Charles Ramsey, palming the small of a stranger's back with one hand and flashing a peace sign with the other, poses for an iPhone between two pretty little white undergraduate blondes who don't know what to say. So they say nothing. They giggle as Ramsey kisses their hands in turn and then eyes the throng of coeds that has taken shape in the back corner of the Jolly Scholar, Case Western Reserve University's campus bar.
It's karaoke night, and those not awaiting a photo with Ramsey laugh or cringe at the tuneless covers, courtesy of their classmates, blaring from a lo-fi amp up front. But it seems that everyone wants a photo with Ramsey, a photo with the hero, for his presence has established a kind of bar-wide magnetic North. People are re-positioning themselves to get a glimpse, drifting unconsciously closer as they seek out waitresses and rounds, texting and tweeting their coordinates before they ready their phones' cameras. And it's clear that the crowd and the cameras have magnetized Ramsey in some essential way as well. He has come alive in the darkness and the noise, slapping high-fives and leaning into hugs with these people whom he's never seen before. He is here to see them as much as the other way around; in fact, these college kids are doing him a service. They are assuring him that his celebrity is legitimate. They are easing a creeping anxiety that his fame might not last, that it might no longer be bankable. The anxiety has been getting to him lately, during the middle part of April, less than a month before the one-year anniversary of the Seymour Avenue rescue.
Ramsey has been working on a book scheduled for release on May 6, one year to the day since Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight were freed from Ariel Castro's house of horrors after a decade of captivity. Ramsey's hopeful the book's publication will launch a global brand of which he will be the axis and face. To prepare, he and a few of his local associates have been working on a screenplay, dreaming up reality TV shows in which Ramsey will star. He shamelessly admits that this is all he has been doing for the past several months. He has no job, no regular source of income. He's been staying at a friend's apartment downtown since Thanksgiving, and continues to do so under the impression that he is lying in wait, keeping a low profile, steeling himself for the rigors of his future.
But that future is riding on this book, entitled Dead Giveaway: The Rescue, Hamburgers, White Folks, and Instant Celebrity . . . What You Saw on TV Doesn't Begin to Tell the Story..., a 168-page "manifesto" co-written by local freelancer Randy Nyerges and published by Cleveland's Gray & Co. Publishers, about Ramsey's rambunctious past and the media circus after Seymour that made him a nationwide sensation. Ever since then, he's been the victim of a curious and irreconcilable predicament: He is one of the most recognizable faces in Cleveland — for all intents and purposes, a celebrity — but doesn't have the cash to show for it. In his mind, those days are almost over: Charles Ramsey has a goal.
Ramsey's goal is simple, but conditional: become a billionaire, but not by profiting from his singular act of heroism. He wants to be famous independent of Ariel Castro. Independent of the girls. He doesn't want to be answering questions about barbecues and the dynamics of the Latino community on Seymour for the rest of his life. Nor does he have any pressing urge to go back to dishwashing. He doesn't think he should have to. Since May 6, 2013, Ramsey has tried to market himself as a new American urban black man, one with charm, candor and no apparent guilt. In an age when information is laundered and sterilized as a matter of course, Ramsey is the straight shooter who tells it like it is, who for a few short days in 2013 spoke openly about race and crime and injustice. He was a novelty, of course — a former crack dealer with a missing tooth and a berzerk afro mullet doesn't conform with our traditional images of saviors — and remains an icon of Instagram as much for his look as for his deed. To this day, he has the enduring gratitude of Amanda, Gina and Michelle (the latter of whom he sees regularly), the devotion of a girlfriend who has absolved him of his past, and the loyalty of friends who are convinced, or at least are convincing themselves, that his acclaim is far from over. On the contrary: They think it's barely begun.
And now, posing for photos in the Jolly Scholar, Charles Ramsey's goal seems credible, attainable. But there's something potentially icky going on beneath all the flashing smartphones, something which Ramsey and his crew might not even be able to decipher through the melee. It's not like these privileged kids are approaching him as they would Barack Obama or Malcolm Gladwell or even Lady Gaga. When he beckons four beplaided guys from the crowd, they array themselves around him, happily, ironically, as if it's a photo with Big Bird.
Matt Vann, the owner of Jolly Scholar, says the students are a better audience for Ramsey than "30-year-olds who call him a fraud. They're more innocent. More receptive." Instagram and Twitter would seem to agree; they're both convulsing with posts like this one: #CharlesRamsey #whattup #guy #who #saved #the #lives #of #three #women in #Cleveland #karaoke #jollyscholar #drunk.
Ramsey wears a purple polo shirt beneath which his arm muscles, thickly veined, protrude. His gray-wash jeans have prominent white stitching. As in at least one of his nationally televised interviews last year, his black ballcap is worn backwards and low on his forehead. His missing tooth is inconspicuous in the low light. He never says he's self-conscious about it — on the first page of Dead Giveaway he claims he lost it while biting into an apple the week of the rescue — but tonight he's favoring a closed-lip smile, and this makes him seem solemn or preoccupied. The most distinguishing things about Ramsey's face, though, are his eyes, deep black and doleful, eyes that within seconds can grow cold with anger or glow with affection, or, as now, fail to disguise his disbelief at the endurance of this collegiate mob.
