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Goddess of Trans Men

[Mild but possibly necessary content notes: Talking about transness as a function of change rather than an "always knew" narrative (which are of course totally valid!), wild and rambling speculation on ancient Greek culture and literature, toxic masculinity and narratives about women as deceivers]

This isn't so much a post as it is an extended advertisement for you all to join my new obsession which is EPIC: THE MUSICAL, a new musical about Odysseus. When this came into my orbit I was a little skeptical because I was afraid that the musical might cover up a lot of the more complicated and difficult parts of the Odyssey but I've listened to the material that's been released so far (it's an ongoing project) and I'm really impressed and love it very much. Note that it does go the route wherein Odysseus kills Hector's infant son (rather than Pyrrhus doing the killing, which is the alternate version we have depending on which Illiad you're reading) so there's a major trigger warning for that in the first song.

"Warrior of the Mind" is a song from Athena's perspective where she's counseling Odysseus not to let down his guard; the war may be over, but they're not home safe yet and he needs to stay on his toes. And the Genius annotations on the lyrics are really helpful, especially if you're like me and haven't read The Odyssey in ten years or so. There's a line about how, with Odysseus' help, "then they'll see" and the annotations talk about how the Greeks (who were far from a cultural monolith) were really culturally torn on the question of what qualities make for the "best" warrior.

This is basically why we have TWO gods of war for them: you have the beefcake one (Ares) who tries to be the best by just... putting in the work. He never skips leg day, he masters all the weapons, he goes to all the battles, and when it's war day (and for him, EVERY day is war day) he stands on the front lines and screams with the best of them and runs into the enemy and he OWNS by virtue of just being badass. And he favors whichever side has the strongest warrior, because that's how war *works*: the strongest guy wins. Right?

Then you have Athena who, sure, is competent in battle because if you want to win a war you DO ultimately need to be able to swing a sword or spear as needed, but she's not the best because she's the best swords-swinger; she's the best because she's the best strategist. She uses her brain and she embraces the concept of battle maneuvers. She considers a good strategy *better* than having the strongest beefcakes on her side, and to a lot of Greeks that's... wrong? even borderline cheating? To a lot of Odysseus' contemporaries *within the context of his own story*, he was considered dishonorable and kind of a cheater because he used "tricks" rather than superior force and "honorable" man-to-man combat. So you have this musical where Athena sings about her hopes that his story will make them see she's right.

I'm telling all this to Kissmate because I'm a big nerd who loves gushing about ancient Greek stuff, and I end up on a tangent that this might well be partly WHY Athena is a woman. Because women were historically considered (by toxic Western men; I can't really speak for other cultures here) to be the "sly" gender, the "clever" class who gets her way not by brute force but by clever manipulation of the brutes around her. You don't complain because at the end of the day she (Athena) gets you home alive, but there's a sense of aloof mystery there: Athena, the virgin woman, is untouchable and unknowable. You can sit down and have a beer with Ares, but you don't become "best friends" with Athena (in the song Odysseus enthuses about this possibility and she coolly and with careful distance pushes him back a step with "We'll see where it ends". Beautiful.)

Because everything always comes back to gender in our house, lol, I started thinking that, oh man, the ancient Greeks might well have *loved* the idea of Athena as a trans men and goddess of trans men. Because you could have this person who "started" life as a woman, collected all of women's sly secrets and clever ways of thinking, but then transitions to a warrior (traditionally male!) and used all that forbidden knowledge to proceed to kick all the ass. And there are, of course, so many stories waiting to be written about Achilles to almost-kind-of did *exactly that* in the sense that he was disguised as a woman and placed among King Lycomedes' daughters in order to protect him because his mother didn't want him to go off to war. At which point Odyssues (Athena's chosen!) showed up to recruit Achilles, who then went off to be one of the best warriors among the Greeks. (Even though he did end up dying in battle, there was a prophesy that the Greeks could ONLY win the war against Troy if Achilles came with!)

And, of course, this isn't necessarily a totally great narrative in the sense that it's still shaped by toxic masculinity and the idea of women as both deceivers and fundamentally different from men! But still I do like imagining how earlier societies might have explained modern trans people, rather than just assuming (as the Evangelicals like to do) that they would've just shunned us completely.

Self-Promotion: GoodReads Reviews

I think some of you have mentioned reading and enjoying Cinder The Fireplace Boy. If you have, could you consider taking a moment to positively review the book on GoodReads? I hate to ask, as I know everyone is so busy and everything asks you for a review these days, but it's always a little saddening to me to see my work brought down by this sort of thing (below). Thank you so much in advance!! ❤

Narnia: Much Ado About Nothing

[Narnia Content Note: Mention of Alcoholism & Gun Violence]

Narnia Recap: Digory and Polly returned home, but brought Queen Jadis with them. Now the children have managed to take the Queen, their Uncle, and an innocent Cabby (and his horse) into the Wood Between Worlds.

The Magician's Nephew, Chapter 8: The Fight At The Lamp-Post

It's been a while since my last post, so I'm going to quote the opening of that prior post because I feel it works well as a summation of what has come before: When we last left Narnia, the Empress Jadis was taxi-surfing through the streets of London after having burgled a jewelry store. She has returned to Digory's house not because it is considered a safe haven to Andrew or a source of escape to Jadis but merely through narrative chance. Digory has been considering whether he should do something protagonisty, while Jadis has introduced herself to the crowd. Lewis wants to take Jadis down a peg or three, so the crowd is about to react unkindly.

That pretty much sums up the last post. The crowd is rude to Jadis, she whips the cab-horse up into a frenzy because her character keeps careening between stately self-control and wild unfocused fury, and the children teleport themselves, and the Queen, and their Uncle, and the Cabby, and the cab-horse into the Wood Between the Worlds.

   As soon as the Witch saw that she was once more in the wood she turned pale and bent down till her face touched the mane of the horse. You could see she felt deadly sick. Uncle Andrew was shivering. But Strawberry, the horse, shook his head, gave a cheerful whinny, and seemed to feel better. He became quiet for the first time since Digory had seen him. His ears, which had been laid flat back on his skull, came into their proper position, and the fire went out of his eyes.
   “That’s right, old boy,” said the Cabby, slapping Strawberry’s neck. “That’s better. Take it easy.”
   Strawberry did the most natural thing in the world. Being very thirsty (and no wonder) he walked slowly across to the nearest pool and stepped into it to have a drink. Digory was still holding the Witch’s heel and Polly was holding Digory’s hand. One of the Cabby’s hands was on Strawberry; and Uncle Andrew, still very shaky, had just grabbed on the Cabby’s other hand.
   “Quick,” said Polly, with a look at Digory. “Greens!”

There are a few things here to note, some of which don't make much sense. The most obvious detail is that in addition to the Witch being helpless in this Wood, Uncle Andrew seems also to be affected adversely. Are they afflicted because they are evil or because they both practice the wrong sort of magic? Meanwhile, the cab-horse--which we will hereafter call Strawberry--seems to be invigorated. That would appear to be a natural opposite of how Jadis and Andrew are feeling, until we remember that previously the Wood made Polly and Digory feel sleepy. None of the "good" people (Polly, Digory, Strawberry, and the Cabby) seem sleepy now, and it's unclear why not. Is it because their adrenaline is more kicked up than Polly's was when Uncle Andrew kidnapped her and sent her here? We do not know.

The second thing to note is that Polly and Digory are very keen to pop into another world. I find this confusing! In their previous visit, they had the presence of mind to move slowly and with sensible clarity: they made sure to mark the pool which led back to Earth, for example. Yet they do not pause here to check that those markings still exist. They just hop into the first pool anyone touches, which is strange. In the Wood, the Witch is helpless; yet they know that when she was brought to Earth, she immediately reinvigorated and regained a portion of her power. (Not all of it, as she was not able to blast their aunt with magic, but she did possess dangerous physical strength.) Why not just leave her to rot in the Wood, and possibly Uncle Andrew too? The only answer appears to be "because plot" but that's far from adequate, especially when numerous plot points up to this point have *also* been implausible coincidences (like Jadis ending up in front of Digory's house whilst he speculated whether or not he should Do Something).

  So the horse never got his drink. Instead, the whole party found themselves sinking into darkness. Strawberry neighed; Uncle Andrew whimpered. Digory said, “That was a bit of luck.”
  There was a short pause. Then Polly said, “Oughtn’t we to be nearly there now?”
  “We do seem to be somewhere,” said Digory. “At least I’m standing on something solid.”
  “Why, so am I, now that I come to think of it,” said Polly. “But why’s it so dark? I say, do you think we got into the wrong Pool?”
  “Perhaps this is Charn,” said Digory. “Only we’ve got back in the middle of the night.”
  “This is not Charn,” came the Witch’s voice. “This is an empty world. This is Nothing.”

Okay, so, apparently the children thought they were going into the Charn pool? And their plan was to return Jadis to the world she came from? That's not a terrible plan, but it was already noted long ago that the pools are so thick on the ground that without a marking there is no way to tell one from the other. The children were wise to mark the Earth pool but did *not* mark the Charn pool, and there's no reason to believe Strawberry was trying to drink from the Charn one. (We will soon find that he was not, and later we will learn that the Charn pool is now a dry grassy depression with no water because that's what happens to dead worlds.) If the plan was to return the Witch to her home world, that was very badly planned out. Furthermore, they know that the Witch is physically and magically powerful in her world, and she knows how to hitchhike on the rings. So how, exactly, were they planning to take her to Charn and leave her there against her will? Once again, it seems much wiser and safer to just leave her to rot in the Wood. Push her off the horse and just go home!

  And really it was uncommonly like Nothing. There were no stars. It was so dark that they couldn’t see one another at all and it made no difference whether you kept your eyes shut or opened. Under their feet there was a cool, flat something which might have been earth, and was certainly not grass or wood. The air was cold and dry and there was no wind.
  “My doom has come upon me,” said the Witch in a voice of horrible calmness.
  “Oh don’t say that,” babbled Uncle Andrew. “My dear young lady, pray don’t say such things. It can’t be as bad as that. Ah—Cabman—my good man—you don’t happen to have a flask about you? A drop of spirits is just what I need.”

The Cabby does not have any alcohol about him, but instead suggests that they all sing a "harvest thanksgiving hymn" in order to keep their spirits up while they wait for rescue or death in this dark place. (He thinks they've fallen down a dig-site for a new London Underground metro station which... I don't know where to start with that. He's supposed to be a homey down-to-earth figure in this fantastical world, but he *saw* the Wood Between Worlds? but sometimes people forget the Wood after leaving? but...so...anyway.)

Meanwhile, Uncle Andrew draws Digory off into the darkness and asks/tells him to put on his ring so the two of them can go home. Jadis overhears and vaguely threatens him, while Digory tells him off for even considering that he might abandon Polly and the Cabby here. Jadis is present and hears this, so just... hold onto that fact, okay? It will be important several chapters from now. I'm just going to quote the relevant bit so we can all be on the same page as to what Digory said and what Jadis heard.

  But the Witch had very good ears. “Fool!” came her voice and she leaped off the horse. “Have you forgotten that I can hear men’s thoughts? Let go the boy. If you attempt treachery I will take such vengeance upon you as never was heard of in all worlds from the beginning.”
  “And,” added Digory, “if you think I’m such a mean pig as to go off and leave Polly—and the Cabby—and the horse—in a place like this, you’re well mistaken.”
  “You are a very naughty and impertinent little boy,” said Uncle Andrew.
  “Hush!” said the Cabby. They all listened.

Alright, gentlethems, here is the part you've all been waiting for: the Genesis of Narnia.

  In the darkness something was happening at last. A voice had begun to sing. It was very far away and Digory found it hard to decide from what direction it was coming. Sometimes it seemed to come from all directions at once. Sometimes he almost thought it was coming out of the earth beneath them. Its lower notes were deep enough to be the voice of the earth herself. There were no words. There was hardly even a tune. But it was, beyond comparison, the most beautiful noise he had ever heard. It was so beautiful he could hardly bear it. The horse seemed to like it too; he gave the sort of whinny a horse would give if, after years of being a cab-horse, it found itself back in the old field where it had played as a foal, and saw someone whom it remembered and loved coming across the field to bring it a lump of sugar.
  “Gawd!” said the Cabby. “Ain’t it lovely?”

This is a little random, but fuckit, it's my blog and I can do what I want. I am going to strongly recommend you go to YouTube and search for "Geoff Castellucci" of VoicePlay fame. He has the deeeeeeepest voice and it's really the only voice I can at the moment imagine pulling off this fantastical feat: the voice is so beautiful you could weep to hear it sing, but there's no tune to the singing. How? Through the magic of Geoff! Obviously it's going to turn out to be Aslan, but let me have this for a moment longer.

