Emergency: This Book Will Save Your Life - Neil Strauss (2009)
Part III. ESCAPE
The next morning, as Spencer and I sat on the patio, a tall, sullen man let himself into the house and stormed to the kitchen. He acknowledged no one, and no one acknowledged him. Evidently, he was the cook. As he grabbed pans and utensils with quick, angry movements, the maid moved through the house at a defiantly slow pace, collecting dirty linens.
“We need to make you a ten-year plan,” Spencer said, beginning my next business lesson. “Before I started my company, I sat down and planned everything. It took a decade to execute, but in that time, nothing happened that wasn’t part of the plan. So to start, let’s make a list right now of the projects you’re working on.”
I gave him a thumbnail sketch of future books. Most recently, I’d received a call out of the blue from Britney Spears. I had interviewed her for an article and we’d exchanged phone numbers. Almost a year later, she had called and invited me to her house in Malibu.
“Do you think I can try surfing with you like this?” she asked with touching naïveté when I arrived and told her she lived across the highway from my favorite surf spot. She was at least five months pregnant with her second child.
She had called me over, she explained as we sat down on her couch, because after I’d interviewed her, she’d researched me and seen my books. Now she wanted me to write her life story.
“I want it to be something like this,” she said. In her hand was a copy of Goldie Hawn’s A Lotus Grows in the Mud. In her other hand was a crumpled piece of white paper. On it, she had written notes from her life: about cheating on Justin Timberlake, about resenting her parents’ control, about sexually acting out.
“So are you going to write it?” Spencer asked after I told him the story.
“I think it’ll be a good book if she’s going to be that honest,” I said. “But afterward, things got really strange. Her manager, her agent, and her lawyer were all fighting for control of her. Some of them wanted to do the book; others didn’t. She started calling me, but for some reason they took away her phone and it became impossible to get in touch with her.”
Spencer went silent and thought for a while. “Okay,” he said, “so we have the Britney situation, the passport situation, and the ten-year plan. What if we put them all together?” I loved the way his potato mind worked. I needed more people like this in my life.
“I don’t know if I want to put them together. The Britney book is probably a bad idea. Her people would never let the truth come out.”
I noticed the cook talking to the maid in a hushed French accent. It was the first time I’d seen either of them smile. As soon as they realized I was looking, they separated and went about their business. It felt like a class war was brewing in the house.
“You know what would be great?” Spencer went on. “Find a killer place in some third-world paradise and spend a relatively insignificant amount of money building it into a compound.” The word compound filled my head with images of the House of Yahweh. I couldn’t believe I was seriously contemplating this. “Then start a publishing company. If someone like Britney wants to work with you, you can bring her and her entire entourage there. Make sure they’re taken care of. Every day her friends can play while you work. The property will pay for itself, because not only will you be the writer everyone wants to go to, but you can start publishing books by other celebrities as well.”
“But I don’t have the kind of money you do.”
As the cook chopped vegetables with no affection for the task, I thought about how little it would take for the have-nots to revolt against the haves. When those who feel like they’re being treated unjustly have a target for their resentment, they become coiled springs pressed toward the ground. Whether you add more pressure or take it away, the result is the same: they will rise against you.
“You don’t need money,” Spencer responded. “No intelligent person spends his own money. Have your publisher fund it as a joint venture. They can bring other writers and clients there too.”
Suddenly, leaving the country felt less like an escape from the rat race and more like an opportunity to run it better and faster than the other rats.
That night, after a house dinner during which the B boys gossiped about a friend who almost brought the New York Stock Exchange to a standstill, Spencer and I sat in the living room and watched television. On the news, North Korea, upset over sanctions imposed by the United Nations after the country conducted a nuclear test, was threatening to “mercilessly” retaliate.
Spencer and I didn’t need to say a word to each other. We were both thinking the same thing.