A Sulky Preteen Goes to Washington, D.C.

My 8th grade travel diary

Hi friends!

GREAT news, I found the scrapbook I had to make in eighth grade that documented our trip to Washington, D.C., and I have brought you some highlights to enjoy while I work on the rest of my Dallas travelogues. This diary makes me laugh because a) I was a hostile little shit head clearly doing the bare minimum at the last minute, and b) I ended up becoming a historian, and my burgeoning skepticism about the project of American exceptionalism is hilariously evident.

I hated the trip, probably because I didn’t have any friends, so it just meant, like, getting bullied with a change of scenery. Also, it was right around the first anniversary of my dad’s death, so I was probably, um, acting out. Sometimes you don’t realize that people are treating you with generosity while it’s happening!!!

Anyway, enjoy the following selections from my 1996 travelogue, and keep them in mind when planning your OWN trip to our nation’s capital!!!

The cover is adorned with a view of the Mall from the Washington Monument and … a photo of the IRS building. Inside the front cover, you’ll find the rating system key.

Here we go!

Site 1: Embassy Row

Rating: 3 stars

Zagat commentary: How can a place on foreign soil be part of another country? It makes no sense, but it is pretty cool … [Point taken. Nation-states are a figment of the social imagination.] Embassies are cool. They all bring their own country’s culture in, and you can see it in the building design … [I don’t think this is true?] I didn’t know where were SO MANY EMBASSIES!

Site 2: The White House

Rating: 1.5 stars

Zagat commentary: Doesn’t mean very much to me … You see the White House so often in the news that it’s become boring … has no real meaning to me as a sight in our nation’s capital.

[Jean Baudrillard: The simulacrum is never that which conceals the truth—it is the truth which conceals that there is none. The simulacrum is true.]

Sight 3: The National Archives

Rating: 2.5 stars

Zagat commentary: So many people think that it [American history? the Constitution?] is totally inaccessible to the average citizen … If only they knew about the National Archives!

Sight 4: The U.S. Capitol Building

Rating: 2.5 stars

Zagat commentary: Saw where our futures as law-abiding citizens were really being formed … [Were we filming “Scared Straight: American Democracy”?????] I liked seeing the House of Representatives gallery. You see it so often on television; it was interesting to see it in person [Wait, I thought we were cynical about the hyperreal?]

Sight 6: Bureau of Printing & Engraving

Rating: 1 star

Zagat commentary: I didn’t like this sight very much. I don’t really like money very much [sksksksksksksk] and the technicalities of its production disinterested me … I did like … the alarms on the ceilings [always interested in the surveillance state] and learning about the replacement star bills [*].

Sight 7: Ford’s Theatre and Petersen House

Rating: 3.5 stars

Zagat commentary: … Always wondered what it looked like (the room where Lincoln died) … It was interesting to see where he drew his last breaths. [Seeing the place where a U.S. president died was “fun.” Sure, ok.]

Sight 8: The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Rating: 3 stars

I am Jewish but attended a Catholic school, so I think I was probably preening about being on home turf, as it were.

Zagat commentary: .The children's tile wall told the story of the Holocaust with the innocence and deep contemplation only children could have. I loved it. I cried because I really felt that something was being done to combat hate in our world ... I didn't like [the Daniel's Story exhibit] much, though ... I've actually read the book, and this was nothing in comparison. [Like any good Jewish gal raised in the Reform movement, I was exceptionally well versed in middle-grade books about the Holocaust.]

Sight 11: The Lincoln Memorial and the Jefferson Memorial

Rating: 4 stars

Zagat commentary: Absolutely lovely … Masterpieces in marble … Great homages to great men.

Sight 11b: The Korean and Vietnam War Memorials

Rating: 4 stars

Zagat commentary: Very pretty … Offered sorrowful thoughts and were beautifully designed memorials … Spoke without saying a word. They said, “War is terrible even for your own country. It stinks.” That is the real story. Not of bravery, but of fear. Excellent.


Sight 12: Arlington National Cemetery

Rating: 4 stars

I won a class essay contest to participate in a wreath ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which is why this was my favorite part of the trip. I cheated. My mom wrote the essay. I wrote about it in 2014 for Pacific Standard.

Zagat commentary: A great way to honor those who died. Also,

Sight 13: Air and Space Museum

Rating: 1.5 stars

Zagat commentary: I was tired … and wanted to get on the bus and leave.

Final Thoughts:

Zagat commentary: Not going to be remembered as a great time. At least by me. [No fuckin’ shit, kid.]

Hi, I’m Jacqui! You can read my work here, find me on Twitter, or email wellactually@substack.com. If you’d like to see more of my weird shit, consider upgrading to a paid subscription; code 9e497643 will get you 20% off.

