Tuesday, January 25, 2011

How to Keep Voldemort from Giving You Syphilis

My middle-class, suburban childhood was pretty much as safe and nonthreatening as humanly possible, so my brain compensated for the lack of danger by inventing whole legions of forces that were trying to get me.

In addition to the standard hiding under the covers to foil the bad guys who wanted to kill me in the dark, I developed a detailed system of techniques to keep fictional characters and scary words from seeping into me and working evil.

I was careful to hold any book I was reading by the very corners to keep from touching the bad guys’ names and absorbing the danger through my fingers. You also can’t just put the book down after a chapter that ends with “doom” or “evil” or “yeerks”—you have to keep reading until a safe sentence like “The travelers prepared for lunch.”

Extra-powerful bad things can even get in through your unconscious processes, like accidentally breathing in right when the White Witch kills Aslan. And if you really need to swallow and the whole chapter is going to be inside the enemy’s compound or something, you have to at least wait until none of them are talking and settle on an innocent word like “the.” “Said” will do in a pinch, but it’s not as safe because you know that it means a bad person has been speaking. And don’t ever use “he” or “she” just because they’re not names—that’s still Saruman you’re talking about.

I had to hold my breath and not touch the book for most of The Shining to keep the Overlook from getting me.

A friend of mine confided her own related safety rule in middle school: Spell the names of diseases correctly, lest they become angered by your disrespect and take revenge.

Movies and TV have their own set of dangers. You’re a lot less likely to accidentally touch the bad guys, but there’s a risk of ingesting some villainy if you swallow popcorn while the camera is on Khan.

A couple of years ago I knitted a baby blanket while watching six movies back to back, and partway through I started to worry that The Graduate wouldn’t be appropriate to weave into garments for small children. I had to put the needles down altogether for American Psycho so that the baby wouldn’t grow up to be a sociopath.

It’s possible to absorb the good things too, of course. This is why I get irritated with the short shots and multitudinous cuts in modern cinematography—Dumbledore is never on the screen long enough for me to finish all my M&Ms and gain his powers.

P.S. I typed “syphilis” about seven different wrong ways in the title before I got it right (spell check is cheating and syphilis knows that). Then I typed some other stuff, and when I looked back at the top of the page, the word “syphilis” was GONE! While it’s logical to suppose that Word deleted it on a whim the way it adds undesirable formatting, I’m pretty concerned that the disease got mad and jumped out of my computer to seek justice. You might want to wash your hands after reading this.

P.P.S. Here are some safety buffer words to protect us:

Joy kitten disinfectant bubbles happy health delight sanitary unicorn love immunity pizza.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Ghost Club

In second grade, I joined the Ghost Club started by two cooler girls from my class. We all watched Ghostwriter and read Goosebumps, so we were confident that we were the kind of savvy kids with whom all ghosts would prefer to work.

The three of us met at lunch and recess to compare paranormal encounters and think up ways to contact the spirit world.

The club disbanded in about two weeks. Sherry broke her leg and Jennifer broke her arm, which clearly indicated that we were getting too close to the ghosts and making them angry. The girls told me that we would have to stop meeting for my safety, and obviously the club could not go on without my wise input.

The next year, my friend Natasha and I formed the Chasing Those Floating Things You See In The Corner Of Your Eye Sometimes Club. Both of us kept all our limbs intact, but for some reason we were not invited to join any more recess clubs.

Sadly, Sherry and Jennifer both moved away before the student body’s most impressive brush with the unexplained.

My elementary school sat between two residential streets and a city park, so about twenty backyards housed small collections of escaped kickballs. We all avoided the dark green house at the very back of the school, though, because that’s where Captain Hook lived. Apparently his midlife crisis included a career change from chasing Peter Pan to terrorizing suburban school children.

No one ever saw Captain Hook, which was good because he hated kids and would kill you with his hook if you even looked at him. Once Natasha and I got really brave and snuck up to touch Captain Hook’s fence before shrieking in terror and running for our lives, but it was a very close call and for the rest of the day we just knew that he had seen us and would come hook our guts out during art.

