1. Go to Siberia and play with the tame foxes.
2. Hang out and drink with Jo "Supernanny" Frost until she starts swearing.1
There is a type of gag that comedy writers call a "brick joke." The basic form of a brick joke is that you tell one (sometimes deliberately unfunny) joke at the beginning of the set, episode, season, or whatever, and then an incidental and/or unresolved detail from the first joke returns long after everybody's forgotten it, at the end of the set/episode/etc., to pay off the last joke. TV Tropes uses these as an example:
First joke:I apologize for neither joke being especially funny, but that's the general shape of a brick joke: the punchline for one joke comes from a mostly-forgotten detail in the other.
Once upon a time, there was a man who wanted to build a house. But, being a little eccentric, he wanted to build the house using only 99 bricks. So he went to the hardware store and said, "Hello, I'd like to buy 99 bricks."
The owner of the store told him, "I'm sorry, we only sell bricks in quantities of 100."
"Can't you cut me a deal or something?" the man asked.
"Nope, sorry," replied the owner. So the guy bought 100 bricks.
He took the bricks back to his lot, and he built a house using 99 bricks. Now, if you do the math, 100 minus 99 is 1, so he had one brick left. And he took that brick, and he just chucked it, way up in the air!
A guy was riding on an airplane, and he decided to smoke a cigar. Unfortunately, he was sitting next to a woman with a dog. The dog began coughing, so the lady said, "Excuse me, sir, but could you please put out your cigar? It's really bothering my dog."
He angrily replied, "No, I won't! You shouldn't have a dog on this flight anyways!"
"This is a non-smoking flight! You need to put that cigar out!" she said. They argued back and forth... get rid of the dog, put out the cigar, and so on.
Finally, the man said, "Look, I'll compromise with you. If you get rid of your dog, I'll get rid of the cigar." HE was thinking, "She'll never want to give up her dog." But much to his surprise, she agreed to the deal!
The lady opened the window (amazingly, without causing the air pressure inside the plane to drop) and threw her dog out. The man, thinking that he had another cigar anyways, threw his cigar out the window, thinking that he had won.
However, the woman suddenly reached out the window, and grabbed her dog's leash! As she pulled the dog back in, she was thinking that she'd won, but do you know what the dog had in its mouth? A brick!
Why do I bring it up? Well, do y'all remember a post I wrote in October 2010 about Pierson's Flower Shop and Greenhouses, in Cedar Rapids, and how I was going to stop going there for a year or two because I was so disgusted with how crappily-maintained the plants were?2 Well, that was a brick I threw fifteen months ago. I never forgot about the post, but it also wasn't something I thought about a lot, either. Whenever Pierson's came to mind, my thought process usually didn't go any further than calculating how long it had been since I was last there, and whether or not it was time to go back. Last Monday, I decided that enough time had passed, I wasn't upset with them anymore, and I was ready to go back and see if things were any different now. (I'd assumed no one at Pierson's would see the post in the first place, and if someone did, they wouldn't take it seriously. But I figured there would be some kind of changes after more than a year and was curious about what they'd be.)
So we went. And I was surprised: one of the very first things I saw in the store was a sign they'd printed up listing their plant prices. This was a big deal to me. Previously, they never had anything priced, and it used to drive me nuts. I mean, sure, I could hunt someone down and ask. When I saw something I found especially interesting, of course I did hunt someone down and ask. But it was still irritating to have to go to the extra trouble. This was one of the things I'd griped about in the Open Letter post in 2010, so I was like, holy crap, they finally did that, good for them.
And then I wandered around a bit in the greenhouses, and saw that they had separated the small plants from one another, so you could pick one up without spending half an hour untangling it from all its neighbors. That had been another one of my complaints. The cacti were on tables in the brighter greenhouse, instead of drowning in no-drain trays in the dark greenhouse. There weren't any weed-filled pots lying around taking up space, the place was noticeably cleaner than it had been before3 -- basically everything I'd critiqued before was much better than it had been.4 I didn't even spot any bugs, on anything, which if you're in the business, you know that's awfully close to miraculous.
So it wasn't all perfect, but noticeable changes had been made, the place looked a lot better, the price signs alone made me nearly giddy, and a lot of things seemed to track my specific critiques kind of suspiciously well.
