Strategically planned and tactfully executed, the net effect of an original practical joke can be priceless.
The ability to run incredibly fast also helps.
Once upon a time, many years before camera phones and YouTube postings, practical jokes were widely accepted gestures of goodwill among members of tightly knit subcultures who knew instinctively how to retaliate, practically speaking.
I am not typical of bookstore patrons. When there are that many books of all conceivable genres in one place, it’s like a golden ticket treasure hunt at the Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory. I was single at the time, having bought my first new home, and though I had virtually no furniture, I was spending money on books, and plants and beer. Enough beer and a good book and you can sleep anywhere.
The bookstore aisle I enjoyed the most was one for bizarre humor. That evening, the thick hard-backed book that caught my eye, would turn out to be a handbook for some of the most fun episodes of my life.
“Spite, Malice & Revenge” was its name.
Now as a caveat, those who know me best know I’m not a spiteful person. I’m not malicious either. And they can attest to the fact I never seek revenge for dastardly acts against me. But those who know me best also know the first place to look when an unexpected prank is pulled.
Commandeering one of those cushy upholstered miniature sofas in a back aisle, I began feeding my dark side with all manner of brilliant and wonderfully creative ideas. I was lost in the book there for perhaps hours.
These days, if you were one moseying through the displays in a bookstore and observed some entranced guy frantically taking notes on a pad through an eerie grin, oblivious to his surroundings as he chuckled through the pages of “SPITE, MALICE & REVENGE,” you would have ample reason to call the police or homeland security.
I escaped before they arrived.
Having bought the book, I went home to select my mark(s) and scheme into the wee hours.
Over the next few years, I enlisted the assistance of a few equally evil-minded cohorts to carry out some mildly elaborate pranks on my most naïve friends who I knew had no concealed weapons permits. Safety first.
Among my greatest achievements in this ongoing life adventure, the outcome of which was an immediate and radically thinning of my social circle, was the staging of a murder.
They were out of town, which of course helps when you’re planning a murder scene in their driveway.
A neighborhood in physical decline, their house was top and center at the end of a cul de sac .The deeply sloped driveway was in full view of anyone turning onto Denby Circle. With the assistance of a well-connected friend, and a roll of official yellow POLICE LINE DO NOT CROSS barrier tape at 2am one Wednesday morning before their arrival home, we wrapped the crime scene. The instructions suggested an ample supply of catsup and some thick white chalk. The family of four, two adults, two children, were posed on the driveway by my friend as I outlined her body in various grotesque positions flowing down the grade. Strategic squirts of catsup added lovely touches to the artwork which glistened under the early morning street lamps and was visible from the end of the street.
Like adolescent pranksters, we left the scene and came home to giggle and laugh at what fun it would be to see their faces when in just a few hours, they turned the corner home.
Later that morning, after having laughed ourselves to sleep, the phone call came. It was them! Expecting a snort and chucklefest as we prided ourselves in the prank, the unexpected happened. Their trip home had been delayed a day.
As I hung up the phone, the two very predictable words which emerged from my lungs at max volume were followed by a shuddering reality.
It was just about the time of morning when all hardworking men and women left their homes, briefcases in hand, kissed their spouses good day and waved to their neighbors as they drove off to make the day’s wage. On Denby Circle, families-turned-militia, mourning the grotesque, overnight loss of the loving Christian family at the end of the street, were still wondering how they’d slept through the bloody massacre.
A full 24 hours later, the Denby Circle neighborhood watch on full patrolling alert, our friends cheerily turned the corner, happy to be arriving home.
The call I received from them was short and to the point:
“Do NOT, I repeat…DO NOT come over or they will kill you in the street.”
The prank intended for our family friends had become a criminally punishable act of terror on dozens of families and children who found sleep during the weeks that followed in short supply. Upon arrival home, our good-natured friends exiting the family van were a psychological shock to the patrolling neighbors who screamed in communal terror at the family they had since come to believe had suffered sudden and gruesome deaths only the day before.
After a couple months, when Denby Circle had returned to a cautious homeostasis, the tables turned.
My wife and young car-seated kids and I were exhausted, having driven non-stop from a rushed Thanksgiving weekend with family in Phoenix. Exiting the freeway, our final approach home was under a mile as we let out signs of relief, hoping to leave bags in the van and immediately crawl into bed for a needed nap.
We had missed a couple of the cardboard signs below eye-level on the street corners as we made the second to the last turn home, but the one in front of us caught our notice.
MUST SELL TODAY.
1112 SHIFTING SANDS
We had both seen the sign but our mutual, sleep-deprived minds processed it much too slowly. Still silent, but each of us obviously caught up in thoughts we began to psychically share on our final turn onto our long street, I floored it as we turned to each other in a Home Alone-esque scream.
The crowd of real estate agents, vultures who’d taken residence for who knows how long in front of our home awaiting our arrival and in full view of the huge 4’x8’full color professional sign erected in our front yard, blocked our driveway. Various neighbors, thoroughly irate at what they believed was our attempt to instantly undercut neighborhood home valuation by what would be at least 80% in what was certain to be the sale of the century, laid in wait in their lawn chairs eating turkey leftovers and saving the carcasses for a satisfying slaughter of the Miller Family.
Of course, we’d woken the kids up with unrestrained laughter as we found a parking space down the street and briskly walked up to our front door. The master rolodex of a corporate secretary couldn’t hold the fire hazard of business cards wedged in every crevice. Car doors up and down the street opened as realtors raced to be the first to cut a deal.
The turkey carcasses rained like tomahawk missiles from all hating directions.
Like celebrities pursued by paparazzi, we sealed ourselves and the kids inside. Apart from the relentless knocking and ringing of the doorbell, the continuous beep of the maxed out answering machine was all we could hear as we picked up the phone to call the culprits on Denby Circle to demand a truce.
Suffice to say, as close as our families had been, it was no longer safe to visit each other at our respective homes. Ever. I pulled one last prank on them which had sealed that deal.
Simply, I had taken several random old house keys and assembled them onto rings labeled with the Denby Circle address and tossed them into the seediest neighborhoods in town.
During young adulthood, my best of friends and I lived in a perpetually alternating state of laughter and terror, never knowing, but always expecting another page of what had now become a very popular book among our friends, to come to life at home, work or on the street without warning or apology.
You gotta have ‘em.
You gotta love ‘em.
You gotta get back at them every chance you get.
We are all much older now and hopefully more mature. We can’t pull off such spectacles as we did back in those days where our camaraderie’s as co-conspirators cemented our family bonds.
But what a legacy we have left.
Our kids, now at the ages we were, once terrorists in training, are making best friends our old-fashioned way.
And looking over their shoulders daily…as we once did.