Is there any devil in you? I think most of us don’t have to reach too far to find a side of ourselves bearing some devilish potential. There are some who wish it wasn’t the case that I took so often to playing devil’s advocate. They have a point, but if it is in a person’s nature to think or respond in certain ways then I think it all but a mandate from creation that they do so as right for them while adding diversity to the pool of humanity. I can make deviltry sound good, can’t I? Well, it has its side. It was Mark Twain who commented on Satan’s great ability as leader of all world politics. Or was it politicians or maybe preachers he identified? Any way it’s cut, it’s possible to see a satanic side in so very many nasty and essentially evil practices that get represented by human demons as things called “good” or “good for you.”

I can claim to have come into devilhood early and in the correct way by being a little devil as a child and maturing into more and more of the real thing, though minus hooves and horns. My grandfather’s uniform opinion of me was of constantly being up to no good. He labeled me as useless quite often, as well, but either one seemed a harsh condemnation of a boy who had no way knowing beforehand the result of stepping off the attic planking to send a foot into the room below. There was no sympathy for me, frightened, leg badly scratched from this breakthrough. All the elder powers saw was a hole in the ceiling and the little devil responsible. I was not to play in grandpa’s attic ever again, except when able to sneak up undetected for a good prowl among the puzzling oddments stored away for who-knew what use or purpose.

Adults in general often saw the devil in children. Some tried to beat it out of us. Others used the scare approach. All were effective for as long as we stood before them. Out the door we returned with speed to business as usual. Priests, too, saw the danger of kids and devils. I recall warnings that were I not careful the devil would invade my temple, do harm, or take over. In second and third grades I was sure of immunity. My temple was a sanctuary pure. Three years later it was too late. Satan was well and firmly established at temple central. I assumed this was sign of basic evil inherent in me. What to do about that? How does a boy account for sin beyond his control stemming from things he did not ask for? Not knowing what to do, I felt lost. Childhood was proving philosophically and morally daunting. In exhaustion I surrendered to the notion that up-to-no-good was what suited me best, but to go forward avoiding trouble I had to keep a lean silhouette. As people say, “keep a lid on it.” Walls from without and within became the battle terrain of the juvenile years. I wonder if any of this sounds familiar. If you look back far enough what do you find? For me, the personal strategies each young person adopts (sometimes invents) are more important than grades or GPA.

In youth, visits to my elder brother Satan were happy and spontaneous events. Big bro inspired me to many a worthy prank. Few things lit up my no-good doing being like the expression on a friends face when one of my plots left them (after the required fan did its customary work) with a feces decorated face. Why it was such a joy to prank I do not know, but I often felt doing so was a great service to those who’d otherwise be lacking this high experience in their dull lives. Using unseen stealth, I was an excitement specialist. I liked being well out of range when feces met fan, but I was also faster then, able to outrun most victims.

With advancing age I learned and mellowed into appreciation of surprises less adolescent than mass de-erection of Scout tents or ways to send an empty pony keg down flights of stairs, a quite noisy and bouncy adventure and potentially lethal if you were Mrs. Landlady coming up to check on the fourth-floor ruckus when all hell broke loose above and an aluminum bomb (think solid form of feces) was loosed from the “fan” above. Damage bills and police reports cool savagery on certain levels, unless of course one takes the turn to embrace Brother Satan with all limbs, which I did not. I reformed, hating it for its dullness, but reformed no less, but with a dedication to pursue deviltry in other ways less raucous and more literate. This could be an example. You must judge.

Recently someone asked me if I “meant” something I’d written. Sensing insult, I puffed a bit (a cousin says I do pompous well) to inform “Yes, I was sincere. I saw the value of sincerity by age ten and by age twelve was able to do acceptable facsimiles. I have been reliably sincere ever since.” That answer seemed to satisfy them. Perhaps they’ll get it now seen in b & w. You, as I surely have, may have noted that faked flattery is all but indistinguishable from real admiration. For practical purposes they are interchangeable. Many times a pretty falsehood is preferred to an unwanted truth, especially when the hearer will ignore sage counsel. Asked, “How does this look on me” you may as well lie. Such consequences that arise later can be faced later. You can freely and in good conscience say “Looks good on you.” You need not complete the thought by filling in “if your intent is to provoke laughter” or “but I thought Halloween was well past” or “but where did you get the idea a whale would look good in that shade of pink?” If pressed on the point later claim YOU thought it looked OK. Laughter need not be done aloud to be enjoyed.