The double life of the writer-the doggedly functional outer persona surrounding the neurotic inner core-comes through in this sparkling if scattershot collection from New York's gonzo scribe. In his forays into lifestyle journalism, Ames (Wake Up, Sir) is perennially out of place whether among scary teens at a suburban gothic fest or vapid club hoppers in Manhattan's glitzy meatpacking district. He's ill at ease just being himself in memoiristic essays, from a European travelogue to an account of recent boxing stunts. His fictional alter egos are similarly out of their comfort zones; in the sly anti-noir "Bored to Death," an Amesian writer poses as a PI and flounders when the lark becomes too real. As always, Ames's own bodily functions, baldness and angst take center stage-"Am I darker than Marilyn Manson?" he broods in a profile of the goth pied piper-along with his graphic sex scenes, which play out as detached procedurals in which he self-consciously monitors his partners for signs of orgasm This miscellany contains some weak items-college diary entries?-dredged out of a bottom drawer. But at his best, Ames still beguiles with his offbeat, defiantly hangdog sensibility. Photos. (July)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
The Double Life Is Twice as Good: Essays and Fictionby Jonathan Ames
Wildly original novelist, essayist, and performance artist Jonathan Aames delivers his best collection yet—a hilarious, risqué, and loveable selection of articles, essays, and fiction, including several previously unpublished pieces.With an HBO pilot based on this collection’s centerpiece (“Bored to Death”), his two hilarious novels, The Extra Man and Wake Up, Sir!, in development as films (with screenplays by Mr. Ames), a critically acclaimed graphic novel, The Alcoholic, under his belt, and an ongoing series of literary and not-so-literary stunts, Jonathan Ames has proven himself to be a writer of diverse and stunning talents.
In The Double Life Is Twice as Good, fans will be treated to a deft and charming compilation of Ames’s journalism, personal essays, and short fiction. Featuring illuminating profiles of Marilyn Manson and Lenny Kravitz, his adventures at a goth festival in the Midwest, a story written for Esquire on a napkin, as well as a comic strip collaboration with graphic artist Nick Bertozzi, Ames’s unique style and personality-driven humor shines throughout this wickedly funny collection. Also included is the aforementioned short story, “Bored to Death,” a Raymond Chandler–esque tale about a struggling writer-turned-detective who becomes quickly embroiled in the search for a missing college co-ed. Described by The Portland Oregonian as “an edgier David Sedaris,” it’s no wonder that this comic mastermind’s already fervent and dedicated fanbase is continually growing.
"This hilarious, often harrowing compendium of articles and essays find [Ames] immersed in demented endeavors...certain to make his many fans snicker and squirm." Booklist
"Filled with its share of Ames classics." Kirkus Reviews
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The trouble happened because I was bored. At the time, I was twenty-eight days sober. I was spending my nights playing Internet backgammon. I should have been going to AA meetings, but I wasn't.
I had been going to AA meetings for twenty years, ever since college. I like AA meetings. My problem is that I'm a periodic alcoholic, even with going to AA. Every few years, I try drinking again. Or, rather, drinking tries me. It tries me on for size and finds out I don't fit and throws me to the ground. And so I go crawling back to AA. Or at least I should. This last go-round, I was skipping meetings and just staying home and, like I said, playing Internet backgammon.
I was also reading a lot of crime fiction and private detective fiction, writers like Hammett, Goodis, Chandler, Thompson. The usual suspects, as it were. Since my own life was so dull, I needed the charge that came from their books the danger, the violence, the despair.
So that's all I was doing reading and playing backgammon. I can afford such a lifestyle because I'm a writer. I'm not a hugely successful writer, but I'm my own boss. I've written six books three novels and three essay collections and at the time of the trouble I had roughly six thousand dollars in the bank, which is a lot for me. I also had a few checks for movie work coming in down the road.
