One small, square box of revenge

To me, blackout poetry represents an opportunity to make mischief out of boring things like financial columns and interviews with Arnold Schwarzenegger. You excise the dull parts with swaths of ink or paint. It’s like a secret code created with gleeful defacement.

talk to strangers, surprising men, a paper friend wrote that morning

You can see how I made a “rough draft” in pencil, but then couldn’t erase it because that would’ve effectively murdered the newsprint.

Poetry, in general, isn’t something I write. But I can never resist mischief (or trickery, or sneakiness*), and apparently I created a lot of blackout poetry a few years ago. I posted another blackout poem over a year ago. I found these few poems while looking through an old art journal, and had one of those “Oh, cool!” moments that come around sometimes when looking through old things you’ve forgotten about.

Or even things that aren’t so old. If you write enough, there’s a point when your brain can’t hold it all in, and blog posts from maybe two months ago read like new.

Call someone who you think they're an enemy.

If I twist my brain hard enough, I can justify this as being actual advice. Of some sort.

I thought I’d share these, because out of all the blackout poetry I found, these were the ones that came out surprising well. Or at least the ones that didn’t make me think, “Holy crap, how can anyone over seventeen compose something so depressively emo?”)

one small square box of revenge

I imagine it’s wrapped in elegant paper the color of titanium.

And the idea of a small, square box of revenge, whatever that is, amused me.


*Despite the fine distinctions between trickery, sneakiness, and mischief, I have tags for both sneakiness and trickery, and most of the posts overlap. Speaking of sneakiness, I just learned I’m the top Google result for “Kris Bowser sneaking food into movie.” For reasons..

“Checklist,” a blackout poem

What I like about blackout poetry is that it’s sort of an inverted version of pinhole cipher, where a hidden message is concealed in printed matter by pinholes under the words of the real message. I used to make pinhole ciphers on discarded newspapers in cafeterias and coffee shops, just in case someone noticed.

checklist

“Checklist. Smile smile smile smile. Imagine the lie.”

If I had nine lives, I’d use one of them to be a spy who retires and opens a coffee shop.  Preferably, the spy part would be in the early half of the twentieth century, before analogue cryptography was completely outmoded.

With blackout poetry, I can just sort of pretend that someone sent me a secret message and pick out whatever words or syllables interest me.

I didn’t have any particular plan when I did this one, but it’s clear to me that this poem explains how I deal with a lot of social niceties, particularly being asked how I’m doing when I’m not doing well, but I don’t want to say so. Smile, smile, find some sort of lie, and try not to sigh depressively.

Not that I would put on such a charade at my spy coffee shop. I like to think I foster an atmosphere of erudite grumpiness.

Tarantula costumes for dogs: a to-do list

People are dressing their dogs as other animals—like lions and spiders—and playing awesome pranks with them.

If I had a small dog, and an enormous tarantula costume, here are some things I would do:

  • Re-enact the part in Home Alone where Kevin throws the tarantula on Marv. This would involve finding a friend willing to have a small dog thrown at their face.
  • Leave it in the laundry room at 10:00 pm so my neighbors freak out if they try to do laundry after the 10:00 pm cut off.
  • Bring it to the post office. A friend from work gets away with bringing her little white dog into the post office all the time. Surely, an enormous spider canine is no different.
  • Go shopping with a dog in my purse, but the dog looks like a giant spider. I would first need to buy the type of purse people do this with, which would mean first going shopping with a faux-tarantula in my sweatshirt. I would especially like to do this at a high-end clothing store, but I dress too much like a vagrant to pull that off. They’d be eyeing me suspiciously the instant I walked in.
  • Drape it over my mom’s sewing machine, assuming the dog-spider can stay still. My mom always had awesomely grossed out reactions to my Creepy Crawlers when I was a kid, the kind of adult gross-out reaction that kids dream of when they bake up their rubbery little insects. I would like to see that again.
  • Bring it hiking. Many of the trails in my area are popular dog-walking spots. I wonder how it feels to see someone’s enormous, be-leashed arachnid pooping on the side of the trail?

Santa’s little telescreen

Even if the decorations are still up, we’re past the time period when it’s socially acceptable for me to put up a Christmas post.  But does anyone else find the concept of Elf on the Shelf a little sinister? Elf on the Shelf creeps me out, and not just because of its plasticky 1950s smile, or its overall vibe of cutesy, overbearing innocuousness.

