I am a practical joker. I enjoy the practical jokes, mostly those played on others. Don’t get me wrong – I am a good sport, I’m just more of a sport when the gag is at someone else’s expense.
I have been playing practical jokes on my family since I was little. Of course, once I learned to walk and talk the jokes got easier. You can only play, “Hey Mom, guess what’s in the diaper?” so many times. And that has to be played to a very specific audience.
I love my mom. Mom was my first victim. She didn’t know she was raising a prankster at first, but after The Diaper Games she figured it out.
When I was 13-years-old my family rented a house in the mountains of New Jersey. Yes, we’re from New Jersey and yes there are mountains. It’s not just a collection of highway on-and-off ramps as most people think. New Jersey is called “The Garden State” for crying out loud! It’s on our license plates.
Speaking of pretty states with license plates, the state of Colorado’s plates used to say “Colorful Colorado”, although the plates were just white with green lettering. After vacationing in Hawaii, a Colorado congressmen saw the Hawaiian license plates which feature a full rainbow on them and (feeling outdone by the islanders) returned to the Rockies and petitioned to have their motto changed to, “Colorado: at least we don’t pay $10 for a gallon of milk.” Sadly, that fact does not fit on a 12”x6” plate, so they went with “We’ll Have Weed One Day”.
The house my family rented in NJ was on beautiful Highland Lake. It was a hunter’s home, and aptly decorated with multiple deer heads, raccoons holding up lamps and a stuffed possum on the fireplace hearth. (Sidenote: it turned out to be a real possum, playing possum, which we found out during Family Game Night two weeks later. Kudos to the possum. Seriously. Top of his class.)
Mom said the house gave her the hebbie-jebbies. Not like a “This-house-is-drafty” feeling, more like a “I-think-that-picture-is-watching-me-make-coffee” feeling. So after a few weeks, my father was encouraged to take the creatures of taxidermy out to the garage. At 2am.
Back then when my siblings and I would feel sick, Mom would want to feel our palms for clamminess and kiss our foreheads to see if we were running a fever. This was common practice. Apparently she had temperature sensors in her lips. Looking back now I think she was actually doing it for strength, kissing our heads and praying to God like, “Lawd, give me the strength not to take this one to the No Kill Shelter on Route 23.” I’m kidding of course. Mom loved us dearly and the No Kill Shelter was actually over in Hoboken, NJ. That’s a fun word to say: “Hoboken”.
“And now, welcome to the center ring – Hoboken the Clown and his Flaming Swords of Death! Watch in amazement as he…wait. What’s that? What happened? Oh, that’s too bad. I didn’t even know they were real swords. …ahem. And now, welcome to the center ring – Tonya the Bareback Rider! Watch in amazement as she…”
So one night Mom and my older sister Heather are watching TV in their PJ’s under a blanket on the couch. And I’m bored. Which is a bad combination. I’m rifling through drawers looking for pencils to journal with, when I find the most unusual paperweight. It is a deer hoof, about eight inches in length, cut off at the ankle and weighted down to about two pounds by the taxidermist. The fur is reflective and soft to the touch. The deer’s toes are out stretched and rough. Deer’s hooves are actually formed of keratin, the same material that forms our fingernails. Speaking of fingernails, my next practical joke springs to the front of my mind…
I hold the “ankle nub” of the hoof with my left hand and with my right I roll my blue flannel pajama sleeve down, covering my hand and fingers. Now, just a hoof protrudes from my shirt sleeve. I tuck my hoof and my remaining five fingers behind my back and shuffle down the hallway in my slippers, back towards the den, passed the picture that watched Mom brew coffee this morning. The time is 9:15pm.
(Can you see where this is going? I’m so excited!)
I walk into the room slowly yet purposefully, squaring myself up in front of the one that gave me birth and I try to look pale. With one eye partially closed, I make my voice soft and say, “Mom, I don’t feel so good.”
“Oh, no,” she says, silently wondering how long it takes to get to Hoboken. “Let me feel your hands.”
At 13 years old, the mind is not fully formed. Childish things are behind you, your whole life is ahead of you, yet you’re stuck in this space where you cannot define who you are. You just know who you are not.
I already knew I was never going to be a professional athlete, I knew I was not going into politics and that I didn’t like to be alone. I also knew my attention span lasted shorter than this sentence. …where was I going with this? Oh, yes.
The point is at that very moment, standing in that winter living room I realized that my calling was to bring joy into this world for others. Even though sometimes the joy I brought was only for myself.
And as my destiny in life became clear to me, I brought my arms from around my back…