By my economic standards it was a flush time. I had even paid my taxes early, at the end of March it was now mid-April and I was just trying to stay sober and keep a low profile in my own little life. I wasn't doing any writing, because, well, I didn't have anything to say.
Overall, I was being pretty reclusive. I only talked to a few people, primarily my parents, who are retired and live in Florida and who call me every day. They're a bit needy, my senior citizen parents, but I don't mind, life is short, so if I can give them a little solace with a daily call, what the hell. My father is eighty-two and my mother is seventy-five. I have to love them now as best I can. And the only other two people I really spoke to were the two close friends I have, one who lives here in New York and the other who's in Los Angeles. I have a lot of acquaintances, but I've never had a lot of friends.
One night a week, I did leave the apartment to go see this girl. It was nice. I guess you could say that she was a friend, too, but I've never really thought of the women in my life as friends, which must be a flaw. Her name was Marie and we would have dinner, maybe go to a movie, and then we'd get into bed at her place, never my place, and the sex with her was good. But it wasn't anything serious. She was twenty-six and I'm forty-two, and I retired from being serious with women a few years ago. Somebody always got hurt, usually the girl, and I couldn't take it anymore.
Well, I'll shut up now about all this. It's not my drinking problem or my finances or my dead love life that I want to talk about. I only mention all this as some kind of way to explain why I had too much free time on my hands, because what's really on my mind is this trouble I got into because, as I said, I was bored. Bored with backgammon and bored with reading and bored with being sober and bored with myself and bored with being alive.
I should make it clear that I wasn't at all bored by the books I was tearing through and loving, but bored by the fact that I wasn't actually doing anything, just reading, though it was, in fact, Hammett and Goodis and Chandler and Thompson who sort of provoked me to take action, and it's when I took action, because of those authors' books, that I blew up my life.
It was a fantasy, a crazed notion, but I got it into my head that I wanted to play at being a private detective. I wanted to help somebody. I wanted to be brave. I wanted to have an adventure. And it's pathetic, but what did I do? I put an ad on craigslist in the "services" section under "legal." It read as follows:
Reply to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Date: 2007-04-13, 8:31AM EST
Specializing: Missing Persons, Domestic Issues. I'm not licensed, but maybe I'm someone who can help you. My fee is reasonable. Call 347-555-1042
There were two other private-detective ads on craigslist and they offered all sorts of help surveillance, undercover work, background checks, video and still photography, business investigations, missing persons, domestic issues, and two things that I didn't quite grasp "skip tracing" and "witness locates."
I figured the only thing I could help with was trying to find someone or maybe following someone, which would most likely be a "domestic issue" an unfaithful spouse or boyfriend or girlfriend. I didn't have any qualms about that, following an unfaithful lover, though in all the private-detective fiction I've read the heroes never do "marriage work," as if it's beneath them, but I thought it would be fun to follow somebody and to do so for the purposes of a real mission. Sometimes, probably because I want everything to be like it is in a book or a movie, I have followed people on the streets of New York, pretending I was a detective or a spy.
I did try to cover myself legally by writing in my ad that I wasn't licensed. I don't know who does license private detectives, but I figured it was a difficult process and, anyway, I just wanted to put the ad up, mostly as a lark, a playing-out of a dream, like when I would shadow people on the streets. But I really didn't think anybody would actually call me I was offering far fewer services than the other private detectives and I was acknowledging in the ad that I wasn't exactly a professional.
If somebody did call, then I figured after talking to me they would try somebody more reputable, but whatever came of it, even if nobody called, I thought it might be something I could write about, a comedic essay "My Failed Attempt at Being a Private Detective." Often during my writing career, mostly for my essays, I've put myself in weird positions and then milked it for humor. This situation would be like the time I tried to go to an orgy but wasn't allowed in. Even when nothing happens, you can sometimes make a good story out of it.