At his table, a basket of chicken fingers and a hot pretzel languish untouched. Chris Gresham, one of Ramsey's good friends with whom he worked at Hodge's restaurant last year, experiments with a DSLR camera. He had hoped he might be able to get some high quality photos tonight, but the darkness is complicating things. The bespectacled Randy Nyerges, wearing a sport coat over a black tee, prowls the perimeter with satchel and business cards in tow. Jennifer Baker, Ramsey's girlfriend, monitors her lover's hands as they snake around college girl after college girl. Baker's wearing gold hoop earrings and has her hair pulled back tight, revealing a butterfly tattooed on the side of her scalp. She picks apart her chicken in silence.
After last year's rescue, Baker hunted Ramsey down. She'd seen him on TV like everyone else had and presented him with a proposal (what Ramsey still calls an "ultimatum"): "You're from Cleveland. I'm from Cleveland. You're not married. I know about your past. The whole world knows about your past. But I'm willing to give you a second chance, to love you. And before you say, 'I'm not ready for love,' keep this in mind: I will kill you if you do not accept."
Though that may sound outlandishly dramatic, it nonetheless expresses the fierce fidelity and what one friend calls "vestigial hardness" among Ramsey and his crew. He's fond of calling his inner circle the "Chuck Club," and he is committed fully and fearlessly to them, to those who have his best interests at heart. Uneasy, though, lies the man or woman who betrays Charles Ramsey — "I will fuck your wife and I will kill you if you do," he told Scene in an earlier interview, his jaw set, his eyes afire with conviction. "As long as you know the rules, we can play the game."
It is thus only warily and in private that those who protect Charles Ramsey concede that they cannot help but see profit for themselves. Much like Baker, for instance, Randy Nyerges sought Ramsey out. He went to Seymour and handed out business cards to everyone he saw, trying to ensnare the sudden media star, the potential cash cow. Tonight he's regaling listeners with the crumbs of information he's permitted to say about upcoming personal projects. The men who "had Ramsey's back" after the initial viral interview last year had been strangers until the day of the rescue, when Ramsey met them at a strip club in the Flats where he retreated during the madness. Viewing themselves as "handlers," they deleted most calls and inquiries out of hand, due in large part to the frenzy. And in hindsight, Ramsey laments the missed opportunities.
Emerging from the scrum is Jolly Scholar owner Matt Vann with a tall white guy behind him. Vann booked Ramsey this evening for a grand total of $250. (It's not like Ramsey is turning down $10,000 honorariums for speaking engagements). Vann did throw Ramsey an extra $100 afterwards, he later said, because of the crowd he brought in. Other than St. Patrick's Day, Ramsey's appearance was the biggest night of the year for the Jolly Scholar. Plus, Vann said, Ramsey was, "the perfect guest. He's golden in my eyes."
"Do you recognize this man?" Vann leans low to ask a sitting Ramsey, who has taken a brief moment to sip from his lemonade and catch his breath.
Ramsey squints and scrunches his nose. "You look familiar," he says. But he can't place him.
"I'm John Kosich, from Channel 5," the tall guy says. "I'm the guy who did the interview."
The interview. Charles closes his eyes, shakes his head like he should have known better and extends a hand for a shake before pulling Kosich in for a bear hug. The two begin talking quietly, almost intimately, in the darkness, Kosich on the left, Ramsey on the right. Kosich wears a light blue button-down shirt, jeans, and low-top Chuck Taylors, which seem out of place on a reporter so well-kept, whose favorite singers are Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra. Vann is a friend of Kosich and had personally invited him to stop by. He knew that Kosich hadn't seen Charles since the evening of May 6...
John Kosich: Walk me through again what happened this afternoon. You heard screaming?
Charles Ramsey: I heard screaming. I'm eating my McDonald's. I come outside. I see this girl going nuts, trying to get out of her house, so I go on the porch, and she says "Help me get out. I been in here a long time." So I figure, you know, it's a domestic violence dispute. So I open the door. We can't get in that way, cuz how the door is, it's so much that a body can't fit through — only your hand. So, we k-kick the bottom. And she comes out with a little girl, and she says, "Call 911. My name is Amanda Berry."
Kosich: Did you know who that was when she said that?
Ramsey: When she told me, it didn't register. Until I got the call on 911, and I'm like, "I'm callin' 911 for Amanda Berry. I thought this girl was dead."
Kosich: How long have you lived here?
Ramsey: I've been here a year. You see where I'm coming from? I barbecue with this dude. We eat ribs and whatnot, and listen to salsa music. You see where I'm coming from?
Kosich: And you had no indication that there was...
Ramsey: Not a, bro, not a clue that that girl was in that house, or anybody else was in there against their will.
Kosich: What was the reaction on the girls' faces? I can't imagine, to see the sunlight, to be around people.
Ramsey: Bro, I knew something was wrong when a little pretty white girl ran into a black man's arms. Something is wrong here. Dead giveaway. Dead giveaway.
Kosich: Charles, thank you very much.
Ramsey: Dead giveaway. ***
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. ***
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.
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