Public Safety

Last January I went to the CAPS meeting for the neighborhood immediately south of me. I live in Chicago, which is all about neighborhoods, but in this liminal space that’s on the border to several different official boundaries and claimed by or inserting itself into several unofficial ones. If somebody local asks me where I live and I answer with anything other than the nearest train stop, I’m giving away something about what I think of them and my relationship to the situation.

CAPS is the program the Chicago police have for community engagement. The city is divided into police districts, each district has a beat, and each beat, in theory, has its own CAPS staff and regular meeting. I went to one when I lived in Rogers Park, at the very north edge of the city, fully intending to be a good citizen who regularly attended. My memory of the meeting is that the Italian Beef I’d ordered from a to go joint while rushing over to the meeting was actually a French Dip, that the CAPS officer in charge of the meeting seemed very interested in being useful but also was at a bit of a loss about why he was there or what he should do, and that for being a very small crowd of senior citizens, I was learning entirely too much about other people’s vexations regarding noisy dogs. When the time for the next CAPS meeting rolled around, I had other plans.

My little sister and I are very close. When people comment on it as being notable or unusual, I tell them a story about something that happened shortly after my mother came home from the hospital with her. My grandparents had come to visit and help out and had stayed in my parents house with me while my parents were at the hospital. I was three and a half years old, and my grandfather handed me the infant that was my brand new sibling saying, “This is your baby sister. That makes you a big sister, which means you have to look out for her.”

What I heard was that she was mine. And that something being mine meant I was responsible for it. There are standards. Expectations. Years later, when circumstances called for it, I informed some of my baby sister’s peers about these facts. I understand you had and altercation with my sister, I said. You will henceforward understand that upsetting her means crossing me. Make better choices. There were no more altercations.

This is what it means when I say I love you. It means you’re mine. It means I’m responsible for you. I take my responsibilities seriously.

I love Chicago like it’s the salt in my blood.

The CAPS meeting in January, in Lake VIew, was very different from the one in Rogers Park I went to over a year before. For one, it was at a police station rather than a park. For another, it was packed. A long table ran along the front of the room and it had authority figures from all over. Lots of them CPD. Some of them CTA. My alderman was there, even though this wasn’t in his ward. Representatives of the alderman who was in charge of that ward were there. I showed up just a few minutes before the meeting was supposed to start (without a disappointing sandwich) and could barely get a seat because it was packed with people who’d turned out for the meeting. The back row had reporters with video cameras squeezed in. I took one look at the room, reflected on the differences between Rogers Park and Lake View, and shook my head. Even with the shift in location and demographics, the difference was too big. Too much a certain kind of difference. This was not a typical CAPS meeting.

Which is not to say it wasn’t normal.

There are some stats about CPD I come back to over and over and over again. Police misconduct cost $113 million in lawsuit settlements in 2018 alone. That was a banner year for expensive misconduct, but not all that unusual. To put those numbers in perspective, the city had a projected budgetary shortfall of $838 million that had to be closed in order to pass the 2020 budget. (Page 33) Misconduct settlements over the last ten years could very nearly, by themselves, have plugged that gap. That’s without accounting for ancillary expenses like lawyers, servicing overhead, and loss of economic growth resulting from having a police force that mistreats its citizens, having a reputation for same, and the mistreated citizens experiencing consequences of that misconduct. Also, since we don’t actually have cash on hand to make those payments and they exceed what’s budgeted for them, we’re borrowing money to do it. Which costs even more.

That’s not the whole picture, though. The police do more than frame, torture, and shoot people. If you’re white and get murdered, odds are almost 50:50 that the CPD will clear the case. If you’re black it’s closer to 1:5. (These numbers are an improvement from what they were before 2019.) All that for a measly $2.7 billion spent on public safety. (Same PDF as above, page 61 this time).

Public. Safety.

The CAPS meeting in Lake View that I just happened to wander into because I didn’t have other plans that evening and I do things like go to public meetings for fun was unusual because there was an uptick in crime at nearby train stations in December. Community members were angry and frightened. Public officials wanted to alleviate fears and make a show of doing something. People at the table of authority figures at the front talked a lot. People in the overflowing seating area got mics and got to talk a lot. One of the officials said something I really appreciated by pointing out that even with a few highly publicized incidents, public transit is safe. One of the community members very comfortably and frankly shared their feeling that, “I don’t care what you say about whether it’s safe. I don’t feel safe and it’s your job to make me feel safe.”

A mom who works as a nurse shared that she’s too worried about safety to let her children ride transit, so she’s ordering them rideshares all the time, which is expensive and she can’t really afford. When a man from a youth intervention program got up to say hey, we all know it’s kids coming over here because it’s where the money is and causing trouble, I could use some funding to do more of my work and prevent that from happening, this mom sneered at him and said something along the lines of, “Why should we diaper your kids?”

I started doing the math on the cost of diapers versus car share then kept the answer to myself because she wasn’t actually concerned about the best way to spend money. Also, the diapers were figurative.

Summer before last I was leaving from work in the Loop to meet friends for dinner along the blue line. That was not my normal commute, so I didn’t cotton on fast enough about train delays. I wound up trapped between stations in a sweltering train car. Then inching forward to a packed and stuffy platform with trainloads of people making their way up to the street. Service was suspended for an unknown amount of time due to an incident further along the tracks. The blue line runs diagonal across a rigidly gridded map. There is no equivalent alternative. All of the buses were overloaded with an influx of erstwhile train passengers and also it was rush hour so you didn’t want to be commuting on the streets anyway.

I walked something like two and a half miles in a crowd of similarly stranded train passengers, evening summer sun absolutely baking us, and periodically texting my friends with updates on how very late I was going to be. A trip I’d expected to take half an hour wound up closer to two hours. I don’t deal with heat well and I once got a sun burn in under eight minutes.

It was a mini natural disaster. A horde of people overwhelming sidewalks, the crowd pockmarked with people calling home with status updates or calling friends for a morale boost. Every once in a while an overladen bus would go by, not bothering to stop unless somebody wanted to get off because there was absolutely no chance of anybody else squeezing on.

When I got to dinner I collapsed at the table, chugged a glass of ice water, and cowered under an awning so the dregs of sunset couldn’t burn me any further. “Fun evening?” a friend asked.

