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Under a stately, hefty wooden box of weed on a glass table in the apartment where Charles Ramsey, for all intents and purposes, lives, the Dead Giveaway manuscript's corners are bent and its margins annotated with a ballpoint pen. Ramsey has been a transient since May 7, 2013, when he vacated his home on Seymour for good, and since which time he's been unwelcome there. He's got friends and family everywhere, and continues to rely on their good will. His current host calls him a model roommate. "He cleans, he does the dishes; he's out of our hair on our days off," the host says, even if the rent is far from regular.
As of yesterday, Dead Giveaway's forward has been completed and the chapters have been perused and edited one final time. Snoop Dogg had initially agreed to write the forward, but he's been out of touch, so Ramsey spent most of yesterday working on it with Nyerges. He's pleased to have this shit off his plate at last.
Now he's holding forth, stream-of-consciousness style, as he stares at the Cleveland skyline from the living room, and he's talking louder and faster all of a sudden. This momentum is something he occasionally stumbles upon mid-thought, and then embraces with terrific zest. He's taking Jennifer to work on the east side in just under an hour, but for the moment he's gotten into one hell of a pulpit groove, sermonizing on his beefs with Cleveland.
". . . abandoned houses are still abandoned and still standing. How could that not be an Operation Blah Blah Blah when three women were found alive where they were not supposed to be? Why the fuck are they still standing? Why are these goddamned houses still fuckin' stan-... "
Part of the fear at Gray & Company Publishers is that Dead Giveaway's sales might be closely linked to Ramsey's performance on national interviews. Last year, during his New York junket after the rescue, producers generally weren't amenable to the off-the-cuff, man-on-the-street-style commentary which Ramsey provided on May 6. They wanted PG versions of events. They wanted professionalism and predictability. Ramsey was a wild card who'd never experienced that type of attention before. He didn't know how to comport himself, on screen or off. In New York City, with a brand-new "posse," he partied hard until the moment of his media appearances, even nursed a hangover with Red Bull in hand on George Stephanopoulos. "He's still so raw," friend Chris Gresham says. "He can't be trained."
". . . Just give me my own security goddamn detail. I don't need the cops. The cops would just restrict me. That means we could go into any abandoned building we see fit, and if there's something that don't look right, you can't question why I had someone shot. You can't question the 'circumstances,' cuz you don't have the balls to go into the abandoned house in the first fuckin place."
A ranting Ramsey is a funny Ramsey. He is a master of this type of dramatic, expletive-laden monologue that may or may not be 100-percent sincere. It's the sort of thing audiences eat up, so it's unclear why his liaisons at Gray & Co. would prefer to see him tranquilized for the purposes of book publicity. Especially when so much of the book is meant to show the true Charles Ramsey:
"People who write books about their life experiences usually try to show their better side," Ramsey writes in the introduction. "They tell their story the way they want it to be remembered. The real truth...often gets pushed off to the side. By the end of the story, you wind up liking the person telling it. But this book may change that."
Unfortunately, that's true. And the fact that audiences will probably really dislike Charles Ramsey while reading Dead Giveaway is perhaps its biggest problem. It may even become a roadblock to Ramsey's future success. The "manifesto" covers his life, "from when I came out of my old man's testicles to May 6." Its first 50 pages detail the rescue from Ramsey's point of view and the subsequent 72 hours during which he was trotted out on news networks to repeat the story. The book then returns to Ramsey's childhood and adolescence — nonstop pranks and expulsions, plus a total disrespect for authority — before arriving at a few bloodless pages of speculation and wandering thought about Ariel Castro and the girls. Then, losing all semblance of cohesion or purpose, the book devotes a chapter to Ramsey's Tea Party Republicanism, reprints some of his favorite fan mail and concludes with a hamburger recipe.
