We were walking to a Starbucks after jogging our cream-colored Labradoodle at the park near our home in Kansas City, Missouri. Our conversation turned from the fit of a pair of slacks we'd bought at the Saks Fifth Avenue outlet store near Schlitterbahn the day before to the introduction for this issue, the seventh annual VICE fiction issue. It is a themeless issue—meaning the stories aren't by people who live in LA, or by women, or all horror stories, or written by writers who have stayed in hotels (all ideas we have employed or considered, and reserve the right to use in the future)—and so we were having trouble introducing it without writing about ourselves. We even argued with each other. We questioned the whole enterprise of writing an introduction.
We tied our dog to the faux wrought-iron fence and came inside to order our two flat whites.
"You changed up your order," the barista said. "Gotta do it. Go hard or go home."
We started laughing. We laughed hard and genuinely. The barista was confused but gratified, so we didn't tell her the story, which we can tell you now.
Last year we were in Kerala, India, trying to write a piece about Jyotish astrology, handmade jewelry, and surf-resort pop-ups. We were staying at a place on the Arabian Sea and hanging out with the other guests—some English, some Australian—who could all surf better than we could. This was partly because we gave up on the third day—we just stopped going out to surf in the morning. On the fifth or sixth day we mustered our courage to try the 6 AM surf again, and were totally wiped out by a wave and nearly crashed into some rocks. Some Indian teenagers sitting on a jetty nearby laughed. To be fair, we were a comical sight. And that did it. "Enough fucking surfing!" we said. But we'd already paid for a month at a surf hotel.
Little cultures develop in hotels. At the surf hotel in Kerala, our decision to sleep in was regarded with confusion and discomfort. Some kinder people would say something gentle, like, "Missed you this morning." But others shunned us. Us not going to surf in the mornings was, for some guests, a little taboo. Taboo in the old fashioned sense: shameful, immoral, disgusting.
One guest was in his 60s. He was from Australia. He was a lifelong surfer, and perhaps overcompensated for feeling old (most of the guests were in their 20s) by being the best, most daring, and most tireless surfer. It's fair to say he was reckless. He went out mornings and afternoons. He had expeditions chartered. He rode advanced waves. He wore his wetsuit to meals and told stories of fishing off the nose of his board. One morning, we woke to find a message on the community chalkboard. It read, "Go hard or go home." It was written in the same writing as the name of the older man. We knew it was directed at us. We started to write an answer, then left it alone.
Then the old Beach Boy zealot cracked his skull open while surfing. He also broke his spinal cord. He lost recent memories. He couldn't leave the hotel early due to complications with his ticket back to Sydney. So for a few days he walked around in a traction brace, with staples in his head, disoriented and frightened. And still, more ardently than before, even, he shunned us.
The night before he left, we passed his note on that damn surfer's announcements and sign-up chalkboard: "Go hard or go home." We picked up a piece of chalk and added the clause "go hospital," so that it read, "Go hard go hospital go home." We walked away, giggling. Then, brave souls that we are, we hurried back and erased it.
We could boil this all down, to talk about the importance of being willing to go to the hospital, in fiction writing, and how it's not so good to protect your image all the time. But maybe it's better just to say we are very happy with and proud of the stories in this issue. We have a great story by Brian Booker, an interview with David Sedaris, limericks by Anthony Madrid. We also have a haunting piece about a serial killer by David Means, and new stories from Joy Williams, Ottessa Moshfegh, and April Ayers Lawson. We have—well, do yourself a favor and read all of them. We hit up our favorite writers, and they came through for us.