I get to be the person I always wish I had been

I get to be the person I always wish I had been
Photo by Zane Persaud

They went and finally killed Vice for real this time.

Look at the shit-eating way these bosses always talk.

Oh you're going to emerge stronger and more resilient as you embark on this new phase of your journey? OK man thanks for letting everyone know.

I feel like running the very famous and cool brand Vice – especially with how little they paid people – would be a slam dunk self sustaining business if only 45 people at the top doing nothing weren’t making like $19 million a year.

The death of Vice is the same story as the death of every other company in this country. It's a story of extraction of wealth at all costs for the few with malign indifference for the workers who actually gave the thing its (vastly overinflated) value in the first place.

Vice transformed my life in both good and bad ways in that writing for them helped my career out a lot but I also had a few years there trying to impress Gavin so... you know... ups and downs.

I did some really good and some really fucking dumb work there in any case. And now all of it and all of everyone's work is going in the shitter. They're not even keeping the website running as like a ghost ship it seems.

I guess I'll just have to keep bumping this chat I had with David Roth once a week now as the perpetual motion machine of journalistic death keeps its pace.

They fired everybody. Popular Science has been around like 150 years. Jezebel has been around like fifteen years. When you buy sites like that, with an archive of old stories that people are gonna find and that show up in search results, and in many cases are very good and very useful, that in itself is worth something. You'll make money just having that. They're not gonna make a ton of money, but you're not spending any new money on it either. Why would you destroy the value that's latent in that, just so that you can ride a website all the way down into the ground? Until it is completely indistinguishable from the shit that we were talking about where it's “Calista Flockhart today will depress you”? Every website has to be that? Just because it's cheaper to do? 

I don't know that there's really any reason for me to bother trying to archive all my old work there. Who gives a shit. But this piece I wrote about a $29 lobster roll at Fenway Park and the marathon bombing I kind of think of as the first Hell World. I think it is good and it holds up and is worth reading. Here's a version of it:

Consider the Lobster Roll
I scarcely remembered how to go through the motions
When I got back to Watertown later that night, my street was blocked off by a dozen plus police and fire trucks. It was two years ago that night that Tsarnaev had exchanged fire throughout the neighborhood, and this was certainly the most emergency response vehicles the town has seen since then. A three-alarm fire, it turns out, had completely devastated the corner store I walk to for groceries. It burned fast and strong for about two hours before they could knock it down. Fortunately, no one was hurt.

I thought about how quiet it was on the street here the day they were looking for the bomber. Teams of machine gun-toting military types walked door to door asking us if we'd seen anything suspicious, armored cars passing by in the distance. Tonight was different, however. Everyone had come out of their homes to see what was going on, to stand together and pay witness to what had happened as a community. I talked to people I've lived next to for years and never shared a word with. We watched the fire smolder for a while, then we all went back inside. From my porch I could smell the smoke for the rest of the night, the lobster roll digesting in my belly.

This story is absolutely fucked. Tim Burke has been indicted for multiple counts of acts of journalism.

Journalist Tim Burke Indicted For Leaking Tucker Carlson Clips That Embarrassed Fox News
The clips, which included unaired, antisemitic remarks by Kanye West, were published by Vice and Media Matters.

Please consider donating to his legal fund here if you can.

Ok here's today's main thing.

Photo by Josh Hilde

Linda Tirado called to tell me that she is dying. If you know Linda getting a phone call from her out of nowhere isn't exactly out of the ordinary. Even if you don't know her actually. The author, photojournalist, and activist often sends out offers to her 85,000 Twitter followers that she is available to talk if anyone needs to. And they often do need to. But this wasn't the kind of call I was expecting. Or that I've ever had really. Certainly I've known people older than me who have died gradually and people younger than me that have died but those ones are usually sudden. An accident or an overdose where you aren't given a warning you just wake up one day and are made aware by someone who is still alive that someone else is not.