  Then two wonders happened at the same moment. One was that the voice was suddenly joined by other voices; more voices than you could possibly count. They were in harmony with it, but far higher up the scale: cold, tingling, silvery voices. The second wonder was that the blackness overhead, all at once, was blazing with stars. They didn’t come out gently one by one, as they do on a summer evening. One moment there had been nothing but darkness; next moment a thousand, thousand points of light leaped out—single stars, constellations, and planets, brighter and bigger than any in our world. There were no clouds. The new stars and the new voices began at exactly the same time. If you had seen and heard it, as Digory did, you would have felt quite certain that it was the stars themselves which were singing, and that it was the First Voice, the deep one, which had made them appear and made them sing.

This is a Biblical reference to Job 38:7, which says that at the dawn of creation "the morning stars sang together". Every so often an astrophysicist will point out the extremely cool fact that all stars produce acoustic waves that are too low-frequency for human ears to hear but which can be picked up by telescopes and reconstructed with instruments to make eerie "music" from the vibrations. Then some Christians will get really excited and use this as "evidence" that the Bible was right about the singing stars and how could primitive peoples have known that without divine inspiration and therefore the Bible is fact, et cetera, whilst carefully not engaging with the fact that (a) stars can't really sing in a goddamn vacuum that doesn't carry sound ("In space, no one can hear you sing.") and (b) the "sound" from the stars had to be thoroughly manipulated in order to turn it into anything resembling music. Not quite as described in Job. I don't know, I guess I get my hair in a twist about this because the idea of stars singing at their creation is so poetic and beautiful, and it feels like something truly lovely is lost when someone tries to jam that poetry into Realism and insist that it's factual fact. Like trying to mathematically prove that a rose by any other name would, in a survey of 9 out of 10 respondents, smell just as sweet. Anyway.

  There was soon light enough for them to see one another’s faces. The Cabby and the two children had open mouths and shining eyes; they were drinking in the sound, and they looked as if it reminded them of something. Uncle Andrew’s mouth was open too, but not open with joy. He looked more as if his chin had simply dropped away from the rest of his face. His shoulders were stooped and his knees shook. He was not liking the Voice. If he could have got away from it by creeping into a rat’s hole, he would have done so. But the Witch looked as if, in a way, she understood the music better than any of them. Her mouth was shut, her lips were pressed together, and her fists were clenched. Ever since the song began she had felt that this whole world was filled with a Magic different from hers and stronger. She hated it. She would have smashed that whole world, or all worlds, to pieces, if it would only stop the singing. The horse stood with its ears well forward, and twitching. Every now and then it snorted and stamped the ground. It no longer looked like a tired old cab-horse; you could now well believe that its father had been in battles.

Battles, Lewis? Really? I remain deeply frustrated that he has to bring everything good back to the martial arts. His father can't have been a proud race-horse or a mighty farm-horse or a wild stallion on the plains; he has to have been in battles, the most manly of arts.

  The eastern sky changed from white to pink and from pink to gold. The Voice rose and rose, till all the air was shaking with it. And just as it swelled to the mightiest and most glorious sound it had yet produced, the sun arose.
  Digory had never seen such a sun. The sun above the ruins of Charn had looked older than ours: this looked younger. You could imagine that it laughed for joy as it came up. And as its beams shot across the land the travelers could see for the first time what sort of place they were in. It was a valley through which a broad, swift river wound its way, flowing eastward toward the sun. Southward there were mountains, northward there were lower hills. But it was a valley of mere earth, rock and water; there was not a tree, not a bush, not a blade of grass to be seen. The earth was of many colors; they were fresh, hot and vivid. They made you feel excited; until you saw the Singer himself, and then you forgot everything else.
  It was a Lion. Huge, shaggy, and bright, it stood facing the risen sun. Its mouth was wide open in song and it was about three hundred yards away.

I will give Lewis this: the actual creation parts are pretty. In the next chapter we'll get to the creation of the animals, which is extremely fun, but this part is good too. The vivid image of a young laughing sun is a delight. Jadis and Uncle Andrew are horrified at the sight of the Lion, with Jadis wanting to "fly at once" back to the Wood and Andrew wishing he had a gun to shoot the lion. Andrew tries to collect both the children and their rings, intending to leave Jadis behind. Jadis lunges for the children but Digory is faster and... sort of takes Polly hostage. Lewis probably didn't intend for me to laugh at this, but it reminds me of that scene in Blazing Saddles when the sheriff takes himself hostage. [Content Note: N-word, Racism]Link is here, at 2:30.[/]

  “Oh, it’s rings, is it?” cried Jadis. She would have had her hands in Digory’s pocket before you could say knife, but Digory grabbed Polly and shouted out:
  “Take care. If either of you come half an inch nearer, we two will vanish and you’ll be left here for good. Yes: I have a ring in my pocket that will take Polly and me home. And look! My hand is just ready. So keep your distance. I’m sorry about you” (he looked at the Cabby) “and about the horse, but I can’t help that. As for you two” (he looked at Uncle Andrew and the Queen) “you’re both magicians, so you ought to enjoy living together.”

Let the record show that Digory is, at least, sorry about the Cabby and Strawberry. The Cabby, however, either does not care what is happening right now or is so lost that he can't follow the action; it's genuinely unclear which.

  “‘Old your noise, everyone,” said the Cabby. “I want to listen to the moosic.”
  For the song had now changed.

And thus we get another of Lewis' baffling chapter breaks in the middle of an ongoing scene wherein nothing has yet been resolved. Chapter 8 is dead, long live Chapter 9.

Film Corner: Why I Want Queer Disney Princesses

Every so often someone goes semi-viral with a take that I will try to summarize as: "Disney doesn't care about you. Stop asking them for queer characters and representation. Support indie authors/creators instead."

Look. I'm a queer indie author and creator. I would absolutely love for everyone to support me and read my work. (I think it's really good! But I'm biased!) But I also strongly support asking Disney--I would even go so far as to say I support badgering and bullying Disney--into giving us queer main characters, queer princesses, and real queer representation that isn't just a minor side character being briefly in the vicinity of another character who might share their gender and GASP the "first" gay Disney character since the last "first" one.

Why? Why do I want queer characters included in soulless corporate media that only cares about us if they can get our money?

Well, for one, I do occasionally like to watch a nice flashy animated movie and I would like to see someone like me in those movies someday. We haven't had a queer Disney princess, nor a trans one, nor one that deals with a visible physical disability. (Unless you count Quasimodo as a Disney Princess and I kind of *do*, but his movie unfortunately has some...other issues.) It is possible to BOTH "support indie creators" AND want to see yourself in expensive flashy heavily-marketed soulless corporate media. Consuming the occasional Disney movie doesn't mean that I suddenly don't have time, or won't make the effort, to watch other things.

But secondly, and honestly more importantly to me: I don't ask Disney for queer representation for myself. I do it for all the folks who need queer representation and don't even realize it. I was a queer child who needed to be told that trans people exist, that gay people exist, that queer people exist, and that we're normal and wholesome and just fine as we are. I needed my parents to be shown queer representation in popular mainstream movies, so they could come around to recognizing that "queer" doesn't mean "child predator" or "inveterate sinner" but instead it just means that some people are a little different from them and it's fine.

We know--we have studies to show this--that repeated contact with realistic fictional representation of marginalized identities reduces overall social bigotry against the people being represented. The normal wholesome fictional character replaces the scary bogeyman that people have built up in their minds. You simply cannot continue to insist to yourself and your children that all (for example) queer women are seductive sirens luring good women away from their husbands when a bright cheery Rapunzel is on-screen shyly falling in love with another girl. What's more is that bigots *know* this and it's why they're so insistent that Disney not become inclusive--they want to teach their children to hate queer people and they know that will be impossible if someone popular like Elsa is queer. Kids can't hate Elsa.

In short: support indie creators, yes, please. But please can we stop the rhetoric that only a brainwashed fool would want representation from evil soulless corporate media? We are allowed to consume junk food alongside our organic artisanal fare, and we're allowed to want representation for all the baby queers out there who still don't even have a word for what they are.

Review: Honey, I Joined a Cult (Steam)

Honey, I Joined A Cult is an adorable game that I don't quite know whether or not to recommend. The in-game artwork and sprites are very cute, and the writing is funny and gets a reliable smile from me every time. The premise of the game is that you are a charlatan cult leader with an aesthetic straight out of the 1970s. Your goal is to cultivate a core group of cult "members" (i.e., free laborers) and "followers" (visitors who are milked for money by paying to use fraudulent "therapy" rooms) while you can live out the easy life as a fake spiritual leader. If you happen to establish World Peace or summon a Great Old One in the process of all this, well, whoop-si-doodle.

The dark humor and cartoony graphics combine well if you're into that sort of thing (and I am). But the game suffers from a common problem that plagues many sims: once you have a good routine down, you're just grinding resources until you earn enough to cash in for an ending. My last game clocked a total of 14 hours, but I had most of the "therapy rooms" built at around 5 hours, and the remaining 9 hours was just letting the game run on autopilot in the background until I racked up enough resources to win the game. There are options to grind for upgrades to the therapy rooms, but they aren't very excited and just boil down to either "more decorations" or "more earned money" for each room. So a large portion of the game felt a bit of a slog, and I'm not seized with a desire to replay another cult flavor (the current options are Peace & Love, Aliens, and Darkness) because I can tell not much will be different in terms of core gameplay.

I will say, the game author(s) seem very much aware of this problem, but I don't really like the solutions they're trying out to combat the issue. For example, every so often protesters will show up to picket your cult and you have to figure out which cultists are best to send out to talk them down. The problem is, the entire premise of the game is that you (the cult leader) see all your followers as interchangeable dupes, so it's a bit off-message to suddenly have to pour over which one appeals best to Logic and which one values Emotion in order to vibe best with the picketers. Another attempt to jazz up the game can be seen with random events that happen during missions; the problem with these is that I hate doing missions and the funny random events didn't really make them feel any less of a hated obligation.

If I could make a wishlist for the game, I think it would be:

- Give me a bigger compound to build in. Some of my members want private bedrooms, but there's no room for anything but big barracks-style housing and a huge privacy-free bathroom where everyone does their business out in the open. Maybe we could upgrade to a bigger compound over time, as that would give me something to do with this pile of money that I sleep on every night.

- The "decor" category is huge and unwieldy to scroll through. It needs sub-categories for things like statues, tables, novelties, etc. They also start to feel pointless when all they do is increase the "status" of a room. Can you implement some kind of stat-boost for specific items in specific rooms: "important documents" speed up research, while the "teapot" speeds up cooking in the kitchen? Etc. Speaking of, give me fewer things that take up precious floor space and more things that I can hang on walls, please!

- I cannot give a 5-star sermon to save my life. Adjust the requirements for this to be less unforgiving, please? Speaking of unreasonable standards: 100,000 Influence points for a Steam Achievement is insane. Did you mean 10,000? Because I spent 14 hours on my last play-through and got 26,000 Influence by the end. I didn't want to sink another 42 hours into that save file just to snag the achievement, you know?

- The therapy rooms are interesting, but I want more of them! It feels very limiting that we only end up with half a dozen types of rooms. I wanted more rooms and (possibly) to have to choose which sorts of rooms my cult would specialize in. Picking my cult flavor only gave me one new room (the Maypole Dance room, which was admittedly VERY COOL, nice Wicker Man!) whereas I wanted so much more. There's so many flavors of 1970s chicanery to choose from--magnets, spoon bending, psychic card decks, blurry photographs, faith healing, and so forth--and it just feels very disappointing to be limited to maggot baths and yoga mats.

- The writing in the random events is extremely strong and I enjoy them very much. I would perhaps expand that concept to occur outside the missions as well. Police could show up to tour the compound and the player's answers could affect whether your political Heat goes up or down. Family members could visit the cult members and that could affect Influence or Public Relations.

- Speaking of public relations, I want to be able to throw events at the compound, even if it's just a text box on the Mission screen. I kept expecting the PR missions to evolve from more than just radio appearances. Admittedly I didn't do very many of those because they kept increasing my Heat for no good reason and Heat is hard enough to manage as is. I would balance that a little better; going on a radio show or throwing a charity event or hosting a gerbil-adoption day shouldn't increase political heat like that!

- [Trigger Warning: Sexual Coercion] I was not planning to use the "Free Love" room at all and was a little annoyed to find that it was mandatory in order to receive the Peace & Love finale. It might seem silly that I'm cool with playing a game about exploiting free labor from victims of religious abuse, yet I draw the line at sexual coercion but I do. The room is a cool game mechanic (letting cult members share positive traits and stats after "learning" from each other...in bed) but I would *strongly* recommend implementing a statistical possibility wherein the chosen pair refuse to use the room because they're Just Not That Into Each Other; this would make me feel like they have a *choice* in the matter and are actively consenting when they do use the room. I have similar feelings about the incense room, for that matter.

