Arguments by mail

Part 3 of this issue's
letters to Pathetic Life

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Your disparaging comments about the Bill of Rights is just too much. The Bill of Rights is the only thing that ensures our freedoms. I don't want to read anything from anyone too stupid to know that. Cancel my subscription. Are you against freedom? I want nothing to do with your un-American attitude.

—Paul P.,

If by "cancel my subscription" you mean "stop sending the zine," no worries. As requested, you'll never see another issue, including this one.

If you want your money back, tough shit. It says "No refunds" on the back cover, every month.

The Bill of Rights is just another legal document, explicitly listing several freedoms you're promised but don't have, and implicitly denying you all the freedoms the founding slave-owners forgot to list. 

Those who believe freedom comes from that piece of paper should observe how easily paper can be crumpled, ripped, burned, shredded, or simply ignored. Whether it has those sacred ten amendments or a crossword puzzle printed on it, a piece of paper is not freedom, and doesn't ensure freedom.

Freedom comes from a willingness to allow others their own thoughts and choices and lives, even if other people think and choose and do things you wouldn't, and from the willingness of others to allow you that same dignity. Where people are open-minded there will be more freedom, and where people "respect the law" instead of each other there will be less and less. America is a prime example of the latter.

And now, enough already with the Bill of Rights. How boring. —DH


I hope this doesn't inspire a gag reflex, but you made a tough, brave decision in forgoing New York City. It's going to hurt like fuck-all for now, but not as much as it would if you moved there.

I've been to both cities, and San Francisco is a city like no other in America, possibly the world. I hope to move there some day, when I can afford it. There's something about the place that makes me happy to be alive, just because I'm there. It's hard to explain the atmosphere to friends who don't get it. I've described it as the misfit capital of the world.

New York City is no such animal. The day-to-day stress level is relentless and unbelievable, like final exams all the time. It's nasty, grotty, vile, depressing. It has a poisoning influence. Only L.A. is worse.

I totally do not get those people riding on BART with you on February 5. The brats are running riot, mom won't control them, and people get mad at you? Whatever happened to "children should be seen and not heard"? 

I never want my first name to be Mommy, and I have no sympathy for parents who won't parent. None. I have asked and will continue to ask parents to control their children when they disturb me. I have taken rambunctious little bastards by the hand, hauled them back to their mom, and deadpan and gentle asked, "Could you please control your child?" Usually they're shocked or embarrassed. They snap back, but I just calmly insist on my right to exist in peace. 

Well, enough already.

— Glynnis,
New Orleans


Someone named "Ara" left a message on my voice mail, asking me to call See Hear Distribution in New York, "to discuss" having See Hear carry Pathetic Life.

See Hear is a well-known zine and music store in NYC, that runs a well-known distribution company out of the back room. I've read in half a dozen biggish zines about the difficulty of squeezing payment from See Hear, so stiffing zine publishers seems to be what See Hear is well known for. 

Thought I'd see for myself, though. Ara left a phone number, but he didn't say "Call collect," so I found See Hear's address from an ad in some zine, and sent him a note. I offered the standard terms of consignment, same as I have with Quimby's and City Lights and a dozen other stores that sell this zine. They pay 60% of the cover price, and send full returns of any unsold copies — I'm not a virgin here. 

"Full returns" means, if any copies remain unsold, the store or distro mails those copies back to me. Tiny publications like the one you're reading need full returns, but some dealers prefer "masthead returns," meaning they only mail back the covers, or even worse, an "affidavit" saying basically, thanks for sending 25 copies, we sold three and trashed the rest. Here's 60% of the cover price for three copies.

That's the way big-time distribution works, and it's no problem for Time and Newsweek and other publications which print millions of copies that deserve to be trashed. For little zines like mine, the difference between full returns and mastheads is the diff between having the funds to print the next issue, or not.

I didn't say all that in my note to Ara, though. I simply told him my terms, and a mere five weeks later, got this reply:

Sorry for the delay. We just moved and things have been very chaotic. We'd rather do mastheads, otherwise we can do full returns if necessary.

See Hear, New York City

"...otherwise we can do full returns if necessary." Translation: We'll do full returns once or twice, or at least promise to, until we forget, or until Ara takes a vacation, or until the policy becomes a little more strict. After that, you get an envelope with only front covers inside, and you get to chew and swallow the cost of printing and mailing those copies. 