They even had a plant I wanted to buy (Pellionia repens), which seemed to be in decent shape, and that never happens to me anymore.5 But first there were plants to photograph, and there was at least one other garden center to visit before going home, so I basically decided that I'd get pictures at Pierson's, then we'd get in the car and go to Frontier, the other garden center I like in Cedar Rapids,6 and if Frontier didn't have anything I was interested in -- which seemed probable -- then I'd go back to Pierson's and buy a Pellionia repens on our way out of town. This would also slightly reduce the amount of time the plant would have to sit out in the car in the cold. (Pellionias dislike cold.) So I was in a fairly good mood. I found an exceptionally large Polyscias crispata and was snapping pictures of it when two employees came in the greenhouse. And we had this conversation:7
Employee 1: You getting some good pictures?
Me: Maybe; I never know until I get 'em uploaded.
Employee 1 or 2:8 Is this for a blog?
Employee 1 or 2: Is your name [my actual name]?
Employee 1 or 2: You can't be in here, then.
Me: [stops taking pictures, looks at Employee 2]
Employee 2: I'm supposed to ask you to leave. No pictures.9
Me: Oh. Okay.
And then, WHAM! I get hit smack in the mouth by this brick! It just came flying out of nowhere!
Well, no. Not really. Actually I just went to the parking lot, and the husband and I drove off. Then began a whole afternoon of trying to get my brain around what had just happened, because this seemed pretty extreme. The Open Letter post was the only one I've ever done that could conceivably have gotten this sort of reaction, and it's also more than a year old. Even when it was new, it didn't attract a lot of traffic, and I'd never noticed it getting many hits, so I'd never had any reason to think anybody much had ever read it. So this didn't quite add up.
Once we got home and I started working on writing a post about this -- because of course I'm going to blog about this; how could I not blog about this -- I looked for Pierson's with Google. Maybe my post showed up really prominently in searches, and I'd just not noticed people coming to the blog to read it. But it wasn't in the top three pages of Google results for "Pierson's Flower Shop" or "Pierson's Flower Shop and Greenhouses." So this was probably not a Google problem. I checked the Google reviews page: nothing there either. I clicked on Yelp.com, which was low on the first page of one of the Google searches, and . . . there was my blog post.
Or at least most of it. Someone had copied and pasted about 2/3 of my post to Yelp, the day after I put it up on PATSP. They included a link to the original PATSP post, and gave Pierson's a one-star (out of five) rating. But it gets worse, because this "review" also happened to be the first one for Pierson's on Yelp, and stayed the only one they had from October 2010, when the Open Letter was posted, until May 2011, when someone else gave them a five-star review, bringing the average up to three stars. So for seven months, they had the lowest possible rating in Yelp, and another eight months had only brought them up to average.
So then my banishment made a lot more sense. I don't know if a lot of people actually use Yelp when shopping around for services, or if that's how Pierson's became aware of my post -- Yelp is still relatively new, and there are lots of competing websites -- but Yelp is big enough that I've heard of it, so maybe having a one-star rating could hurt.
So. Gentle readers, we should probably talk.
This is not something that should have happened. I didn't post this to Yelp; I don't know who did; I didn't recognize the name or location attached to the review; I wasn't asked for permission; I wouldn't have granted permission had I been asked. Furthermore, I actually have a policy about people re-using my text, which is spelled out down toward the bottom of the sidebar and has been the same for virtually the whole lifetime of PATSP:
all rights reserved. Text may not be duplicated by any means without permission of its author, who is actually pretty easygoing under most circumstances and will probably say okey-dokey if you ask to reproduce something (but you still have to ask, and credit mr_subjunctive as the author of the excerpted part).Now. I understand why someone might have thought that this was okay -- I put the original post on the internet, in public, so what could be wrong with making it more public, by copying it and posting it somewhere else? I mean, we'll get to why it's wrong in a bit, but I do understand how a person could not see the problem. So I'm not exactly mad at the person who did this (and if you're reading this, please, do not under any circumstances apologize to me about it, 'cause then I'll know who you are, and I Don't. Want. To Know.), but I did have a guideline about this, which should have prevented what happened here.10 It's all fun and games until somebody can't buy a Pellionia.
