Page 3 of 3***
His father had money. He took his father's money. He blew his father's money. And in that, he learned nothing. It was all about being hard and having fun. He's older and wiser now, but he's not 'reformed.' Everybody knows who the fuck he is and he knows that he's not going to get away with anything anymore.
He's going to shatter stereotypes. He's going to shock a lot of people.
He has a lot to say and he tells it like it is, regardless of how it makes him look. And he has a great sense of humor, obviously. He kept us laughing whenever he came in the office.
...He did nothing to help those girls... He tried to make himself into a hero...
-ED_DAVILA (CleveScene.com comment)
Charles, all you have to do now is look at the world like Cheers, where everybody knows your name.
Girls freak out. They touch him across the table while we're eating. They hear his voice over the intercom at McDonald's and tell us to pull around to 'get our order together,' but really they just want to get everyone together so they can come take a picture.
I'm as humble and down to earth as it fuckin gets. Nine times out of 10, I'm interested in what you're saying, and if you smoke drugs, you got my undivided attention anyfuckingway.
Very soon after the events of May 6, Charles Ramsey had grown tired of the talk, the gossip, the theories. He had grown tired of reading quotes about himself, of hearing what people were saying about him all over town. He'd been given close to $15,000 from a GoFundMe campaign in Oregon, thanks to the efforts a young professional named Robby Russell. And when controversy about Ramsey's actions hadn't ebbed, he decided it was time for a road trip. He paid off his back taxes, child support, settled his various debts and bought an $8,000 used BMW before driving to Oregon to thank his benefactors personally. He spent some time in Atlanta, California, Big Sky Country. He just had to get away from Cleveland.
That's because in Cleveland, people had been accusing Ramsey of inflating his involvement in the rescue. The pieces of his backstory — a colorful, domestically violent rap sheet, financial problems, drugs — convinced many that he was the sort of opportunist who would be swept away by the spotlight, who would distort truth at the prospect of fame, 15 minutes or otherwise. A lot of folks in town were swayed by the story of Angel Cordero, the Dominican who spoke only broken English and who had offered an alternate version of events. It was he and not Ramsey, Cordero said, who had climbed Ariel Castro's fence and broken down the door. When Ramsey threatened to "beat the fuck out of" Cordero on a Snoop Dogg TV program, (an interview Ramsey only later learned had been broadcast live), it confirmed people's suspicions that he had made the whole thing up. Both Amanda Berry and police testimony, however, later corroborated Ramsey's version of the rescue.
It was in Cleveland that people assumed Ramsey was living large. For months, people approached him to ask if he was "sick of Big Macs" because of an erroneous assumption that he had been given hamburgers for life. A McDonald's tweet — "We salute the courage of Ohio kidnap victims & respect their privacy. Way to go Charles Ramsey- we'll be in touch." — was blown out of proportion in local media and misinterpreted by locals who only read headlines. As it turned out, two area McDonald's franchises (the Clark Avenue location and one in Strongsville) each gave Ramsey a manila envelope with $1,000 worth of McDonald's gift cards and $1,000 cash.
"That's not bad, but it's not a lifetime supply. I would be at a homeless shelter every morning, handing out burgers," says Ramsey, if he had access to a true lifetime supply.
People even began to assume that his avowed interest in the girls was fabricated, that his comments urging people to give money to their cause was invalidated by his acceptance of other gifts. They viewed his desire to make money on his own likeness as fundamentally incompatible with a desire for the safety and well-being of the victims. Many assumed he was making money off of T-shirt sales (he wasn't); hamburger sales at Hodge's (he wasn't; in fact, he demanded that Hodge's take the "Ramsey Burger" off the menu because he wanted 100 percent of the proceeds to go directly to the girls and learned that that wasn't the case. Owner Chris Hodgson issued a press release at the end of May to say that Hodge's hadn't seen any additional profit from the Ramsey Burger and that he was "saddened" Ramsey didn't take the offer "in the spirit it was intended"); or the autotuned version of his interview (he was, but pennies).
