Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "Laughing Because Life Is So Horrible"

This poem came out of the November 3, 2015 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by discussions with [personal profile] dialecticdreamer and other folks about fallout from her demifiction "City Pranked!" It also fills the "re-defining pieces of a bigger problem" square in my 11-3-15 card for the Disaster Bingo fest, and the "Mechanisms, engines, and clockwork" square in my 9-4-15 card for the [community profile] genprompt_bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. It belongs to the Berettaflies thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

Warning: If you are amused by the crude kind of humor that is popular in blue-collar and/or Southern subcultures, do not read this poem with your mouth full. If you are not amused by same, you are likely to find it offensive.

"Laughing Because Life Is So Horrible"

Reba Sue Randolph tapped the thick sheaf
of papers against the top of her desk,
lining them up into a tidy stack.

She eyed the three troublemakers
sitting across from her in folding chairs:
Jordan Miller, age 21; her cousin
Ryan Miller, age 20; and their
younger cousin Shiloh Becker,
age 15-going-on-16.

"Would you hooligans care to explain
what the hey you thought you were doing,
making fake berettaflies in the middle
of a real emergency?" Reba Sue said.

"It's a joke," Ryan said, spreading his hands.
"You know, you josh people when they're
down and it makes them crack up?"
The others all nodded along.

Reba Sue gave them a dubious look,
raising her eyebrow. "You think it's funny
to cause a car accident? Or wind up in the office
of a Community Court counselor because nobody
wants to leave you running around loose while
we wait for your legal trial to roll around?"

"It was just a prank," Jordan protested,
flipping her long blonde hair behind her back.
"Jeez, can't you people take a joke?"

"A joke is when you say something silly, even if
it's a bit off color, and people laugh," said Reba Sue.
"Anything that gets people hurt is not a joke.
Why would you even laugh about this?"

"We're all laughing because
life is so horrible," Shiloh said.
She stole the box of paperclips off
the desk and started linking them.
"God, we gotta laugh at it, or else
we'd start crying and never stop."

"All right then, convince me," Reba said.
"Give me examples of things that mean
where you were the butt of the joke,
and you still laughed about it."

"You mean like when Ryan came
to my sixth birthday party dressed up
in a monkey suit and scared me so bad,
I peed my pants?" Shiloh said. "I got
the Polaroid tacked on my wall."

"Yeah, and the big family reunion when
the Omaha folks came down and we pranked
the lot of 'em by putting fake parking tickets on
all their trucks," Ryan said, grinning. "They was
so mad, and then so relieved, everyone laughed!"

"Except Shelby meant to whack you with
a wooden spoon 'cause she'd only just gotten
that truck, but what she grabbed was a metal spatula
off the barbecue," Jordan added.

"That damn thing sliced my ass wide open --
I had to get six stitches!" Ryan said. "I thought
the nurses in the ER was gonna die laughing.
Here, you can still see the scar!"

"I do not need to see --" Reba Sue began,
and then barked, "Young man,
put your pants back on!"

"But that was the best family reunion ever,"
Shiloh said, bouncing in her seat. "Shelby
gave all us little kids whirligig rides as long as
we wanted, and it didn't cost a dime, not like
going on the carousel did. My baby brother Ford
and I went so many times, we barfed!"

"Which is how your folks found out who
ate up all the sprinkles that's meant for sundaes,"
Ryan said as he buckled his belt back on. "Then there's
the time they caught me snitching beers and
made me dress as one for Halloween."

"Or that time you paid fifty bucks
for potted weed that turned out
to be a maple tree," Jordan said.

"Yeah, that was a gas."
Ryan doubled over laughing.
"Hey, remember when Davy Ray
stole your panties off the wash line,
run 'em up the flag pole, and then lied
about banging you in the back of his truck?"

"And I told everyone that he couldn't get it up
unless I spanked him until he cried,"
Jordan said with a smirk.

"Then the next girl he got nekkid with
really did spank him, and he cried!"
Shiloh said, snickering in her hand.
"That was just hi-larious!"

They other two howled along
like a pack of coyotes, bumping
shoulders against each other.

Maybe they did genuinely think that sort of
'Hey, y'all, watch this!' thing was funny.
It was time to corroborate.