Relics from your past to consider when you're cleaning out your godforsaken storage unit in Berkeley, CA

Fastest way to regret every single one of your life choices

Greetings from Berkeley, where I’m cleaning out a storage unit I rented eleven years ago. I don’t recommend it! (I don’t recommend Berkeley; I don’t recommend renting a storage unit; I don’t recommend leaving that storage unit untouched for eleven years.)


I did find all of the little books and stories I wrote in elementary school, and I wanted to share one with you: my 1992 story “Him!” It is best described as—well, let’s let 1992 Jacqui tell you:

As you can see, the artist (me) has adorned the cover with (from top center, clockwise: a folder labeled RECOVERY ASYLUM—Confidential; a knife (sword? knife.); a folder labored RENO POLICE RECORD—Confidential1; a Wanted poster for one Mark Fisher, a devious-looking brunette with scraggly facial hair; a tape recorder; the front page of the Reno Times, headlined ATTEMPTED MURDER; and a shopping bag from the Gap.

Well! This is all quite mysterious, no??? Who is this Mark Fisher? Ahh, I see:

Let’s crack the cover on this “entierly fictional” semi-mystery, shall we?

A bold in media res opening scene: our main character, Aimee, is speaking with a mystery figure who is calling from a pay phone (either he said so, or there is some omniscient third person mixed in here). The mystery man would like to help her buy a birthday gift for her mother, a task she had apparently struggled with! “So he wasn’t like all the others, giving ‘helpful’ suggestions” without offering real help.

His manner was “brisque.” He suggested a rendezvous at the Burger King the following evening, then hung up. “Weird!” our heroine says. “I don’t think he ever knew my mom, like he said.” Is this foreshadowing???

“Tomorrow” actually meant “today,” apparently. One quick lie to her mother, and she’s off to the Burger King at the mall, where we find her … hiding in a plant. “I had, as I entered the mall, just then, considered the consequences,” she tells us, so she is scoping out the mysterious stranger.

SIXTEEN! Flirts with girls at Burger King! Though he seems to be a scrub, she doesn’t “waste a second,” but sidles out from behind the plant. Totally normal.

She interrupts his “flirting” to introduce herself, but “Mark’s face had a befuddled look on his face.”2 He doesn’t seem to know who she is. When he remembers, however, the look of befuddlement turns into a “sinister smile.” HMMMMMMM.

As soon as they get to her mom’s “favorite store” (the Gap, I guess), he kisses her! Like any good womyn living under patriarchy, she doesn’t protest. “Oh, well!” Perhaps she should have, however:

Mark has grabbed her and is holding a knife to her neck. “Stop kidding around!” she cries. Mark, we learn, is not kidding around, but wants to put her into “real danger.” I think this means that he wants to RAPE her!!!!!! Wait, no, I didn’t know anything about the concept of sexual assault or even the word “rape,” so this is probably an attempted murder.

Luckily, a good Samaritan intercedes, and the day is saved!

Aimee has accidentally married Mark!!!!!!! “I didn’t know who he really was, but I had my suspicions,” as “he talked to alot of detectives and cops.” There are no plants in the marital home, so she hides behind a door and eavesdrops.

“Mr. Fisher, have you ever shoplifted?”

“No, sir. I haven’t.”

“Been imprisoned? Killed anyone? Attempted murder?”3

“Yes, no, no.” I knew he was lying.

She knew he was lying. Did she know he’d done a stint in the bing bing? Also a question the narrative leaves unanswered. Satisfied, the detective leaves.

LUCKILY, she has the cold, hard evidence the detective had been seeking. She "had “taped Mark talking to someone about his murdering”! Mark, perhaps understandably, “wouldn’t answer any questions for me,” so she does “the next best thing”: call her mother-in-law. The dear woman tells the truth. Mark is “an escaped mental case” with “a filthy dirty record.” Aimee “obtained copies of all of this.” (This is very Line of Duty, right? Just collecting the evidence and putting it in carefully labeled folders.)

The next part is a bit confusing. There is enough evidence for a “case against Mark” but it’s Steve who’s being charged. Or Steve was charged? Who is Steve? Well, he’s Aimee’s client: “I was gladly a lawyer (my real profession) for Steve, my rescuer.” Ah! These charges stem from the Mall Incident. When was Steve charged? Why was Steve charged? Was it that he had tried to kill Mark, or was it just that a CRIME had been done and someone had to be held ACCOUNTABLE? (How could Aimee not have known that she had married her attacker?)

