No one got rich. Everybody had food to eat.



Other Space Outing
G. Slonaker


hongbao / white envelopefor Koon Woon
S. Pai

Across the Chinese diaspora, our elders insert crisp new bills into miniature red envelopes, to be shared with the young on the occasion of a new year, a birthday, a benediction.

These crimson gifts appeared on irregular occasions throughout my girlhood. If grades were high, if times were good. If the family business was net positive, that year. 

As kids, we anticipated the amounts inside the gilded hongbao, based on our performance of what qualified, or counted as good.

My parents retired trade after trade. We spent years living in the red. The failed shiitaki mushroom farm. The shuttered gift shop. An obsolete import business. We lived off credit.

As an adult, I catalogued the collections of a cultural museum and encountered the red envelope that I didn’t see for decades. Unsure of the Chinese characters printed across its front, I asked my peer from the Mainland to confirm its use. “Jenny” laughed. I didn’t know the markings indicated its use for a wedding. Red with shame, I pictured a bride tucking the parcel into her decolletage.

When I stopped depositing his checks, I pictured my father growing red with ire. He found other ways to reach me. Posting unmarked envelopes of cash through the mail. Imagining American dollars could be as secure a transaction as gold, the bills wouldn’t expire or lose their exchange value.

The bachelor poet has sent funds to my son since he was two. He is not my boy’s father. The twenty-dollar bills arrive enclosed within a plain white business envelope stamped with a chop. The image is of goldfish, transforming into yin and yang. No red ink, just black, just white. 

This note:

My father once told me that his sister in SF used to steal money from her gambler husband’s trousers when he was asleep in order to send money to him in China when he was going to middle school. Those days, graduates of high school can become teachers.

My father came to the US at 18 and worked in the Oakland naval shipyards.

He always told his children to go get the best education possible and that includes non-school learning as well. He was a practical man. I am not so much.

Enclosed is something extra for Tomo.

Best wishes,

Before I was born, our surname had already been altered. The paternal grandmother mandated that we take the bachelor’s name for our own, to honor a relation outside the ancestral blood line. We were relatively new to the country then too, transplants from Fujian to Taiwan. The patriarch of our own family gone, it was the benevolence of a stranger that made life tolerable. No one got rich. Everyone had food to eat. From Tsai, we became Pai.

Woon is not your true name, any more than Pai is mine. We do not wear red or believe in luck. My ancestors were never at Gum Shan, nor were they present at the remembrance of the Golden Spike. We are biologically unrelated. Yet across dialect, generation, and clan, we do not ask whether we belong to one another. Like the koi that you choose to seal your stories, the connection to what’s Chinese transmutes, into care for all of our relations.


E. Hudak


We Must All Hang Together
C. Hudak

1. Every human body, originally the unification of two cells, consists of dozens of systems of trillions of cells. Our cells and their systems originate around the third week of gestation, when a fertilized egg transforms into a three-layered disc. From each layer of this disc, different cells and systems emerge. Your nervous system emerged from the outer layer, your cardiovascular system emerged from the middle, and the cells of your lung, liver, and pancreas emerged from the innermost layer of this disc.

In strange, beautiful, and remarkably orderly ways, our cells spend our lives in their separate, cooperating systems, growing, dividing, and dying. 

Most of the time. 

Sometimes, a few, voracious cells refuse to stop growing. These rogue, insatiable cells overtake previously orderly processes. As these invasive cells overgrow, they deform themselves and the cells around them. Old, damaged cells “survive when they should die,” and unnecessary cells grow in places and ways they are not needed.[1]

When this happens, we call it cancer.

