On mail slots and the like

(I hope “mail slot” is the word for the slit in your door, covered with a liftable metal lid, through which the manic-depressive postman rams your daily post like a pig through a pinhole. Apologies if I use the wrong word, or just brought to your head an image you did not want there.)

Here’s a hobby project: saw a second slot below the first. Mark this second one “junk mail”. Install a clear plastic slide on the inside for the junk slot, and a mirrored metal one for the upper one. Tape a recorder, a fan and a lamp under the clear slide. The recorder is wired to play when the lower lid is opened; the lamp has red and yellow silkpaper over it; and the fan is similarly triggered and aimed at the lamp to make the silkpaper rustle. The recorder’s soundtrack is “A firestorm in the house”, or something similar.

“Vhat! The maniak has an inferno for his junk mail! I the postman am alarmed and amused!”

The upper lid, probably used first, is necessary to avoid the uncomfortable situation of coming home to a very, very steamed fire chieftain and a fire-axe-split door.

The recorder activated by the mail lid would be useful for other expressions of disorder, too. (Not pranks; just causes of confusion and wonder. Jumping out laughing at people and explaining them what just happened is not very elegant, and most people have too little brain-knotting in their lives.) The recorder could hold a stage-whispered conversation, maybe:

“Shhh! Did you hear something! Keep him quiet!”

“It’s the cops, Frankie, it’s —”


And then nothing more.

Or maybe the sound, coming from just inside the door and below the mail slot, could be a man imitating a panting dog. A grown man, imitating, very badly, and overenthusiastically, that is.

Or a yell, just from the direction of the falling papers and letters, of “Whatsa! Right on my face! Whysit always me?”

Or maybe the trigger could still be in the mail lid, but the speaker should be in the hallway behind the mailman — a seedy whisper of “Nice…” might cause near anyone to wake up.

Or a whispery girl’s voice straight out of a ghost story, of “Any mail for meeee…?” — your stairway could soon be known as a haunted one among all the postpersons of the city! Each day a new one would take the route, to hear (or not), the voice of the dead little girl who starved to death waiting for her My Little Pony set, lost by the mail! And one day a mailman would not come out of that stairway, and would never be seen again! Or so it is said, among mailmen, who are a strange and superstitious lot.

Tricks that involve the lid being pulled back on the mailman’s fingers will not be discussed, as truly subtle and worthy confusions cause no bodily harm, or damage to anything material. (The things inside the heads of the affected, well.)

Many mailboxes have a sticker of “no junk mail!” (or “no mass mail!” or whatever is the word for the stuff that’s sent to be stuffed to every slot the mailman can find), but a mere sticker isn’t enough. One could tape LEDs under it, triggered to flash a surprise message of “THANK YOU!” when the mail was dropped in. (Thanks to irony, it would work even if the postman just delivered you a full Bristol Stool Scale of ads!)

* * *

Ah, thinking up crowd-confusers like this is great fun; what luck and shame that I’m too lazy to really implement them.

My favorite idea has for a long time been using a few strips of tape to mark a square meter of some public square, and setting up a warning sign of “Beware the falling lamp”. With no lamps nor light-poles anywhere near, mind you.

Then going past the square a few busy hours later, and breaking a lightbulb in the middle of it.

It’s not a perfect idea because someone might clean it up, and be fully justified in doing so; and glass shards aren’t exactly harmless; but it gives me great delight to think what passers-by might think of it.

The perfect kind of confusion would be there for a moment, and then gone without a trace, never to reappear except in moments of furious and consternated thinking in all the heads which saw it. The biggest problem is thinking something that a) won’t bring in the law, b) isn’t too obviously a production, and c) gives no indication of being a prank, a TV show, or an art installation. The one working confusions like these must not be so greedy as to insist on seeing all that happens; it is enough to know people have been confused.

As in, wait for a snowy winter day, and use ingenuity to create truly outlandish bike tracks. Say ones of driving, then falling over (then a quart of cow blood on the snow; most supermarkets sell it frozen); then the bike tracks, resuming as if nothing had happened.

