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“Higher Mischief”

September 2, 2007

My freshman year at Furman, I roomed with a friend from Spartanburg. Two nice guys lived in the room next to us, one from Charleston, the other Pennsylvania.

 Still early in the Viet Nam War, Army Reserved Officer Training Corps was a required course for freshman and sophomore men. All but the slackers among us went weekly to the armory to clean our M-1 rifles.  Sunday evenings, during mandatory study hours, the Gung ho! among us polished brass and spit-shined shoes in preparation for the required ROTC drill Monday afternoon.

 One Monday, two hours before drill, the nice guy from Charleston asked my roommate to awaken him in one hour.  Seems the poor fellow had decided to add studying to his regular spit-and-polish routine the previous night.  He was tired and not easily roused from his afternoon nap.  Our attempts to comply with his request escalated from gentleness to firmness, from cajoling to jostling. 

Finally my roommate asked, “Have you seen those old movies where the beds fold up into the wall?”  The sleeper’s eyes popped opened, but too late.  We seized the foot of his bed turning it up against the wall.  He was pinned, head down, screaming in protest. 

He was late to drill. Never again did he ask us to serve as substitutes for his alarm clock. 

Most alums have memories of simple pranks that ended with a smile and no harm done.  Perhaps aluminum cans were stacked in a pyramid in a dorm room doorframe, which was then sealed on the hall side with newspaper and masking tape.  When the unsuspecting occupants opened the door from the inside, the resulting vacuum sucked flying cans into the room. 

A stud wannabe finally got a date with the girl of his dreams.  When he completed his pre-date shower, he discovered that all of his clothes had been removed from the closet and dresser drawers.  He was left with only the smelly sweats he discarded before the shower.  The pranksters had hidden his clothes in his car, relocated the auto to the other side of campus, and locked his keys inside the vehicle.

Freshmen quickly learn the joy of well-planned mischief. Brother and sister halls are supposed to encourage mixing and mingling.  Sheets of fiberglass sealed with silicone caulking can convert a communal shower into a coed hot tub.  Balloons filled with shaving cream and water, become weapons of attack when sibling halls scrimmage.

  At a university in our state, freshmen men made an assault on their sister hall.  The well-coordinated scheme included Cheez Whiz squirted into the door locks, Vaseline spread on the doorknobs, powdered Kool-Aid hidden in the showerheads, and clear Karo corn syrup poured on the toilet seats.  The sister hall made a peace offering of delicious chocolate brownies…laced with Ex-Lax.       

Two teammates on the debate squad at a southern college were bright students and master pranksters. On a January night, one of the debaters waded into the shallows of a nearby lake.  He snatched a sleeping mallard and stuffed her into a gym bag for her trip to the dorm.  The duck was released into the room of the guys sleeping across the hall.  The distressed duck found another roosting place, an open book bag.  When the students awoke the next morning, their room was…well… just ducky. 

In time, the debate team jokers, now roommates, turned their cleverness against each other.  Deciding to have the last laugh, the junior plotted against the senior.  One hour before graduation, the senior walked down the hall to take a shower before meeting his parents for commencement.  The junior lifted his best friend’s clothing and towel from the communal bath, locked them in their dorm room, thereby leaving his roommate stranded.  Discovering the heist, the senior wrapped himself in a shower curtain and called campus security.  The officer opened the room door.  The senior barely made it to graduation.  His friend congratulated him on his accomplishment.  The new graduate commended his roomy on getting the last laugh.

            As summer progressed, the junior awaited his grades.  They did not come.  He called the registrar’s office to inquire.  His was told that he would not receive his grades until he cleared up a serious matter with the library.  It seems that on graduation day, fifty books of random titles had been checked out in his name.  He could not receive his grades until the overdue books were returned and all fines had been paid.   It turned out the friend who graduated had been employed as a student assistant in the library.  Just before he left campus, the new graduate had checked out the fifty books in his roommate’s name, then reshelved them all in odd places throughout the library.  It took the rising senior most of the summer to resolve the mess.  The graduate had the last laugh after all.

Most graduates treasure these memories of splendid social deviance.  One mother of three college students remarked after hearing a litany of mischief, “And these are the smart kids!” 

Pranks not only provide temporary stress relief for students, they also present the university with a challenge to find new ways to channel this creative energy.  With apologies to campus security and to housekeeping and to the administrative types who are duty-bound to publicly deplore such nonsense, I submit that wherever keen minds are convened, wherever fun-loving people are gathered, the potential for mischief is afoot. 


-Kirk H. Neely © H-J Weekly, September 2007

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