"Well, you all seem in tune with
each other," Reba Sue admitted.
"Who's your favorite comic?"

"I like the good old stuff best,"
Jordan said, waggling her eyebrows.
"Groucho Marx. He was so quick in the wits,
some people think it was a superpower."

"I like the Three Stooges better,"
said Ryan. "Slapstick is terrific."

"Robin Williamsburg, and she really is
a soup," said Shiloh. "She almost died from
depression in her college days, before they
figured out she can't turn her funny on herself
and has to get it from an empath instead.
Donut holes totally suck."

All those examples did share a similar flavor
of snark with occasional bouts of going too far,
although the professionals at least managed
not to hurt anyone in the process.

"Okay, you convinced me,"
said Reba Sue.

The kids all blinked at her, and
after a long moment, Shiloh said,
"That's, uh, not what grownups
usually say when they're mad at us."

Reba Sue strongly suspected
that was part of the problem.
"Let's move along to you kids
explaining how you got a bunch
of fake berettaflies up above
the roof line of the buildings."

Shiloh looked away. "It was
Ryan's idea to make them."

"Yeah, but Jordan is the one
who got out the tree stand,"
Ryan protested.

"Don't look at me, Shiloh
made the catapult!" said Jordan.

Well, at least they had
some concept of teamwork.

"What catapult?" Reba Sue asked.

"Like a bazooka, you know?" said Ryan.
"Only with rubber bands and levers and all."

"How does it work?" asked Reba Sue.

"Beats the hell outta me," Ryan said.

"Well, I'm sure someone can
figure it out," said Reba Sue.

"Yeah, good luck with that," said Ryan.
"You'll never get it to work, nobody else
can ever run Shiloh's shit but her, only
she makes it work somehow or other."

"Since you're so good at making things,"
Reba Sue said, nodding at Shiloh who had
somehow turned a handful of paperclips into
a perfect dodecahedron, "you can spend
the summer building screen porches and
other garden projects for the people
most vulnerable to berettaflies."

"No I'm not!" Shiloh protested,
collapsing the elegant sculpture
back into a tangle of wire.

"Yes she is," Ryan said.
"Little miss smarty-pants!"

Shiloh punched him in the shoulder,
hard enough to make him wince.

"No hitting," Reba Sue said sternly.
"You're old enough to know better than that.
Hitting won't solve your problems."

"It works great on cockroaches,"
Shiloh growled, glaring at Ryan.

"We can't just work for you all summer,"
Jordan protested. "Some of us have jobs --
mine at the hunting park, and Ryan's got a farm."

"I had summer school, only now
the program's threatening to cancel me,"
Shiloh said. "I want my future back!"

"Well, you should have thought of that
before you pranked a city during a crisis,"
said Reba Sue. "There are consequences."

"It's not fair to pick on us," Ryan said.
"Mr. Pernicious and Stylet are the supervillains!"

"They had some unfortunate assistance
from the Spectrum, and yes, I'm sure that
the police want to speak with them as well,"
said Reba Sue. "However, today we're talking
about the three of you and how you're going
to make up for your mistakes."

"But we didn't do anything," Shiloh said.

"Tell that to the lady who broke two fingers
slamming a window closed, or the one who wrecked
her SUV," said Reba Sue. "You had ought to of known better.
Now, I'm hoping we can find a more constructive outlet
for your energy, and put this behind us. I've
even got a mentor picked out for you."

There was really just one option for that,
a minor supervillain named Gimpy -- his idea --
who'd lost both legs in a police chase and
whose sense of humor ran to crip jokes
that made most people cringe.

He was a capable handyman, though, and
even a decent mentor for younger hooligans
in the community service program.

Maybe he could teach them the difference
between a prank and a crime.

"Fine, whatever," Ryan grumbled.

Reba Sue stamped their paperwork
and handed them copies. "Good luck,"
she said, and shooed them out of her office."