And speaking of snow, here’s a fairly nasty idea: do a snowman when it seems there will be some melting soon. Do one with a sturdily outstretched arm. And hide a leg of lamb inside. (What? It’s all for the sake of other people — don’t be so stingy!) Imagine the wonder of a pair of children as they behold the melting snowman and thus by a logical inference the man-arm sticking out — or the reaction of the dog-owner whose mutt seems interested in more than marking that particular snow construction…

But that is a bit too mean-spirited, that one. And besides there’s no snow around right now. (Sighs, curses, thinks again.)

I wonder if one could go to a beach and find buyers for “buckets of ice, buckets of ice, one euro for a ten-liter bucket of solid ice… no trick, ma’am, see here, a bucket in this hand, a bucket in the other, got to sell them quick, won’t be ice much longer… of course you don’t get the bucket, get outta here, it’s one euro so of course you don’t get the bucket… no, no half measures, one euro and you get all of it… look, I don’t care what you use it for, I’m just selling it… buckets of ice, buckets of ice!”

Ach, that would be work for the Finnish branch of Improv Everywhere. (Heroes of mine and honorary Erisians by my solemn decree, those folks. The Tourist Lane and some of their other tricks are as Discordian as things can be.)

Here’s an idea that exchanges your personal comfort and money for something that will puzzle the everloving daylights out of many a man, woman and child: take a hundred bucks or so, march to an ice cream kiosk one sunny summer day, and demand as many cones as the money will get you. As you get the cones, smash them on your forehead or cram them into your pants. Do not leer if at all possible. Do not admit you are doing anything unusual. Do not make a production of it. When done, thank the seller and leave, slightly chilled and much stared-after. Never come back again. (Might be best done in a city you don’t live in. Just a thought, because the “there’s something here I’m not getting” interpretation is pretty much equal to the “this person is nuts” interpretation of this one. Well, unless you could persuade a few of your friends to come and do the same, an hour and two hours after you. Then there would be genuine desire for enlightenment; which you, being responsible gurus, would not provide.)

Or then you could… well, St. Carlin of the Seven Words once suggested running to bakery, out of breath and panicky, and screaming “ARE YOU OPEN ON THURSDAYS?” — then, after getting the answer, running out full-tilt. Because an unexamined life is not worth living, and most people need a little nudge to get into an examinatory frame of mind. Similar unusual queries would be easy to work; one would just have to be careful to not make them too over-the-top. (First person: “Hello. I am Carnation. Has Trebuchet been here?” — second person, fifteen minutes later: “Hello. I am Trebuchet. Has Carnation been here? Oh, and a double mocha latte, please.”)

No bullying, though: no queue of twenty people each asking if the salesboy has some impossible item for sale. A line of twenty people, all dressed differently and of different ages and genders, but all individually ordering the exact same thing, would be a passable idea, though. Especially if the order was just a bit… off. (“A Big Mac meal with a coke… but no fries. No fries at all.” — that would be the smallest kind of “off” that would work. Anything that required too much activity from the salesperson would be bullying. “A Happy Meal… yes, with the toy. Obviously.”)

Then there’s the old game of buying the most horrifying combination of items possible from a store that’s open overnight — black plastic bags, duct tape, and a sturdy saw? (“This? Oh, I um, I um, I uh cut myself shaving. He he he.” — which could be plainly true as long as you offered the explanation without it being asked, and hesitated in a suitably panicky fashion.) Or maybe tampons, towels and duct tape? (“‘s for my girlfriend. It’s bad.“)

One shouldn’t trouble just people who are trying to do their work. Certainly not when there’s a line behind you; the goal is not irritation or grief, but confusion. To be truly sublime, one shouldn’t go into the trouble of explicitly troubling anyone at all. Let people be troubled on their own terms. Just chain a slim guestbook to a park bench — except pre-fill about one half of it before you do. Weave in plenty of miserable human fates, a few mysteries, and some implied danger; and use different hands and remove the book before the park services get it.

Or re-enact an urban legend, and find an excess car bumper and use a bit of chain to attach it to a lamppost. (Well, the legend has it attached to a mailbox or a safety deposit box after an unsuccessful robbery, but a lamppost — “Who on earth would want to pull down a lamppost? This makes no sense at all!” — which is exactly what is desired.) Or loan a pair of loose winter tires and create the tracks of a car who couldn’t have gone the way it did. (The perfect way to do this would be a pair of unicycles with car tires; if anyone had the time to make such, the possibilities would be endless!)

Ah, these are the things I think when the lights are out.

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