Tirado first came into the spotlight with a viral essay called “Why do poor people do things that seem so self-destructive?” back in 2014 which she later expanded into her book Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America. It went in part like this:

I smoke. It’s expensive. It’s also the best option. You see, I am always, always exhausted. It’s a stimulant. When I am too tired to walk one more step, I can smoke and go for another hour. When I am enraged and beaten down and incapable of accomplishing one more thing, I can smoke and I feel a little better, just for a minute. It is the only relaxation I am allowed. It is not a good decision, but it is the only one that I have access to. It is the only thing I have found that keeps me from collapsing or exploding.

I make a lot of poor financial decisions. None of them matter, in the long term. I will never not be poor, so what does it matter if I don’t pay a thing and a half this week instead of just one thing? It’s not like the sacrifice will result in improved circumstances; the thing holding me back isn’t that I blow five bucks at Wendy’s. It’s that now that I have proven that I am a Poor Person that is all that I am or ever will be. It is not worth it to me to live a bleak life devoid of small pleasures so that one day I can make a single large purchase. I will never have large pleasures to hold on to.

From there she went on to become a photojournalist working in places like Ferguson and Oregon during the Bundy standoff and in Minneapolis during the protests in the summer of 2020. It was there that she was shot with a projectile by police and blinded in one eye. An act of violence which she later settled with the city for. She wrote about that day for Hell World a couple of years ago. It went in part like this:

I remember a dull thud to my face and I remember stupidly thinking “Well, fuck. This isn’t good.” Then I remember the gas hitting my eyes and the wetness and swelling. I don’t remember pain exactly except from the gas, but I knew my face was growing. I could feel it by the millimeter. I thought I was going to have a black eye. I like mosh pits and UFC as much as the next aging punk chick. I know what a shiner feels like.

I woke up the next morning in a hospital and the doctors came to tell me that I didn’t have Covid, which they knew because they had tested me before they did surgery on my left eye, the one I’d never see out of again. I told the nurse it was hilarious that all I had to do to get a Covid test was lose an eye and she laughed but the doctors didn’t, because nurses are way funnier than doctors. I’ve learned that lately, because once one has been shot in the face one sees a lot of medical personnel.

She told me that complications from the shooting have severely impaired her brain function in the past year or so and that doctors cannot figure out what is wrong but she knows it's bad. Feels that it is bad. I told her I am going to choose not to believe her if that's alright and she said that is fine.

She wanted to ask me a favor she said which is that when she dies she wants me to write something that doesn't sand off her edges. Everyone is going to say what a kind and nice person she was and all of that bullshit she said. The kind of stuff people say when someone dies. But she thought I'd tell it like it is and I said that I would do that. Say that she was a real motherfucker which is not an expression I use often or lightly. Brass fucking balls. She often writes about how she never belonged in the journalist class she found herself thrust into in the past decade or so and I agree and I mean that as the best kind of compliment.

Before we get to our talk here's a piece of hers from her newsletter that I quite like. It goes in part like this:

I listen to the hails of gunfire, in which thousands of shells hit the ground while our hero somehow remains whole, because the sound of the gunfire is soothing. When it’s hailstorms of Hollywood, I know I’m safe. Actually getting shot is a very quiet thing, something you don’t notice until after a few stunned seconds which are eternity while your brain attempts to process what’s just happened to your body. I am calmest when I’m watching action movies and cop shows, which reliably bring me the mundane sounds of firefights and they do not smell like anything, which is another way I know I’m safe. Actual firefights, the ones where you might lose a limb or a life, smell like sweat and gunpowder and the Fourth of July and honeysuckle, sweet and spicy and loud but oh, so very quiet.

