How To Write The Perfect Listicle

by Matthew J.X. Malady

People drop things on the Internet and run all the time. So we have to ask. In this edition, Daily Dot assigning editor Cooper Fleishman tells us more about his childhood secret agent persona and affinity for creating listicles even at a young age.

Here are my secret-agent credentials, along with my very first listicle.

— Cooper Fleishman (@_Cooper) March 23, 2014

Cooper! So what happened here?

Glad you asked. You’re looking at the credentials of Agent 3.3 Cubed, a.k.a. Tykk (pronounced “Tyke”), who by day was a rat-tailed third-grader named Cooper Fleishman, age 8.

My parents are currently packing up the house where I grew up — in Yellow Springs, Ohio, a little college town near Dayton. They’ve been emailing me photos of all this childhood writing I had no idea they saved. So far it’s been:

• A list of curse words like “stupid stink butt” and “fartface pigbreath”

• A tally of all my enemies, including the cast of Barney and the overworked library assistant I thought was mean

• A self-portrait, drawn with crayon, of me and my rat tail

• A list my mom wrote of the words I liked to say when I was almost two years old: “furnace, penis, Xmas, hummus, baba ghanouj, and Thomas.” I can’t explain this.

I’ve been trying to piece together more about my brief stint as a child secret agent. Another note, also forwarded by my mom, was an intercepted message to my little brother, Max, detailing how my grade school covered up a conspiracy to expose a haunted sandbox, an exploding planet, and an alien teacher. “We saw a bruse on her elbow we think that a alean from planit Q13 skind her alive and waering the skin also making her act like a slave,” I wrote, [sic]s all around. “PS My secrit club is on Wensday You wanna come?”

Also: My “Enemie List.” I did not like Barney.

— Cooper Fleishman (@_Cooper) March 23, 2014

Look at this list of curse words I wrote when I was 7. Nothing’s changed

— Cooper Fleishman (@_Cooper) March 23, 2014

Clearly, my service was to combat the threat of alien slave teachers with no skin.

I was an avid reader when I was a kid, and I read Calvin and Hobbes collections front to back, over and over, trying to memorize poems and dialogue I particularly liked, such as “It must be hard to cook if you anthropomorphize your vegetables.” This secret agent sheet must have been influenced by some combination of Tracer Bullet, Stupendous Man, and Spaceman Spiff.

I loved weird math trivia, like the word “vigintillion” and every multiple of 2 up to 32,768, which explains the exponent in my “Agient #.” Also, because a good agent is sneaky, I figured I should have a number that was hard to guess, so I threw a decimal in there too, just for the hell of it.

The most inspired detail on this sheet, though, is how I wrote my job title in cursive. Print just wasn’t elegant enough. I took the time to carefully connect every letter — c’mon, cursive is hard — but I still didn’t spell “agent” right.

I was prepared for the worst. After all, it was my motto. And I was so well prepared to be a secret agent that I wrote this list well before I could actually become one IRL.

Eight years later, though, I would forget about this dream and apply to liberal arts schools in Ohio.

The subject (right) at age 8 and his brother.

With respect to the “8 top tips for being a secret agient,” I’m assuming those traits were arranged based on order of importance, as the numbering would seem to suggest. So what do you think that order says about the type of spy Agent 3.3 Cubed was, considering that he valued endurance and agility over intelligence (which came in at number seven and barely beat out “silence” as a trait)? Is there a modern-day movie or TV character who would fit nicely into the “8 top tips” rubric you created in 1996?

You can tell more about Agent 3.3 Cubed from what I left off the list, actually: tips No. 9 and 10. I was too goddamn lazy to think of anything else, so I just erased those numbers. I didn’t even erase them well. What kind of shitty secret agent half-asses his own superlatives? No wonder I never made it to West Point.

I had never seen a James Bond film, nor would I have been allowed to, so I left off some very important secret agent qualifications — like bedding women, discarding women, hitting women, and wearing suits. This list more accurately describes Toad from Mario Kart.

Lesson learned (if any)?

Truth be told, I was pretty freakin’ great at writing listicles when I was 8, even though I had some grammar/spelling/consistency issues to work out. This headline is tailor-made for BuzzFeed. I think I made the right career choice.

The best thing to come out of this list, though, is that multiple people have shared their own secret agent code names with me. Gaby Dunn’s was Sunday, and Fidel Martinez’s was Hawkeye. We’re teaming up and forming a league of former child secret agents whose powers lie dormant while we tweet all day.

Sunday and Hawkeye are much better code names than Tykk, but I should win points for creativity. I gave myself a symbol.

Just one more thing.

There’s even more to dissect, now that I look at it closely. The scanner picked up something else on the back of this paper: My friend Aaron Zaremsky wrote down his own secret agent qualifications. His code name: Zaaq, pronounced “Zack.” Were we united in fighting skinless alien faculty, or was he my nemesis?

Matthew J.X. Malady is a writer and editor in New York.