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Pranks at a Summer Camp (Part One)

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There is a direct correlation between (and sometimes, but very rarely, betwixt) your age and the appropriateness of pulling a prank. You are born with great privilege and wide latitude with regard to what you can get away with.

Taking a whiz while some unsuspecting victim is changing your diaper, bricking in the bathtub, scribbling in crayon on the wall (this is so overdone it's downright cliché, but try telling a toddler that; insolent little curs) or playing with Daddy's lighter – there are, it seems, no boundaries when you're that young.

It's all downhill from there. The frequency and severity of this behavior is expected to decrease as time marches on. By the time you're my age, you can't even strategically plant a whoopee cushion without being regarded by your peers forever afterward as some kind of Faulknerian Idiot Man-Child.

The decline in tolerance is steady until you get to high school graduation, at which point a crossroads is reached. If you attend college, you buy yourself a solid four-year pass to continue pulling pranks unabated, although Old Man Jenkins Down the Street Who Always Yells at You To Stay the Hell Out of His Yard, Even If Only Your Freakin' Shadow is Moving Across His Grass is now strictly off limits.

Your victims must be chosen from the ranks of your classmates and the slow-moving members of the faculty and administration, and even then, only on campus. Once you've either graduated or dropped out, or if you don't even bother to attend college, Game Over.

Thankfully, during my capricious youth I managed to squeeze in a healthy amount of pranks before my number was called. Most were your garden-variety pranks, including:

    -the "Sugar in Your Gas Tank" prank

    -the "Whiz in Your Gas Tank" prank

    -the "Flash Paper in Place of Your Rolling Paper" prank

    -the "Have Ten Big Dudes Move Your Car a Couple Hundred Feet" prank

    -the "Pull Someone's Pants Down While They're Giving a Presentation on Ponce De Leon in Sixth Grade Social Studies, Who You Cannot For the Life of You Now Remember What He Did That Made Him So Important" prank

    -and many more.

However, there was a glorious time in my young life during which, it seemed to me, I committed some of the most epic and awe-inspiring pranks to ever have been executed during the span of human history: Camp.

Camp for us American youth comes in all shapes and sizes. Mine was a weekend camp that happened five times a year, and the campers were 6th, 7th, and 8th graders. The hierarchy, from top to bottom, was as follows: the camp coordinators (who ran the show), the adult staff (who did the heavy lifting), the youth staff (high school kids who mostly ignored everyone and tried to find empty rooms in which they could make out with each other), and the campers. I attended this camp as a member of the youth staff for many years.

No one remembers how it even came to be, but during one of those fateful weekends we found ourselves deep in the opening salvo of a diabolical prank war. It was between the adult staff and the youth staff. For the youth staff, it rapidly became the lone reason to attend camp – to devise and execute increasingly wicked pranks and crush the adult staff with our mischievous malice aforethought.

And so, I present to you, without a whole lot of embellishment, and in classic David Letterman last-to-first style, the Five Greatest Pranks We Ever Pulled. I'll share tin, copper, and bronze with you today, and the silver and gold medal winners tomorrow. Deal?

Numba' Five: Each night after "lights out", the adult staff would have their nightly meeting in the staff lounge. The staff lounge was in a lodge on the far south side of camp and the dorms were on the north side. The staff parking lot was directly in front of the lodge.

We would often strike out into the chilly, moist spring night, sprinting through the inky darkness towards the lodge and the parking lot. All that could be heard was the squish of tennis shoes into the soft, wet earth, choked-back giggling, and murmurs about "how awesome this is going to be."

While a good deal of our pranks were carefully planned and executed with spectacular precision, sometimes it was quite fulfilling to treat any given scenario as a blank canvas. Artistes that we were, on these expeditions we would bring along a backpack full of our puckish paints: toilet paper, plastic wrap, various condiments in easy-squeeze bottles, rotten eggs and other spoiled foodstuffs, a crossbow, sodium pentathol, etc.