2. What have you heard about the Luddites? Buncha anti-technologists breaking shit, right? In her essay, Notes toward a Neo-Luddite Manifesto, Chellis Glendinning argues that the Luddites, in fact, were a community desperate to challenge the emerging “laissez-faire capitalism with its increasing amalgamation of power, resources, and wealth, rationalized by its emphasis on ‘progress.’” The Luddites weren’t anti-technology so much as they were anti-cancer—they believed endless progress leads, inevitably, to misery. Smashing shit, Glendinning writes, was a last-ditch effort against insatiability.[2]

Alternatively, in one of his Crash Courses, John Green describes smashing shit as a “primitive rebellion,” an opening salvo made by workers trying to protect themselves and their communities. 

Around minute 14 in the video above, Green describes how workers begin by smashing shit, and eventually evolve mutual aid networks within their workplaces, which ultimately become unions. In unions, solidarity replaces “wrecking the machines….” Green mentions strikes as one method of solidarity.

Last month, Teamsters Local 202 went on strike in the Bronx. Their place of work, the Hunts Point Produce Market is the “the world’s biggest wholesale produce market” and earns revenues in the billions. Workers there wanted a raise. It was their first strike since 1986.[3]

Striking in New York City in January, during a pandemic, is no picnic, and required shows of solidarity. Neighbors and members of other Teamsters locals showed support by bringing coffee, pizza, and hand warmers to the picket line. Engineers on a train carrying 21 cars of merchandise to the Market showed their solidarity by stopping the train at the picket line, turning around, and heading back to Ohio. One of the engineers reportedly said, “we’re Teamsters, too.”[id][4]

3. I moved to Seattle when I was 18 and began my first grown-up job in 1994, doing undercover security at an independent book store. I had no plans to attend college; I spent my college years working. My colleagues—writers, musicians, artists, and arguers—provided my first education, which included a deep belief in, devotion to, and defense of in- and inter-dependence. It’s not easy to get by on $5/hour (even in the ‘90s) but it’s easier when you’ve got community, able and willing to help.

Around the time I was surreptitiously securing a book store, Jeff Bezos founded, as a book store. Amazon’s business model, largely cribbed from fellow monopolists like Walmart, was, in broad terms, simple. Build hype; underprice competitors; watch competitors die and/or buy them; corner the market; charge monopoly prices. 

In concert with distributors and publishers (who must have, back then, believed it was toward their benefit), Amazon sold books for up to 40% below retail. Since online sales weren’t taxed (for decades), the company was able to undersell brick-and-mortar sellers every time. Amazon bribed online “associates” with small amounts of money to include links to Amazon on their sites, which helped Amazon maximize its points of sale without having to invest in any communities. And the company laid the technological and psychological groundwork for its now massive effort to mine and store any and all of its customers’ personal data. 

Amazon didn’t create much—neither books nor much of a store. Hell, they hardly built a web site—that thing started and remains ugly and unwieldy. What Amazon did do (grotesquely well) was hype themselves.[5] They used the nascent technology of the internet to convince all sorts of people of all sorts of things. They convinced distributors and publishers to forego their own independence and long-term good. They convinced consumers that nothing (including privacy) is better than cheap and fast. They convinced investors to give them absurd amounts of money—who needs profitability?! 

Almost thirty unregulated years later, with extraction maximization (of money, of data) as their guiding light, Amazon has mined unimaginable amounts of private data, destroyed countless small businesses, ruined the lives of thousands of its workers, infiltrated every aspect of our lives online, and become the dominant selling platform on the internet. 

As cancer thrives, the rest of the cells and systems die.

4. During the pandemic, I’ve lost most of my paying work. My husband has kept his job and has been able to work from home. These developments mean that one of the ways we’re able to reduce misery in the world is by staying home. Staying home as much as possible means shopping online. I hate shopping online, but I hate getting and/or spreading covid-19 more.

Friends tell me Amazon is very convenient right now. This strikes me funny. 

