I had a note today from a reader, an entirely valid complaint, notwithstanding she gave me a false return address when she used my contact form.

From: ‘Anna’ (anna@yahoo.com)
Date: June 10th, 2008

I read your mocking remarks regarding an article written for an Ely, Minnesota local newspaper. I happen to know the author. I can only tell you how wrong you are in your characterizations. Perhaps you should consider a little research before you make fun of someone. Had you inquired about your target, you would realize that it is your comments that sound silly…not his.


From: Joel
To: ‘Anna’ (anna@yahoo.com)
Date: June 10th, 2008

Thanks for the note. I have to agree, my remarks were indeed silly, as they were intended to be. Most people, though, figured out that I was being satirical, and was not seriously pretending to have any insight into Michael’s character or history, which are obviously unknown to me.

Rather, the target of the satire was his writing style, about which no “inquiry” is really needed since he himself provided a fair sample of it to the public. The unwieldy grammar and imagery, in particular, are a source of advanced amusement to anyone with an ear for these things. I should add, too, that although I did kind of “single out” this particular letter-to-the-editor, I did attempt to represent his style as being emblematic of many efforts in the medium, rather than as an unfortunate or unique exception. As for myself, I do not at all discount the possibility of getting similar treatment regarding my taste in clothes, for example, should anyone happen to photograph me on the street. We all have our little weaknesses.

I realize it is unfair that my satire should reflect personally on Michael or affect his reputation, so I have removed any reference to his name and locale from the text of the article, to prevent it from turning up if people should google his name in the future. Thanks again for bringing that to my attention.




From: Mail Delivery System
To: Joel
Date: June 10th, 2008

This is the mail system at host —.—.—.

I’m sorry to have to inform you that your message could not be delivered to one or more recipients. It’s attached below.

For further assistance, please send mail to postmaster.

If you do so, please include this problem report. You can delete your own text from the attached returned message.

The mail system : host a.mx.mail.yahoo.com[] said: 554 delivery error: dd Sorry your message to anna@yahoo.com cannot be delivered. This account has been disabled or discontinued [#102]. – mta486.mail.mud.yahoo.com (in reply to end of DATA command)


Dustin sent me a friendly kind of amicus brief:

From: Dustin (dblake)
To: Joel
Date: June 10th, 2008

(and it looks like you’ve already sent your response to the non-email address of the complaintiff…oh well)

Hi Joel,

For your response to your complaintiff (I like that!), you should point out that your (good-natured) critique is less of a jab at the Letter Writer and really a commentary on small-town life and newspapers. I think the complaintiff missed the other, slightly subtle thrust of your posting: in our land of opportunity and movement, we may find ourselves somewhere very different from where we started, yet still yearn for a connection to our ‘roots.’ I think you really captured the letter writer’s awkwardness in his attempt to do just that. In a way, you’ve made the Letter Writer a star of sorts; this could be a pitch for an episode of This American Life.