Anyway, I got a thrill at posting the ad, but it was a short-lived thrill. For the first day, I would go and look at my ad, admiring my own handiwork, laughing to myself, wondering if something might happen, almost as if I checked it out enough times, other people would. But then, after about a day, the thrill wore off. It was one more ridiculous thing in a ridiculous life, and, of course, no one called.
So I went back to the usual routine I started a David Goodis novel, Black Friday, and once again I was spending hours playing backgammon. Then on Thursday, April 19, when I was in the midst of a good game, my cell phone rang around four o'clock in the afternoon. The number had an area code I couldn't immediately place 215. I answered the phone and kept on playing.
"Hello?" I said.
"I saw your ad," said a girl's voice.
"What? What ad?" I said. I had forgotten completely about my craigslist posting. It had been six days.
"Craigslist? Missing persons?"
"Yes, of course, I'm sorry," I said, quickly rallying, remembering my little experiment. "I was distracted. I'm sorry. And most of my clients are word-of-mouth, so I forgot about my ad on craigslist. How can I help you?"
Right away, I was trying to sound professional, and the lie about the other clients just came to me naturally. I've always been a good liar.
"It's about my sister..." she started to say, then hesitated, and I glanced at my laptop, at the game. If I resigned, which is the same thing as losing and at the moment I was ahead, my ranking would go down, and I hate for my ranking to go down. I've worked very hard to get it to the second-highest level. I was momentarily conflicted, but I clicked a button and resigned from the game so that I could give my full attention to this other game, this one with the young-sounding girl on the phone.
"Your sister?" I said, prompting her.
"Well, I came in from Philadelphia this morning" she started slow and then her speech came fast, real fast, the way young girls talk "and we're supposed to go to a show tonight. I know it's weird but we got tickets to Beauty and the Beast, we saw it when we were really young and loved it and now it's closing, so that's why we want to see it, but she didn't answer her phone all day yesterday or this morning, but I came in anyway, it was our plan, I figured she's just not picking up or it's not charged, she always forgets to charge her phone, but she's still not answering and now her voice mail is full, and no one at her dorm has seen her for a while and the guard let me in, but she's not in her room, the door is locked, she has a single, and I don't want to call my parents and freak them out, but I have a weird feeling, she's got this sleazy boyfriend, and I don't know what to do, and I'm at this Internet café and I always use craigslist for everything, so I typed in 'missing persons' and found you."
This was a lot to digest. I tried to break it down.
"Your sister lives in a dorm? Where?"
"Twelfth Street and Third Avenue. It's an NYU dorm."
"And where are you?" I asked.
"This café. On Second Avenue. I don't know the cross street, let me look out the window...Third Street."
"What's your name?"
"Your sister's name?"
"And I'm Jonathan...Spencer, by the way...You can call me Jonathan. And you live in Philadelphia?" The lies were coming fast and easy. Spencer was my strange middle name. I'm Jewish but my parents loaded me up with a WASP assembly of names, Jonathan Spencer Ames.
"Yeah, I go to Temple," she said. "I'm a freshman."
"What year is your sister?"
"And where are your parents?"
"Maryland...Can you help me? I don't have anywhere to stay tonight, if I can't find her, and she has the tickets to Beauty and the Beast, and so I think I should just go back to Philly but I'm not sure what to do."
"I think I can help you. I can come meet you in about thirty minutes. I'm in Brooklyn, but it's a very quick subway ride. I know the café you are in...I charge one hundred dollars a day, but I bet I can find her by tonight or at least tomorrow. Can you afford a down payment of at least one hundred dollars to cover the first day?"
"Yes," she said. "I have money. I can go to an ATM."
"Just wait at the café. I'll be there in thirty minutes. Maybe twenty...What do you look like?"
"So I can recognize you."
"Oh...I have dark hair, almost black. Kind of long. I'm wearing a yellow dress and a kind of thick white sweater."
"Okay...I'll have a tan cap on. Not to frighten you, but my most distinctive feature is my white eyebrows. I'm not an albino. The sun has bleached them over the years. I'll be there by four thirty."
