THERE’S A COUPLE STAYING at the hotel, they‘ve been here for more than a week, waiting for the deal to go through on the house they’re buying. They’re a married couple, white, in their mid-thirties. He looks like he could be a butcher- a squat, meaty guy with a New Jersey accent. He’s always breaking balls. She’s meek. She likes sweatshirts. She’s big-boned and self-conscious about it. They’re unpretentious and friendly, in contrast to some of the guests who stay at the hotel, people who seem to think if they drop a couple bills on their room they’re obligated to act like dicks.
I usually get dropped off at eleven by my girlfriend Jen because I can’t drive, and we always make out a little bit before I get out of the car. We’re affectionate- not in a sleazy attention seeking sort of way- just affectionate.
And that guy- his name is Fisk- is invariably out front smoking a cigarette when we roll up into the loading zone, and when I get out of the car he always gives me shit: “you’re not supposed to make out on company property, Larry.” Sometimes his wife’s out there too, trying to get him to smoke less, and she makes some remark about us “making kissy-faces.” I tell them both to fuck off in a jokey voice and punctuate it with an overstated laugh, so they can’t miss that even though I’m joking around with them I’m still servile, de-fanged.
Night owls, they’re often awake into the wee hours. They stop by the desk and chat while I’m doing the audit. They talk about their cat, which is staying in the room with them. He’s a Russian Blue and he likes to sleep on Fisk’s computer bag. They don’t usually allow cats in the hotel- dogs, but not cats. Management has made an exception for Fisk.
They talk about the new house; it’s a big house in a nice neighborhood, the kind of neighborhood where the cheapest houses go for half a million.
They talk about high-end 3D TVs and video games. She’s a big gamer. He prefers horror movies.
Often I wish they’d go away and let me finish my spreadsheets.
One night there’s a note in the front desk log about Fisk. It turns out he’s a writer, a novelist, and his latest book is in the number nine spot on the New York Times Bestseller List for Young Adult Fiction. A journalist from The Times is coming to the hotel in a couple days to interview him. It’s a big deal. The guy from The Times might mention the hotel in passing; we’ve got to be on our toes.
As soon as it gets around that Fisk’s a successful writer the perks start raining down. They send him unexpected cheese plates. The maids refresh his towels every fifteen minutes. The bellmen hail cabs and stand in the gutter waiting to open the door for him. Lynn from Sales and Marketing arranges luxurious spa dates for his wife- massages, facials.
The guys in the bar mix hip, esoteric drinks for him- pretentiously prepared, full of rare ingredients, involving lots of time-consuming pestle-grinding and muddling. He sits at the bar being a character, his insights on popular culture shrewd but unpolished. He makes bold declarations in a manly, shoot-from-the-hip sort of way. He is Ernest Hemingway. They let him run up an immense tab.
And even though he doesn’t tip, everybody treats him with gaping respect.
“We don’t use cash,” he explains. “We usually tip at the end of our stay. See, we’re gonna be here for another week or two, and we can’t always be looking for an ATM just so we can have cash to tip people with. Everybody will get an envelope at the end of our stay.”
Successful writers are like that, everyone agrees. We speculate about what our envelopes might contain.
One night I’m getting out of the car, and he’s leaning against the flagpole down by the burgundy awning that hangs over the front doors of the hotel. He tosses his cigarette in the street and walks over to me.
“So Larry, they tell me you’re writer, what do you write?”
I’m taken by surprise. My coworkers know that I write, but it seems weird that anybody would tell Fisk. I’m also flattered. Here’s this guy from the New York Times Bestseller List for Young Adult Fiction taking an interest in my work.
Maybe he could help me get published.
It’s the way things were supposed to happen ten or twenty years ago: a mentor would appear who recognized my genius. He would help me get published, or become a rock star or whatever. I’ve always thought I would have made a great young genius.
Anyway, I tell him I’m working on a novel, and he seems interested. But I don’t linger on it. I congratulate him on his book being in the number nine spot on the New York Times Bestseller List for Young Adult Fiction.
“Oh you heard about that did you?”
“Yeah, I did. So what kind of book is it?”
“Oh man, I’m kind of embarrassed to say, but . . . well, it’s a vampire book.”
“Yeah, but it’s not like Twilight, all right?”
“No, I didn’t assume . . .”