The basic idea of Elf on the Shelf is that it’s a minion from Santa, sent into homes during the Christmas season to track children’s behavior. Sure, Santa sees you when you’re sleeping, and he knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good, and probably a lot of other things that aren’t specifically stated in the song.

As a high level wizard, Santa has made it his job to know these things. With all the power at his disposal, he chooses to sit in his fortress at the North Pole, gazing into his crystal ball at children’s behavioral problems and tracking their circadian rhythms.

When I was a kid, if I fought with my brother near Christmas, I would be told to behave because Santa was watching. But that was ok, because I knew that Santa had been watching all year and would account for all data, even if it seemed like my parents weren’t. Santa knew all. He knew when it was really my brother’s fault, which was always.

1221142316

The only elf on my shelf.

Santa watches you the way a parent watches you, albeit with better magical surveillance equipment. He’s tall and distant, authoritative yet jolly, a benevolent giver of gifts. He’s part of a long tradition of telling kids to behave because a magical creature will know if they don’t.

Stories about bad things happening to wayward children have been around forever. “Stop your shit, or that fanged shadow-demon-thing in the forest is going to emerge from its lair and harvest your kidneys.” In our consumerist culture, it only makes sense that the horrible, bad thing involves deprivation of material goods.

New traditions appear, and old ones fade away. That can be for the best. Traditions also reflect the culture they come from, which is why I believe it’s worth looking at them with a critical eye and asking if they reflect something good. The story of Santa watching isn’t a perfect one. I’ve already mentioned the consumerist aspect, and those who are so inclined wouldn’t be hard-pressed to find other criticisms as well.

Elf on the Shelf is some combination of a snitch, a security camera, and a telescreen. It looks like a friend, but it’s there to do a job. It will betray you the instant you do something wrong. The intimacy of it, the fact that it’s up on a shelf in the living room, makes all the difference. I’m not exactly losing any sleep over it, but this is the kind of thing I find disturbing at a cultural level. While I don’t have kids, I am still invested in the health of the friendly little surveillance state culture I live in.

So, if you are the type of person who doesn’t take down their decorations until March February January, know that your Elf on the Shelf sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows what you do on St. Patrick’s Day Valentine’s Day Martin Luther King Day, and he watches you watching TV.  And he eats nachos while watching you watching TV, eating nachos.


 

Coincidentally, a friend of mine posted this article about a day or two after I wrote my first draft on this post. At first I thought it was coincidence, but who knows. Maybe she snuck an elf on the shelf into my apartment when she helped us move.

Christmas swashbuckler

Today, I am a hero. Both the regular kind of hero, and the Christmas kind.

Actually, hero might be too strong of a word. Is there a word to refer to someone who fights against their normal morning slothfulness to do errands before going to work? Who finally returns DVDs to Big Lots for a refund after they’ve been sitting on the passenger’s seat for a month? Who pretends they don’t have social anxiety and asks people to be job references? I’ve overcome a lot of my lesser tendencies today.

But, I’m also a Christmas hero. Between this paragraph and the last one, I looked up “hero” on thesaurus.com. After all the synonyms meaning “hefty sandwich” was a list of awesome words. So when I say I’m a Christmas Swashbuckler, you know that this is not so much a reality-based or funny story-based title as it is a thesaurus-related whim.

Anyway.

My awesome new apartment has very few downsides, but one of them is that we aren’t allowed to have a real tree. This is due to the landlord’s insurance policy and the fact that dropped needles are a fire hazard. My mom got us a nice little spruce shrub in a pot, but adorable as it is, I’m having a lot of Christmas Jealousy over other people’s trees.DSC02239 My partner and I agreed that it isn’t worth it to buy a fake tree if it’s going to look like it’s made of pipe cleaners and sadness, so we agreed to go clearance fake tree shopping on December 26th after I get out of work and spend the evening decorating our new tree.

Today’s specific timeline of errands and car repairs made me decide to order Chinese food for lunch and dinner. Since I was six minutes away from the restaurant and the food would take fifteen, I pulled into a store that I hoped would have maple sugar candy (another errand, this one Grandma-given), even though I kind of knew it was actually a thrift store now.

The thrift store used to a large gift store, the kind of place that sold maple sugar candy, Yankee candles, and country primitives. Despite my lack of interest in most of their stock, I always liked going there around Christmas because it had that craft store cinnamon smell and was always decorated full-on for Christmas, like it was Santa’s workshop. Basically, depending on mood, it would either warm my heart with Christmas magic, or send me into a crushing depression.

