae the two adopted in their letters. Bachardy acted as Kitty and Isherwood called himself Dobbin, Kitty’s faithful horse.
Bachardy, now 80, still lives in the house the couple shared in Santa Monica. Shaking with faggoty fan boy excitement, I called Bachardy to discuss The Animals and what it’s like dating a famous old man who was older than his dad.
VICE: How did your letters become a book?
Don Bachardy: It was my idea. I’d saved all of Chris’s letters, and after his death, I found that he’d saved all of mine. Reading through them just made me think the material was too good not to share it with others. There’s almost nothing, no letter in the book, that is missing, except one, though I can’t remember now where in the sequence it is.
Did you ever discuss publishing something like this with Chris before he died?
No, no, no. And the animals at the time would have been horrified at the suggestion that they would ever be revealed and their letters [would be] published in a book. They would have been quite shocked by such an idea.
What changed your thinking?
I came across both sets of letters and it was very strange reading them again, but interesting too. There were even some laughs in the material, our attempts to entertain each other. There were things I would have liked to have changed—would have changed if I could—but then it’s always a mistake to tamper with any mementos of the past.
James Franco’s Summer Book Club
Summer is here, so I thought I would offer a few books that have been on my list. All of these books have left their stamps on my memory. There was the summer I read Moby-Dick, and the summer I read Moby-Dick again… I hope to pass on some books that might make a few marks on your own souls.
This summer’s fiction issue is themed around movies—”Hollywood,” Clancy Martin says. We shared an intuition that a lot of the most interesting writing being done today is being done for movies and TV. Maybe it would be more accurate to say that we watch a lot of movies. So we made a long list of our favorite movies and looked up the writers who worked on them, and we harassed them and their agents and their publicists for months. We started with a really long pitch letter, but we learned that in LA it’s proper etiquette to write three-word-long emails. We tried to romance them by inviting them to dinner at the Chateau Marmont. An interesting thing about the writers in this issue—David Mamet, Michel Gondry, Louis Mellis, Alec Sokolow, John Romano, Merrill Markoe, Kevin McEnroe—is that none of them gave a damn about what we could pay. In fact not one of them even brought it up. So maybe one lesson of this issue is, if you want to be a writer and not have to scramble for every dollar, the old maxim holds true: Go to LA.
But back to movies. Here’s what we like about movies: They have stories. They are entertaining. The dialogue is simple. We were watching Searching for Bobby Fisher last night at the hotel in Chennai. William H. Macy says, “It’s just a game.” He’s the father of a seven-year-old chess player talking to another father, and we know that what he means is, “I’d like to rip your head off and s**t down your throat.” Similarly, just a few nights ago we were watching The Shining, and the actor who plays the manager of the Overlook Hotel describes the murders to Jack Nicholson during the job interview. He says, “I can’t believe it happened here, but it did,” and all three of the men in the room somehow already understand that it’s going to happen again. Because of the genius of actors and directors, there’s so much you can do—as a writer—with a line of dialogue that you just can’t do in other forms of writing. But all this is covered in an interview with Robert McKee—Alec Sokolow (Toy Story) makes McKee work through his theories, and Tony Camin, possibly stoned, asks McKee the tough questions, e.g., “Wasn’t Who Framed Roger Rabbit the third in the trilogy ofChinatown?” There are also a few pages of Nabokov’s screenplay version of Lolita with notes in his hand, masterfully introduced by Blake Bailey, and a story by Thomas Gebremedhin that evokes Santa Monica like no other fiction we’ve read (and ought to be a movie).
Anyway, we asked Steph Gillies and Debbie Smith to art-direct again, and again they knocked it out of the park, with work by Richard Phillips, Martin Parr, and others. We also have some work by traditional (i.e., non-movie), LA-based writers about LA, and a story about Lindsay Lohan by James Franco, and fiction by Emily McLaughlin and Benjamin Nugent.
Pick up a free copy of our fiction issue anywhere VICE is distributed, but those go quickly, so subscribe to make sure you get a copy every month. You can do that here. If you’ve got yourself an iPad, download our free app for even more pictures, extended video footage, and special extras.
Bungalow 89 – A Short Story by James Franco About Not Sleeping with Lindsay Lohan
I was in Bungalow 89 of the Chateau Marmont, the old hotel where the stars stay. The hotel is tucked behind a wall, off Sunset Boulevard, just west of Laurel Canyon, right in the heart of Hollywood. Bungalow 89 is in the cottage area, apart from the main building, where the pool is. It was dusk.
Bungalow 89 is not famous like Bungalow 3 (Belushi) or Bungalow 2 (Rebel Without a Cause). It is only famous in my own mind, because it’s where I first met Gus Van Sant, and because I have been living in it for the past nine months while they do repairs on my house. When I met Gus here, he sat in the comfy chair in the living room and played a little red guitar and talked to me. It was back when he was casting the supporting roles for his film about Kurt Cobain’s last days alive. The role he liked me for eventually went to Lukas Haas, the kid from Witness, with Harrison Ford. Haas was one of the original members of the Pussy Posse, the group centered on the young Leo DiCaprio, back in the 90s, post-Titanic and pre-Scorsese.
Lukas Haas had a gay sex scene in Gus’s film. It was with Scott Green, the guy who talks about having to fuck a guy with a big cock in the Chinese-café scene in My Own Private Idaho. His monologue was probably based on at least some reality; he had helped River Phoenix do research for his young-hustler role in the same film. Which reminds me of a story Gus later told me about River in Portland, during preproduction. River was pulled over by the cops for wearing jeans with a hole in the front so big that his dick hung out.
There was a Hollywood girl staying at Chateau Marmont. She had gotten a key to my room from the manager. I heard her put the key into my front door and turn it, but I had slid the dead bolt and that thing—I don’t know what you call it; it’s like a chain but made of two bars—that kept the door from opening.
She said, “James, open the door.”
Across the room was a picture of a boy dressed as a sailor with a red sailor cap, and except for his blondish hair (closer to my brother’s color) he looked like me.
She said, “Open the door, you bookworm punk blogger faggot.”
Untitled (Beach), 2012, © Whitney Hubbs, Courtesy M+B Gallery, Los Angeles.