Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "Laughing at What You Haven't Got"

This poem was written outside of the regular prompt calls. It was inspired by a conversation with [personal profile] dialecticdreamer, commissioned and sponsored by [personal profile] janetmiles.  Watch the video about "How Irish Dance Got Started" first, because the poem is full of spoilers for it.  This poem belongs to the Antimatter & Stalwart Stan thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

Warning: This centers on rude humor, and involves a bit of social angst, but it's mostly fluff -- or at least, as fluffy as Shiv ever gets. DO NOT watch the video with your mouth full, or anywhere that laughing aloud could cause problems.

"Laughing at What You Haven't Got"

Shiv is lying in bed, playing with his tablet,
when he realizes that he has messages
waiting in his outside mailbox.

But it's not Sunday. Boss White
only ever sends him a note on Sundays.
How can he have a note in his outside mailbox
when it's not Sunday yet?

There's mail in his inside mailbox,
of course, because the inmates can chat
with each other and Shiv likes the gossip,
but that's different. This is different.

Curious in spite of himself,
Shiv opens his outside mailbox,
and oh right, he'd met Dr. G and Simon,
they must be checking up on him.

Except it's not a letter, it's a video,
the same one from both of them actually,
marked "How Irish Dance Got Invented."

Shiv taps on the screen to activate it,
and there's ... a stage with a porta-potty?
He frowns, trying to make sense of it.

Then a man in a red skirt hurries
across the stage and ducks inside.

Shiv smirks. Drag is always funny.

Suddenly another man appears,
this one in tight white pants,
running over to try the locked door.

Shiv begins to snicker at his antics.

The man dances around, his feet flying,
hands alternately waving in frustration
and then clutching his crotch.

He goes into a strange, high-stepping dance
with leaps and hops and kicks, the music
something wild and shrill that Shiv
has never heard before.

The poor man scuttles around
with desperate, mincing steps,
his arms stiff at his sides,

and oh, Shiv hasn't laughed this hard
since that time Popgun pinched Buttons on
the behind and she mashed a pie in his face.

At last the door opens and the guy in drag
comes out, fussily smoothing down his skirt.

The frantic fellow shoves him aside
and dives into the porta-potty.

Then a whole line of guys come
dancing across the stage,
all clutching their crotches.

Shiv cracks up completely at that.
He laughs so hard that he drops the tablet.
He can't breathe, he's laughing so much.

The cell door swings open and Mr. Vanburen
stares at him like he's grown another head.
"I could hear you through the door," he says.
"What the hell is going on in here?"

Shiv can't get enough wind to answer,
he just beckons to the guard and
pulls him down to sit on the bed.

Then Shiv turns the tablet
so that Mr. Vanburen can see it
and restarts the video.

"Okay, that's cute," says the guard when
the skirted man dances into the porta-potty,
and the frustrated follower earns a chuckle.

"Wait for it," Shiv manages to gasp just as
the door opens and the white-suited man
takes over the prized location.

As the line dancers appear,
Mr. Vanburen bursts out laughing too.

Aside from being hilarious, they're
really good dancers, too -- high kicks
and spins, and when they start spinning
in alternate places down the line while
every-other-one stays put,
that's even funnier.

By the time they get to the leg-crossing,
passing it down the line from one to another,
Shiv and the guard are both laughing so hard
that they're crying, and bumping their shoulders
back and forth because they're practically sitting
right on top of each other to see the screen.

When the men turn their backs at the end
and mime whizzing on the stage,
Shiv drops the tablet again.

Mr. Vanburen picks it up, and even
taps some kind of code to kill the tattletale
before handing it back to Shiv.

"That was fantastic," says the guard.
"Thanks for sharing. You planning
to show that to anyone else,
or keep it to yourself?"

Shiv looks down. "I dunno, it's rude.
How much trouble would it get me in?"

"Not a bit," Mr. Vanburen says, and
damn if Shiv doesn't want to believe him,
because the video is that funny and
it would be so great to show it around.

"Yeah, right," Shiv says.

"Okay, let me see if I can explain a little,"
the guard says. "Nothing in here hurts
anyone, it's not violent, it's just ridiculous.
There's the bawdy humor of the potty joke,
which yes, it's rude but there's no nudity
so it doesn't break that rule. Then there's
the slapstick, where they turn the dance
into a lot of clowning around, but it's
not like pretending to hit anyone."

