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Poem: "Amateur Night" - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
ysabetwordsmith
ysabetwordsmith
Poem: "Amateur Night"
This poem came out of the March 18, 2014 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was inspired by prompts from wyld_dandelyon and siliconshaman.  It also fills the "falling leaves" square in the public card for the Spring and Autumn Bingo fest.  It has been sponsored by anonymous donation, and it unlocks " 'Tis the Season" so that poem can be posted as soon as it is sponsored.  This poem belongs to the series Polychrome Heroics.


Amateur Night


Maze

Halloween is different
when you have superpowers.

It's the one night of the year
when everyone dresses up --
soups call it Amateur Night for a reason --
and a lot of folks want to dress up
as their favorite superhero or supervillain.

This can be a problem if you are a superhero.
First off all, it's hard to tell who's who --
which "superheroes" are real allies
and which "supervillains" are credible threats.
Second, there are the groupies,
because most superheroes have some,
however ambivalent society is about soups
the other 364 days of the year.
The more groupies, the more costumes.

Most supervillains seem to find it hilarious,
although a few of the stuffier ones take offense.
Some people even go out as minion squads --
Dr. Infanta and her Guardians
are notoriously popular.

In a college town like this, there is
the added fun of the foreign language students
dressing up as soups from around the world
and delivering lengthy monologues
in their "native" tongues.

At least the accents help distinguish the fakes.
Savoir Faire has visited Urbanburg several times,
so of course the French students are mad about him,
although the girls are more likely to go for
Jackie Frost, who is French-Canadian.

The problem -- the real  problem --
is that while most of the supervillains
stay home on Amateur Night,
it's never quite all of them.

That means somebody has to keep watch.


Mira

I don't usually come out much in public,
but tonight, everyone is staring at everyone else
and we're all wearing masks and costumes
so it doesn't matter that I'm dressed as Damask
or that my body doesn't match the way I see myself.

I walk past elves and hobgoblins,
giant dogs, two people playing a horse,
Death with a tinfoil scythe, several ghosts,
heroes and villains from current movies,
more superheroes and supervillains
than I could possibly count.

I even meet a few people I know --
Dan the ice cream man is Frosty the Snowman
and Lyra is playing a mermaid.

Jason has, for whatever perverse reason,
dressed up as Jesus, complete with
disturbingly realistic bloodstains.
He hates being compared to Jesus,
but he fits the role perfectly.

Halloween is all about illusion.
Nobody will notice if I
practice my powers just a little bit.

I walk through the falling leaves
and touch them one at a time,
turning yellow to red
and red to brown.

I make this one invisible
and that one luminous.
I give one fan-shaped ginkgo leaf
the lustre of real gold.

I make a sycamore seem
to float up instead of down.

It's a beautiful night,
and I'm enjoying myself
until I hear the scream.


Ham

I jump forward
at the same time that
Mira dives backward.

I'm running, shoes slipping
on the fallen leaves,
each tiny shape slick with frost.

Farce is stealing candy from children.

I catch up to her,
grab her motley shirt with one hand
while rescuing the plastic pumpkin with the other.

Only after I've given the candy
back to the sniffling little boy
do I realize that this isn't
actually Farce I've captured --
she's too tall, and frankly too curvy.

I pull her mask off,
and fluffy blonde hair
springs free in the breeze.

"Here, kid, have a souvenir,"
I say, handing the mask to the boy.

"Hey! That's mine!"
protests the fake Farce.

"And the candy was his
before you took it," I say.
"You act like a jerk,
you get tricks instead of treats.
Now beat it."

She does.


Maze

I take another turn out front
to give Ham a break.

As I walk, I see another Farce,
but this one is clearly
still in gradeschool,
so I don't say anything.

There is one of the Indian students
dressed up as Durganta in her scarlet sari,
accompanied by someone brilliantly painted
as her enchanted tiger, Utsaah --
probably fellow theatre students
from the quality of the work,
but I can't recognize them under it.
I wave anyhow.

A teenager has gotten lost
on her first solo trip trick-or-treating.
I give her a tissue to dry the tears
and walk her to the nearest bus stop
where she can find a map.

There is Savoir Faire
surrounded by groupies,
signing copies of Soupçon.
It's either him or someone
who knows him well enough
to fake it effectively.

I don't bother going over to check.

I am far more interested
in the Kabuki troupe approaching.
They turn out to be graduate students
from the Theatre Department,
happy to regale me with details
about their costumes and makeup
in exchange for my summary
of damask fabric.


Clement

There is a fistfight
among several junior high students
which Ham takes all of two minutes
to settle, and then yanks me forward
to deal with the black eyes and
scuffed knuckles and bloody noses.

