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1997nov06. The 666 Lego Lawyers.

A Special Really Long Missive Which Was Really Easy To Write Because Most Of It Is Someone Else’s Writing, Including Four Lawyers

[Disclaimer: I am not employed by Lego, The Monticello Companies, The Internet Pizza Server, or anyone else mentioned in this article. “LEGO” is a trademark of the LEGO Group, “666” is a trademark of the Monticello companies when used in relation to cough syrup, etc, etc.]

The Internet Pizza Server is a fabulous little site that will deliver virtual pizzas to you, either via email or instantly via the “World Wide Web” (leave it to a bunch of programmers, swimming in a sea of acronyms, to pick the only letter in the alphabet that has three syllables, and then triple it). You can choose from a variety of toppings, including your standard pepperoni, sausage, mushroom; esoteric toppings include things like eyeballs, Altoids®, hammers, Quik®, and firecrackers. And, at one time, LEGOs®. One of the Internet Pizza Server elves apprised me of this topping change via a forwarded letter from Denmark.

To: [an Internet Pizza Server Elf]
Subject: Misc! – Legos
Sensitivity: Company-Confidential

Dear Homepage Owner,

I am a member of the legal department of the LEGO Group.

I have seen Internet Pizza Server Ordering Area on your web site.

We should like to draw to your attention the fact that the LEGO Group has a wide range of intellectual property rights, including trademark protection worldwide for the LEGO trademark. The LEGO Group has invested considerable amounts of time and resources into creating and developing its intellectual property rights and, as you will appreciate, protecting those rights against any unauthorized use.

I therefore ask that you kindly refrain from using our trademark.

I look forward to receiving your confirmation that you will delete “Legos” from your web site.

Best regards,
The LEGO Foundation [a LEGO Group lawyer]
Legal Department

Fight fire with fire, I’ve always said (you can quote me). I contacted two of my friends who are also lawyers, and they were kind enough to send along free legal advice to the elves.

To: [Elf #1]

Hello my friend.

Below are the initial comments from my Other Lawyer Friends vis-a-vis your situation.

My advice to you, after reading all this legal goo, is to definitely contact Tyco and ask them for written permission to offer Tyco building blocks as a pizza topping. If the letter is framed in a professional manner, and you offer them the option of having a pertinent disclaimer displayed wherever the building blocks appear, they will probably bite. Why Tyco and not LEGO?

1) You’ve already got off on the wrong foot with LEGO.

2) I recall reading about a construction project in New York City that was dressed up with giant Tyco blocks/people during the construction phase. It turned out that the designers involved contacted LEGO first, and Lego declined. Tyco was contacted second, and was happy to lend permission.

However, the construction project was a self-contained unit, and had a starting/ending date. Once you (theoretically) receive permission from Tyco, what’s to stop you from grouping the Tyco blocks with other repugnant toppings, like eyeballs or cutesy-wutesy little tiny kitten heads? The very thought makes me cringe.

Or, conversely, name the WHOLE SITE the Internet LEGO Pizza Server, make little pizza guys out of Legos and all the toppings will be different lego bricks including that wired-up computer brick so your pizza might just roll off your table and over to some other customer and start gnawing his leg with one of the LEGO Biting Building Kits you’ve undoubtedly seen at Toys We Be.

And now, comments by My First Lawyer Friend™.

Let me preface any remarks I might (or might not) make by saying that by responding to your question I am not engaging in the “Practice of Law.” The state bar of Michigan has made it quite clear that until they get around to sending me my credit card sized certificate of authenticity, actually practicing law will get me in a world of trouble.

So instead of responding directly to the facts as you presented them, I have assumed a hypothetical situation which closely mirrors the situation you described. Significantly, the word LEGOs has been changed (to LEGGOs) to protect the innocent.

“LEGGO” IS A VALID TRADEMARK
Although I did not check with the PTO (Patent and Trademark Office) in Washington D.C., I believe that “LEGGO” is a registered Trademark in the United States. They use the classic circle R on their packaging. The U.S., as a signatory to the Paris Convention, affords protection to intellectual property without regard to national origin. So although “LEGGOs” may not be of American origin, it may be (and indeed appears to be) protected by American Trademark Law.

