Dear Shells

Dear Shells,

As anyone who's read my letter to Tetrapods can tell you, I don't exactly take kindly to those freaks out there who have more or less than the four limbs that God intended. Like most bigots, complexity and gray areas both confound and disturb me. I don't know how I feel about amputees, for example. On the other hand, I know exactly where I stand with slugs. They're disgusting.

The vestigial shell on his back just makes him seem desperate. "Oh look guys, I actually DO kind of have a shell." That skin flap isn't fooling anyone, Sicko. You're a disgusting abomination and now you're just embarrassing yourself by trying too hard. By the way, there's a leaf stuck to your back. Maybe you could try not being such a slob for two seconds.

But as I stood in my garden one morning and beheld the loathsome visage of a slimy, slippery slug as it oozed its way across the sidewalk, as my mouth crumpled into a grimace and my stomach roiled with revilement, my eyes chanced upon a second figure moving slowly upon the ground.

The bitter expression on my face faded. My eyes softened. My countenance lifted and the sun peeked out suddenly from behind a passing cloud. The morning was bright and cheery again. I heard birds chirping from the nearby trees. The dew sparkled like diamonds on the lawn and the scent of pine and tomato plants and freshly turned soil and cut grass swirled together around me creating a bouquet of smells that only exist for those precious few weeks in May while spring is turning to summer. It is the scent of hope and growth and warmth.

And lo, the figure before me was non other than a snail. One of the cutest, cuddliest snails I had ever seen. Embarrassing as it is, I fell directly into baby talk as I knelt down to engage the little fellow. "Who's a widdle cudey pie? Who is? Who's my widdle man? You are! You are! Yes you are!"

The humble and adorable snail, fastidiously working his way back home after a long night on the job.

As I waved a fond farewell to my new friend (who had also been feasting upon my tomato plants all night) it occurred to me how strange it was to have such disparate reactions to these two very similar members of the gastropod family. Why do slugs fill me with loathing and disgust while snails delight me? Then it hit me.

The shell. It's all about the shell.

I fired up my computer and opened Photoshop in order to confirm my hypothesis.

That's like 1000% better

Lo and behold- the simple shell has the power to transform hideous things into tolerable things. Now we could write papers and speculate for years on the hows and whys of shell-cuteness transfer and the scientific principles that underlie loathing transmogrification, but I'll leave that for the eggheads and researchers who will inevitably follow in the wake of my ground-breaking discovery. Let them document the details and sort out the mechanics; what the world needs now is action. There are literally thousands of disgusting things out there which need to be shellified. Luckily for the world, I am just such a man of action.

The most obvious slug-like thing that needed a shell was of course Jabba the Hutt from Star Wars, and the principles of triage dictated that he be the first to have his slimy, bloated body remedied via shell augmentation. I actually spent over one hundred hours CGI-ing a shell into every Jabba scene in The Return of the Jedi. Jabba also shows up in some other Star Wars movies and extended footage, but no one gives a shit about those, so I think I'm going to call it a wrap after Return of the Jedi, just like George Lucas should have.

In the original Return of the Jedi, Jabba the Hutt plays a dirty old perv who's always trying to tongue down a scantily-clad Princess Leia. I've changed the story line a bit to accommodate the shell in my version. Instead of a captive being held against her will, Carrie Fisher plays a kinky, emotionally-unstable princess-turned-hooker who takes to the submissive role in bondage play like a fish to water. As a wealthy, patriarchal figure with a big, beautiful shell, Jabba naturally becomes the target of her sensual seduction.

These days we don't usually think of vampires as being hideous but it's easy to forget what vampires looked like, pre-Anne-Rice. It wasn't all Brads and Toms and Roberts and sparkles back then. There was a time when being a vampire meant having spooky eyes, snaggly teeth, and the complexion of a pimply, adolescent meth addict. Kurt Barlow, from Stephen King's 'Salem's Lot, represents one of the last in that tradition. I don't dislike the older generation of vampire, but with vampires having become sexy anti-heroes as they are now, these old, nasty vampires pose a continuity problem for the vampire legend. Even fictional worlds need to have a clear set of dependable rules to play by. Either vampires are clammy, grinning freaks from Transylvania or they are sparkly studs with a troubled past. Modern day fans have obviously chosen the latter and that means old-school vampires like Kurt here need a little sprucing up.

That's two shots of shell, applied directly to the biggest problem area, those crazy eyes. I don't know if this will boost Kurt past Edward and into the hunt for Bella's heart, but it's a good start.

But just because I started out by righting a few wrongs in Hollywood movies doesn't mean that the shell's transformative power should be relegated to the world of fiction. No; far from it. We've got some very promising potential applications right here in the real world. Disturbed by the sight of that beggar on your street? Throw a shell on him. Worried about international conflicts? Putin and Kim Jong-un both get shells. I see no reason why rebellious teenagers and end-stage cancer alike couldn't benefit from shellification.

Maybe crime or violence has you concerned. Not anymore.

Ted Bundy might have been the most psychopathic serial killer who ever lived. Did he 
decapitate his victims and keep their heads as trophies? Probably. Did he dress up the 
bodies of his victims and continue to rape the corpses for weeks as they decomposed? 
Some (including Ted) say yes. But you stick a shell on his noggin and I'd be tempted to 
say that he just turned the corner into "troubled and misunderstood" territory. 

And look at the change in Dick Cheney's countenance effected by the simple addition of a shell. Shell Dick Cheney would never have subverted intrinsic, long-term American values and undermined our moral authority within the international community for the sake of short-term strategic goals by implicitly and explicitly encouraging the use of torture on enemy combatants.

"Who's my cute and cudduwy ex-vice president who shot his fwend in the
 face wid a shotgun? Who is? Who is he? There he is! You're my widdle
 man, aren't you? Yes you are! Yes you are!"

Who knew a simple calcium formation could accomplish so much?

And so this is my gift and my legacy to mankind. Prometheus brought you fire; I bring you the shell. Go forth and transmogrify.

Sebastian Braff


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