I feel my essay last year, Some Kinds Of Jack-O-Lanterns, With Such Warnings As Apply didn’t get enough attention when I first published it. So here’s the chance to give it some attention anew. Thanks for your attention, or the attention of whoever you got yours from.
Jack O’Lantern. The original and still classic. Carved by anyone who’s suspiciously vague about how they acquired a pumpkin.
Jack O’Lateen. Tall, triangular net of pumpkins mounted to the patio or house by a long yard, running fore-and-aft. Popular with coastal trick-or-treaters and people confident that their houses have little need to tack.
Jackal O’Lantern. Pumpkins carved by, or for use at events organized for, the local jackal community. Also welcome are hyenas, wolverines, and (per the famous 1712 Act of Parliament) “such badgers as are haveing a rotten daye ande do not wish to tallke aboutt-itt”. Honey badgers are customarily accepted, but this is a house rule, and should not be assumed.
Jonathan-O-Lantern. Jack’s grandfather, who’s swell and all but just a little bit formal in the way nobody has been since wearing hats stopped being a default.
Jake O’Lantern. Pumpkins which mean well but which are repeating jokes about Jake From State Farm or any other insurance-company commercial. Which is all fine except that you got it right away, and were a little amused, but they’re going to keep asking if you get it until you insist you’re riotously amused. Be ready for the trick: if you concede that you’re riotously amused for the sake of getting on with things, they will get smug about how they’re just that clever.
Jock-O-Lantern. Sports-themed pumpkin ready for a good workout session and good-spirited about it. Warning: is somehow sincerely disappointed that they never made that Hans and Franz movie.
Cyberlantern. The hardcore 1990s Internet-capable carving of a pumpkin. Features a device that, when you run it over a bar code printed in a Radio Shack catalogue, will take you to Radio Shack’s web site for that thing! Also if you want to watch a video, you can spend three hours downloading an update to something called a “codec” and then another two hours of downloading the video, which will let you see a postage stamp-sized frame of a movie, with ten short green horizontal lines on the picture, and then crash.
Jack-O-Lectern. Extremely worrying configuration of pumpkins in which they grow into something that a person urgently warning you about the Pagan Origins of Halloween stands behind.
Jeckle-Lantern. One of a pair of cartoon magpie pumpkins, possibly the one with the British accent. Maybe the Brooklyn one. Really fun to remember although if you go and actually pay attention you realize it’s mostly all right, really.
Jack-O-Lectern II. Further worrying configuration of pumpkins in which they grow into something that a person enthusiastically explains to you the Pagan Origins of Halloween stands behind.
Jack-y-Lantern. Carved in the style of that feminist newspaper that you could never figure out the publishing schedule of back in college. And that, you know, you took as being kind of flakes back in the day, but you’ve come to realize were right on all their major points about sexism and racism and ecological problems and the structures of companies and government and all that. And you’re starting to wonder if they had something about how it’s weird on Star Trek: The Next Generation people talked consistently about, like, Commander Riker and Mister Data and Counsellor Troi, but called the chief engineer just “Geordi”.
Jack-o-Lasers. Multiple thinly carved layers of internal shell allow this kind of carved pumpkin to amplify a single candle flame to the point it’s visible from the Moon. Or so they tell us, confident that we aren’t going up to the Moon to check these days.
Jack-O-Lectern III. An Internet-generated hoax. There is nothing you need do about this except shake your head at the folly of people who are not you, the lone person who never falls for dumb stuff.
Pterodactyl-Lantern. Great prehistoric flying pumpkins and they’re maybe even moving in packs! Flee to shelter!
Jack-O-Lectern IV. The most alarming possible configuration of pumpkins, in which they grow into something that a humorless STEM-type man debunking the Pagan Origins of Halloween stands behind.
Jack-O-Lanyard. A necklace-sized miniature lighted pumpkin perfect for going about to your work doing some tech stuff that nobody actually wants, but all the guys wear khakis and sometimes the group eats at Chili’s.
- Yes, I own a Ziggy Christmas ornament.
- No, I am not joking.
- No, I did not get it ironically. If I am not mistaken I got this in 1977 or 1978 and President Jimmy Carter only deregulated irony in 1979.