If I listen to nothing, if I try to sit in my own liminal space, I smell gunpowder. I get shot from a thousand angles, my brain still trying to sort out just what happened here, and this is why we should not allow mentally unwell people to have firearms. Because if I had one, I would take it somewhere and shoot it to smell the gunpowder and know I’m not dead, but I wouldn’t necessarily know where that bullet wound up. I lack muzzle control, because I have no depth perception. I have no wish to harm anyone, I just want to know that I’m not dead, and feeling the kick of the recoil and hearing the casing drop and smelling it all, this wild glorious feeling of not-dead would be too addictive. I wouldn’t care where the bullet wound up, because I am not dead.

So I listen, constantly, to something. Books, podcasts, music, action movies, tv shows that are riveting but utterly meaningless, anything so I don’t have to sit in my own head and try to think over the sound of my ears ringing. If I try to sit in silence, that is where death and madness lie, and I have learned that even in my sleep I need to keep that part of my brain, the part that man killed that day, busy. If I let it out, if I let it exercise, that will be the day I die. Even when I’m asleep, I am listening, always listening, for actual blessed silence, which I will never experience again until I die. Although, knowing my luck, the afterlife will be loud.

I’m the luckiest bastard you ever met, and it kills me a little bit every day, as I disappoint my closest loves and my children grow and realize that there really is something wrong in our house, most people don’t have mommies that don’t get out of bed for days on end, and most kids don’t live with the specter of the man who shot Mommy one day because for all my strength I was never particularly agile and I just failed to duck the one time it counted.

But who can measure that, anyway? Who knows how many times they were just walking down the street minding their business and ten minutes later a car crashed into that very spot? Most people don’t count their lives since they didn’t die, because most people don’t know that they’re wasting what borrowed time they have left. It all sounds insane, I know that, but that’s what brain damage does. You wonder things, after you know you should have died. You wonder about Feynman and the brushstrokes on Cezanne’s best work and how it is that humans can sing so clearly that it actually sounds like they’re singing in two octaves at once. I can spend hours marveling at a single blade of grass that somehow escaped the lawnmower; why that blade? What about it is special? And by extension, why any of us? Life is capricious, and death is always there. Why it chooses, when and how, seems more like roulette than anything.

All of life spreads out, all the majesty and horror and wonder of it all, and you realize that nothing can kill a man; one must choose to die. Unless you’re very lucky and have no choice, have a random car crash or a stroke and you just die right there, and then you find out what comes next. It is all in a snow globe, to make a crude metaphor, but it’s the universe in a tiny sphere you can hold in your hand and to even talk to a person is to shake it up and have to watch the snow inside settle. Safer, really, to listen to gunfire and know that it doesn’t smell like anything.

The key is this: don’t ever tell anyone about it. People ask, but they don’t want to know, because then they’d be a little bit entwined, and nobody wants that. People want jump scares, they want true crime, they want to hear bullets but not taste war. The people you can tell don’t need a word said, because they also taste gunmetal and so they pass you a smoke or a bourbon or a shot in your arm, and you don’t care what they give you even if maybe you don’t escape like that. It’s in the giving, the communion of it all.

So you were saying something earlier about how you didn't want to be, you know, when people die we all kind of soften their edges, right? You don't want that for yourself?

No. If I have to die, let me go with both my middle fingers extended. 

What exactly is the prognosis here? You told me a little bit, but what did they say? 

There isn't one. Um, it's, honestly, my brain is deregulating. 

And this is from when they operated on your eye?  

It's to do with my brain. They took out my left frontal lobe, which regulates a lot of things in your body. Now, my left frontal lobe is still physically there, but it's kind of withering. It's just not doing the job it's supposed to do. Not sending all of the signals to my body, like, Hey, we're in crisis. Hey, this is really bad. You need to pay attention to this. And so I go to the hospital and I say, I think my kidneys are fucked. And they think I'm insane because my kidneys are fine. My liver is not fine, but ehh. 

Been there.

How many decades can you drink this heavily, you know? That's fine. But the kidneys are fine. The heart is fine. However, my brain is not working in line with the rest of my body, if that makes sense. It has nothing to do with doctors or anything. It's… I got shot. And I was wearing goggles. So it was… it was less penetrative. If you think about the goggles, they hit a certain part of my brain. It didn't take my eye out, but it went that deep, that quickly. 