In 2020, the U.S. economy shrank by 3.5%, almost 40 million people lost their jobs, and about 20 million people became food insecure while Jeff Bezos’s net (net!) worth soared past $200 billion.[6] 

Matt Korostoff created a web site to help you imagine this unimaginable amount of money

Information about the circumstances of small businesses during the pandemic is thin and scattered, but according to Paul Wiseman at the Associated Press, “The data firm Womply reports that as of Jan. 21 [2021] spending at local businesses is down 23% from a year earlier and that 26% are closed.”[7] 

Small businesses = healthy cells and systems. Our healthy cells and systems are dying. We’ve abused and neglected them for decades, and covid-19 has further exposed their weaknesses and vulnerabilities.  

Amazon’s practice and policy regarding small businesses was, at the start, referred to as the “gazelle project.” Employees were encouraged to imagine Amazon as a cheetah going after the weakest gazelles (aka small publishers) on the savannah. A former employee, speaking to PBS’s Frontline, put it this way:

“The cheetah looks for the weak, looks for the sick, looks for the small! That’s what you go for. Don’t start with number one publisher. Start with number seven publisher, and then number six publisher, and by the time you get to numbers three, two, one, the noise has gotten back to them. They’re gonna know this is coming. Chances are then, you may be able to settle [with them] without a full-on war.”[8]

What would there be to “settle?” The terms of the extortionate contracts that Amazon foisted onto publishers required larger and larger shares of their profits. The same employee, described what “noise” publishers #1 through #3 would be hearing: 

“In order to bring [publishers] into line, we would take them out of automated merchandising, take their prices up to list price; we would put references on their product page saying, ‘you want a book on this topic for a way cheaper price? Click here!’ and we’d send [customers] to wherever we though [that publisher’s] worst competitor was. That was how Amazon forced their vendors to comply.”[9]

Do they still call it the gazelle project? According to a 2020 House Judiciary Committee Report, “Amazon’s dual role selling products on its own web site and running a marketplace for third-party sellers [aka small businesses] ‘creates an inherent conflict of interest’ that encourages Amazon to exploit its access to competing sellers’ data and information. …Third-party sellers described a pervasive environment of ‘bullying,’ wherein the threat of financial burden that comes with an account suspension or product de-listing causes some sellers to ‘live in fear of the company.’”[10]

One small way I decline to feed a cancer during a pandemic is by seeking out small, independent businesses, off of Amazon. There is nothing Amazon has that I need, and the costs of free shipping are too high. 


In 2011, workers at an Amazon warehouse in Pennsylvania worked in such unbearable heat that “Amazon arranged to have paramedics parked in ambulances outside, ready to treat any workers who dehydrated or suffered other forms of heat stress. Those who couldn't quickly cool off and return to work were sent home or taken out in stretchers and wheelchairs and transported to area hospitals. And new applicants were ready to begin work at any time.”[11]

In 2012, German state broadcaster ARD revealed that temporary Amazon workers brought in from Spain and Poland for the holiday season were housed in cramped dorms where they were under constant surveillance and subject to physical harassment and intimidation by security guards at their work and in their rooms.[12]

In 2013, 29-year-old father of three, Jeff Lockhart, Jr., collapsed during his shift at an Amazon warehouse in Chester, Virginia and within hours, he was dead. “At the time of Jeff’s death, the Chester warehouse had been open for four months. The local fire and EMS department had dispatched personnel to its address at least 34 times during that period.”[13]

In 2014, 52-year-old Jody Rhoads “was killed when machinery she was operating to move pallets crashed into shelving and pinned her,” at an Amazon warehouse in Pennsylvania.[14]

In 2015, the New York Times revealed it was no picnic in Amazon’s corporate offices, either. After describing an exhausting, demanding, backstabbing corporate environment, the article quotes “Michelle Williamson, a 41-year-old parent of three who helped build Amazon’s restaurant supply business, [who] said her boss, Shahrul Ladue, had told her that raising children would most likely prevent her from success at a higher level because of the long hours required. Mr. Ladue, who confirmed her account, said that Ms. Williamson had been directly competing with younger colleagues with fewer commitments, so he suggested she find a less demanding job at Amazon. (Both he and Ms. Williamson left the company.)