In a dramatic courtroom scene, Aimee confronts her husband. “When a baliff asked me which of the two did the dirty deeds, I undauntedly lifted a finger and pointed at Mark. ‘Him!’ I cried, loudly.”

Whew! Now for the denouement. “Now I’m married to Steve,” Aimee says. (Did she know who Steve was when she met him?) She’s also a private eye who knows self-defense. Now that she’s “pretty well off” and doing the work she loves with the man she loves beside her, Aimee has taken time to write this “editorial.” It’s a reminder:

That was a doozy, huh? I was, and I cannot stress this enough, nine years old when I wrote this. Where did I get all of this information from?? Maybe Unsolved Mysteries? Anyway, I got an A+: “Wow, what a story! A great lesson at the end too! Your illustrations are super! Very well done!”

I found a lot of other amazing and questionable material in the storage unit, which I’ll save for another occasion. In the meantime, please forward this email to a friend if you’d like, and if you want to upgrade to a paid subscription, go ahead and smash that button.

I left comments open if you would like to leave one. Please tell me about your own youthful literary efforts.

Love you, mean it!


I have never, ever been to Reno.


Editors are very important!!!!


Wow, that escalated quickly!

Things to do in Dallas when you're bailing your brother out of jail, Part I

Visit Delta Bail Bonds, a local small business

I. *record scratch* *freeze frame*

You’re probably wondering how I ended up here.

I went to Dallas, as the title says, to bail my brother out of jail. (His bond amount may have been decided in as little as 15 seconds!) I’m an aggressive positive reframer who makes her own fun, so I decided to write about it for you. This technically makes it a business trip, and therefore tax-deductible. Making lemonade out of lemons!

II. How does one possibly choose???

I began my task, as anyone might, by Googling “Dallas bail bond.” Wow, there are a lot of bond agencies. So many … vibrant and … descriptive names. The names fall into three categories. They either start with the letter A or with numerals (AAA Atlas, 1st Call, A EZ Out—little regard for grammar here); invoke a little Wild West cosplay (Cowboy Bail Bonds, Doc’s, Ranger, Bad Boy, Rebel); or include adjectives for speed or haste (Exit Now, Fast Action, Express, Immediate).

The logos are ludicrous:

How to choose?? Are they really all that different? I picked the agency with the best logo, least obvious name, and most dignified color scheme:

III. Signs, signification, semiotics, (web)sites

In my search for a reputable establishment at which to conduct my transaction, I learned a lot about the aesthetics of bail agency websites. Delta’s uses a shade of green I find very pleasant, while most of the others go hard for the ol’ red, white, and blue. Some of the websites hew to the Geocities/Impact font aesthetic, but even those with a Squarespace vibe use a lot of stock photos. What are those stock photos? Glad you asked!

A search for “bail” reveals two dominant visual idioms.1 The first is tableaus composed of handcuffs, gavels, and cash. My favorite: handcuffs and a gavel fashioned from a roll of hundos.  The second is exterior bond agency signage, heavy on the classic neon (this one was shot in Dallas! Neat!)2 

“Arrest” overwhelmingly returns photos of disembodied hands in handcuffs; sometimes the hands are being released from the cuffs, a metaphor, I suppose, for the work of the bail agent. The hands are almost always white.3  

Other common idioms include disembodied hands grasping the bars of a jail cell door; birds soaring free (I see what u did there, Jailbirds Bail Bonds); Anguished White Guy in Orange Jumpsuit; the ol’ scales of justice; Friendly and Alert Employee Waiting to Take Your Call; and people shaking hands (representing you and your bondswomyn, I guess?).4

Some sites add more local color—lotta images of the Dallas skyline. A couple take their SEO copy in a weird “tourism blog” direction. My favorite, which comes after a couple of paragraphs about Dallas’s many pleasures, is this: “When you end up on the wrong side of the law, Dallas is also a place that can be confusing, perilous, and intimidating.” There are client testimonials, including this agency’s video testimonial highlight reel.

There’s sometimes a personal touch—low-res photos of employees pretending to work or an exterior shot of the building. The latter is maybe not always a good choice. This one made me think, well, that’s certainly grim! Sure, the entire experience (aesthetic, spiritual) is grim, but have some taste, darling.

Is the sense of chaos here the product of so many different fonts? Is it the LED light strips? Do they zip over to the jail complex on that bicycle? Why no golf cart?

IV. Local color

I don’t know if Ubering to the bail bond agency is unusual or my driver is just a man of limited life experience. Luckily, I’m a proponent of lifelong learning, and I value the opportunity to teach others something new each day.

