[Originally published April 2007]
A nice prank I remember, from when I was in high school: on the day before April Fool's Day, a bunch of us from our first period English class snuck into our teacher Jim Kearney's homeroom late in the afternoon and turned his big old wooden desk upside down. The prank was appreciated all around the next morning, until Mr. Kearney got a couple of guys to help him turn the desk back over so we could get on with class. Trouble was, no one remembered about the drawers—which were now upside down. No one remembered, that is, until Mr. Kearney needed something in the middle of class and yanked open his top drawer....
Thinking of playing pranks reminds me of a sweet situation that wasn't really a prank at all. I used to live in a walk-up apartment in Washington, D.C., and I had terrible trouble with a downstairs neighbor. Being a teacher, I had to get up early to be at school on time. The guy in the apartment beneath me, a lower-level functionary from the Turkish Embassy, would play his television really loudly until way late at night, making it impossible for me to get to sleep. We had all sorts of run-ins about this, but he was almost comically belligerent. He was about five foot nuthin', but a miniature bulldog, all stuck-out chest and attitude. And even the police couldn't do anything since he had diplomatic immunity.
Finally I figured out what was happening: my neighbor wasn't ignoring me, exactly. Every night after dinner he'd start drinking liquor in front of the TV. After a few hours of this, he'd pass out, with the lights on and the TV blaring. That was why banging on the floor or pounding on his door wouldn't wake him up again; he was passed out.
One night, it was 2:00 a.m. and with a mere four hours to go till the alarm went off, I still hadn't gotten a wink of sleep. In my desperation and sleep deprivation, a drastic solution occurred to me: I went down to the basement of the building, found the (ancient) electrical box, and unscrewed the fuses for his apartment.
Perfect. He was passed out anyway, so the dark and the quiet didn't bother him.
Then, as I was leaving the building the next morning at 7:30 or so, I went out through the basement and on the way out, screwed the fuses back in. I figured I'd deal with the fallout later. As I passed his unit, I saw him through the window, stumbling around groggy and disoriented—because of course the lights and the TV had suddenly come back on, rudely awakening him to what I could only hope was a doozy of a hangover.
Well, I fully expected that he'd be waiting for me that evening and that we'd have a shouting match, or that there would be a padlock on his fusebox, or the Super would be waiting to have a talk with me, or something. But no, nothing...nothing at all. Finally it dawned on me—he was clueless. Not only did he not know it was me, but he had no idea what had happened at all!
So I did the same thing again the next night.
It got to be a regular habit. I did the same thing every night his TV was too loud. If I had to get up in the morning and his television was blaring, I'd just wait till midnight or one c'clock or whenever I wanted to go to bed, go down and knock politely on his door to make sure he was passed out, then amble downstairs and unscrew his fuse before turning in, restoring his power again when I left the building the next day.
This went on for the whole rest of the time he lived there—five or six months in all. And the beautiful thing was, he never did figure it out. I certainly never let on.
Sometimes things just work out.
One more. One April Fool's day, when I was a photo teacher, I took two rolls of unexposed Tri-X, loaded them into a developing tank, and gave them a thorough soak in fixer. Then I waited until one of my students (one of the better ones, but the victim was random) showed up all excited about a couple of rolls she'd just shot and wanted to see. I casually mentioned that I had film to develop too, and could she please just mix up a double batch of D-76 1+1? We sat there at the developing table (right, no sink) and processed our film together, chatting amiably. In between agitation cycles, when she wasn't looking, I switched our tanks.
When the film had finished washing and she went to hang hers up, there was a gasp, then a shriek, then "Oh, no! Something's wrong! They didn't turn out! I really wanted these pictures!" And so on. Meanwhile, I was quietly hanging up the film from the tank I'd finished. I casually said, "Well, there's certainly nothing wrong with mine. They turned out fine. Come and look." I had to suggest to her that she come look at "my" film about ten times before she actually did, and even then she had to look at half a dozen frames before it gradually dawned on her that "my" film was actually hers—at which point I smiled sweetly and said "April Fool"—and she started repeatedly slugging my shoulder!
No wonder the kids' nickname for me was "Mean Mike."
[Note: This post is a "rerun." Since Yr. Hmbl. Ed. is away and trying to minimize workload, the comments Section, usually lively, is closed only for these "Vintage TOP" posts. Please join us next week when the doors will be swung wide again. —Ed.]