But I am a master of impractical jokes.
An impractical joke is conceptual, implausible, and almost entirely pointless. It’s a scenario that floats into your mind randomly and departs with barely a smile, like…
1. Drawing a moustache on every face in the Sunday newspaper before your family gets up and then carefully putting the paper back together and back outside
2. Placing one can of beer in the the faculty coke machine
3. Inputting phony information into the computer card catalogue, things like Look Out!: The Use of the Grapefruit as a Crippling Projectile in Medieval Warfare
4. Telling someone you wear a hairpiece (when you don’t) and watching them stare at your hairline for the rest of the week
5. Planting one piece of bad information in a class (like “Walt Whitman was an African-American” or “Emily Dickinson collected bottle caps”) so some subsequent teacher down the line will say, “Oh, you had Mr. Marshall, didn’t you?”
Humor, I’m not the first to suggest, always has a victim, which is why most of the plans listed above stay in my brain. I don’t like creating victims and especially don’t like being one.
I made the mistake one year of telling a class about #5 above, and, for a week, they reacted to every new piece of information with a pause, “Is this the bad information you’re tagging us with?” I felt sorry for them. To be a practical joker, you must not sympathize with the victim. Instead, I can’t stand to demean someone with a joke, and nearly everything strikes me as potentially demeaning.
But I’m constantly thinking of impractical jokes anyway.
At a school where I taught, one of the students would knock periodically on the door of the teachers’ lounge, always on dubious errands. He’d ask, “Is Mr. Malloy here?” and then insinuate his head and shoulders into the room, pivoting around to take it all in—what was there, who was there, and how they were interacting. Given that teachers’ lounge was notable only for its volkswagon-sized photocopier, you’d think one visit would be enough, but this student appeared two or three times that semester.
My plan: purchase a number of horsey-head floatation rings and distribute them to the faculty gathered after lunch. Have the nosy child sent to the lounge on a planted errand, only to find the faculty gathered as at a party, all us wearing our rings and drinking Mountain Dew. When his head appeared at the door, we would turn as if we’d been caught sacrificing a chicken.
I don’t know why the Mountain Dew—the scene just came to me that way.
Another sort of person might want to execute these jokes—couldn’t resist making them practical and real—but I prefer confessing to a very small number of friends, people who won’t think less of me for being so secretly devious.
What’s more revealing, that jokes occur to me constantly or that I have the thoughts and don’t act upon them? Is it healthy or unhealthy when my answer to “Wouldn’t it be funny if…?” is always “No”?
Maybe I’m too sensitive. Maybe the practical jokers have it right. If the joke is harmless, why worry? And, as for impractical jokes, if a joke falls in the forest, and no is there to experience it…you get the idea.
My trouble is…who gets to decide “harmless”? I always have a chance of being funny, conceptually. No one—no one I can think of, anyway—will get hurt.