If you study literature, painting, music, or any other kind of art, sooner or later you will hear phrases like "Art for Art's sake," and the like. Good art, that is, a fascinating sculpture, a portrait, even a movie or a good TV episode does not necessary have to have anything to do with truth or even meaning.
In fact, some would argue that truth and meaning actually sabotage good art. How many times have you seen or read something that would be quite enjoyable, if not for the fact that every three second it flashed extremely enlightening messages such as "Drugs are bad," "War isn't fun" and "Racism is wrong"? Nobody enjoys being preached to, especially if they already happened to be converted.
If you're in the habit of creating things for the sole purpose of delivering a message, here's a helpful tip that should cure you. The chances are that anyone who would really appreciate your stuff already is receptive to your message, and doesn't need to hear it. Those who don't appreciate your stuff won't change their minds upon hearing your message. Picture a member of the Klu Klux Klan reading a short story with the central message that "Racism is wrong." He will not slap his head, say "Bugger me, that's right!" strip off the pointy white hat, and donate 15% of his earnings to the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured Persons.
Playright and novelist Oscar Wilde went even further with the idea of Art for Art's sake. In his essay "The Decay of Lying" he went on to claim that the artist should be "in the habit of telling beautiful lies." I have to agree with him there, because I'm harbouring a few stories that are so good that they must told. I have been told them as though they were truth, but in fact I don't have a shred of proof that they happened, but dammit, they're stories (like the time I was gang-raped by the Toronto Raptors cheerleading squad) that are so good, they *should* be true dammit!
These stories have names today such as "Urban Myths" or "Urban Legends". They take place in a more modern setting than say, Aesop's Fables, and serve to instil a sense of fear, paranoia, like a ghost tale around the campfire, or humour and gruesome justice, like a joke around the water cooler.
Though they sound recent, most are quite old. It's just as the years go and technology improves, the stories change. For example, there's the classic one of the mysterious hitchhiker, an enigmatic woman who asks a kindly driver to take her home--which turns out to be a cemetery. Such stories began with a horse and carriage driver taking the woman home until the arrivals of cars. The story was then adopted to include the new mode of transportation. The stories change with the times, and the location, but the essential ingredients (the supernatural resolution) remains the same.
Some of them are probably based on one or more factual occurrences, shaken and stirred over the years so that they no longer resemble their original source. People sharing them, unaware that they are Urban Myths, often run into someone who says "That's funny, the exact same thing happened in my town." That's when the ugly reality of urban mythology sets in.
My stories sound a lot like urban myths, and I fully expect to one day find someone who also had an Uncle with a Traveling Outhouse. But whether these are true is not important. They just should be true, aesthetically speaking. They're good stories, and can be repeated fairly easily.
Here's the first one. This one was told to me by a friend (always the "friend" or third party). I can't remember if he said he actually knew the guy it happened too, but it doesn't matter. This story "could" happen, it's unusual yet plausible, with a twist that makes a good Urban myth. And it punishes that favourite target of sexual carelessness (or sexual imagination. You get the feeling that people who create or perpetuate these stories just ain't gettin' any).
I will tell this story from the perspective of the person who told it me. Without further ado:
SEXUALLY TRANSMITTED POISON IVY When I was in the militia, we went to CFB Borden for basic training. You really live like an animal during Basic; they hardly let you get any sleep, make you crawl through swamps and bush, and sometimes you live in your uniform for days without a break.
Wearing the same pants for days in the hot summer sun, the men were in danger of getting what's called "Crotch Rot," the male equivalent of a yeast infection. It's caused by the same sort of thing--sweat trapped close to the genitals, the moisture causing a painful rash. To combat this, they would tell men to walk with their zippers down to allow the air to circulate.
A friend of mine was doing this, walking through the bush and doing his exercises while "flying low." Unfortunately, CFB Borden is known for the high concentration of poison ivy (there's a rumor that it was the site of some too successful military experiments). Marching, crawling, and rolling though the bush as he was, my friend, with his zipper down, got in infected by poison ivy. Yes, down there.
That's bad enough, except that he was seeing one of the woman trainees. Shortly after he was infected but before the rash broke out, he had sex with her.
His pelvic area transferred the infection to her pelvic area.
Sexually transmitted poison ivy.
Soon, they were both extremely sore and itchy in a very inconvenient place.
Urban myths cater to fear and paranoia, especially that brought on by reckless or less than chivalrous behaviour. These stories often serve as a warning. The "true" story of the person who took a one night stand home, awoke the next morning to find them gone except for a note that says "Welcome to the wonderful world of AIDS." Sexual promiscuity and its consequences are a popular topic with myth-makers. Another popular topic is about criminals receiving unexpected but gruesome punishment for their crimes.
That's were my next story comes in. I believe it was told to me by my mother, who said it happened to my Uncle Dale. My Uncles are definitely the kind to tell tales (and punch out people who cut them off at the next set of lights, but that's another story about my Uncle Sonny).
Uncle Dale's Traveling Outhouse
My Uncle Dale once owned a huge recreational vehicle. Stove, fridge, bunk beds, and so on. The thing was so large that it had two gas tanks. However, my Uncle converted one of the tanks into a septic tank. There was a small toilet in the RV, and he ran a line right down into the tank from the toilet.
One day while on a camping trip, my Uncle parked the RV in the lot of a provincial park, and then went into its offices to take care of some business. This took him about half an hour.
Upon leaving the office, my Uncle discovered that he had been a victim of a crime. A thief had tried to siphon gas out of the RV.
Unfortunately, the thief chose the wrong tank.
My Uncle says that all he saw was a hose still in the tank, and vomit everywhere. The thief was nowhere in sight.
Poetic justice, eh? This is actually the kind of think that you'd like to happen to the son of a bitch who stole your car radio or your bike. If only all criminals, with the exception of myself, received such punishment.
There, now I've shared my stories, in the proper context. Perhaps someday I shall relate the story of my ordeal at the hands of the Toronto Raptors cheerleaders. Like many urban myths of its kind, it starts out with "Dear Penthouse, I never thought your letters were true or that this would ever happen to me, but..."