I sighed, resigned to the truth. “Actually, kinda? I mean, it was terrible, but also, everybody was enduring it together and just plunking along. I feel like I bonded with five hundred strangers I’ll never have to see again.”

My friends exchanged knowing looks. “So, you’ll forgive Chicago for absolutely anything.”

“I think so. Yes.”

Getting home after dinner was a breeze.

Scared white people ask for cops. The Lake View CAPS meeting was packed to the brim with scared white people. They wanted cops. Cops on platforms. Cops on train cars. Cops lingering near turnstiles. These particular white people pay some of the highest property taxes in the city. CPD needs to make them feel safe.

I was somewhat annoyed when I got home.

I lived in Seattle for three years. Their one train line is absolutely lousy with police hanging around to make people feel safe, mostly by keeping homeless people off the platforms. They never made me feel safe. Instead they reminded me that the fare system is an enforced honor system, which means a city that prides itself for anarchist tendencies accepts raids by fare enforcement officers demanding proof of payment as a matter of course. That the city isn’t even pretending its transit system isn’t premised on antagonism with people who use it. “Why are there cops everywhere? This is Seattle. I don’t think I’ve seen cops around like this in New York or Boston, and you definitely don’t get it in Chicago.”

A week ago Friday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot unveiled a plan to bring safety to the Red Line. She was at the Roosevelt station when she did it, which is the southern end of downtown Chicago. Lightfoot is unusual for a Chicago Mayor in that she will ever say anything unkind about CPD. Last year she fired the police superintendent ahead of details going public about what would, ideally, be a fairly bizarre scandal but is, in context, tame. I’m personally fond of the incident where she, not realizing she was within range of an active mic, called a representative from the FOP a clown when he showed up to defend officers who helped cover up for the cop who murdered Laquan McDonald. “I’m sorry that I said it out loud,” is a feeling I, personally, can get behind pretty fervently here.

It wasn’t surprising, but it did sour fondness, when the safety plan was more cops.

Shortly after the distressing CAPS meeting for the beat south of me, the meeting for my beat came around. I went. It was in a meeting room at the library that was about a quarter the size of the one for the other meeting. My alderman was there, but he sat in the audience. The official CAPS liaison was there and she sat up front. Two beat officers were there, too, but they stood to the side, answering questions as needed but otherwise just hanging out.

Counting me and excluding the alderman, there were three people from the community. The meeting lasted fifteen minutes.

I also went to one of several community outreach sessions CPD was having around the city in February in order to get input about desired policy changes. They made a very big deal about this being about engaging with the community but it is, in fact, because CPD was placed under a consent decree as a consequence of not only murdering a teenager in the street, but covering it up and trying to protect the murderer. The session was actually pretty well run, even if little of it inspired confidence that it was more than show in response to reporting that despite the consent decree coming down from the Feds, CPD is mostly ignoring it.

There were topic specific breakout sessions where people could make suggestions for policy. I stalked the ones related to use of force and deadly force. There weren’t any about misconduct discipline. I had questions. What, exactly, are the current policies? When were they last overhauled? What have the demonstrable effects of those overhauls been in terms of incident rate? Did they trigger organizational cultural changes? Does policy even drive the organizational culture inside CPD? I mean, policy is great and all, but it’s just so much paper if it isn’t where behavior and norms originate.

This is a session for suggestions, not questions, the breakout facilitators urged. What do you want? Tell us that.

But I can’t know what policy to ask for without understanding the relationship between policy and conduct. What I want is different conduct. What I want is police who don’t walk into tense situations and escalate them, antagonize people, draw batons on children, shoot teenagers. And cost us a fortune for the privilege. What I want is that if I see the cops arrest somebody, to feel confident this was a reasonable response to the situation and the person in the back of the car, my fellow resident, isn’t going to disappear down a back channel. I want to feel like the police are who stands behind me when I tap somebody on the shoulder and say, “Excuse me, but I understand there was an altercation between you and my city. You will henceforward understand that harming it means crossing me. Make better choices.”

That is, instead of feeling like they’re the ones with a shoulder I need to tap.

When I was looking for a job ahead of moving back, I had a phone interview with a promising prospective employer. I explained that no, I couldn’t drop in for an in-person interview later that week, I was relocating from Seattle and wasn’t going to move until I had work lined up. How long have I been gone? Ten years, but I’ve had it with being away and, come hell or high water, I’m going back. “Why? Everybody here wants to leave.” I didn’t pursue that job any further.

Chicago is the third largest city in the country behind New York and LA. Frankly, LA cheats and shouldn’t count. It is the only major city where the population is shrinking instead of growing. It’s in a state that spent most of the ten years I was away failing to pass a budget of any sort, which meant loss of basic, expected funding on a slew of fronts. Most of the population loss is from the Black and Latinx populations because those are the ones who’ve had their schools shut down. Those are the ones getting harassed and shot by the police. When I hear a white person sneer and talk about how they want to leave Chicago, I like them less. When I hear somebody else say it, I find myself staring down an existential threat poised to choke my city to death.

The Red Line runs north to south down the eastern corridor of the city. It starts at the northern border. The lake eats away at the coastline of the city as it moves north, meaning the train is fairly near the shore at the northern end, and miles away by the southern end. It runs through the loop but doesn’t participate: it and the blue line are both underground while they’re downtown. If you ride all the way down, north to south, you can see the whole picture of the city. You’ll pass four major college campuses. Two baseball stadiums. Glance signs for the underground pedways that people working downtown use to avoid winter and weather as they move from municipal buildings to food courts and malls mostly for tourists and spit you out at parking garages and Millennium Park or City Hall or or or.

Further south you pass Chinatown. Later, the tracks nestle down between two sides of the Dan Ryan Expressway and the train blows past traffic backups with smug abandon. By then the cars have fewer passengers. The atmosphere changes. People seem to know each other more, at least recognize fellow commuters. Chat. Pass through doors from one car to another to avoid somebody sleeping along a row of seats, or get away from somebody blaring music or just to stretch their legs. The Red Line has the most frequent service of any of the trains, especially during rush hour. Trains don’t hang around at stations for people to get off and change cars. No need. Just go through the doors between cars. In winter you get a blast of cold air. In summer, humidity pours in thick and sticky. This is normal enough that I’m more likely to settle down with my bike near the passenger doors than block the end of the car.