Even though the Captain never showed himself, we had proof that he was really there because of the messages he sent. The school’s gigantic riding lawnmower spat up clods of grass with perfectly round holes in them, and these were clearly a secret code that our sinister neighbor had punched in with his hook.

My classmate Jan was the only person who could decode Hook’s messages. After she revealed this talent, the rest of us would bring her grass clods and she would examine them solemnly. Finally, she would whisper the horrible warnings she had read:

Now that I think of it, Jan would have been an asset to the Ghost Club.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Ain't You Heard of My School?

I'm going to post something with pictures soon, but just now I experienced a moment of transcendent revelation and could not deprive you of the same joy.

I was in my car listening to the Classic Hits station and thinking about how vapid and inane modern radio is in the shadow of the Glory Days of Music in the (your favorite decade here).

Then the Music Memories DJ played this song. It was a top 10 hit across the nation.

As it turns out, the '60s had tripe, too. We usually just forget about it because of Rubber Soul and stuff. I kind of feel better now.

The moral of the story: When some loud braggart tries to put you down and says his school is great, tell him right away, "Now what's the matter, buddy? Ain't you heard of my school? It's number one in the state!"

(P.S. The Beach Boys wrote a lot of cool songs. That does not make this one of them.)

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


One night in childhood when my parents were out, I woke up for a drink of water and found the babysitter on the kitchen floor, surrounded by the contents of our refrigerator. She had suddenly felt compelled to clean it.

“It’s a good thing you got up,” she said. “What is this?”

She had found the grease jar, where we poured the fat after cooking low-grade hamburger. When the congealed layers reached the top, we threw out the whole sludgy jar and started over.

Apparently her family did not do this.

That’s about how I felt when I cleaned the office fridge last week after noticing the leftover hot dogs from our 4th-of-July party. We used to have a rotating schedule of weekly fridge-cleaning responsibility, but lately it’s come down to who reaches the revulsion breaking point first.

Some time between emptying the furry Tupperware and removing something with embryonic legs from the crisper drawer, coworkers started asking if I was all right. That’s because I was using an anti-nausea technique based on my theory that it’s harder for your mouth to do two things at once; in slogan form, Make Noises, Not Puke.

Underneath the bottom drawers was a rocklike mound of what appeared to be very expired chocolate syrup. It didn’t behave like syrup, though, and I couldn’t tell by touch what it was. Since my curiosity tragically outweighs my self-preservation instincts, I decided to smell it.

I still don’t know what that feculent deposit was, but if I ever find out who spilled it from the top shelf down to the air vents, I will introduce that person to the grease jar.

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Green Shirt

You know the green shirt I wear all the time?

Yeah, that one.

No one asks me about it because they have a premonition the answer will be boring, but if someone did, this is what I would say:

This is an actual shirt I own. It’s a nine-dollar, long-sleeved polo thing. I bought it in college, during a sudden bout of shopping inspired by a wild desire to own shirts that were not free gifts at high school math competitions. This purchase brought my total collection of such shirts up to four, so I pretty much did wear it all the time.

Here is an example:

This picture was taken at a dinner party, about ten minutes before an existential meltdown caused by a malfunctioning waffle maker. I take my evening breakfast foods very seriously.

Luckily, someone was able to turn the failed waffles into very successful pancakes, and the future of humanity was saved.

The next party where I wore the green shirt also featured crushing self doubt. That’s because a friend of mine with dark, shoulder-length hair wore her own long-sleeved, forest green shirt. I kept seeing her through doorways and reflected in appliances.

The trouble was that my brain is defective, and instead of, “Hey, my shirt!” I kept thinking, “Look, I’m over there!”

It was troubling.

So I don’t really wear that item very often any more, in case of further carbohydrate- or doppelganger-related incidents. I do have a green hoodie now, though, so you can picture that if you want.