"I guess so," she said, a bit nonsensically. Her voice was practically a whisper. She wasn't sure she was doing the right thing. I cursed myself for possibly blowing it with the mention of the white eyebrows and sounding like a nut.
"Everything will be okay. I'll find your sister," I said.
"All right," she said meekly.
"See you in a little bit," I said, and hung up, before she changed her mind.
I put on a tie, loosened it at the collar, and undid the top button to give myself a rumpled, world-weary private-detective look, and I threw on my gray-tweed Brooks Brothers sport coat, since there was a slight chill in the air. Also, on all the covers of my Chandler novels, Philip Marlowe, the great private detective, is always wearing a sport coat. Then, so the girl would recognize me, I put on my cap, and I usually wear a hat of some kind, anyway, since I'm bald and buzz my hair down, and without hair it's a very drafty world. I was already wearing my favorite olive green corduroy pants and looking at myself in the mirror, I felt, overall, quite capable of finding this missing NYU coed, at least wardrobe-wise.
I grabbed Black Friday to read in the subway and was out of the apartment within five minutes of hanging up the phone.
The café had uncomfortable aluminum chairs and we sat with our legs practically touching. She was a cute little thing very white skin and very dark hair. Her mind was soft, though, and that cut down the attraction and made it easier to keep my attention focused on the business at hand. I got the following information out of her, expanding on what she had told me on the phone: the sister, Lisa, about a year ago, had disappeared for a week with an older boyfriend (early thirties) and the family had gone into a panic; now she had a different boyfriend, but the same genus thirtysomething, guitarist in a rock band, a bartender, and possibly a junkie; Rachel didn't want to get the parents or the police or NYU security involved, because it was probably nothing and her sister would kill her if she blew the whistle; at the same time, she had a bad feeling she was worried that her sister had maybe starting using heroin.
I figured the boyfriend was the key to this whole thing and she told me his name was Vincent, but she didn't have a last name. He worked at a bar called Lakes on Avenue B. Rachel, on an earlier trip to the city, had gone there with her sister. The NYU students liked it because the place was lax when it came to asking for proof of age.
"Do you have a picture of Lisa?" I asked.
"No," she said. Then she remembered that her sister had sent a picture of herself with Vincent to her cell phone. From Vincent's cell phone. This was a coup I had a picture and a number to work with. She showed me the picture Lisa was more severe than her sister, high cheekbones, a sensual mouth, but the same dark hair and marble white skin. Vincent had a yellow, long face, a tattoo of some kind on his neck, and a false look of rock-band confidence in his eyes.
I called Vincent's number and his voice mail, like Lisa's, was full. But at least I had a number. I suggested to Rachel that we go over to Kinko's on Astor Place and that she e-mail me the picture and we print it up.
But first we called the sister, on the off chance that this could be solved right here and now and the two girls could go see Beauty and the Beast as planned and live happily ever after. Not unexpectedly, the call went right to the filled-up voice mail. So then we swung by the dorm, with the same hope of an easy resolution, but the sister still wasn't in her room. I instructed Rachel to ask the guard in an offhand way if he had seen her sister she showed him the cell phone picture and he said he hadn't.
It was now almost five thirty and as we walked over to Kinko's, I said, giving her an out and giving me an out, "Are you really sure you don't want to go to the cops or let your parents know?"
"I'm sure," she said. "Lisa'll go ballistic. She's probably forgot about the play and is just having sex for hours. Somebody told me that if you do heroin you just keep having sex and don't want to stop."
"I think that's crystal meth," I said, "but I could be wrong." My problems have always been with alcohol and cocaine, so I wasn't too sure about these other drugs.
"Whatever," she said. "I don't even like beer. She always goes with the worst guys possible. He's either shooting her up with heroin or giving her crystal meth. It's like it turns her on to find a serial killer or something."
We stopped at the Chase Bank on Astor Place and she gave me one hundred dollars. At Kinko's, I printed up a blurry but recognizable portrait of the two lovebirds.