- Yes, I hang it on the tree.
- Every year except when I forget.
- Yes, somehow however I hang the Ziggy ornament it turns around to face the wall.
- Yes, I have spent more than fifteen minutes trying to get Ziggy to not face the wall.
- No, I am not sure that I’m not the one with the problem, what with how I don’t respect how facing the wall is part of the Nature of Ziggy.
- No, but really, isn’t not respecting the Nature of Ziggy the truest possible way to respect the Nature of Ziggy?
- No, it is not.
I’m flattered that you’re still coming to me for advice about Christmas decorations after learning I used to be a teenaged boy. It’s not what I would do, but, what the heck. I guess the worst that can happen is a family that’s fled some aesthetic catastrophe within the house, huddling together, promising that no, there’s a reason all those Star Trek comic books were on the wall. Hey, here’s a real thing that really happened in real reality for real: the second issue of the Star Trek: The Next Generation comic from the 80s was about Captain Picard having to save the Spirit of Christmas from some leather-clad Alien Space Grinches.
Anyway a holiday is always a good excuse to decorate. Not without limits, of course. There are only so many things you can put up to commemorate, say, Washington’s Birthday without people asking questions. And not the good kind, like where you can show off what you know about George Washington’s presidential tour of all thirteen states. They ask questions like “… the heck?” And most anything you put up for the August Bank Holiday will get you strange looks. The New Jersey Big Sea Day seems like it ought to have great decorating potential, but most of that is water. Maybe flip-flops.
Ah, but Christmas. And New Year’s. These are holidays that have no socially accepted limits for how much to decorate. You could festoon your house with enough Christmas lights that structural elements crumble, and the building collapses under this load of twinkling merry. Survivors would stagger out of a heap of belongings, drywall, and ornaments. And people would just say, oh, they’re maybe a little much but it makes up for the other houses on the street. It’s one of the few chances you have to festoon things in a socially acceptable way. Heck, it’s one of the few chances to even talk about festooning. Go ahead, list three other times this past year you were able to festoon a thing without authorities getting involved.
Which gets to something important about Christmas decorating. Make sure that you’re decorating someplace or something that you have permission to. Once the authorities get called in you don’t get to enjoy a giddy night of adorning things with tinsel. You have to start sneaking around instead, hiding behind the Christmas tree or unusually wide coat-stands whenever a bunch of people in, I’m assuming, tall blue hats tromp past. Then they hear a suspicious cough off somewhere. One of your confederates, no doubt, if you’ve got this well-organized. And you have to throw a ball of tinsel at a thing you hope is a tinsel-bearing decorative structure unit, like a tree or a wreath or a cat.
That’s not the right way to do things. That won’t get you decorations that festoon a thing. The best you can hope for is that you’ll have decorations strewn about. And strewning is great, don’t get me wrong. It’s just that strewning is great in the right context. The context you want for decorating is that you aren’t trying to dodge people who want you answering questions. You want to have some beloved Christmas special that you’ve watched so often that you no longer watch it. You just have it on in the background while forming questions about the worldbuilding.
After a couple decades of this you start to wonder exactly how much thought the writers put into the mythology behind, oh, the one where Frosty the Snowman creates a wife, and then they have to go create a snow-parson who can “legally” marry them because the human parson voiced by Dennis Day isn’t sure he can do that? And somehow creating a new snow-life is less problematic? And you never see what happens to the snow-parson after that? And it’s not about getting answers to these questions. If you wanted answers go out and become an authority yourself. Not saying about what. An authority on Christmas specials would get you the answers faster, probably. But becoming an authority on, say, tidal pools? Graphic design? It’ll take longer to get answers, but maybe the joy of the season is discovering these things.
I’m flattered you come to me for advice about Christmas decorations. Don’t go thinking I’m happy about it. If you take my advice it won’t turn out well. The best we can expect is groups of people huddled together, in the snow, too tired from yelling at each other to resume yelling at each other on a nice day like this. That day is probably Groundhog Day or something like that.