I check to make certain that
none of the injuries look serious.
Then I hand out more tissues
and point their party toward
the One-Stop-Shop where
they can find a cup of ice
to put on the bruises.

Then I overhear some parents
debating the virtues of
peppermint vs. chamomile
in treating a tummyache
from too much Halloween candy.
I pause to offer my opinions
on ginger and licorice.

It's getting late;
I can tell that the parents
will be heading home soon,
their sugar-rushed kids in tow.

I walk onward,
keeping an eye out
for any other injuries or
incidents in need of attention.


Ham

A tap on my shoulder
makes me spin around.

"Hey, take it easy,"
says the fifth Farce of the night,
and this time I can tell
from the faint wheeze of her voice
that it's really her.

"WHAT is your major malfunction?"
I bark at her. I'm tired of this shit.

Farce spreads her hands,
showing me a bar of soap
and a roll of toilet paper.
"It's been fun watching you
run yourself ragged, but well,
after a while it didn't seem sporting,"
she says. "It's Amateur Night.
These are the only powers
I'm bringing into play."

I narrow my eyes at her behind my mask.
"And just what do you have in mind?"

"My evil plan is to soap Professor Feldstein's car,
TP the trees in his front yard, and then
eat candy until I puke," says Farce.
"What about you?"

There's no need for me
to act like a total chooch.
"I think I'll call it a night," I say.

"Whatever," she says.
"Happy Halloween."
She walks away, her feet
scuffing the fallen leaves.

Now why did she say that, I wonder?
Maybe she doesn't have
anyone else to say it to.
That's kind of a lonely thought.

As I walk home, I can't help
seeing the supervillain costumes
and wondering whether the real ones
have anybody to share their holidays with --
and the superheroes too, the ones
who work alone instead of in teams.

Being a soup is dangerous, sometimes,
all the more so if you don't have friends
to watch your back when you need it.

I think about how nobody knows
who we are anymore, not really,
not since Mindflare cut into Maisie
and made us from her pieces.

By the time I slip into the house,
I'm shivering, and it has nothing to do
with the sharpening wind or
the horde of zombies on the sidewalk.

Halloween is like the Jedi tree:
the scariest things are
what you bring in with you.

* * *

Notes:

In our world, bartenders refer to New Year's Eve as "Amateur Night," with all the attendant challenges of drinking by people who rarely do it.  However, Halloween also gets a nod as Amateur Night for dressing up, particularly among drag queens.  In Terramagne, the prevalence of costumed soups has cemented the usage for Halloween rather than New Year's Eve.

"Credible threat" means a danger which is specific and immediate, not hypothetical or general.  This means that most so-called security claims are fallacious.  "Your money or your life" when a robber points a gun at you is a credible threat; a tip about suspected terrorist activity is not.  (A tip may still be actionable, but the category and thus the justifiable actions differ.)  This matters greatly in deciding appropriate force.  Damask is scanning the crowd in search of potential trouble, but does not plan to intervene unless trouble actually occurs, and would not make serious use of superpowers in conflict unless a genuine supervillain made a move indicative of imminent crime.

Stealing candy from children is not just an idiom, but also a trope in the "evil is petty" field.  It's also a common childhood activity, and a well-known tactic of Halloween bullies.  There are ways to address stealing candy.

Tiger facepaint may be simple or elaborate.  At colleges with a thriving theatrical department, you can see some stupendous costumes.

Soupçon is a Paris magazine (published in French and English editions) that began as a fanzine for Savoir Faire. Now it follows the exploits of other soups as well. The French version is still really popular in America. It's kind of like People  for soups. It is steadily climbing the ranks of social magazines, and I think it's starting to do for superpowers what fanfic did for homosexuality: making it cute instead of unmentionable. Most people who read it are on the favorable side of tolerance. As journalism goes, it's still pretty trashy, but they don't print soup-hostile anything and that sets them aside from almost every other media source.

One thing Halloween does is teach moderation and self-control through hard lessons; most kids have at least one experience with eating too much candy and then getting sick, and they usually learn not to do that again.  There are many strategies for candy management to avoid tummyaches, along with home remedies after overindulging.  Some people have a predisposition toward poor impulse control, as Farce demonstrates here.  There are ways to teach and learn better self-control.  Be aware that negative experiences undermine this process: the fact that Farce gravitates toward immediate and excessive gratification suggests that she has found control and promises to be unrewarding.

TP and soap are two classic Halloween pranks.  Some other pranks are funnier and less pesky.  Primary points of etiquette for the responsible trickster are that you don't prank people who don't deserve it, and you don't do anything destructive, only mischievous.  Know how to clean up the mess.

chooch – jackass (ciuccio) [CHOOCH]
-- Italian slang

Loneliness is not just unpleasant, but a real threat to health.  It's also a high-risk issue for college students.  Understand how to deal with loneliness.