* * *


Shiloh Becker -- She has fair skin, blue eyes, and long straight blonde hair. She is currently 15, almost 16. She is cousins with Barf-o-Whirl (Shelby Becker), Jordan Miller (another girl, 21), and Ryan Miller, 20. Shiloh lives in New Orleans with her father, who teaches welding at a trade school; and her mother, a housewife run ragged by Shiloh's eight younger siblings. Her next-younger brother is Ford. The family income is good, but stretched thin by covering so many people. Therefore Shiloh has been doing odd jobs since her preteen years to help out.
Shiloh is super-smart but also keenly aware that rednecks dislike educated people, so she's a stealth intellectual. Most of the time she hides what she can do and how much she knows. Her extended family is large and wild, but very loyal to each other; they spend a lot of time roughhousing or playing other games together. Shiloh is particularly fond of folk toys that rely on dexterity and physics such as cup-and-ball, yo-yos, and model boats. Her sense of humor runs to rubber-crutch jokes, and she is not careful about collateral damage, and unfortunate family habit. She gets bored quickly, and when bored, turns destructive.
Origin: She was born smart and is gradually growing smarter. It crossed into super range during puberty. It would probably be coming in faster if not for the fact that she and everyone else around her thinks that intelligence is suspicious in anyone and downright unattractive in girls.
Uniform: Usually jeans and a top with a funny slogan or picture on it.
Qualities: Good (+2) Big Boisterous Family, Good (+2) Dexterity, Good (+2) Folk Toys, Good (+2) Funny Girl, Good (+2) Gizmology
Poor (-2) Common Sense
Powers: Average (0) Super-Intellect
Motivation: Play dumb, but outsmart people anyway.

Jordan Miller -- She has fair skin, brown eyes, and long wavy blonde hair. She is 21 years old at the time of the Berettaflies incident. She belongs to a large family; her cousins include Ryan Miller, Shiloh Becker, and Barf-o-Whirl (Shelby Becker). Jordan wears a courtship necklace from her boyfriend, with doe and buck silhouettes cut from the same quarter; she has the half with the doe solid and the buck hollow. She is smart, but easily swayed by lust or romance, which leads to a lot of foolish choices. She works at a shooting range and hunting park outside the Easy City limits.
Qualities: Good (+2) Huntress, Good (+2) Popular, Good (+2) Razor Wit, Good (+2) Spunky, Good (+2) Tough Girl
Poor (-2) Thinks with Her Hoohoo

Ryan Miller -- He has fair skin, brown eyes, and short straight blond hair. He is 20 years old at the time of the Berettaflies attack. Ryan belongs to a large family; his cousins include Jordan Miller, Shiloh Becker, and Barf-o-Whirl (Shelby Becker). "Popcorn Logic" is how his family describes Ryan's ability to pop up ideas out of nowhere. He obviously doesn't think his way through to them. He loves practical jokes of the slapstick variety. Ryan works on his family farm outside of Easy City.
Qualities: Good (+2) Endurance, Good (+2) Family Loyalty, Good (+2) Farm Hand, Good (+2) Popcorn Logic, Good (+2) Practical Jokes
Poor (-2) Not the Sharpest Marble in the Stack

Reba Sue Randolph -- She has fair skin, brown eyes, and short straight brown hair. She is married with three kids; she loves her husband, but his mother squabbles constantly with their family. Reba Sue works for the Community Court in New Orleans, helping figure out how to set community service and other penalties that will nudge people back onto the right track.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Setting Boundaries, Good (+2) Community Court Counselor, Good (+2) Handicrafts, Good (+2) I Don't Need Sleep I Have Coffee, Good (+2) Interpersonal Intelligence
Poor (-2) Mother-in-Law Problems

Gimpy (Carter Kombeck) -- He has fair skin, brown eyes, and short brown hair. He lost both legs in a high-speed chase fleeing from police after a bank robbery gone wrong. Gimpy smokes because he enjoys it and doesn't expect to live a long life anyhow. He is currently partway through a stint of community service, and even makes a half-decent mentor for younger hooligans.
Gimpy makes terrible jokes about disabilities, because he loves shocking people. His favorite is slamming a pair of fake legs in the trunk, and when someone asks, "What happened to your legs?" he says, "I must've left the damn things in the car again," and points to the bloody feet sticking out the back. He thinks it's especially hilarious when he gets pulled over for it. His pea-green car has scores written in hashmarks for screams (highest number), cops, slaps, and wet pants (only 2).
Origin: While attempting to rob a supervillain's lair, Carter got caught between crushing walls. Instead of dying, he turned one-dimensional and slithered out, much to the amazement of his accomplices.
Uniform: Sporty men's clothes.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Tough, Good (+2) Athletic, Good (+2) Handyman, Good (+2) Thief
Poor (-2) Obnoxious Sense of Humor
Powers: Average (0) One-Dimensional Profile
Motivation: A life of excitement.