Anyway, I have rambled enough and this is getting long. I enjoyed the game a lot, but I enjoy the IDEA of the game more than the implementation right now, if that makes sense. I hope that future implementations feature a little more variety and a little less slog.

Review: Oxygen Not Included (Steam)

This is the best game I've ever hated. This adorable and highly addictive game is for people who feel that nuclear physics aren't challenging enough. Even on easy/casual mode (and thank god there's an easy mode), this is the most challenging resource management game I've ever played--and not for the wrong reasons, as is so often the case with these sorts of games. The artificial intelligence for your sims is surprisingly well-implemented, the ability to prioritize tasking on the fly is flawless, and you don't have to micromanage your sims just to get them to eat and sleep as needed. The "every three days" respawn point that awards you a new person or "care package" of needed stuff is highly addictive and pings my ADHD brain juuuust right.

That said, holy cow this game is HARD. You need oxygen? You'll install an algae terranium to turn carbon dioxide (which your sims keep selfishly exhaling) into oxygen. But they produce polluted water, which means you need to invent electric wiring, manual hamster-wheel generators, and a water sieve to turn that polluted water back into clean drinkable water. Which you need because your crops (and algae) keep drinking all your water. But those generators are heating the colony air over time (so much running, so much exercise!) which raises the ambient temperature in your gardens, which means your plants won't grow. Time to either starve to death or invent a complex system of hydrogen-based cooling and air ducts to cool the place down. Whoops, you're out of clean water because your crops were thirsty while you were inventing all that!

Seriously, this is the most realistic space-building sim I've ever played. It's adorable and addictive and I am *very bad* at it. I hate it so much, lol, but I highly recommend it for people who are, well, smarter than I am. I'm going back to lurk in the dark ages with my medieval sims who never ask me to invent anything higher than the Iron Age.

Review: Unpacking (Steam)

I reaaaally wanted to like this game. Unpacking stuff in a low-stress environment is exactly the kind of thing my brain likes to do to relax, so this seemed like the perfect game to unwind. Also, I'd heard that the game had a nice story to follow as well, so that sounded like a lovely cup of tea. But. This game is so stressful, and I don't even know where to start unpacking (ha) my problems with it.

One: the rooms you're unpacking stuff into *aren't empty*. You have to try to jam the heroine's stuff in around other people's things. So it's not a beautiful clean slate that you paint with belongings, but more like a messy jumble of someone else's things that you have to work around and hope they don't mind. Some items are even locked in place and can't be moved! I was actually surprised by how much stress this triggered, and I wanted to call a house meeting to discuss the toilet paper situation.

Two: many of the items are tiny, blurred, or otherwise unclear what they are or where they go. I would have preferred the interface have a label and location for what something is when you pick it up. Turns out the game has Strong Opinions on where you can store certain things. Can I put the tiny guitar in my bedroom under the bed? NO. It must go in the living room. Often it's hard to tell where something goes because you can't tell what it is. I had to google how to get past the first level because a cute little purple notebook was actually a *diary* and I had to put that in a secret drawer rather than on the shelf with the other notebooks. I'd foolishly gone and filled the drawer with erasers and rulers and scissors, but those are supposed to go on TOP of the desk, which is how I know that the devs don't have cats.

I quit when I moved back into my childhood room and I was supposed to know that one of the photos wasn't supposed to go on the corkboard with all the other photos but was instead supposed to go in a cabinet where the heroine won't see it (unless she...opens the cabinet??). I was supposed to realize that the tiny photo was of a romantic ex because there was a tiny thumbtack through his tiny face, and I was supposed to guess that instead of "throwing it in the trash" or "storing it in a file folder" that the right answer was to lay it face-up on a cabinet shelf where it will be seen every time the she opens the cabinet. Intuitive!

Three: The story. There isn't one, not really. We're supposed to construct a story ourselves based on wild assumptions regarding the things our heroine owns--it's like walking into a stranger's house and trying to construct a Sherlockian narrative over why they own what they do and then calling that a "story".

Whilst consulting google to figure out what to do with the previously-mentioned photo, I was startled to realize that I was supposed to assume that our room occupant is a world traveler because she collects tiny Eiffel Tower and Leaning Tower of Pisa figurines. WHAT?? I had just assumed that she liked those places! Maybe she collects the figurines because she *can't* afford to travel (if you can't see the real thing, you can at least see the replica) or maybe her dad travels for work and brings back souvenirs for her. I used to have an impressive collection of shot glasses from around the world for that very reason; it doesn't mean I've ever left the country!

We're apparently supposed to chart the "changed interests" of the main character based on which belongings she keeps and which she trims out of her life over time, but having just lost a lot of personal items of my own to a basement flood, I am too aware of how many factors other than "loss of interest" can cause a beloved stuffie or photo to leave one's life. It's strange and frustrating to feel like I'm supposed to access the story through a series of unintuitive logic leaps. Maybe the heroine kept the pink pig stuffie and trimmed the other animals because she loved that one best, or maybe the others were destroyed in a flood, or the thumbtack ex threw out her things, or maybe one of her roommates accidentally stole the stuffies during a move out when they packed them by mistake. Sherlockian analysis is a myth, as Sir Terry Pratchett demonstrated far better than I ever could:

"Samuel Vimes dreamed about Clues. He had a jaundiced view of Clues. He instinctively distrusted them. They got in the way. And he distrusted the kind of person who'd take one look at another man and say in a lordly voice to his companion, "Ah, my dear sir, I can tell you nothing except that he is a left-handed stonemason who has spent some years in the merchant navy and has recently fallen on hard times," and then unroll a lot of supercilious commentary about calluses and stance and the state of a man's boots, when exactly the same comments could apply to a man who was wearing his old clothes because he'd been doing a spot of home bricklaying for a new barbecue pit, and had been tattooed once when he was drunk and seventeen and in fact got seasick on a wet pavement. What arrogance! What an insult to the rich and chaotic variety of the human experience!" --Terry Pratchett, Feet of Clay

Review: Unavowed (Steam)

I often find it easier to write negative reviews than praise-y ones, I think because a negative review is something I can make into a list to clinically go through point-by-point whereas my praise skills are, uh, less polished and frequently just amount to me pointing at something good and going "omg omg you need to experience this omg it's so good". But today I want to tell you about Unavowed by Wadjet Eye Games on Steam which I found by watching my favorite YouTube streamer (SuperGreatFriend).

Unavowed is what every modern adventure game should be from here on out, just in terms of game mechanics. (My opinion, of course! Ymmv!) You don't have to cycle through cursor options like Look/Talk/Walk/Handle; you point at something and the cursor changes automatically based on how you would normally interact with the item. It's so easy and convenient and I love it. Pick-up items are few and far between (and almost always stand out well from the environment) and they disappear from your inventory between chapters, so you don't have to do the adventure game dance of rubbing the screwdriver from Chapter 1 on every item in Chapter 9 hoping that the plot will unlock. In fact, most of the puzzles are solved by talking to people with new information you've uncovered since the last time you talked to them. I love it.

Story-wise, the game is very dark. A year ago, your character was possessed by a demon and went on a very disturbing killing spree... as well as doing a few other horrible things that don't quite make sense but which caused harm to innocents in the city. A group of community-minded magical creatures who call themselves the Unavowed have tracked you down, exorcised the evil spirit, and now you've joined them as they try to undo all the harm your demon did. You're able to help them with your wits and your fleeting memories (or really more like unwanted visions) of what the demon did whilst in your body.

If you don't mind the dark themes (and I watch CSI and Law & Order for fun, so I mean) then there's a really deep and emotional game under the hood about identity and redemption and morality and choices. Each chapter culminates in a complicated moral decision about a magical creature run amok in New York, and your companions are thoughtful and gentle in their advice to you. For example: A muse has lost her supernatural powers and absolutely does *not* want them back, but your demon imbued those powers into a guy who seems genuinely nice and likable BUT he's using his new muse powers recklessly and getting people killed. Do you (a) insist that the original muse take her powers back, even though it will make her miserable, (b) extend trust to the old man that he'll try to do better going forward, or (c) make it so that *nobody* holds the power of the muse, which could have rippling repercussions on artists in the future? Each situation is thoughtfully engineered so that there's no obvious "right" answer, and your companions wrestle with the ethics of the situation without "blaming" you if you choose differently--everyone recognizes that this stuff is complicated!

Representation-wise, too, I really love this game. One of the characters is a Brown woman of color whose magic comes from her Jinn father (and her fighting prowess was taught from her pirate mother). The white man in your group is a long-lived mage who misses his family who for their own protection thinks he is dead; he's the definition of Team Dad and I love him. Your ghost-whisperer is a beautiful Black man paired with a ten-year-old spirit guide named KayKay who is a DELIGHT; he wrestles with problems with addiction that is exacerbated by the strain of having to help people through their death trauma day after painful day. A cop joins your group and, yeah, she sees the cops in a positive light after being raised in a "cop family", but the game itself has a LOT of critical things to say about the police and their tactics. There's a lot of beautiful diversity here and I love it so much. You find yourself talking to the characters because you *want* to know them better.

All in all, I am just very thrilled with this gentle and loving game which takes the darkest parts of the crime genre and asks, sincerely and without judgment, how to make the world a better place.

Review: Project Hospital (Steam)

I really wanted to play this game! But the in-game windows showing patient and doctor data can't be resized and are too big to fit on my 15" laptop screen. If I adjust the game aspect ratio so that the whole window can fit on the screen, the text is too small to read and the buttons are too tiny to click. I will note that they mention this on the store page: "Recommended display: 24“ with 1920 x 1080 resolution" and I just didn't see. So it was my fault for buying and trying this on a 15" laptop. I was really looking forward to this game, so I hope that in the future they include the ability to resize text and buttons.

Review: Planetbase (Steam)

I have sunk so many hours into this game and I want to like it so much, but it is so frustrating. The first 20 minutes of each colony are far too fragile and it just...doesn't make sense!? You didn't bring any extra oxygen with you, so if your colonists can't build an oxygen maker (and power- and water-extractors to run it) then they will immediately die in a day. You brought no water with you either, so you'd better also prioritize a cafeteria with water fountains. And you didn't bring nearly enough metal with you, so you'd better build a mine asap. Once all that is up and running, your 1-2 workers will run around in a panic while your medics and engineers stand around and sniff their own farts. They won't help, you see, because they only do specialized jobs that you don't have buildings for yet. ARGH. Why can't I bring more workers or more resources to start? Yes, it's a challenge but it feels totally artificial for a game that doesn't have some kind of disaster backstory (am I fleeing from Darth Vader? who knows!) so it just feels like beating my head against a wall.

If you can get past the first 20 minutes, then it's basically autopilot from there. You can build almost all of the buildings available in the first hour of play and after that you're just keeping an eye on things while they zip along at 4x speed. There's no way to upgrade buildings or build vertically; you just have to sprawl outward. There's almost no luxuries for your little people, so you don't really come to care about them. It feels like this needs more content, somehow? Luxury lodgings and vertical buildings, maybe. Something to make your colony seem successful. As it is, the only difference between a starting colony of 10 and a city of 300 is how much space you're taking up: everyone still sleeps in bunk bed dorms located a single hallway away from their day job location.

Review: Yes Your Grace (Steam)

This is a fun inventory balancing game; it reminds me of the old Castles II game I used to play as a kid, and scratches the kingdom management itch that the Reigns card games just weren't quite scratching for me. The pixel art is charming and lovely, and the game is difficult without being impossible, so you feel a real sense of achievement when you manage to win.

That said, it should be noted that there's an overarching plot that you have very limited control over. Several times your options as King are basically "Yes/Yes, but". Especially early on, you are crowbared into several decisions that I simply would not have made, and it was particularly frustrating when the plot came back around to chide me for those "choices" that I didn't want to make in the first place. And in the last third of the game you're basically locked into whether you want to be nice to the invaders or nasty to them; the game even *says* at several points that you need to be 100% Nice or 100% Nasty in order to get help from 1 of the 2 available nobles you're courting for help. Not a lot of wiggle room for role-playing.

[Spoiler Note / Trigger Warning: Domestic Violence] To elaborate on how little guidance you have on the plot: Early on, you have no choice but to marry your 13 year old daughter off to a young prince who will then go on to beat her and ultimately burn her at the stake as a witch. You have zero option to help or save her; you can't even *try*. This is the story the devs wanted to tell and I respect that, but as a survivor of domestic violence it was really brutal to witness *bruises* on my daughter and have literally zero option as the king to do anything about it. I would REALLY like a DLC option (for which I would pay!) that gives you the chance to launch a rescue mission with one or more of your agents. It just feels railroad-y that this terrible tragedy must happen so we can all be sad over it. Sigh.