The force of the pellet?


And the fucked up thing is, you wore the goggles because you knew that type of thing was a possibility. That they do this. 

I've been doing this for like a decade now. I wasn't some kid. I'm an actual journalist. 

Yes, you are. What do they... So when did you hear... When was that? 

Nobody said it. 

So you just know, you just feel like it? 

Yeah. I dropped 45 pounds. I'm... not healthy. 

What are your doctors saying? 

More tests. Another biopsy. “We'll figure it out.” Like the doctors are telling me that something is very, very wrong. They can all see it. I can see it. They don't have a diagnosis. I keep telling them it's my brain. You guys really need to start doing... like start from that. But that's not what they got taught in medical school. And so they're putting me through their paces. And I'm telling you right the fuck now, I'm gonna die. 

Well, you're starting to give me a little hope here, because now I'm hearing, oh, there's a possibility it's not that serious. 

No. They're hoping. 

The doctors are hoping?

Yeah. They are hoping. I don't think that that's a realistic hope. I think they're trying to put up a good… Hey, maybe it's this thing? Maybe it's that thing? I've been on 12 different diets. I've been to the hospital six times. So they can do further testing. And every time they do a test, it's negative. And they think that I should be very glad about that. OK, cool. Well, I don't have this. I don't have that. I appreciate your exclusionary position. Although it doesn't solve the problem of the fact that I'm dying. Sooner rather than later. 

Maybe I'm doing that thing where you don't take a woman's pain seriously.

I wouldn't say so. 

I'm half kidding. 

It's not about the pain.

You were saying your mobility is off, you're in a wheelchair now? 

That's because I fall over. It's not about pain. It's about literally I will fall over, so let's put me in a place that I can't possibly fall over from. But the pain… I got raped in Ferguson.

Jesus Christ. I didn't know that.

Welcome to being a female journalist. 

Oh my god. That's awful. 

It's not about the pain. It never was. You can put me through any goddamn thing. I will still tell a story and I'll do it without telling you how much it hurt me.

You've been doing a lot to help people, raising money and stuff like that and getting people out of bad situations. Tell me a little bit about what you've been doing with that.

I'm a decent judge of character. At this point I know I've been scammed a few times, but I have a decent feeling for scamming. 

You never put $50,000 in cash in a shoebox for the CIA like in that New York Mag article the other day? 

Ha. No. Never fucked up with the CIA. You know some people they come through and they ask for help. Do you know I was actually very angry I only managed to commit 38 felonies in Texas last year.

With abortion type help?

You know. You've seen me. "Hey, we got a lady that needs to see a man about a horse. It’s gonna be $1,800."

I've definitely seen you doing those fundraisers on Twitter and stuff and getting people help. Say a little bit about how that experience has been.

It's fucking joyful. I get to be the person I always wish I had been. There's an article out there about an abortion that I had, right when I first went viral. I had to fly across the country, under an assumed name, and I was so terrified. I refused drugs. And then I said all we have to do, because I don't fuck with pain, like I can handle anything, but we are gonna have to listen to my phone. I'm gonna listen to some punk rock. You can do whatever you need to do in my nethers. We'll all survive it. It's great. The minute the doctor walked into the door, my phone went with “The KKK Took My Baby Away.”

Come on! Good choice. 

I was laughing so hard I nearly fell off the fucking table. And the doctor was like, is everything okay? And I'm like, yeah, it's just The Ramones. I use that same energy now, because that was a) horrifying, and b) hilarious. And it wouldn't have been so funny if it wasn't so horrifying. It wouldn't have been so horrifying if it wasn't so funny. 

Right, right. 

That is how I help people. This is horrifying and hilarious. Ok. Great. 

And now let's just get it done.

Well, you're also kind of a weirdo because you post on Twitter if anyone wants to talk on the phone, I'm here to talk. Nobody wants to talk on the phone anymore. So like what's going on there? 