We’re getting off of one of the many freeways and the driver says, “You know … what … neighborhood you’re going to, right?” (Turn one way and you’re driving into downtown Dallas; turn the other way and … well. Bail bond agencies and a couple of liquor stores line Riverfront Boulevard, just down the street from the criminal justice complex.) Unfortunately, sir, I do. Pull over up there.

That’s where you’re going?” he says. “Really? OK! That seems like a story for another time.”  (A gal of my character and refinement at the bondsthem’s office?? Dear lord!)

“Let’s just say that being the most successful child in my family hasn’t been very rewarding,” I said.

Anyway, the bail bond office! Parked outside is a lil’ magenta golf cart presumably used to zip on over to the criminal justice complex. (I probably wouldn’t have remembered that, but when someone agreed to zip the paperwork over to the court at 11:30 PM, eight hours after it was supposed to be submitted, I imagined them driving the golf cart.5)

There wasn’t much activity. It was 3 PM on a Friday, just after the day’s first big rush. (I choose to believe Google’s popular times data, please don’t take this away from me.6) The Friday morning crowd was comprised, I imagine, of people bailing out their asshole friends who partied too hard on Thursday evening in time to roll out that night.

The scene: Lots of leather chairs held together with duct tape, brown linoleum, weird smell (greasy? stale? desperate? I guess a lot of flop sweat and fearful pheromones are released there). A little like the office at an auto shop, complete with plexiglass, though I’m not sure if that’s a regular feature or a pandemic precaution. There’s a television on top of a soda machine, tuned to a Gunsmoke marathon. The soda machine is covered with a large semi-translucent panel printed with a waterfall scene.7 There’s also a snack machine. (I regret not observing the selection more closely.)

It all seems charmingly local. You know, big “dirtbag entrepreneur” vibes, nice “lowlifes r doin’ it 4 themselves” energy. Get that “Small Business Saturday” feeling by keeping your dollars in the community, etc.

It’s not.

V. The abstract financial instruments behind the curtain

Turns out that the squat brick buildings lining Riverfront all house shitty franchises!8 The bail industry is dominated by nine national and multinational corporations; I could have used almost any bail agency in almost any state, and the same insurer would likely still have been backing the bond.

Six insurers own 27 of the 36 bail bond companies licensed in Dallas County. Delta Bail Bonds, where I transacted my business, is owned by Bankers Surety, which underwrites bond agents in 37 states and claims to be “the country’s largest surety provider to the commercial bail business.” (Bail bonds are also called “surety bonds,” and it sure is interesting to notice when and where that language is used!) Bankers Surety also owns eight other Dallas agencies.

Bankers Surety is a division of Bankers Insurance Company, which is, in turn, a subsidiary of Florida-based Bankers Financial Corporation, which reported $525.72 million in profits in 2018. A Dun & Bradstreet profile of Bankers Financial Corporation praises the company’s “diverse portfolio.”9

The Bankers Surety website doesn’t look anything like the bond agency websites. This was the only criminal justice stock photo I could find, and if you don’t know what a “surety bond” is, it just looks like a financial services stock photo!10

Surprisingly, the parent companies are a bit shy about the division that brought in nearly $40 million last year!  There is little mention of Bankers Surety or any public-facing content about it on the Bankers Insurance site—like, their Business Insurance splash page does not link to the page about the product. The Bankers Financial website doesn’t mention it on any public-facing page.11 [Insert things-that-make-u-go-hmm.gif]

I’m still thinking about the relationships between all of these images—what they reveal, what they obscure, who they serve. I’m not sure I even know what to say about that yet! I guess this means that Part I of this series will require its own Part II!

Delta Bail Bonds, Dallas, TX: ✰✰ 2 stars (out of 4)


You also get the occasional cricket-related image, because cricket wickets have a part called a bail.


This neon aesthetic is absolutely important, but for now let’s just say it evokes “urban danger” in an interesting way. The visual suggestion that the industry is still analog or old fashioned is also striking!


A recently released three-year study of racial disparities in Dallas PD arrests revealed that "residents who identify as Black or African American are 24% of the population in Dallas [but] represented 44% of the low-level custodial arrests during this period." For low-level drug offenses, that number jumps to 57.3%. Black Dallas residents make up an astonishing but not surprising 77% of arrests for “quality of life” offenses like disorderly conduct and criminal trespass; determining whether something is a quality of life offense is almost always up to officer discretion.


Delta’s site features this arguably wildly inappropriate character, who I couldn’t find elsewhere. The image is tagged “Go-To-Jail-Guy” in the URL.

Did you know that stock photo models sign special releases and are compensated at higher rates when they appear in images that might be seen as negative?


The business has hundreds of effusive Google reviews, but the truth-tellers dwell on Yelp.