Italian culture and Italian-American culture both tend to be very gregarious.  So even though Keane is the one who usually deals with pain, Ham is especially sensitive to hints of isolation.

The Jedi Tree or Cave of Evil appears in the Star Wars  mythos as a chthonic gateway to the subconscious where adventurers may confront their fears.

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19 comments or Leave a comment
Comments
wyld_dandelyon From: wyld_dandelyon Date: July 11th, 2014 08:17 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm so glad this got sponsored!
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: July 11th, 2014 08:19 pm (UTC) (Link)

Yes...

The timing is awesome. I'm happy to share it.
From: technoshaman Date: July 11th, 2014 10:55 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Yes...

.... Farce's parting shot is ominous...

ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: July 12th, 2014 08:35 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Yes...

She has a way of putting her finger square on the ouchy things.
thnidu From: thnidu Date: July 12th, 2014 05:42 am (UTC) (Link)
Enjoyable, as always. And what is next, indeed?

• cthonic gateway to the subconscious
→ chthonic
> ^ h: < χθόνιος
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: July 12th, 2014 05:49 am (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

>> Enjoyable, as always. <<

I'm happy to hear that.

>> And what is next, indeed? <<

Sequentially, "A Question of Class."

This poem was also a prerequisite for " 'Tis the Season" which covers the part of the holiday season that happens at school. So that one can be posted as soon at it gets sponsored.

>> • cthonic gateway to the subconscious
→ chthonic <<

Fixed, thanks!
mdlbear From: mdlbear Date: July 12th, 2014 04:28 pm (UTC) (Link)
Love this.

From the wikipedia article: "At the same time, loneliness may be a symptom of another social or psychological problem, such as chronic depression."

Not entirely clear which is the cause and which the effect -- I rather suspect it's a feedback loop. But yes.
johnpalmer From: johnpalmer Date: July 24th, 2014 05:08 am (UTC) (Link)
It can probably go both ways - a depressed person can feel lonely even with social interaction, because it doesn't "touch". I know that's happened to me - when I didn't realize I was actually having some decent social interaction, and aching for it.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: July 24th, 2014 05:15 am (UTC) (Link)

Yes...

Loneliness can cause depression, if no meaningful social contact is available.

Depression can cause loneliness, because it's hard to muster the energy to interact, and as you said the connection may not work properly even if people are trying to reach through.
johnpalmer From: johnpalmer Date: July 24th, 2014 04:32 am (UTC) (Link)
Soupçon, eh? Last time I checked it out, it wasn't all that much.
johnpalmer From: johnpalmer Date: July 24th, 2014 04:32 am (UTC) (Link)
"Ha ha, pal, thank you, do you know you were the ABSOLUTE FIRST guy to make that joke... this picosecond."
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: July 24th, 2014 05:17 am (UTC) (Link)

Well...

It does mean "a trace" or a "suspicion," but it's also a cross-linguistic pun on "soup" for "person with superpowers." Hence, a little magazine about superheroes. Not so little anymore, but it did start out as a fanzine on Savoir Faire.
johnpalmer From: johnpalmer Date: July 24th, 2014 04:57 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Well...

Yes, I know, I was just punning further on the name. Awake enough that it seemed like fun, tired enough to think it was clever, awake enough to recognize that yeah, like no one else thought of *that* joke before.
little_lynnet From: little_lynnet Date: July 29th, 2014 05:07 pm (UTC) (Link)
Ooooh...

Why has Jason chosen to dress up as Jesus? *nosy*

Oh, Ham. Please tell me he's actively pursuing (re)learning people skills. I don't think I've seen him so brusque as he is in this poem. I kind of want to give Farce a hug. Or at least offer companionship that does not involve pranks.

And yay Mira having fun with her abilities. That was possibly my favourite bit. Such quiet joy. ^_^ I wonder if anyone noticed. Not her using powers, but just the changes in general.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: July 29th, 2014 08:25 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thoughts

>> Why has Jason chosen to dress up as Jesus? *nosy*

It took me a while to figure that out. At first I thought he might be trolling people, or dressing in an unexpected way to go unrecognized, or just for personal exploration.

Turns out he was going to a Nemesis Party, also known as Come As You Aren't, where the objective is to dress up as your opposite. I went to one in college, and we hosted one much later; they can be quite powerful. I suspect this theme is far more popular in Terramagne due to the superhero/supervillain divide.

*chuckle* There are probably supervillains who dress as superheroes for Halloween and run around doing good deeds.