"Huh," Shiv says. He fingers
the edge of his tablet.

Some of the guards have tried
to jerk him around, but not this one --
Mr. Vanburen seems like an honest sort,
if you believe in unicorns and shit.

Even his part of the chayne incident
had been an honest mistake.

"A lot of humor comes down to stuff
happening that you don't expect, like
there's supposed to be enough bathrooms
but there's not, so you wind up laughing
at what you haven't got," Mr. Vanburen says.

"There's never enough bathrooms,"
Shiv says, shaking his head.

"See, it's off-color but it's not mean,"
the guard agrees. "Everybody has to pee,
and we all know what it's like to hop on one foot
because somebody's already in the john.
But it doesn't make fun of a person,
it's making fun of the situation."

Shiv maybe gets it, a little,
not like he could repeat it or like
he could tell for some other thing,
but enough to think that maybe
he could share this without
getting his head bit off.

Maybe, just this once ...

"You show the guards, and
I show the guys?" Shiv says,
tilting his voice to tell that it's okay
to back out if Mr. Vanburen hates his idea.

"Yeah," says the guard. "What say
we take this to the social room?"

For the first time, Shiv is genuinely tempted,
but he shakes his head. "It's too expensive,"
he says. "No way could I afford that."

"Time comes in fifteen-minute sections,"
Mr. Vanburen reminds him. "That's enough
to show the clip, and not so long it'll bust
your budget or wear out your patience."

"I'm supposed to save points for
the craft room," Shiv says.

"I'll help you make up the points,"
the guard offers. "There are readings
and exercises about following rules
that pay a lot, and I'll look through
to find some that don't totally suck.
Don't you want to see the looks on
everyone's faces when they watch it?"

Shiv can't help smirking. "Yeah. Okay."

So they sign off the points for
a quick trip to the social room, and
Mr. Vanburen escorts Shiv to the door.

"Go on in," says the guard. "I'll be in
the observation booth if you need me."

Shiv glances at the big glass 'tank'
at the back of the social room, which
overlooks the work tables and the couches,
with the big viewscreen on the far wall.

"Okay," he says, wiping his free hand
on his pants and trying not to drop the tablet.

He edges inside, and the other inmates
look at him in surprise. He's only
been in here a few times before
he landed in private confinement.

Three men share a couch,
two of the head honchos
and one of their favorites.

Kincade King leads the blacks,
his bald head catching the light.
Sanquez Abarca holds the Hispanics,
his short hair hidden by a bandana.

Between them sits Verne Christensen,
who'd killed two people to protect his boss
and gotten arrested for it, so he gets respect
even though he's years younger than the other two.
His eyebrows are still black, but his head hair
is a quarter inch of schoolbus-yellow fuzz
that he had gotten soup-dyed.

"Hop up, Verne," says Kincade,
batting him on the shoulder.
"Let Shiv sit down."

Shiv doesn't want to take
anyone's seat, much less sit
between two people like that,
but Verne is grinning at him and
you don't say no to Kincade.

"What you got there?" asks Sanquez,
nodding at the tablet clenched in Shiv's hands.

"I uh, brought something,"
Shiv says, "to share."
He turns on the video,
with the sound down low.

Kincade chuckles a little at
the man in the skirt, and then
guffaws at the one who follows.
"Naw, kid," he says, "put that up on
the big screen so's everyone can see."

Shiv has no idea how to do that
but doesn't dare admit it.

"Let me?" Verne asks, leaning
over the arm of the couch
to reach for the tablet.

Shiv lets him take it, and
a few skillful taps transfer
the video to the viewscreen.

It's almost as funny the second time
as it was the first, and Shiv finds himself
laughing along with the other guys.

Mr. Vanburen was right, the looks
on their faces are worth the points
to get into the social room.

Verne reruns the video.

Some of the guys get up
and start jigging along with it,
still laughing like coyotes and
holding onto their junk.

It's almost like a party in here.

Shiv doesn't really get the appeal
of parties, not like most people do,
although he used to enjoy staking out
a corner in the jazz club when Boss White
and his lieutenants were jamming.

