An excerpt from Not In The Eye by C Z Hazard
I missed the stop sign as I was flicking ash off of my $200 khakis, concerned about the possibility of another resin burn. Most of my clothes live on the floor immediately surrounding my suitcase, but I constantly tell people I have moths in my non-existent closet.
The cop car pulled out behind me, more light and sound than the Lady Gaga memorial concert that I was backstage at last week. I now had a choice: drive hard, dump the car and get my agent to ‘phone it in as stolen, or pull over and risk finding the one cop in SoCal who wouldn’t take a bribe.
I tried to drop the piranha into fourth gear, but it was another lazy-ass automatic [I miss Europe; I “test-drove” the new Ferrari for three weeks while I was out there, for an “article” on super-cars that never existed. It would have been a damn good article too, if the Italian for shark had translated better, and if I hadn't written off the supercar. You know, I would have written the damn piece, but it didn't pay well and it just felt so... passé. It's a shame I hadn't been hurt, as that would have made a worthwhile article. Mind you, if I'd been injured badly, well, I’d probably have another book deal to contend with. If I'd killed someone in the crash? Shit, I'd probably have my own TV show]. Silver trim and lining.
Still, this independent driving mechanism meant my free hand could operate my brand-new 2TB iPod that Stephen gave me for my birthday, as I selected the appropriate background music for the ensuing chase. I opted for track five from the forthcoming Neo-Nirvana album; you mere mortals will see it in the store in about three months’ time.
It pays to be the biggest name in nu-Gonzo ™ media-journalism. All the bloggers may hate me, but that's only because I, Indigo Julius, refuse to do for pay what most would do for free, picking and choosing the best work. I have had more court cases taken out against me than Private Eye, all for breach of contract. I have even more injunctions preventing me from writing about certain things and certain people. Apparently my word counts for something, like the making or breaking of billion-dollar brands. Just as my seal of approval can revive your dying acting career or put your unheard-of band on the map, my exposés and hostile reviews can turn your name to mud, whoever you are. Indigo Julius speaks and millions listen. And Indigo Julius should know, because Indigo Julius has seen everything.
The only problem in having seen everything: Where do I take it from here?
Towards the end of the second decade of the 21st Century, there was a palpable feel in the air that everything that could be done had been done. Media had become an Ouroboros, but instead of eating itself it was eating its own shit. Literally. Human Millipede 6 was the highest-grossing film of the summer and returned Nicholas Cage to Oscar-winning status.
There were no properties left to exploit; the comic industry had been strip-mined of all its good ideas, characters and creators, and had collapsed in on itself like a bad sink-hole; once a quarry has been emptied, you're out of business. Print media was more or less dead, with only two major national newspapers left and your average book price higher than a cinema ticket, since physical print now cost way more than digital reproduction. Not that anyone bought anything anymore; we just paid for the rights to view it for the brief moment in time when it might amuse us, or distract us from ourselves or from the person sleeping next to us.
But still we had to have more. More sequels. More hype. Bigger budgets. Release dates announced years in advance, a totally synthetic gold rush desperate to stake a claim on even the most inauspicious dates on the calendar. It was a science; everything had been quantified. The studios knew how to exploit the market; they had the algorithms that could tell you everything about a movie’s success by looking at the cast, release date, budget, theme and the competition at the time – everything but whether it would be any good. Not that it mattered; making a good product had long been written off as an expensive luxury, as a non-essential part of the movie-making process.
In this barren landscape, people were yearning to see something new. Something different. Some... thing. Please, Indigo, anything.
And when it came, shooting onto film at twenty-nine miles an hour, in 3D, at a cinema near you, it made the world take notice.
My publisher was still sore about the Ferrari incident, and decided that I needed to write a book by way of compensation (and proved in court that I was contractually obligated to). What better subject matter was there?
I had driven to California in pursuit of the ultimate story. In the one area of the media where honest, hard-working men (Editor: surely people? Indigo: fuck off) still strove towards innovation. If I could just shake this damn cop car before he called a helicopter on me, or started shooting at me, I would get to write my piece about the only growth industry left in America: The Porn Industry.
It's a huge estate, easily dwarfing the grounds of the White House, with a similar level of security, as I found when I tried to sneak in over the compound wall. His security detail roughed me over and didn't seem too impressed when Mark Man confirmed that we did indeed have an appointment.
As I sit, Mark Man is fixing me a drink. He has Coca-Cola on tap, directly shipped in every week. Not the cheap syrup rubbish you find in bars and movie theatres; this is direct from the source. Before they can or bottle it, they ship some here. If he wanted, he could afford champagne. I ask him, why Coke?
Mark Man: You know, man, I've tried it all. I've done it all. Snorted. Sucked. Fucked. Licked. Rubbed. Drunk. Eaten my favourite thing in the world to eat… and eaten food, my second favourite thing in the world to eat. There isn't a vice I haven't tried.
He says all this with incredible candour.
Mark Man: I've shaken them all, but this...
He holds up his freshly poured drink.
Mark Man: It's the only vice I can't shake. My wife says I’m a sucker for a trademark, and - if I was gonna have a coke addiction - it was always going to be the upper-case, trademarked variety.
