I : Whut?

Generally speaking, people tend to fall into routines. I know I myself do: sometimes I happen to look up and notice an architectural feature I've never noticed before despite having walked past it for a decade. These routines are useful, because to be aware of everything one sees would be an overwhelming crush of information; but people tend to overdo their inattention. To notice something one hasn't noticed before is a nice feeling; nice, though it is accompanied by a whisper of "What? Am I a total moron? Why haven't I noticed this before? Dog, I'm such an idiot!"

What follows is a listing of some ways one could get one's fellow human beings to notice their surroundings a bit more. That's a goal a little different from mere pranks. A prank is for your laughter; an "awakening" like those thought up below are for your chuckling, too, but are mainly aimed at shaking others awake no matter whether you are there to see the confusion or not.

If you are of a mind to try any of these, think first if you're just maybe, possibly, doing something incredibly stupid.

Then when you've identified at least five stupidities, illegalities and ways of how things could go horribly, terribly, pants-wettingly wrong... only then really consider doing anything.

II : "Knock knock." --- "Hannibal ad portas?"

(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 da 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.) The recorder could hold a stage-whispered conversation, maybe:

"Shhh! Did you hear something! Keep him quiet!"

"It's the cops, Frankie, it's ---"

"Quiet!"

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 in the mail, 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!)

III : Perfect confusion

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.)

IV : Nothing to lose but our dignity

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.)

V : Be nice

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.

VI : Bump

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.

VII : From the TV Guide

"So you want comedy?" --- Okay. Listen up, you titter-happy punks. This show will make your sense of humor die. We air excruciatingly long, painful examples from Prank Call Bob's Archives of Unfunny Failure --- with all the sobbing, hysteria, breakdowns, mental episodes, horrible timing and abuse left in. Including the time Bob-as-a-Medium called a woman who had just lost nine family members in a plane crash. Including the time Bob spent 22 minutes mutely listening to a girl weeping after his "Hello! You are ugly!" routine happened to come at the end of the worst day of all days; we still don't know if she was serious about killing herself. Including the times Bob encouraged a wifebeater, caused a three-fatality traffic accident, made a man throw his dog out a seventh-story window, and cost another chap his job and marriage! Each call whole and unedited, including Bob's crying and sobbing after the call was finally, finally over and he knew he had to make a replacement to amuse you sick little monsters who think this kind of stuff is funny.

VIII

Find a protection suit of some kind --- the plasticky, crinkly kind, whether of plastic or paper doesn't really matter, as long as it doesn't have an ad for Joe's Hazard Eateria on the back. Add safety goggles, gloves, a surgeon's mask, rubber boots, etc.; aim for the Ebola CSI look. Then place yourself near a department store bathroom. Have a bucket with you, half-full with colored goop. Tell those passing by that "the detox's still unfinished, but no worries, we'll be done in a minute or two. Buddy had to go to get some detaching agent for the tough spots; but all's okay." Tell the next one the toilet's okay to use now, and leave before the security comes to pose awkward questions to you.

Find a house with an elevator. Become a neatly clad, friendly elevator operator. Be courteous, servile, and a tad self-deprecating. Tell you were hired on a temporary basis because there had been... incidents. Now and then remind people that one is not allowed to jump inside the elevator. Now and then ask them to please stand still while the elevator's moving. If asked for a reason, laugh nervously and say there is no reason to worry.

Find a construction worker's overalls. (Here "find" obviously does not mean "steal and cackle"; overalls are handy, and not very expensive, and advocating crime can be a bit of a sticky wicket, you know.) Decorate the overalls with some scuffs and signs of use, a few screwdrivers, wrenches and the like. Go stand outside the aforementioned elevator. Talk to a mobile phone. Be loud, angry, indignant, and near the people waiting for the elevator. Wonder sarcastically if the elevator wasn't supposed to be out of operation with the incident and all; then spit that you're not responsible if something happens, you told them, you told them many times, a check and a shake of a wrench don't help, and there's little one can do anyway, and so on. Storm away before anyone has time to ask you anything.

If the overalls look vaguely like a roadworks uniform, find a friend similarly attired and sit down for a long, leisurely lunch by the roadside. Wave at cars driving by, and smile.

Take a blue sweatshirt with shoulder loops and a pair of slacks, or some other seemingly freelance security guardish garb; position yourself by the entrance wickets of a supermarket. Finger some electronic thingamajic. Have a friend with a clipboard; occasionally, or rather whenever someone goes through the wickets, mutter a "reading" for him to write down. Say "three", "one-o more", "a big one", "red already?", "seven... no, eighty perfect".

