I was, throughout my childhood, a cut-up. From the time I was lined up next to Darrell Dunham in first grade as part of the Pageant of the Saints and told to portray St. Sebastian (who died from arrow wounds) and went “Gack!” while Darrell succumbed to an imaginary onslaught of stones (in his character as St. Stephen), I never missed a chance to make a smart remark or a face behind the back of a member of the constituted educational authorities.
On the other hand, someone near and dear to me who is related to me by marriage and who shall remain nameless–like my wife–has been a goody-goody all her life. She is a member of an ethnic group–Scots Presbyterians–that goes around looking for rules to obey. She once threw her parents out of the house at the tender age of twelve because she wanted to clean and they were getting in the way.
And yet we both, in our otherwise dissimilar childhoods, indulged in the same form of grand-scale mischief: using a public address system to broadcast a joke name to a mass audience.
Missouri State Fair
In my misspent youth, I lived in a town of 20,000 whose population was increased six-fold for ten or so consecutive days in August as hordes of carnival workers and carnival goers, 4-H youths, stock car racers, sulky drivers (I’m speaking of their vehicles, not their moods) and other human flotsam and jetsam came to town for the Missouri State Fair.
The fairgrounds had a central administration building, to which lost children were brought and from which announcements of varying import were made, e.g., “The free country music grandstand show will be a little late getting started tonight because Conway Twitty’s bus ran into a Black Angus cow just this side of Marshall.”
At some point, I and the other budding wags who I counted among my friends decided it would be fun to see if we could trick the man at the microphone into making an announcement that had no basis in fact, and whose only purpose was to hear him repeat a funny name. For some reason the first personality we fastened upon was Newton Minow, FCC chairman under President Kennedy, who had made headlines by denouncing television as a ”vast wasteland.”
I don’t recall the precise form our maiden gag took, but it was something along the lines of “Newton Minow, Newton Minow. Please come to the Administration Building. Your television has been found.”
Once the boy who had gulled the announcer made it outside with a straight face, we burst into laughter and ran off, only to return a few minutes later, determined to build on our early success. Bill Fold, Chuck Roast, Jim Shoe and Douglas Fir were all duly paged, but never responded. At some point I’m sure the poor shlub who manned the microphone got wise, and cut us off.
Fast forward–or slow forward, I don’t care–to the 1980s, when I succumbed to the charms of the woman whom I would marry. While a smart-alecky sense of humor is not necessary for a woman to be a good wife and mother, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to overlook her extreme, and apparently genetic, irony deficiency. But then, as on late-night cable TV steak knife commercials, I learned there was more.
As a teenager working the night shift in a department store, she told me, she and her girlfriend had taken turns walking the floor helping customers while the other stayed upstairs on a sort of observation deck, making change and processing charge slips that shot around the store through the pneumatic tubes that were the precursor to today’s electronic point-of-sale machines. Along with this high fiscal responsibility came control of the store’s public address microphone, which she and her girlfriend used to try and make the other crack up while waiting on a customer.
And so, as one or the other tried to keep a straight face while telling an overweight women that a chemise dress was indeed flattering on her, the other would intone, in a voice redolent of official indifference, “Paging Lima Peru. Lima Peru, please come to the loading dock.”
Or “Melba Toast–Melba Toast. Please report to the kitchen on the basement level.”
So remember–it’s the little things that can make the difference when you’re trying to attract a potential mate. Never underestimate the romantic attraction that a high-risk childhood prank may have on a future marriage prospect. Your happiness may depend on it.