Practical Jokes

Part One: My Dad, the Prankster

By: Ashley Kehoe

My mom claims that my existence was the result of my dad asking for a baby as his college graduation present. I love the idea of my dad having just completed a major life accomplishment, being the first child in his family to finish college, feeling on top of the world with nothing but possibilities ahead of him, and deciding the only addition that could possibly make his life any better than it already was at that moment, was me. But knowing my dad, I know better than that: He just wanted someone fresh and unsuspecting to play all his pranks on, and everyone else in his life was onto him by then. Fatherhood was really just his next bit.

Sharing is Caring

A child of the eighties, I was raised to believe that sharing was always the right thing to do – except with strangers, because they meant danger – and that not sharing would probably result in spontaneous combustion or life in prison. My dad knew this, and as any good father would do, used it to his complete and total advantage, whenever possible.

Starting at about three years old, I have vivid, blissful memories of baking Nestle Tollhouse chocolate chip cookies with my dad. It was one of our favorite weekend activities. We’d line up all the ingredients on the counter, mix everything together, and bake at least 4 dozen of the best cookies ever made, every time. (I’ve never been able to recreate the absolute perfection of these cookies, even as an adult, no matter how exactly I follow the recipe.) The purpose of baking was usually to make extra plates of cookies to share with our neighbors – but of course as responsible bakers and good citizens, we had to do some quality control, so there was always a taste test involved.

While the cookies were cooling, we’d sit at the kitchen table and read the comics in the paper until we couldn’t resist the aroma of fresh baked cookies any longer. My dad would always hand me a cookie first and let me take a bite, the melty chocolate smudging all over my tiny hands and smiling face. Then, he’d gently remind me that I should always share, and ask politely if he could have a bite. Being the adoring, abiding daughter that I was – at least at that age, until I wised up – I’d eagerly extend my chocolate-covered hand toward his mouth to share my cookie with my dad, the nicest and most wonderful grownup man I knew, next to Mr. Rogers. And without fail, in one gigantic bite, my nice and wonderful dad would devour the entire cookie, not leaving a single crumb or chocolate smear on his mustache as evidence.

I’m sure the first time this happened, I probably bawled my eyes out, until I opened my eyes to see my dad laughing and realize there were baking sheets lined up all over the kitchen counters with batches of cookies still leftover. After that, it sort of became a tradition, and I would sometimes even offer to share with my dad, knowing what was about to happen. I would always laugh, knowing that for as much of a prankster as my dad was, he would never pull a trick like that with the last cookie. Probably anyway.

Seeing What Develops

Every once in a while, after running errands with my mom – going grocery shopping, picking up dry cleaning, getting rolls of film developed, the usual weekday to-do kind of stuff – I would hear my mom start cracking up in the front seat.

“ASHLEY LOUISE! Just what exactly did you and your father get into last night?” She’d look at me in the rearview mirror and ask, trying not to laugh.

The answer was never the same, because my dad in his thirties had more of an imagination than most kindergarteners, and he generally used it to dream up unexpected ways to piss other people off, make them laugh, or both. On nights when my mom worked, my dad used his time the way only a responsible grown man would: To stage elaborate and ridiculous photo shoots in everyday places all over our house, and then inconspicuously leave used rolls of film lying around without any explanation, for my mom to someday discover and develop.

Flipping through photo albums of my childhood is less of a trip down memory lane, and more of just a straight up trip. There are pictures of me at about age three popping out of the washing machine in my pajamas, dressed up as a clown in the middle of July pulling our dog down the street in a wagon, and wearing an electrical tape mustache and a bowler hat – looking like a miniature, towheaded Charlie Chaplin. The photos never really made any sense whatsoever, and looking back, I’m sure that was sort of the point – absurdist comedy that kept my dad entertained and everyone else guessing.

My favorite of these photo shoots is actually a series shot before I can even remember, when I was just barely a year old. The first photo in the sequence is of me opening a present and tearing off the wrapping paper on a box just about as big as I was at the time. The second photo reveals that the present is a bald, shiny Cabbage Patch Kid doll, which looked a lot like I did. The third photo shows me all smiles, happily hugging the doll. It’s not until you get to the fourth photo that you realize this entire thing was a set-up, and I was, quite literally, framed. The last photo is of me, a live baby inside the Cabbage Patch Kid box, peering out through the plastic looking utterly confused, totally unaware that this wouldn’t be the last time I’d be a prop in one of my dad’s gags.

