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Not scary enough

Pondering the power of fear and the ineffectiveness of effigies


Right now, Lary is trying to figure out how to be a burning effigy for Halloween. Normally I'd feel secure with the impossibility of his plan, but this is Lary. "Do you really want to sit there and burn up like a Vietnamese monk?" I ask.

"I want to be walking around," he replies ponderously, "and I'd prefer to live through it."

He said that last part as if living through it hasn't, up to now, held a very high priority in his thought process. This I understand because, for Lary, survival has always taken a second seat to dramatic effect.

Which explains his present predilection for effigies, I guess, seeing as how an effigy has no purpose other than to provide effect. One minute it's there -- with maybe a sign that says "Colin Powell" pinned to its ass -- and the next it's set aflame by Taliban supporters pushing each other out of the way to better facilitate an unobstructed angle for the news camera.

Occasionally the effigy burners are so proud of the effigy's effect that they clamor to stand close to be included in the camera shot, and then they themselves sometimes catch fire. They become burning effigy burners, which is really rather hilarious, and probably not the effect they were seeking. They were probably seeking to come across as ferocious enemies who will stop at nothing to achieve their objective. I'm sure they were not aiming to reveal themselves as ignorant bovines bumping into each other like rodeo clowns, or anything.

"Let me get this straight," I try to clarify, because I'm still not seeing Lary's Halloween plan. "You want to actually be the effigy, like walking around in flames all night, right? Are you talking faux flames or something? Like Mylar strips that bristle in the wind and would look like fire if you were a hallucinating heroin addict or something? Is that what you mean?"

But that is not what he means. This has always been my problem, he sighs. I have no vision. But I think I see tons of important things. Like I see now why my mother refused to allow me to go to church when I was a kid. And later, when I was a porous college student studying Freud, I see why she didn't buy my atheism when I brought it home with me in a book bag like a trendy sweater. I see how she knew it wouldn't fit me.

And I see there is no point in burning an effigy unless you have a point. "So what's your point?" I ask Lary. "The effigy needs to represent something, and the burning of it represents your opposition to that something, doesn't it? So what's your point?"

I think I got him there. See, Lary just gets it in his head to do stuff, impossible stuff -- like once he decided he was going to steal one of those billboards above the freeway, the entire billboard. You don't know how really massive those things are until you're standing next to one, and if you want to stand next to one, just go to Lary's place, because he really did just up and steal one last year. It's right there taking up most of the abandoned factory he calls a home. Ask him why. He can't tell you. Pointlessness is his passion, but authenticity is important to him, too, get it? And to be an authentic burning effigy you need a point.

"I need a point," Lary agrees. "Find me one."

I swear, it's infuriating how he always drags me into his plans, because now I'm thinking about the idiots who burn effigies, and how they shake the effigies in our faces via CNN, and brandish them like voodoo dolls as if they have power or something, when really effigies are just scarecrows soaked in gasoline. Scarecrows, like the one I'm looking at through my window right now, made from plaid flannel and pine straw, festooned with fake cobwebs and a cartoon bat that says, "Boo." Real scary.

Real fear is the kind I had when I was a kid and I feared I'd go to hell, and my mother waved it off dismissively. "Get over it," she said. And I see it wasn't church she hated so much as it was the blind adherence to a totem in general. The asking of no questions. The fear. It just sucks, she used to say, that Jesus freaks try to frighten you with that whole "hell" thing. "What bigger hell is there," she'd ask, "than a heaven full of people like that?"

And I'm glad I remember this because it helps me find a point for Lary's effigy. "Fear!" I chirp. "You can be an effigy burning in opposition to fear!" And I'm so smug, because I'm sure my idea is so clever, but Lary is taking his time to shower me with admiration. He is not struck with awe over me at all, no. He's just silent.

Then the effigy speaks. "Fear," he concludes, "is not scary enough."

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