PARODY IS PROTECTED, MERE HUMOROUS USE IS NOT
I have not been able to access the alleged (hypothetically) infringing use of the LEGGO mark, so I can not address the issue of whether this particular (hypothetical) use is protected under the doctrine of “Parody” or not. In general to qualify as parody, the use of the mark must comment either directly or indirectly on the subject matter of the mark. Courts have been willing to go great lengths to find parody. The Supreme Court held that 2 Live Crew’s recording of “Pretty Woman” was a comment on the blandness and banality of the original recording. Similarly, Spy magazine’s use of the distinctive black on yellow Cliff’s Note design was held to be protected as a parody of the original subject matter. There are limits on this doctrine. Mutual of Omaha successfully sued for infringement against a defendant who printed and sold t-shirts bearing the slogan “Mutant of Omaha” under a parody of Mutual’s mark. Therefore, if LEGGO’s mark is being used to make a comment about LEGGOs, it is protected by the 1st Amendment. If not, the use is probably infringing.

DAMAGE TO TRADEMARKS IS EASY TO PROVE
Without going into unnecessary detail, let me say that it is extremely easy to establish damages once trademark infringement is established. Beyond injunctive relief, the court may assess a variety of damage awards. While punitive damages are unlikely to be awarded in a (hypothetical) situation such as this, it is not beyond the realm of possibilities to imagine a court awarding the successful plaintiff attorney’s fees, or even an award for dilution of the mark.

KNOW YOUR ENEMY
LEGGOS are not know for being the most litigious company in the universe (that title goes to DIZNEY), but they are not above filing a silly lawsuit. They have sued (unsuccessfully) to protect their proprietary interest in plastic blocks with 8 knobs on top. On the other hand, just because someone (hypothetically) sends a threatening letter doesn’t mean that the author has the authority (or intention) to take action.

I wish I had something more encouraging to tell you. Perhaps my years spent in law school have just made me too pessimistic. Let me know if there are any further developments.

This ends the comments made by My First Lawyer Friend™. Batteries sold separately. Lawyer costume included with My First Lawyer Friend™ does not enable wearer to fly. We now continue this block transmission with comments from My Second Lawyer Friend™.

Dear Jeff,

You have asked me about a CND letter that the Internet Pizza Server received from (apparently) someone in the Legos legal department. I have a number of comments about this.

But first, please indulge a few disclaimers. I have not been retained by you or by the friendly elves behind the Internet Pizza Server. I do not represent anyone in this situation. What I am about to say is not intended to take the place of consultation with legal counsel, and in fact I encourage anyone in this situation to seek independent counsel. I am making these comments only with a view towards education. My comments do not constitute legal advice, unless, of course, someone pays for it.

Okay.

Disturbing as this concept is to the creative spirit with no intent to hurt or profit, LEGO has every right to determine who uses its trademarks and how. That right is part of the bundle of rights that go along with having a trademark. It doesn’t matter whether any income is involved; it doesn’t matter that someone using the trademark isn’t getting any tangible benefit at all. The only thing that matters is whether a person using a trademark has permission to use it. If he/she/it doesn’t have permission, the trademark owner is completely entitled to stop the unauthorized use. In fact, the trademark owner may have to take action to stop any unauthorized use. If the owner lets one trademark violation slide, for whatever reason, someone who violates it later could point to the earlier unauthorized use and claim that the owner hasn’t been enforcing its rights and has waived them. This is why every once in a while Xerox embarks on an advertising campaign reminding the general public that “Xerox” is a registered trademark and not a verb.

It is not safe to assume that a European company does not have the right to enforce its trademark in the United States. If the European company is marketing its product here, you can rest pretty assured that the company went to the trouble of registering the trademark in the United States. (Just look at the product. If the name has R in a circle, it’s registered here.)

It’s also worth mentioning that LEGO’s letter is extremely mild and polite, in this scheme of things.

Requesting permission to use the trademark is one appropriate response to LEGO’s demand (by for example offering advertising in return for the right to use the image and name.) If Lego doesn’t want to grant permission, an appropriate response (if avoiding further complications and possible litigation is a goal) would be to comply with the request and remove the use of the name. Renaming the item “Leggo” would be baiting the situation. Using a generic name would be less inflammatory.