When I was commuting down from Rogers Park to the Loop every day for work, if I missed the best train for getting in on time and wound up with second best, I’d get the Red Line train with the conductor who loved his job more than anyone I’ve ever met. “Good morning Chicago, and are you ready for your day?” He was a relentless pep talk from Morse to Lawrence, urging students to focus on their studies, encouraging workers to focus on their day, and assuring everyone that it was going to be a good day. I hate mornings and that much cheerfulness that early is torture. I loved him anyway. Because he was right, fundamentally. I was in Chicago, crammed in with a bunch of other Chicagoans, riding a train to go do things that make Chicago work, keep it here, give it life. Totally worth getting out of bed for.

A week ago Friday, hours after Mayor Lightfoot announced more police would be put on the Red Line to keep it safe, a man passed from one car to the next through the doors at the end. It was afternoon rush hour. The train was downtown. With the workers. And the tourists. Packed with people who want to feel safe.

Since the Red Line is underground downtown, that’s where you’ll get musicians setting up and busking. Sometimes it’s a guy with a sax and a speaker filling out smooth jazz covers. Sometimes it’s a guy with a guitar. Or a guy with a guitar and a partner doing vocals. Sometimes it’s a group of teenagers rapping over a prerecorded beat. I don’t care who it is or what they’re doing because it’s awesome absolutely every time. Those platforms are alive when they have people and performers. They’re thriving.

During rush hour a man passed from one car to another in violation of a safety ordinance that is never, ever followed. There were cops on the train.

Before it was over, he and the police were on the train platform at Grand (tourist central). They shot him. Twice.

Public safety.

What kind of standard is that? Where is the responsibility? Is CPD really too devoted to itself to love the city it’s supposed to guard? Am I really supposed to find that acceptable? To want more of it? To think it solves anything?

On my way home from a play Friday night, I got to the platform just as a northbound train was leaving. I didn’t mind. The play was intense and left me a lot to chew over. The trains come pretty often and there was still a decent crowd of people on the platform, enjoying their Friday night. At the center, taking up most of the space, was a ring of six cops. They were turned in, talking with each other, large and conspicuously unusual. The guy with the shaggy hair and harmonica plunked down on one of the benches was only making a half-hearted attempt to play anything.

A southbound train pulled in. The cops piled onto a mostly empty car. The train left. I thought about watching for fare enforcement on the train platforms in Seattle. Waiting for them to board the car and descend on the people inside, demanding proof you had a right to be there. How nice it’s been not to deal with that.

A few minutes later another northbound train came. I got onto a car where most of the seats were filled. In a few minutes we’d be stopping at Grand. There were no cops in sight.

I still didn’t feel safe.

Black Ariel

Silhouette of an armed mer-creature

Let’s talk about black Ariel. First, my credentials:

Disney’s 1989 The Little Mermaid was the first legitimate VHS tape I ever owned. It was gifted to me as a Christmas present because I had been so abjectly in love with the film when my grandparents took me to the theater, and I proceeded to watch it at least once a day, every day, for nigh unto all time. The tape developed a noticeable squeak by the end of year one. My parents probably still twitch if any portion of the sound track comes on within ear shot. I knew that film forwards and backwards, and to this day can still quote the whole thing at you, as I heard it and learned it when I was five. (That is to say, there are places where the script turns into nonsense syllables.) I did not have all the Little Mermaid merchandise, but everything I owned was Little Mermaid. It was my monochromatic color choice before I found black. My entire social life centered around the fact that I was the chief authority on the film and its source texts. That made me god-king of the playground, and I was a fierce and benevolent leader.

My first aesthetic, philosophical crisis as a child was when, at the age of eight, I realized that Beauty and the Beast was an objectively better film, and had to decide whether that made me a traitor. I concluded that I could acknowledge the ways Beauty and the Beast outstripped its predecessor while still faithfully loving the other one, and thereby achieved, at the age of eight, levels of maturity the internet would still lack a quarter of a century later. Good job, humans.

Gustav Wertheimer's  "The Kiss of the Siren" wherein that sailor is totally getting drowned in a moment.

And, frankly, humans behaving like a stupid sack of salted rocks is why you’re getting this rant. Because, excuse me, Ariel can absolutely be played by a black woman. White skin is not an intrinsic element of the character. Red hair, and the color of her tail (invented specifically for her by the Disney animators, a fact I learned while despairing of ever finding its match in a crayon box while coloring in pictures of her) are the only pigments that are in any fashion intrinsic to Ariel. She’s just white because Hans Christian Anderson was and Disney, in 1989, didn’t have the guts to handle fragile white-folk pearl clutching in 1989. (To be fair, it’s not that they have those guts now. They’ve just figured out a a different marketing model from the one they were operating under then. Like you do, over the course of thirty years.) In fact, the creators were pushing boundaries by making her a red head instead of a blonde. Everybody at the time thought mermaids had to be blond, and the creators rebelled. Ariel’s been a pigment-boundary-pusher from the start. (My source: The DVD extras on the special anniversary DVD edition my sister gave me for my birthday to replace the poor, squeaky tape. I promptly watched everything.)

None of what I have already said, or am about to say, actually needs to be said, because the people having a panic attack over this, while entitled to whatever emotional hyperbole they care to indulge in, ought to be keeping it to themselves and sparing the rest of us their idiotic tantrum. But you don’t spend the formative years of your childhood obsessively trying to figure out the land version of a sea-witch who can get you access to another world where you fit in, then let this nonsense go unchallenged. So, let’s instead flay the stupid, point by point.

Photo of the famous Little Mermaid Statue

Ariel is white in the source material.

Did you really just make an argument that Disney should be faithful to the source material? Are you out of your head? Have you missed the last century of film production by that company? Do you know the ending in the source material? (It’s better, right up until it’s worse.) Take that stellar rhetorical point scoring of yours and eat matches.

It doesn’t make sense for there to be black mermaids in Denmark at that time.

First of all, stop learning your history from faux-medieval fantasy novels, and your idea of population migratory patterns from antebellum anti-abolitionist hacks. Second of all, what actually doesn’t make sense is a white mermaid in the first place.