Mark Man used to have it all. Then he got more. He reclines in his plush cushions and lazily sweeps his perfectly groomed hair back from his face.
Mark Man: I used to think if I lost my advertising business, I'd lose everything. There was a certain lifestyle I'd become accustomed to. There was definitely a lifestyle my wife had become accustomed to.
His wife, Demi Goddess, from the UK, the self-proclaimed “perfect woman”. She made her fortune by appearing fully clothed in every lads’ mag1 going, and by appearing as the Page 3 model for three years in the biggest selling red-top newspaper in Britain without ever once exposing her famous chest. Her gimmick is elegantly simple: she never fully revealed herself. Her “porn” DVD is one of the biggest-selling in history and is infamous for showing no full frontal nudity. No lips, no bush, not even both nipples visible at the same time. No one is sure if she was even penetrated vaginally or simply faking it, and certainly it contains no anal or blow-jobs anywhere to be seen. The cum-shot happened, but after she'd left the room. In an age in which we have become used to getting what we want, when we want it, at the tips of our fingers, Demi has found the hidden ingredient to becoming a multi-millionairess show business performer; don't give your audience what they want.
I say all this not as mere exposition, but to make a point: even with you knowing all this, Mark Man’s achievements make hers seem small.
Mark Man: At one point, at ComProp, we had our finger in everything: casting agencies, literary agencies, marketing, development, branding. We expanded too fast. Like everyone else, we borrowed and spent based on what we thought we had the potential to earn, not based on what we were actually earning.
This has since become known as the MC Hammer Effect; the ageing rapper/dancer/man with several silly looking music videos serves as a surprisingly perfect allegory for the collapse of the US economy.
Mark Man: We eventually scaled back to a single agency, and concentrated on what we knew best; marketing and branding. But it was too little too late. Too much toxic debt. I knew when we down-sized our days were numbered.
Indigo Julius: Is that when you had the idea?
Mark Man: No, that came to me towards the end. During the dark times.
John Thomas (no, really!) is sat at his desk. He says, as a writer, it’s where he feels most comfortable. Obviously, as a writer myself, I am most comfortable on the floor, lent against the bed in a small crappy room, fighting to maintain an upright position without pushing the bed away from me, into the door of his leaking fridge.
John Thomas: Yes, it is my real name. And no, I've never worked in the porn industry.
John Thomas - I laugh every time - is a bitter man. One of the key copy-writing agents at ComProp during its last five years of trade. Every year, when business shrank, John took a smaller pay-check, as he was too chickenshit to look for another job.
John: No, it's not like that. I had faith in Mark Man, in the work we were doing at ComProp, I honestly believed things would get better.
Indigo: You knew him a long time, right? Like, before he changed his name?
John: Yeah, when we met he was Mark (unable to print for contractual reasons – editor. Fuck off, it's Petravitch – Indigo). Another grandson of another immigrant who came to make a name and fortune for himself, back when that was still possible in this country.
Now he’s Mark Man. You know, he has actually sued people for printing his real name, or for referring to him as just Mark, sans man? He had a perfectly good name. I don't know why he'd change it.
Indigo: Why don't you change your name?
John: There's nothing wrong with my name. It's a good, strong, American name...
I swear if he'd used the word “hard” I would have pissed myself.
John: Some of us don't need to change our names; it's just another attempt to re-write the past. That's what he and his “Goddess” are so good at doing. For the record, her real name was Julia Smith. Hardly a name destined for greatness.
He's alluding of course, to what has brought me to his house, for this interview; the impending court case and the incessant conjecture it will bring with it. Neither of these men should be going on the record now, and do so against the advice of their respective lawyers. I lied to get the interviews, telling them both that the other had already agreed to tell their story, and neither could risk having their side go unheard. I do what I do best; I bait:
Indigo: When you say he rewrites the past?
John: I mean, we both know the real story. The proper sequence of events; how it actually went down.
I push more buttons and get more information.
Indigo: I saw John yesterday. He tells me it was all his idea. That he shared something with you in confidence and you stole it.
Mark Man: Let me tell you something about John; he's played it safe his entire life. I gave him a good job, and I guaranteed his income. When I couldn't even guarantee mine, I made sure he got paid. What did he lose when the business went under? Huh? Somewhere warm to check his emails and drink coffee? His flat? I was going to lose everything I had built: my home, my lifestyle, and my wife.
He gestures to her and she approaches, kissing him affectionately on the cheek.
Mark Man: A lady like this, she has certain expectations. She's a class act. I wouldn't expect her to stand by me if I couldn't provide for her.
Indigo: So are you saying that none of it was his idea?
He takes a second before answering, and – even then – it's not really an answer, it's a politician’s answer. Right there and then, I have a good idea of who is going to win this court case.
Mark Man: What separates normal people from writers? When a normal person thinks of something, they have a choice: act on it or don't act on it. When writers have an impulse, they have a choice: act on it or write about it. I didn't fuck about; I acted on it.
He leans forward, encroaching a little into my personal space, but in a friendly, non-threatening way.