He added that he usually worked 85 or more hours a week and rarely took a vacation.”[15]

In 2016, 53-year-old Ronald Ashley, a human resources executive at Amazon, fell and fractured his spine during a business trip. “Ashley’s request for short-term disability benefits and a request to work from home were denied by Amazon after three months of paying benefits.” Ashley left the company, and within months, died.[16]

In 2017, 59-year-old “Phillip Lee Terry was crushed to death by a forklift while working at an Amazon warehouse in Plainfield, Indiana. A state investigator found that Amazon was at fault.”[17]

In 2018, reporters in Chicago investigated Amazon delivery drivers after 84-year-old Telesflora Camilla was struck and killed by one Amazon delivery driver, and 75-year-old Raul Salinas was struck by a hit and run Amazon delivery driver within two miles of the local warehouse. “At the intersection where Salinas was hit, we were here five minutes when an Amazon driver [blew] through the same stop sign.[18]

In 2019, the Daily Beast reported the stories of several people whose work at Amazon warehouses led them to thoughts of suicide.  After the grinding nature of his work led Nick Veasley, at the Etna, Ohio warehouse, to attempt suicide, Veasley was hospitalized, which led to his termination for “exceeding the maximum paid time off.” Said Veasley, “Amazon—don’t get me wrong—they throw up a lot of sparkly stuff in front of your eyes. Ooh, benefits, great pay, job security, this that and other. But if you don’t read the fine print down at the bottom of this contract, you’re screwed.” [19]

In 2020, among other things:

  • Workers in a New York warehouse protested grueling working conditions and high injury rates [20].

  • Researchers described how “Amazon uses such tools as navigation software, item scanners, wristbands, thermal cameras, security cameras and recorded footage to surveil its workforce in warehouses and stores,” which, among other things, depresses workers’ capacity to unionize. [21]

  • Amazon reported a covid-19 infection rate of 1.44% among its workers [22], a number that was immediately criticized by experts for being “fundamentally flawed and revealing a lack of understanding of epidemiology. While the announcement may have helped assuage some critics who say Amazon hasn’t done enough to protect workers toiling through a pandemic, it was essentially useless for employees trying to assess whether it’s safe to show up for work.” [23]

  • Amazon fired warehouse workers in New York and Pennsylvania, allegedly for attempting to unionize. [24] At least one of those workers will have her case heard before the National Labor Relations Board, which “found merit in her allegations that Amazon threatened, suspended, and ultimately terminated her because she had been talking with coworkers about pay and other workplace issues, which is a legally protected activity. [25] 

  • Amazon was fined more than $60 million for stealing its drivers’ tips. [26]

6. Historically, Amazon really doesn’t want its workers to unionize. [27][28] Nevertheless, some of them persist. This month, workers in Bessemer, AL began voting on whether to unionize. [29] Amazon reallyreally doesn’t want the workers in Bessemer to unionize and is “sparing no expense pulling out every tired trick in the anti-union playbook, from bombarding workers with propaganda at work to building a wretched website full of distorted claims to reportedly recalibrating traffic lights outside the facility to make it harder for cars to stop and chat with union organizers.” [30]

FYI, the January 2021 strike of Teamsters Local 202 ended about a week after it began, when the workers agreed to contracts that met their demands. Go get yours, Bessemer. As for the rest of us—how will we show our solidarity? What will we do to fend off the cancer?

[4] Full disclosure: when I’m working on one of my intermittent work projects, I’m a Teamster, too.
[5] The other thing they did grotesquely well was gather your data. But that’s a story for another time.
[8] Quote is from former employee Randy Miller, beginning around minute 21:30.
[18] h ttps://

A crow walks along a conifer branch in the snow. Seattle, Washington, U.S.A., February, 2021.

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