See, the first reason I shouldn’t really be trusted on Christmas decorating advice is that I procrastinate. It’s not that I don’t ever want to get around to doing things. I feel this complete lack of urgency about getting stuff done. This is great for stuff that doesn’t really need to be done, like preventative maintenance. It’s not so good for stuff with inherent deadlines, like making dinner or Christmas. But deadlines are flexible things. What does it matter if we have dinner now or fifteen minutes later? Or a half-hour later? Or early next morning? Similarly, when we think carefully about the problem, do we actually know when Christmas will be? December seems likely enough. But we do hear talk about Christmas in July, which suggests we were trying to get things six months wrong and were still late. You can’t convince me that there isn’t plenty of time to start decorating, even if it’s already well past 4 pm on Christmas Day, whenever that may be.
But if you’re still looking for advice from me? … Really? All right. I should warn you that I’ve decorated things in my life and you probably don’t want to take up my example. I used to be a teenaged boy, you see, and I’ve been struggling my whole life to overcome that background. I fully accept responsibility for the dumb things I’ve done, and I think I know better now. But consider that I used to think it was acceptable to line the walls of my bedroom with Star Trek comic books in plastic bags. Yes, they had cardboard backings. I wasn’t a savage. And it did express an element of actual good decorating. Good decorating should say something. And a wall of bagged Star Trek comic books says: “This is easier than ever knowing a person who would want to visit me”.
Still even as a teenager I knew Christmas would come, sooner or later. One year I got possession of the family’s old artificial tree. By fair means, I should add. Our parents got a new artificial tree and as the largest brother I was able to punch my other brothers more. But now I could set up in the corner of my room an artificial Christmas tree. It was at most ten years old and there were many branches that weren’t yet crumpled up by having been put away for ten years by pre-teen boys in-between their punching sessions. Add to it a couple strands of older lights, no longer needed for front-line service, that were enough for at least the third of the tree not facing the wall. And you had this awesome sight: an ancient artificial Christmas tree, strung with a couple lights trying their best in the circumstances, sitting in the corner, backing a wall of the existing Star Trek comics of the 1980s. It was the hot new look for the summer, based on what the guinea pigs I kept in my room said about it. They said, “Wheep”.
At one point it struck my teenage-boy mind that it would be a good idea to take down the bows, but leave the two-foot-tall conical top of the tree up. This solved the problems of not really having enough lights and of blocking access to the Star Trek comics behind the tree. It just meant I had a bare, five-foot-tall metal pole sitting in the corner of my room. My recollection is that at one point I also managed to lose the pitiful remnants of this tree, and was startled to rediscover it. I have no idea what it could possibly have hidden behind. It’s not like I had tall stuff in my room other than me. I mean, this was when I was going through the mattress-on-the-floor phase of my life.
I hope that this has answered every possible question. If it has not, allow me to offer “North Dakota in the year 1822”. I don’t know what question that answers, but it must be something.
While we’re still waiting on the upstate returns it sure seems like we’re going to have a Christmas this year. So it’s a good chance to talk about putting up decorations for Christmas like three weeks ago. But who’s had the time? Those who would like to discuss putting up decorations against Christmas may apply for equal time care in care of this station. This will let us see just what sort of care they have been taking of their time. This should be good for a solid laugh all around.
The basic unit of Christmas decoration is the poinsettia. This lovely plant has been cherished for several centuries, a couple decades, a bunch of years, a pair of months, a peculiar number of hours, and a strangely specific number of shillings and pence. They’s cheerful and when viewed from any angle and from a wide range of lighting conditions they appear to be spelled wrong. This allows us to spend much of the Christmas season slightly rearranging any existing poinsettias. In case their spelling ever does look right, the pronunciation looks wrong. If both the spelling and pronunciation are sound, then it’s time for the flowers to fall over.
There is a longstanding tradition of putting lights on trees. This grew out of the tradition of putting candles on trees. This itself grew out of the tradition of putting trees on candles. This tradition came to an end when the fire department started sending out stern letters and disapproving looks. Even so there are some neighborhoods where the fire department has to drive around delivering stern looks and disapproving letters, just in the hope the change-up catches anyone’s attention. In any case the lights are much easier to work with, what with how they can be turned off. You leave the trees on because it’s so hard to get something to exist again once you’ve told it to stop. At the least you get accused of being fickle, and can’t make an honest dispute of it.
