If anyone’s still actively reading over here, I’m co-hosting a 90 minute pre-game live edition of Seeing Red! from Red Bull Arena this morning.
If anyone’s still actively reading over here, I’m co-hosting a 90 minute pre-game live edition of Seeing Red! from Red Bull Arena this morning.
This isn’t the post I thought would be the one to break my blogging silence, but it’s the one I need to write.
It was Sunday evening, and the perfect conditions were combining into a moment of perfect joy. The weather was spectacular. The venue, a 12th story rooftop in the heart of the city, gave us perfect views in every direction. There was barbecue, and drinks, and a few close friends up there with us. The USWNT was destroying Japan, my phone pulsing every few minutes with news of another goal.
And then, the subject turned to “The Friend”.
“Anybody hear of any leads on The Friend lately?”
“No, but did you guys know about this Tumblr…?”
While it’s far from the reason the friendship existed, there was a common bond among the group on the roof that evening: each couple had either been ripped off, or was close to someone who had been ripped off, by someone deep in the social circle that criss-crosses between NYC’s tech, food, and photoblogger communities.
The Friend disappeared from the Internet about two years ago – right after I got ripped off.
I’ve alluded to the incident in passing on this blog before, and I’ve thrown out a subtweet or two in frustration, but this will be the first – and potentially last – time I write about it at length. It’s hard to want to write about how foolish I was, how much of a sucker I momentarily became, and the negative impact that moment has had on me as a person. But the events of the last 72 hours have left me craving what little catharsis I can wring out of my own hands.
It was two years ago today that I got a text message from The Friend, threatening to throw themselves into the Gowanus.
The Friend, at this point, was someone I had known for over five years and considered extremely close. We chatted semi-regularly, saw each other on occasion at friends’ parties, and hung out when we could. In a city where you can easily go years without seeing friends, that’s a pretty good interaction rate.
The resulting IM conversation was, in hindsight, perfectly crafted. There was urgency: a client check bounced, a new place to live about to collapse. There was constant self debasement, declaring their life a failure. There was desperation about an amount of money that was neither huge nor insignificant. And in the end, an invocation of a friend I didn’t know, who had agreed to float half the amount in perfect timing with my growing inability to help.
I checked our finances. I checked with the wife. It was an amount we could live without but that we would certainly want back. So I agreed to float the other half.
My phone rang almost instantly – it should’ve been a red flag for a person who was notorious about never picking up the phone. But I was just happy to help. I wrote up a quick agreement (balance due in 30 days, failure to pay would allow the use of unspecified “further actions”), ran to the ATM, withdrew the cash, and met The Friend in the shadow of St. Paul’s Chapel. It was chosen for subway convenience rather than moral significance, but the detail is not lost on me.
The agreement was signed, the cash was handed over, we chatted briefly and everything was fine as we parted ways.
That was the last time I saw The Friend.
Three weeks later, as the due date set in, a text message conversation threw alert at me. While casually talking about meeting up (at which point I was going to gently remind about the debt), The Friend mentioned that they couldn’t meet for coffee because they were totally broke.
That would, in the end, be the last text message I would receive from The Friend.
My head tried to ignored the signs but my fingers fired off a reminder about the debt. There would be no answer.
As the debt hit the due date, more texts were sent. Emails fired off. Phone calls made and going to voicemail. Katie joined in, futile as it was. There would be no answer.
It was only days after the radio silence begun in earnest that I thought to ask mutual friends for leads, and non-mutual friends for advice. The responses sent my stomach to the floor.
“Oh no, not you too,” said more than one mutual friend.
“Is it The Friend?” said a non-mutual friend who I had spoken to in only generalities.
How could I have been so stupid?
The two years that followed became an attempt to put the incident out of mind, with occasional lapses into anger, dejection, and sheer disbelief.
Soon after, I reached out to the friend of The Friend who had allegedly floated the other half of the cash, which was of course not at all true. (He still apologized for a role he hadn’t intended to play in the deception.) I heard from a few other people who had been ripped off by The Friend, who had shared connections with me. Others had been hit for more, or in worse ways. I occasionally felt lucky that I hadn’t gotten it worse, which made me feel terrible.
