Whether I come by my fascination with pranks honestly or not is sometimes irrelevant. I say ‘honestly’ because I come from a family of pranksters. And my two older brothers often tested their pranks on me. What was I to do, I passed the pranks on to my younger siblings.
Like the time when I was ten and my brother David was five. We lived in what my mother called a “double tenement”. Today we might say a ‘duplex”. Anyway – there were two side-by-side four room shotgun abodes. My parents owned the place. For a period of time my Mother’s sister and her husband rented the adjacent tenement. One summer night my parents were next door playing cards or something with my Aunt and Uncle. Several of us boys were watching a Dracula movie in our living room. Rick was seven, David was five, and I was ten. At a commercial David decided he was going next door to see my parents. He went through the shotgun house and out the back door. I have a quick wit – quicker than I am smart. Realizing David’s path and knowing he was primed with fear by the Dracula movie, I went out the front door, ran around to the back porch, and hid – waiting like a spider for a moth. David came out the back door and I jumped up and yelled boo – or something innocent like that.
How does one define success? How might we measure the effectiveness of our prank? In this particular case with David there was no need to worry about failure. He woke the neighbors on the next block with his banshee like screaming of pure horror. I was quick enough to realize that I had been way too successful. I jumped on the porch and tried to calm the wretched creature of despair, looking back over my shoulder constantly for any hint that my parents had been alerted. They were.
My father was a pretty tough and aggressive sort of fellow. He fought trained German soldiers in hand-to-hand combat for a year or so and managed to come home in mostly one piece. The absolute worst thing anyone could do to arouse his inner monster was to threaten one of his children. He was playing cards and heard one of his children screaming in absolute terror. He came flying out that door and across the yard like Moses parting the Red Sea – nothing would hinder his mission. He jumped on that porch and saw me comforting David. I was safe for about two seconds – until he realized I was just trying to muffle the frightened boy.
Men like my father can be put in tough situations. He was adamant about saving his child – but ready to kill his other child. It was one of those ‘to be, or not to be’ moments. Any parent worth his salt would relate to my father at that moment. It was like having to pull your child out of busy traffic; relieved at the safety of the child and quickly angered at having been so frightened by the child’s poor judgement.
I was lucky that day. My father was having a good day, relaxing and enjoying family with a soothing card game. This was one of those occasions where he did not strike me – he just gave me what my sister calls “The Look”. Indescribably, “The Look” was something one knows when one sees it. And when The Look is focused on you, you can feel it burning into your face. It sears your brain with a brand leaving scar tissue for life. A whack across the face might have been easier to tolerate.
David and I both survived that night. Each of us with new definitions of fear. My older brothers had taught me how to look for opportunities to pull a prank but had failed to teach me good judgement. I am an old man today and remember that night fifty-some years ago as if it was yesterday.
(Note the photo of Mark Twain. If you want to read a really sophisticated prank story read Twain’s “The Man Who Corrupted Hadleyburg”. Obviously, Twain is on of my heroes).