Let’s set aside the whole truckload of problems with the notion that you can handle the existence of mer-civilization and talking fish, but not black ones, and look at this from a reasoned, biological point of view: It makes absolutely no sense for Ariel to be white. Assuming her pigmentation on her human parts are driven by human evolutionary processes, she’s black, and I don’t mean “Acceptable for Hollywood light-skinned black.” Mutations that have created the variety of pigmentation present in human phenotypes are driven by a variety of environmental factors, most notably, interaction with the sun. This is not a pressure present in people who live at the bottom of the ocean. I don’t know how mer-folk are getting their vitamin D, but it’s not through direct manufacture via sunlight. Maybe, maybe some random mutation got preserved for another reason and Halle Bailey can swan in as a perfect pigmentation match. There’s no chance you’re winding up at a “Plausible to hysterical white people for the north sea” complexion.

The prettiest little great white shark you ever did see

And if their pigmentation doesn’t follow human evolutionary patterns, but aquatic ones? You’re stretching to either the beluga whale, or the great white shark, as your paths to a white mermaid. Whales actually do routinely interact with the surface, so you have some legs on a north sea-based argument there, though siren stories tend to trace mermaids south, not north. As for great whites? They’re mostly kind of a dull gray, with white bellies. That sure is one attractive mer-fish you’re designing there.

This is all just a campaign to make liberals happy.

And, so what if it is? That’s not an argument so much as a pile of scrap tin with one leg. Liberals have money. They buy things, and boycott things and like to see the world as they understand it reflected to them. You see, they’re human. Unlike mermaids. It is totally within the rights of an old, global megacorporation to decide that seeking out the dollars of “liberals” is worthwhile, even if if means making you, tiny numskull cretin that you are, uncomfortable. Go back to sucking those rocks from earlier for comfort if you need it.

This is more proof that political correctness has gone too far and people are being forced to comply with new groupthink standards and pass virtue tests.

Yeah, Disney looking at the massive success of Moana and deciding to make sure they don’t shut themselves out of that global audience when they once again prostitute a beloved element of my childhood for untold lucre is totally a return of Hollywood Blacklists and McCarythism. Because we’re having congressional hearings where we publicly lambaste people just for being friends with white supremacists and then rendering them unemployable for the rest of their lives, right? No? What are you whining about?

White castle gates

The idea that you can defy the supreme legal authority of your realm, treacherously make a pact with a known national enemy, then seek to form a binding alliance with a foreign, hostile power, and all your dreams come true as a result, is an intrinsically white narrative and should be portrayed as such.

Nobody made that point. But you could, and I’d still respect you after. My response to it is, simply: Sometimes art has to be the vanguard and drag reluctant reality behind it. Let’s open the doors of privilege and consequenceless-recklessness aristocrats of all races.

Civic Temple: Alpha Release

After several drafts wherein I try to explain my reasons for doing this and then decide that typing variations of “Fuck everything,” over and over again isn’t an introduction, I’m going to keep this short and sweet.

Has your inclination to call or write your various government representatives taken an uptick of late?  As in, a major uptick?  Do you want it to, but find yourself intimidated by not knowing what to say or how to say it?  Here’s a thing that might help.

Currently, it’s a spreadsheet with a bit of setup you need to do initially, and a tiny bit you need to do for each specific issue.  However, once you’ve got that going, you’ll have phone, letter, and email scripts for your various officials – no need to look up scripts a hundred different places online.  Better, they’ll be scripts that are personalized to you out of the box, so you don’t have to put too much thought into rewriting the generic scripts circulating.

This is just the slimmest fraction of what I want to do with this project (thus the Alpha designation) but it’s a start.  Long term, I’m hoping have the beautiful, unholy hybrid of something like the Submissions Grinder or Duotrope and Habitica.  Want to help?  Let me know.  I can do this all by myself, but it’ll be a looooooong time before it’s actually done.

Strange Horizons Resistance Special Issue

All week this week, Strange Horizons has been releasing a ton of content for the Resistance special issue.  This includes six fiction stories which, I think, is the highest density of published fiction the magazine has ever undertaken.  The issue is gorgeous and important and we podcast every word of that fiction.  Today is a double-header picked out with today very much in mind.  Need to feel better?  Just knowing we were going to put these stories up has been a warm cuddly blanket of angry glee for me.  I hope it does the same for you, too.

Here’s the whole issue.  I hope it helps.

Dear Wisconsin

It’s probably pretty obvious what I’m going to say, writing to you today, but I need to say it, and you need to hear it.

I’m leaving you.

It would be fair to say that I was always going to leave you, but that’s not true, is it?  There was a while there where you were acting like somewhere I’d be willing to make my home permanently, and I accepted that from you.  Ours was an arranged marriage from the start – I left Chicago to come here not because I wanted you, but because I was broke and in debt and needed the job only you were willing to offer me – but it could have grown into a love match.  We could have been partners and allies and lovers into my gray years.  I’m hugely allergic to you, and you’re just about the only place I seem to have allergies, but I was willing to overlook that to have what you were offering.

You know what I’m talking about.  You did it on purpose, a lure designed to soften me to your charms and offerings.  You got me invested.  You got me interested and involved.  You made promises.  And then you were too ham-fisted, fumblingly incompetent to deliver on them.  You were weak.  Your were pathetic.  You were embarrassing.  That is a seven point spread I will hold against you forever.

Make no mistake – I am angry with you.  I have been angry with you for two years.  I am going to be angry with you for a long, long time.  I worked hard for you and you betrayed me.    You have some serious, deep, self-loathing issues and I am beyond caring about what that does to you because first, I’ve got to deal with the fallout of what it did to me.  I am finished with you.  I’m out of here.

Two years is a long time to wait.  You could call me petty, or unforgiving for holding onto it this long without doing something before.  That’d be fair.  I shouldn’t have trusted you, shouldn’t have stopped clearing my exits just because it looked like we might have a permanent thing going.  I shouldn’t have gotten so invested that even now, two years later, I can barely have a civil conversation about what went on between us.  That’s on me.  I’ll accept that.  But the right solution is the same.

