I should have known better. I had no sooner thrown out “write about a practical joke you played” as a prompt in my writing workshop last week, when all the faces around the table looked puzzled.
Practical jokes seem to have gone out of favor, which makes me wonder whether we might be too serious? Down right dour, in fact.
I found a couple, but it wasn’t easy. Had to go back nearly fifty years to fetch them. Slippery things, I had to grab them by the tail.
Mine were played with the same accomplice, my younger sister, Beth. In the first instance we enjoyed switching places on the telephone. Based on more than one adult exclaiming that our voices sounded remarkably alike, and that they couldn’t tell who they were talking to unless we identified ourselves. Based on this, we had some fun.
Beth would get on the phone with her friend, Jill, for example, and I’d hear her every word. You have to remember this was back in the days when phones were tied to the wall and the person on the phone couldn’t wander more than a few feet. Everyone heard everything.
Then with just a nod from Beth, I’d take the phone from her midstream in her conversation, and keep it going—while she peddled as fast as she could a mile or so down the road to Jill’s house.
“Hold on, someone’s at the door,” Jill would say, as she put the receiver down for a moment.
I had heard the doorbell ring, and soon the shrieks. It happened every time as she opened the door to find my sister standing at her door, panting.
It took us awhile to outgrow this prank and move on. We were good at it, and it worked every time.
The next level happened a few years later. I was at an all-girls’ school by then, early high school, in which our entire social life with boys came down to occasional “mixers.” Dances with all-boys schools a good distance away. Either the boys were bussed, or we were bussed, and maybe there would be some follow up in calls or letters. Otherwise it was pretty impossible to see anyone again, which I’m sure was the whole point.
At one mixer I met a boy named David, and we managed to stay in touch. Months later, on a vacation when he we were both at home, he called and asked me out on a date. David must have been sixteen and had wheels.
How his call got past my sister, I don’t know. But her wheels were spinning when she dropped into my room as I was getting dressed.
“Wouldn’t it be funny,” Beth mused, “if we switched, and I came down the stairs instead? Do you think he’d notice?”
I looked at her—she was only about thirteen, still in pedal pushers with skinned knees. But a budding actress, you have to remember, sees clothes as costumes. Opportunities.
I went along with it only because I thought it would all be over fast.
Next we had to convince my grandmother to play along, as she was sitting while our folks were out of town. But Nana too thought he’d get to the end of the driveway with Beth, and bring her back.
When David arrived I was dressed and waiting upstairs, listening over the stairwell. The surprising thing was how well it was all going, including dear Nana calling Beth by my name. There was the usual flurry of goodbyes, the front door shut, and silence.
They didn’t come back and they didn’t come back.
Nana and I waited up on the sofa together until what seemed like 2 am, but wasn’t. Again and again, I assured her that this young man I hardly knew was “a nice boy.” Which he was.
Postscript: Thank you, David Nathan, wherever you are out there.