Monday, December 13, 2010

Pranks are like Art Direction

Subtlety is the key.

I've tried many pranks and succeeded with a few.  Every success hinged on a subtle detail being changed to manipulate something over time.

For example, changing an answering machine greeting.  You don't pick up on it until someone says something.  Perfect set up.  So, when I was in Wheaton College, a Christian Liberal Arts college; I lived in an all-male dorm for my freshman year.  With so many sexually repressed students, shock value was easy to come by.  How does this play into an answering machine message?

Here's the set-up. After a day in college, I realized my cordless phone (this term already feels archaic, wow) worked as a portable speakerphone.  So, I could call gay sex lines and project their pre-recorded messages into the general public.  This was fun for about two minutes tops.  Then, I realized it was easy to change everyone's answering machine within the working radius of my cordless phone.  Put the pieces together ... and, voila: a new favorite freshman prank.

Did I run around and change everyone's answering machine into a gay sex line?  No.

I picked a victim.  His name was Brian.  He was tall and once gangly but filled out by the start of college.  His voice was a cross between Ernie from Sesamee Street and Gomer Pyle from the Andy Griffith Show.  He was a premature dad as in his humor was at the dad joke level, but his maturity wasn't.  Bad, awkward combo. 

I'd give examples but the only one which comes to mind is him joking that his favorite part about sleeping on the lower bunk of a bunk bed was having the underside of the top bunk serve as an ejaculatory target.  Was he joking? I don't know ... all of us were afraid to swipe a black light and find out the truth.. let alone if his range was as great as he graphically depicted.

The prank. How did it happen and why Brian?  I targeted him once I discovered what my portable phone could do.  I think we can all agree he was overdue for a prank by this point.  So, he got one. Two months into the school year, Brian left for two days which gave me ample time to do a recording session and figure out how to make the speaker sound as natural as possible.  After a series of attempts, I had a perfect recording. Seriously, with the natural distortion of a landline phone, it sounded like you were calling a flamboyantly gay college kid who was hustling his landline as a sex chat for extra cash.

Once Brian returned from his trip, life went on.  He, big surprise, didn't get many phone calls let alone voicemails.  But, he was competing for a highly sought after internship at a church affiliated summer camp.  Part of this application process was a phone interview.  This phone interview happened to fall within the same week that his grandmother made her annual call to check in and see how her favorite grandson was doing.  Two voicemails, the only voicemails he got all semester... both in the same week.

This was a dramatic detail, yes.  But, the beauty of it was it made Brian realize his phone line had been a sex chat line for the past month and lab partners or theology study buddies who called him were confused and appalled for reasons unbeknownst to him... until he got his two voicemails.  Yes, a pastor looking to hire him to be a head counselor of kids at a christian summer camp heard the message.  And yes, his grandmother called and presumably heard what she thought was her grandson hosting a sex chat.

The reaction was memorable.  On a Tuesday evening, anger in the awkward form of one-hundred and seventy eight pounds splotched about a six foot two-inch frame paraded into my dorm room holding a phone console high in the air.  "What the fuck Grim."

He had to explain his gay chat line that he allegedly had nothing to do with to both his employer for the summer who he checked in with everyday for the entire summer as a measure of accountability.  And, he had to convince his grandmother he wasn't hosting a gay sex chat.

Luckily, he cracked up about it because the recording was ridiculous enough.  To this day, it's the only time I've heard him drop an F bomb.

Subtle changes make for the best pranks. Remember that.


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