Meridian Star

August 30, 2013

High jinks

By Robert St. John
The Meridian Star

MERIDIAN — I was a mischievous kid. It’s not that I was necessarily “bad” or misbehaved, I liked to have fun and I liked to laugh. I laughed when playing practical jokes on someone and I laughed just as hard, maybe even harder, when they were played on me.

    Life at my house in the early 1970s was an enter-at-your-own-risk type of existence. My brother, four years my senior, and I were in a constant state of one-upmanship. Buckets of water were vicariously placed on door ledges, firecrackers were slid under bathroom doors, sheets were constantly shorted and one never knew who might be lurking in a closet poised to jump out and scare a person entering a room.

    My mother received the brunt of the pranks. On any given night she might find a snake under her pillow— real or rubber, whichever was available, it didn’t matter. And at least one morning per week she would catch herself about to step on a pile of fake dog poo on the carpet.

    To my recollection she never hosted a dinner party that wasn’t interrupted or spoiled by some type of prank. Her dinner parties were prime opportunities for high jinks as I kept a box on the top shelf of my closet that was perfect for such occasions. My go-to trick during such events was placing fake vomit on the dining room table among the fancy hors d’oeuvres. It worked every time.

    That poor woman’s nerves were shot by the time I had reached my teens. So much so that even when entering a room and saying, “Good morning,” she would scream and jump.

    One morning I walked in to the kitchen while she was trying to remove the Maxwell House coffee can of bacon grease off of the top shelf of a cabinet. I said, “Boo!” It startled her and she jumped so violently that she jerked the can from the shelf. It fell and landed perfectly, upside down on top of her head. It was like she was wearing a blue tin hat. There must have been used fish grease in there too because the oil ran down her face and all through her hair. I don’t remember the exact punishment for that one, but it was probably more severe than normal.

    Women live long in my family— men, not so much (maybe we play too many jokes). Every time we had a family dinner there were always eight to ten women representing the females. On the guy’s side, it was just my brother and I. Good manners were stressed in our home and at the top of the list— just behind a firm handshake— was pulling out chairs for ladies. Such a task was tricky when one was outnumbered five to one.

    When it came time for everyone to be seated I would often excuse myself to go “wash my hands.” If I timed it perfectly I could return just as my brother was in a full sweat and scrambling in his attempt to hold all of the chairs for all of the women. If my timing was impeccable, and I hung out in the bathroom long enough, I could make sure that he had to deliver the blessing, too.

    My children didn’t inherit the practical joke gene. Maybe that’s a good thing for my nerves. They don’t ever throw cold water on their mother while she’s taking a shower— that task is completely left to me. They don’t stick foreign objects down in the toes of their mother’s shoes in the closet. I get the joy and pleasure of that task. I am the one who scares the kids at sleepovers and it’s up to me to keep inventory of all of the Halloween masks used to frighten them at the scary climax of a ghost story.

    It’s sad, my life today isn’t filled with as many high jinks as in the old days— except, of course, for the remote-controlled fart machine under the visitor’s chair across from my office desk, and the stuffed possum that ends up in filing cabinets and drawers throughout the office, and the occasional male mannequin that I set up on the commode for unsuspecting visitors to the office bathroom. Other than that it’s pretty quiet around here these days.