The Friend went silent on social media. Occasionally there would be a sighting at an event, or on a mailing list, and I’d get a heads up from someone I had alerted. We investigated getting a PI or filing in small claims, and both were more costly than the amount we’d recover.
We hung the worthless agreement on our fridge, a sad reminder to not be so trusting and perhaps a hope that someday, The Friend might do the right thing. I felt myself pull back from putting a lot of trust in new friends. I became more cynical, more selective, less open to want to hang at length at social functions.
Every now and then, the incident would flare up at home, triggering arguments and anger at a circle of friends and acquaintances who had failed to warn us, failed to tell us not to trust The Friend. Of course, there’s no good way to have that discussion, no easy way to say something simultaneously essential and cruel. But it didn’t matter when the anger got the better of us. It would pass when other battles in life took priority.
About a year after the incident, another email would come in from someone who got burned badly by The Friend, asking to chat. They were thinking about setting up a Facebook group, or a Tumblr for fellow victims. About six months later, a Tumblr appeared, matching the emailer’s story. We found it, but didn’t think much of it.
Until this weekend, on that rooftop.
Monday morning, a friend from the rooftop posted a link to the Tumblr onto Facebook. The resulting thread ignited and burned strong for a day.
More victims appeared in the thread, nodding in agreement or expressing anger that nothing had ever been done to stop The Friend. Bewildered people who knew The Friend’s name went wide-eyed in disbelief. (A few people joked about how the thread had reunited so many people who hadn’t spoken in years.) And those who had known The Friend the longest, many of whom had been burned lightly and let it go, decried the public shaming of someone who had struggled with depression. They objected to witch hunts in a social community that was above it. They dubbed the Tumblr that had used questionable tactics in the battle for some form of justice or retribution as toxic.
(In case there’s any confusion as to why I’m not using The Friend’s name or linking to the Tumblr, it’s because multiple people took the stance that ruining The Friend’s reputation is worse than the crimes committed. While I whole heartedly disagree, I don’t want this to be about that – although I recognize the same argument that this is dehumanizing The Friend might apply.)
The only meaningful update was someone who had been in contact The Friend in January, indicating that they were now homeless and was in a “bad bad place” for having burned so many bridges.
When I read that, for a brief moment, I felt…well, not sad. Not happy either, but not terribly torn up about it.
And then I realized how much this had been eating away at me, and that all of this angst and pain and conflict inside me desperately needed a release.
The Facebook thread was taken down last night, smothered and stomped out before someone could dump more gasoline on it.
So here we are, two years past a threat to jump into the Gowanus that turned me into a fool. Allow me the following attempt at catharsis:
To the people who opted to defend The Friend on the grounds that public shaming is the wrong tactic, I understand and respect where you stand. We have all made mistakes, and no one wants their dirty laundry aired on the Internet. I would love a proper conversation with The Friend, a sincere apology, maybe even the money back. But two years of radio silence have sent the message that isn’t on the table. What you’re asking is for victims to not speak up, to sit back and just accept a crime being committed. I hope you can understand why I have such a hard time with that.
To the people who opted to defend The Friend on the grounds that their relationship was not a con or a swindle, I understand and respect where you stand. I thought the same thing, for as long as I could. I’m not even sure I can still bring myself to believe that it was intentionally a con. I just think it became convenient. I fear I became a relationship that was worth more to cash out than to keep. I hope you don’t become the same.
To the people who are harboring someone like The Friend in their social circles: speak up. Don’t assume your friends know about the damage they have caused. It doesn’t need to be vindictive, but it does need to be clear and up front.
To the person running the Tumblr, I understand and respect what you’re trying to do – and I wish someone had done it before I got taken advantage of. But I do wish you’d use better tactics, ones that wouldn’t compromise your message to those who can’t believe someone they hold close could be so awful.
To The Friend, I hope you get the help you need and can fix the damage you’ve caused in so many lives. And I hope you never do this to any one, ever again.
One of the things that makes the whole situation more complicated is that most of the social connections that drove this incident were triggered through social networking. It’s easy to find new acquaintances and friends-of-friends, to develop relationships.
The problem is, there’s rarely nuance to the connection on social networks. You follow on Twitter. You are friends on Facebook. You are a connection on LinkedIn. There aren’t labels on your social graph, no way to indicate that the connection may be waning or broken. You see a large number of mutual friends and you assume the person is on the up and up.