Those issues aside, I enjoyed this game. But I don't think it has any replayability value whatsoever after you've made it to the ending in one piece. You're basically on a single plot-rail the entire time, so the only "choices" you really get to make is how to manage your gold and food supplies. While that affects whether the plot goes well or not, it doesn't really unlock new content, if that makes sense.

Review: Kingdom Two Crows (Steam)

I feel like I'm missing something amidst these glowing reviews. Here was my experience with the game: there's no tutorial, no text, no interaction with anyone at all. Fine, I can dig a silent kingdom management game. Characters cut down trees and harvest grains, but you have no investment in their progress because the ONLY resource you have to manage is gold. You pick up gold. You walk around. You find a spot that the gods have preordained to be a house or a mill or a tower or whatever (you don't get to decide!) and you chuck gold at it so your peasants will build it. The building generates gold and you pick it up and carry it around chucking it at new things to build.

How much gold do you have at any given time? You don't know; there's just a picture of an empty/full purse to give you a vague idea of your resources. If you get too much gold, it spills over into the water and is lost, so spend spend spend! No point in saving up for an expensive resource! At night, little purple ninjas try to steal your crown which will "kill" you but there doesn't really seem to be any penalty for that. Your silent workers keep on plugging, gold keeps pouring in, and your fingers get sore pressing the side-scroll button and wishing your horse wasn't a purebred snail.

Several people mentioned they play this game as a brainless timekiller in class? That's the only way I can see getting any enjoyment out of this game.

Review: Project Zomboid (Steam)

I thought this would be a fun zombie-survival-meets-the-SIMS game where you break into houses and loot them for canned corn and expired water bottles. The minute I left the starting house I was swarmed by an entire football stadium of zombies. Go back into the house to recollect my wits and they instantly break the door down because apparently my contractor used balsa wood for our front door. My only weapon is a toilet plunger. This suburban neighborhood was apparently inhabited at a ratio of 50 people per house. This...is not fun. Add to all this that it took several google searches and an hour of tinkering with the settings just to get the resolution to a decent size where we could read the menu options. Very "early access" at this time. But if all this sounds fun to you, then go nuts and enjoy!

Film Corner: The Invitation (2022)

I've always found it harder to review movies I liked than ones I don't like; somehow it's easier for me to lay out nitpicks in an orderly manner than it is to explain in essay form what worked in something that left me Kermit-flailing with joy. I've been ruminating on how to tell you all about movies I've liked lately when I suddenly remembered the wonderful old "Movie Yelling With X and Y" and realized that was precisely the format I've been needing, and immediately roped Kissmate into a Discord where we could yell happily at each other. I'm very happy with the result and I hope you are too!

The Invitation (2022)

Songbird: (singsong) Soooo, now we've seen The Invitation (2022). I sort of knew what to expect because I'd seen the trailer way back in the day (it was quite a hit on Twitter when the trailer was released, if I recall correctly!) and was expecting suspense and probably some sort of vampires. Whereas you went into the movie completely unaware of what it would be about. What did you think?

Kissmate: You told me there was a girl who goes to meet up with new family and vampires are involved. That was all I knew going in. Once we started and all the subtle Dracula hints began, and maids started dropping like flies, I was still a bit surprised by the ending. Not surprised that the handsome asshole was Dracula, just surprised by what he wanted her for.

Songbird: Oh my gosh, the Dracula hints! This was such a fun ride for people who love that book (me!), especially coming down off of the "Dracula Daily" tumblr fun. The house is called "New Carfax" (Carfax Abbey is the estate purchased by Dracula in the book, the sale of which Jonathan Harker facilitates and which is why he later knows where to find the count), one of the brides is named "Lucy" (Lucy Westenra being one of Dracula's most memorable victims), and the Butler is named "Mr. Field" in the movie and credited as "Renfield" in the script/credits (Renfield being Dracula's devoted servant even whilst imprisoned in the asylum run by one of Lucy's suitors). And I'm pretty sure there's a couple named Jonathan and Mina Harker! Just so many delightful Easter Eggs if you're a fan, but you don't have to know the book to enjoy the film.

But, yes!! How applicable is this film to all of us? You're lonely, you're looking for a little human connection, you take one of those Ancestry DNA tests, you find a long-lost cousin, he invites you to Britain to meet the rest of the family (who are all super sweet and super psyched to meet you!), and then it turns out they are planning to marry you off to an ancient vampire (implied to be *the* Dracula) as part of an ancestral tri-bride blood pact codified centuries ago because it turns out that (a) your family is that particular vampire's lawyers, and (b) they don't have a lot of marriageable women at the moment and you showed up in just the nick of time as far as they're concerned. Whomst among us hasn't had that happen?

Kissmate: Oh god, the Alexander Family. You have Oliver, the long-lost cousin, being such a delightful little manipulator. Anyone who knows the red flags are seeing them pop up all over the place from his first scene (he's overly generous to get her to England alone, mentioning the family scandal being something the family is Totally Happy about now, keeps bringing up the hot rich Dracula figure as such a nice guy to know, etc).

And then when she walks into the room to meet her whole Alexander side of the family, the camera is careful to show that only 3 other women are in that room full of men, and they are clearly either serving maids or older women who married into the family (rather than blood relations and eligible debutantes). The elder patriarch even says something about how the Alexanders keep having boys like that's a bad thing. How Evie, a biracial Black woman, didn't fucking run out of the room right then and there is amazing. Like, *I'm* a white man and that room was way too white man for comfort.

I do have, like, ONE nitpick I have about the whole thing, but provided that the bad guys are totally desperate, it might not be fair.

Songbird: Yes! Oliver's manipulation, really the manipulation being practiced by the *whole family*, is just so delightful because it walks that perfect delicate line between "is this overly intimate to the point of being creepy" or "are they just really sweet people who aren't very good at boundaries". I love the conversations between protagonist Evie and her friend Grace because they really tease out those concerns in a realistic way!

Evie and Grace are both Black and they have reasonable concerns about this lily-white British family and whether it's normal for them to be so accepting and overjoyed at finding a Black offshoot of the family. An offshoot created when a ancestral lady of the family had a secret out-of-wedlock biracial baby with a Black footman, no less! They have big meaningful conversations about British colonialism and racism (and I'm convinced that's why some reviewers got pissy about the movie, but that's another thing) and whether Evie should be suspicious of all this positive attention and love-bombing being heaped onto her.

What's your nitpick? I'd love to hear it.

Kissmate: Well, the vampire Alexander Bride died rather than kill and eat the help. And there's no more Alexander women to replace her with. They're fucked, but wait what's this, another Alexander woman found through the magic of the internet and DNA matching! Awesome! But there's a Problem: She's a waitress, and has been for a long time. She's seen helping the serving maids from minute one of her arrival. She even says to them, "if we don't help each other out, who will?" WE. As in she sees herself as one of the hired help. So doesn't that mean THE CYCLE WILL FUCKING CONTINUE? and Evie will starve herself the way the previous Alexander Bride did? Anyone who spends five minutes with Evie can tell she'd rather starve than eat a servant. Did no-one think to consider that?

Songbird: I don't think they *can* consider it, to be honest. Dracula, the brides, and the Alexander family all seem so genuinely puzzled that Evie isn't ecstatic, delighted, *grateful* to be plucked out of artistic obscurity and financial hardship to be given this amazing "gift" of ultra-wealth and eternal life and youth. Down to the very end, I think every single one of these rich people just cannot understand that there are people out there who wouldn't trade a stranger's life for wealth and comfort. Even Lucy, the most sympathetic of them all, says that the previous Alexander Bride (Evie's ancestress Emmaline) was "sick" and "confused". Lucy seems to think that Emmaline got some kind of vampire dementia rather than simply unable to remain a monster-married-to-another-monster any longer than she already had.

I did think it was interesting that Lucy brought up that "women had fewer choices in my time" and Dracula sneers that "modern women" are so ungrateful. There's a lot in the movie about class and gender and social/family pressures. Evie is being pressured by her family to marry Dracula for the good of the Alexander clan, but the pressure doesn't really have any weight behind it (emotionally and psychologically, I mean) because *she doesn't know these people and doesn't care about them*. Like, I can well imagine it may have been hard for Emmaline Alexander to refuse when Dracula came a' courting back in the day because she wouldn't have wanted him to slaughter her people. But Evie? These assholes are strangers to her! So when she gets a chance to run, of course she does! I love that.

Kissmate: You bring up Lucy, and I want to continue that. She's only 100 years old. Women had- Wait. American women had the right to vote by the 1920s era. British women had to wait a couple more decades, right? Don't remember when, but that would explain Lucy's more sheltered views. Was Lucy British? Viktoria was Bangladesh, Emmaline was British. What was Lucy?

Songbird: I think they're all British, regardless of where they call home. Wait. Hang on, what was the list? "At the dinner table, Walter welcomes the three great families: the Billingtons from Whiteby, the Klopstocks from Budapest, and the Alexanders of London." (LINK) ...Oh my god, it's another Dracula reference. London, Budapest, and Whitby are all locations that are meaningful to Dracula in Bram Stoker's novel.

But yes, Lucy is British by birth. As for British vs American suffrage, they were basically around the same time. 1918 for British women and 1920 for American women. (Mind you, this was still just for *white* women. Which Lucy is. But Evie is not.) Though it is interesting that when we talk about, say, women's right to work (for example) we're often talking about *white* women's right to work and ignoring the fact that women of color were already working because they were slaves or servants to the upper classes. So Lucy probably was raised with the expectation that she would marry and her husband would take care of her in exchange for her perfect obedience.

So even if Evie had been raised contemporary to Lucy, they would have been raised with different expectations: as a Black woman in 1920s England, Evie would've had to get work. If she married well then good for her, but she wouldn't have been raised with a "good marriage" in mind as an end goal for her. She would've been taught from day one to work hard and take care of herself. I just think that's interesting, when we're talking about the contrast between "modern women" and women from Lucy's era: it matters very much what social class we're talking about!

Kissmate: That is very true, and Lucy does seem like she was meant for good breeding with nobles, not so much the physical need of busy body and hands. Poor girl.

Complete tangent here, but hear me out: the entire bit with "thorned bars to keep the shrikes out" always had me baffled. Because it wouldn't keep shrikes out! It would do the opposite! Shrikes love to pick up grasshoppers and lizards and impale them on nearby thorn bushes, or metal spikes, and pick off the food from the kabob. So it's a nice little nod to Vlad "Dracula" Tepis the Impaler, but those bars would just attract them, not keep them away.

Also, and I could be wrong, but I swear the bird that flies into the window looks more like a swift than a shrike. Which is the bird her servant is probably named after (Mrs. Swift). So you're being warned about impalement, but then it's a songbird that flies into the window. So many metaphors to put there.

Songbird: The bars on the window are strange. The movie makes a thing of them that never seems to go anywhere. I wasn't sure if it were another Easter Egg (there's no bars on the windows of Dracula's castle in the book, as far as I can recall, but it may be a visual element from one of the many movie adaptations?) or if it had something to do with Emmaline's captivity (do we ever see if the other rooms have bars on their windows) or something else entirely. So the bars were strange to me. If the bird hitting the window is foreshadowing for poor Mrs. Swift then it's one I admit I missed!

Can we talk about how charismatic Walt is, to the point where you're rooting for him and Evie to get together even though you suspect it's not a good idea? Can we talk about Bride Viktoria and how I usually hate womanly "cat fights" in movies, but really she's just embracing being a gaslighting chaos demon as a way to pass the centuries? Delightful.

Kissmate: Regarding the bars, my money is on the captive-keeping option. And yes, we can! That man was 100% Bad Mistake Material. Like, fuck is that actor so pretty! And his smile! Gah, he can turn anyone male-sexual into a mess. It's no wonder he stole Evie's heart. I'm wondering how he keeps Viktoria around, unless he likes her chaotic messes. I can see him getting bored and then she just *does something*, and like that, the evening/eternity is entertaining again.

Songbird: Yeah, I definitely got the impression that Viktoria was the Chaos Bride where he enjoys her tendency to let lose and break things (that he can either join in or have the pleasure of cleaning up), that Lucy was the Gentle Bride where she soothes and pets him when he wants an emotional support teddy bear, and I think he was hoping Evie was going to be the creative, artsy, intellectually-stimulating bride that challenges him and keeps him mentally sharp and active.

Really, I was deeply impressed with the romance! You know, because *vampires*, that Harry-Hook-Playing-Vlad-Tepes is bad news (just like you know that Cousin Oliver probably isn't as friendly as he seems) but they're all very good at emotional manipulation! I love that because I really do expect someone who is hundreds of years old and who relies on lies and manipulation in order to survive to be GOOD at it, and he is!