". . . I don't even want unlimited power. But if you see me and my team pull up in your neighborhood, you know what we're there for. Either you help us go into abandoned houses or you watch the fuck out cuz you may be a casualty if you piss me off. My security detail got daughters and sisters. They got aunts. And they so fuckin antsy to beat the shit out of the next pedophile anygoddamnway I don't need to pay them. They doin it for free."
"This got nothing to do with Random House," Ramsey says of Dead Giveaway, as a point of pride. To his credit, Ramsey is almost tribal in his affection for Northeast Ohio. "I chose to stay here," he says. "I'm from Cleveland, so why not blow up Cleveland? Why not have all the revenue in the world come here? I'm not goin' nogoddamnwhere. I'm gonna be right here until I die."
The tragedy of the book is that it may have been an impactful one, with insight about race and the media and the fleeting nature of fame in the digital age. But it's not. Ramsey commends Nyerges for "transforming himself into a black man for 90 days," — and the fact that it took only three months to complete should be some indication of its depth — but Nyerges fails to impose a meaningful narrative or logic upon Ramsey's (often brilliant) observations.
Ramsey's phone buzzes, interrupting him — his ringtone is an electric bass solo which to the untrained ear could be a Seinfeld transition — and he immediately puts the caller on speaker phone and mutes the TV. It's publisher David Gray, himself. He's calling to see if Ramsey would agree to appear on local comedian Mike Polk Jr.'s Fox 8 show next week. Ramsey's phone accepts neither texts nor voicemails, so all communication is old school, direct.
Gray is saying that Polk wants to interview Ramsey and then do a series of skits, skits which will likely be uploaded as YouTube clips. Due to the popularity of his "Hastily Made Tourism Video" and the "Factory of Sadness" videos, Polk has a devoted fanbase and online following that spells p-u-b-l-i-c-i-t-y in Gray's dictionary. It doesn't hurt that Polk also published a book with Gray & Co. in 2012, the coffee table Rust Belt satire Damn Right I'm From Cleveland.
"Did you laugh at any of the skits?" Ramsey asks Gray, sort of goading him.
"Yeah, you know they're funny," Gray says. "He wants to do a terrible Frank Jackson impression and give you a key to the city."
"Dave, you a nut." Ramsey puts his hand to his forehead and laughs on a low single note. Heeeeeeeeh.
"He works kind of the way you do," Gray assures Ramsey, the implication being that he doesn't take himself too seriously. "He just wanted to make sure you were on board with it."
"Oh yeah, nothing stops this train, you know that, bro." Ramsey hammers out some logistics for next week's interviews and appearances and hangs up with a sound like Mmmm.
"This dude is cooler than a motherfucker," he says. "David Gray don't play. I don't think he went to recess, ever. He's taking the book and doing something with it and then doing something else.... and then some other dude is doing something else and then doing something else...and then they're collaborating on some Huge. Fucking. Monetary. Shit." Ramsey rubs his fingers together to dramatize his point.
The thought has energized him. He struts back and forth through the apartment like a prisoner on the brink of parole. Again, he contends that he's been lying low because he hasn't been fully "activated." He's been plotting and scheming while the businessmen determine how best to peddle the product: him. He describes the marketing approach for the book as three-pronged: first local, then national, then international.
"I'm gonna go to fuckin China, Australia, I'll find that plane in Malaysia and stand next to it with the book," Ramsey says.
Book publicity is ultimately seen as only a launchpad. Media offshoots are the endgame here, even if most (if not all) of the concepts are half-baked.
On the reality show front, one recent idea is to team Ramsey up with celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey — Ramsey & Ramsey! — to leverage Charles' history as a dishwasher, and then watch their big personalities collide. Another would be an America's Most Wanted-style show with Ramsey physically hunting down criminals. A biopic is also hotly anticipated. Among Ramsey's camp, being approached by a major studio is considered a question of when, not if.
"For now, I'm just juggling things," says Ramsey. And that includes taking Jennifer to work. Charles hops to, changes hats in his bedroom — both of them are Cleveland-themed — and then follows Jennifer through the front door, muttering to himself as he goes.