Here I was all about to start a blog post called “That’s 2006, then,”
when I realized
I’d already done that
in 2004. Except it was called
“That’s 2004, then.” Because it was 2004 at the time. Not 2006.
One of the problems with writing all the time is I tend to unwittingly
repeat myself. For example, the other day I received an e-mail that
chilled my spine:
Please stop using the line “he’d never seen so many expensive
pairs of shoes in one place.” You have used it in all three novels,
and it has about outlived its utility.
Could I really be unintentionally inserting the same line into
all my books? That would be pretty embarrassing. And probably
sign of some kind of encroaching mental defect. Some kind of
new encroaching mental defect, I mean. So I went searching
through my manuscripts. Sure enough I found this in Jennifer
John had never been surrounded by so many good pairs of shoes.
… and this in Company:
It turns out to be a bar so stylish that it has dispensed with anything
as obvious as trying to look like a bar, and at at seven o’clock on a
Friday evening it is full of deep orange sunshine and more pairs
of expensive shoes than Jones has ever seen in one place.
But I couldn’t find anything similar in Syrup, thank God.
That’s only two out of three! I reckon that lets me off the hook.
And what about all the lines that aren’t the same? Nobody
writes in about those!
Anyway, that’s it from me for the year. Thanks so much to all you guys who
visit my site, and read my books, and validate my life. If it wasn’t
for you, I’d be broke, bitter, and spending most nights fighting
homeless guys for loose change. Well, I do that anyway, but it’s
a lifestyle choice.
Apparently some people go through life without regret. They
make mistakes, but chalk these up to experience and move
on. I would like to meet one of those people and shake them hard.
I’m the other type: one of those people who breaks into a cold
sweat at one a.m. because I just remembered the time in 1989 when I
asked this girl out and she thought I was joking, so I tried to
play along. In fact, now I think about it, that happened a couple of times.
I probably needed to rework my approach.
But the thing that really haunts me is that one particular person
has been present at nearly all of my greatest humiliations.
This is Elke, who I lived next door to when we were both babies. There
are lots of photos of us playing naked in the splash pool; our parents
joked that one day we’d get married; you know the deal.
Well, Elke grew up to be beautiful, smart, generous, and kind to
animals. And I’m quite sure she thinks I’m the biggest asshole
on the planet, because every time she’s seen me in the last twenty
years, I’ve been rude, drunk, committing a crime, insulting her
brother, or some combination of the above.
It’s eerie. I don’t think she’s inspiring me to these depths. She just
always happens to be there, staring at me in shock.
I swear, if I took off my pants, walked down the street,
beat up a nun, and mugged a homeless person, I would turn around
and there would be Elke. It’s like my life is a sitcom and she’s my running
gag. Only since I’m in it, it’s not that funny.
I understand that we all do dumb things now and again. What I don’t
get is why all of mine happen in front of this one person, whom I otherwise
never see. It’s a little disturbing to know there’s someone out
there with a perfectly rational basis for thinking I’m a scumbag.
I haven’t seen Elke for many years, which at least means that I haven’t
done anything seriously embarrassing since then. But one day I hope to run
into her again, so I can say, “Look, I know what you must think about me.
And I won’t try to change your mind. I just want to say I’m really
sorry.” Then I would probably barf on her dog.
The other day two people threatened to sue me. Admittedly, they were employees
of the same company. But still: two in 24 hours is a new record for me.
It’s also the first time I’ve been threatened by a company,
not an individual. But, like all the others, it was related to
the nation simulation web game I wrote.
To whom it may concern:
There is a “counrty” on your webite called “Allevia”. Allevia is a
TRADEMARKED name and may not be used on your website. You will be
receiving registered mail shortly from our legal councel here in
Switzerland. We advise that you remove the trademarked name from
your site without delay.
At first I thought this was a stunt by a NationStates player,
trying to get
the Allevia nation
into trouble—because players can be devious like that. But there is
a real Swiss company called Allevia,
so I wrote to them to ask if this was for real.
Before long I had a reply from Pierre Mainil-Varlet, MD, PhD, MBA,
Allevia’s Chief Operating Officer. Pierre confirmed it was genuine, and
if I didn’t scrub Allevia from NationStates, “a legal action will be started.”
Now I was confused. It’s not like Allevia is such a bad nation.
It’s a democracy, has excellent civil rights, low unemployment, and its
national animal was the Tufted Penguin. Those
are some cool birds. Sure, it’s a corporate bordello, but whose country
isn’t, these days? So I had trouble seeing what this company’s
problem was—other than the fact that
results listed someone who wasn’t them at number five.
I wrote to Pierre expressing my doubts:
Could you please explain why you believe the use of the Allevia name
by one of our players is illegal? To my eye it just looks like
coincidence—nothing about the account suggests the player is referring
to (or even aware of) your company. Should nationstates.net be in breach
of the law, then by all means we will comply, but I’m a little puzzled
about what law you think is being broken here.
Pierre fired back a very interesting reply. Before I reveal that, though,
here is a quiz. Imagine you discover an unrelated use of your company’s name
in an obscure online computer game. There’s nothing
offensive or damaging about it, but still, it bugs you that the internet
isn’t reserved solely for your marketing messages. What do you do?
- Ignore it, because it has nothing to do with you, and your time is better
spent doing whatever the hell it is that your company is supposed to do.
- Write a polite letter explaining the situation, keeping in mind that in
many parts of the world, including all the relevant ones,
threatening legal action over a trademark without a genuine basis
is illegal and exposes your company to counter-action.
- Write to an author with
a history of irritability toward corporations that try to control language,
claiming to have ultimate control over use of the word “in all fields of operation,”
explicitly including computer games (a claim easily contradicted by
your own country’s trademark registry),
and repeatedly threaten him with lawsuits.
If you selected #3, you could be Allevia’s Chief Operating Officer.
Pierre agreed with me that it was “a total coincidence and not bad will from
the player.” And he further acknowledged that not only is “allevia” a common
Italian word, but it’s used by Estee Lauder to refer
to a fragrance. However, he claimed:
[We] own all other field of application including computer games and
softawre software. The situation would be the same if you would use the name
coca cola.. You would be place into difficulties
He also assured me again that this was a serious matter and Allevia
“will be consequent in our action,” which I took to mean something bad.
Around now I began to wonder if our player should sue Pierre. After all,
the player was running a respectable nation; he wouldn’t want to be confused
with a Swiss-based manufacturer of empty legal threats.
I was also tickled by Pierre’s use of the Coca-Cola example. I mean,
of all the companies to choose from, and all the people to try it on:
he chooses Coke, and the guy who wrote a novel set in that company
and had it published in ten countries.
I was a little tempted to fake up a letter from Coke, saying it had come
to their attention that Pierre had used their trademarked name in an email without
permission, and now they were going to sue. Because Pierre didn’t seem to
understand that trademark law prohibits people from passing themselves
off as you—not from talking about you, or using the same coincidental series
of letters in unrelated contexts.
But I didn’t do that. Pierre CCed his last email to a bunch of
people inside Allevia, presumably to impress upon them how decisively
he was taking care of business. Following that, I couldn’t get him to
write back to me, no matter how sneakily I encouraged him to say
something else outlandish. So I’m guessing someone on that CC list
knocked on his office door and had a gentle conversation with him about what the
hell he was doing.
Which makes it a happy ending, in my book. The great nation of Allevia survives,
its intelligent, well-educated citizens free to lead their lives unmolested
in their beautiful, progressive, somewhat economically fragile nation.
And, somewhere in Switzerland, a Chief Operating Officer grows a little
sadder, but perhaps also a little wiser.