I just want to believe that the 9 PM spike on Sunday night is people who have decided that they’re done punishing their loved ones by making them spend most of the weekend in jail and that the 9 AM Monday spike is made up of people who decided to “leave ‘em there all weekend.”


 If you would like to know more about the wide world of vending machine graphics, this catalog should scratch that itch. It sure did mine!!!!! The waterfall is on page 27. The custom graphic of the “heroic space monkey” left me with new questions.


This is likely the product of two historical forces: the rise of mass incarceration after 1970 and the ruthless corporate consolidation of the 1980s. If you know a lot about bail reform, this is not news to you, but I didn’t really understand it in a concrete way until now.


The portfolio, D&B continues, “even includes a private hunting and sporting club in the Florida woodlands called the Gilchrist Club and a parolee monitoring company.” Well, then!


All this—serene color scheme, Executives Using Headsets, etc—is a recent glow-up. Until 2014, when they changed their URL from bankersbail.com to bankerssurety.com, their website was a little more—well, frankly, I don’t know what adjective to use:


You can find some references by searching everything on the BFC website or the BI website, but they’re difficult or impossible to find if you’re just browsing the sites.

The monkey in the basketball

An oral history of Law & Order: SVU's legendary episode about animal trafficking

Hello, friends, fans, and fronds!

Whilst I’m working on some Hot New Content, I thought I’d share something special from the archives in honor of Elliot Stabler’s return to Law & Order: SVU!

In 2018, I put together this oral history of this infamous & bonkers 2009 SVU episode, which I have always called “the monkey in the basketball episode.” It’s one of my favorite stories. I’m republishing it from tge late, lamented Pacific Standard, where it originally appeared. Big ups to my wonderful editor Ted Scheinman, who also made the GIFs!

EXCLUSIVE CONTENT: When Dann Florek left the show in 2015, the cast and crew commissioned a portrait of him holding Kimba. He texted a picture of it to me, and it’s the purest thing I’ve ever seen:


Jacqui Shine

January 29, 2018

Since the flagship show debuted in 1990, Dick Wolf's Law & Order franchise has fully saturated the American airwaves. The original Law & Order and the Law & Order: Criminal Intent spinoff ended in 2010 and 2011, respectively, but both appear in cable syndication at all hours. Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, now in its 19th year on NBC, focuses on a fictional New York Police Department sex crimes unit. Mariska Hargitay has played the role of Detective (now Lieutenant) Olivia Benson since its debut; for the show's first 12 seasons, she partnered with Christopher Meloni's Detective Elliot Stabler.

Each series in the franchise has its fans, but SVU's cult following is particularly devoted.The show debuted in 1999, just as online television fandom was coming into its own—a year after the debut of the TV recap site that eventually became Television Without Pity and a few months after the debut of the blogging site LiveJournal. A significant contingent of SVU fans bickered about the (fairly tame) on-screen sexual tension between Benson and Stabler and wrote thousands of words of alternative fan fiction stories that imagined the pair in compromising positions of all sorts.

The Law & Order "ripped from the headlines" formula combines true-crime sensationalism with issue-of-the-week social commentary for plots packed with humor, pathos, and a little do-gooder piety. "Wildlife," a 2008 episode about an international animal-trafficking ring, is particularly beloved for its ludicrous twists and turns, a heartwarming climactic scene, and the fodder it provided for Benson/Stabler shippers everywhere. In 2009, "Wildlife" garnered the show a nomination for the Humane Society's Genesis Awards, given annually to media professionals who raise public awareness of animal issues.

Pacific Standard spoke with three Law & Order: SVU alumni—and with the animal talent agency that the series often uses—about the production of the episode. (Hargitay declined an interview through a representative, and Meloni did not respond to an interview request.) Interviews have been edited and condensed.

Mick Betancourt, writer: One of the things that [Executive Producer] Neal [Baer] did was always try to fold a social or ethical issue into each episode, so that was kind of the spine.

Neal Baer, producer: I had done some research that showed that drug trafficking and animal trafficking and human trafficking were three of the most lucrative ways that people made money around the world, and I was shocked because I did not know, really, the extent to which animal trafficking was such a huge and profound problem across the world. People certainly know about elephant ivory, but they may not know about the trafficking of primates, and exotic birds, and all kinds of other animals that people collect. It's really amazing and daunting and I wanted to bring that out.

Betancourt: Neal said: "Try to figure out a way to fold this into the world of SVU. Why would it be a Special Victims case?" That was how the story originated. I was a younger writer on the staff, I might have been a story editor when I wrote that, so there were people that had already been on the show for eight or nine years who were all co-executive producers, and Judi McCreary, who's a phenomenal writer ... I'm nervous, I'm new to television writing, and she just peeks her head in my office and says: "Betancourt! Motherfuckin' BEARS?" and storms off down the hall.

