It was more like a Y than a y. Like an upside-down Mercedes Benz logo without the circle. Another splashy marketing gimmick. Except who’d want to market human misery?
Not that folks of all races, religions and ages hadn’t exploited human misery for their own purposes from time immemorial. But to brand hunger, disease, homelessness, murder, torture, rape, racism, oppression, alienation, persecution—extant human misery—that took some serious ball-biting nerve.
Enthusiasts and later governments pinpointed the first Y as having appeared on Google Maps to mark the location of a food bank that had been robbed in Queens. The vermillion Y tag then spread like wildfire to mark the physical location of all kinds of crimes, injustices, outrages—you name it. Clicking on the Y linked a user to a news account of the misery involved. Sometimes it was as routine and maddening as a drunk driver killing or maiming a pedestrian. Sometimes it was as poignant and heinous as a child slowly starved by her meth-addicted foster parents.
For any savvy users it was clear that no one person, or army, could be behind it. Theories centered on a host of botnets using a sophisticated algorithm to key off newsfeeds and social media posts. As the net expanded, so did the Y of human misery.
The majority of media and government officials wanted to know who was behind it. The masses were stunned by the sheer volume. Drilling down to street level on Google Maps the Ys were your neighbors. They were you.
Misery was everywhere. The fouled air we breathed. The food we did not have to eat. The hours we could find nowhere to sleep. The strangers that robbed us. The friends and family who betrayed us.
We’d always known the world was a difficult place. That children suffered, women were oppressed, men demoralized. But not like this. Not right next door—or at our doorsteps.
Google’s programmers could not rid their sites of the Y. It dogged them for two months until it seemed on their maps that not an inhabited space on the planet was to be spared the bloody Y.
Until the very first Y at the burglarized food bank turned green and the link took a user to the story of a young woman who’d rallied her community to restore and secure that burglarized food bank.
Red Ys began to turn green, though not at the rate they’d appeared in red. There was much more bad news reported than good. But there was good to be found. The green Ys showed that. Human misery was balanced by compassion and concern and love. It was not an equal equation when factored through newsfeeds, but it was enough.
It wasn’t all horror. It wasn’t all hope. No one could say why?
They never did. Two months after the first green Y appeared. All of them vanished, as did the red ones. Some users were disappointed. Some were relieved. Some felt compelled to find an answer.
A day later, the first painted red Y appeared on the side of a Planned Parenthood office in Omaha. The next day it had been painted over in green.
Y oh Y.