Introducing the 2014 Fiction Issue
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.
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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.”
How Kohnstamm Got the Beach House – New Fiction by David Mamet
Above: Untitled (Beach), 2012, © Whitney Hubbs, Courtesy M+B Gallery, Los Angeles.
David Mamet wrote the screenplays for American Buffalo, Glengarry Glen Ross, The Untouchables, The Postman Always Rings Twice, and Wag the Dog, among many others. We’re honored to feature his writing in this year’s Fiction Issue.
It was near morning. Margaret and Mel sat, alone, on the couch.
“The weekend the power went out at the Bel Air may have been the most restful of my life,” Mel said.
“As you grow old, various things fade—appetite, I find, increases; but I think this places me in one of two camps.”
“What is the other?” Margaret said.
“They grow thin, as they age,” Mel said. “But both, I believe, find a diminishment of sexuality. Perhaps the thin, though, less. I don’t know. You would know, how would you know, you’re half my age.”
“Not exactly,” Margaret said.
“I am ten months your junior,” she said.
Gentrification Comes to LA’s Skid Row, and the Homeless Get the Shaft
One of the worst things about being rich is sometimes you’re forced to interact with the poor. When not in a sitting in orthopedic chairs in skyscrapers or on Italian leather sofas in luxury condos, the wealthy are often forced to walk on their own two legs—at street level—as if they were proletarian slobs. And this is upsetting, for on a sidewalk, anyone, even the hideously unprivileged, can look you in the eye.
Developer Geoffrey H. Palmer thinks this is wrong. In 2009, the real estate mogul sued the city of Los Angeles and successfully overturned its requirement that he provide some affordable housing in his massive faux-Italian apartment complexes. But while that kept poor people out, it didn’t do anything to address the problem of the poor people Palmer’s wealthy future tenants would have to deal with in the still-gentrifying downtown area.
So when Palmer started construction on two new buildings, complete with a pool and indoor basketball court, he proposed a pedestrian bridge connecting them to minimize “potential incidents that could occur during the evening hours, when the homeless population is more active in the surrounding area.” In other words, the rich will be able to literally walk over the less fortunate.
I Photographed a Former Survivor Contestant at the Lowest Point in His Life
"I was doing this series called ‘Invited,’ where if anyone invited me into their lives, I had to go, no matter what the situation was. So my friend Shane [Powers, who was a contestant on Survivor: Panama] said to me, ‘Well I’ll do it. I invite you, but I want to be naked.’ His father had died not long ago, and his girlfriend had just broken up with him.”
"So I went over there without having told anyone where I was. I was pulling up to his house and I heard his voice say, ‘Shoot, bitch!’ I got out, and I found him in the dark by flashing my flashbulb."
"There he was, on the ground, bloodied, because he had fallen when he came down to get me. I don’t know what he was on, but he was really wasted. He’d been in recovery, and he had fallen off the wagon.
When I walked into his house, he didn’t say hi or anything. I just helped him inside. We were going to do this thing where he fried up some bacon and ate it, but I didn’t want him to burn his house down so we scrapped that.”
"At one point he got out this container, and poured it out, and then sort of slumped over. And I realized that was his father’s ashes."
"We went in his bedroom, and he wanted to show me his manscaping. He was proud of his appearance, but he was also kind of touching himself at that point."
The War on Ice Cream Men
If you want to sell soft-serve out of a truck, be prepared to be treated like a criminal.
In Tucson, Arizona, prospective ice cream men must get their fingerprints taken by the cops before being granted a license. In Napa, California, regulations state that you must be both “interviewed and fingerprinted by the Napa Police Department.” All around the country, in fact, people who want to sell frozen treats have to check in with law enforcement first.
Don Knabe, the chairman of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, is completely on board with this trend—in fact, he wants LA County, population 10 million, to subject every ice cream truck driver within its borders to the same screening process applied to those seeking to conduct commerce involving “explosives, weapons, and adult businesses.” That means “inkless electronic fingerprinting,” which can be used to generate “a report of criminal history” and kept in a database forever. Knabe plans on introducing the measure this May.
Donald Sterling’s Been Banned for Life, but He’ll Be Dead Soon Anyway
The NBA finally applied sanctions to Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling. Sterling has been fined $2.5 million (the maximum he could be fined) and suspended for life for the racist rhetoric his former girlfriend recorded and released to TMZ as retribution for a lawsuit brought against her by Sterling.
The scandal, which has diverted attention away from one of the most exciting, competitive NBA Playoffs in modern history and potentially ruined the Clippers’ run at the Finals, might finally recede from the public consciousness now that Sterling has been punished. Of course, as long as he owns the team, there will still be the question of how long he’ll remain a part of the league and who will take over when he’s gone.
There’s a Bootleg Jurassic Park-Themed Restaurant in Los Angeles
Weirdness is getting harder to find these days.
Between marketers, sitcom characters, and whacky dickheads in shirts that say things about ninjas and bacon, genuinly odd stuff is difficult to come by. So I was extremely excited to hear about Jurassic Restaurant, a (presumably) unofficial Jurassic Park-themed Taiwanese restaurant in Industry, California.
Weird shit used to be everywhere. If Tod Browning’s Freaks is to be believed, it used to be that you could barely open your door without tripping over some undiscovered weirdo.
But then lunacy got gentrified and oddness became mainstream—co-opted by Phoebe from Friends and printed on trucker caps to be sold at Hot Topic (over 600 locations nationwide).
American entertainment became about gawking at weirdos. TV shows about women who eat couches or get plastic surgery to look like celebrities became the norm. The guy with a 300-pound scrotum (RIP) got an agent.
Marketers and advertisers got their claws in, too. Weirdness used to be a pursuit for outsiders, but now it’s thought up by teams of market researchers, to be regurgitated by the Old Spice Guy or the Geico Gecko.
What You Can Learn from the LA’s Abandoned Street Couches
Archaeologists have long known you can learn heaps about a culture from its trash, and the Los Angeles street couch is no exception. These artifacts say more about us than just laziness. They tell stories of butts and passion and bad television, maybe even birth and death.
Pay enough attention, and you’ll start to realize these couches fit into certain categories, even though they won’t fit into your compact car. Pay enough attention, and a taxonomy appears.
The Cushionless Couch
This is the most common species of Los Angeles street couch, and all sofas without attached cushions meet this fate within a few hours. Those cushions might as well be currency for the homeless, and once they’re stripped, the couch is guaranteed a long life on the curb without any takers.
The Whole Living Room on the Curb
Nothing quite says “forceful eviction” like an entire living room chucked onto the sidewalk. Unlike your regular street-couch sightings, which tend to happen toward the end of the month, the whole living room on the curb can be seen almost any time.