(Video: NBC/Universal)

The episode opens with detectives Stabler and Benson at the scene of a murder where the victim is found with a dead bird in her purse and appears to have been mauled by a tiger. Various clues lead them through New York's nightclub scene to the tiger's owner, hip-hop artist Gots Money (Big Boi), who introduces them to the smugglers. Later in the episode, Gots Money is killed by a hyena that also eats his bling.

Betancourt: At that time in the world of hip-hop, owning exotic animals was a big thing, so I thought that was an organic way into the world. [Editor's NoteIn May of 2008, a white tiger brought in to appear in a Rick Ross video viciously attacked his handler.] Some of the stuff doesn't seem as topical when you watch it in reruns years later, but, you know.

Baer: Of course I remember [the episode]. That's the one where Mariska and Chris pretended they were married. That was the big tease for our audience. [Editor's Note: They later went with a scenario in which Benson pretends to be a sex worker and Stabler her client.]

Betancourt: I wanted to really speak to the Eliott and Olivia shippers, all the people writing fan fiction about Benson and Stabler getting together, and I thought, "Well, how can I do that?" Everybody that's ever wanted to see them kiss—I'm going to take that up a notch.


Detective Stabler poses as a dirty U.S. Customs agent who offers to help the traffickers get their quarry through the international terminal at JFK Airport in exchange for a cut of the profits. They plan to butcher a critically endangered gibbon and "whittle down the breastbone into the most expensive chopsticks money can buy." But his cover is almost blown when the ringleader unexpectedly finds him consulting with Detective Benson.

Betancourt: I'm going to put them, like, half-naked, like they were just making love to prove to the smuggler that they were a real couple—I wanted it to hit the deep fandom on a couple levels. I wanted it to surround and sort of insulate the high concept of the animal smuggling.

Baer: I thought that was genius.

(Video: NBC/Universal)

Peter Leto, director: Initially my reaction was, Are you out of your mind? I had eight days, basically, to prepare casting, locations, props, and, in this case, many, many, many animals to be a part of this episode. My [animal-wrangling] duties had been relegated to the occasional dog and once in a great while a cat, but never anything like that. There were so many different animals from hyenas to tigers and then....

Betancourt: When you go into the warehouse, there are wolves, bears....

Leto: ...you get into the actual warehouse of this animal smuggler, everything from snakes to bears to turtles. The hyenas were definitely frightening—just because the way they would look at you.

Dann Florek, actor: Hyenas can eat tin cans and stuff, that's why in the story [criminals] were using them: because they would eat the evidence. They would eat a person. They also had a liger, which I had never—a lion and tiger!

Leto: It was literally a zoo on wheels that was brought to us. It was just incredible.

Babette Corelli, trainer, Dawn Animal Agency: [My family's agency has] done Law and Order since the conception of the show, and this branch of it, SVU—we did all those too. All of the animals you saw on the set were ours.

Betancourt: At the time, that was the most expensive episode in the history of the Law & Order: SVU franchise.

Baer: We shot at Kennedy too—at JFK.

Betancourt: That scene had 200 extras. ["Wildlife" is] a fun, kind of way-out-on-Jupiter episode of SVU. I think it was Big Boi's acting debut outside of his own videos and some sketch stuff. [We] had great actors from The Wire.

Baer: People have so many ingenious and dangerous ways of smuggling animals. We had found a story where someone tried to smuggle a gibbon in a big ball.

Corelli: I knew a guy back when I was in my 20s who was an animal importer. Basketballs were a good one. Carry them on, put them in the overhead, knock 'em out. Twenty percent lived.

Leto: We were very faithful to all laws and regulations we needed to follow in terms of their care.

Corelli: So they needed to have a gibbon. I did not have one at the time, and Kimba came to my attention from a breeder in Florida. [Kimba's first owner] had dumped him and they were going to send him to a breeding colony in South America. The owner was very, very rich—travels the world to see animals in their natural state. She went to Borneo and saw the white-handed gibbons in colonies. If you saw them in their natural state, why in God's name would you want one in your house? Having more money than God and no common sense, she found one [with this breeder in Florida]. Primates in the first seven months of their lives are adorable little Steiff toys. You see them, you diaper them, you put them on a counter, and they sit there going Ooh ooh ooh. Between seven and 10 months, they start turning into primates. She kept him through the formative stage when he was impressionable, and then she dumped him. And that was the worst thing she could have done for him.

