The Practical Joke

June 22nd, 2007.

I used to think I was hot shit in the practical joke department until I met Steve.

Steve and I used to work together and we instantly bonded over stories of different ways we had managed to get one over on our friends and family. I told him about the time I convinced my little brother that boys got periods, too. When my brother made note of the fact that boys had nowhere to insert a tampon, I pointed to a condom and asked him what the hell he thought that was for. My little brother ended up going to school the next day, waving around a condom he had stolen from my Mother’s nightstand drawer, and bragging to his friends that he was the first to get his period.

Oh yeah. He never really lived that one down.

Steve told me about the time he unexpectedly dropped by a friend’s house to hang out only to discover no one was home. However, Steve did notice a window was left wide open. Taking full advantage of the opportunity, he crawled into the window and spelled out the words ‘YOU’RE DEAD’ on the living room floor in the cat food he had rustled up in the kitchen. Then, he shut the apartment up tightly and went home. When his friend saw the cat food death threat a few hours later, he was so freaked out he actually called the police.

Steve would often threaten to prank me someday, but I insisted he could never pull one off successfully. To prove his point, he stole my car. Oh, he gave it back a few hours later, but he really had me going there for awhile.

Even though he had managed to fool me once, I could only concede personal defeat to Steve. However, I could not crown him God of All Practical Jokes. That title remains firmly in the grasp of a guy I went to high school with, Ethan. I seriously doubt anyone could prank me as thoroughly as he did.

The story takes place shortly after I left home for good. Considering the fact that I was young, immature, and totally without parental supervision, almost everyone assumed I would be dropping out of school. I surprised them all by showing up ready for the next school year, determined to graduate.

However, I did still need to financially support myself, so it was necessary I take on a full time job. To make ends meet, I would often have to work until 1 or 2 in the morning. Considering that my school day started at 7:30am, this posed a bit of a problem for me. Often, I would find myself missing school or showing up only to sleep through half of my classes. Still, my teachers thought it was so damned commendable I was even attempting to graduate that they made it perfectly clear to me they were willing to bend over backwards to help me any way they could.

For example, my calculus teacher loaned me her scientific calculator when I informed her I couldn’t afford to buy one of my own. When I started struggling in her class, she told me as I long as I returned her calculator on the last day of school, she would pass me with a ‘C.’ The only way she would fail me, she assured me, was if I lost her calculator or forgot to bring it back before she turned in her grades for the year.

I wasn’t stupid; I knew I was getting a sweet deal. So I sucked it up and tried my best because I didn’t want to let my teachers down.

It just so happened that my schedule matched up almost perfectly with my friend Ethan’s schedule. It turned out we had every single class together save for the final period of the day. Like me, Ethan was having a hard time staying awake in class, so we decided to make a little deal to help each other out. In every class, we planned to sit way in the back of the classroom. One person would sleep and the other person would stay awake and alert. Should a teacher call on the sleeping person or if anything else pertinent happened, the person who remained awake would kick their chair until they woke up, too. Every other period, we would switch roles so we would each get equal amounts of sleeping/awake time.

This worked beautifully for us all year long.

With my teachers in the palm of my hand and Ethan by my side making sure I avoided as much embarrassment as possible, my final year of high school should have been an easy ride. However, one minor inconvenience kept me from fully relaxing.

Namely, I started losing things.

I really didn’t understand it because I’ve never been the absent minded professor type, but I suddenly developed an extremely hard time keeping track of my belongings. I’d lose my books, my homework assignments, and the contents of my purse. My umbrella went missing, my jacket disappeared, and my bracelet apparently slipped off my wrist. At the end of one class I woke up bleary eyed and made it halfway down the hall before I realized I was missing my shoe. My shoe. Have you ever had to leave school early because you lost your fucking shoe? Oh yeah, it’s embarrassing.

It seemed like every single assignment I completed, I ended up having to do twice considering I always lost the first draft. I cannot begin to tell you how frustrated with myself I became. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t keep track of my shit. For awhile there, I literally thought I was losing my mind.