I, along with many others, have kept The Friend in my social network graph long after being burned. It’s out of a false hope that there will be a slip, a re-emergence, a tell that The Friend is still out there. Those slips have happened, but they’re ultimately worthless. It’s clear they’re hiding from more people than just me. Meanwhile, those connections in my graph become tacit endorsements – an opportunity to use me as a silent reference, vouching for their character. Now that I’ve wrung my hands, I just want to wash them clean.
With this post, I’ve unfriended The Friend on all the social channels I can think to. I don’t want that association hanging over my head. The margin utility of tracking isn’t worth the pain.
Time to move on.
While most everyone became rather obsessed with the Adult Swim short “Too Many Cooks”, it was the quasi-follow up “Unedited Footage Of A Bear” that resonated with me more, It’s considerably more nightmarish: a pharmaceutical ad that goes completely off the rails and never considers coming back.
A stand-out part of this was because of Dan Deacon’s excellent – and unnerving – music. I wasn’t a fan previously, I did check out his most recent release, Gliss Riffer, and became more than a little obsessed with his 3/4 time metaphysical sea shanty, “When I Was Done Dying”.
Adult Swim, being the sort of people who will bring strange things to life, assembled the Off The Air team and put together a video for it, which is about as fitting as it gets.
*sits back, watches wife and close friend argue with MLS mascot over rights to eat tacos with me, eats popcorn*
— Dan Dickinson (@GothamistDan) March 24, 2015
“It’s been a great year! Thanks for being a part of it.”
So offered Facebook repeatedly over the last week, as various friends clicked/tapped the “Auto-generate my year in review, please” call to action. Everyone in their respective social networks were treated to a algorithmically generated review of the pictures they chose to upload and the life events they allowed Facebook to ingest.
I have never been much for the programmatic, and while I appreciate the visual nature of Facebook (and I’ll do my own, hand-selected photos post not long after I write this one), I still enjoy the dying art of writing a blog post about what happened in a given year.
I’ll remember 2014 for a few things, but mostly the exhausting emotional toll that enveloped the world. From the Ebola scare, to Ferguson, to the current behavior of the NYPD, to the respective NFL and NBA scandals, to the hand-wringing about a Franco/Rogen film, it’s just been a complete wear to read the news and try to feel some level of optimism about, well, anything.
At a more personal level, a few things stand out:
2014 was the year we went full cocktail nerd, after years of dabbling. Our obsession with spending Friday night at The Dead Rabbit got us to what Jack has referred to as “super-regular” status. (Also quoting Jack: “You guys are family. You know the drinks better than I do now.”)
We have branched out to other bars as recommendations floated by and friends moved between bars. Attaboy, Underdog, Distilled, Bachanal, and Mother’s Ruin have all earned pushpins on my mental map of NYC. We also went to Speed Rack 4, which was incredible.
Conversely, it was not a year where we tried a ton of new restaurants. Marta was decent, Little Park was impressive, and I’m appreciative that Hudson Eats opened to give us a lot of decent options for takeaway dinners. But by and large, we were still at the usual spots constantly. (I did finally get to try Prosperity Dumpling, which is mind-blowing.)
At the day job, two radical changes at the end of 2013 (one planned, one less so) made 2014 a very different year in terms of my focus. My team has grown significantly, and we transitioned from The Old Way Of Doing Things to The New Way Of Doing Things close to seamlessly enough to make me happy.
It being a World Cup year, soccer activities took over my life far more than I would normally expect. My final count for actual watched games this year: 16 league games, 4 playoff games, 1 national team game, 2 Champions League games, 1 All-Star game, 3 friendlies. (That’s a troubling 40.5 hours of professional soccer watched live.) I also played in two media games, made too many podcast appearances to count (and one TV appearance), and churned out 81 posts on Gothamist.
Unsurprisingly, after that much soccer, I’m a bit burned out and unsure on the best strategy going forward. While I love covering the sport and being a part of that community, it’s a strain on the rest of my life, and with the NYC beat expanding to two MLS teams next year, I haven’t yet figured out what 2015 will look like. I’ll figure it out soon, but it’s been looming most of this month and the answers are still a bit muddled.