As for whether to make a preemptive move affecting other toppings in which someone might hold a trademark – it’s a judgment call. It all depends on the level of comfort the elves have with receiving and dealing with legal correspondence.

[ ... ]

Thus endeth the lesson.

You may quote me. No tomatoes or eggshells, please.

These letters were perused by the elves, and, after large amounts of highly litigious, hilarious email volleys (not reprinted here), were followed by action. The “LEGOS” offered on the topping page was changed, with understood reluctance, to “non-name interlocking building bricks.” Elf #1 then forwarded a personal observation:

So how come you are friends with TWO DIFFERENT LAWYERS? Hmmmmm? Is your soul black and crusty like cajun catfish?

More than two, my friend. More than two.

My final suggestion to the elves now at press time is to perhaps move away from the virtually dangerous “non-name interlocking building bricks” to the new safe “Candy Blox” (manufactured by Concord Confecting of Ontario, Canada) brand edible interlocking building bricks, via a shining, perfect Letter of Topping Request. The bricks look just like you-know-who, as well. Except for the color. But who'd want to eat a bright yellow/red/blue/black building brick?

Last word: Elf #1 sent me a cease-and-desist-inspired poem during the CND mail volleys. Are there any sort of legal ramifications if a poem contains a trademarked brand name? Let’s find out.

Electric Legoland
=================
Plastic yellow smiling faces
Policeman, Fireman, Lawyer
Daddy wears the wrong hat
Beware the Danish menace

A few years ago, I ran an article in X Magazine written by Doc. It was a verbatim transcription of a call he made to the Monticello Companies, asking about their oddly-named cough syrup, “666.” Later, this was put on the web site (it is now here: What Damage Control is Like When the Name of Your Product Is “666"). Then Doc received this letter a few weeks ago.

Doc,

I am writing to you on behalf of The Monticello Companies, Inc., manufactures of 666 band cold products. The Monticello Companies, Inc. has undergone a major change in management since the interaction you had with the company. While the 666 brand name does present some marketing challenges, it’s has a long history and a strong brand recognition in it’s traditional markets.

The product name was very innocent in its origin. Eighty-nine years ago Monticello first made a quinine medicine for high fever and malaria. The first order was written on an order tab with the number 666. The product worked. People asked for the product by its order number and it started to be called “that 666 product.”The name 666 stuck, and as Monticello created more products, they also became part of the 666 family. It was not until about 15 years ago when the movie “The Omen” was released, that the numbers by themselves came to have an evil context. Monticello had not answered ten questions about the name during the 70 years of its existence up until that point. However, it was always Monticello’s belief that the mark of the beast “666,” was not evil unless it was written on human skin. According to the bible, if this number was put on your skin it would show you had given up your Christianity and been marked for identification.

The new Monticello team takes its role very seriously. The quality products they produce are priced well below nationally advertised brands, thus providing high-quality products at large saving for their consumers. Monticello counts heavily on the brand recognition it has built and it’s reputation for producing quality products. The management team feels that articles like yours undermine their efforts, and as so are requesting that you remove the page (and links) from your site in addition to any other know on-line versions of the article. In addition to undermining the product-line, the article also offended the team, they have a lot of pride in the products, the company and the long family history they represent.

If you would like, I could arrange to have a member of the management team contact you to discuss this further. Please let me now if you have any questions, and advise me of what action you'll be taking.

Thank you, [a Monticello lawyer]

Doc’s reply follows (See? What did I tell you? This writing thing is a cakewalk).

Mr. [a Monticello lawyer],

Rather than draft something from scratch, I'll respond in accepted Net form, by responding to your letter part by part.

>While the 666 brand name does present some marketing
>challenges,

That you admit this makes me almost certain that you will understand exactly what I’m about to say.

>The product name was very innocent in its origin.

I don’t doubt that--but neither does anyone who reads my piece, which they all immediately recognize as a work of humor (as I’m sure you do, too).

