Anatomy of a Prank
People have asked for it. This is the prank that went down on Friday at Big Pete's in Eureka, California, home of wildfires and 215 cards. Before I get into the prank, let me explain how I view pranks. Some of you may know this. Some may not.
A good prank is like a work of subversive art. When done properly it can change/alter someone's reality either temporarily or for good. I'm not talking about the kind of prank where you send some unwanted pizzas to some cad's house. I'm talking about ones that border on the surreal.
A good prank has a bit of planning and a lot of improvisation. You have to be able to improvise on the fly because you never know what the mark will do. If you can't improvise, you probably can't pull off a good prank. I have gotten good at this. Some would say very good.
My supervisor, Dayna, had a friend coming into town. We will call the friend Jennifer. I suggested she take Jennifer to Big Pete's. Now, I wanted to meet Jennifer because I know how much Dayna likes her. I wasn't invited, but when I suggested I do something really kind of strange to introduce myself, Dayna was down with it. I asked the usual questions in a case like this. What is her temperment? Will I be stabbed? Dayna didn't know what I was planning, which was fine. She had a slight idea, but nothing concrete. I, on the other hand, got into character on the way to the pizza place. I had a few scenarios in mind, figuring I'd choose one at the last moment.
I arrived to Big Pete's first. The people there know me fairly well, so I told them that if my co-worker came in not to let on that I was there. They assured me they wouldn't. I ordered my slices, grabbed a knife and a copy of the North Coast Journal and waited.
The ladies soon arrived. I didn't look at them, but I wanted to make sure to make an impression in case Jennifer looked my way, so as I read something I kind of giggled to myself a little bit. She claims she never heard it, which is fine, but I like to establish things early.
I finished my pizza as they took their seats at a booth far from mine. Dayna didn't know where she was supposed to sit, which was fine. I had ideas for all possibilities.
"Dayna?" one of the staff called out.
"Over here," Dayna replied. The pizza was brought over.
I gave them a few minutes. Enough time for Jennifer to take in the atmosphere and enjoy a few bites. I wanted her comfortable, though I knew Dayna wouldn't be.
I put my dirty plate away, grabbed my Coke and wrapped my knife in the free weekly paper. I made my way to their table.
"Which one of you is Dayna?" I asked. I may have said that I heard the waitress say it. I don't remember.
They both looked at me. Jennifer did not look amused.
"Me," Dayna answered.
"Good," I said. "May I sit here?" I asked as I just sat down.
I placed my cup down, put the knife down with the paper over it. Jennifer had stopped eating.
There were two more slices on a plate near me. I looked at them. So did Jennifer. I almost picked a piece of pepperoni off one, but the time wasn't right. I was going to get weird, but it would be a gradual weird. One thing I was definitely going to say (because I thought it was a great line) was, "I have a room at the Red Lion. It's got two beds. I have a camera. I like to take pictures where I make the girls look like they are sleeping." I never got the chance.
It was silent. Nobody ate.
"Go ahead and eat," I instructed. "I don't want to interrupt you."
Jennifer's face turned into a mixture of anger, disturbance and maybe a possible hint of perplexing fear. At this point Dayna burst out laughing. The prank never went anywhere, though Jennifer seemed glad I wasn't there to do anything too odd.
While talking about the prank later, Jennifer said two things that I thought were interesting. As an aside, she apparently never saw the knife, which I was going to use to do a twisted game of spin the bottle later.
Jennifer said that at first she thought I was one of those mumbler guys that seem attracted to Dayna, which led me to believe that maybe she subconsciously heard the giggling.
The other thing she said struck me as incredible, because I had heard this before. She said what sold her on the fact that the prank was real is that I was carrying the paper. For some reason, paper tricks people into buying whatever reality you are selling.
Years ago I did a prank where I pretended to be a lawyer for a client that was suing the mark for $5,000. As I read the complaints against the mark, I shuffled some papers near the phone so he could hear them. That night my friend encountered him and the mark said he was going to kill himself, so I called him back to say it was all a prank.
"You're just saying that so I don't kill myself," he told me.
"No, I'm serious."
"It was real, Doug. I heard papers."
Paper lends an air of authority to a prank. I don't know why, but I will be exploring this more. I think paper gives whatever you are doing an agenda, and people automatically fill in the blanks as to what that paper means.
Jennifer's observance of the paper was what caused her reality to shift totally. It wasn't something I planned, but it worked. Had Dayna not blown it by laughing, the prank could've taken all kinds of routes. I didn't want to ruin the woman's short vacation, but I would have given her an even better story to take home. As it were, the movie ended early and her reality is back to normal.
I left the table after an hour or so, excusing myself so the ladies could enjoy their company. In the end it was probably best the prank didn't go further. After all, she was staying at Dayna's the next few nights. If things would have went south (I had briefly envisioned getting shot like Greedo), it could've ruined a good trip.
Never underestimate the power of a good prank. It's the one thing that can totally level the playing field. There are no laws against them because how do you write a law that could even hope to cover it? And how could you stop it? How would you even know it's a prank?
Enjoy the day.