He's gentle, he's teasing, he's loving, and yet there's those tiny little flashes underneath that I can see as an older, more jaded lover but which I totally would have smoothed over in my younger years like Evie does--like when he says he's not a good guy, just an asshole trying to impress her, and she insists that he's a sweetie and that the tough guy thing is just an act. Sometimes it *is* and act but sometimes it *isn't* and as you get older (and have your heart broken a few times) I think you learn to listen to those little jangling warning bells and remember that sometimes people do tell you exactly who they are.

Kissmate: The three Brides being his Ego, Superego, and Id sound fucking perfect, as well as emotional manipulation being honed after eons of practice. This movie had so much love and thought put into it! Like... art and insight blended very well into a blood wine smoothie.

Songbird: Beautiful. And such a satisfying ending, too, like genuinely really empowering. I loved every minute of it. ❤

February Newsletter (2023)

Good evening, friends! I am conscious and sitting upright now for the first time since Monday, so that's exciting. I've had some kind of stomach flu? It's not covid, we did the brain-swab, but there's a few inches of snow outside so I'll be damned if we're going to try to go to a doctor to figure out exactly what this is. We're true Texas children and we do not drive in snow, ha.

We've been adapting well to Chicago in that regard, actually! It's 4 degrees outside--which is not nearly enough degrees!--but the house is insulated so much better than our Texas house was, so as long as you stay inside you don't even notice the weather. This was always our strategy for navigating the scary Chicago winters that everyone warned us about--to Stay Inside until spring, like the wise groundhogs do--so that's been going well. I do miss the sunshine, but it turns out that Seasonal Affective Disorder doesn't have a lot of mood to work with when you're knocked out from the Martian Death Flu so they're sort of canceling each other out right now.

In cat news, the cats are well and have divided up the house so they can keep an eye on us while we rest up from the flu. Chip and Crisp stay on the bed with us at all times. Coconut and Chedder stay under the bed and listen to our ow my tummy ow my head why do my teeth hurt noises. Cherry and Cookie sleep in the floor baskets by the heating vents and watch us from there. Cheddar has begun sniffing my fingers very cautiously when I extend my hand to him. A big win there!

In house news, this house is definitely haunted by some kind of vengeful maintenance ghost. Between the basement flood, the new sewage pump that requires a big new hole outside on the front yard, the shower that needed to be torn up to install rebar in the floor so we wouldn't crash through to the basement, the garage door that needed replacing, the cement outside that has literally risen with the ice because a critter dug a void under the cement and now we can't open the outside door until the ice melts and the cement settles back down... it's been a lot. We're mostly dealing with it by going into debt and trying not to dwell on our feelings. But let me tell you that we are very grateful for your patreon support because, uh, we've had some financially scary weeks since we moved up here. I worry that I made a mistake by moving us up here, but then remember that Texas is/was trying to make actual lists of trans adults in the state and... yeah. We made the right decision to Get Out, I think.

Anyway! How is everyone doing? I'm pleased that so many of you have joined the Discord, because it means I can keep up with ya'll and still feel connected to people even though we're perma-quarantined these days. ♥

Queerness: The Color Blue

Sometimes I run across people commenting on literary analyses with comments like "how could they not see how gay this is?" or "how did they miss the obvious queerness?" and I feel the answer is that... you can't see something you haven't learned to recognize.

Like, I don't know if it's true that people can't see the color blue if they're never given a word for it, but I do know that I had to be taught to see fish moving underwater. My first instinct was to look at the top of the water and watch the reflections, the clouds moving above, the ripples and waves, not the soft subtle shadows underneath. If you give a block of malfunctioning code to an experienced software engineer, she's likely to spot the missing semicolon right away but someone who doesn't speak C+ will never find it because they don't know about semicolons. They can see with their eyes, but they don't know what they're looking for!

I was well into my teens before I even knew gay people existed, let alone how to recognize the full spectrum of queer possibilities and representation. I was in my twenties before I heard the word "transgender". I've had people--bright people, good people--read my very queer books and come away thinking that the trans neopronouns some of the characters use must be a persistent spelling error that I made. ("The narrative keeps referring to her as 'xie'. Did Word make a find-replace error before you published?")

I think some people miss queerness when it's in front of their faces because they just don't have enough exposure to queerness to recognize it. We don't teach queerness in schools, and what a lot of kids do pick up from their parents and society is a villainous caricature that is a complete distortion of reality. They aren't seeing blue because they've never been taught to recognize it.

January Newsletter (2023)

Hello, all! I'm sorry for the delay in posts lately. I wanted to post cat pictures, and another Narnia post, but I moved my pictures and notes to the downstairs computer in preparation of posting and then... the downstairs flooded and I lost access to my materials.

At first it seemed like everything was going to be fine, as we have insurance and the insurance would cover this event! But we didn't realize at the time that there's an insurance maximum at which point they, uh, stop paying. So we're staring down something like 20K for repairing the basement and replacing the stuff contaminated by human sewage, and another 20K to fix the flood control machinery so this doesn't happen again. Because apparently the previous homeowners installed the sewage pump entirely wrongly! So we've been digging through the couch cushions hoping to find 40K in there somewhere, and not writing nearly as much as I'd like.

I promise there will be more content soon! I apologize for the delay.

Live-Read: The Great Beanie Baby Bubble

NOTE: This was previously published on Patreon.

I'm reading The Great Beanie Baby Bubble because Elizabeth May recommended it on Twitter, and because my deep dive into the LuLaRoe documentaries and Multi-Level Marketing (MLM) schemes led me to this fascinating article by the wonderful Meg Conley about how her mother collected Beanie Babies and how we discuss things that women invest in (LuLaRoe, Beanie Babies) differently from how we discuss things that men invest in (crypto, dot com).

And/So/But, this guy who owns the company--Ty Warner--is already giving off Elon Musk vibes EXCEPT that he pairs over-the-top generosity with his, er, entrepreneur eccentricity. For example: as an end of year bonus after their record-breaking 1998 year, he gave Christmas bonuses to all his employees of a one year paycheck to them. Not one week, one YEAR. Note that the company at this point has about 250 employees, so these are mostly salespeople and a few overhead employees that handle payroll, accounting, and web design. We'll talk about the employment conditions of the overseas workers who are actually making the Beanie Babies later. [Editor's note: It's mentioned that at least one salesperson working on commissioned pay earned $800,000 that year, but it's unclear whether the bonus was of their base (pre-commission) salary or if it included commissions. I'm assuming the former.]

Ty also gave his employees a limited edition, made-only-for-them, #1 Bear.

A small red teddy bear with the number 1 on its chest.

I found this very touching, and was a little surprised to hear that the employees pretty quickly stuck them up on EBay for $5,000. I don't blame them, to be clear! But that makes me think that sentimental gifts from their boss maybe didn't have a lot of impact for some yet unknown reason. WE SHALL SEE.

Ominously: We're introduced to Ty Warner's long-term girlfriend Faith who he has been carefully not marrying. He's a billionaire and she has nothing, no stake in the company, despite the support she's been providing him. She sells the #1 Bear that he gifts her so she can have a secret "get out" fund if he dumps her without a cent. She's worried. I'm worried for her.

Ty started in toy shows selling Himalayan cat stuffies. He liked to pluck fur from around the eyes to maximize eye contact between the toy and the buyer. Humans do love them some eye contact. He made a quilt seller big money by convincing him to put cat stuffies ON the quilts; people ended up buying both. Not sure I'd put that connection together, but Kissmate says it's brilliant.

This is fascinating: no children are allowed at professional toy shows? I know that's standard for trade shows because people are there to buy wholesale and members of the public aren't really supposed to be wandering around, but I'm just surprised that NO kids at all are allowed because I would've thought there would be some 5 year old that each company brings as a market expert, lolsob. Like that kid in the 101 Dalmatians remake that plays games professionally and predicts if they'll sell.

...well, this just took a hard left turn: "Success aside, Warner’s relationship with his father was strained at best and, by most accounts, bizarre and dysfunctional. Ty and his father dated the same women on several occasions. “Dad really knew how to treat a woman,” Ty’s sister [Joy] remembers. She says that Ty was jealous of his father’s charms, and channeled that energy into seducing women his father had been with."

How do you...that seems...extremely unhealthy...? Okay!

Fascinating: Ty's early salesman experiences can basically be described as the world's best salesman but the world's worst person. Everyone, pretty much without exception, at the first toy company where he worked hated him. And he was a bad tipper to service people (of course he was). He once took a friend's 5 year old daughter out for ice cream in his Rolls Royce and insisted she buy her own ice cream. One presumes he has a different side of himself that he shows to the ladies because christ THIS GUY.

Ty eventually got himself fired, despite being an amazing salesman for Dakin Toys, because he tried to sell his own line of toys to his Dakin customer list and using your sales job to snipe customers is a no-no. However, Ty's dad was kind enough to drop dead of natural causes at this point and give Ty an inheritance of dubious value--Ty says 50k, others say 200k or more, and Ty is known to lie flagrantly about his finances and start-up challenges--that lets him re-jumpstart a new plushie business that he names after himself: Ty.

He flew to Korea and cold-knocked on factory doors until he found someone willing to make plushie samples for him to his designs and specifications. This was his first line of plushie: the Himalayan cats. I can't decide if they're adorable or terrifying.

Six small furry cat plushies in neutral creams and grays.

"They were indeed good cats. Prized collectors’ items that still occasionally sell for hundreds of dollars on eBay, the cats had thick hair, a light texture, and a certain floppiness that made them cuddlier than anything else on the market. And in a foreshadowing of future glory, there were beans in the buttocks and feet to provide weight and “poseability,” as Ty put it. “No one had put the combination of under-stuffed with beans. All the animals were stiff and hard,” Warner told People in 1996."

A clarification: By "under-stuffing" he doesn't mean underneath, like the under-carriage of a car. He means not stuffing the toy to its full potential, leaving some wiggle room to move the animal around. There had definitely been toys filled with "beans" (or small round plastic pellets in this case) before Ty came along, but his claim is that he was the first one to "under-stuff" the toy so that there was room to move and pose the toy. It is unclear whether he is right about being the first to do this: most of the triumphs he claims for himself are either outright false or arguable at best. The book does seem to agree that the under-stuffing was genuinely innovative.

However, I will note that Ty does seem to have had a real knack for understanding how people think: he used a huge logo sign to drive traffic to his small booth by understanding that people need obvious "meet-up" locations: "Their first show was in Chicago, and their space was six feet long—tiny, but money was tight and Warner had a plan to attract attention. He arrived hours before anyone else to set up his booth so that his venture’s sign, with the big heart logo, towered twenty feet in the air, dominating the auditorium and ensuring that his company would be the name on everyone’s lips. When groups arrived at the show, Roche remembers, the plan was obvious: “Meet me in forty-five minutes under that enormous ‘Ty’ sign.”"

Oh my gosh. I gotta admire the sales instinct: "Warner had a go-to move: picking up George, a baby gorilla that was among the company’s most popular offerings, placing it on the man’s chest, and saying, “I want you to look into his eyes and tell him you hate him.”" Although apparently the sales instinct doesn't extend to all his customers; Ty is apparently a drama king and a fatphobe: he turns over his own tables in front of customers if they aren't arranged to his satisfaction, and: "Warner was also vigilant about keeping overweight women away from his cats. “He was afraid they’d sweat on [them],” Roche remembers." Fuck you, Ty.

Ty was paranoid about industry espionage even as he engaged in rampant spy shenanigans of his own: "Ty Inc.’s 1989 catalog had this on the back cover: “WARNING: If anyone dare copy our creative designs or patents without written permission, ownership of your eternal soul passes to us and we have the right to negotiate the sale of said soul. Furthermore, our attorneys will see to it that life on Earth, as you know it, is not worth living.” Yet he also went into toy and gift stores almost every day in search of design inspiration. “You can’t reinvent the wheel!” he always told his employees."

More industry espionage: "Warner frequented a mall in Geneva, Illinois, where he bought pieces from Boyds, Russ, Gund, and Steiff. He carefully inspected the fabrics, tags, and stitching, and he dissected them in his office to learn how they were made. When he went to the factories in Asia, his carry-on bag often contained competitors’ products. He showed them to the factory owners and seamstresses, and spoke in clipped English with a twangy accent to describe his ideas for ribbon colors and how much distance there should be between the eyes on his cats."

Wow, his treatment of his designers was utterly despicable: "As his company grew, he offered them just a credit on the hangtag in exchange for the rights to their work. The credit helped drive demand for the designers’ upscale, handmade pieces—and gave Ty Inc. the cachet of being associated with “designers,” thereby making the company seem a little more high-end than other lines where a bear was just a bear. Ruth Fraser, a teddy bear designer who ran a Toronto gift shop, met Warner when he came into her store and wandered around with his hands behind his back, saying nothing, carefully examining every piece she had. Then he offered her $800 for one of her patterns. She made the deal and was later annoyed to discover that Warner had produced endless variations based on the design she’d sold him. Then Warner decided that he didn’t want the designers’ names on his pieces after all, and removed them peremptorily, leading to a lawsuit with one designer." He started to insist that he was the designer of every Ty toy, that he'd "designed everything" even though that was patently false.

