Fighting Back
Home Up Final Indignity


Round 7, the Shaggie Saga Continues:

SSQQ Responds to the Michigan Law Firm

April 1, 2000

Mr. Mark Zietlow
Cunningham Dalman, P.C.

Attorneys at Law
PO Box 1767
Holland, Michigan 49423

Dear Mr. Zietlow,

I have received your letter dated March 27, 2000. Your initial words were…

“We represent Licensing Resource Group, which is the exclusive licensing agent for Texas A&M University. Licensing Resource Group has brought to our attention the fact that you are using the mark “Forbidden Word,” in connection with a dance, and advertise “Forbidden Word Jitterbug” dance lessons. The mark “Forbidden Word” is exclusively licensed to Licensing Resource Group.”

My name is Rick Archer. As the owner of SSQQ Dance Studio I appreciate your bringing this concern to my attention. It isn’t often I receive such well-written threatening letters. I believe your document merits a reply, so I am indeed responding in writing. Please forgive the length of this letter. I find this situation to be very complicated and it may take a while for me to sort out the issues at hand.

For one thing, I am very naïve in legal matters. I have never been sued.  Nor have I ever even been threatened with a lawsuit until you helped me cross this threshold, thank you very much. I will never forget you in this respect. So please bear with me. I am understandably nervous because we are playing in your court, so to speak.

For starters, do I have permission to type the words “a-g-g-i-e Jitterbug” in this letter? I am indeed most fearful of making any further licensing infringements!!  Perhaps it is better if for the remainder I simply of the letter refer to the offending term as the “Forbidden Word”.

I have been told that ignorance of the law is no excuse when it comes to serious legal matters, plus I am intimidated by the strong language in your letter. I feel like I am crossing a minefield in writing back to you. If I do indeed cross some unwritten line in the sand and offend, you have my most humble apology. Your patience with me will be greatly appreciated.

Before I ask some questions, I feel the need to supply some background information. I am not quite sure whom I am dealing with.

Here in Texas, graduates of Texas A&M are considered by some people to be “Stupid”. In my dealings with graduates of Texas A&M, I personally have never met anyone from Texas A&M whom I considered to be in any way “Stupid” at all, but nevertheless I must acknowledge the rumor persists.

May I ask a question? – Is it because Texas A&M-trained lawyers are considered “Stupid” that the Licensing arm of TAMU decided to go all the way to Michigan to find some smart lawyers?  Or is it that A&M doesn’t actually have a law school so they are forced to hire out-of-state mercenaries to do their dirty work?  I would have thought that in a state as large as Texas, TAMU could have found a locally trained lawyer, but perhaps the thought of hiring a lawyer trained by some other state university is completely out of the question. If you have the time, could you please clarify why a Michigan Law Firm represents TAMU?

Mr. Zietlow, as I have already stated but cannot emphasize enough, here in Texas the words “Stupid” and “Texas A&M” are considered by many to be synonyms. Since you are likely from Michigan – congratulations incidentally on your fine Spartan NCAA Championship Team! - perhaps it would help you to understand the problem better if I gave you further cultural background information.

For your edification, the following are considered typical “Forbidden Word” Jokes. Actually, I am still worried about further licensing infringements, so from now on please allow me the switch to a code word – “Baggie”. I am not going to tell you what it stands for, but hopefully you will be able to “read between the lines”.

A Baggie was smoking a cigarette on a cliff. How did he die?  He threw the wrong butt off the cliff. 

Why did the Baggie Freshman wear condoms in his ear? He was terrified of getting hearing aids. 

What do you call a Stork who delivers Baggie Babies? A Dope Peddler. 

Did you hear the one about the Texas Baggie Quarterback who transferred to the University of Oklahoma for a pay raise and thereby raised the IQ of both states?

Unfortunately the one about the “Baggie Quarterback” is a bit complicated and I have been forced on several occasions to explain it to some people. This leads me to my next point.

Although I have already stated for the record that I for one do not believe any Graduates of TAMU I have ever met are “stupid”, I have discovered many of them are quite sensitive about the legendary jokes made about their university’s reputation for ignorance.

Mr. Zietlow, as a lawyer, doesn’t your profession receive more than its share of teasing?  Consequently you should have some experience in dealing the effects of prolonged needling. You should also be in an excellent position to judge how accurate is the truth-to-myth ratio of the ubiquitous Lawyer jokes.