The gift store was now a Christmas Thrift Store, at least for now, and as soon as I walked in, I saw a small grove of artificial firs. One of them was short and full, just like the real trees we always bought, and it had the same kind of realistic branches that I saw on a $400 tree just yesterday. “I am not lucky enough for this tree to be for sale,” I said to myself. “It’s probably a decoration.”

But I was lucky enough, because Christmas Magic.

As it turned out, the timing was even better than I realized. After I pulled up my car to get the tree in, I heard the woman at the store talking to someone on her phone. “Well, we had one you would have liked, but someone’s picking it up now. One is ugly. Yeah, like the Charlie Brown tree. And the other has fake snow on it. It gets everywhere.”

If the morning chain of events had been a couple minutes later, the store could very well have reserved the little tree for the person on the phone.

Instead, I now have a tree in the back of my car. Here is a Christmas tip from me to you: if you have a compact car (say, a 2001 Chevy Prizm) get a 5’ Christmas tree. It will fit in your backseat, even though your eyesight will tell you that this cannot happen.

Later, when my partner is asleep, I will sneak the fortuitous tree into our living room and decorate with the sneakiness of an elf and the daring of a swashbuckler.

Seven reasons why Kevin McAllister is my role model

Screenshot from 2014-12-16 12:24:05

Behold the vengeance in Kevin’s face. As we will see, Kevin does not let Buzz go unpunished for eating all the cheese pizza.

It should go without saying that anyone who grew up in the 90’s wanted to be Kevin McAllister, hero of the only two Home Alone movies that count. Who doesn’t want to sled down the stairs on a tobaggan or zipline into a tree house? For me, it goes way beyond the desire to have a huge house all to myself and the awesome trap-making skills to defend it. After over two decades of watching Home Alone 1 at Christmastime, the ways of Kevin have had an indelible effect on my psyche, in ways that I’m only now starting to realize.

Kevin taught me how to best utilize my time when I have the house to myself.

If I’m home alone, it’s almost guaranteed that there will be ice cream, cookies, and TV. Normally, I’m not even a couch potato.

Kevin makes a mean diagram.

I’m a great lover of diagrams, but even on a computer, I can’t make as good a diagram as Kevin does.

Kevin is the Sun Tzu/ Grand Admiral Thrawn of the elementary school set.

He was able to manipulate Harry and Marv’s attempted entries into the house, somehow knowing that after Marv tried the basement and lost his shoes and socks, he would then try the window and step on stabby-crunchy glass ornaments. Of course the traps are impressive, but the subtle psychological manipulation is even more so.

Kevin is self-educated.

I didn’t know how to do laundry until I was 16. But when Kevin is left home at the age of 8, he quickly masters the skill, even conquering his fear of the furnace to do so. Between Home Alone 1 and Home Alone 2, it’s obvious that Kevin upgraded his skills at making elaborate, painful traps. He goes from Micro Machines and glue ‘n’ feather traps, to setting up an arc welder to electrocute a sink. Who taught him how to do that? School? Please.  And there’s no way his parents taught him how to do that stuff. Especially not his dad, who is the only member of his immediate family that isn’t a jerk to him the night before they leave him home alone.

Kevin is a master of fire.

C’mon. When I was eight, I couldn’t even light a match. Still can’t, actually, unless it’s the light-on-box kind. Fireworks are the least of it. This is a kid who makes a blow torch trap and a fire-lightbulb trap, while strategically deploying volatile chemicals.

Kevin knows how to improvise.

Despite his extensive plans, Kevin never sticks to them rigidly. He grabs Buzz’s tarantula and throws it at the bad guys when he needs to get away. Earlier in the movie, he escapes Harry and Marv by hiding in a nativity scene.

Kevin is a fair arbiter of justice.

Screenshot from 2014-12-16 13:30:32

Always clean up your traps before you put out milk and cookies for Santa.

After the bad guys are carted off in a cop car, Kevin cleans the entire house. The tree is decorated, the laundry is clean, and there’s fresh milk in the fridge. When the family arrives home, the only signs that anything happened are a single gold tooth on the floor, and Buzz’s entire room. I suspect that Kevin is capable of rebuilding Buzz’s shelf, if he wanted to. But he doesn’t, and that’s because Buzz is an asshole.