Issue 55: September- October 2006 

| author bio

Visualize Christmas Peace Is Not Random
Leland Neville

The cigarette (revealed by the Little Green Men blog to be a Gauloises) appears to have been applied to her lower lip with Krazy Glue. The girl talks, laughs, and even drinks from a Coke can, but the cigarette never leaves her mouth. I'm not being sexist - she is a girl. Thirteen-years-old, the media and blogs agree, tops. Thirteen, the same age as my niece. The American hostages in the background look old and haggard. Suddenly, roughly, as if the film has been edited with scissors, a wide, close shot of the girl and her two male compatriots fill my SONY plasma screen. Bullet belts, draped loosely around her neck like feathered boas, frame the message on her oversized T-shirt: Visualize Christmas Peace Is Not Random .
            The girl's words, harsh sounding, tumble from her mouth. The young men at her elbows point their rifles menacingly at the camera. A low-pitched female voice translates from the Tagalog: "The four Americans will be given an opportunity to prove their innocence."
            The camera, as determined and focused as a pedophile stalker, moves steadily, quickly.   "If they are found to be guilty, their punishment will be as it is written."
            Then there is the media moment in all its ironic glory: Visualize Christmas Peace Is Not Random . A tiny, flat-chested Filipino girl. A Joan of Arc Islamic terrorist. The words on her T-shirt ricochet from satellites to billions of TV and computer screens around the world.
            "Death will be painful," she whispers and the translator translates.
            For six seconds the image on the television screen never changes: Visualize Christmas Peace Is Not Random . The third or fourth time I see the news segment, I time the T-shirt shot. Six seconds.
            It is being debated nonstop by the talking heads on cable news shows. She is just a little girl, drowning in the flotsam and jetsam of American foreign policy. It is the clash of civilizations. No, she is a girl whose mind has been poisoned by hate. She is the ultimate victim of ideology and extremism. No, Islam is a religion of peace. No, she is being manipulated by men. She is nothing more than a suicide bomber. Christmas vs. Ramadan. Does the girl understand the words on her T-shirt? Does anyone?  
            The word on the Internet is that she had been a sex slave in Manila, abused by American and Japanese men. Graphic details and photos from secret and dubious sources materialize. The American men are not conservation workers but CIA operatives who also dabble in odious sex practices with girls and boys from the less developed world.
            CNN, Fox, MSNBC, Al Jazeera. Time and Newsweek covers. Visualize Christmas Peace Is Not Random . Most of the major newspapers run a color photo on page one. What if her T-shirt had only sported the Nike swoosh? Or a smiley face from Wal-Mart? How much staying power would the story have without the Visualize Christmas T-shirt? Littlebigblog claims it can demonstrate how Terror Girl's T-shirt was digitally altered by the usual suspects. The first two letters in Visualize are suspicious. The's' and 'e' are deemed legitimate. The original lettering on the shirt started with 'sp'. Littlebigblog insists it had most likely been a SpongeBob SquarePants T-shirt before the freelance cameraman sold the tape to the media. The French cameraman dismisses the allegation. "I would not have focused for so long on SpongeBob, a Hollywood cartoon." But how can you trust someone who is both French and a media hound? SpongeBob, littlebigblog notes, has never been shown in France or the Philippines.
            The T-shirt is too clean to have been worn in the jungle for more than an hour. Someone, a Kurtz-like figure, gave it to Terror Girl to wear just before her debut. Perhaps Kurtz, the more mainstream media speculates, just wants the girl to look neat and clean. Or maybe he (father? brother? mullah?) knows enough English to recognize the potential propaganda value of having a cute girl brandishing a gun and the words Christmas and Peace.
            No one can uncover a T-shirt company that produced such a confusing piece of merchandize. In the 1980s there was a mini-craze of popular Japanese T-shirts with bewildering English phrases, but no one can find Visualize Christmas Peace Is Not Random .


            I began creating T-shirt art in middle school, almost 40 years ago. I was into the environment and endangered species before Earth Day became official. One of my most popular early creations was: Passenger Pigeon. Died 9/1/14 Cincinnati Zoo .   The black and white sketch of the pigeon was simple and elegant. I always bought the best fabric and the best acrylics. Every T-shirt I painted was unique; I never repeated a message more than 50 times. Beneath the size tag I would number and initial my wearable art with indelible ink. 10/50, etc. Occasionally I would take "requests," but I usually only drew what was important to me. In college I made enough money (the advertising was word-of-mouth) to cover one semester's tuition. If I had just cranked out drug T-shirts I would have needed an accountant. How many thousands did I create? How many are still around today, polishing SUVs?


            Terror Girl wears the same T-shirt during her second media appearance. Visualize Christmas Peace Is Not Random . One of the American men is on his knees, hands tied behind his wilting head. Rifles are pointed at both the American and the camera.
            "He is on trial for America," the translator informs the world.
            It is considered significant that not only did Terror Girl wear the same T-shirt but that it is clean. The terrorists are trying to convey a message. The shirt is not just a silly Japanese fad. Are the words Christmas and Peace being worn by a little girl as she points a weapon at an American male three times her weight and age simply an unsophisticated and heavy-handed attempt to manipulate public opinion? No one can remember having read or heard Visualize Christmas Peace is Random . Database searches uncover nothing. If the terrorists did not create the T-shirt (and no one seriously believes they did), then who did? The blogs are in overdrive.


