Charles Ramsey - hell, that dude know how to tell a story! The sensational rise of the charismatic restaurant dish washer and part time rescuer of abductees has become a story himself; a modern day parable of the Good Samaritan complete with racial subtext, added product placement and swearing.
That Ramsey is the hero of the moment is not in question; the question is, how long can he make the moment last? Those who have followed the unfolding drama in Cleveland Ohio have been treated to some of the best and most expert story telling since Homer put quill to papyrus and Ramsey's narrative is necessary, filling, as it does, an emotional void in the story of the three women's abductions.
When the women were released from their decade-long confinement last week, the public was given the resolution to a story of which most were entirely unaware. It was like starting a novel on the last page. We'd made no investment in the characters, understood nothing of the exposition and had been oblivious to the conflict. All of this will come in time of course, as the trial of Castro is reported and as the women themselves give their own accounts to the public via whichever means they choose.
However, in a news hungry world, the wait is made bearable, entertaining even, as Charles Ramsey fills the void with his own story. His experience, as it is lived out in front of cameras from Ohio to Beijing, is totally compelling. Here is a man with a small part in a big drama - a messenger from Thebes, second spear carrier from the right - who understands that he's having his fifteen minutes of fame and who is unabashedly exploiting every one of them. As a story teller, he is irresistible.
What he represents is authenticity. From his first 911 call littered with expletives and street speak, he is utterly himself. Small wonder that the news teams chose to focus on him as the key witness; the guy is TV gold. His tale, reframed each time as the enjoyment of the teller grows, is as entertaining as it is shocking.
Here, all the devices of the actor and playwright are assembled before us, from the vivid descriptions of the domestic life of the average American, signalled by the references to McDonald's, ribs and barbeques in the yard which make the shocking revelation of the girls' captivity so much more acute, along with heightened pauses, repetition, theatrical emphasis and some exquisite and well chosen phrases.
"My neighbour got big testicles, 'cos we see this dude every day!" Ramsey exclaims. The dropping of Castro's balls into the conversation is delightful, teetering on the edge of appropriateness and laden with macho incredulity at the audacity of a man who you wouldn't look twice at 'until today!'
Watch the interview and you'll see a natural performer at work. As Ramsey recounts the events, the man is physically engaged in the story, holding an imagined phone to his ear, pointing towards McDonald's, all the time employing as wide a range of facial expressions as have ever been put down in any actor's manual. As for the language! The energy and rhythm of the black vernacular is so engaging, it's positively addictive. And this is a clever, articulate man with an ear for a sound bite. When he draws the image of the 'pretty little white girl' who 'jump into a black man's arms' as a 'dead giveaway' that something was wrong, he drops a socio-political bomb with taboos exploding left, right and centre.
Type 'dead giveaway' into Youtube and you'll come up with Ramsey's interview set to music. Listen to it and I'll hazard a guess you'll be singing it in the bath as you soap your own inadequate testicles.
The thing is, his point, made with the good humour that is clearly characteristic of the man, starts a conversation about race which America fights shy of. Traditionally, the black man has been stereotyped as sexually predatory, dangerous and criminal. Ramsey sure as hell knew what he was doing when he invoked it from his newly secure position of the hero of the hour and African Americans have welcomed this opportunity to talk about the taboo he has bust open in a society which claims to have moved on from its racist, unequal past.
That Ramsey himself has convictions for petty criminality and domestic abuse seems to matter not a jot. We like our heroes flawed. This man has travelled his own journey from disgrace to redemption, a redemption sealed in public view outside 2207 Seymour, West 25th.
As he continues to tread his new path as international media sensation, McDonald's is contemplating an all-beef-special-sauce-style reward for him while the owners of the restaurant he washes up in have been selling T shirts with his face on. That dude got big testicles. I'm buyin'.Suggest a correction