The title above isn’t a great one for what I’m going to talk about, but it’s close enough and I hate to pass up an opportunity to make a Golden Girls reference.
This week, I received a LOT of emails from many of you. The sheer volume was a bit overwhelming — and I figured I made some sort of huge mistake somewhere. (I typically only check that inbox once or twice a week, so first I see the number of emails, then I see the emails themselves.) It’s happened before — sometimes it’s because I have a fact wrong, although that’s thankfully rare; sometimes it’s because I”ve made an egregious typo, which is unfortunately somewhat column.
But the opposite was true. Dozens of nice notes for no reason in particular! (Plus a lot more from people who picked up on my Douglas Adams/Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy reference in Tuesday’s email.) It was really great. So: thank you to everyone who wrote in.
What I found really funny, though — and what prompted me to write this note today — is that about a half-dozen of those notes all said something to the effect of “I’m sure you get a lot of not-so-nice notes and I don’t want to be one of them.” Here’s the thing: I don’t usually get a lot of not-nice notes. I’ve gotten a few here and there, and they stick out in my memory of course, but they’re few and far between. So I wanted to let you all know that, with rare, rare exceptions, the community of Now I Know readers are really wonderful and don’t complain a lot (at least not about me or, I guess, not to me in those cases).
If you have something to share — a related story, why a specific article resonated with you, or even an idle thought the newsletter provoked, let me know. It’s great to get your feedback.
The Now I Know Week in Review
Monday: The Golden Boxes of Cheerios. One of you wrote in to ask if someone could x-ray the Cheerios boxes to see what’s inside. I don’t know, but I had a similar thought when writing it. As a kid, Topps — the baseball card company — sold baseball stickers, and inserted into random packs were a prize ticket: collect five of them and they’d send you a complete set of that season’s baseball cards. I got one, showed my dad, and he had an thought: the packs with the prize tickets were probably slightly thicker than a normal pack.
A day or so later, we went to the local newsstand, armed with a micrometer. (He had one laying around, which in retrospect, is pretty weird.) The very kind newsstand owner let us measure all the packs in a box or two of stickers, and we bought that ones that had some additional thickness — ten, maybe 20 packs. Every single pack had either a foil sticker (which were thicker than normal ones) or a prize ticket, and I was able to collect enough tickets to get the baseball card set.
So, yes, there may be a way to game the system and see inside these Cheerios boxes, and I can’t help but wonder if the original owner of the ones for sale on eBay in this story took advantage of that.
Tuesday: The Man With Dolphin Karma: At the top of the emailed version, I said something like “all dolphin stories are good dolphin stories.” A few people shared links to stories that are most definitely not good dolphin stories — being wild animals, they can do bad things to unsuspecting victims. I’ll not share those links, but yeah, dolphins can do bad things, too.
Wednesday: The Infrequent Flyer Meal Program: This is a re-run and I have no idea why I selected it for republication this week; I think I re-read it, laughed, and said “this’ll do.”
Thursday: The Not So Stupid History of Dunce Caps: Sometimes, I sit on story ideas for weeks or even months; I just can’t seem to motivate myself to write it. And then, even when stil unmotivated to tackle it, I give it a go anyway. This is one of those stories. I found it very difficult to write and I’m glad it turned out OK, and that I got to share it, but it’s not going to go down as one of my favorites.
And some other things you should check out:
Some long reads for the weekend.
1) “Cat People” (The New Yorker, 16 minutes, December 2002). The subhead is “What Dr. Seuss Really Taught Us.” If the story looks familiar, that’s because I linked to it in yesterday’s bonus fact; I think it warrants some additional visibility, so here you go.
2) “The Rise and Fall of a Prison Town Queen” (The Marshall Project, 20 minutes, February 2022). Here’s a pull-quote:
For most people, prisons are a place of loss and heartache. But for Melinda [Brewer] they were a place to start over, to build a life outside the long shadow of her outlaw family. When she worked there, Huntsville had seven lockups in town, plus two more nearby. There were sprawling acres of prison farms, run-down factories powered by prison labor, and the network of administrative offices that formed the nerve center of the biggest state prison system in the country. Not to mention the prison museum, the criminal justice college, and the aging building that housed the state’s death chamber.
Just across the street was a two-story house, brick and white siding, so plain you knew the state had to own it. Traditionally, it was set aside for some of the top prison brass in town: the regional director and his wife. For a time, that was her — Huntsville royalty.
3) “100 Must Watch Movies to See Before You Die” (Complex, 12 minutes, undated but I think it’s from 2021). I was going to put this list on Letterboxd (you can follow me there via this link) but it would have taken forever and I’m pretty busy. Anyway, it’s a very good list. And I’ve seen a lot of them, more so than I thought I would have.
But what I found more interesting than the list itself is what it told me about my viewing habits. I noticed that if a movie wasn’t made primarily in the United States, I probably didn’t see it. If the movie was made before 1985, there was a good chance I hadn’t seen it, too. Of all the post-1985, made in the USA films? I’ve seen almost all of them — unless they’re a horror film or horror-adjacent like Requiem for a Dream which will likely give me nightmares.
Have a great weekend!