I don’t care what you do in your next election.  Go hang yourself.  I’ll be making my way out to Seattle.  Washington has its own set of problems and issues, but we’ll be starting on better terms, and at the very least I won’t be compromising on my basic infrastructure preferences and my ability to breathe for three quarters of the year.

I’d wish you the best going forward, but I really don’t care as long as you’re not my problem any more.

Madison Cuddle House

I’ve been casually following the saga of the Madison Cuddle House with interest over the last several months.  For those of you not in the know, cuddle houses are things that have been cropping up here and there around the country where people can go and essentially rent time with a stranger for hugging, cuddling, and other non-sexual physical contact.  This is something I strongly feel there should be more of in the world, but I’m also prone to rant about how under-served the female androsexual demographic is by the sex industry in general, and cuddle houses seem like a gateway to exploiting that demographic, so I’m probably heavily biased.

As far as I can tell, and I’d caution you to note my use of “casually” in the first sentence when evaluating how much credit to give what I say, the Madison project is/was being run by a hippy with more heart than sense, who’s entire approach came down to, “Hugs good, therefore it’ll all work out, man.”  The city took one look at this, went, “Well, the only way that’s possibly going to work out is if this guy is the dullard front for an organized prostitution something something, so we must thwart it!” Which is exactly what your response should be if you credit humanity with sense and intelligence.  I’ve spent enough time interacting with the Madison activist hippy scene that my gut suspicion is that the guy really is just that bright-eyed and naive.  Apparently the city of Madison has more faith in the quality of humanity than I do.  That’s okay – so does a broken pencil.

After weeks of delays for permitting, getting insurance, developing minorly important things like staff training and a business plan (!), etc, the Cuddle House opened.  And as far as I can tell, shortly after, it closed, surprising precisely…well, I guess the people who were sure it was a front might be surprised.

At several points in the course of watching this story I thought about blogging it, just because it’s kinda funny, and captures Madison being Madison really well.  But I never got around to blogging while things were timely, and so didn’t.  And then this article came out, containing this quote:

“There’s no way that (sexual assault) will not happen,” assistant city attorney Jennifer Zilavy said. “No offense to men, but I don’t know any man who wants to just snuggle.”

As horrifically problematic and not okay as the first part of the quote is, I’m going to let it slide due to lack of context.  It’s entirely possible that she was saying that in direct response to the poor or absent training of the Cuddle House staff, and therefore not operating on the assumption that it’s not possible to have a safe environment for this kind of behavior.  (It is.  There’s a long history of sex and swingers clubs managing to do it just fine)  Let’s instead turn to the unambiguously unacceptable sexism contained in the second half the quote.

Uhm, excuse me Ms Zilavy, but how man men do you know?  Because I’ve heard the, “Dating is hard because I want cuddles but girls hear that and assume/require sex,” from more than one of my guy friends.  In one particular case I’d assumed the guy was using “cuddle” as a euphemism for sex for months, and didn’t figure it out until my punchline failed when I teased him for wanton catting around.  (Want to have a hilarious conversation with a friend?  That’s not how to do it)

Can we just all get something straight here?  It’s easy: Women are just as capable of wanting sex for its own sake as men, and do.  Men are just as capable of wanting the non-sexual elements of a relationship as women, and do.  This is not shocking.  It is not obscure, esoteric, or even subtle.

Want to know the most second most disappointing sexual encounter of my life to date?  Tough, I’m going to tell you anyway: I wanted a warm body in bed and some cuddles.  Send willing, eager, available man to bed for to get these things.  He also wanted a warm body in bed and some cuddles.  We both thought the other one expected sex.  Neither of us was interested at that particular moment, but hey, whatever.  This led to a great deal of awkward meh, and then the cuddles we were both after the whole time.  I tell you this because it’s stupid statements like Ms Zilavy’s and the cultural memes they reinforce that caused this misunderstanding.  We do not need more things in the world that lead to meh sex.

Also, we don’t need more reinforcement of the idea that men are supposed to be so stoic, macho, and emotionally disconnected that they can’t possible get behind touch-feely things like intimate relationships and cuddling.  Though, really, it’s the meh sex that has me het up.  I can’t help it, I have a pathological aversion to boredom.

I’m kinda hoping somebody with some business sense tries the cuddle house idea in Madison again, but I suspect this failed iteration has poisoned the well.  More likely, I’m hoping Ms Zilavy meets some more guys, or bothers to have an actual conversation with the ones she knows because the lady is seriously missing a few clues.

Update: Spamtastic Promotion Fail

You may recall when I posted this.  Well, they’re still going, still bugging people, and now I have the first report of them not following through on their promises.  To quote, in entirety, a comment just left on the older post:

People are still being offered different amounts. I was offered one amount, and a blogger friend a different one.

I told them that I would only participate if I followed FTC guidelines. I wrote that it was a sponsored post, even signed up for a free trial (and cancelled before my CC was charged).

Now, after putting them as no-follow links, which is what you MUST do when you are compensated, Nick @ Grammarly is refusing to compensate me. He did NOT ever specify in any previous email that the link must be do-follow or I would not have agreed.

Do NOT participate! Grammarly will not compensate you if you post ethically!!!! They are looking for bloggers who are willing to bend the rules. Don’t stoop to that level, be ethical.

I hadn’t realized that the free trial they offer you demanded credit card information up front (I never went that far with them).  That adds an extra special layer of sketch, since the reason marketers offer free trials that collect you credit card info up front is so that they get some payments in when you forget to cancel.

In summary, what they’re doing is offering you money to try their product, in the hopes of luring you into buying it by accident, and you can’t even rely on them to pay out the money they used as bait.  Good job, guys.  Way to model that scum look and do it proud!

Spamtastic Promotion Fail

Update: Six months later, there’s more!

Last week, while I was in the depths of digging myself out of a massive to do list, I received the following email.

Hey [My Real First Name],
Grammarly recently gave its 3 million users the opportunity to nominate their favorite blogging author, and I’m very pleased to announce that you were one of the nominees selected to receive a blog-post sponsorship in the form of a $25 Amazon gift voucher. Grammarly is an automated online proofreader that points out and explains those pesky grammar, spelling, and punctuation mistakes that are bound to find their way into your first draft. Think of us as that second pair of eyes that can spare you the frustrating cost of hiring a proofreader.
To receive your gift voucher, all we need from you is a quick sentence about Grammarly in your next blog post. Please send me the expected publishing date and topic of your next blog post so I can send you all the details you need in time. If you’d like to try the premium version of our proofreader for free, let me know and I’ll make it happen. 🙂
Cheers and happy writing,


P.S. Let me know if you ever find yourself in foggy San Francisco. I’d love to buy you coffee!