It's starting to become clear why everyone who ever worked with Ty hated his guts: "Nasty comments about overweight people were a recurring theme with Warner. In restaurants he sometimes loudly remarked on the physical fitness of patrons at other tables. If his meal was too big for his liking, he’d send it back to the kitchen to be halved—with a lecture about how such portion sizes were making America the fattest country in the world. He also made a habit of entering a restaurant, sitting down, looking at a menu, blowing his nose on the napkin, and then announcing that he wanted to go somewhere else."

At the time, the toy industry would keep high-sellers in their lineup for years, and they'd only announce new products 1-2 times a year. But Mattel, struggling to revive their Hot Wheels line of toy cars, started a strategy called a "rolling mix" wherein new products would come in and old products would be retired without much warning. They invented a FOMO (fear of missing out) strategy for toys and Ty lapped it up. "The idea of the rolling mix was to change the assortment of each seventy-two-car display every two weeks. Instead of introducing all new products once or twice a year, Mattel rotated pieces in and out in a random and unpredictable way; collectors went into stores to check the displays more frequently, and there was a “ticking clock” incentive to buy new pieces because you never knew when they’d disappear from the rolling mix."

Ty also prioritized small businesses and airport shops where his plush would receive lush displays and impulse buys. Big box toy stores weren't attractive to him, because the cheap (but high quality!) plush toys took a backseat to the expensive techy toys. Again, a real understanding of human behavior: a busy man rushing home through an airport will pay $5 for a peace offering to his kids or wife. Ty had neither (and his parents by all accounts were very toxic), so I'm impressed by his insight into human behavior.

Ty has been building his business with his girlfriend Patricia Roche up to this point. When the company starts being successful and she makes $200,000 one year in commissions, he gets angry. He urges her to switch to a flat salary of $50,000 a year in 1992. She refuses and eventually has to leave him because he's--ah, here it is--physically and emotionally abusing her, as well as isolating her from her friends. Stellar. Great. Who would have guessed that the abusive guy who hates everyone and belittles his employees and violently turns over tables on his display floor would turn out to be abusive as a boyfriend????

[TW: Stalking]

Uh. Roche leaves the company because... This is a lot. She has a date with a guy--dinner and a weekend flight to Cancun--and Ty finds out about it. Ty follows her home and (apparently?) steals her passport in an attempt to stop the Cancun trip. She goes on her birth certificate instead. He then follows her to Cancun, knocks on their hotel door, pretends to be room service, barges his way in, and spends three hours refusing to leave while he tries to talk Roche into marrying him. Roche's date offers to leave and she begs him to stay, saying she's afraid of what Ty will do if they're alone. She leaves the company and goes into insurance. (She will eventually come back to work with Ty again, and I'm worried for her.)

Ty goes into therapy, gets a lot of plastic surgery, and acquires a younger redheaded girlfriend: Faith. “He stalked me for two years after we broke up,” Roche remembers. “Ty knew where I was morning, noon, and night.” He had concealed an audio recorder in her home and once, years later, played for her the tapes he had made of her with another man.

[TW: Financial Abuse]

Ty immediately makes Faith financially dependent on him and I am screaming in horror: "The questions about how she could help with his business came quickly—after he helped her get fired from her job. He told her that she was underpaid at $30,000 per year and that if she didn’t demand a doubling of her salary and a more prestigious title, he couldn’t be with her: “You let them take advantage of you, and I don’t want to be with someone like that,” he said. She took a stand, lost her job as a result, and, in a panic, called Warner in Korea. He told her not to worry, but when her unemployment ran out and she started to fall behind on bills, he wasn’t helpful. He advised her to cancel her cable-TV subscription. Finally, he told her to send him a tally of her monthly expenses and presented her with a check—for the exact amount, down to the penny—held in the arms of a stuffed bear, a combination of romance and exactitude that she thought was strange."

Please note that he is a millionaire at this time.

1993 marks the creation of the first Beanie Baby, Legs the Frog. Ty seriously understuffs it WAY more than is widely considered to be industry-appropriate at the time because he thinks this will make it fun for children to play with: the toy is designed to be thrown up in the air and PLOP on the ground, and to be poseable. The first line of Beanie Babies is supposed to be a sort of...stocking stuffer impulse buy that retailers can put by the registers. Ty is still selling his larger plush; the Babies are just one of his lines.

For the first year, nobody buys them. Retailers are worried that the thin pile (fur) and bright primary colors will make their stores look cheap and trashy, and they are afraid that if people can buy cheap $5 bears then they won't buy the bigger and more expensive toys. Ty refuses to fold the line and doggedly keeps adding designs; he is certain that kids will like these toys if people will just buy them.

The turning point comes... well, this is a bit confusing. Ty sells a stuffie called "Lovie the Lamb" that may be a Beanie Baby or may not be. The book isn't clear on this point and Google isn't helping because apparently there were at least TWO Ty stuffies that went by that name, and one was a Beanie Baby and one was not. Anyway, this lamb sold like hotcakes in hospital gift shops. I totally understand that; I panic-bought a little yellow chick of the Palm Pals line of bean-filled stuffies the last time Kissmate was in surgery. And lambs are great for newborns and for newly delivered mothers.

Problem: Lovie the Lamb has been unintentionally discontinued because there's a manufacturing issue with her fur overseas. Customers are upset. Retailers are angry. A trio of brothers who sold Ty merchandise to the public recycled an old idea they'd seen from another toy creator who did limited runs of his products: instead of saying that Lovie has been "discontinued", they told people she'd been "retired". For some reason this worked to soothe feelings, I presume because Mattel had also broken the ground of toy retirement.

These brother-retailers then go on to suggest that people buy up more Ty toys *just in case* other stuffies get retired. "“Let’s just tell people Lovie’s been retired,” one of the King brothers suggested, and that’s what they did after lunch. It worked: customers who were upset by the idea of a discontinued Lovie were intrigued by the prospect of a retired Lovie. Retailers who were pissed off if you told them you were discontinuing a piece they wanted out of necessity were delighted if you told them you were doing it on purpose. A few buyers asked the King brothers whether other pieces were going to be retired. The brothers said they weren’t sure—but suggested that it might not be a bad idea to stock up just in case."

The brothers pass along this strategy to Ty, who was intrigued. His first lines of Beanie Babies had sold poorly so if they were "retired" now, the secondary market wouldn't be immediately saturated with product (the way it would be if the toys had sold like hotcakes). Faith claims that the idea that the Beanie Babies were an investment was their idea, but the book author isn't convinced that this was a master plan except in retrospect. "“Most importantly, we would plant the seed in consumers’ minds that the Beanies they could buy on the primary market for $5 would be retired and immediately take on a higher value on the secondary market,” Faith McGowan remembered in her unpublished memoir. This assessment, however, overstates the depth of planning that went into the retirement idea; for the time being, retiring Beanie Babies was a random marketing stunt that came with no costs and few expectations."

Ty continues to steal ideas and I hate him. "At a family dinner at a local restaurant in early 1995, Ty mused on his desire to create a ghost Beanie—but said he couldn’t figure out how to do it because ghosts don’t have legs and he hadn’t done one without legs before. [Faith's daughter] Jenna, then in elementary school, drew her idea for a ghost on the paper tablecloth, and Warner was impressed. He tore it off and put it in his wallet. Within a few months Spook the Ghost was ready to ship—with “Designed by Jenna Boldebuck” on the hangtag. Two months later, Warner changed his mind and removed her name from the tag and changed Spook to Spooky. Jenna was hurt by it, and Faith was puzzled: Was Ty’s self-esteem really so fragile that giving a designer credit to his girlfriend’s school-age daughter was a problem? But it worked in everyone’s favor: once Beanie Babies got hot, a Spook with Jenna’s name on the hangtag was instantly one of the most highly sought variations, and collectors paid as much as $1,000 for mint-condition examples. A couple of years later, Faith McGowan suggested creating a Princess Diana bear to raise money for her memorial fund, and Ty dismissed it outright—only to announce it later that night as his own idea. “I sat there stunned but not surprised,” McGowan remembered. “At that point, all good ideas were Ty’s, regardless of who first suggested them. The idea for Beanie birthdays, Beanie poems, the Beanie Web site, and even the retirement of Beanies, had all originated with other people. One thing you can say for Ty: when he recognized a good idea, he got it done. But he also took ownership of it.”"

...Huh! So. Okay. Interestingly, it's the retailers and consumers that really turn BBs into a collector's item. It starts with some already-prone-to-collecting parents who just really really want to Catch Em All. Then the mom-and-pop retailers (in Chicago! Hi!) start making special shelves for the retired BBs, noting that those are special and limited edition and going to be worth something someday. One retailer compiles a checklist of BBs, knowing that collectors are driven to fill out checklists for those sweet sweet completion endorphins.

As BBs are taking off, Ty rehires his ex-girlfriend Roche to run the UK side of his business. This will only end well.

Now the BBs are really taking off because of retailers and consumers, and their footwork on the ground: "“My downfall was the checklists,” one early collector told me. “Once you have a checklist, you don’t look at what you have. You look at what you don’t have.”" At first the Chicago women are just collecting because they want to Catch Them All. But as more people are like "that sounds fun and cute, can you pick up some for me?" they start seeing a secondary market. They buy cheaply, sell for a profit, share (brag) about their profits as naturally one does, and more people suddenly want in on this "easy" business.

They're calling around the country, and then to other countries, looking for the early lines of BBs that have been retired. Then profit: "Among her finds: 30 Chilly the Polar Bears purchased for the equivalent of $7 each; within a year and a half, those sold for more than $1,800 each. Her 36 Peking the Pandas were worth around $2,000 each; the 84 Old Face Teddies were worth $1,800 each; the 36 Trap the Mouse Beanies, $1,200 each; and 12 Patti the Platypuses, $800 each." (The Old Face / New Face teddies are because Ty tweaked the face models on the bears early on.)

Two teddy bears. The one on the left has a narrow face, the one on the right has a full fat face.

Word of mouth around the country spreads that these stuffies must be hot commodities! Retailers are experiencing women calling them up and buying their entire stock!! (It's the same women each time. But they don't know that.) New collectors spring up, wanting to get in on this apparently profitable market! These new collectors haven't been following the BBs from the start, though, so NOW there's a market for (drum roll) pricing sheets. After all, if you're a new collector standing in a Hallmark shop in the mall, holding a...idk...Thorny the Rosebush plushie in your hands, you need to know if that's rare or not! Should you buy 1 or 100!!??

A woman named Peggy Gallagher creates a list of all the Beanie Babies ever and how much each one is currently worth. "Admittedly, her research left something to be desired; as Gallagher explained it to me, she was essentially making up prices based on the pieces that seemed to be the hardest to find.....In the beginning she simply decreed that most retired Beanie Babies were worth $10 or $20 each, and then watched in amazement as the market went there. Gallagher, with her own collection, naturally had a strong incentive to be optimistic about her estimates. Among the small group of Chicago suburbs collectors, the price lists that Gallagher—and then the two Beckys—put out became the market." So now, just to be clear, you have people paying $50 for, like, Rogue the Bat or whatever because some lady in Chicago *says* it's worth $50.

This is SURREAL. Like, on the one hand I guess we can all be like "yes, that is how speculative investing works sometimes" but also WHAT THE SWEET PUMPKIN SPICE FLAVORED HELL. "“All the people who were driving this lived within ten miles of each other,” remembers Mary Beth Sobolewski. Anyone who was collecting Beanie Babies in early 1996 was either in the Chicago suburbs or connected with someone in the Chicago suburbs who told them about the booming trade in collectible plush." I DID NOT KNOW THIS WHEN WE MOVED HERE.

Not only were they all in Chicago, they were all basically in the same neighborhood. "Also on that same block lived Joni Blackman—the People magazine reporter who did the first national story on Beanie Babies after Phillips told her about them. The world of early collectors hoarding the rarest pieces was indeed a tiny one, and all of the major collectors can be traced back to the cul-de-sac where Becky Phillips lived, not far from Mary Beth, Peggy, and Paula."

At this point is where we see the sales explode into high prices. New investors learn about the weird "rare" pieces like Peanut the Royal Blue Elephant and that Ty is a fussy perfectionist who is famous for tinkering with a product line and changing the animals' colors. Everyone starts buying NEW Beanie Babies as soon as they come out, on the off chance that Ty might change the pattern and you would have an overnight rare collectible on your hands. But! This is an impossible dream that cannot happen at this stage of production because the Chinese companies that Ty is ordering from are making 8 or 9 thousand of a pattern per day. Peanut the Royal Blue Elephant and his ilk were from smaller runs when the line wasn't successful. But Ty is very careful not to advertise how many BBs are being made. The company sells in small batches to lots and lots of small stores, which creates an illusion of scarcity. See also: LuLaRoe leggings!