Mark Man: If it was John’s idea, it would still be floating around in his head. He talks the talk and fancies himself a writer, but I've never seen anything he’s written. Do you see any books with his name on them? A TV show? A film? Anything?
John: Of course he's going to claim it's his idea. Do you know how much he’s worth because of it?
This was a tricky question. Mark Man had money before, and his wife was worth millions. His estimated net worth put him on the Forbes 500 list; during a time where most people’s wealth was going down, his was going up.
John: It was the night he told me he was going to have to shut the company down, that it wasn't making any money. I'm not sure how it wasn't making money, as he could still afford to drive his Buggati Enron.
John: Yeah, the Veyron. You know what he calls that car now? They made him a special custom edition with a personalised plate.
I shake my head.
John: Bukkake Veyron. It actually says that on the plate. They gave him that. He could afford a fleet of them.
That's brilliant. Great advertising. I never wanted one before. I do now.
John: I'll tell you how it really was in the final year. Despite downsizing, our company was still paying out $500k a year in salaries. There was the MD, his PA, two executive directors, the secretary, chauffeur, two cleaners, and me. The staff peaked at twenty designers and copy-writers, all of whom had quit or been fired, and I had foolishly taken on some of the design work as well as creating all the campaigns and copy-writing.
Think about it; only one person doing the actual design and marketing work in an advertising company? Me. How much was my work worth? Half a mill? A cool million? And why was I paying other people’s salaries? People who, as far as I could tell, had contributed nothing?
Indigo: So at what point did you tell him your idea? Was it a project you were working on? Some promotional work for a company?
John: This was a completely separate area from my paid work. I was never commissioned to write fiction while I was working at the agency.
I could mention the falsified safety record scandal ComProp had with Delta Airlines when he worked on their account, but I don’t.
John: Mark takes me out to dinner, because we're friends, right? And that's what you do with your friends, yeah? No, he takes me out to tell me the company is folding. Mark, he's very good at playing friends. He even asks me what I'm going to do once the company shuts down. I tell him I'm going to go back to writing.
Each “friends” is spoken slightly more bitterly.
Indigo: Go back?
John: It's my first love. I've always been a writer.
Indigo: Anything published?
John: No, but that’s not important. So anyway, I tell him this idea for a story I've had. It's a bit weird, but it's different, never been done before, completely original.
Indigo: And what did he say when you told him?
Mark Man: I said to him: “Okay, that's your setting. But where’s the story?” He couldn't answer. He's about as much a writer as I am an advertiser.
John: He didn't say much. We just finished our drinks, said goodbye and went home.
Indigo: When did you find out about it?
John: The same time as everyone else did. When it went global. That thing took viral memes to a new level, it was like... an electronic STI.
Indigo: Like internet AIDS?
John: Exactly. Like internet AIDS. Haha, that's good. I like it.
Indigo: Did you confront him about it?
John: Yeah, I did.
Indigo: What did he say?
John: He laughed in my face and said if I wanted, I could write his autobiography for him.
Mark Man: That was a genuine offer. I was suddenly world famous, people wanted to know about me. I offered a friend a gig that would have paid quite well, and got him in print as a genuine professional author.
Indigo: What did he say?
John: I said, “It was my fucking idea. I'm a storyteller, not a biographer. And certainly not a fucking ghost writer.” It's only an autobiography if you write it yourself, dumb bastard.
Indigo: Okay, well let’s not get too side-tracked. Where did the idea come from?
John: I'm not sure. I used to have a friend who was a teuthologist...
Indigo: A what?
John: He was a biologist, specialising in squid and octopi. He used to tell me about his work, I guess it kind of infiltrated my consciousness, or something triggered some memory, and one thing led to another...
Indigo: To coin a phrase; are you a wanker?
Indigo: Do you watch a lot of porn?
John: Oh, no. Not really, why?
Indigo: Just wondering what else you might have exposed yourself to, for an idea like that to germinate.
John: Where do any ideas come from? I just thought it would be a good idea for a story. It felt different. Unique. A story about a man making a lot of money by doing something completely new, completely different. Like how Superman2 was completely unique in the thirties, before all the derivatives watered it down.
I try to force an analogy; the displacement of millions of Jews to a strange and foreign land of infinite possibility, compared to that of a man shooting his wad over porn stars. Although, the more I thought about it, each cumshot engendered the displacement of millions of potential people to a place where every man has been before, and each human is the sole sperm survivor of a doomed locale; if the analogy fits… Besides, both created entire genres from nothing, genres which would change and redefine a medium for years to cum (Surely come? – Editor. Fuck off – Indigo).
Indigo: Can you compare the two? I mean, Superman stands for something?
John: For what? Truth? Justice? The American way? This is the American way: plagiarism and litigation. It won't involve truth or justice until we get our day in court. All Superman stands for is the ideal; that in all of us there is something special. That regardless of race, age or creed, there is the potential for something truly unique in all of us.
Indigo: Like the ability to shoot thick, viscous, jet black cum over porn starlets’ faces?
John: Yes. I'll put it another way. Why do we want to be special? To be genetically superior? To become Übermensch? Why, if not to spread your seed? What for, if not to get laid more?