One night, full of verve and caffeinated soda, we embarked on one of these "anything goes” jaunts to the parking lot. Was it an "egg bombardment on the witless staff leaving the meeting" sorta night? A "fill an entire car with pea gravel" sorta night? Personally, I think the stroke of genius we settled for was vastly more fiendish than either of those. We found one of the camp coordinator's cars and smeared Vaseline over every square inch of her windows: Windshield, rear and side windows, and side-view mirrors. We plied it on thick, too. Do you know how hard it is to wipe Vaseline off a smooth surface?

Numba' Fo': We embarked on another of those infamous late-night excursions to the parking lot, but this time we had a very specific plot in mind. We took one of the cartons of rotten eggs we had so dutifully been allowing to fester, whipped them into one of the most fetid mixtures I have ever seen or smelt, and delivered the payload on the roof of the victim's car.

You may well be thinking this is far from inventive. Anthropologists, I am sure, have solid proof of Australopithecus throwing reptile eggs at the caves of rival monkey-men. Carl Jung egged Sigmund Freud's Austrian villa after Freud referred to him as "that thumb-sucking Communist twit" in one of his papers.

However, we were like the Wes Anderson of the practice – we had our own signature style and flair. So, following our stinky baptism of the poor horseless carriage, we very tightly wrapped the entire vehicle in plastic wrap.

We were later told by our hapless victim (who was dyslexic and whose last name was Webb — we called him Mr. Wedd, and Spiber Man — this is true) that the resulting pressure forced the foul smelling yoke into the window seals where it remained forever. He told us at the next camp that he had to sell the car – as he put it, "if [he] ever wanted to take a girl out on a date again."

We felt a little bad about this. It was never our intention to cause any lasting harm or damage, but later, upon further reflection, we all agreed that given the utter hilarity of it, we were glad to bend the rules a bit.

Numba' Three: Even casual acquaintances of mine can comment on my views on plastic wrap. "Oh yes," they will tell you. "I was on the main concourse trying to get to my gate before my final boarding call, and out of nowhere this bedraggled, bearded freak wearing a grey wool robe with mustard stains on it runs up to me, shakes my hand, hands me a pamphlet called "The Moriarty Plastic Wrap Manifesto: Plastiwrapifesto!" and then disappears in a puff of greasy white smoke."

Plastic wrap became something of a weapon of choice for our little faction during the Great Prank Wars, but we did not merely unleash its power on cars. We found it also acted as a powerful paralytic agent. We plastic-wrapped a good dozen or so campers to their beds in the night if we felt they were unruly, or if we felt, well, just felt like it. But that's like shooting fish in a barrel. Yearning for a greater challenge, we sought out an upright and mobile target.

Most of the pranks we pulled were truly in the spirit of fun, competition, and creativity. We had a ball pulling them off, we looked forward to (usually with a slight undercurrent of dread) seeing what our enemies would cook up in retaliation, and we had a blast scheming up our next naughty pursuit.

But not this one.

There was a member of the staff named Jeff. Jeff was what we called in camp-speak a "big fat stupid a-hole." C'mon, we were teenagers. Of course, now I would call him something very Churchill-esque, like "a corpulent, obtuse nincompoop," but I would still be tempted to drop several dozen four-letter words in there somewhere.

Jeff was a staff member of the nonprofit organization that hosted the camp. We are pretty sure he was forced to volunteer at camp as a staff member as some type of punishment because he spent most of the weekend heaping abuse and criticism upon the campers, youth staffers, and his fellow staff members.

Jeff had wiry brown hair, a patchy unkempt beard, and glasses with lenses so thick that, by all rights, they should have set his eyeballs on fire on a sunny day. He weighed, I am guessing, around 500 pounds. I will admit I often exaggerate certain facts and figures when I relate these real-life stories, but I assure you that in this instance I am probably right on the money, if not a little low.