Outsmarting Mall Santa

Every year when my parents could find a shared night off, they would bundle us up and brave the holiday madness at Woodfield Mall to see Santa. I’m sure this usually involved a lot of whining, waiting in line, and wondering why in the hell we had to participate in such a silly tradition anyway. But for my dad, there was always a way to make even a hellish ordeal like waiting to meet mall Santa worth his while.

From the earliest age I can remember, while I waited to see Santa, my dad would tirelessly coach me on my response to Santa’s forthcoming question: “And what would you like for Christmas this year, little girl?” What Santa didn’t know is that – despite my blonde curls, big blue eyes, and innocent “Nice List” smile – I wasn’t a little girl, I was just a plant in one of my dad’s many missions to set other people up for laughs.

As we waited in line, my dad masterfully drilled me, not even letting me break concentration as the line wound its way past the toy store.

“OK Ash, when Santa asks what you want for Christmas this year, you say…?”

Each correct response was rewarded with a Fannie May Mint Chocolate Meltaway candy, which my dad had covertly picked up at Marshall Field’s on the way to the line, a.k.a. training camp. I was a sucker for anything minty and chocolate – and my dad knew it. Resistance was futile.

Before I knew it, because time apparently flies when you’re being brainwashed, I finally had my moment to shine. Santa’s elves helped me climb up on his lap, where I sat politely on his knee and stared into his magical eyes, ready to make my dad proud.

Right on cue, as intelligence accurately predicted he would, Santa asked: “And just what would you like for Christmas this year, little girl?”

I froze. Brightly colored visions of toys and dolls danced in my head. I had to fight it, but what was my line? As I looked toward my parents for help, I saw my dad, gently shaking the box of Mint Meltaways in my direction – and knew what I had to do.

“World peace,” I said, in a tiny but bold voice, beaming at my dad – who was now in hysterics.

Santa was dumbfounded, the jolliest man at Woodfield Mall had been upstaged by a three-year-old. Then suddenly his bright pink cheeks turned up, his sparkling eyes squinted, and Santa let out what was probably the first authentic laugh of his career. Never has a Mint Meltaway tasted sweeter.


Part Two: My Brother, the Wise Guy

By: R.L. Kehoe

I got home late from high school one afternoon and saw my mom standing over the sink with the water running and an empty ice rack in her hand. She had turned the water on as hot as it would go and stood there waiting. At first, I figured she was going to wash the ice rack. But she just stood there waiting until the water was scalding hot. Then she began filling the tray.

I asked her what she was doing. “I need to make some ice,” she said. So I asked the obvious question: “Then why do you have the water coming out so hot?” She shot me a look that only a mother can, half condescending and half I’m-about-to-teach-you-something.

She went on to explain how my brother John, who was incredibly gifted in math and science, told her that this quickest way to make water freeze is to fill the rack with hot water, not cold. “It has something to do with the fact the molecules move more quickly when the water is hot and when you put it in the freezer they stop moving right away whereas it takes longer with cold water,” she said. The way she said this made it clear that neither she nor I should question John about scientific matters like this. Her real point seemed to be that it was beyond my comprehension.

A few minute later I asked John about his little science lesson for mom. The exchange went something like this:

Me: “Where did you get the idea that ice would form more quickly from hot water than cold?  That’s not true…is it?”

John: “No, of course not.”

Me: “Then why did you tell her that?”

John: “I just wanted to see if she’d do it.”

Me: “So, you are going to tell her this is complete nonsense, right?”

John (smiling): “Maybe.”

This charade went on for many months and years, with John never fessing up to his little joke. For all I know, my mom probably still only makes ice trays with hot water.

John raised the practical joke to an art form and we’d stop at nothing to make each other laugh, even in early childhood.

A Punchline With a Kick

For example, I distinctly remember the first real (and not coincidentally, dirty) joke I heard. I heard it in second grade in the school library. Brad Gerber, a funny classmate with a very high, almost falsetto, voice pulled me aside in the rows of books and broke into this story he had heard his dad tell.

Brad could barely get each line out without convulsing into fits of laughter. And the fact that we were in the library sharing the story and trying to contain ourselves only added to the silliness. Anyway, here’s the essence of the joke:

A nearly blind young woman with a very large chest was finding it difficult to get around the city where she lived. Someone told her she should get a seeing-eye dog. Eventually she goes to the pet store and buys one that hadn’t quite had the full training required. She brings the dog home and decides to name him Tittswiggle. (Of course, Brad couldn’t contain himself here.)

Gradually, she trains the dog and pretty soon she is getting around the city quite well, going to restaurants and shops with the dog’s help. One day, while wearing a very tight, almost see-through sweater the woman gets off the bus and the dog suddenly bolts away. The distraught woman begins stumbling up and down the block, bouncing off garbage cans and people while screaming: “Tittswigle! Tittswiggle! Here Tittswiggle!”

