The great practical joke is not a thing of the past

January 07, 1994|By MIKE ROYKO

Mike Royko is on vacation. During his absence, we are reprinting some of his favorite columns. This column was first published on Jan. 12, 1977. It seems to me the practical joke has become a dormant form of humor.

Whenever I hear people talking about great practical jokes, they are inevitably the old classics, most of them collected years ago in a book by H. Allen Smith.

So I was pleased to recently hear about two fine, sadistic practical jokes that sounded original.

One was the work of a Chicago salesman who became bored with the ritual of sending out Christmas cards.

"My wife and I weren't going to bother last year, but we already had the cards and that's when I got this idea," he related.

"You know how some people will write a few personal lines on a card?

"Well, here's what I did. If a guy had been in the service, I'd write something like: 'Hi, Joe, old buddy. Got your address from Jim Scanlon (you remember, the old barracks moocher). Me and the wife and kids are going to be passing through Chicago during the Christmas holidays, and we'll stop by and spend a night or two with you, and we can sip a few brews and rehash our days in the old outfit.'

"The I'd sign it with a phony name, something like: 'Your old pal, Wilbur Crull.'

"I was driving South on a sales trip the next week, so I took them along and mailed them all from small Southern towns.

"You can imagine how people reacted when the cards came. Wives were yelling: 'Who the hell is this guy? They're going to move in with us during Christmas?' Husbands were saying: 'For God's sake, I knew a hundred yokels in the Army. He could be any one of them!'

"For guys who hadn't been in the service, I just substituted something about college days.

"My wife and I talked to several of them after they got the cards. They were in a panic. One couple had such an argument about his lousy old-time friends, they almost got divorced. Another friend of mine wouldn't answer his doorbell if he didn't recognize the person outside. It was beautiful.

"You know what I'll do next Christmas? I'm going to say something like: 'Joe, old buddy. My pickup truck broke down and we couldn't make it to Chicago. But we'll be there for sure this year, ya' hear?'"

The other joke was the work of a restaurant owner in Madison, Wis.

He and three friends were on a fishing trip way up north. They were staying in a cabin on the shore of a wilderness lake.

It was 10 p.m. They had fished all day, had a few beers, played some poker, and were going to turn in and get up before dawn for more fishing.

One of them, let's call him Joe, was the first to his bunk. He was exhausted. Within a few minutes, he was snoring.

The restaurant owner quickly told the others his plan.

One of them got Joe's wristwatch, which he had put on a dresser, and changed the time to 4:45.

Then they changed their own watches and the alarm clock to 4:45.

They set the alarm clock to go off at exactly five o'clock, turned off all the lights, took off their clothes, and went to bed.

Fifteen minutes later, the alarm clock went off. They all got up, shuffling around, making the grumbly, miserable sounds that men make early in the morning. One of them put toast and coffee on.

The most miserable was Joe. He sat on the edge of his bed, shaking his head, moaning: "I don't feel like I've been to bed at all."

He kept looking at his watch, the clock, asking them what time they had, mumbling and groaning.

He complained as he drank his coffee, and on the way to the boat.

"I must be getting old," he said, as they dropped anchor and began fishing.

Every few minutes, he'd glance at his watch and look at the eastern horizon and say: "What time have you got?"

"Five-forty," somebody would say.

"Boy, it's dark," Joe would say.

A little later: "What time have you got?"

"Six."

He began looking concerned. "Shouldn't it be getting light soon?" he asked.

"Daylight Savings," one of them replied.

By the time his watch said 6:40, he had stopped casting. He just sat there staring into the darkness.

Finally, in a voice filled with genuine terror, he cried: "I'm telling you, something is wrong! It's not getting light today! It's not getting light today! Something is wrong!"

"End of the world," they hooted. "Doesn't matter, because the fish aren't biting anyway."

That's when he caught on. And he took it well, although they had to wrestle an oar out of his hands.

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