Friday, September 13, 2013

Blast from The U-Bend

Ick. That doesn't sound good. But actually this is another couple of reprints of Harry Potter-themed articles I wrote, this time as a guest columnist for a humorous feature called The U-Bend on MuggleNet. Its regular authors let me fill in for them while they were on vacation. These are the dubious results.


Pop quiz (multiple guess):
  1. Why is Robbie writing this week's column for Andrew and Robert?
    1. Didn't you know, Robbie and Robert are the same dude?
    2. Andrew and Robert were called away to Vegas to fill in for Penn and Teller, when Teller lost his voice.
    3. To stall while Andrew and Robert read Half-Blood Prince 11 times.
    4. Because Robbie thought a little hate mail would brighten the monotony of getting 54 messages a day saying, "You have to review the complete works of Fern McGillicuddy for the Book Trolley!"
  2. Why didn't they ask YOU to write a column for them, too?
    1. Because, unlike Robbie, you don't accept every writing assignment you are offered.
    2. Because they know Robbie isn't as funny as they are, so they'll still look good after it's over with.
    3. Because you weren't speaking to them after the time they put you-know-what in your shampoo bottle.
    4. Because Robbie is the only person they know who hasn't put their e-mail address on his anti-spam "black list."
  3. Why doesn't he drop the quiz thing and get to the point of this week's column?
    1. Because he's still deciding what the point is going to be.
    2. What, are you still reading this?
    3. They pay you by the letter at MuggleNet.
Look, don't criticize. Column-sitting isn't as easy as it looks. Every time I stop for a breather, the cat knocks something over in the other room, I keep finding banana peels under the chair cushions, the toilet overflows when I run water in the kitchen, and I don't want to know WHAT that thing is on the corner of the desk! So just give me a minute, OK?

Whew! That was a toughie! All right, scholars, here are the correct answers to the quiz. Number 1: E. None of your business. Number 2: E. This is the 83rd column I've submitted to them; persistence pays off. Number 3: E. Holy cow! What is that THING behind you?

If you guessed all the answers correctly, help yourself to a free sundae at the Florean Fortescue stand in your neighborhood! Just tell them Andrew sent you, and have them put it on his tab.

And now, on to my actual topic! In the past several years, since I became a raving Harry Potter fanatic, many people who used to be close friends of mine have asked why I am so single-mindedly fixated on a bunch of kiddie stories that aren't even true! So, in the spirit of scientific inquiry, I have tested many of the seemingly unbelievable things that you read about in the Harry Potter series. I have found evidence that it might be true after all. So stick this in your aromatherapy brazier and burn it, Dr. Krishna! Hahahahaha!

Ahem. What I mean to say is, here's the evidence, which I have painstakingly measured according to the most objective standards of scientific research. Before I continue, however, I must warn you not to try these experiments yourself. Only fully trained and equipped personnel, supervised by leading members of the psychiatric profession, should attempt these tests!

FIRST PROBLEM: "Gee whiz, Robbie. How can you stand all that rubbish about 'He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named'? Nobody ever talks like that!"

Answer: Au contraire! And here's the evidence! My brother is what you might call the "black sheep" of the family. Every time I visit home, or talk to my parents by phone, they spend nearly all the time yakking about his problems and misdeeds. One summer I finally told my parents, in the gentlest and most respectful way, that if they mentioned my brother's name one more time I was going to cut my ears off and shove them down their throats. It worked! Except that they still talked about his problems and misdeeds as much as ever; only they were careful always to say "You-Know-Who" and sometimes even "He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named." This is a true story. So clearly, unmentionable people like Voldemort really exist...though I imagine that Voldemort manages his personal affairs somewhat better than my brother does.

SECOND PROBLEM: "You know there are no such things as witches, and crystal balls, and divination, and spellbooks, and magic potions, etc."

Answer: Oh really? Have you ever heard of Paganism? This is an actual religion, or rather, a group of religions that includes Druidism and Wicca. My mother belonged to it for several years. Yes, my mother was a witch. And she had it all -- crystals, wands, spellbooks, herbs. I saw them. She communed with spirits, she dreamed prophetic dreams, and she even put a nasty curse on somebody that WORKED. It was quite scary and frankly, I'm glad that she gave it up. I suppose a woman of a certain age begins to find broomstick riding rather uncomfortable.

Oh, great. Now I really am going to get hate mail. Let me make it quite clear that I am not promoting Paganism in any way, nor am I saying that the religion of Paganism is the same thing as the magical world JKR portrays in her books. Before you accuse me of such a thing, I advise you to read my editorials, such as "Harry Potter: Magic or Magick" etc. And you will see that you are accusing one of the least likely people in Harry Potter fandom to be a supporter of the Dark Arts! Which, by the way, takes care of the

THIRD PROBLEM: "There can't possibly be such gits in the world as Barty Crouch Sr.!"

FOURTH PROBLEM: Who are you calling a git? Hmph!

