Author Mike Sacks grew up in Bethesda but escaped to New York City and a job as an editor at Vanity Fair. Through his Sunshine Beam imprint, he recently re-released Stinker Let’s Loose, the novelization of the raucous 1977 drive-in movie about a trucker and a chimp delivering beer to Jimmy Carter. Except there was no movie. Mike made it up, wrote the slim book, and then Audible produced a version voiced by Jon Hamm, Andy Richter, Rhea Seehorn, Paul F. Thompkins, and other comedy notables.
Sacks’ new book continues his mind-fuck approach to literature. Randy!: The Full and Complete Unedited Biography and Memoir of the Amazing Life and Times of Randy S.! claims to be the self-published memoir of a completely uninspiring shlub from Poolesville that Sacks says he found at a garage sale and decided to re-publish.
Just as native son George Pelecanos continues to chronicle the gritty alleyways of D.C., Sacks has the ‘burbs covered, mostly Montgomery County. As with a Pelecanos book, there’s a special joy for locals in seeing the likes of Rockville’s Big Screen Store, the Pooks Hill Holiday Inn, Shady Grove, and I-270 name-checked in print. If you’re thinking, “Well, that’s a pretty sad lineup,” you are not incorrect. But this “memoir” captures a vividly realized world that sad sack Randy inhabits and Sacks draws him fully and with some sympathy. Not since Susan Coll‘s novel Rockville Pike has the 355 corridor seen such print action.
City Paper recently spoke with Sacks by phone from New York to discuss his new book and what’s so appealing about the suburbs of Montgomery County.
Washington City Paper: This book is the most Maryland thing ever.
Mike Sacks: I still miss Maryland, I miss it. I know that world so well, it’s in my blood. But I don’t really know the New York world. I never really did. But Maryland, boy, I tell ya, Montgomery County going into Frederick County—I love it.
WCP: You go deep. A lot of people could have name-checked Seven Locks Road, but you mention Gainsborough Road.
MS: That’s where I grew up.
WCP: There are plenty of people who live in the D.C. area but have no interaction with the city except maybe going to a sports event. And that seems to be where Randy lives.
MS: Totally. I worked with people like this. I worked at Kemp Mill Records for 10 years. They lived in Gaithersburg and Rockville and they literally never went into D.C. Ever. Did not go in. They were big tough guys but when it came to going into D.C. they were terrified. Very provincial. They stuck with their own. They’d rather go to the Rio mall in Gaithersburg than into the real Mall downtown.
WCP: The book is a fair portrait of mall culture as well.
MS: Yeah, I grew up with that. I know people who honeymooned at the Rio mall. I myself was like that when I worked at Kemp Mill Records after college. I was totally isolated. This is pre-internet. Just a lot of loneliness, a solitary life. You get in your car, you drive someplace, you eat alone, then you come back. It wasn’t as easy to reach out then, pre-internet. But I very easily could have been this character. Very easily, could have remained in retail in D.C., lived off of an office park near I-270, drove to places every day. Randy really is what I could have become. I mean very easily. Because I worked years and years in retail. And I was very comfortable there. In some ways I’m more comfortable there than I am anywhere else. It was just a matter of luck really that I just kind of snuck out of that world.
WCP: So writing the story was therapeutic?
MS: I mean, I genuinely like [Randy]. I feel for him. I just know this character really really well. It was just fun as shit [writing the book]. Reading about a John Updike character in Pennsylvania or Cheever in Connecticut—that means nothing to me. I didn’t read the New Yorker until after college and didn’t really know of it. But like this world, I feel like Scorcese when he did Mean Streets. No one did anything about the real New York. Well, no one that I’ve found has done a real—obviously it’s not a huge go-to subject—but the real D.C. suburbs. Everyone to this day in New York thinks I’m from Baltimore because I say I’m from Maryland.
WCP: Have friends read it and just head-scratched on things like Hechingers and Wintergreen Mall?
MS: Oh, Wintergreen! Don’t look at it! What’s interesting is that a lot of people, even if they aren’t from that area, they like the specifics even if they don’t know of them. And it doesn’t mean what it does to us but I think it sort of tethers the character to that world.
WCP: You just don’t care that some of the references are so specific…
MS: I don’t give a shit, no. I also tried to get in that advertisement, Mattress Discounters. [Sings] “Sleep on it! Make love on it!”
WCP: I’m guessing some people will think that’s just a ridiculous joke you made up.
MS: [LAUGHING] I know! I know!
WCP: The conceit that you found this and put it out rather than just writing it—it’s similar to what you did with Stinker Let’s Loose.
MS: To me comedy is funnier if someone’s not trying to be funny. There’s always something desperate about a comedy book. Tony Kornheiser‘s Pumping Irony or something like that, you just want to cringe. That’s another thing, too: D.C. humor, man—that’s a whole book in itself. I grew up with Mark Russell, Capitol Steps, all that garbage. But something like this, I just love Andy Kaufman, I love that feeling of if someone came across this not knowing if it was real or not. That to me adds another layer to it and makes it more realistic and funnier.
Dave Nuttycombe grew up in Rockville but has never bought anything at the Big Screen Store.