* * *

"As comedians, we are all laughing because life is so horrible. Life is so difficult, and I cope with it by making jokes about absolutely everything."
-- Joan Rivers

Teasing has pros and cons along a spectrum of communication from friendly to hostile. Although bullies often dismiss their deliberate abuse as "just a joke," the same phrase is used by people who genuinely do not realize that their behavior is offensive or harmful -- especially if they laugh at similar humor directed at themselves. The primary distinction of prosocial teasing is that both parties agree it is fun and appropriate. In this case, the prank was neither malicious (intended to harm) nor innocent (intended as purely harmless), but was mischievous (intended to inconvenience or embarrass).

Fidgeting can aid mental focus and also correlates with certain types of intelligence. Fidget toys are marketed for children and adults.

Smart children often hide their intelligence to avoid bullying or other hazards. The situation is especially tense for girls and rednecks. This strongly contributes to Shiloh getting into trouble, because her Super-Intellect makes her a very bad fit for the blue-collar subculture around her. But her sense of humor and upbringing would make her an equally bad fit in most geek circles. I have several other smart, working-class women in this setting and so far they're all coming up supervillains and all for the same reason: it was the only place they could be themselves and find a way to put beans on the table. You see the problem.

"Hey, y'all, watch this!" is a tagline for foolish stunts or pranks, most commonly attributed to men and Southerners, but by no means restricted to them. Many types of crude humor are swept together under this umbrella, as they rely on similar aspects of non-standard risk assessment.

Humor comes in many types, but they all rely on some element of the unexpected. The Marx Brothers, the Three Stooges, and Robin Williams had very different styles, but their outrageous behavior shared a common tendency to go too far sometimes and really offend people.

One point of divergence between local-America and Terramagne-America is this: In our world, Robin Williams was a man of exceptional wit who eventually died due to complications from clinical depression. In T-America, Robin Williamsburg is a woman of superpowered wit who suffered from depression because her superpower does not work on herself, and eventually people figured out that she needs help from an empath to patch over that gap and get the uplift that most people can generate for themselves. With that problem solved, she is much happier, and is still alive and performing. As with any ability, superpowers have limitations. Among the more common is what T-American slang calls a donut hole, in which the power cannot affect the person who produces it. Although the most famous version may be healers who can't heal themselves, it also appears repeatedly with comedians. Some soups have described it like trying to see the back of your own head or to scratch your own back -- or particularly in the case of comedians, trying to tickle yourself.

A dodecahedron is a twelve-sided geometric solid. This video shows a wireframe of one.

Alternative justice spans a wide range of systems and techniques meant to supplement or replace the criminal system. Restorative justice focuses on repairing broken relationships between the offender and victim(s). Community justice concentrates on the damage done to local society by offenders, and it most often covers quality-of-life offenses such as vandalism. Community court is a common manifestation of community justice, but it can actually range from something as simple as a counselor setting penalties to the complexities of an auxiliary courtroom complete with judge and jury. In this case the simple version is used as a precursor to more complex things that take longer to set up, and enables the authorities to keep track of young miscreants without needing to lock them up.

Positive discipline uses natural and logical consequences to teach better behavior. A crucial difference between punishment and discipline is that punishment hurts, discipline teaches. Learn more about how to use positive discipline in families and at work.

High-speed police chases of fleeing vehicles and/or supervillains are hazardous to everyone in the vicinity; they often cause property damage, injuries, or death. For this reason, many communities have established restrictions. As described in his character sheet, Gimpy was fleeing the scene of a major crime gone wrong, so pursuit was justified -- and it still caused a wreck with permanent damage, which made nobody happy.

Mentoring comes in various types. Within the criminal system it can teach young people to be more effective criminals, or more responsible citizens. Mentoring of youth offenders can produce positive results, and peer mentoring by reformed criminals has particular advantages. Learn how to be a good mentor.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, fantasy, fishbowl, humor, poem, poetry, reading, weblit, writing
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