Of course. Goddamned vampires. Everybody’s writing fucking vampire books, buying fucking McMansions. Getting hooked up with free cheese plates and massages.
“I’m not going to say it isn’t a good thing; it is. But this vampire book, I wrote it in, like, two months. I mean I just cranked that shit out, without thinking too much about it, or even trying all that hard. It sucks, Larry. But that’s the one that’s selling . . .”
You poor poor bastard.
“. . . but I’m really proud of my first book: (something inaudible) Moon. It took me two years to write that book. I poured my soul into it. And nobody cared. But this stupid vampire book, that’s the one that everybody likes.”
“Still . . . it pays the bills, right?”
“Yeah,” he says, nodding.
I try to Google him when I get inside, but I don’t know his first name. I know his last name is Fisk, because that’s what they wrote in the front desk log. But I’ve never heard anyone ever say his first name out loud, not even his wife, and the room is under her name, Allison Campbell. I find a couple of Fisks, but not The Fisk.
Later on he stops by the desk. He’s been in the bar drinking and he’s shitfaced. He’s bored and he wants to talk.
During our conversation he gets kind of flattering- not in an overly smarmy way- but enough to be off-putting. He lets it drop how he considers me a unique thinker. He’d like to write a character based on me. Would I mind? He says I’m a “Tim Burton” sort of character. It kind of pisses me off when he says that, but also I have no idea what he means. I don’t have scissors for hands or dress like a bat or live in a chocolate factory. I think he must mean I’m dark or sarcastic or something.
“So what’s your book about?” I ask, trying to shift the subject off of me.
“Oh, well, you mean (something inaudible)? The new one?”
He never says the names of his books loud enough so you can hear.
“Yeah,” I say. “The vampire book”
“OK. Well, for one thing, my vampires are, like, classic vampires, all right? None of this shimmering shit, or going out in the daytime. My vampires are, like, Bram Stoker vampires. They have to sleep in coffins all day, and you can only kill them with a stake through the heart, and they drink blood. You know: classic vampires. None of this Twilight shit.
Anyway, there’s this vampire, well, actually there’s this vampire and his brother, who is also a vampire, and they’re, like, aristocrats from an estate in the Carpathians, and well, his brother was turned into a vampire when he was a little kid, so he’s, like, a little kid vampire, right? He never grows older. And the two brothers have a fight, and so they chase each other all through the centuries, having showdowns in various eras, like the Civil War, and . . . hot air balloon times . . . until we finally reach the present day, which is San Francisco, 1967: The Summer of Love.”
I’m getting eleven dollars an hour to fill out spreadsheets, and Fisk is number nine on the New York Times Bestseller List for Young Adult Fiction.
I take a sip of my iced chai latte.
“What is that Larry? Is that a White Russian? You know you’re not supposed to drink on company property, Larry.”
“It’s an iced chai latte actually.”
“You guys have iced chai lattes?”
“Well, I mean, I made it. They have teabags in the back.”
“It looks really good.”
“I could make you one.”
“Not for me, really, but for Allison. I mean, she really likes chai, and she’s kind of pissed off at me right now because I’m not supposed to be drinking so much, or smoking cigarettes, and she’s upstairs playing video games . . . and if a brought her a nice iced chai latte it might sort of smooth things over.”
So we’re standing in the kitchen. Usually I don’t ask guests back there because it’s sort of shabby- metallic gray flake linoleum counters chipped all to hell, a sad little dorm-room microwave, some of those glass-front food-service refrigerators. Everything about the kitchen says: bacteria, neglect, second-rate. But like I said, he’s unpretentious . . . and he’s drunk.
So I’m steeping the tea.
“Anyway, the little vampire brother, he comes across the Atlantic in the Titanic . . . and I did a lot of research on that, I read Titanic books and shit, because I wanted to make that part really realistic, you know? So the little vampire crosses the ocean in the Titanic, but he can’t make it into one of the life rafts before the ship goes down; he’s out there treading freezing water, but he can’t die right? He’s just really really cold. And the guys in the rescue boats, they fish him out and they look at him like he’s the devil or something . . .”
He tells me the entire plot, and it’s got to be the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard in my life.
Later, he asks me about my writing and I tell him about my book, and I then I tell him about my movies. I’ve written and directed three handicam features that have been rejected by every film festival known to man.
He confides in me that he’s always wanted to be a filmmaker. He’s got three short film ideas; maybe I could help him make them? He’s got, say, fifty-thousand dollars he could spend.