Most cities and towns have an information desk or booth somewhere, usually with ads of local spots of interest. These tend to, except in the biggest cities, to be inexpensively printed on colored printer paper. A bit of computerwork mocks up a just as impressive brochure about a fictional sightseeing spot nearby. (A bit more makes the effect much better: take a copy of a brochure in $LOCALLANGUAGE and make a copy that seems, on a quick glance, like a copy of it in $WORLDLANGUAGE, but actually contains a description of your made-up spot of wonder.) Use your imagination: "memorial for the 14 victims of the $SUBURB witch panic of 1977". Strive for something weird, but not too weird.

IX

(picture of a dog) "Dog lost. Obeys the name 'Woofy'. Keep him."

If you have no musical talents whatsoever, borrow a guitar and write a sign of "after 20 bucks I'll stop".

A noticeboard announcement, with no other content: "SEE THE ELEPHANT". For best effect, place on several unconnected but nearby noticeboards.

Get an empty DVD case and a sheet of glossy paper; work up a discless DVD box for a somewhat unusual DVD... and then leave it abandoned in some likely place. (Here "unusual" does not need to mean "horse porn"; I would say "A Filly and Her Boy", a heartbreaking depiction of countryside intolerance, violence and love across species borders, would work better. Just be careful to not make anything too obviously impossible, i.e. no implied bestiality film starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet.)

A market day, a folding table, a box of carrots, and you. "Carrots, 10 euros apiece! Carrots! Oh, what? Just normal carrots. Nothing special about them. That's just a business idea. Deep psychology, you know. Want one? Just ten euros."

A pacifier amouth and go!

A toilet door can bear many signs:

  • PAPER STEALING NOT ALLOWED
  • do not drink from the toilet bowl
  • DISTANCE CLEANING 16--17 BEWARE
  • Please turn off your mobile phone. Thank you!

A sign on a wall, meters away from the closest: "Mind the door."

Faux open air performance art performance by a lethargic, yawning, belly-scratching, ever more feckless and indolent duo; a sign of "THE AUDIOVISUAL CREATURE. Funded by EU grant 42/232323."

Who says a Santa suit is only for the winter? Don it, sit down on a park bench, and greet passers-by. If that is too much, just the seasonal cap will do. (This will work much better if you are otherwise dressed in a non-crazy-hobo fashion.)

Mind the rising beam.

We have electronic surveillance. Feel at home!

Sell tomatoes that have names. "See, a certificate. He's called Oscar."

"Oh, um? Yes, we're filming a movie... look, our cameraman called in sick today, so we're rehearsing without him; tight schedule and all. Mark there stands for the cameraman, and the box of donuts for the camera. Okay! Chase scene, take three!"

If you have a car, you can amuse people with a sticker of "SOLAR POWERED!", and a backseat full of flashlights and their batteries.

You know those sell- or buy-announcements on the noticeboard of your local small supermarket? "A dolphin to a good home, for free." --- but all the tearing-slips with contact details are gone already.

"NO WHISTLING --- NO JUMPING"

"We do not speak French here"

"Do not catch the pigeons."

Carry a card with you: "Sorry. I am a mute, and hence cannot speak." Mutter a foreign-word sorry before you deploy it.

I wonder if it would be legal to advertise one's interest in buying dead pets?

A boat folded from a sheet of green printer paper, a random bit of electronical crap glued to it, and a text of "Please return to Dept. of Biol. if found."

X

If you happen to spend time in a university or a similar place of higher learning, mock up a noticeboard announcement about a week-long course organized by a visiting researched from a Foreign Land. Pepper it with buzzwords, some of them academic, to create something with isn't ludicrous and insane except if read really closely; and work for the feeling that this is something the poor doctor does because for reasons of funding he has to; hence he's trying to throw something easy to get a few attendees. Promise easy credits; append a list for preliminary sign-up ("before $DATE").

Like this:

Course on Basic Deferrals of Completitions in Physics

(PhD Roland Deschain, University of Gilead, US)

The basic thermic equations and their first derivatives. A quick overview of the theory of procrastination. Some brief examples of the work of Dean, Holmes and Chambers. Aurum- and governance-related conditions for the quantisation of completitions, mainly the first 5 cases.

No prior knowledge of the involved physics or mathematics required. Five 2-hour lectures; homework schedule will be confirmed later. The course has no exam; all those who return the homework (2) pass. 4 ETCS credits.

Please enter your name below before 20.11.

last updated: (Mar 15 2011)