07/20/2011 01:12 pm ET Updated Sep 19, 2011

(The Dangerous World of) Parentheses

I used to think of movies like The Matrix and Inception as science fiction -- fake adrenalized entertainment in place of boring reality. I used to think that as a society, what we saw is what we got. Looking back now, I realize I used to be naïve.

Parentheses seem ordinary, don't they? Boring, even. Their function is to insert an unrelated notation into the structure of a sentence. As far as sentences go, even the one that describes the function of parentheses is a boring one. So why the hell would I waste a perfectly good column discussing such a mundane topic? Well, I'm glad you asked, because, as it turns out, parentheses are pure evil.

Not much is really understood about the creation of the parentheses -- more is known about the deepest depths of the ocean than these "vertical smiles."

It has been said though that they were created by a shadow cult, The Order of The Black Dragon, in 666 B.C. The Order, an occult society fascinated by portals and extra-dimensional realms were devoted to the total enslavement of all forms of life. They believed that whosoever controlled the gateways to other galaxies controlled the universe. And in the parentheses, the Order of the Black Dragon felt they'd found their gateways.

I first learned about parentheses like most of you -- right around third grade. In kindergarten it was all about eating paste and identifying shapes and colors. In first grade it was addition, subtraction, and how to keep a secret when Mr. Henderson followed you into the bathroom. By second grade, you spent your school day finding the verb in a sentence, doing resource debt allocation, constructing polynomials, and figuring out how to blackmail Mr. Henderson for meth. In third grade: punctuation.

Back then, I was happy to utilize parentheses as the sporadic tool that, on their surface, they appeared to be. But when I got into college, I began to run with a different crowd -- a collective focused on black arts, mysticism, and which was the better show, South Park or The Simpsons.

It was late one night while preparing a treatise on mans right to a bigger burrito that I rediscovered the parentheses and began to glimpse its mysterious possibilities.

On that burrito-crazed night, I realized that the parentheses could not only act as a notifier, but they could also be a signifier. I could use the parentheses to make all manner of absurd pronouncements without directly impacting the intent of the original sentence! The applications of such a modifier could be limitless... so I thought.

I attempted to demonstrate my discovery to a professor, but he warned me to stay away from long-form parentheses. The wise elders, he said, had a different name for such dark matter; they called it "Parenthesis." Realizing, but not fully grasping what I had, I took my studies underground and began to perform experimentations that would have made Dr. Mengele barf.

You wanna know how they work? Well, parentheses are a deceptively simple trick to learn. First, you take an average sentence: My puppy has big, floppy ears. Nothing special there, right? Well, add parentheses, and you get: My puppy has big, floppy ears (and a long, wagging tail). Still pretty innocuous, but then you go down a layer and this happens: My puppy has big, floppy ears (and a long, [AAH, A DEMON BURNS WITHIN ME!!! AAH!] wagging tail). Did you notice that? It gets weirder too: My puppy has big, floppy ears (and a long, [AAH, A DEMON BURNS {welcome to the flight deck, all customers are instructed to stay to the left of the white line} WITHIN ME!!! AAH!] wagging tail). The deeper you go, the stranger it gets. My puppy has big, floppy ears (and a long, [AAH, A DEMON BURNS {welcome to the flight deck, all customers are <001010111001101011101001101100101000101> instructed to stay to the left of the white line} WITHIN ME!!! AAH!] wagging tail).

It becomes all too easy to get lost down in the depths of parentheses within parentheses. The wise elders claim that in the netherworld of Parenthesis, no one has ever gone beyond six levels down and made it back, but I shit you not, one night, I went all the way to level 12. And what I bore witness to on level 12 turned my pubic hair ash white. Get this: people drove cars; buildings couldn't talk; and once a year families make a huge meal centered around a stuffed bird, then they spend the rest of the afternoon lying around watching sports! If you're reading this, and all those things I just described seem perfectly normal to you, I can assure you there is a reasonable explanation. You see, when the elders claimed nobody ever made it back from below level six? They were right...