The news media recklessly reports that people are making millions on BBs, even when some of their sources seem sketchy. Who wants to pull a fun puff piece about stuffies, even if some of the people interviewed are untruthful and attention seeking? Where's the harm? Gallagher (the woman who publishes the pricing sheets that are setting the secondary market prices) self-publishes a book of Beanie Baby pictures and appears regularly on a Chicago radio talk show advising that BBs are just like the commodities market or the stock market, with natural highs and lows. Invest now! Chicago teachers work BBs into their lesson plans. Mothers defend this by saying that the little poems on the heart tags teach the children to read, and that they "get to learn about toy retiring".

Ty is happy enough for the amazing boost in sales (up tenfold from the previous year!) but regards the collectors with some, uh, skepticism. "Because Ty wasn’t providing any information, Becky Phillips and Becky Estenssoro had taken the lead as Beanie Baby historians, sorting through thousands of Beanies and photographing the hangtags to try to trace the history of the line. They categorized the tags into different “generations” based on when Ty had used which designs. Their efforts helped turn the hangtags into cult objects: the key to determining how early a piece was and, once the counterfeiting started, whether it was authentic. They tried to drop off a copy of their book, Beanie Mania, one of the first guides to collecting, at Ty Inc., but Warner’s secretary wouldn’t let them into the office. Warner thought the women were “totally nuts,” as one former employee puts it."

Ty's obsessive attention to detail helped him manipulate the market to clear out inventory and keep investors frantic: "If he saw that an animal was stacking up unsold, he’d announce its retirement to clear out inventory and keep the dream of ever-rising prices alive. He later hit on another strategy: by retiring pieces that were already hard to find, you could drive collectors really nuts, and get them thinking that no Beanie was safe and that all Beanies must be accumulated as quickly as possible as soon as they were available."

Huh. Given Ty's terrible treatment of service workers, I genuinely did not see THIS coming: "And years before there was media attention to the problem, he was obsessed with the living and working conditions of the workers at the Chinese factories that manufactured Ty’s products. He always made sure they were paid above-market wages—and he was especially concerned with making sure they had enough light." I guess this ties in ultimately with his desire that the Ty name be synonymous with quality product: you can't really produce the highest quality products in low-light conditions.

Ty had in his employ a young woman named Lina Trivedi. Fearless in that "I'm an hourly employee with nothing to lose" sort of way, she bluntly told Ty her real opinion when he'd ask employees about the toys (Ty is, by all accounts, obsessive about asking people their opinions and taking it all onboard in an effort to attain perfection) and rose up the corporate chain. Lina was the one who created the BBs birthdays and poems, noting that the blank To/From tags were boring. She also, crucially, suggested a website.

In 1996, only 10% of Americans were online. The other toy companies didn't even HAVE customer-facing websites. Lina shrewdly wanted to create a site that fans would visit every day, multiple times a day, to stoke the collector craze. "One of Trivdei’s first creations was the Info Beanie; every month, Ty.com users voted for which Beanie Baby they wanted to be their source of information. Trivedi would then upload a post every few hours with updates written in the voice of that animal: vague gossip about what was going on at Ty, allusions to new product lines, and hints about when retirements might be coming and which Beanie Babies might be affected." This meant that loyal site visitors got a heads up on retired BBs before the official announcement, and drove up online trading.

I genuinely had not realized how important Beanie Babies were to the growth and adoption of eBay?? Apparently early eBay was very dependent upon collectors and memorabilia, even as they struggled to land more 'respectable' trade merchandise like car parts for their listings: "It would be an exaggeration to say that eBay was built on Beanie Babies, but not by much....It turned out that Beanie Babies, which were gaining popularity just as [eBay] was, were the ideal product to sell through an online auction. Auction theory teaches that auctions are not, in fact, an efficient way of selling most goods. They are too labor intensive and time consuming for items that are likely to sell at a price the parties could have anticipated in advance. But auctions excel when they are called on to set prices for items whose value is inherently indeterminate....Beanie Babies, whose value rose and fell daily based on popular whim, could take full advantage of the dynamic pricing mechanism that auctions provided." (Ah! This explains why we use auctions for art and estate sales.)

People overbid on the BBs because people are primed to overbid at auctions, particularly if they've never bid at an auction before: "The role of auction fever in the rise of Beanie Babies can’t be ignored. Business school professors have been writing for decades about the tendency of people to overpay at auctions, and the effect is thought to be most profound in novices. eBay brought millions of people into the world of auctions for the first time—and the combination of the newness of the Internet and the newness of bidding probably contributed to irrationality." EBay met with Ty once, proposing an eBay branded Beanie Baby. Ty threw them out and threatened to sue them for having a "beanie" category, which was his trademarked term. EBay renamed it "Beanbag Plush" and avoided Ty after that.

The news reported breathlessly on the eBay sales, suggesting that people were getting rich on BBs, but really it was mostly collectors trading the same $30 back and forth, bolstering their collections against an imagined future cash out (that would never come). "Just as relatively minor discoveries of gold had fueled the gold rush of 1849, it only took $500,000 per month in eBay sales to help drive, at Beanie Babies’ height, $200 million per month in retail sales."

Meanwhile, Ty is carefully limiting retailers to 36 orders of BB style. He knew that if the market seemed to be saturated--if EVERYONE could easily buy a Spook the Ghost--then the craze would die down. Customers are frenzied. They bribe delivery drivers to tell them when stock is coming in. Retailers open the boxes on the floor and the customers buy everything in minutes. The retailers are pleased with the sales but the customers aren't buying anything ELSE. Just Beanie Babies.

It's 1998. The Ty company has to remove the Ty heart from their shipping boxes because customers are breaking into warehouses and stalking shipping trucks. "“If you were shipping diamonds, would you put a picture of a diamond on the box?” says one former executive. “That’s what it was.”" The Ty salespeople are frustrated because they're making millions of dollars of sales to retailers, and in theory they're making huge bank in commissions, but they don't actually get paid that money unless the goods SHIP and Ty keeps throttling production in order to stoke the customer frenzy. (It's becoming more clear why they didn't keep the sentimental #1 Bears!!)

The author speculates that Beanie Babies made collecting accessible at a lower price point: "Ty’s retirements and scarcity allowed the acquisition of $5 beanbags to activate the same endorphins that people chasing rare books and fine art thrive on—but at an initially negligible cost and without any immediate need for specialized knowledge."

Warner is at this point incredibly litigious, "suing more than thirty companies per year on top of the hundred-plus cease-and-desist letters his lawyers were sending each month to competitors manufacturing anything that resembled a Beanie Baby." The book author interviews a judge who presided over many of the cases: "“They were litigating very aggressively, and they brought a large number of lawsuits,” he told me by phone. “I can understand their aggressive strategy because this is a simple product to make, so it’s very difficult to fend off competition....Their basic strategy seemed to be to try to obtain exclusive rights over the term ‘Beanie.’” Was there any legitimacy to the idea that Ty owned the word? “We didn’t think so,” said Judge Posner, chuckling. Internal memos introduced as evidence found Warner himself referring to other companies’ products by this name: “We want to emphasize our Beanies are not just any Beanies—But special. Set us apart from our competitors’ Beanies,” he’d written. Other memos from trade shows, written by Ty employees, included references to competitors’ products as “beanies”: “They had beanies’ [sic] that were similar in look, but fabric was inexpensive and it looked like a cheap knockoff of [our] product.” How, Posner asked in a ruling, could Ty Inc. really claim that the term wasn’t generic when its own documents revealed that Warner himself was using it generically?"

The lawsuits were probably unnecessary; the collectors who were driving the Beanie Baby craze were working off of lists, not looks, and no other beanbag plush took off the way BBs did. Ty stumbles by suing a Christian company that makes "HolyBears" and collectors start to sour a little, complaining that they don't want to be associated with a company that goes around suing people willy-nilly. Collectors now start to grumble about limited run bears like the patriot-themed bear (Glory) being so rare that they can't find one for under $100.

"All speculative manias rely on self-proclaimed and media-anointed soothsayers for amplification, and Beanie Babies were no different. The craze never could have inflated as much as it did without the implied credibility that came from the books, magazines, and charismatic prognosticators extolling the toys’ investment value. Internet stocks had Henry Blodget, and Beanie Babies had scores of would-be experts promoting the line as a retirement strategy. The relationship between price guides and values is reflexive, antiques experts tell me. Each drives the other in a market-making cycle. Between 1997 and 1999, books about Beanie Babies were more popular than books about Y2K."

The price guides, as we've previously seen, end up setting the prices rather than just reporting on them: "The bubble in baseball cards came a decade before the Beanie craze. In the book Mint Condition, journalist Dave Jamieson, himself a former collector, explains the impact of the price guides put out by Beckett Publications, a publisher of popular baseball card price guides founded by statistics professor James Beckett. “What none of us understood at the time, however,” he writes, “was that Beckett’s guides were probably creating prices just as much as they were reporting them.” In a copyright infringement lawsuit Beckett filed against a competitor, a judge noted that “it is entirely possible that the prices in [his] publication not only reflect market prices, but in fact can determine market prices.” The Beanie price guides and the prices they were reporting contributed to an upward-spiraling feedback loop that benefited publishers, dealers, and most of all, the manufacturer."

Ty, of course, sues several price guide publishers before eventually partnering with a few "official" ones. He was possibly afraid that the price guides might show if/when the craze started slowing, but the price guides were naturally inclined to show prices increases: "after a market crash, no one is interested in buying a price guide that tells them their stuff is worth less than it was last year. Robert L. Miller, who published price guides for the collectible Hummel figurines for decades, solved that problem by simply raising his value estimates by 10 percent every year."

A husband and wife team take three weeks to learn about BBs from scratch and write a book about them as an investment guide. Almost everything in the book is made up by them and wrong, but: "The Beanie Baby Handbook sold more than one million copies in its first year and was a mainstay on the New York Times best-seller list—an ├╝ber-rarity for a self-published book, especially back then. It also appeared on the harder-to-crack USA Today best-seller list, spending fifty-five weeks there and peaking at number three—an astonishing accomplishment for a collector’s guide on a list that included all books of every genre, including perennials. It hit number one on the Publishers Weekly list and was selling twenty thousand copies per week at Barnes & Noble. It was the fastest-selling collectibles book ever, and one of the best-selling self-published books of all time."

Ah, here we gooooo! McDonald's headquarters were about five minutes from Ty headquarters. "Warner wanted in [on licensing]; at least he thought he did. Edstrom met with five top television studios and returned, delighted, with an offer from each one. Then Warner pulled the plug on the whole idea. He’d grown concerned that fleshing out the Beanie Babies into fully developed characters with personalities and voices would hurt the ability of children to interact creatively with them. He also worried that it would alienate the independent toy retailers who frowned on overly commercialized products. Virtually all toys were sold on television—and Warner liked the idea of Beanie Babies being special and staying special, something apart from the rest of the industry. Edstrom’s two-year tenure at Ty consisted almost entirely of saying no. Every month, hundreds of phone calls came in from companies wanting to license the Beanie Babies brand. Mattel CEO Jill Barad called personally to see about making a deal to package Beanie Babies to be sold with Barbie dolls; Warner wouldn’t take the call. Ty turned down repeated calls from Steven Spielberg’s office seeking to use Beanie Babies in movies. He turned down deals for breakfast cereal, apparel, children’s books, and pretty much every other consumer good for which you could possibly imagine a marketing tie-in with a Beanie Baby—and a bunch that you couldn’t imagine, including perfume."

But McDonald's offered the ability to transcend class barriers. "Still, Warner knew that McDonald’s could offer him something no one else could. As hot as they were, Beanie Babies were primarily a phenomenon of middle- and upper-middle-class suburban women. McDonald’s could get the Ty logo in front of lower-income consumers who never set foot inside specialty stores and drive them to the gift shops in search of the larger Babies, which were made with better fabric than any Happy Meal giveaway would be and came in more varieties."

McDonald's plans a promotion: "Expectations were enormous. McDonald’s reported production of one hundred million Teenie Beanie Babies, enough to fill the largest Happy Meal order in history. [...] That should have warned consumers that these were unlikely to be scarce enough to appreciate in value, but it didn’t. Warner had complained to McDonald’s that their production plans would be insufficient, but McDonald’s insisted that, either way, its restaurants were simply not staffed to hand out more Happy Meals than that."

