You’ve heard about Joel’s hard-working side. You’ve heard about his bumbling husband role. You’ve heard about how sociable he is. But you haven’t heard, unless he’s cornered you at the coffee shop, about his mischievous bent. Joel is wont to play practical jokes. And since he’s mastered the well-intentioned -- but forgetful -- guy part so convincingly, he’s ideally positioned to trick people.
The butt of his jokes might, initially, feel mild skepticism: Surely Joel can’t really think this travel-sized tube of toothpaste is Clementine’s prescription skin cream, can he? Surely, he hasn’t been applying this for the last week instead of the cream from the drugstore. And yet, the rash is still very angry . . .
“Joel, oh my gosh. That’s toothpaste! You’ve seriously been using toothpaste on Clementine’s rash instead of the prescription cream for a week?”
Joel guffaws, pulls the real cream out of his pocket, and says, “Gotcha!”
I want to point out that the fact that I believed he was using toothpaste on our daughter’s rash says more about him than it does me, but I instead, I just calmly apply the prescription.
Occasionally, Joel’s pranking backfires. One of the funniest stories he tells occurred when he was teaching and coaching at our local high school. A good-natured one-upmanship camaraderie had developed among a group of coaches with whom Joel had been working for some time.
One afternoon, Joel went into the faculty men’s room, where one might think the level of humor would rise above that of the junior high boys’ room down the hall. He noticed a pair of familiar shoes peeking out of one of the stalls, so he decided to rib his fellow teacher a little. He launched into a dramatic performance.
“Holy crap!” he moaned. “Did you die in there, man? What have you been eating? Should I call the paramedics? I feel like I’m going to barf. Jeez. You win, dude. You win.”
Expecting a smart aleck response from his buddy, he was puzzled when a long silence met what he had felt was an Emmy-worthy performance.
After the pause, Joel heard an awkward, unfamiliar voice say, “Pardon me.”
If you assumed that Joel would apologize to the stranger, who turned out to be the copier repairman, for his uncouth display, you would be wrong. Joel fled. He raced to the junior high boys’ restroom, where he could do his business, in peace, among his own kind.
To be fair, Joel has been on the receiving end of his share of pranks as well. Not too long ago, Joel locked his keys in his truck in a town about an hour away from home. Sheepishly, he walked a couple of blocks to my brother’s workplace to ask Tony if he had a coat hanger.
Tony is extremely handy and can fix just about anything, so he gladly went back to the truck with Joel, toting a couple of coat hangers. Joel took one and went to the driver’s side, and Tony went to the passenger side. Before Joel even got his wire positioned, the passenger door was open.
Tony said, “Joel, the passenger side wasn’t even locked. You got me out of a busy day at work for this?”
“Oh, man, Tony. I’m sorry. I feel really stupid. I can’t believe I didn’t try the passenger door.”
“Forget it. I needed a break from work anyway,” my brother affably replied.
On the drive home, Joel called to tell me what had happened. I chided him, concerned about his distractedness. Never one to miss an opportunity to leverage negative energy, I launched into a global assessment of Joel’s forgetful nature and suggested we get him an appointment with a neurologist. By the time he arrived home, Joel was convinced he was in the early -- no middle – stages of Alzheimer’s.
It wasn’t until several weeks later (after the neurologist had turned up nothing of concern) that Tony revealed that the passenger door, had indeed been locked. He had just popped the lock so quickly that it seemed a shame to miss an opportunity to give Joel a little of his own medicine.
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