Then, it happened. A week before school ended, I lost the scientific calculator I had borrowed from my teacher. Without it, I was destined to fail the class. If I failed the class, I couldn’t graduate.

I freaked out. I tore my locker apart looking for it. When I got home from school, I ransacked my apartment. I detailed my fucking car. I retraced my steps and frantically searched every place I had visited in the past month. But it was all to no avail. The calculator seemed like it disappeared right out of thin air.

I was beyond bummed out. The school year had been particularly tough for me. Working a full time job, maintaining an apartment, and going to school full time had driven me to exhaustion. The very thought of doing it all over again next year made me seriously consider giving up and trying for my GED. But then again, my ACT scores had been top notch and only a single credit stood in the way of me earning my way into a good college. Besides, if I got my GED, all the time I spent in school busting my ass would have been wasted. Briefly, I thought about throwing myself on the mercy of my calculus teacher and begging her to pass me anyway, but my pride wouldn’t let me. She had already done so much for me.

The very last day of school I skipped my calculus class because I couldn’t bring myself to admit to my teacher I had lost her calculator. Instead, I wandered outside and sat dejectedly on the bleachers to watch last period gym class. My friend Ethan was in last period gym and he was in the middle of a drowsy game of soccer.

After a few minutes, a whistle blew. Ethan and his team came in to take a break and another team went out to play a few minutes. Panting a little, Ethan joined me on the bleachers.

“You don’t look happy today,” he said as he sat down.

“I lost the calculator,” I whined, “Now Mrs. K is going to fail me.”

“That fucking sucks.”

“I know. It looks like I’m going to be stuck here for another year. I can’t believe it.”

“Well, for what it’s worth, I’m going to miss you.”

“Yeah. Me too.”

Ethan and I chatted for a few minutes until the whistle blew calling him back into the game. He hopped up and started to walk away. But before he made it onto the field, he turned back around almost in afterthought.

“I almost forgot to tell you,” He said, “I have your calculator.”

Are you fucking kidding me?” I replied.

“Nope, it’s in my locker.” He pulled out a slip of paper where he had written down his locker number and combination. “You can go get it right now if you want.”

I threw my arms around him, relieved and excited all at the same time. “You saved my life, Ethan!”

He laughed and I ran into the building to retrieve my calculator. I found his locker quickly and managed to open it on my second try. Ethan kept his locker surprisingly neat and my teacher’s calculator was right on top of a perfectly stacked pile of books. I snatched it up quickly and cheered.

I was just about the close up the locker and run down the hall to return it before I lost it again when I noticed something odd. The book the calculator had been sitting on looked suspiciously like a book of mine I had lost earlier that year. I picked it up and flipped to the back cover. Sure enough, my name was written in my very own handwriting right under the name of the student who had used the book last year.

It didn’t end there. I quickly realized that everything in Ethan’s locker belonged to me. He had all of my missing homework assignments, all of my reading material, all of my notebooks. He had my umbrella, my hair clip, and my jacket. All year long, he had collected lip glosses and jewelry and protractors. Fuck, he even had my shoe. My shoe!

I sat back on my heels, stunned. All year long, I had thought I was going crazy. As it turned out, Ethan had been stealing my shit as I trustingly slept beside him.

I gathered up all of my belongings and headed back to the soccer field. When he spied me, Ethan ran over to me mid game.

“You found it!” he laughed.

What the fuck Ethan!” I answered.

“Don’t be mad,” he begged, “I’ve been waiting all year to give you back this stuff!

He smiled at me earnestly and I could tell he was pleased with himself and the little joke he had played. And I was so relieved to figure out I wasn’t nuts after all that my annoyance quickly evaporated.

“You asshole!” I laughed, “I thought I was going crazy!”

Actually, you really had to admire Ethan’s tenacity. There aren’t many people in this world who would bother playing a practical joke on someone that lasted an entire school year.

Because of his determination of innovation, Ethan alone will always remain the God of All Practical Jokes.

Eat your heart out, Steve.

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