            Although I have neither been married nor have children (I of course know that the two are no longer linked), I do share a certain empathy with adolescents. Prepubescent angst and an all-purpose disgust with adults motivated my earliest wearable art. ( Because I Said So and I'm Not Asking T-shirts were both emblazoned with almost obscene flapping Mick Jaeger lips.) I realize that an uncle who only gave handmade T-shirts for Christmas and birthdays would rightly be considered odd. When I was a boy my weird aunt gave me British authors silhouette ties. Unlike my aunt, I also always give a generous gift certificate. I also realize that my T-shirts are something of a goof. The one I gave Page, for example, was motivated by a conversation we had during Thanksgiving. Page, a very bright and funny girl, had her mother (my sister) and me in hysterics while telling a story about a classmate who had forsaken studying for simply visualizing good grades. "Some kids really believe," she said in a serious moment, "that if you want something bad enough you will get it. World peace. An A+. Just visualize. It will be Christmas year-round."
            Page cares more about world peace and starving children than expensive brand name clothes. When Page saw the Visualize T-shirt did she think I was making fun of her? She must have known from the extra large size that it was only meant to be worn around the house. Did she think I wanted her to wear it to school? Have I really become the goofy uncle? I embarrassed my niece. It was a poor choice of words, a mixed message, the first half satire, the second half solemn.
            For the T-shirt to have reached the Philippines so quickly, Page must have stuffed it into the Global Relief receptacle in the corner of the satellite parking lot at the Galleria mall before the New Year. (It reached Terror Girl within six months.) And now she must endure seeing the T-shirt on magazine covers and television. Has she told her parents? Does she fear that my feelings have been hurt? Is she afraid that she will be tracked down with DaVinci Code perseverance and exposed as the girl who owned the most embarrassing shirt in history? Should I call my sister? Does she remember the T-shirt gift? If she did, I would have heard from her. Should I call Page and reassure her that the gift will always remain our secret? I will tell her I understand that if the media finds out the shirt belonged to her there will be the inevitable superficial mini-documentaries comparing the spoiled rich American girl to the fearless littlest rebel. Psychologists who have studied Terror Girl's face claim to see a brave young woman not at war with herself, not being pulled by conflicting messages, not at the mercy of what is cool, and not conflicted by what is or isn't embarrassing. They are intrigued and smitten.


            Little Green Men reports that a number of people remember an Arab-looking man at Manhattan Beach, California, selling T-shirts like the one worn by Terror Girl. Did the money raised from the T-shirt sales go to support al Qaeda? More troubling from Little Green Men are the reports that Terror Girl's life may be in immediate jeopardy. A rival Islamic faction is being taunted as idolaters by Terror Girl's well-orchestrated actions and words. The smoking, drinking coke, Christmas T-shirt wearing, and gun toting adolescent girl is meant to show contempt and scorn for their religious rival's feminine and western infidel lifestyle. Of course Terror Girl's death would be televised live, the blood soaked T-shirt the icon of the week. Would the search for the owner and creator of the T-shirt then accelerate? My sister would rush Page to the nearest grief counselor, who would suggest a public confession on Oprah.


            Little Green Men reports the unearthing of a T-shirt that handwriting and art experts (art experts!) assert was "fashioned" by the Visualize Christmas creator. It is an embarrassing example of the work I produced near the end of my T-shirt career in the mid 1970s. No Comment. No Comet Kohoutek . I was trying to save some of the funds I had invested in the so-called comet of the century. It was the worse T-shirt I ever produced. I was broke. Why did someone save that sorry shirt?
            I will inform the media scrum why I failed to reveal myself to them. "I sometimes go days, even weeks, without using the Internet, reading a newspaper, or watching TV." I will offer other examples of my wearable art to the media, never, of course, forgetting to show concern for the hostages. I will also dismiss the Visualize Christmas shirt as nothing more than a warm-up exercise for a few more serious ideas I had been considering. "Yes, I still dabble. Visualize Christmas Peace Is Not Random means nothing, I will say. Words I plucked out of thin air." Page will remain anonymous and protected.
            I need to produce a few serious T-shirts before they arrive. I am not short of ideas.


            The hostages are safely released without explanation. Terror Girl and her compatriots disappear into the background of the jungle. The story lacks media momentum. Type T-shirt and Terror Girl into Google and it's pages of Britney Spears from top to bottom.

©  Leland Neville 2006

This story may not be archived, reproduced or distributed further without the author's express permission. Please see our conditions of use.

author bio

Leland Neville was born in upstate New York and now lives in Northern Virginia. His stories have appeared in The Antietam Review , The Silver Web , Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine , and Fantastic Stories , among others. Nonfiction publications include The New York Review of Science Fiction and U.S. News & World Report  
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Issue 55: September- October 2006  

f i c t i o n

A-dZiko Simba: Someone To Tell
Ken Bruen: Loaded
Elizabeth Collison: The Last Waltz
Leland Neville: Visualize Christmas Peace Is Not Random
picks from back issues
Steve Earle: Wheeler County   
Alicia Gifford: Surviving Darwin

l o c a l  r e p o r t

Primer Festival Internacional de Teatre Infantil i Juvenil de Campalans by Michael Garry Smout

q u i z

answers to last issue's quiz, Sports in Literature

b o o k   r e v i e w s

The Woman Who Waited by Andrei Makine
Iron Balloons: Hit Fiction from Jamaica's Calabash Writer's Workshop,edited by Colin Channer
This Book Will Save Your Life by A.M. Homes
Only Strange People Go To Church by
Laura Marney

r e g u l ar  f e a t u r e s

Book Reviews (all issues)
TBR Archives (authors listed alphabetically)
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