>It was not until about 15 years ago when the movie “The Omen"
>was released, that the numbers by themselves came to have an evil
>context.

That is not the case at all, Mr. K. Do you believe David Seltzer (the writer of The Omen, which was in fact released in 1976), pulled the number 666 out of the air? Surely you must know that since its inclusion in the Apocalypse of John the Revelator (the last book in the Bible), the number 666 has had an almost 2,000-year history of connoting evil, in every land in which the Bible gained wide distribution.

>However, it
>was always Monticello’s belief that the mark of the beast “666,” was not
>evil unless it was written on human skin. According to the bible, if
>this number was put on your skin it would show you had given up your
>Christianity and been marked for identification.

I am a little nonplussed by this. You write as if you believe that people do not recognize humor when they see it. Surely you don’t think your customers are as stupid as I pretend to be in the article, do you? Do you really believe that people who see my web site will think they’ll be somehow marked by evil if they partake of your product(s)?

>The management team feels that articles like yours undermine their
>efforts,

I am surprised you do not credit your customers with more intelligence. I wonder whether you haven’t heard the old advertising / PR saying, “all publicity is good publicity, as long as they spell your name correctly"--or words to that effect. (Even though one can’t technically “spell” 666, you understand what I mean.)

>and as so are requesting that you remove the page (and links) from your
>site in addition to any other know on-line versions of the article. In
>addition to undermining the product-line, the article also offended the
>team, they have a lot of pride in the products, the company and the long
>family history they represent.

Certainly no offense was intended--I just think it’s funny that anybody would market products using a brand name that for two millenia of Western religious history has signified the ultimate evil. And to judge by my mail, people who read the cough syrup piece have the same reaction: they think it’s funny. The only way for you to avoid that reaction would be to change the name of the product. Did you know that here in my state, highway 666 had to change its name and be recommissioned under another number because of adverse public reaction? (As an aside, six years ago I produced a calendar that included a humorous photograph of a Highway 666 sign. It may interest you to know that I received no complaints from the Highway Department.) At all events, my interest in your cough syrup was purely humorous. I would hope that you and those you represent will learn to take it--and this e-mail--in that spirit.

>If you would like, I could arrange to have a member of the management
>team contact you to discuss this further.

Please feel free to forward my e-mail address to any management personnel who wants it.

>Please let me now if you have
>any questions, and advise me of what action you'll be taking.

I hate to have to tell you this, but I believe I am fully within my rights to leave the story on my website. I hate to have to tell you this because you, as a lawyer, should be fully aware of the Constitutional guarantee of free speech, and the Supreme Court ruling that humor and parody are included within the legal definition of free speech. (To refresh your memory, you can rent the film The People vs. Larry Flynt, a film I wouldn’t ordinarily recommend, because it stinks. Not that I’d ever try to censor it, or anything. . . .)

I would, however, be happy to add a disclaimer to the article, stating the non-participation--or even disapproval--of The Monticello Companies, Inc. (If you like, I'll remove the graphics that depict your product. But then I’d have to come up with other graphics, and, given the subject matter, I really don’t think you’d want that.) I would even be willing to include your contact information (web URL, e-mail, snail mail). In fact, I think if you approached your brand name situation by showing good sense and good humor (or should that be Good Humor[TM]?), you could even turn it to your benefit. Remember the Smucker’s jelly ads? “With a name this bad, it has to be good!”

Your product is called “666,” for God’s sake--think of the possibilities!

Cordially, Doc

This 666 saga is probably not over. Perhaps we can get together with the Internet Pizza Server elves and come up with a new topping.

Just the other day, I received a piece of mail from Fluxzine, located out in Vancouver, Canada [box 3655 v6b 3y8]. The person who runs Fluxzine also creates stamps. These include Elvis, Jimi Hendrix, Cuban poet Jose Marti, and the Mona Lisa. His most recent creation is his “Mondo Post” stamp of a newspaper featuring a picture of Lady Di, surrounded by two columns of commentary on the “media feeding frenzy” of her death. The stamp that’s on the Fluxzine envelope has black ink smeared all over it; the other three stamps remain untouched.