As you know, over the years, many other groups of people have also been singled out for jokes regarding “stupidity” – witness the Polish jokes, Blonde jokes, and Minnesota ice-brain jokes (isn’t Minnesota in your neck of the woods, Mr. Zietlow?). I doubt any of these groups enjoy being teased even when it is good-natured. For example, silly nicknames I call my daughter are not nearly as funny as when she turns around and calls me the same names. So I too understand how it feels to be teased. It gets pretty old quickly.

Probably due to the long traditions of listening to people make fun of A&M and A&M graduates, I have noticed that many A&M graduates are willing to defend their school’s honor at even the slightest perceived aspersion. In fact, I would not be surprised to find it was just this hair-trigger defensiveness that likely created our legal juxtaposition in the first place. For if ever there was a school that inspired “blind loyalty”, Texas A&M would be the first to come to my mind.

I believe one over-zealous gentleman, a certain Mr. Stephen Huzar, created this entire incident.  In the tradition of Don Quixote I believe Mr. Huzar mistook my dance studio for a windmill in his zeal to defend A&M’s honor. Not only do I imagine this gentleman “over-reacted”, but I have a hunch you are but an unwitting foil to his rampage as well.

For example, this next story illustrates nicely the legendary “touchiness” displayed by members of the A&M community in regards to telling Baggie Jokes.

This little runt guy runs into a bar. He hurries up to a stool and says, “Hey, Bartender, Bud Lite and make it snappy!”

The bartender is taken aback by the little guy’s aggressiveness, but turns even colder when the little guy says, “Hey, I just heard a great Baggie joke. You wanna hear it?”

The bartender finishes filling the glass, turns around, and places it on the counter a little too roughly so some of the beer spills out. The bartender grits his teeth and snarls the following words…

“Look, Mister, before you tell that joke, I better tell you something. Now I went to A&M and so did my brother, the bouncer, you know, that big guy over there. We both played some football. We didn’t graduate, but we had some good times, made a little money under the table playing ball, and really liked the place. And the manager, that guy sitting in the office over there, he also went to A&M and he even graduated. Now do you still want to tell that Baggie joke?”

The runt guy frowns, grimaces, scratches his head, then looks at his watch. “Nah, I guess I better not. I don’t have time to explain it to all three of you!!”

Mr. Zietlow, if I may get personal for a moment, it is obvious you do not know me from Adam. I took as my first clue your nondescript greeting, “Ladies and Gentlemen”. Indeed, after a second glance at your letter, I think it is likely to be a form letter where you did a thoroughly professional job of filling in the appropriate blanks. You might be amused to know there is a Baggie joke that deals with this very subject.

How can you tell when an A&M Lawyer has been using the Word Processor?  The white out is still on the screen.

Therefore, I want you to know I don’t hold any ill will towards you personally in this incident. My guess is your rationale in the matter was that you were just doing your job. This concept works well for Dog Catchers, Bill Collectors, Telephone Solicitors, and many other people who like you work in unpopular professions.  Nor should you take anything I say too personally. I am simply a guy in a jam trying to clear up an unpleasant situation

Now that I have conveyed to the best of my ability the cultural climate that overshadows our situation, I would like to address the issues. Referring yet again to your succinct letter,

Therefore, your use of “Forbidden Word” is a direct infringement on the rights of Licensing Resource Group. We consider your infringement to be a serious intrusion on the rights of our client.”

Now here I have a question. Do you really consider this matter to be "serious" or was that word already in the form letter and you just didn't have the energy to bother to remove it?

Assuming you are indeed serious, I am sorry that you consider my dance studio’s use of the “Forbidden Word” to be a “serious intrusion.”  Just so we can speak a common language, you know, lawyer to dance teacher, here at the dance studio, we call this “stepping on someone’s toes.”  Until I received your threatening letter, I never dreamed the use of the “Forbidden Word” was tantamount to legally stepping on tender TAMU toes.

