A PRACTICAL JOKE
I've always enjoyed being the perpetrator of a good practical joke. I even enjoy them if they aren't so good - but 'good' is usually a difference of opinion between the perpetrator and the victim. I try to match the joke to the victim, but it doesn't always turn out that way. This was one of those times.
It all began one holiday season when I happened to be in Spencer’s Gifts and saw the Remote Fart Machine. Was this a guy's dream come true or what? Their demo model convinced me that I had to have one. Unfortunately a lot of other guys evidently had the same idea. (I've never met a woman who owned a Remote Fart Machine) Spencer's was sold out, and they wouldn't sell me the demo. After visiting several other stores and calling around I was able to purchase a Remote Fart Machine - and so began my quest for the perfect practical joke.
For those of you who have not had the good fortune to own, borrow, or try out the Remote Fart Machine, a brief description is in order. It retails for around $16 and comes in two parts: a fist-sized speaker and a small remote control, which controls the speaker from up to 100 feet away. It is also effective if you have the remote in one room and the speaker in another room, but that prevents the perpetrator from enjoying the full impact of the joke. The speaker unit is capable of six different sounds - most of which are quite realistic.
In order to effect a well-delivered practical joke, one must practice and rehearse, so I first tried it out on some friends of mine who had a 6-month old baby boy. I hid the speaker under a cushion on the sofa where the baby was lying. The cushion muffled the sound in much the same manner that a diaper does, so it was perfect. The first sound brought a surprised reaction from mom and dad. Mom laughed, and dad said: "He's never done that before." I tried it again several minutes later. This time, dad proudly said: "That's my boy." A few more times and they began to worry about their son's health, so I confessed. I didn't want this joke to cause a trip to the doctor’s office.
My second rehearsal came at a party given by some friends of my sister. It was a small gathering of four couples, half of whom I had never met. Again I buried my speaker under a cushion in the living room sofa and waited for the party to move into the living room. Sure enough, one of the couples that I didn't know sat on the sofa. The speaker was exactly between the two of them. I pressed the remote and the couple glanced at each other with looks that clearly said, "I can't believe you did that." Nothing was said by anyone, and I quickly realized that this was not the group for this practical joke. Everyone was too serious, too formal, and too sober.
The big moment for my ultimate practical joke was still a few months away, but, like life itself, it's not where you are going, but the process of getting there that is most enjoyable. I could wait and prepare. In this case, my class of undergraduate management majors was to provide the setting. The class consisted of approximately 16 graduating seniors, all of whom I had taught in at least one previous class. Four of the guys in the class were 'jock' types who like to drink, chase women, and give me a hard time. They were great guys, and the perfect ones on whom to play my practical joke.
The big day finally arrived. It was the final exam - a two-hour exam given in the same classroom in which we had held classes for the last 15 weeks. I knew where everyone sat, so I arrived well before any students and placed the speaker under the table where the four guys always sat. Some double-stick tape held the speaker firmly in place and I tested it for performance and reliability. It was working perfectly, albeit a little loud without the benefit of cushions. The anticipation was killing me.
Nothing ever seems to go exactly as planned regardless of how much preparation one does. And so it was that the first person to sit at that table was a nice quiet girl named Mary. Mary never sat there before. It was the guy's table. Oh No! Mary was the last person I would have chosen for this joke. The four 'target' guys arrived after Mary. One of them sat on each side of her and the other two sat immediately behind her. I decided that I had to go through with it after all my planning and anticipation.
Approximately 45 minutes into the exam everyone was intensely focused, and the room was so quiet you could have heard a pin drop. It was time. I casually walked out into the hall and stood where I could see the class but not be associated with whatever might happen. The remote was in my pocked and I reached in and pressed the button. "Burrraaaappppphhhhh"
The sound came from under the desk where Mary was sitting and it obviously scared her because she jumped. The guys sitting next to her and behind her all looked at her, certain that she was the source of the sound. They later admitted that they thought she had blown herself up off of her chair. I was in the hall with tears in my eyes and unable to enter the room for several minutes.
It turned out to be a practical joke that only I truly appreciated. The intensity of a final exam does not lend itself to levity, nor does the 'scholarly atmosphere' of higher education. In retrospect, I should probably have planned it for some time other than an exam. Still, it remains a defining moment for me. Some might say it was the moment that I crossed the boundary of good taste, while others would say that I had crossed that boundary years prior. For me it defined the moment in which I became convinced that crossing boundaries is what makes life memorable. I've probably given close to 300 exams in my teaching career, but I've only remember (and enjoyed) that one. I never told Mary about my joke, but I'm sure it was memorable for her and the four guys around her.
The bottom line is that the memories are all we ever really have, so I'm glad I did it. Now I'm looking for more good memories.