Was this package censored by the Canadian government? The American government? A bored Canadian postal worker, flexing his or her individual discretionary big fat marker-wielding muscle [yes, of course I meant that the postal worker’s actual muscle is wielding the marker]? But the more interesting question I have here is how exactly do neighboring countries handle international mail? Do they make sure it gets across the border ASAP, or do they carry it as far as they can in their country? Makes you think, doesn’t it? Doesn’t it?

So, in the end, I ask you: when they come to take away your humor, your writing, your factual accounts, your art, and your commentary, are you going to be ready? Are you going to stand tall? Are you still reading this???

1997nov06. Slovakia 2006: A Study in Courage

Sparky™
Unofficial mascot, 2006 Olympics – Slovakia

Courage. Commitment. Quality. Dedication. Sparky™ stands for all of this and more, but what are the humble, touching origins of this mighty mascot candidate?

I remember it like it was yesterday ... it all started with an unexpected letter that arrived in the Cardhouse mail bag ...

From: <[someone]@ru.internet.sk>
To:
Subject: competitionMr. Kalisky,
Date: Sat, 20 Sep 1997 19:01:12 +0200

Mr. ,

We want to you, to support our project. This project is oriented for publicating of Slovakia candidature for Winter Olympic Games 2006. We are organisiing a competition for this project. So, if you can public our page to potentional people, who can help us. All informations about this project you can find on the following url. We are waiting for your answer.

Yours sincerely

Brontvay Zdeno, Dr.

http://www.isnet.sk/cllas/start.htm

I don’t think that just showing the URL to potentional people is enough for the country of Slovakia. Hosting an Olympic event is a great responsibility, and I want to help. So I’m thinking, Slovakia, old flame ... Slovakia, flame ... who’s Mr. Kalisky, anyway ... flame ... and then ... brainstorm.

Dr. Zdeno:

I am sending your Slovakia candidature web page URL to over 300 people in the next day or two.

I understand that taking on a Olympic hosting is a Herculean event. To further your cause, I have designed, especially for you, an Olympic mascot that you may use in the 2006 Games if you pay me. You may view a preliminary version of this mascot at [this URL].

Slovakia 2006!

Yours, Jeff Stendec

Dr. Zdeno just replied to my letter with a reassuring “O.K. very good!” The wheels are in motion, my friend. The first official act of “Sparky™,” the Olympic mascot I have created, will be to kick the sad asses of “Cobi™” (1992) and “Whatzit™” (1996), respectively. Burn on, eternal Olympic Flame®! Burn on!

“Sparky”
Preliminary Study for Slovakian 2006 Olympic Candidature

1997nov12. Cheap Date.

The article below was originally commissioned by an online concern; writers in various cities were asked to go out on a date, mix it up, and keep the tab under twenty bucks.

The Windy City. The Big Apple. The Twin Cities. Detroit is known by many names, and is my home. Well, not really. I’ve lived in different outlying suburbs all of my life; while I’m cooped up in my apartment, weeks can go by between visits to the city. This assignment seemed like the perfect time for Detroit and myself to come to terms with each other. The city is now in its formative rebuilding period; in a bizarre example, Detroit was recently host to the world’s largest moving project. The Gem Theatre, weighing in at 2,700 tons, was moved five blocks in a couple of weeks to make room for a new behemoth sports complex. Immediately to the South, Windsor seduces tourists with its completely different monetary system and casinos to relieve you of this very same money. Between this and Detroit’s brand-new slogan (“It’s a great time in Detroit”), other lesser U.S. cities don’t stand a chance. Let’s wait here while they fight.

Okay! Detroit wins! My partner in this city tour is a lovely lass who doesn’t go by the name “Samantha,” but let’s call her that anyway. Sam’s got a spunky sense of humor that warms my heart. A good thing, because on the day of our cheap date, southeast Michigan is slowly being buried under a blanket of that big, fluffy type of snow you see only in movies.

If you want to get anywhere in Detroit, you’re going to support your local economy by taking a car or two. Mine’s got a pair of dead windshield wipers, so we’re off to Murray’s, the huge auto-parts shop where all the “hep” teens hang out hoping to score. Sam voices a serious concern.

