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.

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