>> Oh, Ham. Please tell me he's actively pursuing (re)learning people skills. <<

I don't think I'd go so far as calling it "active," because he's not doing anything like taking gentle-communication classes or reading self-help books. However, Ham is slowly developing more complexity as he spends time fronting and interacting with people. What I think would really help is a class in de-escalation tactics. The combat relevance would appeal to him in ways that other social-growth things would not, but it would teach him much better problem-solving skills.

>> I don't think I've seen him so brusque as he is in this poem. <<

Don't forget the time he broke Clement. Ham is the most volatile of the headmates.

>> I kind of want to give Farce a hug. Or at least offer companionship that does not involve pranks. <<

Sooth. She needs it, though the disorganized attachment makes it hard for her to accept comfort.

>> And yay Mira having fun with her abilities. That was possibly my favourite bit. Such quiet joy. ^_^ I wonder if anyone noticed. Not her using powers, but just the changes in general. <<

She's starting to explore what she can do. There's a gradual shift as Damask develop more, moving away from most of the people who knew Maisie, and making their own friends now. The people most likely to notice the changes are family, or insightful friends like Jason and Dan who have stuck around.
little_lynnet From: little_lynnet Date: July 31st, 2014 12:16 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thoughts

Turns out he was going to a Nemesis Party, also known as Come As You Aren't, where the objective is to dress up as your opposite. I went to one in college, and we hosted one much later; they can be quite powerful.

Ooooooooh. That sounds like a neat idea! I hope he had fun!

*chuckle* There are probably supervillains who dress as superheroes for Halloween and run around doing good deeds.

Again, neat!

However, Ham is slowly developing more complexity as he spends time fronting and interacting with people

Works for me! It's a start at least. ^_^ And de-escalation classes do sound like they'd be a good idea for him.

She's starting to explore what she can do. There's a gradual shift as Damask develop more, moving away from most of the people who knew Maisie, and making their own friends now. The people most likely to notice the changes are family, or insightful friends like Jason and Dan who have stuck around.

You don't have any poems that deal with Damask growing away from Maisie's friends yet, have you? I'd be curious to see that strand of development some time as well. ^_^
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: August 2nd, 2014 04:55 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thoughts

>> Ooooooooh. That sounds like a neat idea! I hope he had fun! <<

Nemesis parties can be a lot of fun, but they can also overload people; handle with care.

>> You don't have any poems that deal with Damask growing away from Maisie's friends yet, have you? I'd be curious to see that strand of development some time as well. ^_^ <<

I have hinted at it in poems where they sidle away from Maisie's old friends. It also comes up in the family poems for Thanksgiving and Christmas, where various headmates have a really hard time fitting back with relatives. But I haven't done a whole poem for dealing with past friends, so that's available for request if it interests you.
starcat_jewel From: starcat_jewel Date: October 15th, 2014 10:07 pm (UTC) (Link)
A teenager has gotten lost
on her first solo trip trick-or-treating.


This reads oddly to me because of my own growing-up customs. First off, I was allowed to go "solo" (aka with friends, but no parental supervision) from about age 9 or 10 on; second, I would never have been trick-or-treating outside of a neighborhood I knew well. Also, when I got to high school, I started getting invited to Halloween parties, where the emphasis was more on "costume party" than "trick-or-treat" and we played party games with candy as prizes. So the idea of a teenager getting lost while trick-or-treating just seems weird.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: October 15th, 2014 10:19 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thoughts

>> This reads oddly to me because of my own growing-up customs. <<

Customs vary over time and space within our world. By this point, trick-or-treating is dying out for lack of neighborhood affiliation and trust in most areas -- it was starting to break down even toward the end of my begging days. But Terramagne has considerably more social cohesion and less of certain types of malice compared to our world, so there the customs have held from older days.

>> First off, I was allowed to go "solo" (aka with friends, but no parental supervision) from about age 9 or 10 on; second, I would never have been trick-or-treating outside of a neighborhood I knew well. <<

Teenager is 13, which I maybe should have specified, and she got lost exactly because this is the first time she went without adult supervision, wanted to be adventurous, and went too far.

>> Also, when I got to high school, I started getting invited to Halloween parties, where the emphasis was more on "costume party" than "trick-or-treat" and we played party games with candy as prizes. <<

This seems very locale-dependent. Some places, especially college towns in my experience, have some people who stick with trick-or-treating quite a bit longer than average. Also Halloween in Terramagne is really enthusiastic because of the costumed soups, and those in particular are costumes that people like to take on walkabout.

>> So the idea of a teenager getting lost while trick-or-treating just seems weird. <<

Sorry about that.
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