On a Sunday morning in 1982, in Des Moines, Iowa, Johnny Gosch left his house to begin his usual paper route. A short time later, his parents were awakened by a phone call–it was a neighbor—their paper hadn’t come. When the Gosches went looking for Johnny they found only his red wagon full of newspapers, abandoned on the sidewalk.
Johnny Gosch was 13 when he disappeared. He had blue eyes and dirty blond hair with a small gap between his front teeth. And his would be the first face of a missing child ever printed on a milk carton.
Johnny’s face wouldn’t find its way onto a milk carton right away though. In September of 1982, when he disappeared, the milk carton program didn’t exist yet, and in fact, Johnny’s parents struggled to get the authorities to take their son’s case seriously. Police were skeptical that he had really been abducted. This sort of thing was just not supposed to happen in wholesome towns in Middle America.
At the time of Johnny’s disappearance there was no legal distinction between a missing child and a missing adult. As such, Johnny’s parents had to wait three days before authorities would consider him a “missing person.” While the Gosches continued to search for their son, Noreen Gosch helped write legislation that would distinguish children from adults in missing persons cases in the state of Iowa.
And then, two years after Johnny, another paperboy named Eugene Martin went missing from a nearby neighborhood. This time a relative working at Anderson & Erickson Dairy got his employer to help. The result was a local milk carton campaign featuring the images of Eugene and Johnny. Within weeks, cartons with images of the two kids were all over the city.
Benches in parks, train stations, bus shelters and other public places are meant to offer seating, but only for a limited duration. Many elements of such seats are subtly or overtly restrictive. Arm rests, for instance, indeed provide spaces to rest arms, but they also prevent people from lying down or sitting in anything but a prescribed position. This type of design strategy is sometimes classified as “hostile architecture,” or simply: “unpleasant design.”
Gordan Savičić and Selena Savić, co-editors of the book Unpleasant Design, are quick to point out that unpleasant designs are not failed designs, but rather successful ones in the sense that they deter certain activities by design. A bench which fails to be comfortable and flexible, for example, can still be a successful design … if the designer intends for it to be an uncomfortable place to spend long periods of time.
Unpleasant designs take many shapes, but they share a common goal of exerting some kind of social control in public or in publicly-accessible private spaces. They are intended to target, frustrate and deter people, particularly those who fall within unwanted demographics.
Street furniture is one of the most common subjects of unpleasant design critiques. The limitations built into urban objects restrict activities, denying a potentially complex range of uses and interactions. Beyond dividers and armrests, some benches are mounted so high that a sitter’s feet will not reach the ground, making them uncomfortable after a short period. In other cases, shared seats are barely benches at all, just slim slats to stand and rest against.
Of all these bench designs, there is one masterpiece in particular that stands out from the crowd. The Camden Bench is a highly refined work of unpleasant design, impervious to essentially anything but sitting.
In the mid-19th century, decades before home refrigeration became the norm, you could find ice clinking in glasses from India to the Caribbean, thanks to a global commodities industry that has since melted into obscurity: the frozen water trade.
In the cold Northeast of the United States, workers would cut ice from frozen ponds, haul it to port, put it on a ship and send it around the world on voyages that could last for months. Fourteen inches of ice was thick enough to support the team of workers and horses assembled for the harvest. These workers would clear off snow and debris then score the exposed surface to create a grid of squares.
Frederic Tudor got the ball rolling (or the cube sliding, as it were) for the whole global network. He was convinced that the local ice industry had global potential beyond regional food preservation. His perseverance eventually earned him the nickname “Ice King.”
Tudor set up shop on the banks of Fresh Pond in Cambridge, Massachusetts, just about two miles northwest of Harvard Square. He found that sawdust was a remarkably good insulator for storing and transporting the ice. It was remarkably cheap as well, a byproduct from lumber mills in Maine.
Though he was a self-taught expert at supply chain logistics, Tudor’s true genius was as a marketer. He had to convince consumers that they needed ice not just to store food but also to cool drinks. His marketing endeavors took him to bars, where he would give free samples and let patrons experience how refreshing a chilled beverage could be.
Situated in the middle of the Mojave desert, over a dozen miles from the nearest pavement, a lone phone booth sat along a dirt road, just waiting to become an international sensation.
Godfrey (“Doc”) Daniels read about this booth in a brief letter to a zine editor, which contained its phone number (760-733-9969) and little else. He didn’t know where it was. He didn’t know if it actually existed. So he called it. No one answered, but he was undeterred. He continued to call and recruited his friends to do the same. The mystery became his obsession, and he started dialing the number several times a day, everyday. Then, after about a month of dialing, he got a break in the case: a busy signal. Frantic, Doc dialed back until he got the open line again, and this time, someone picked up: a cinder miner who had no phone of her own. They chatted for a while, mostly small-talk, and in his excitement, Doc forgot to ask where the phone booth was.