When the nation was almost uniformly on Ramsey's side, it was Clevelanders who questioned and rejected him, and not just his neighbors, who Ramsey claims were "90 percent jealous, 10 percent annoyed." The comment sections of stories about Ramsey on both Cleveland.com and this publication's website skew toward expasperation and outrage. Much like with sports teams, Cleveland distrusts her champions.
Moreover, the going assumption at this point is that Ramsey no longer has cultural relevance or currency. His story has expired. LeBron James' agent, who also represents Tristan Thompson, initially expressed interest in helping Ramsey out in some way. LeBron and Tristan wanted to contribute, to demonstrate how famous people from Cleveland had each other's back. But when Ramsey's team finally managed to get in touch with the agent three months later, he didn't even bother checking in with LeBron or Thompson. He simply said, "His 15 minutes are up."***
On the following Tuesday, a snowy and unseasonably cold Cleveland afternoon, a handful of people gather in the Fox 8 television studio, readying their notes and gear. Interview chairs and a kitchenette are pre-arranged in the mode of many daytime television programs, and the lighting is the heightened chiaroscuro particular to studio sets. In about 15 minutes, Charles Ramsey will sit for an interview with Mike Polk Jr., an interview that may take up to an hour but will likely be edited down to a two-minute clip. Dead Giveaway stands centrally on a table between the vacant chairs. Its cover photo is Ramsey on May 6, arms crossed over a white T-shirt, face strained as he speaks into a Channel 5 On Your Side microphone.
As it happens, Ramsey's wearing a white T-shirt today as well. He's bouncing around the green room, wearing another backwards black ballcap, this one with CLEVELAND in block letters across his forehead, while David Gray, Randy Nyerges and Chris Gresham talk business. Right now, Gray is advising that an appearance on Rush Limbaugh's show — due to Ramsey's political views — shouldn't be considered time-sensitive. "They're not going to cover the anniversary," Gray says, "but they love non-traditional Republicans."
Fox 8 Producer Jason Boyer, a short guy in a headset, arrives in the green room to tell Ramsey they're ready for him out there. The hero and his posse relocate en masse, and there's the distinct aura of athletes traversing the tunnels of an opposing team's stadium. In the studio, they look around and find unobtrusive places to stand. Polk and Ramsey are both tall, personable guys and they immediately take to each other. Polk warms Ramsey up a bit by talking about the lately kaput Cavaliers' season. They confirm, among other things, that no one respects Mike Brown.
Then, quite suddenly and with almost no prep — he must have gotten a technical thumbs up — Polk launches into his introduction. He's sincerely honored to meet Charles Ramsey, he says, and was proud to have him represent Cleveland last year. And then the questions begin.
"What got you kicked out of high school?" Polk asks, as they hopscotch through Ramsey's past.
"Me being Chuck."
"That was the crime that convinced them?"
"Mmhmm. And they called my mother and she said, 'What's wrong with him?' And they go, 'We're not used to all this Chuckness.'"
"Uh huh." Polk nods knowingly, as if Ramsey's talking about the common cold.
"The Chuckitude is off the charts." Ramsey is settling into an easy banter with Polk. They play well off each other, merrily riffing without the stress of a live recording. "And they said, 'Well, he's not stupid...but he lacks discipline. Get him a GED.' And that's what happened."
"That's good. And then you went to college?"
"Mm. At 15."
"Fifteen? What'd it take, like a week and a half to get your GED?"
"Two weeks." Ramsey fact-checks. "Two weeks."
Polk, a gifted comedian, proves to be an adept and delicate interviewer as well. He guides the conversation through Ramsey's past and the book-writing process — "David Gray and George Zimmerman are the only white guys that scare me. He's the Kaiser Soze of book publishing," says Ramsey — but it's clear that the meat of the interview will be about Ariel Castro and Seymour.
Ramsey enjoys telling the story (recounted in Dead Giveaway) of how he would often exchange food with Castro and was always surprised at how delicious the meals were. He said he later discovered that Castro was having the three girls cook and was using Ramsey as a guinea pig to make sure the food was safe.