“Are they going to have any food there?”
On our arrival, we are pleasantly shocked to discover that Murray’s stocks, among the more common snacks, an officially-licensed food product of the Ford Motor Company called “Car Cookies.” At a dollar, Sam cannot resist. She also has trouble resisting other things, as I watch her stuffing a sign for motor-parts accessories (“HELP!® Is Here”) into her pocket.
“Is that free?"
“I sure hope so.”

The old wiper blades resist any sort of attempt at removal, and the movie snow is going into overdrive. The instructions included with the new blades are icon-based and are incomprehensible to both of us. Desperately hungry, we drive off without any improvement in wiper technology. While hurtling through the suburbs, Sam reads the box of Car Cookies.

If you find that any of our Car Cookies have been in an accident during shipping, just drive them into your mouth for a quick and satisfying repair, but be sure not to drive more than one Car Cookie into your mouth at the same time.
Our real food stop is the middle-Eastern Pita Cafe restaurant. The decor is subdued and almost looks more fitting for a smoking room, but the food is cheap and mighty filling. Unsure of how much more money we'll need for the night, we skip the delicious natural lemonade ($2 a glass), wolf down a sandwich apiece and split a garlic spread side between us totaling 7.80 with tip.

Onward! To Detroit! But first, let’s spend another five minutes failing to install the new wipers. Now onward! (To Detroit!)

“Omigod! This Car Cookie has been in an accident!”
Sam immediately drives it into her mouth as we pull up to the Heidelberg Project (313 537 8037). In 1986, Detroit artist Tyree Guyton became tired of drug dealers using an abandoned house on his street for drops, so he painted it. In polka dots. Then another house. Then yards. The street. More houses. Found art items, anything and everything including traffic lights, shopping carts, boats and a bus, were either painted, nailed to the houses or trees, or both. The city of Detroit gave Tyree the “Spirit of Detroit” award in 1991 and then, in a stunning lack of inter-departmental communication, demolished four of the art buildings [update: the city is about to tear the whole thing down again]. A large number of people have since volunteered their time to build Heidelberg back up, and it keeps on growing. An entire city block of living art.

If I had been a kid when I first saw this, my head would have exploded. Right now, however, a light blanket of snow is hiding some of the art, like the field of painted shoes. Sam likes the stuffed animal tree. Most of the animals have faded to gray and the whole thing sort of scares me. I’m a lot more excited about the numbers house – an abandoned house festooned with all sorts of big number signs. Our block tour ends next to a human figure made entirely of plumbing pipes. We'll have to come back in the summer.

While I’m giving Sam an informal tour of the city (“There’s the big, big fist”), she spots the “Tunnel to Canada” sign and suggests we go. I’m a pushover for foreign countries. Sam informs me that she doesn’t have any identification on her. Earlier in the decade, during some skirmish between the Ambassador Bridge customs agents and unknown aggressors, they became complete hard-asses, asking every single person to show identification. I’ve been taking the tunnel ever since, even though the bridge people have lightened up considerably. However, if you do try to sneak in or out of Canada without I.D., you’re looking at an Immigration Office wait of anywhere between ten minutes to four hours (but it’s FREE!). We’re not even across the border, and we’re already gambling. We cross without incident, less two American dollars.

I notice that there’s Waterford crystal available at the duty-free shop, and it occurs to me that I have no idea where we’re going. The big cheap Zen date. Sam spots a Value Village in a strip mall, and we’re immediately sliding across a few parking lots to attack it. Yes, Canadian trinkets! No, they've just closed! Sam then whirls around and locks onto Big “D” Bingo (519 969 2443). Sam informs me that she used to be a bingo caller in a St. Louis VFW Hall, but we’re both scratching our heads when we enter. How does one ... bingo? Asking the working teenage girls roaming the aisles with bingo cards seems sensible, but their answers, most along the lines of “I don’t know,” do not. The hall is packed with mostly older cigarette-wielding females. A sedate male reads off bingo numbers in a bizarre sleepy sine wave cadence that Sam and I have perfected after two minutes, even though we don’t understand half of it.