I read through this and, I must confess, my immediate response was, “I’m not above prostitution, but if this guy thinks I sell for $25, he’s nuts.” But I wasn’t the only one to get this email – several writers did, and several of them were quite annoyed. I have just enough traffic here that it’s plausible that what he says is true, if unlikely. Some of the other people who got the exact same email do not get traffic to their blogs. This email is a lie, and even if there actually is an Amazon voucher forthcoming, the whole thing is basically an SEO ploy to improve their google rankings. I’m not stupid, nor am I particularly gullible. I don’t appreciate being approached as if I am.

Last Thursday, I also happened to be particularly cranky, for a number of things not this guy’s fault, but some of which did involve the other people he was bothering. Dude, the SF writer community has not been having collective fun the last few weeks, and you’re bugging us with this bullshit? I can’t fix the bigger stuff. I can’t even talk about the bigger stuff without cussing and having to point out how the sentence I just said, while a true representation of how I feel, is unfair and ignores important details. When you do that for every sentence, it gets hard to talk about. You know what’s easy? Baiting the spammer.

Hi Nick,
I have a few questions.
1) You absolutely won’t be in my next blog post – my content for Fridays and Mondays are fixed and I’m not changing my schedule for this.
2) Do you have a link to the contest? I’ve never heard of Grammerly before and would like to see more of what this is about.
3) How many people won this?
4) Any sentence about Grammerly?
[My Real First Name]

I did go to their website before writing back. It’s a real product. They’ve got a real thing going on there. The problem is, I never pay a proof reader. And, frankly, this is obvious if you read my blog. My stuff gets read by professional proof reader when somebody else has paid me. Otherwise, it’s spell check and my meager copy editing skills or bust. Marketing this product to me is based on an utterly false premise. And, frankly, it sticks in my craw that by sending out these sorts of emails, he’s potentially creating the impression in newb writers that they ought to be paying for proof reading. You know what? I am a sloppy, sloppy copy editor. My rule of thumb is generally that if I catch your errors, you’ve performed badly and if I don’t, well, that’s pretty meaningless, actually. And I’ve made eleven fiction sales at professional rates. It’s my job to be passably competent on this front. It’s the magazine’s job to hire a proof reader.

Hey Anaea,

We care an aweful lot about our language and want to support people that are helping us keep it alive. To find them, we asked our users in an email campaign to anonymously nominate authors who were inspiring others to read and write. Of those nominations, we picked those we thought were especially deserving of our support and contacted them via email. Sorry if our initial message was a little unclear.

The company footing the bill would be Grammarly in San Francisco. We make a really good automated online proofreader used by over 3 million people, you should check it out!

Here’s what you need to do to get your gift voucher:
Paste the following text into the top of your next blog post: “I used Grammarly to grammar check this post, because [insert clever/funny reason here].” (e.g. “because time spent proofreading could be time spent writing”)
Publish the post on your blog and email me the link.
We’ll send you your $25 gift voucher via email within 72h.
The best clever/funny reason for using Grammarly each month wins a $100 Amazon gift voucher!

Does that make sense? When do you think you’ll be publishing your next post?


Oh, they care and aweful lot about language, do they? Hey, even I caught that one. Mostly because spell check yells at me for it all the time. Does he not have red squiggly lines in his email composition window? Does Grammarly kill the red squiggle lines?

Also, dear god, I hope I’m not inspiring people to write. There are enough writers in the world. Half of them should find a new hobby. If you need me to inspire you to write, may I suggest knitting, instead? I’ve seen slush piles. They destroy what little faith in humanity I ever manage to muster.

Back to our dear friend Nick and his awefully generous desire to give me $25 if only I’ll lend my classy little blog here to his dreams of page 1 rankings. Notice his attention to detail, and how he’s suddenly switched to using the name attached to the email address rather than the one he pulled from the records about the site owner (I’m guessing that’s how he got my real name), even though I signed my email to him with my real name. This is a marketing guy with big ambition and small attention to detail.

The best part? This email I got fifteen minutes later.

Hi <Real Name>,
Self-publishing takes a tremendous amount of courage and inspires people to care about writing. We at Grammarly appreciate that and would be honored to sponsor your next blog post with a $15 Amazon gift voucher. We’re confident that a mention of our brand on your blog will help spread the word about us within the community.
In case you haven’t heard of us, Grammarly is an automated online proofreader that points out and explains those pesky grammar, spelling, and punctuation mistakes that are bound to find their way into your first draft. Think of us as that second pair of eyes that can spare you the frustrating cost of hiring a proofreader. If you’d like to join our 3 million users and try the premium version of our proofreader for free, let me know and I’ll make it happen. 🙂
Please send me the expected publishing date and topic of your next appropriate homeschooling post (ideally something about writing) so I can give you all the details you need in time.
P.S. Let me know if you ever find yourself in foggy San Francisco; I’d love to grab some coffee. 🙂

Oh goody. Now I’m a courageous self-publisher! Just what I’ve always wanted!! I mean, I thought I was putting my book up because I’m too damn lazy to submit to editors or make a proper ebook, but apparently it’s so I can bravely become Spam bait for people who think I write about homeschooling?

This guy didn’t even cross reference his lists of different blogs to make sure he didn’t use two approaches for the same people. As somebody who does a fair bit of marketing in her day job, I’m a smidge offended at the laziness demonstrated here. Dude, you allegedly have access to a bit of software that can replace a human proofreader, but you can’t throw your database into a spreadsheet and run a duplicate entry check?

I’m disappointed in the quality of human spam scum these days.

I asked around and tried to find anybody willing to confess to having nominated me for this honor. There were no takers, just more people who’ve gotten this spam.