The mere sight of Jeff boggled the mind and his presence in this plane of existence strained the very laws of physics. The only explanation for Jeff's ability to stand or move would be that his bones were actually made of titanium.

After suffering through Jeff's misanthropy and morbidly obese malaise for many a camp weekend, Jeff announced one weekend that it would be his last. No one remembers if he offered an explanation as to why, and if he did, no one cared. All we knew is that fat, smelly, wretched Jeff would be gone forever.

No longer would we have to fear the sight of his grotesque inhuman form in the showers or the smell of his hideous ass in the latrine. No longer would we have to endure his constant browbeating or stupid rants about, well, everything. No longer would we have to witness him inhale inhuman amounts of sloppy joe, canned peaches, and other assorted camp "foods." Oh happy, happy day.

From a prankster's point of view, Jeff was now just as impotent from a retaliation standpoint as he surely was in the more traditional sense of the word, owing to his veins being crushed under mountains of fat and clogged with the unholy grease of a million fistfuls of various fried meats and cheeses, rendering him wholly unable to deliver even a drop of blood to Jeff Junior, if you know what I mean. I am operating under the bold assumption that Jeff even had a Jeff Junior.

There's a great line in Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk that reads: "On a long enough timeline, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero." Well, at camp, on a long enough timeline, your chances of avoiding seeing any given person naked in the shower  (in our case, and sadly, only males) drops to zero. Hence, I can assure you with great veracity, that Jeff's member, if present, was invisible.

Back to the scheme. The plan was to waylay Jeff after he disrobed and prepared to enter the shower (see Figure 1.1).

Figure 1.1: A diagram of how we totally punked Jeff's fat ass

We wore our bath shoes so we wouldn't slip on the slimy shower floor. He was sleepy and a little confused at first, but after the third revolution of teenage bastards orbiting his monstrous ass like two twisted, cackling satellites, he started to hurl invective. Loudly. His lung capacity was surprisingly robust given that he had enough fat crushing his pipes that he might as well have had a bag of concrete strapped to his chest. His breath smelt of sewage and battery acid.

We knew we had to get a solid five layers of plastic wrap around him before he started trying to pin us against a wall with his girth. We only wrapped his torso, not his legs. We wanted him to have to walk around to find help. A few whirls later and we were through. We met the remainder of the youth staff (the boys only, of course, as we were in the boys' dorm) in the hallway. They were in various forms of seemingly impossible contortions of laughter. Their faces were blue. Some of them looked a little panicked. I think this is because blood vessels were bursting in their heads.

Luckily, as the sound of Jeff's rant and thunderous footfalls rapidly grew closer, they managed to get their wits about them. My accomplice and I led the charge to the door. We exploded through the doorway as though we were being chased by the shockwave of an explosion in some action movie. Jeff stopped there at the threshold, shaking his fist and gnashing his teeth. We did it! And we emerged on the other side, unscathed, living to tell the tale.

There were consequences, of course, which I won't go into here. We had decided, however, we were all willing to be put in front of the firing squad, or quite likely the Jeff-sitting-on-our-chest-squad, for love of the game.


-Spiber Man tells a tale of betrayal and treachery, which brings us to the most flatulent plot yet; and,

-Poor planning, spontaneity, and gaiety form an unholy union that turns pranksters into panty auctioneers.

Tomorrow, Part Two!

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About Tim Greathouse

During the week, Tim Greathouse is a freelance writer, father and homemaker. Each weekend he dons a suit and performs wedding ceremonies for remarkably cool couples all over his home state of Ohio.
  • Timothy Moriarty

    I’m sorry, I forgot to point out a few things.

    1. Spiber man asked us to call him that. He was cool with his dyslexia and enjoyed making light of it.

    2. None of us would have made an issue of Jeff’s weight if he had been a nice guy. But he was an absolute jerk. As an adult I’m not particularly proud of it, I’m just sayin’.