FIFTH PROBLEM: "I found the way Harry Potter blew up his Aunt Marge, stormed disrespectfully out of the house, and ran away on the Knight Bus without suffering any repercussions to be very obnoxious, immature, and a terrible example for children!"

Answer: Well, I didn't exactly blow up my stepfather that one Christmas at Mom's house (this was after she stopped being a witch, and Christmas was back on again). But I visualized it, and it was very satisfactory. Then I did storm out of the house, throwing all my presents out into the snowy yard. No Knight Bus, though, but it doesn't signify; I had a car and I got all the way home in spite of being so drowsy (I had to drive all through the night) that I was all over the road, just like Ernie Prang. Of course, I felt like a bloody idiot afterward, but it confirms that such things really can happen to hormonal teenagers...even at age 30.

SIXTH PROBLEM: "I don't buy that claptrap about the Polyjuice Potion. Everybody is unique. You can't become another person! Anyone who knew you would be able to tell the difference instantly!"

Answer: Really? Tell that to the waitress at the Rusty Hydrant tavern, which is two doors down from a slightly-less-seedy inn that I used to frequent. I had never had the least interest in going into the Rusty Hydrant, until one day I found myself short of cash and the ATM outside the Golden Gristle was out of order. I remembered seeing a sign outside the Rusty Hydrant that said "ATM Inside!" so I took a brief detour. As soon as I walked in, the waitress gave me a delighted smile of recognition and said, "Why, I haven't seen you in AGES! Where have you been? Will you be drinking your usual?" That was eerie! It took me several minutes to convince the lady that I had never seen her, or the inside of the establishment, in my life. But I looked and sounded EXACTLY like some guy who used to come in there all the time. Looking back, I should have asked if the other guy often wore a moleskin overcoat...

SEVENTH PROBLEM: "There couldn't possibly be such a STUPID bureaucracy as the Ministry of Magic!"

Answer: You have obviously never applied for vehicle tags in the state of Missouri. I have seen enough red tape in my day to fix the crack in the devil's dashboard, but I have never seen anything as awe-inspiringly screwed up as the Missouri Department of Transportation. "MODoT," as it is affectionately known, requires seven official (and unexpired) pieces of paper from you before they will issue your license plates, only they will only tell you about one of them each time you visit the office (after which you have to go out and get the latest piece of paper that they have told you about). After they make you run out to the car six times, send you on paper-pushing errands all over the county, give you contradictory and inaccurate instructions, and ask you whether you would prefer a tractor license which can only be driven within a 50-mile radius of your permanent address (even though your insurance card very clearly says FORD FIESTA), you finally understand why Missouri is the only place you have ever heard of where theft of license tags is a major law-enforcement problem. By that time it seems like a pretty good idea.

EIGHTH PROBLEM: "I work for MODoT and I know where you live."

Answer: Avada Kedavra! Ha -- made you duck!

NINTH PROBLEM: "You still haven't proven that any of the MAGIC in the Harry Potter stories could really exist."

Answer: All right, you've got me there. But I PROMISE you that when Andrew and Robert are released, their very first act will be to write a column that fixes you and your little red wagon, too. And since you had to be such a smartnik, you can forget about that free sundae!

TENTH PROBLEM: "How were we supposed to guess the correct answers to those questions at the beginning of the article?"

Answer: Are you nuts? All you had to do was scroll down! That's it, I'm through with your questions. Andrew and Robert can have you! I'm going back to the Book Trolley, where the only thing they ever ask is, "When does the next Lemony Snicket book come out?" (A. October 1st. B.What's the matter with you? HBP just came out! C. The author's name is really Daniel Handler. D. Did you break your arm? Use your mouse and look it up on Amazon! E. All of the above.)

Finally, if you plan on sending hate mail to the author of this article, I didn't write it. ANDREW FORGED MY NAME. Enjoy the HBP everybody!

It's Not Easy Being He Who Must Not Be Named (As Told by Lord Voldemort to Robbie F.) (4/8/06)

Good evening! Oh, for mercy’s sake, wipe up that spill. You would think you had never seen anyone Apparate before. Get a grip on yourself! Oh, yes, of course, of course. It’s the face, isn’t it? Well, how do you think I feel when I catch the first glimpse of myself in the mirror each morning? It takes some getting used to. Is this better? I hope you appreciate this. This cloak gets rather stuffy when the hood is pulled up.

What? For my interview, of course! Don’t pretend you didn’t get my owl. No one with an ounce of breeding would be caught undead, showing up unannounced!

All right, let’s get started. Where’s your quill and parchment? Eh? All right, if you really think that thing with the buttons is faster. Are you sure the screen isn’t harmful? It really does have an unwholesome glow about it. Not that I should really worry about that, I suppose.

No, no, there’s no time to go over that. Really, you should have paid more attention to the letter I sent by owl. All right, have it your way. (Sigh.) It’s because everyone knows you’re such a joker, they’ll read the interview and think you just made it all up. So the joke is on you! I do SO love to see a fellow impaled on his own sword, so to speak. Almost as much fun as seeing it happen literally! And besides, no one at the Times can get their facts straight about me or the lot of us. Wizards, you know.