I went ahead and did the obvious thing, and sent a message to Yelp explaining that the review in question used my words without my approval, asking if that was good enough, legally, to have the review pulled, and within about 36 hours,11 I had a message back saying that the review had been removed. So that much has been dealt with, and I'm really sorry that I couldn't have done that sooner.12
I realize I'm still probably not Pierson's favorite person. That's okay. I'm not really trying to be. I don't necessarily want to be allowed back -- I stayed away for fifteen months voluntarily and didn't really miss it, so staying away involuntarily probably won't tear me all up inside either. Plus, even in the best-case scenario, I can't imagine a way to go to Pierson's again that wouldn't feel incredibly awkward. On the other hand, if they're to hate me, I'd prefer they at least hate me for the asshole I meant to be, not the asshole I accidentally became.
This whole story sort of begs for a concluding moral of some kind, like and that's why you should never write anything mean about anybody on the internet. I'm not sure any moral is available, though, since the results are so mixed. I mean, in one sense, saying mean things about people on the internet worked out great for me: I got what I wanted, plus quite a bit more than I expected. The price signs are up, the cacti are getting better treatment, the 3- and 4-inch plants are more accessible, the greenhouse is cleaner, etc. I'm not the one to ask about whether it's good for Pierson's, but I figure it's probably not harming them significantly. On the other hand, I lost unexpected things as well: I don't get to go there anymore, and now there's all this new bad blood between us.
So maybe not a moral. Perhaps a lesson?
Ennh. Probably not that either: given the chance to go back in time and do it all over again, knowing what I know now, I'd probably write more or less the same post (though I would maybe call special attention to the text-reuse policy, and skip the Pedilanthus). I don't apologize for, you know, noticing things. Especially noticing things about retail establishments that are open to the public. And I figure, also, the way you know you can trust me when I say Pierson's has improved is because I didn't pull punches saying they sucked.
So I guess let's go with cautionary tale. Words left on the internet can travel to other places, can go wandering around in bad neighborhoods, can stay out too late, can come home at 3 AM via police escort, stinking of booze, with a big infected-looking gash across their cheek that they don't remember getting and a misspelled tattoo just above their butt ("Momm"). And it's all the more likely when they're not nice, wholesome, milk-drinking words to begin with.
It could happen to you.
P.S. I have every reason to believe that representatives of Pierson's will read this post, since they started checking PATSP several times a day right after the whole throwing-out incident happened and I assume this is what they've been waiting to read. I mention this for two reasons:
1) Regular PATSP readers should be aware that Pierson's will probably see your comments. I don't foresee any problems, and probably don't need to say anything anyway, 'cause you guys are nice people, but, you know, just a reminder that this is public. (In case the post itself wasn't reminder enough.)
2) If someone representing Pierson's wishes to respond to any of this (and you don't have to, obviously -- it's just if you want to), it's possible to leave a comment anonymously, without being signed in to Google/Facebook/Wordpress/etc. Scroll past the footnotes and you'll see something like this:
Click on the word "comments." A new page will open, with all the comments so far on the left and a blank white box on the right. Below the blank white box will be radio buttons for "OpenID," "Name/URL," and "Anonymous;" select Anonymous, write your comment in the white box (if you're writing as a representative of Pierson's, please say so somewhere in the comment), and click the orange "Publish Your Comment" button when finished. You should see the same page come up again, with a note at the top saying "Your comment has been saved and will be visible after blog owner approval." I'll approve pretty much anything that 1) isn't spam, 2) doesn't reveal personal information about me, and 3) isn't abusive towards another commenter. Comments left during the day are almost always approved within an hour; it may take longer before 7 AM or after 4 PM.
1 C'mon, there's no way anybody who spends that much time around that many children doesn't swear.
2 No? Well here's the link: Open Letter to Pierson's Flower Shop and Greenhouses
3 Still not clean in any kind of absolute sense: I think we arrived while they were in mid-clean, because I saw piles of dead leaves on some of the tables, and an employee was going around picking them up. Clearly they were being dealt with, though, so this also counts as an improvement over the last visit.