Here’s the real problem. If I were going to properly go into self publishing, this might be an appealing product. But now that I’ve heard about it in this fashion, there is no chance in hell I am going to use it. Or recommend it. I’m not even putting their name in the post title just to limit the bit of google boosting griping about them does. If this company wanted to reach out to writers and get the word around the SF community about their product, there are about a dozen better ways I could think of for them to accomplish that, and without spending much more than whatever their planned outlay of vouchers is. If they want those ideas, they’re welcome to ask for them.

But they should remember that my consulting rates start at $120/hour.

A Year Later: Different Room, Same Story

If you think you know what set this off, you’re probably right.

There are rooms I don’t go into.

People live in rooms.  Sometimes they step from one to another to go see other parts of the world, but they’ll always be back to their own rooms, the four walls that hide most of them from most of everything else.  We wander around the world with these rooms.  Sometimes the walls are permeable, and we bump into each other and for a while, we’re in the same room.  Or we bump into each other and fall into the wrong room for a bit.  We might back out and go home.  We might stay.  For a while, it might even be okay that we stay.  The owner of the room might want that. They might not. Sometimes, the people can say, “Hey, get out of my room,” and that’s enough.  Sometimes they can’t, maybe because they’d stepped out of the room for a moment and now they have dozens of unexpected guests.  Or maybe a guest won’t take the hint and go.  Or won’t leave even when asked.

Sometimes, you see somebody in their room, trying to ask all the overstaying guests to go, and you step in to help.  Sometimes, you’re overwhelmed, too, so you try to combine efforts.  Sometimes you get an entire complex of rooms belonging to people held up past their bedtime.  They’re cranky and tired and would really like to be polite, generous hosts, but that’s just past their capacity anymore because they’re already past their limits.  You’re still only asking for five minutes, but it’s not about just you anymore.  Five minutes and five minutes and five minutes.  Lost sleep and stressed patience and your five minutes now carries the weight of hours upon hours of imposition.  They get cranky.  They throw you out.  They ask you not to come back.

Even though it was just five minutes.

Sometimes you look at the tired, cranky people, and you decide to help.  Maybe you’re one of them, but have enough energy to chip in anyway.  Maybe you just feel bad for them.  So you take it on.  You join the fight.  They whine, and complain, backbite and get distracted by little side issues or things that don’t help or don’t really matter, but you let it go.  You’re in their rooms, you’re there to help, they need your help, and, ultimately, this helps you, too.  You have a later bedtime, but it’s not like you never have inconsiderate house guests from time to time.  Your room is nice.  It’s bound to happen.  Helping them, really, it helps you, too.

Except, it doesn’t work.  You work hard, you do everything right.  You work harder than some of the people in the rooms, you take on the nastier jobs, and you let them slide because hey, they’re tired, you aren’t.  Not yet.

You lose.

You lose because the people you were trying to help didn’t do what they should have in order to win.  You lose because they were so busy whining and complaining that they didn’t really ever get into the fight.  You lose because at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how much five minutes after five minutes adds up, it’s Just Five Minutes.  You lose because you weren’t ever going to win.

Now you’re tired.  And you’re cranky.  And you’re surrounded by tired, cranky people who still can’t get the house guests to leave, and aren’t really even trying anymore.  They’re just talking about how much they’d like them to.  Repeating slogans from the fight.

You pass old graffiti that says, “Support early bedtime,” and where it used to make you smile and feel like you had support, like you were getting somewhere, now you just want to tear it apart and set it on fire.  What the hell were they doing, wasting time on graffiti, when they could have been helping?  And why is some of it fresh, new, when it’s been a year since you lost?  Don’t they understand that now you’re worn out and tired and you’ve locked your room because you don’t want to deal with anybody and it’s their fault for needing help and failing to use it?

And why is it that, here we are, a year later, and there’s no retrospective, no analysis of what went wrong where and what’s going to be done about it.  No apologies.  No blame.  It’s like the fight didn’t happen, and the people still playing soldier are happy to move on to something else while everybody else just shrugs and says, “Oh well.  Let’s bitch about five minute some more.”  Or worse, they’re acting like the fight is still happening and blithely ignoring the part where THEY LOST.

Fuck your five minutes.  Fuck your righteous indignation and your platitudes about this and that.  Fuck your stupid early bed time and your utterly pathetic weakness about enforcing it.  You could have had it better and you dropped the ball so just shut the ever loving fuck up and get the hell out of my room.

There’s another fight brewing.  Different people.  Different rooms.  Same structure.  Same pattern.  Same options open to everybody.  Same potential for things to get better, for people to finally get some rest, for the well-intentioned guests to learn and the malicious ones to accept their exile.

There are rooms I don’t go into.

Right now, that’s all of them.

OMG, Never Let EVS Ford Random Lake Get your Contact Information

I’m car shopping.  It’s not fun, and I’m bitter about it, but my first couple trips to dealers were actually pretty nice.  The sales people were pretty good at their jobs and had me feeling better about the whole ordeal.  I enjoy working with sales people who are good at their jobs.  And I am, admittedly, very short on patience for sales people who aren’t.  I’m glad the first couple experiences were positive, because things started going downhill with the fourth dealer I visited.  And then they went completely off the rails.

After my first non-awesome experience, I found out Costco has an affiliate program.  Awesome!  I love Costco, largely because they’re so good at customer service.  So I sent out requests to all the types of dealers I still needed to visit.  This included Ford.  And, apparently, their nearest affiliated Ford dealership is EVS Ford Random Lake.  A nice guy named Jason called me.  He actually qualified me (asked me questions to figure out what I need) before pitching a car.  He asked me about my budget and time lines on the decision.  The part where he really impressed me was when he was mentioning a manufacturer’s rebate that expired at the end of the month, then specified that for them, the end of the month isn’t until June 3.  (There are schools of sales that say he should have sat on that and pulled it out as a hero card later.  They’re bad schools.)  I got off the phone pretty enthusiastic about trying out the car he suggested.  He sent along a follow up email with the information we’d talked about, which was awesome.  This was May 9, a week ago.

May 11 brings a phone call from Jason.  He never asked me how I wanted him to follow up.  This is a problem, because I didn’t want him to follow up.  And if he had asked I’d have told him that email is much, much preferable to phone.  I hadn’t gotten out of bed yet and only answered the phone in case it was a client or something else actually important.  It was just Jason, being insecure and clingy.  He wants me to know about another thing that might work for me.  “Email it to me.  Do not call me,” I say.  I feel a little bad for being short with him when I hang up.  I was short with him, and he didn’t know that calling me at 11am on a Saturday was nearly the most obnoxious thing he could have done until he did it.