2014 was also the year the Port Authority decided, out of complete kindness, to completely ruin our weekends by shutting down our local PATH station. I am glad to consider that we may finally be able to have people over again on the weekends.
That, then, is what I can remember about the blur that was 2014. Pictures and a much reduced survey of what happened with my gaming life in future posts.
Today, Thierry Henry announced he would not be returning to the New York Red Bulls following the expiration of his contract. The move was not a surprise, but still has left many that surround the team a bit down.
So much ink has already been spilled about the legacy of the last four years: his talent on the field, his role with the club, his impact on MLS. He’s been an anchor since I returned to caring about the league in 2010, someone that I couldn’t believe I got to watch perform week in and week out.
But as I’m writing this on my personal site, I want to reflect on the other lasting mark Henry has left on me: he was the rare player that demanded more out of everyone involved with the team, including the media.
If you follow league beat reporters, particularly those who deal with RBNY routinely, you’re aware of his reputation when dealing with the media in the locker room. Some would label him “cranky”. Some declared him “rude”. An incident where he declined media availability after a 1-1 draw against Chivas USA in 2012 sparked a brief dust-up between media and supporters about whether or not beats had any right to speak to players at all.
I won’t claim to “know” Henry from my three years of sticking a microphone towards his face, but I at least grew to have an understanding of him.
Thierry didn’t relish dealing with the media hovering around his locker, but he accepted it. (European locker rooms aren’t open to media, but MLS mandates the doors open 15 minutes after the match ends.) He was typically the last player to speak after a match, sometimes waiting a solid hour after the final whistle, which triggered its fair share of pissed off “You’re waiting HOW LONG?” text messages from soccer media widows. But Henry always seemed to have a level of professional respect for those of us who did stick around.
Thierry had his cliches – “as I said to you before”, “I don’t know if you remember”, and “not having a go at any one” being the three go-to for any Henry impersonation – but he genuinely considered every question. I can’t remember him being on auto-pilot or content with performances – he always latched on to something the team could improve on. If the team did badly, he was open about it. If the team won 4-1, he would complain about the conceded goal. If the team won 4-0, he would caution about celebrating too much, because he knew it wouldn’t be long before the team regressed.
His knowledge of the game was impossibly deep. He would run down talent on opposing rosters not that they had just faced, but that were coming up. He would commend systems and coaches elsewhere in MLS. He would frequently drop analogies involving NBA teams, the other sport he truly loved.
Following a recent home game, as he was getting ready at his locker, I watched him look up at the closed circuit TV, that was showing the annual NYPD vs. FDNY match. And he watched it just long enough, and gestured at the TV, that I could’ve swore he was analyzing the match.
Nearly as much as he loved challenging defenders on the field, he took a deep pleasure in challenging dumb or trite questions.
Thoughts on the match? “It was 90 minutes.”
Have you ever played in a game as crazy as that one? “I’ve played in a lot of games.”
Do you enjoy the new away jersey the club just released? “I don’t know, I haven’t worn it yet.”
An intricate question about his position moving wide left as he used to at Arsenal? Gets swatted down because he insists he didn’t play there at Arsenal.
My own personal dressing down (which I was surprised to find I still had the audio for) came after a softball about what he had seen from the reserves during a friendly he didn’t play in. He had often loved talking up the younger players who didn’t get a lot of field time, but apparently not as much as he loved giving me crap about trying to gain insight from a friendly:
What Thierry taught me, more than anyone else in the RBNY locker room, is the value of asking a question with a non-obvious answer. You can’t lose the germane questions entirely to get an interview rolling, but unless there’s something I can’t answer in my head, I’ve learned to just listen.
Perhaps the most noticeable thing in his final year with the club was how focused he was on the team, and not himself. As the “What are you doing next year?” questions came up nearly every week, his answer was always the same: “We’ll talk about that after the season ends.” Even in the announcement today, the thought was the same: he didn’t want to take the focus off the team’s performance. He didn’t want a farewell tour, teams bringing him gifts, endless fawning media tributes. He wanted to put his head down and be one of the eleven guys on the field.