Socializing is supposed to be
important, although for him it's
more nervous-making than not.

At least this time, it's another thing
he can laugh over not having.

The timer on Shiv's tablet chimes,
and he gets up to leave.

"Don't be a stranger," Kincade says,
and Shiv doesn't know how to answer.

But when Verne catches him
by the shoulder and says softly,
"Hey man, you done good," Shiv
gives his hand a nervous pat.

There's no dissing a guy who
backed up his boss that well,
and if Verne thinks that Shiv
is worth a nod of approval ...

Damn. That's something.

Mr. Vanburen waits for Shiv at the door,
because the guards rarely come into
the social room unless invited or
somebody's making trouble.

"Worth it?" he murmurs.

"Yeah," Shiv says,
soft and bewildered.

He casts a look over his shoulder
before the door closes, and thinks
maybe he could squeak out the points
for another quick visit some time.

* * *


Kincade King -- He has brown skin and black eyes. He has black body hair, but his head is completely bald. He has prison tattoos over much of his front, his left arm, and a little on the right. Across his collarbones is a large banner saying "Lord Have Mercy" and his belly says "Warrior." Originally an enforcer, Kincade worked his way up to boss. His gang outside deals primarily in protection services and the occasional side of revenge-for-hire. He is currently serving time in the Nebraska State penitentiary in Lincoln, where he leads most of the black inmates. Kincade grew up in the inner city and has little education. He has quite a sweet tooth, and loves chocolate. He also appreciates cars, with a good grasp of models and mechanics.
Qualities: Master (+6) Gangster, Master (+6) Tough, Expert (+4) Leadership, Expert (+4) Strength, Good (+2) Adaptable, Good (+2) Car Fan, Good (+2) Favor Trading, Good (+2) Strategic Thinking
Poor (-2) Uneducated

Verne Christensen -- He has brown skin and black eyes. Although his body hair is still black, the hair on top of his head is soup-dyed a vivid golden yellow. He has a scar through his left eyebrow. At the outer corner of his left eye are two teardrops, indicating that he has killed two people, and the base of his throat bears the word "Sacrifice" in large ornate letters. Verne got those protecting his boss, which makes him well-respected in the underworld. He is currently serving time in the Nebraska State penitentiary in Lincoln, where he is a favorite of the head honchos. His outside gang specializes in technological crimes, and he is unusually well educated for a criminal -- he actually has a bachelor's degree in computer science from the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. He just has an additional taste for physical conflict that doesn't sit well in corporate employment.
Verne also loves aspects of African-American culture. He celebrates Kwanzaa with great enthusiasm, and when free to dress himself he chooses bold African colors and patterns. His girlfriend sends him care packages, but she doesn't quite grasp his tastes, and keeps giving him plain sweaters. He appreciates them anyway. Verne and his girlfriend have a daughter together, a toddler whom Verne has never met because she was born after his conviction. This makes for some awkward family dynamics.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Bodyguard, Good (+2) African-American Culture, Good (+2) Hacker, Good (+2) Loyal, Good (+2) Reputation
Poor (-2) Awkward Family Dynamics

Sanquez Abarca -- He has light brown skin, brown eyes, and black hair. He has two teardrops tattooed below the outer corner of his right eye, and another on the left, indicating that he has killed three people. His heritage is Hispanic and he is bilingual in English and Spanish. He is currently serving time in the Nebraska State penitentiary in Lincoln, where he leads most of the Hispanic inmates. His outside gang smuggles an assortment of things including drugs, weapons, and people; but they don't do much distribution to end users, they are middlemen connected to a vast network of other criminal organizations. Sanquez is getting older, though, and his battle damage is catching up with him. He has a lot of aches and pains from old injuries.
Qualities: Master (+6) Smuggler, Master (+6) Networking, Expert (+4) Logical-Mathematical Intelligence, Expert (+4) Reading People, Good (+2) Fan of Classical Spanish Music, Good (+2) Constitution, Good (+2) Tolerance
Poor (-2) Stiff and Sore

* * *

"Humor is laughing at what you haven't got when you ought to have it."
-- Langston Hughes

In Terramagne-America, the prison system allows inmates to communicate with each other through approved channels, so that staff can monitor the conversations as needed to prevent crimes. This cuts down on the temptation to send kites -- unauthorized messages on paper, or more rarely through a messenger.