"You were like a king's poison tester," offers Polk.
Behind one of the two cameras capturing the interview, Randy Nyerges is repeatedly breaking down in laughter. He knows that Charles is doing well, and the success is infectious. Even David Gray can be seen smiling as he scrolls through his phone at the studio doorway, though he later admits that the George Zimmerman comparison wasn't the most flattering thing he'd ever heard.
The area where Polk really begins to probe, though, is Ramsey's celebrity status:
"Was it better before or after?" Polk asks. And to his credit, it feels like a conversation between two old buddies over a beer. "Do you get sick of it, or is it something that you embrace?"
Ramsey thinks for only a moment. "I'm gonna be honest with you and say that it's the same."
"The same?" Polk's a bit surprised.
"I'm a person magnet," says Ramsey. "So whatever comes to me, if people want to share something with me, it's gonna happen whether I did something or not. It's just about being a good-natured person. See where I'm coming from?"
"So, when I did what I did it was kinda like I was already getting gifts and presents and pats on the back just for going to work, just for getting a paycheck, not robbing people. See where I'm coming from?"
See where I'm coming from is a recurring tag in Ramsey's colloquial arsenal, and more and more, it seems to signify sincerity. Sincerity and velocity. Charles Ramsey thrives when he is talking fast and talking true. Often, in the early part of interviews — before he's comfortable with his interlocutors, or before he susses out an interviewer's thesis or angle — he sometimes seems disinterested. He sometimes seems hostile or curt or even vulgar. But when he starts dropping, "See where I'm coming from?" it means he's inviting you in. It means he's got something to say, something to reveal, and he wants you to see it too.
Nyerges and Gray confer briefly about the interview afterwards and are cautiously optimistic. Nyerges is irritated that Ramsey told an anecdote about shooting pool with Anderson Cooper in the hour before the CNN interview. Evidently that hour with Cooper never came up in Nyerges' sessions, and he's bummed because it would've been great stuff for the book. Otherwise, though, they agree that Charles was well-behaved and very funny.
After the interview, he's taken to another studio with a green screen where he's to appear in a quick series of skits, variations on a "Charles Ramsey to the Rescue" theme in which Ramsey will appear on camera to help out everyday putzes in everyday situations. Ramsey's directions are simple, but he struggles. He is without a script and with limited direction, granted; but he looks uncomfortable up there. He's not natural on camera in the way that Polk is, and he continues to apologize when he's not properly in frame, or when he mistakenly addresses Polk instead of the camera, or when he flubs easy lines.
Nyerges, from the shadows, can be seen waving his arms to implore Ramsey to remain as animated as possible. It's clear that his energy is slacking, that the humor and tempo of the interview has abated some. It's not a disaster by any means. Polk's not a perfectionist and is vocally supportive of Ramsey throughout.
Later, though, back in the green room, Ramsey's ticked. "I know Mike's a professional, but I just...that seemed unprofessional to me," Ramsey says. "Get me a script, bro." He felt manhandled up there. He felt like a prop. He's walking in circles when, from the doorway, a woman on her cell phone does a cartoonish double-take and pokes her head in. Ramsey recognizes the look and immediately invites her inside.
She says she's on the phone with her mom, but just wanted to say hi. She's a reporter here — she covers missing persons — and Ramsey's rescue affected her in a personal way.
"Let's get a picture," Ramsey says. "Come on."
The reporter awkwardly and abruptly bids her mother farewell and searches for camera mode.
"Oh," Ramsey says. "I didn't mean for you to hang up on your mother."
She waves him away, hands the phone off and poses with Ramsey for the pic. Their smiles are wide and bright. David Gray arrives and wastes no time encouraging the woman to post the photo to Instagram, and to please mention #DeadGiveaway when she does. Ramsey, lest he forget, kisses her hand and tells her she's gorgeous.
He waits for the reactions he thinks will come. It sort of does, and he smiles. She smiles, and she is gone.