More money than I could raise in several years.
“I’ve been lucky, you know, and I just want to give back,” he says. “I’ve offered to help several people on the staff.”
It had been lingering at the edge of my consciousness, of course, but I hadn’t wanted to admit that somebody could be so brazen and get away with it. That somebody could just tell people that they were somebody, that they had something big going on, and everybody would be so mesmerized by the idea of success that they wouldn’t be able to see that the guy was completely full of shit.
“So what do you say?” he wants to know.
I tell him no, I can’t do it. I find the filmmaking process frustrating, these things take years, plus I’ve got a novel to work on.
Later on I’m filling out the spreadsheets thinking about the imaginary fifty grand, and I start to feel a little sorry for myself. In a world where thousands have met their ends in cellars and ditches, where bodies are left to rot at roadsides, my sufferings are miniscule, I know. Nevertheless, the more I think about Fisk, the more I become embittered about my own situation. I should be home in bed with my girlfriend, but instead I’m across town, eating soup out of a can, counting out some other man’s money in the middle of the night. And meanwhile Fisk is upstairs with his fucking blue cat and his 3D TV, shoving a tall teetering stack of old room-service plates out onto the landing, and I will have to pick them up and drag them downstairs, the old food smells making me queasy, the picked-through lobster carcasses, the coagulating white sauce, the wilted vegetables in my face.
I obsess. I go to the New York Times website. It doesn’t take long to find out there isn’t a New York Times Bestseller List for Young Adult Fiction. I search and I search, I use a hundred different keywords, but it’s just not there. Finally I come across a section called Chapter Books, which is the rough equivalent of a Bestseller List for Young Adult Fiction, but there isn’t anyone named Fisk anywhere on the list, in fact three of the titles are Hunger Games books, another three are Twilight books. At the number nine spot is Diary of a Wimpy Kid.
Fisk is a fake.
When he comes down at three a.m. for his last cigarette, I ask him.
“You know, I never got your first name.”
“Oh, I’m Jacob.”
And after he’s gone back upstairs, I Google Jacob Fisk, but he . . . doesn’t exist.
In the morning Vicky the general manager comes in.
“Has 211 said anything to you about settling his bill?”
211. Fisk’s room.
“His bill is already up over seven thousand dollars, and I just want him to settle up what he owes and go from there, but he says he doesn’t want to pay until he checks out. It’s got me nervous.”
“Well, he’s not on the New York Times Bestseller List for Young Adult Fiction,” I tell her, triumphant. “I don’t think he’s even a writer.”
“Well, honestly, I don’t really care about that. I just want him to pay his bill.”
After work I ask Jen if she can find out anything about him. She’s good with that kind of shit- finding people on the internet. She does a couple of searches and finds him in minutes, on PublishAmerica, a print-on-demand vanity press site. (Become a new published author for free!) His vampire book, Gloom, is on there, and also the one that took him two years to write, his first one, The Wolf’s Moon, a book about werewolves.
The cover graphic looks like clip art, a ham-fisted sketch of a vampire in a cemetery seen through a wrought iron gate. The title Gloom emblazoned across the top in Blackadder font, the one they use on the pamphlets for the pirate theme park they have on display in the vending area.
There’s a link on the site to Fisk’s Amazon page, which PublishAmerica provides free for its new novelists. There are two five-star reviews for Gloom on the page, one written by “Jacob” and another written by “Allison Campbell.” Both claim that the book is the real deal, faultlessly written, with “Stoker vampires,” and “none of that Twilight shit.”
Gloom’s Amazon ranking is 3,253,689.
I didn’t know there were 3,253,689 books in the world. It’s wonderful news. Suddenly it’s okay to be nowhere and nobody; it’s okay to fill out spreadsheets for eleven dollars an hour, to schlep reeking room-service trays down the service elevator in the middle of the night.
I have a couple of days off, and by the time I get back to work they’ve gone. They’d been extending their stay weekly, Friday to Friday, and the last time they came down to extend for another week, Vicky had lied and told them we had a full house over the weekend, that we had no available rooms. They had no choice but to settle up and leave.
That night I went snooping into their folio. They had racked up a nine thousand dollar tab. And there was a note in the notes section that said “credit card number is from Miss Campbell’s father.” They ended up paying with her dad’s Visa.