Back in the 80s I dated and eventually married a woman who was a graduate of Texas A&M. She taught me how to dance theForbidden Word Jitterbug”.  I assumed that’s what everyone called it so that’s what I called it too. I am completely honest when I say I never dreamed anyone would take offense until Mr. Stephen Huzar brought this matter to my attention in an email to me dated Friday, February 4, 2000. (see Shaggie 1)

Mr. Zietlow, although I totally comprehend the serious nature of your letter, I have to admit I was amused by one aspect of your document, the phrase “compensatory damages for lost businesses”. For one thing, I wasn’t aware that A&M taught Forbidden Word Jitterbug”.  Is this course part of their curriculum?  If it isn't in their college curriculum, then how are they supposed to be losing money on something they don’t even teach?  Furthermore, just how much money do you people think my studio actually makes off of Forbidden Word Jitterbug”?  Better get out your calculator!  It’s Disclosure Time!

The last time my dance studio actually held a course in Forbidden Word Jitterbug” was on Saturday, July 10, 1999. I should know since I taught the course. There were 10 people in attendance. Between them they paid out perhaps $100 (10 bucks a piece, but I think one of them snuck in and didn't pay).  I was so disappointed in the lack of interest that I decided not to offer the course again for the rest of the year. I might add it was the only time the entire year enough people actually even showed up for the course to make. I would imagine the profits from our entire Forbidden Word Jitterbug” program when viewed in relation to our total program would be about the size of a pimple on a hippopotamus' rear end. With a nod to the historic Texas association with a Country-Western life-style, around these parts some people would call your firm’s interest in this matter “beating a dead horse”. 

If you do indeed decide (as you have threatened to do) take legal action against me for Trademark Violation and depose any of the several thousand dance students that took lessons at my studio in 1999, you will be hard-pressed to find anyone to contradict me. You would be even more hard-pressed to actually find someone who took a course in Forbidden Word Jitterbug”. You have my written word that I have not conducted a massive cover-up in this instance. 

Just out of curiosity, how much of your time would the 1999 SSQQ profits from Forbidden Word Jitterbug” buy? I would imagine a billable hour for an attorney like you with a high-priced non-Texas law firm would exceed $100 pretty fast.  $100 might even be about what you would charge for punching out a fill-in-the-blank “Cease and Desist” threat letter like the one you sent me.  Although thankfully I have never had an occasion to need a lawyer, I have heard that Lawyers are very expensive.  Witness if you would the following story.

A man walked into a lawyer’s office and inquired about the lawyer’s rates.  “$100.00 for three questions”, replied the lawyer. “Isn’t that awfully steep?” asked the man. “Yes,” the lawyer replied, “and what was your third question?”

Mr. Zietlow, did you know that I actually attempted to make peace with Mr. Stephen Huzar?  Did you know I exchanged several emails with the gentleman and offered to hold a TAMU scholarship benefit “Forbidden Word Jitterbug” class at my studio as a peace gesture? (see Shaggie 2 and Shaggie 4)

Yes, it is true!  Furthermore, Mr. Huzar wrote another email. If I may share with you the first paragraph from his email to me dated February 8, 2000…

“Mr. Archer -

I appreciate your warm esteem towards Texas A&M.  More importantly, it appears I owe you a huge apology.  By describing the chain of events below, I am not trying to rationalize my original message - it appears I was undoubtedly mistaken as to SSQQs willingness to associate with us.  Please accept my unqualified apology…”

Forgive me if I assumed at the time that everyone had decided to let bygones be bygones. I obviously was mistaken. Interestingly, this benefit class was strictly my own idea. It was not suggested to me nor was I pressured into doing it. I happen to know a lot of Texas A&M graduates. Not only are they clearly not stupid, they are some of the nicest people I know. I honestly wanted to do something positive for their school. I had hoped to send a clear message that I was not a threat to Texas A&M University nor had I any desire to exploit their name.

Mr. Zietlow, are you aware that I scheduled the benefit class in “Forbidden Word Jitterbug” at my studio for the night of March 25th?  This event occurred just two days before you sent me your nice letter.

Did you know we had over 40 people in the class, many of them graduates of TAMU?  I received several comments that the dance I taught was exactly what they remembered from their undergraduate days at the University. The only discouraging word I received all evening was the disappointment that I wasn’t teaching any advanced steps in the Forbidden Dance.

For the evening, I hired Ms. Rachel Seff to be my assistant. Ms. Seff, '92, is not only an A&M graduate, she is also the current recipient of one of A&M’s finest honors – The TAMU 1999 Harris Award for Community Service (a fact that I proudly announced to my entire dance studio on my web site).  I didn’t expect to receive quite the same accolades as Ms. Seff, but I thought I might at least get a “thank you” note for the evening… something I have not received as yet.