I'm not the suicide crisis line. So people can call and talk to me. I have no legal jurisdiction. I don't have any moral obligation. If you call the suicide hotline, they keep notes. I'm legitimately not capable of keeping notes. I have brain damage. Everything that happens for me happens in an instant. In this moment. But I do have some wisdom. And so when people feel alone or scared they can call me, and I am not a government program. 

And do people take you up on it? 

Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. It's been… I do make a hash mark, like I was in prison, even though I'm not. Hang on… 337.

337 people have called?

Yeah. Or I called them. I don't record their stories. Their stories are their own. Just how many I’ve spoken to. It's a hashtag on the side of my dresser. 

That’s funny. But that's kind of… your thing has been, in your book and elsewhere kind of documenting what it's like to be a person who eats shit all the time in this country, right? 


Do you find the two things connected?

I think you're deconstructing. It's just me. Everything is connected. I think that when you try to point at this and that and that and that in a different way, I don't necessarily recognize that. That's deconstructive. It just is. 

Well fuck me I guess. 

Well I don't mean to be insulting. 


No, I know. But I also... I don't recognize that. It's just, you know, here's how my life has gone. And here's how everybody else's life is going as far as I can see. And that's it. I don't actually get into the philosophy of it. 

You told a story on Twitter a while ago about some of the stuff that Barbara Ehrenreich said to you. Do you want to talk about any of that? 

Oh God! That mad bitch. Okay, so here's what happened. And I was keeping it clean for Twitter. Because her children read that. That was the first time I ever went to a high school party. In the pool at like three o'clock in the morning and there were like handles of whiskey, and there was a guy up on the roof. That was the conference that Barbara came to me. She handed me, she said, don't crush this… It was my first conference. I was trying really hard to be polite and precise. Also, I was the poor person. And all of these people were used to being at conferences. She came up to me in the back row and she went why are you here? 

I said well, because they told me. She said yes, okay, that's not how any of this works. And she handed me a crumpled up tissue, and she said don't squeeze it. It had three joints in it. So I look at Barbara Ehrenreich, who is my fucking hero, and she goes, don't crush it, but you need to relax. All right, cool I will! I will smoke weed on Barbara Ehrenreich’s order. That's gonna happen. Absolutely. And then she's like, you do realize that you don't have to be here. The only thing you have to do is show up and take pictures. And that was the conference where I called out everybody who ever hurt me. I was the keynote. 

What were some of the things you said? 

You do not get to traumatize people for clicks. I happened to have become a public figure, right? That happened. I wrote an article, it got very big. There was this one bitch at the Houston Press, the editor was in the audience. And so I took, lovingly, all of the details of how that was fucked up. I did marry a Marine. That doesn't mean I get childcare. 

So they were like trying to poke holes in your story or something? 

Oh yeah.  

I don't think I ever read that one. 

Sorry, it's been a lot of years. Anyways, so I wind up at this thing, and it was in Texas, and this bitch, who I had called… I sent her screenshots. I sent her all of the relevant details for her to pull down the story because it was not sourced. And it was asserting things that weren't true. And I had proven to her that they weren't true. And she went, well, we're gonna stand by our journalist. That's fucked up. Okay. I love that you are standing by, but... in this instance? So I've got her in the audience. And my job was actually to tell people what it was like to be the focus of a news story. 

I'm looking at it right now. "The Viral Poverty Thoughts essay is totally ridiculous." But then underneath it, there's one story in The Nation called "Linda Tirado is not a hoax." So it looks like somebody had your back there.

Yeah, that would be Michelle Goldberg, I think. No, but read the thing from Houston Press. She does not understand. Again, this is a decade ago. I've gotten over it, but, I'm still mad. She doesn't understand how the military works. How dare you. I wasn't even mad about me. Like people say rough things online. Great. I came from Gawker. It’s like, I’m fine. 

You're used to it. 