Doc did eventually track the booth down and went for a visit. He even paged a friend for a callback so he could hear it ring for himself. That trip could have been the end of the story if it weren’t for the internet. The year was 1997, and the web was still relatively novel. Doc wanted to commemorate the time he spent devoted to this phone booth, so he created a webpage for it. And it totally took off. People sent him news clippings from international papers and magazines that profiled the phone booth.
Doc and his friends returned a year later to the Mojave Phone Booth. And the phone, once silent, was now ringing off the hook. They would take turns answering it and talking with the the people on the other end–and the instant they replaced the receiver, the ringing would start again. The callers were just part of the equation. Travelers started making pilgrimages to the site of the phone and picking it up as well, talking to whomever happened to be dialing in for hours on end. Like some accidental prototype of an internet chat room, it became a place for anonymous interaction and unexpected conversations.
In the summer of 1961 the upper stage of the rocket carrying the Transit 4A satellite blew up about two hours after launch. It was the first known human-made object to unintentionally explode in space, and it created hundreds of fragments of useless space junk. Some of these pieces were pulled into the atmosphere where they burned up but around 200 of them are still up and orbiting today.
At the time, people were not all that concerned about a few bits of metal floating around in the vastness of space. But like the ocean and other frontiers, space isn’t endless as it first appears.
The universe may be infinite but orbital space is finite and the amount that we use regularly is even more limited. Most satellites end up in a few particular orbits (one can think of them as space freeways). Low Earth orbit, a region of space that extends up to an altitude of about 2000 kilometers, is particularly congested. When a satellite stops working in low Earth orbit it can sometimes stay in that region for hundreds of years.
In the late 1960s a scientist at NASA named Donald Kessler began to look into this phenomena. At the time, Kessler was studying what happens when two meteoroids collide and break apart into smaller pieces. He started doing similar research on space debris and found that a breakup increases the probability of another collision (as parts multiply). And the population of space junk increases exponentially over time. This concept became known as the Kessler Syndrome.
This cascading phenomenon over the course of a hundred years could get out of control, creating an environment that becomes extremely hazardous to spacecraft.
All is fair in love and war... even mind games. The United States military employs psychological warfare in nearly every war it's part of. From creating a "ghost army" of inflatable tank fleets in World War II, to blasting heavy metal music toward enemy territory during the Gulf War, the purpose of these tactics is to decrease morale and inspire enemy combatants to surrender or defect. The US Military calls these tactics "Psychological Operations", or "PSYOP".
The Vietnam War was no different. Threatened by the growing popularity of communism in North Vietnam, the United States joined the conflict in the early 1960's in support of anti-communist South Vietnam. Within a few years, U.S. Army 6th PSYOP Battalion tried a new form of psychological warfare, they called it "Operation Wandering Soul".
Operation Wandering Soul was designed to exploit a Vietnamese belief that death far away from home meant becoming a restless spirit, doomed to wander aimlessly for eternity. The PSYOP unit hired South Vietnamese voice actors to play the role of ghost soldiers and their families lamenting in an echo chamber. They played these recordings at full volume from helicopters and airplanes flown over enemy territory in the middle of the night. The hope was that North Vietnamese soldiers, exhausted by combat, would drop their weapons and go home.
McNeil Island sits in Washington State's Puget Sound, just three miles northwest of Steilacoom. For much of its existence, the island served as a fishing outpost for indigenous coastal people. But for the last 150-odd years, McNeil Island has been a place to house society's undesirables. Soon after white settlers claimed it in the 1850s, they built a prison there--Charles Manson served a stint there, long before his infamous Hollywood killing spree. At that point, McNeil Island was a sustainable community that consisted of the prison staff and their family members. There were houses, an elementary school and a graveyard.
But the world changed, and the island prison became too expensive to operate. In 2011 the prison closed, the inmates were relocated, and the staff moved to the mainland.
But by then, McNeil Island had sprouted a different kind of facility, also nested inside razor wire. It wasn't a prison, but its residents weren't exactly free to leave.
It was a late summer morning in 1989 when Washington Governor Booth Gardner came to work at the state capital to find thousands of empty tennis shoes dumped at the capital steps. The shoes were left there by demonstrators calling for harsher punishments for sex offenders. The group did it in response to several gruesome crimes that had happened earlier that year; crimes which the activists argued were enabled by lax sentencing laws and early releases for violent prisoners. The group called themselves the Tennis Shoe Brigade, and the shoes they brought were meant to represent the forgotten victims of rape. Their action prompted Governor Gardner to assemble the Task Force on Community Protection.