Baer: The way we treat animals signifies the way we treat each other too, and often we're great with our pets but we don't think about the animals at large in the world—losing their environment, encroaching on their habitats, things like that.

Corelli: A human-raised white-handed gibbon going to a breeding colony would have been killed. He was not adapted. He could not go into a colony because he had no education, he didn't know the rules on how to be in a colony, and they would have killed him just because he was an asshole. Environment really makes or changes an animal. He should never have been sold to this woman. I should never even have gotten him, but he had to go someplace.

Betancourt: That was the only monkey we could find.

Corelli: The show basically paid for him because they wanted him so bad. So I got involved and got him as a rescue. We said, "We don't really want him, but when we get him he will stay with us 'til the day he dies." Besides animal talent, we are an animal sanctuary and rescue. We have a lot of animals that have been rescued that have one [film or television] job or never do a job and live here for the rest of their lives. We've got an elephant we got during the Vietnam War, who did one job in her lifetime and she's 50; she's like the gray sister. If my mother had a choice of us or her, we'd be out the fuckin' door. Pardon me. Anyway, back to Kimba.

Betancourt: Oddly enough, and this is going to be disappointing for your piece, they say never work with animals or children, because they're the most volatile when you're producing anything live or filming anything, but everything moved very smoothly and effectively and professionally.

Corelli: For film they caught him just right. He was adorable, but he was just at the phase of becoming a monster.But because he was in a new environment, he still was like a Steiff toy. He made little faces and little noises and was adorable and he just wanted to be held. If he'd been more comfortable, he would have been a little beast. At home, he was a brat.

In the episode's final act, the SVU squad raids the smugglers' warehouse. Chaos ensues as the detectives—including Stabler, who had been shot earlier in the episode—bust some perps. A suspect fleeing the scene tosses a basketball to Captain Donald Cragen (Dann Florek), who calls out, "The monkey is OK!" as the endangered gibbon pops out and throws its arms around his neck.

Leto: The owners of the gibbon had rehearsed with this oversized basketball, I don't know if this was apparent to the audience because in the earlier scene it was a regular-sized basketball that we didn't reveal anything within, but the basketball that Kimba was in was an oversized prop.

Corelli: We had to teach Kimba to stay in the ball for like 30 seconds. Massive rewards when he stayed in and then popped out. Made a big fuss afterward and gave him cookies and cheese and little treats.

Florek: I had three play dates with Kimba. I had to get to know him so he would trust me. So they brought him over [to] the dressing room and the trainers were there. He was so little, his body was tiny but his arms were almost as long as mine. It was really sweet because he had to wear little Garanimal underpants, you know, because he would just poop anywhere, being a monkey—I'm sorry, a white-crested baby gibbon[Editor's Note: This was the writers' fictional stand-in for the critically endangered black-crested gibbon. Kimba is a white-handed gibbon.]

Corelli: At that point I was able to give him to strangers because it was a new environment so he'd behave himself. If I put him on somebody he knew it was safe. He would never go to a stranger by himself, that was not done, but in a new environment he didn't know if they would eat him or not.

Florek: His favorite treat was gummy bears, so they gave me some and when he did a good thing I could give him a gummy bear. When we were having our playdates, I had my glasses on, and he would steal my glasses. He would rip them off and hold them or throw them across the room. Another thing he liked to do was reach out and slap my head. Not hard, I think he thought it was funny, the hairless human. [The trainers] told me: "You're being a little bit of a wuss. If he grabs you or hits you, you have to tell him no, just like you would your dog." I felt like, I can't yell at the monkey. But we figured it out. He was very very good.

Betancourt: [Florek's] never done anything like that in his entire life....

Florek: Years ago, I did a pilot for a TV show that was called Doctors Wilde, and I played the owner of the zoo, or the zoo manager, or something like that. I had to have a scorpion crawl up my suit.

Betancourt: ...the cameras are rolling, and he has to open a basketball and a monkey's gonna crawl out of it, it may or may not be furious from being in the basketball....

Corelli: [Kimba] wasn't happy about it but he wasn't upset about it either. He wanted to please his family, he wanted to make his mom happy. This pleased my sister, my mother, and myself, the three-female hierarchy in the unit. [Editor's Note: Corelli's mother, Bunny Brook, founded the agency with her sister Barbara in 1959.]

Florek: They threw the real basketball to me, then they cut and they handed me the fake basketball, and I opened it up. Kimba and I had bonded, but none of us knew what was going to happen. But then the basketball opened and he looked up at me and his little arms went around me, I said, We're good. And it was so sweet. Honestly I think I started crying, the script person started crying, and then he pooped on me so we had to do another take.