Stands of lights grow in the hardware and in the discount department store. They find a natural habitat on what certainly seems like the wrong shelf. You expect them to be set up next to the artificial trees or next to the laser projectors that shine sparkly lights on an unsuspecting house. Instead they’re off in like row 13, between paint supplies and dowels and grommets. In some bigger stores they’re kept next to the grummidges and copper-plated hurk mounts and other wholly imaginary pieces of hardware. It’s a little prank they play.
You can buy new lights every year while cursing the light manufacturers. Or you can keep lights from year to year, taking the old ones out and cursing the light manufacturers over those. This is because any light strand more than three months old has a half that doesn’t work. Fortunately every strand of lights has two fuses embedded in the plug. And it’s easy to change these just by sliding the plastic panel open and then screaming in frustration at the fuses, since they’re in pretty tight and there’s no getting it out without using a needle that you drop on the floor to step on later. Replacing the fuses will not make the lights work. It’s just a way to pass the slow, unhurried times ahead of Christmas.
A good thing to pick up is this tool that extracts Christmas light bulbs. It should also have a button to press to test whether a given light is working. Nothing will ever tell you how to use this button, though. Do you hold the suspect bulb up to the side near the button? The side near the indicator light that flashes? Does the bulb have to be out of the light strand? Can it be left inside? What’s it mean when the indicator light flashes? Or when it stays on? There’s no telling. This all gives you something to do while pondering the futility of existence.
Tinsel is, in truth, no such thing. What we call tinsel is actually an artificial tinsel created by chemists who had pondered the saying “you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear” and so did not. They had hopes that this artificial tinsel would help America in the war effort and it might have had they not done this all over the summer of 1926. Nevertheless, the work is well appreciated by anyone who would like things to look and feel the more stranded.
Once you have your Christmas decorations up, stop putting them up. This is most important as your ceiling isn’t tall enough to keep putting them ever-farther up. Enjoy them while wondering how it is the light strand over the doorway isn’t falling down. Nobody knows.
The holiday season is coming soon. It may even be here already in certain parts of the time zone. Here are some good ways to react.
Affix A Thing To Another Thing. This is a good one to learn because it is one of the fundamental units of crafting projects. Most anything you can see can be affixed to some other thing. You can start very simply, just by taking something you have and placing it atop something else. In more advanced classes you set something, such as a light cloth, between the things. This makes for fun activities like peeling up the cloth to see how much dust has got all over the things. In expert classes you can adhere things together using tape or acetylene torch welding or glue or sewing or strings. Graduate students in crafts learn to snip something off of another thing.
Make A Food Of Some Kind. This is a very good project because at the end of it you will have food or a good story about how food failed to exist. To do this you wil need:
- A recipe
- Some more bowls
- Indeed more bowls than you have ever imagined owning in your life
- Exotic utensils kept in the kitchen drawer you never use, things that look like wispy high-dimensional mathematical constructs that have something to do with string theory
- Bowls that you dimly remember from buried childhood memories of boring afternoons and grandmom’s that somehow emerge from the kitchen’s Scary Cabinet that you never open
- A box of plastic wrap on which the metal tooth blade has fallen halfway off and has gone to attack thumbs, fruits, the occasional kitchen tile, etc
- Two, maybe three more bowls
Take any of the ingredients and read the recipe. Then glance down and see that somehow all the bowls have gotten covered in a strange putty-like goo which tastes faintly of vanilla, cilantro, lemon, and sugar crystals. They will never all be successfully clean again.
- Get some more bowls
If you’re doing well this will attract the attention of some adorable cartoon animal such as a raccoon, who’ll try grabbing at some of your food. And you toss him out and he’s right back at the counter before you even get back to it yourself. And this escalates until you blow up your whole house using a pile of dynamite sticks the size of a roller coaster and the raccoon’s still there. He holds out an adorable little cookie as peace offering and when you start to accept it he eats it instead. Directed by Dick Lundy in pretty good pastiche of Tex Avery.