That fall, as the Governor Gardner's task force deliberated, serial child rapist Westley Allen Dodd raped and murdered three young boys in Vancouver, Washington. Despite Dodd's long criminal history of child molestation, he never served a full prison sentence for his crimes. Even Dodd himself felt the legal system had failed him and his victims, telling one reporter, "If you add up all the prison time I was given but never made to serve, I'd be in prison until 2026... and those boys would still be alive." Dodd wrote a pamphlet advising children on how to avoid violent sex offenders like him.
In the wake of Dodd's crimes, the task force penned the Community Protection Act of 1990. This act required law enforcement to keep a sex offender registry, and allowed for the civil commitment of Sexually Violent Predators, or SVPs. This meant that this special class of sex offenders could be legally and indefinitely detained after they'd served their criminal sentences if the court deemed them likely (aka. more than 50% likely) to re-offend, if released into the public. But, per the law, civil commitment would be rehabilitative, not punitive, and therefore wouldn't violate double jeopardy. The act passed into law RCW 71.09 also known as the Sexually Violent Predator law.
Before Doog could walk, his family gave him a guitar to hold and encouraged him to play music. By the time he was twelve, he'd started writing songs as a way to make sense of the confusing world around him. Back then he was just Eric Alexander, the friendly weird kid who dressed like a punky cowboy. In college a fellow musician asked Eric what his middle name was. "Douglas," Eric replied. "Douglas? Doug, Doug... Doog... I'm going to call you Doog." The name stuck, and eventually Eric created his raspy, crass musical persona: Sir Deja Doog.
In his early twenties, Doog started hearing voices, seeing and feeling things that weren't there. He worried that he was losing his mind and avoided telling his friends what was happening. For years he was in and out of the emergency room and psych ward. He sought treatment and was medicated on and off for depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
Doog's symptoms worsened. By 2013 he started having partial seizures. One night he had a vision that he was being abducted by ancient aliens, so old he could see through their papery skin. One of the aliens poked Doog behind his left ear.
A few weeks later Doog was in the hospital again, feeling suicidal. This time the doctors gave Doog an MRI. When they scanned his brain, they found a small, calcified tumor called a glioma. The tumor was in the left hemisphere of his brain -- just inches from where the alien poked him in his vision. Doctors told Doog that he needed brain surgery immediately or he would soon die.
Faced with the prospect of an early death, he ignored the doctors’ orders fearing the surgery would affect his musical creativity. Instead, Doog decided to focus his energy on creating his masterpiece: Sir Deja Doog's Love Coffin.
For months, Doog obsessed over Love Coffin. He wrote and recorded day and night through partial and full seizures and debilitating headaches. It was only once his album was finished and his symptoms became unbearable that he agreed to surgery. Doctors removed the tumor and some surrounding parts of his brain.
Today, Doog continues to recover, and he's slowly re-learning how to be independent as his brain heals. Seventeen months after surgery Doog was in remission, but soon after that doctors found gliosis in his brain—scar tissue that forms after severe brain trauma. Doctors continue to monitor him for additional cancers. It is possible that Doog will need chemotherapy.
Jeff Emtman left home in the summer of 2011 to hitchhike the United States, to see if strangers would chop him up and put him in their trunks, if he gave them the option to. He was 22 years old with straight teeth, a trimmed beard and a strong fear of strangers.
This episode picks up just after Jeff came a little too close to true violence, in the form of a fatal shooting at a restaurant in rural Mississippi. He turns around, decides to head back to the land of dry beds and predictability, Washington State, his home.
It was a summer of thunderclaps and heavy rain. Jeff learned to judge the weight of clouds, learned to determine when they might fall from the sky from holding too much rain (see photos below).
It was also a summer of uncertain interactions with strangers, including a lead-footed grandmother, a chain gang, a child who could nearly levitate, and a car mechanic who whispered into Jeff’s ear a strange blessing.
This episode takes place roughly in between two previous episodes of Here Be Monsters about Jeff’s hitchhiking. The two previous episodes are How I Learned to Love Rejection, parts 1 and 2. Jeff’s full photo/audio diaries from the trip live here.
In 2014, Jeff Emtman mailed tape recorders to people around the world. He asked them to keep the recorders by their beds and flip them on early in the morning as their dreams were still fresh in their minds. Once the tape was full, they mailed it back to Jeff.
Until now, the dreams remained private. But, on this episode of Here Be Monsters, you'll hear a small collection of the first set of dreams.
In the coming months, more dreams will be uploaded to the Dream Tapes Project at DreamTapes.org. The project is currently seeking volunteers to help transcribe and upload hundreds of dreams. If you want to help out, please get in touch.
The Dreamers in this episode are: Anonymous Participant #001, Rebecca Williams, Micah Cruver, Alexandra Doumas, Beyana Magoon, Allison Baxter Lubbs, Lisa Sulenes, Traesti Gudmundson, Grace Woods, Samantha Wohlfeil, and Anonymous Participant #007.
The dreams in the episode were edited for time. Unedited dreams will live at the DTP website.
Music: Phantom Fauna