Oh, you ARE funny. No, really. What ever gave you the idea that being a Dark Lord is a bed of roses? No one has any respect these days. Last week I was window-shopping in Piccadilly Circus when a cheeky youngster approached me, tugged on my sleeve, and begged for my autograph! At first I tried to convince him that he had me mistaken with someone else, but he wasn’t buying any. Forced me to write, “To Billy: We all start with a seed of evil in our hearts. Cultivate it, and it will grow. All the best, You-Know-Who.” Wouldn’t even let me sign my actual name, the little blighter. I got him, of course, with a whooping-cough curse that followed him home and infected the whole family. But there was no satisfaction in it. Nobody takes me seriously.

Don’t give me that. Anyone can see through it. I’ve been reading Her books, too. You know who I mean. So now everyone expects me to pop my clogs in the next two or three years. After all that I’ve sacrificed, all my hard work to achieve immortality! What nonsense. But you’ve all bought it, haven’t you? No one knows it better than my accountant. I should have listened to him, but no. I HAD to make my initial public offering the same week that Her sixth book came out. It was a disaster! The stock opened in the toilet, and it’s been swirling down the drain ever since. When you’re expected to hop a twig in three to five, no one cares to buy stock in you.

What has the world come to? People used to BELIEVE in the power of evil. Greed, anger, lust, fear ... they used to have a real hold on people, spiritually as well as financially. Even when things were going well, they still expected and prepared for the worst. I knew a rich man who could have clothed every naked savage in Southern California, yet he would never buy new clothes. Saved every rag that he owned, constantly having them patched and darned, against the day his money might not be there to clothe him. Well, that day never came. After refusing to give his spare handkerchief to an urchin who had a nosebleed, he slipped on a puddle of the child’s blood and broke his neck. Left a quarter of a million pounds to a goatherd who was his last surviving relative. That’s what I call going out in style! Groundless fear, avarice, self-love, leading to ... no, stop putting words in my mouth. Just comeuppance, indeed! I was GOING to say, utter extinction. Pointlessness. Futility. It’s the way the whole world should be ...

But look at it now. People who barely have a roof over their heads, after being flooded out by one hurricane after another, are writing checks they can barely cover, to support other people who have been shaken out of house and home on the other side of the world! What is that? Where is the self-interest in that? Don’t people recognize where their priorities lie? That’s what the word PRIORITY means, after all – first, foremost, number one! So it stands to reason they should be looking out for number one! But people these days seem to be losing touch with their inner evil. It’s a pity. In my younger days, there seemed to be so much potential for evil in the world ...

Well, there’s still hope. Pockets of it, at any rate. You can still find neighborhoods, cities, even entire countries ... well, not all the people, but enough so that one never seems to run out of them. You know, those splendid fools whose idea of giving meaning to their lives is to end their lives with a bang, taking along as many innocent bystanders as possible. This madness spreads with a fervor, with a self-justifying conviction that can only mean evil has not entirely released its grip on mankind.

Of course that isn’t funny. Lord V—all right! All right! He Who Must Not Be Named does not do stand-up comedy. Do you know that my bank actually wrote to me and asked me to stop signing my full name? They said it gave their tellers the heebie-jeebies. If you think being a Dark Lord is all fun and games, try writing He Who Must Not Be Named on all of your checks. I get hand cramps every month, at bill time. It took me four hours to sign all the closing documents on my Florida time-share. Zounds, man! Do you think a man with my complexion can put up with the Florida sun all year round?

Well, I’m off to that other interview now. That one with all the theatre people in the audience, where they ask everyone the same questions at the end of the program. Well, they’re not to know I’m not Ralph Fiennes, are they? Besides giving me a chance to see if my Confundus Charm is effective via Muggle broadcast media, it also gives me a chance to develop a much-overlooked instrument of evil. Oh, you’re safe of course; you spend too much time reading those daft storybooks to watch the tube. But where else can cruelty, avarice, and lechery slip in under the covering fire of such profound, mind-sapping indifference? Ah, television ... perhaps the darkest wizardry yet invented, and to think the Muggles have it all to themselves! We’ll have to see about that ...

I beg your pardon? Autograph THAT? That’s a low blow, Muggle. You should be grateful that I’m not in a cursing mood today. Well, let’s see. I suppose I can get some satisfaction by scribbling He Who Must Not Be Named across one of your precious pages ... wait ... what’s this? A chapter titled Horcruxes? What does She mean by it? Where did she get that from? Whose head is she trying to put ideas into? I TOLD that rat Wormtail to read the blasted book. Why didn’t he tell me about this ... ? Well, I’m sorry, young man, I’m afraid I’ve quite lost my appetite for fame just now. You’ll call the Actors’ Studio to let them know I can’t come? I must get back to Boca Raton. I thought all that bother about the IPO was plain silliness, but now ... (Shudder). May I take this? Thank you. My compliments to your cats. Farewell.

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