“Okay, single line is closed, double line is now open, the prize is eighty dollars. Let’s go ... O-73 ... N-33 ... G-51 ... ”
Luckily, there are two distinct visual aids in the form of a large bingo board named “Autotronic 6000,” and a television showing an extreme close-up of the next ball to be read. A number of companion bingo boards (“Autotronic 7000/5000”) are strategically placed throughout the hall. A young male scoops up used bingo cards off the tables and throws them into his rolling garbage can. Eventually, Sam gives four strong US dollars to a man wheeling around what can only be termed a bingo cart, and gets ten sheets of paper with three bingo boards on each of them. After more queries, we discover we’ve bought into the 7:30pm round, a half-hour away. Looks like it’s time for a bingo break.

Our strip mall wandering finds us outside a closed drug store named “The Bi-Way,” and then into a supermarket looking for products with odd French translations. After seeing me taking a picture of a drink named “Gassosa,” a clerk asks me if there is “something you didn’t like?” I assure him that I am not a Canadian shelf-stocking inspector while Sam wisely beats feet for the next aisle. Among our scientific findings, the raisin-flavored soda and “Captaine Crounche” cereal are easily trumped by “Passion Flakies,” a cream/apple/raspberry snack cake. The half-hour melts away and we’re back in the hall, ready to bingo.

For our session, the caller is a woman. She has the same cadence to her voice, but we can make out most of what she’s saying. Sam buys a Marqueur De Bingo for $1.50 (USD). We’re playing for AMERICA. The caller blows through ten “zip” games at double-speed before getting to our card; this is what we should have bought into, at half the price and half the time. Without much fanfare, we’ve moved into our ten-round set. Sam gets to mark the cards; my job is to double-check Sam’s work, fold the bingo sheets, and hide them from the roving eyes of Garbage Lad. Applying some of our new-found bingo knowledge, I secure a copy of the official House Rules from the bingo matron. Sam makes an observation.

“People in St. Louis had small shrines set up, trolls and such for good luck, nobody seems to have anything here ... “
“Maybe they’re cracking down ... “

The games go by quickly, and include several different variants; forming two lines, an “X,” a “T,” etc. The “cover the entire board” variant is a fascinating exercise in tediousness, but we’re both laughing through the whole thing. It’s my turn to make an observation.
“You know, we could have probably just used a pen to mark the card.”
“I don’t want to hear about it ... you obviously didn’t read House Rule number seven.”

7.) A bingo dabber must be used, and all numbers called must be marked and clearly visible on all card faces.

I quickly apologize to Sam for doubting her. She’s probably not hot for me anymore, dammit to hell.

The bingo round has entered the “Super Jackpot” round, a buy-in event that’s too rich for our blood. They’re in the middle of the cover-all-squares portion, when, suddenly ... tragedy. The Autotronic 6000 is no longer functioning. During Super Jackpot! The tension level in the room mounts. The caller misreads a ball and several people immediately shout back “G-53!!!” A bingo representative makes a half-hearted attempt to fix the board. The bingo matron approaches the microphone to make an announcement:

“We’ve got someone coming in, the machine is locked, but we want to keep the bingo going, so we’re going to do it manually.”

That’s when I notice on the House Rules sheet that this bingo parlour is open “24 hours a day, 7 days a week.” Keep that bingo coming! Sam wants to know if we can use any winnings to continue the cheap date, but twenty losing minutes later, the question is moot.

As we’re leaving, the bingo caller is switched again. This time, it’s the Ontario-wide televised bingo game “Superstar Bingo,” with a grand prize of $25,000 (Canadian). I snap a quick picture of a Autotronic 5000/3000 board and the bingo matron shoots a quizzical/perturbed look at me.

10.) Obscenities or any other disturbances will not be tolerated in the hall. That person will be asked to leave.

“Run, Sam! The bingo lady saw me taking a picture!”

With gas and the return tunnel fare already figured into our total, we end up spending the remainder of the twenty bucks on donuts and a game of Fish Tales pinball (75 cents Canadian) at Tilt, a small Canadian arcade/pool hall. A very special episode of Le Jenny McCarthy Show blares at us from a nearby TV.

Like most of the dates I’ve been on, this one possessed romantical complications that are beyond the scope of this article.