There was an article in the club’s corporate magazine that had perhaps my favorite quote that wrapped up how he saw himself:
I keep on reiterating to everybody, I didn’t save anyone’s life, I’m not a hero, I’m none of those things. I was just out there to play the game and while I understand I gave some people joy and I ended up loving the club I played for most of my career, I didn’t go to war to protect my country. That’s worthy of elevation to the status of ‘hero’, you know? I just want people to remember me for playing some soccer and that’s all. Another player will come along and erase all those records but as long as people can recall me in some way it means that I’ve done something right.
Thanks, Thierry. It’s been a pleasure.
On Sunday night, Katie and I went to the Paley Center panel for Broad City. We’re big fans of the show, and it was a good panel. (If you’re a fan of the show, ask me about the Hannibal anecdote.)
During the panel, Katie took a nice Instagram photo:
It was so nice, that Monday evening she noticed that Comedy Central had liked her photo. She’s taken a lot of pride in putting things on Instagram lately, as she’s been building a decent following. But then she tapped through to Comedy Central’s instagram account and saw this:
A filter, a different crop, and a logo doesn’t change the fact that this is very clearly Katie’s photo – unless someone was sitting at the exact same angle and took a picture at virtually the same instance.
And I’m willing to guess that isn’t the case, because you’ll notice the link is now broken. That’s because after bringing attention to it on Twitter, Comedy Central yanked it down and replaced it with this:
Notice how quick they were here to credit the Paley Center’s photographer in this instance – just not the original.
Look – it’s 2014. Social media teams should be well aware by now that if you’re going to repurpose a photo from another user, attribution is a pretty basic courtesy. Yet not only did Comedy Central not attribute Katie’s photo, nor did they issue an apology (which is all Katie would like) – they decided to replace it entirely with someone else’s. They got caught, and rather than do the right thing, tried to erase the evidence – all the evidence except the like on Katie’s original photo. (At least, as I’m writing this. I wouldn’t be surprised if they revoke the like should someone read this post.)
I have personal experience that people within Comedy Central know how to properly respect copyright. I’m just saddened their social team thinks this is acceptable.
(Trigger warning for non-soccer friends: this is all soccer.)
The end of the season MLS award voting is a bit of a struggle. With rather nebulously defined categories, voters (of which I am afforded a ballot through my media role) is forced to scratch their heads a lot. We try to figure out what level of adversity justifies the “Comeback Player Of The Year” award. We read through team-supplied biographies of various charitable efforts to work out who deserves “MLS WORKS Humanitarian Of The Year”.
And “Most Valuable Player”? It’s hopeless. Player “value” is subjective to the individual person, and so what makes one player valuable to one voter may not matter at all to another. And it’s been particularly difficult in 2014, with no clear frontrunner across any of the 19 MLS teams. Yet it’s serious business: one Twitter user declared me a “fucking idiot” for not having their favorite player in my short list.
So inspired by the Grand Ginger Of Major League Soccer (who advocates for having a formula for deciding your MVP, despite Twellman’s objections), I decided to create my own algorithm this year to help me figure out my vote.
First, I had to select a player pool. Defensive metrics are nearly impossible to come by, so I limited the list to forward and midfield players, trying to get at least one per team (with a few exceptions: sorry Colorado / Montreal / San Jose!). The twenty names that ended up on the spreadsheet were:
Quincy Amarikwa (Chicago); Will Bruin (Houston); Bradley Wright-Phillips (New York); Erick “Cubo” Torres (Chivas USA); Jermain Defoe (Toronto); Clint Dempsey (Seattle); Landon Donovan (L.A.); Dom Dwyer (Kansas City); Fabian Espindola (D.C.); Ethan Finlay (Columbus); Thierry Henry (New York); Robbie Keane (L.A.); Sebastian Le Toux (Philadelphia); Obafemi Martins (Seattle); Lee Nguyen (New England); Pedro Morales (Vancouver); Joao Plata (Salt Lake); Luis Silva (D.C.); Diego Valeri (Portland); Gyasi Zardes (L.A.)
Independently from the players, I had to select what stats mattered to me, and how much each counted.
I started with the most critical thing you can do as a player: win games for your team. So game winning goals were given a weight of 4 points each, and game winning assists would earn 3 points each.
Next, I wanted to reward offensive production in general, so non-penalty goals earned 2 points (even if they were the same as the game winner). Non-game-winning assists were worth 1 point.