Decrate an Animal in Some Fashion. Your experience in affixing things to other things will help some here. At least it will if you want to do something like set a bow on a dog, such as setting a bow on a cat. But “decorate” suggests some broader ideas. For example, why not fling balls of paint at squirrels until they’re much more colorful? Because that won’t work. You’ll just get squirrels with even better reflexes. If you want to go this way take some drops of food dye and dab them on the heads of local mice. The mice will groom from their heads on down — they’re very careful about this — and rub the dye into all their fur. Then you can set the mice around your neighbors. When they come to you and say, “There’s a bunch of green and purple mice that moved into the neighborhood!” you can exhale a world-weary sigh and say, “I know.” Trust me, this will play as really funny if you keep a straight face.
Just Wrap Some Thing. See how your affixing practice comes in handy here? Take something you can use for wrapping, such as wrapping paper, or wrapping plastic, or wrapping blankets, or wrapping vinyl shingles, or wrapping polymer foams, you get the idea. Then take something you already have and paper it up until you can’t get at it anymore. This will show them, this will show them all. Place the wrapped thing under a thing, or on top of a thing, or hang it from something such as a tree, wall, or aggrieved squirrel in blue.
Arrange for a White Christmas. White Christmases are regarded as the sine qua non of Christmases. They’re among the top days to have be White, too. A White New Year’s Eve is a distant second in popularity. A White Fourth of July is regarded with suspicion at best. White Whistuntide is regarded as somebody trying a little to hard to be funny or maybe to filk Billy Joel. The most natural way to get a White Christmas is to appeal to the ice phoenixes by setting out bowls of warm miso for them. If that fails, you can try washing the paint off your animation cells. WARNING: Stop before erasing your ink.
If that doesn’t work, I don’t know. Maybe tweet out at companies until a customer service bot answers you.
Here’s a picture of a Christmas tree decorated, back in December, by the Gravity Works Design and Development group at the local zoo. Questions this raises:
So that is Darth Vader merged by transporter accident with a Christmas tree, right? Or did he just fall and he’s making the best of his dignity the situation will allow? Or is he sneaking up on dryads? If so, why would the Dark Side of the Force care about dryads one way or another? Also what kind of firm is “Gravity Works Design and Development”? Is it a technology firm? Is it a graphic design studio? Maker of weightlifting equipment? A special effects house? Flying saucer gone awry? Is it a roller coaster manufacturer? Why am I going through my Christmas photos in April? Am I that far behind? Is there any chance I could be a tiny bit more timely? No, there’s not.
In questions that I can answer: mathematics. What’s the deal? I explained a bunch of mathematically-themed comic strips yesterday. And who knows what I did today? Or what I figure on for tomorrow?
I felt like sharing a little old-time radio this weekend. So here, please enjoy the fifteen minutes of Bob and Ray Present The CBS Radio Network. This episode’s from the 15th of December, 1959.
Besides some experimental new sound effects the episode includes an installment of One Fella’s Family, all about the search for the missing Christmas ornaments. There’s a happy ending to it.
Also, there’s another comic strip review over on my mathematics blog. Do enjoy, if that’s your taste.
This is one of the Halloween decorations we’ve got. It’s from the same kit that was hung up in elementary schools when my love and I were kids, and it turns out they’re still being printed and sold and all that, so that’s great. And, you know, it may look like a slightly nightmarish howling skull on fire. I find that impression dissolves just as soon as you know that the skull is actually wide-jawed with joy and surprise at learning she just won $35,000 from a scratch-off lottery card. And suddenly, now, aren’t you grinning a little and realizing that you don’t know whether it’s possible to tell whether a skull by itself is male or female? That’s because the correct answer is: it’s a skull on fire. How could she even scratch off the card?
Carpet seeds (Item A). These hardy indoor plants grow to a near-uniform quarter-inch height and reach from stem to stern glare. As such they are reasonably satisfying for use as carpeting, and bring the pleasures of a fresh-mown lawn to wandering down the hall forgetting what you got up for. Watering is not needed after the base layer has grown in; merely occasionally spill a cup of a caffeinated drink such as coffee, tea, or cola onto the blades. Now that you need to, you never will spill a cup again. To ensure the grounds are sufficiently fed we offer a special off-balance motor which randomly shakes a glass or cup (see item 4, omitted for completeness). Rumors about the lawn-carpet capturing small children or pets and dragging them off to photosynthetic lifestyles are misleading. $14.99 per square yard or better offer.