The distraught woman begins stopping passersby and asking, “Excuse me, but have you seen my Tittswiggle?” Everyone laughs but no one helps her. Finally, she bumps into a cop. He asks her what’s wrong and offers to help. She says, “Officer, have you seen my Tittswiggle,?” The cop looks her up and down and says, “No Ma’am, but I sure wish I did!”

I howled as many times as I told or heard this joke. (Okay, I was 7 at the time). So I get home and tell John. He laughs a bit and then says he has a joke for me. He asks me to stand next to him and says, “The next time we get introduced to someone I’m going to say, ‘Hi I’m John. Here’s my sidekick.’” And with that he let fly the most uncoordinated sideways kick that I never saw coming. I doubled over in pain and looked down to see the welt it left on my hip, failing to see the humor in his joke. Tears were coming out of the corner of his eyes as I writhed in pain. He continued to tell that joke for years after. My hip was discolored for years.

Water Torture

Nothing wrong with an old joke that continues to make you laugh. For John, that would be setting up me or, more often, my sister by placing a cup or bucket full of water on top of one of our bedroom doors with the door cracked just enough to hold the teetering vessel. He played this joke dozens if not hundreds of times throughout our childhood. And just about the time you figured he had given up on this gag, you realized that you were about to take a shower you didn’t see coming.

A Shell of a Man

These sorts of stupid pranks continued outside the house. One day, John and I and his best friend Bobby Ballmaier rode our bikes up to the IGA grocery store. There we spotted a guy in a Planters Mr. Peanut costume handing out free samples of the company’s new candy bars. We quickly began milling around him asking questions in rapid-fire succession, grabbing all the free samples we could stuff in our pockets in between driving the guy crazy. His patience was quickly wearing thin.

After we cleared out most of his stash of samples on the plate he was holding, we began rifling through a nearby duffel bag the monocle-wearing man had brought with him. We kept moving around him so fast that he couldn’t keep track of where we were. It was hard to take him seriously when he began berating us for being out of control little brats. After all, he was wearing this ridiculous fiberglass peanut shell. The fact that he had a cane in one hand and a plate in the other, made it almost impossible for him to turn around, let alone catch us.

Soon after we had cashed him out of samples, John and Bobby began running circles around him and knocking on the back of his shell. This went on for several laps while I fell into the shelves of food in a fit of laughter. Finally, Mr. Peanut had reached his boiling point.

While cursing at us and trying to keep us in his line of sight, he suddenly began swinging his cane violently at John and Bobby. As it cut through the air, the cane made a whistling sound. After a few whiffs, Mr. Peanut finally connected. We left bruised but unbowed. And Mr. Peanut? He was a shell of a man when we finished with him.

Hot Tub, Anyone?

As an adult, John never lost his taste for practical jokes. One Sunday summer afternoon when we went out for lunch he told me about a late night party he and his wife Jane had at their house the night before. Apparently there were even more libations than usual and quite a few people staggered by late night to enjoy the festivities.

Soon, John decided it was time to invite those who wanted to join in to take a dip in the hot tub. About six or so people had crowded in the tub, laughing it up. John left quietly to go upstairs to put on his bathing suit. While changing, he decided to stuff another bathing suit inside the trunks that he had just put on. The hidden suit looked nearly identical to the one he was wearing.

Once back down with his guests, John hopped into the bubbling water that was now crowded with revelers. Leaning back and taking a sip of his beer, he let out a huge sigh and set the bottle down while his hands went below the water’s surface. He closed his eyes and leaned back, as if truly relaxing in the moment. A few seconds later the hidden suit came bubbling to the surface as John told everyone how much he loved having his closest friends in the hot tub with him. Within seconds, the tub cleared as creeped out guests vaulted over each other to escape what they assumed was their naked host.

A Really Big Beef

John also loved to engage in tall stories, with the sole aim of winning any argument, no matter how absurd. One of John’s co-workers at Breda Moving, shared this next anecdote. Apparently John and his brother-in-law Andy were talking one day about which restaurant had the biggest and best Italian Beef sandwiches. John made a point about how his favorite beef spot had much larger sandwiches than the one that Andy liked.

The subject came up a number of times, with neither man giving in to the other’s point. Finally, John sought to put an end to the argument. So the next time he visited his favorite spot and ordered an Italian Beef he took a picture of it to show Andy just how large the sandwich really was. For scale, he photographed the sandwich next to a Matchbox car, insisting that the sandwich was bigger than a car.

That ended the argument.

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