At Fourth Avenue, we waited for a cab to take her to Penn Station and from there she'd catch the next train to Philly.
"Are you really a professional?" she asked.
"I'm not licensed," I said, "but I've been at this a while." I had been reading pulp fiction off and on for years. It was an apprenticeship of sorts and was the little bit of truth that made the lie sound sincere. I may have been having a bipolar episode. "The first thing I'm going to do is find Vincent and when I find Vincent, I'll find your sister."
She got in a cab and as I closed the door, I said, "I'll call you later tonight."
"Okay," she said, and she looked scared and dumb. But she was a sweet kid. The cab drove off and the six o'clock light was beautiful, day darkening into night.
I stood on the corner and called information and got the number for Lakes Bar.
"Lakes." It was a woman's voice, young-sounding. I could hear a jukebox in the background.
"Is Vincent there?" I asked. "The bartender."
"He comes in after me, at eight," she said. "Works eight to four."
"Okay, thanks...Listen, I owe him some money and I'm going to bring him by a check. Can you spell his last name for me?"
"What? Yeah. I know. It's a weird name. I'm pretty sure there are two t's. E-T-T-I-N."
"Thanks so much," I said, and hung up.
People will give you anything if you just ask directly. I called information and there was only one Vincent Ettin listed in Manhattan, and this Ettin still had a landline and lived at 425 West Forty-seventh Street. I had two hours to kill before he was to be at work at eight. Maybe I could find him beforehand, so I called the number and got an answering machine. It was a no-nonsense message: "This is Vincent. You know what to do." It could have been the guy in the picture or some other Vincent Ettin. I didn't leave a message.
I walked over to West Eighth Street and took the A train up to Forty-second Street. When I got out of the subway the last of the light was gone and it was evening; 425 was an old five-story walk-up. Apartment 4F had the name Ettin next to the buzzer. I buzzed 4F. Nothing. I buzzed 2F. A voice, that of an old lady, came through the intercom: "Who is it?"
"Building inspector, let me in."
"City building inspector, fire codes, let me in."
The door buzzed open. I went up to the fourth floor. I knocked at 4F. No answer. I knocked again. Silence. Out of instinct I didn't know I had, I tried the doorknob and the place was unlocked. Heart pounding with the feeling of transgression, I stepped in, the lights were on, and I called out "Hello," like a fool, and then I got hit by a bad smell. There were two large mounds of shit on the floor, right near the door, and I nearly stepped on them. There was also a pool of piss, which I had stepped in. What the hell is this? I thought. I closed the door and again called out, "Hello?"
I stepped over the shit and the piss, and separate from those two grosser elements it was definitely a ragged dump of a place and reminded me of my own apartment. There was a futon couch with white hairs all over it, an old TV, a good-looking stereo, a cluttered coffee table, and at the far end a miniature, nasty New York kitchen. There were no pictures anywhere, so I had no idea if this was the apartment of the Vincent Ettin that I was looking for.
A little black-and-white mutt came from some back room off the kitchen, probably the bedroom. Its tail was between its legs and it looked defeated and humiliated. Not much of a watchdog, it came over to me and I petted its head. I went through the kitchen and looked in the bedroom nobody was there, just an unmade futon bed, and a lot of musical equipment, several amps and three guitars, all of it new and expensive-looking. The bathroom, which was off the bedroom, was a squalid closet and also empty of human life.
The dog was following me around and I got the idea that if he hadn't been walked for a while, at least two days for the two dumps, he also probably hadn't been fed. I found a bowl and dry dog food in the kitchen and set him up. Then I headed for the front door and I noticed two things the window behind the futon-couch was wide-open with no screen and it led to a fire escape, which would make the place pretty vulnerable to a break-in, though the unlocked door made things even easier, and I also saw that there was a cell phone on the coffee table.