4 One exception: they still have the fungusy Pedilanthus that pushed me over the edge in the first place. They get a pass on the Pedilanthus, though, because 1) everything else was so much better, and 2) I've seen the same Pedilanthus varieties in other stores since then, and they are apparently just enormously susceptible to fungus. One place has managed to keep one specimen looking nice (the ex-job, though they also have two or three other specimens that look less nice), but Pierson's probably did me a favor by scaring me away from them. This still doesn't excuse setting them under hanging baskets (and they still were, as of last Monday), but fungus-free Pedilanthus was possibly an unattainable goal in any circumstances, so . . . Whoops. Sorry about that.
5 It was overpriced ($7.99 for 4-inch pot), and not terribly full, but I've never seen one for sale anywhere else around here, it appeared to be in good shape, and Pellionias fill in quick and propagate easily, so it was probably worth it anyway.
6 There's also Peck's, which is, like Pierson's, both a flower shop and garden center. I don't hate Peck's, but they're not a must-visit destination like Pierson's was and Frontier still is. I'm vaguely aware of another place, Culver's, but I don't think they deal in indoor plants at all, so I've never been there.
7 I wrote the conversation down about thirty minutes after it happened, while it was still relatively fresh in my mind, so although the dialogue may not be entirely exact quotes, I think most of it is.
8 I was looking at the plant and/or camera for the middle part of the conversation, so I don't know which employee was talking.
9 Which is why I'm not using any of the pictures I'd already taken in this post; I'm not sure how to interpret "no pictures," after I'd taken some already.
10 Copying to a review site is, admittedly, not a form of text-copying I'd anticipated. It's not even a form of text-copying I could have imagined before this month. So the all-rights-reserved policy wasn't really built for this kind of situation, but it still ought to have worked.
I also feel like possibly I should explain why it makes a difference where the words are posted, since they're the same words in both cases and it may not be obvious how the two situations differ.
My view is that blogs are an ongoing conversation about specific things; review sites like Yelp are one-time advice about an entire business. If I'm exasperated with a particular person, I can go to the husband and rant about how frustrating said person is, and we both understand that although I'm ranting, the person hasn't always been doing the annoying things I'm complaining about, and won't necessarily do the annoying things in the future. I've mentioned Pierson's on the blog several times, sometimes positively, sometimes not, but the point with the Open Letter post was not Pierson's sucks and all their plants are crap so much as Pierson's sucks and it's driving me crazy because all this sucking is so totally unnecessary and avoidable.
On a review site, though, that progression of time is lost. Yelp does permit a person to re-review places they've already covered: the star ratings of the new review replace the star ratings of the old one (I think), but both reviews remain visible, so in theory it was possible that the person who'd put the Open Letter on Yelp might add a more favorable review afterward, if I put up a more favorable post later. But of course I couldn't rely on them to maintain a Yelp account, and they wouldn't automatically add a new post of mine to Pierson's Yelp page even if they were maintaining an account (they could have stopped reading PATSP, or stopped reviewing things at Yelp, etc.). And even if they were still on Yelp and did add a new post to their review page, the old post would still be visible and capable of doing damage.
So as far as some random person looking through Yelp -- or any other business review site -- is concerned, the message of the Open Letter post is not Pierson's, you don't have to suck so much but instead everything about Pierson's sucks. And if you're looking for a florist, whether there are more positive evaluations of Pierson's at Yelp or not, you're probably going to steer clear of any business where everything sucks, especially since there are other choices available.
I'd also like to note, for the record, that even at the time I wrote the previous post, when I was maximally frustrated with them, I wouldn't have rated Pierson's one star. Two, probably, but not one.
I have a feeling that I'm still not explaining this well, and it's possible that my logic is faulty besides, but this is as good as I can do for right now: the Open Letter wasn't meant to describe the business as a whole, as a review would do; it was intended to compare the business to older versions of itself.
11 (I contacted Yelp late on Monday night; they replied at 1:22 PM Wednesday afternoon.)
12 As far as it goes -- I looked at other sites to see if the same thing might have happened anywhere else, and didn't see anything like that, but if anybody happens to run across anything similar, about Pierson's or anything else, of course I want to know about it. Just for future reference.
I also wish that Pierson's had contacted me about Yelp when they first encountered it, or had contacted me about the post, period. I mean, I know I don't sound particularly interested in a conversation, in the post, and I don't blame them for not doing so or consider it necessarily their responsibility to do so, but nevertheless, I wish they had.