Leto: I didn't want to put any stress on the animal whatsoever, even though Kimba seemed to be a veteran at what it was doing, and it came out and just—and there it was, just hugged Dan on that second take, and I said, "Wow, that's the one, you can't get any better than that."

Betancourt: When the cameras were done, [Florek] was just kind of walking around and it was like around his neck hugging him.Oddly enough, along with the monkey in the basketball, that scene with [Chris Meloni] shirtless kind of melted the Internet that week.

Baer: I wish I had been on the set, but no. I didn't get to meet the monkey. But I did meet a kangaroo on ER.

Leto: I did get to hug the monkey and it was definitely a highlight of my career.

Florek: I can't remember why, but I got to see him one more time [after that]—I can't remember if they were doing something else and they were nearby, and I got to visit him? And he was very sweet. It was like he remembered me.

Corelli: Now Kimba lives in the Sanctuary for Animals in Westtown, New York. He was able to support other animals with the money he brought in. He also did an episode of 30Rock, he was the one who wore the mariachi outfit in the casino. The last thing he did was for a student film, and we did it at the college in Manhattan, and he was in a cage in a laboratory—because I will not work him outside with anyone because I cannot trust him with anyone but me. I raised him, but I didn't raise him from infancy. Once they've bitten people and gotten away with it, you can never trust them. I have to watch him. He's sneaky. So much nonsense.

Betancourt: I would say that the monkey is the Special Victim, and I would say that the monkey is the special light. All of these smuggled animals are victims, and if we pulled that off as well and people got that, then I think the story was executed effectively.

Corelli: [Kimba] really was a victim. He's an interesting animal—he could have had such a better life.

Florek: All the animals [in that episode] were victims, the Special Victims. I guess my special victim was Kimba.

That’s all for now. Thank you for subscribing! If you aren’t a paid subscriber, please consider smashing the SUBSCRIBE NOW button or checking out the spesh offers I’ve made available.


"Factoid" almost certainly does not mean what you think it means.

the second edition of a newsletter about things you need to know that you don’t know you need to know, inspired (mostly) by people being wrong on the internet. written by Jacqui Shine.

(Honestly could have used any old tweet for this. Sorry (not sorry?) to this guy.)

Well, actually, “factoid” does not mean “piece of trivia”—and the fact (sorry) that we’ve adopted this usage is deeply ironic. “Factoid” actually means “invented fact,” some piece of (mis)information that is repeated so often in print (or, generally, by the media) that it becomes accepted as truth. Today, so many people use the term to mean “a piece of trivia” that the word has actually become an example of the problem it describes: this incorrect usage has repeated so often that it has superseded the established meaning. (Do I need to explain the danger of factoiding factoid in 2020 USA America?)

The suffix -oid means "resembles”—it’s a thing that is similar, but not identical to, whatever the original word describes. (It’s very common in zoology and mathematics.) Add it to a noun or adjective and you've got your meaning. Heroin, an opioid, is like opium. A factoid, then, is like a fact.

Factoid is a neologism coined by the writer Norman Mailer in 1973. He introduces the term in his book Marilyn (as in Monroe), where he describes another writer’s biography of the actress as having "fewer facts than factoids ... that is, facts which have no existence before appearing in a magazine or newspaper, creations which are not so much lies as a product to manipulate emotion in the Silent Majority.” Yes, that’s right: a factoid is a piece of information willed into existence by circulation in the media. (The previous year, Mailer had written in his book St. George and the Godfather that "Media was beginning to make history as well as report it.")

The New York Times Grunge Speak hoax is a good example of how factoids are made, though, in this case, the process was interrupted before the misinformation hardened into facts. In 1992, asked about the slang of the Seattle grunge scene, a Sub Pop Records staffer invented a set of terms that ran under the headline "Lexicon of Grunge." A British magazine credulously reprinted the list. Shortly thereafter, Thomas Frank wrote in The Baffler that it had been a prank, and humiliation, rather than the broad adoption of “lamestain,” ensued.

If you encounter trivia that delights you, just call it that. (Digression: Trivia means "something of little consequence,” either objects or pieces of information, and came into use around 1902. By the 1940s, trivia game had emerged to describe the pastime of swapping and/or guessing small facts.) (Grammarians: We seem to use trivia as a plural form and “piece of trivia” or the like to describe a single fact. The term’s Latin singular is trivium.)

please feel free to forward this email to someone you know! if someone you know forwarded this email to you, please feel free to sign up to receive this extremely great newsletter! as my friends the Two Bossy Dames put it, “Correcting the internet has never been so zippily substantive!”

Loading more posts…