My husband did not need to be dragged into this. Well, I mean, for what it’s worth, she's hustling side dishes at Hooters now. I kept up with her. Turns out she couldn't hack it as a journalist. 

What better time to settle old scores now that you feel like you're dying. 

I have nothing to settle. She's settled that shit herself. It turns out she's not a very good journalist.

Well now I'm looking at a Daily Mail story that says “blogger wrote about her life of grinding poverty takes out her teeth on video to prove she's not faking it.”

Oh yeah that happened. 

It's crazy that people would find it hard to believe that people who are struggling would have bad teeth.

No they thought I was a rich lady. 

They thought you were pretending to be poor?

Yes. And you know why? You know Eminem’s Eight Mile? At some point during that movie he goes “You went to Cranbrook. That's a private school.” Now I also am from Utah, so I know Mitt Romney, who also sent his children to Cranbrook. I made an offhand joke, and everybody was like, oh my god, you're from rich people! Bitch, I got into Cranbrook, but I didn't get a scholarship, and my parents couldn't afford to send me. But I did get into Cranbrook, so fuck you, fuck everybody. I belong here, just the same as you did, only my parents couldn't afford it. And then they twisted it. Oh, Linda, Tirado, she went to Cranbrook. Yeah, one time, that one afternoon. 

I went to Harvard myself.

So, you were saying, when people die, everyone... What are you worried about? You don't want to be made out into having been just some nice, helpful lady?  

That's exactly the fear. Because I do help people. But I do this in... The only way that I ever help people is I will scam for your felony. I don't help people… I mean I guess I do, like I always tip guys extra, and I'll have a cigarette with a homeless guy on Fifth Avenue. But the point being, we spent $28,000 to get this lady out of Texas, along with her children, so that she could have an abortion. That's an insane amount of money, but she needed her children to be taken care of while she went and had this medical procedure, and she didn't have any funds for it. So we raised her $28,000. The kids went to Disney. I pulled in a couple of favors and I got a lady that lives in California, she took them on for the day, but then I had to pay her too. 28 grand for an abortion! Fucking wild. 

Yeah that's insane. And now they're coming after IVF and contraceptives soon. 

All I’m saying is that I'm very proud to be a felon. 

Well I appreciate that. The law and what's legal and what's right doesn't always match up.

I am very proud of all of my felonies, and I do have a moral responsibility. I do understand what I'm doing. I'm not committing felonies for nothing. But if this bitch needs an abortion, you best bet I'm gonna go ahead and pay for that. I don't even have the money. There's various entities involved in getting the money together, but man, the governor's too… He's sending people in buses to other cities, I don't think he's paying attention. 

You're in Ohio now, right? 

Tennessee. Same kind of deal. Whenever I die, tell them I said fuck em. Say whatever you need to on my behalf. But you know me. 

I will. I will. 

I do not want a sanitized death. I mean, I will do that for my children. But, you know, speaking about how we think of me after I pass, the award winner, the journalist, the… thing. My kids will be fine. They won't be fine, but they will be fine. And you're one of the very few people that I trust that can be like this bitch wanted you all to go fuck yourself. 

Well, I share that feeling. I'm going to pretend that it's not real though, if that's okay with you. That you're dying soon.

Oh, you and me are on the same page. 

Okay, good. I mean, I know I'm going to die, you know, at some point, but you’ve got to pretend. I guess yours is a little bit of a shorter window. 

Literally any time I fall down might be the end. I could eat a bad fish, it might be the end. I don’t actually give a fuck. 

So you think that getting shot is directly going to lead to you having a much shortened life? 

Yes. And specifically because my left frontal lobe is not regulating my body in the way that normal left frontal lobes regulate most people's bodies. That's why I've been in and out of hospital.  

All right, well, I'll tell you what. I think you're a great journalist, and you're truly a one of a kind real fucking broad and, again, I'm gonna pretend that this is not real. I’ll check in with you tomorrow. And then again after that.