No thanks. No deal. No deal now. No deal ever. "Masthead returns" is a rip-off, literally, and I've never understood why any zine publisher puts up with it. I won't.

Consignment means See Hear doesn't own those copies. You haven't paid for them, you're not going to pay for them until the next issue comes out, and I've heard even that's not a sure thing. A steal of a deal for See Hear, but it ain't enough — you'd also "rather" destroy any copies that (you say) don't sell — copies you don't own, won't pay for. In the real world, Ara, that's called theft. —DH

Don't know the reasons for your little outburst, don't really care. Maybe you should become a lobbyist for the "no more masthead returns" crusade; at least it would give you something better to do with your time than to call me a thief. Fuck you! We deal fairly with our clients, and I told you that we'd accommodate your request for full returns. Translate that any way you want. If you're ever in New York, drop by the store — I'd love to kick the shit out of you "in the real world."

See Hear, New York City

It says a lot about your character, Ara, that your response to a difference of opinion is a threat of violence. When you grow weary of pissing on the underground press, you might consider a career in politics or the military. 

Of course, your sensitive feelings are what matter here, so we won't pause to consider the many, many small zines See Hear has strangled by ordering 25 copies, throwing fifteen in the garbage, and maybe paying for 10, at 40% off. That's company policy. You "deal fairly" with your clients. You're a man of integrity. —DH

More of this issue's
letters to Pathetic Life:

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From Pathetic Life #25
June, 1996

This is an entry retyped from an on-paper zine I wrote many years ago, called Pathetic Life. The opinions stated were my opinions then, but might not be my opinions now. Also, I said and did some disgusting things, so parental guidance is advised.

Addendum, 2023: Jeez, was I a sanctimonious prick in 1996.


  1. Captain HampocketsJuly 1, 2023 at 10:18 AM

    >Addendum, 2023: Jeez, was I a sanctimonious prick in 1996.

    Ehhh, whatever. 60%may or may not have been the standard at the time - I was only in like two distros, don't remember which ones, don't remember the terms, and surely was never paid nor had returns returned. But youterms are reasonable. We (pottery company) seldom do wholesale, because it's barely break-even, but we do 50% of retail, NO fucking returns. You don't sell 'em, you drink out of a different mug every day for a month.

    I'm currently at a board gaming convention in lovely Morristown NJ. It's actually a nice little town. This is the first con in 3 years, thanks to Covid, and it's all the same smelly nerds from the last 6 cons I went to.

    1. Captain HampocketsJuly 1, 2023 at 10:21 AM

      Clarification - on the pottery, no returns because it's always CUSTOM shit. As in, "Cafe Name" on 60 mugs. We have some very loyal customers, and haven't had an issue with our terms, because they do generally sell out. But no, I'm not accepting returns for 25 mugs that all say "Eat At Joe's."

    2. The same smelly nerds, ha ha. Hope there are enough new nerds to buy plenty of pottery.

      Must be some nice restaurants that buy the custom cups. Do they serve coffee in the mugs, or sell them as souvenirs?

    3. I'm at the convention for fun, not selling.

      Vee worked at a coffee shop called The Ugly Mug. She made special mugs for both purposes - in-shop drinking, as well as sales. Probably 150 or so over the years, maybe 2/3 were sold to customers

  2. See Hear screwed a lot of fanzine publishers when its owner, Ted, went under. I was always paid quickly but apparently I was the exception. At some point, he was married to a lawyer, so that might have made him cocky, They divorced and from what I've been told he shaved his legs and now he is a she and he's walking on the wild side somewhere out there. -- Linden Arden

    1. Ah, Linden, thanks for this. I'd heard the chatter in the '90s, but as I retyped these letters and Googled around, all I could find was a few memories of how great the See Hear store had been.

      Even if all the bad chatter was true, gotta assume Ted & Ara weren't intentionally ripping people off. Probably they were just half-assed like I was and still am.

      Did you ever deal with Fine Print Distribution, or Desert Moon? Those were much bigger operations, and when they collapsed they took a lot of big-time zines down, including BLACK SHEETS.

      Fine Print, I think, really was an intentional scam.

    2. Desert Moon but never Fine Print. But it was the early days of Desert Moon and I got paid. But I read about people later getting royally screwed by DM. I got screwed by Rough Trade who claimed bankruptcy and I assume reorganized, since they still exist in some form today. -- Linden

    3. I don't even remember Rough Trade, but always there's someone looking to rip people off. Immutable law of the universe.


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