Studies show that inmates who receive outside communication and support with family and friends, thus maintaining community ties, have a lower rate of recidivism than isolated ones. Consequently T-American prisons encourage this. Boss White routes his messages so they can't be traced back, and they're framed in neutral terms, but he's diligent about keeping touch with any of his boys in prison. Shiv doesn't really understand this yet, but he has figured out that the schedule is consistent.

L-America has basically turned its legal system into modern slavery, feeding on both inmates and everyone connected to them. T-America uses its legal system to urge dysfunctional individuals toward becoming more functional citizens, by providing services such as counseling and education. It works.

See the video about "How Irish Dance Got Started." Remember, don't watch it with your mouth full or anywhere you need to stay quiet.

Drag means dressing across gender roles. A kilt is neither drag nor is it a skirt, but rather a separate -- though similar -- garment for men. Shiv simply doesn't know that distinction.

Humor has many purposes, such as relieving stress and connecting people. It comes in various types. Slapstick uses exaggerated gestures, and is related to other physical genres such as clowning and comic dance. Rude humor is a genre defined by its coarse content instead of its mode of delivery. Part of what makes this video so gut-busting funny is that it pairs a very high mode (dance) with a very low mode (potty jokes). Since humor relies on the unexpected, that fundamental incongruity raises the impact of the "story" it tells along the way.

Introverts get tired of socializing, become overstimulated, and need to stop. They refer to this as "all peopled out." Shiv doesn't really know he's an introvert, and Travis doesn't know the fancy terminology; but Travis has noticed that Shiv does better with self-control when he spends more time alone, and can thus give helpful advice in that direction.

The social room contains a variety of modular furniture to facilitate small groupings for different activities. A pit group in one corner frames a coffee table. A larger work table and chairs stand in the center. Sections of couch provide seating for the big viewscreen. Cabinets and open cubes allow storage of games, reading material, tools, and other items. A kitchenette provides space for making snacks. The large glass "tank" at the back of the room permits the guards to supervise the room without intruding directly on the inmates.

Here you can see the viewscreen and the windows which look out on one of the exercise yards full of evergreens. The dartboard is a nice electronic model that uses soft-tip safety darts, something the inmates won for a lengthy span of good behavior. Most of the people who are allowed to use it have their own darts, each set marked in different colors, although they keep a few spare sets for other players. The T-American version has very fine, dense pixellation to provide accurate scoring, and the background is smooth. When the dart's safety tip hits the board, it lights up that spot and records the score. The dart doesn't actually stick, but the hit pixels stay lit in that player's color.

The prison prefers to maintain order with a combination of natural and logical consequences. So for instance, the natural consequence of someone trashing the social room would be not having nice things in it for a while, and the logical consequence would be that person not getting to return there anytime soon. The rules are designed to give inmates opportunities to make choices in a safe environment, so as to teach them self-control rather than the guards having to maintain order by force. In fact, the social room has two sets of rules: the basic ones set by the prison (like not stealing things), and the courtesy ones decided by inmates (like how long one person or group may control the viewscreen). This helps inmates learn how rules work, what makes a good or bad rule, what kinds of rules are needed, and how to manage them.

Prison pecking order develops based on many factors including the type of crime. The head honchos tend to be older, stronger, well-connected, and serving a longer sentence for a respected crime.

Prison tattoos indicate a variety of affiliations and activities. Among the more famous is a teardrop for murder, or more generally for killing someone. Let's say Verne's actions would more reasonably have been considered defensive than killing someone because he wanted them dead.

Introverts generally do not like parties designed for extroverts, which is to say, almost all parties. There are party survival tips for introverts. Introverts can also plan their own parties with more sensible features. I was also amazed to find instructions for designing an introvert-friendly event from the World Domination Summit. I assume that that L-American WDS is rather different than the T-American one, but that really is almost word-for-word Captain Left's tipsheet. Introverts need to use different techniques for socializing and, in fact, they socialize in different ways than extroverts do. Shiv doesn't really get this yet, but he has a little background and is learning some new options, so that helps.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, entertainment, ethnic studies, fantasy, humor, poem, poetry, reading, writing
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