Then I wanted to consider what actions an offensive player could take that would damage their team’s ability to win. I could only think of two that were easily measured: missed penalties and red cards. Red cards being the more serious of the two, I subtracted two points for each red and removed a single point for a missed penalty kick.
This gave me a raw score for each player. How did it look? Here was the top ten:
For most pundits, this is a cut and dry confirmation of what many had been saying: Robbie Keane’s production was ridiculous, and he was an easy vote for MVP. (Grant Wahl offered his case for Keane winning MVP today, which partially lead to this post being written.)
I, unsurprisingly, am not most pundits.
I get very hung up on the word “valuable”, and after rolling it around in my head for a while, I couldn’t overlook one thing: the pay scale in MLS is quite notoriously out of whack. This is, after all, a league where a player on one side of the locker room may be making $6,000,000 as a base salary (like Toronto FC striker Jermain Defoe), while his teammate across the room may be on the league minimum of $36,500 (like Toronto FC midfielder Daniel Lovitz).
So I wanted to apply a “salary factor”, one that would adjust the player’s performance in light of their salary. This took a little while to figure out a reasonable system for, because with the range so great, it could very easily tilt the scale too far away from designated players.
The formula I came up with looks like this:
Factor = SQRT(SQRT([Player Base Salary] / [League Median Salary]))
The league median in 2014, per articles I dug up, was $80,000. Taking the fourth root stabilized the values into a range from 0.89 (for Ethan Finlay, making just $50,848) up to 2.94 (for Jermain Defoe). Dom Dwyer sits right at $80,000, so he was the only player to not have his raw score modified by the multiplier.
Is the factor uniformly fair? It’s debatable, but my general impression is yes. The Keanes and Defoes of the world should be better than the guys making a sliver of their salary. (Again, I’m obsessing over value, and I get that’s not for everyone.)
Here, then, are the rankings of all 20 players scaled by salary:
There’s a lot of interesting occurrences in here, particularly when it comes to LA’s attack. Donovan (4 GWG / 5 GWA) and Keane (5 GWG, 6 GWA) both produced big numbers, but when Gyasi Zardes is in the same ballpark (6 GWG / 0 GWA) for a fraction of the salary ($125,000 compared to Landon’s $4.25M and Robbie’s $4.5M), it’s hard to argue they’re not getting tremendous value out of their academy product.
But overall, the math confirmed what my gut had been feeling: that Lee Nguyen put up incredible numbers (no one was even close to his nine game winning goals) at what is almost a criminally low salary. (Never mind that he’s not an attacker and produced those numbers as a midfielder.)
So: my first choice vote (you get two choices on the ballot) for the 2014 MLS MVP for Lee Nguyen.
I have no doubt some will want to argue that my weights are wrong, that I’ve overlooked a key metric, or that I’m just dumb for using a spreadsheet to determine who to vote for. And that’s cool, but I’m not looking to argue – it was my vote, one of who knows how many in the media vote, which will only count for 33% of the total vote scoring.
For those that would prefer to argue about this, a request: write your own algorithm. The process is illuminating about what does and doesn’t matter to you when it comes to player performance. (And if you want to lobby people with the votes that count the most, aim for a club’s sporting director/coach/GM/communications director, as those 76 votes combined count as much as the entire media vote.)
As for my second choice? Well, I can’t follow a formula all the time.
Amanda Cohen’s rumination on a 1-star review she received on Yelp is a solid read:
So on behalf of 99% of restaurants I want to tell customers: No one’s out to get you. There’s a reason some restaurants do weird things. They may not make sense to you, but could you trust us? Restaurants have one goal in life, to make money. And the easiest way to do that is to help you have the time of your life. And to chefs, this is a service business. It’s not about our egos, or our margins, or our precious, precious food. It’s about making people happy. That’s all most of our customers want.
I think this goes well beyond the restaurant industry into lots of creative disciplines.
I’m happy to announce that RemyWiki is back its temporary induced coma, and now living at a new easy-to-remember host. All the data, including accounts, have transferred over.
Many thanks to Corin Simpson-Bryars for taking over the hosting, as well as the plethora of other folks who reached out to offer assistance.
Links to the old site should redirect over to the new site with a 301 code, but if you see any weird behavior, let me know.