The musical equipment had pretty much convinced me that this was the V. Ettin I was looking for, but then to confirm it I called the cell number I had for him and the phone on the coffee table vibrated but didn't ring. The dog looked up but then kept on eating, and the phone moving on the coffee table, like a living thing, gave me a spooked feeling. So I hung up my phone, but Ettin's phone, because of some delay in the system, still shuddered, like something twitching before dying, until it finally did stop. Then I got the hell out of there.
I took the train back downtown and then made the long walk east over to Avenue B. By the time I got to Lakes, which was at the corner of Eleventh, it was eight thirty. It was a dark, stripped-down place. It had a scarred wood bar, plenty of booze, three taps for beer, stools, some booths, and a jukebox. It wasn't too crowded, and there was a man behind the bar but it wasn't Ettin. This fellow was short and very skinny and had a shiny, shaved head. My head is shaved but I always leave it stubbly, using old-fashioned barber's clippers. This guy went at his head with a razor.
I took a stool and for a moment I thought of ordering a beer. I wavered, then regained the old sober thinking, and when the bartender came over to me, I ordered a club soda. I gave him three bucks, sipped my drink, and he took care of some other customers. I wondered if Ettin was running late or wasn't going to show up. I waited a few minutes, then I waved the bartender over, deciding to show him my full hand. I took out the picture of Lisa Weiss and Vincent Ettin, which I'd folded up and put in the Goodis novel.
"Do you know these two?"
"Yeah," he said, wary. "What's this about?"
"What are their names?"
"That's Vincent and Lisa. What the fuck is going on?"
"I've been hired by Lisa's family to find her. She's been missing for a few days and she doesn't answer her phone and neither does Vincent. Do you know where they might be?"
The bartender looked at me and then looked down the bar and out the window by the front door, not for any real reason except to avoid my eye. I took forty dollars out of my wallet and put it on the bar. I don't know who I thought I was, but I had all the moves. Shiny-head saw the money.
"Tell me what you know," I said.
"Lisa is missing?"
"Yes, and her family is very concerned."
"Well...okay, I don't know where she is. Vince was supposed to work tonight but he called me a few hours ago and asked me to cover for him. He said he was upstate, that his band had a gig in Buffalo."
"That's what he said. But my phone has caller ID and it said that he was calling from the Senton Hotel and it was a 212 number, Manhattan."
"What do you think he's doing at the Senton?"
"He might be on a run."
"Yeah. He was on methadone but he went off about a month ago. First he was just snorting lines and then he started shooting it again."
Shiny realized that maybe he was saying too much, he was a natural gossip and hadn't been able to help himself. I pushed the forty over to him.
"I appreciate the information," I said.
"I'm only telling you all this because of Lisa. She's a young kid." He looked down at the forty bucks, which he still hadn't touched.
"I hear you," I said.
"What are you going to do?" he asked.
"Go to the Senton. That's probably where Lisa is."
I sat up from the stool. Shiny pocketed the forty and said, "Listen, before you came in another guy was looking for Vincent and gave me his card to give to Vincent. You'll probably see him before I do, so here's the card."
He pulled the card out of his pocket and handed it to me. On the card was the letter G in the middle and a 917 number. Below the number, handwritten, was 4/20/2007, which would be the next day. " So you didn't know this guy?"
"What was he like?"
"Spanish. A tough guy. About your height, six foot, but he looked like he lifted weights."
"My age. Thirties. To be honest, he kind of scared me."
Copyright © 2009 by Jonathan Ames
Meet the Author
Jonathan Ames is the author of I Pass Like Night; The Extra Man; What’s Not to Love?; My Less Than Secret Life; Wake Up, Sir!; I Love You More Than You Know; The Alcoholic; and The Double Life Is Twice As Good. He’s the creator of the HBO® Original Series Bored to Death and has had two amateur boxing matches, fighting as “The Herring Wonder.” For more information visit JonathanAmes.com.
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A tall black spiky haired guy walked in. He looked around the place curiously