Car dealerships are not open on Sundays in Wisconsin.  By law.  Sunday was blessedly quiet.

Monday brought an email.  Subject: Dealerships must be contacting you!  I quote it below.

Hello [redacted],

We spoke last week regarding an interest in a vehicle.  I’m not here to hound you as I could tell your demeanor changed drastically the second time I called.  Other dealerships must be filling your cell phone with messages and calls.

I appreciate your interest and I’m here as a tool for you to get what you want…A VEHICLE!  Let me know how to help so I can take the load off your shoulders.  That way you can focus on work and life while I get the necessary information to make the best informed decision for you.

Thank you for your time,

The bolding is mine, because it’s more or less the line that makes both this email and everything that follows utterly unhinged.  Yes, I was short with him, he can tell I’m getting fed up, so he deals with that by…contacting me again.  Some more.  Since my complete non-response to his email on Saturday was clearly a cry for more attention.  Or something.

But wait, it gets better.

I ignore Monday’s email.  I have an infinite capacity for ignoring email.  Since it didn’t have any information I wanted, it was probably in my inbox less than a minute total.  And Jason must have realized that, because he changed tactics.

My phone does it’s hiccough-beep thing while I’m using it for work on Tuesday.  When I finish with the call I check to see which notification got choked.  It’s a text message!

Still looking for a vehicle? Jason from EvS Ford…I know your busy plz keep me in the loop!

Because text is totally a communication medium you should employ without consent from the person you’re communicating with.  It’s not like those ever cost people money to receive or anything.  (I have a text package.  But I also never assume my clients do.  Because that’s how professionals behave)

If it hadn’t been Tuesday, I might have just continued to ignore him.  But Tuesdays are more or less the worst days ever, and this one was special.  Also, despite still being in bed at 11am on Saturday, I’m kinda fuzzy on when the last time I took a day off was.  In short, I had no patience left with which to swallow my wrath.  Jason got a not very polite email.

Dear Jason,

I have gotten both your emails, and now your text.  When I said I’d be making a decision at some point in the next month, it was because I was planning to spend most of the month doing my research and pondering the decision.  I am well and truly fed up with your aggressive follow up, which you know because you acknowledged noticing my “change in demeanor” in one of the emails.

If I want to talk to you, I will contact you.  Until then, leave me alone.  You’ve pretty well talked me out of doing business with you at this point just because I’m reluctant for you to see any kind of positive return on your sales style.


I also went ahead and filled out the survey Costco sent me about my experience with the program.  I only filled it out for this dealership since I’m not finished with the others yet, so don’t yet know everything I might want to say.  I am, at this point, very done with EVS Ford.  One of their questions is about whether I need somebody to contact me about my experience.  I say no because I know that this isn’t Costco’s fault and I’ll probably just cuss at whoever calls me.

I think I must have accidentally started dating Jason or something, though, because he was deep into bad boyfriend territory.  Somehow a curt email telling him, essentially, to fuck off and die, warrants the following response a few hours later.

Perfect [redacted]!

Since I was unaware of your timeframe that helps out a lot.  I appreciate the communication and that’s the reason for the 2 e-mails and text.  I will wait to hear from you and have a wonderful day!

Thank you for your time,

I’ve been told that sometimes I’m too subtle with my exposition in stories.  I have never been accused of being too subtle while irritated.  Well, not until this email.  This email is full of, “What?  I didn’t hear your frothy rage.  I am a clueless twit who will not be deterred!  Love me, please!!!”

At least that’s the end of it, right?  He’s going to wait to hear from me.  Who cares if he missed the point, I have achieved my goal.  Right?  Right???

Situations like these leave me wondering whether I have an optimist buried deep down under my cynical shell.  Those sorts of thoughts distress me.

I get a form-ish email from Costco.  They have their Member Advocate looking into the issue.  They take their member’s feedback seriously and will have a response for me within a few business days.  Here’s how I can contact them if I like, and I shouldn’t hesitate to.  Costco, I still love you because you know what? I lied when I said I didn’t want you to contact me about this.  I didn’t realize it, but this is exactly what I wanted you to do.  Good on you for seeing that.  Love and cuddles to Costco, I feel better about the whole situation.  Which I am shut of.  Because I’m living in delusional optimist land.

Wednesday.  Six days after first contact.  The only day of peace was the one LEGALLY MANDATED.  But I’ve been rude.  I’ve sicced Costco on them.  I’m leaving the house for evening showings and not a peep from EVS Ford.  Victory!

Guess what came in about the time I’m unlocking the first house?

Hello [redacted], My name is Curt Miller and I am the General sales manager at EVS Ford Random lake.I hope during your last contact with us you were able to get all the information you were looking for.Did you?

Is there anything I can help you with? Are there any questions I can answer?

I’d be happy to help. Just reply or call me at 920-994-4376.

Thanks for your time.

I didn’t actually check this until after my showings, which is good because that particular client hasn’t signed paperwork committing to me yet and dissolving into a spewing pile of frothy, cussing wrath might have sent them running.  Justifiably.  My clients expect a particular brand of crazy from me, and that’s not it.

My response:

There is one question you can answer for me: Since stating explicitly the last time I communicated with EVS Ford Random Lake that I wanted to be left alone and this is the second contact from you since then, what exactly do I need to do to get you to stop checking in with me?  In six days I’ve had two phone calls, five emails and a text message.  At no point past the initial phone call did I invite further contact.

But just in case I was somehow unclear in my prior communication, allow me to paste it below.  This time I’ve bolded bits that were really important.  If I buried the important part in too many words, I apologize and hope I have now clearly communicated my displeasure.

I bolded the “well and truly fed up” clause and the “leave me alone.”

I suspect a reasonable, patient person would wait to see what happens from here before letting loose on a public blog.  But you know what? Fuck that.  And Fuck EVS Ford.  This is absurd, and I don’t really care how apologetic, penitent, whatever they wind up being.  This has been absurd and the entire world should be warned: Do not let these people get your contact information.  Do not talk to them.  Don’t make eye contact or sudden movements near them.