I even wore my Texas A&M cap to demonstrate solidarity although I was worried that someone might perceive me as trying too hard.  Oh well, I guess that’s the kind of chance I have to take when I do everything in my power to bend over backwards trying to make people happy.

Did you know that my event on March 25th raised $500?  I had invited members of the Houston Association of Former A&M Students to come collect the money themselves, but when none appeared to help, I collected the money myself.  You will just have to trust me when I say we did not skim any money off as a hedge against future A&M-related legal expenses.

Did you know I didn’t even have a clue who to send the money to?  I had to email an A&M dance student who took the class just to get an address. He offered me this address –

The Houston A&M Club
P.O. Box 27382
Houston, TX  77227--7382

It is likely that my studio’s donation of $500 to a Texas A&M Scholarship sent on March 27th to the local Association of Former A&M Students crossed your letter to me dated March 27th in the mail.  Maybe the postman even picked up my donation at the same time he delivered to your nice threatening letter to me!  Maybe your lawsuit envelope might even have fleetingly touched my scholarship envelope in passing!!  Now what a coincidence that would have been!  Now, Mr. Zietlow, don’t you agree that would be rather ironic?

In view of my scholarship contribution to Texas A&M when compared to the treatment I have received from one certain individual in the A&M community plus your esteemed law firm, you can imagine why I have experienced a great deal of cognitive dissonance regarding this matter. But now we are getting more into the realm of psychotherapy, which likely is not your particular bailiwick, so let’s move on. 

I have a couple more questions, if I may. You write,  

“Therefore, your use of “Forbidden Word” is a direct infringement on the rights of Licensing Resource Group. We consider your infringement to be a serious intrusion on the rights of our client”.

In my letter, I have included several examples of what here in Houston are commonly called “Forbidden Word Jokes”. I hear people call them “Forbidden Word Jokes” all the time. Thousands of people, millions even, tell “Forbidden Word Jokes” every day. 

Why is it okay for these people to use the term “Forbidden Word Joke” while I can’t use the term “Forbidden Word Jitterbug”?  Is it because I have attempted to make money from the use of the “Forbidden Word”?  Is that my sin? 

Furthermore, there are “Forbidden Word” graduates of different schools across the country. For example, Colorado State graduates are often called Forbidden Words.  Isn’t it pretty obvious that in no way am I trying the exploit the reputation of Texas A&M for my own business purposes?  And, by the way, how can A&M experience business losses for something the University isn’t even involved in? 

Perhaps you could cite a legal case, you know “Godzilla v. Mothra” or something like that, which would help me understand why what I have done is considered by you to be such a “serious intrusion on the rights of our client”

You see, Mr. Zietlow, I am worried that in some people’s eyes, this entire incident might be considered “STUPID”. In fact, I would imagine this is exactly the very sort of incident Texas A&M University would prefer to avoid. 

For it is stories such as this one that could very possibly persuade independent thinkers that there is a grain of truth inside those ridiculous jokes.  Surely your law firm would not want to push this matter any further than necessary for fear of provoking unnecessary harm to the reputation of Texas A&M University. 

I might add that I still think one solitary individual, the unfortunate Mr. Huzar, has orchestrated this entire affair. I also know for a fact that every member of the A&M community save Mr. Huzar that I have checked with is mortified by this entire incident.

In summary, I think your position is absurd. As William Shakespeare might put it, your position is “Much Ado About Nothing”. You are defending a hill of sand that nobody cares about. 

However, since you are paid to take this matter seriously, I will grant you a temporary victory in the Annals of Justice. As a sign of my goodwill in this complex matter, you have my written assurance that for the time being I will “cease and desist” using the Forbidden Word as you have requested.

I have decided to rename the Forbidden Dance “The shaggie Jitterbug” for 30 days. This should give you ample time to respond to me with an answer to some of my questions. 

However, if I do not hear back from you within 30 days of the date of this letter, can I assume I have your permission to resume calling the Forbidden Dance by its well-known Public Domain Name, “THE Forbidden Word JITTERBUG”?

I await your next contact.


Rick Archer
SSQQ Dance Studio
Houston, Texas


Shaggie Home Shaggie One Shaggie Two Shaggie Three
Houston Press Story Shaggie Four Shaggie Five Shaggie Six
Letters to Editor Shaggie Seven Shaggie Eight Shaggie Nine

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