The fateful day arrives and McDonald's ends up getting hammered by customers: "On April 11, 1997, the first Teenie Beanies landed at McDonald’s stores nationwide. “We’re getting fifteen to twenty, sometimes twenty-five calls every half hour since six o’clock this morning: ‘Do you have the Beanie Babies? Which ones do you have? What time are you going to start selling them?’” the franchise owner of a McDonald’s in Elmhurst, Illinois, told CNN. Some customers ordered a hundred Happy Meals and asked the cashier to keep the food. Stores received hundreds of calls per hour and set up automated recordings for anyone who called. “Good morning. McDonald’s. We have the moose and the lamb,” one Ohio franchisee instructed employees to answer the phone."

McDonald's has to pull out of the deal because they're legitimately afraid of the customers: "Two weeks into a planned five-week promotion, McDonald’s took out ads to apologize and announce that it was ending the giveaway early because it had run out of product. As for the TV commercials promoting Teenie Beanies, the company canceled those after just a couple of days, worried that massive crowds were putting employees’ safety in jeopardy. “The stores were just devastated by it,” one former executive remembers. “It really created a frenzy. The customers become deranged.” McDonald’s employees were given pins that read “I survived the attack of the Teenie Beanie Babies.”"

Even though the Teenie Beanies shouldn't have been worth anything on the secondary market, they were *because almost nobody was selling*. Everyone was so sure that the BBs would be worth even MORE in the future that they didn't want to sell NOW: "Miraculous as it was, the speculators were proven right. In the short term, at least, one hundred million pieces was a limited-enough edition to leave anyone who’d spent two weeks staking out drive-throughs with a tidy profit. The hoarding was driving up prices. Everyone thought their values would keep rising, so there were too few sellers to accommodate the buyers."

Meanwhile, McDonald's absolutely did bring new eyeballs and new customers to the BB craze, but since Ty is now at a point where he simply *can't* easily increase production without decreasing quality and decreasing the all-important scarcity driving the collecting craze, the new customers brought in my McDonald's weren't really helping Ty Warner: "The McDonald’s promotion brought massive mainstream buzz to a product with distribution only outside the mainstream. It’s a combination that hardly ever happens, and it amplified an already enormous imbalance between demand and supply—the equivalent of buying Super Bowl ads to promote a church bake sale."

The situation is starting to sour. Ty alienates his workforce with things like reducing sales commissions from 10% to 6% and driving away his web guru. A woman who had been using BBs to counsel children whose parents had died from cancer, and who picked them NOT because of the hype but because they were soft and hand-sized, has to stop: "When the eight-week programs came to an end and each child had a chance to bring home a Beanie Baby, they arrived for the last meeting armed with instructions. “My mom told me to make sure I take Squealer the Pig because it’s going to be worth a lot of money,” a boy might tell her—and then another kid would explain that he had received the same instructions from his father. Arguments about Beanie Babies shattered the therapeutic atmosphere that Beanie Babies had once been central to creating. “The parents,” Biank says, “actually ruined the whole thing.” As popular as Beanie Babies were, Biank had to stop using them for therapy. These particular stuffed animals were now too valuable to be given to children whose parents were dying of cancer. It had gone from cute to heinous, and there was no good way for it to end."

The tipping point comes as 1999 rolls in. Ty retires a slew of BBs and they just...don't...go up in value. This is because eBay has effectively made the paper pricing lists obsolete: you can SEE how much Barney the Dinosaur is worth by seeing the listings, rather than just believing he's worth $50 because someone published a guide saying so. Also: Pokemon debuted in the US in August 1998. By 1999, that's what US children are playing with. BBs are now entirely a collector item at this stage, untouched by children. (This is when the infamous Las Vegas Beanie Baby Divorce occurs, creating the famous photo of the two adults sitting on the floor in court trying to divide up their collection.)

A man and a woman kneel on the floor in front of a pile of stuffies and sort through them.

Ty can't release more volume of Beanie Babies without hurting the craze, but he seems to think maybe he can release more versions of BBs in order to capitalize on all these new customers. "At midnight on January 1, 1999, Ty released twenty-four new Beanie Babies—the largest product introduction in the company’s history. It was a mistake. Collectors of all things tend to be focused on building complete sets, and as the size of the Ty product line became unmanageably large, collectors were discouraged. With twenty-four new releases at an average retail price of around $5 each, Ty was asking enthusiasts to come up with $120."

Within months, collectors are in a state of panic as they sense the market collapsing: "In the September 1999 issue of her magazine, Sobolewski followed up with, “Ty Warner, if you are listening, there is one thing that collectors want to tell you. There are simply too many Beanie Babies on store shelves everywhere!” Collectors had previously lamented shortages and price gouging, but now, desperate to keep the craze going and maintain the value of the collections they’d already built, they were demanding that Warner curb production to stoke demand."

At this point, Ty is seeing the writing on the wall that BBs are winding down. He begins to diversify his assets: "While his sales force was pushing retailers for orders to diversify away from Beanie Babies, Warner was also diversifying his assets. On March 16, 1999, he acquired the Four Seasons Hotel in New York City for $275 million and started to retreat from his day-to-day role at Ty Inc. to manage an $86 million renovation. By that point, Warner was unwilling to listen to anyone about anything, Faith McGowan recalls. Faith suggested that he might want to find someone who could teach him the basics of the hotel business, and Ty responded with hostility. He owned a hotel, and that made him an expert."

Collectors have ideas about how to extend the BB market, but Ty is done. He designs a final bear ("The End", black with a fireworks design on its chest) and tells Roche and Faith that he's ending the BBs and starting a new line of Beanie Kids dolls. When Roche protests that the dolls are ugly and people won't buy them, Ty refuses to listen. He doesn't listen to anyone anymore, his success having gone to his head. "When anyone disagreed with him, his response was: “Who’s the billionaire here? I am!”"

Ty makes the announcement that BBs are ending around the same time he breaks up with Faith and gives her a measly $6 million house after she helped him make billions. The announcement that BBs are ending causes two contradictory impulses: the last BB (The End) instantly sells out because everyone expects it to be valuable, but something like 50% of collectors start panic-selling their collections.

Retailers are not buying up the ugly new Beanie Kids and Ty starts to worry that maybe he's made a mistake. He decides to let people vote on whether or not to bring the BBs back, and then to launch a Millennium Bear to restart the line in the year 2000. Everyone tells him this vote-to-bring-the-Beanies-back plan is a bad idea that stinks of desperation and cheap publicity stunting, but he doesn't listen.

Ty goes through with his terrible plan to let the public vote to bring back the BBs and it is so many layers of surreal: "Warner announced a forty-eight-hour period during which people could call in and pay fifty cents to vote on whether Beanie Babies should be continued, with the proceeds going to the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation—although the question of what kind of psycho would spend fifty cents to vote to discontinue a stuffed animal was left unanswered. Predictably, in a vote that ended on January 2, 2000, at 6:00 a.m. Central Time, 91 percent of the reported 209,763 votes cast went in favor of more Beanie Babies. Ty Inc. announced that it would contribute three times the amount raised by voters to the charity. McGowan says that the actual number of votes cast was closer to one-tenth the number Warner reported and that the whole stunt was a flop."

Collectors say that the BBs died the day Ty announced the end, but don't really understand that the announcement only marked an end that was already coming. They insist that the BBs would've continued on as a cash cow investment forever if Ty hadn't shut everything down. Ty doggedly goes on introducing new BBs in 2000, including a colorful new Chinese zodiac line, but nothing takes off. People have walked away. The company see a huge plunge in revenue. Their strategy of mistreating stores--because what are they gonna do, NOT buy Beanie Babies--comes home to roost as many stores refuse to stock their new lines. I can't imagine many designers want to work with the company at this point either, given how shabbily the BB designers were treated.

Ty sinks his money into hotels. His plush employees lose most of their profits: "Ty’s sales reps who became millionaires mostly blew through the money on cars, boats, and Internet stocks—profiting from a bubble while oblivious to its inability to last. In the nearly fifteen years since the craze ended, few have come close to the incomes they achieved then. “I look at most people now, and I think we had a hard time landing on our feet afterwards,” remembers one former Ty salesperson who, at her peak in her midtwenties, earned more than $500,000 in a single year."

The aftermath chapters are sad.

Faith lives comfortably, but seemingly keeps pining for Ty to come back to her. Oh. Faith died suddenly in 2013. Her daughters seem to be mostly estranged from Ty now. "A week after the funeral, he invited Lauren and Jenna to his Oak Brook home for lunch. “You know,” he said. “I should have married your mother.” “Don’t you ever say that again!” Lauren screamed at him. Warner apologized. His sister, Joy, posted this comment on the obituary the funeral home posted: “Faith, I was so lucky to have met you and your beautiful daughters. Ty knows you were the best thing in his life. I’m so sorry he threw all of you away. But now his time is coming...”"

Roche is more resigned: "The hardest part of having a relationship with Warner end, Patricia Roche once told me, “is realizing that he didn’t care about you—not even a little bit.” McGowan, Roche says, had never recognized that her relationship with Warner hadn’t been the fairy tale she’d once thought it was."

Ty gets hit by the IRS for tax evasion.

WELP, I FOUND OUT WHY HIS SISTER DOESN'T LIKE HIM: "Faith McGowan had made vague reference to the [illegal overseas] account when I spoke with her, suggesting that it had been part of Warner’s contingency plan—if things in the United States were to somehow go bust with all his hotel deals, he had squirreled away $100 million in judgment-proof wealth in Europe. When I called Joy Warner to talk about it, the sixty-four-year-old was on lunch break at her landscaping job. The account had been opened in 1996—the year, Joy remembers, that Ty had reneged on his promise to build her a $100,000 house because, he said, he couldn’t afford it."

The comments on the trial are amazing: "(When I mentioned that he’d cried to Patricia Roche, she said, “Did the jury stand up and applaud his performance?” On Twitter, @philvettel joked that while tearfully pleading guilty, “[Warner] also announced the release of Blubber, the repentant whale.”)"

Ty gradually alienates and cuts off every person in his life, professional and otherwise. The head of the failing Canadian division was cut off after a lifetime of what he considered to be a close friendship. Roche, heading Ty UK which had now become Ty Europe, is cut off after 20 years of close professional partnership and romantic entanglement.

In a sad ironic fate, eBay who had once been so reliant on collectors now accidentally ruined the collector market: "The implosion of Beanie Babies and the rise of eBay brought the broader collectibles industry to its knees. Many of the collectibles market’s former stars say that eBay was responsible for its demise. “Ten years earlier, it was difficult to connect with people and find pieces,” remembers Dean Griff, the artist behind the Charming Tails figurines that were popular in the late 1990s. “There was a perceived value because it was so hard to find that piece. But then people could go on eBay and find five hundred of that piece. That’s what killed it.”"

I find it fascinating, though not surprising, that the ability to share information across a global market drives collectible prices down. No longer are you competing with a local market of "nobody else in the area has this doll, so I can set my price"; you're now competing against everyone on earth who has the doll (or who claims to have the doll) for sale.

Warner gets a light sentence from his sentencing judge because he gave millions to charity; the US government is appealing the light sentence for more jail time saying that the millions he gave to charity are less than 2% of his current worth and that the charity gifts are therefore hardly noteworthy! "Columnists and bloggers, especially in Chicago, mocked the sentence. Writing in the Chicago Sun-Times, Mark Brown explained that “to fulfill his community service, Kocoras ordered Warner to work with three Chicago schools where the billionaire says he can organize a curriculum to teach students how to manufacture and sell a product such as a school mascot modeled after his Beanie Baby success. That’s cool, and maybe on the side, he could help them put on a school play. I’d recommend the 1959 musical, ‘Never Steal Anything Small,’ starring Jimmy Cagney. These are my favorite lyrics: ‘Steal $100 and they put you in stir; Steal $100 million they address you as sir.’”"

Warner thrives at his community service with Chicago high schoolers, teaching them about product lines and helping them to design a line of clothes for their school. He seems to really enjoy working with kids, so that's nice. It's so weird for me to be "near" a story for once. Then the author interviews a father-daughter pair who are obsessed with all things Ty and are planning a Ty Warner Museum with a tribute McDonald's. It's a really surreal chapter that has to be read to properly experience it.

The one benefit to all this is that there are now a lot of cheap toys available to children who need them: "The speculative boom for Beanie Babies has resulted in an unsurpassed volume of high-quality, perfectly preserved, monetarily worthless plush animals for children most in need of the comfort of something soft."

As for Ty, he has no official will and no estate planning: "Unless Ty Warner suddenly gets interested in his estate planning, his mostly estranged younger sister, now sixty-five years old and relying on aid to the indigent for medical bills and part-time jobs to feed her half-dozen adopted animals, will be the sole heir to the largest fortune in the history of stuffed animals."

That's the end of the book! It was fascinating and horrifying!

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