practical jokes

I came from a family of practical jokers. My dad loved to hide around dark corners and jump out at me when I’d least expect it, bearing his long yellow teeth and bulging eyes, huge hands like claws reaching for my neck. He’d scare the living daylights out of me, then he’d laugh and I’d cry-laugh.

Once, at the dinner table, he recounted a joke he had played on his bald-headed colleague that day. My dad had a spray bottle used for watering the office plants and, with his other workmates egging him on, he stood behind his buddy and pretended to sneeze while simultaneously squirting a sprig of water on the back of the guy’s shiny head. The dude totally cringed and turned around slowly with a sickening look on his face only to find his friends cracking up. I’d never seen my father in such hysterics as when he told that story, his pinched red face and crinkled nose, his peaked eyebrows and jumping shoulders, tears of laughter filling his eyes. He looked like an elf—a six foot four inch one hundred and seventy pound elf. I see the same look in Calvin sometimes when we tickle him.

We kids learned the trade. When my brother Scott was in high school his impacted wisdom teeth were extracted, the gums stitched closed with black filament. He had some trouble with hemorrhaging that my mother monitored with extraordinary care. When he was feeling better, hoping to pull a fast one on my mom, my brother rummaged through her sewing kit to find a thick long black thread. He stuffed it in his mouth, approached her and uttered a kind of distressed hum. Out he pulled the thread feigning a look of surprise as inches and inches of it appeared like a string of black spaghetti between his pursed lips. My mom practically fainted until we all began to laugh. My poor mom.

In college I hung out with five guys—two fellow swimmers and their roommates. We played practical jokes on each other all the time. They stuck French fries in my glove fingers and snuck into my dorm room to hide peanuts ... everywhere. I kept finding them for months. For one guy’s birthday we got into his empty dorm room, each with cigars, lit up and vigorously puffed away until the room was filled with the bitter smoke. Once we made a huge snowball and rolled it into the center of his room.

Sadly, practical jokes would be lost on Calvin. But we give him plenty to laugh about with our tickles, raspberries and belly kisses. Michael and I are left to goof off and play practical jokes on each other. In this house we need all the levity we can get.

my favorite joker

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