I realize this must seem odd, and I suppose it was. It has something to do with an overeager teacher showing up at our door unannounced when I was in junior high, to talk to Shima about my grades. (I was bored. I had a tendency to not do homework, but the teacher knew I was smart because I always aced the tests, and wanted to convince my shima to get me to “apply myself” better. It didn’t have the effect she was hoping for. Also, teachers, unless you’ve actually met the student’s legal guardian in person, and often enough to know how he or she might react, please, please, never, ever do this. Especially not to a 60+ year old-woman with trust issues — particularly related to authority figures — which may or may not be valid. The chain reaction you might set off may be more than anyone bargained for, and quite possibly, unstoppable.)
That is just a bit of the TL;DR summary version, but I assure you it has nothing to do with running from the law. If it did, I wouldn’t be quite so nonchalant about it in such a public setting. This much just sets the stage for why I went to more schools during my secondary years than most people do in a lifetime, and why I never really bothered to make much in the way of long term relationships. Except in one case.
His name was Dark. Well, that wasn’t his real name. His first name was Robert, and his parents not only gave him the middle name Kennedy, but actually called him “RK” for the first several years of his life. I guess maybe they thought putting an extra middle name in there for the sake of being able to use the “F” was a bit too much. By the time he was in high school, Dark must have thought it was a bit much, too, and after a few weeks of trying out going by just the sound of the initials RK together, which came off more like a biblical reference or a barking seal than a name, Dark added the “D” in front, to create the handle that stuck. The real reason behind its staying power, though, was the fabulous irony behind it, the way that “Little John” refers to a giant man, or “Lucky” refers to a 3-legged, one-eyed dog with a chunk of ear missing. Dark is about the silliest, goofiest, most brightly smiling, brilliant idiot one could ever hope to meet. And I say that with the utmost fondness.
I met him the summer before my 11th grade year, which ended up being the year I spent the longest time of anywhere in school, mainly because by then, I’d learned to keep my grades up enough to stay out of trouble, and also, generally, by that time, most high school administrators are past caring, and don’t bother to get on even the most promising students about their wasted potential. But I like to think that at least some portion of it was in part due to my friendship with Dark.
We became friends instantly, mostly because Dark was friendly with anything that could hold a conversation with him, but we stayed friends because I didn’t get irritated with him for all the stunts he pulled, and actually found him funny. Dark had a tendency to otherwise wear out the patience of most people who tried to be friends with him. Me, I guess I just always expect a snake to be a snake, a fox to be a fox, and a crow to be a crow. No more, no less. Dark, I think, was probably born part Raccoon.
You probably all have that friend. You know the one. Never takes anything seriously, always up to no good, pulling pranks and playing tricks? Yeah, well, you’ve probably never met anyone quite as committed as Dark. Sure, some folks get their start when they’re young, putting rubberbands around the sprayer nozzle, saran wrap over the toilet, or tape over the shampoo bottles. Dark would never stoop to anything that simple, or mundane.
The youngest of five brothers and three sisters, Dark was a special kind of prodigy. The oldest couple of siblings had enough advanced years on him to have fortunately been out of the house for most of his upbringing, but the rest grew up never being able to forget about his “precocious” position in their household. Even his parents were not immune to his antics. His folks knew pretty early on there was something somehow “different” about him, and began making note of his unusual quirks from a very young age. When he was only 3, Dark straight up just peed right in his brother’s shoes. Sure, it was a little crude, and Dark doesn’t even remember doing it, but he happily takes credit whenever the story comes up, and says it just goes to show he came by his impish nature honestly... apparently, he was just born with it, and can’t help himself. At least, he uses this as a rationalization to justify his behavior, anyway.
I wasn’t around for the majority of Dark’s childhood, obviously, but we hung out together at his place plenty after we figured out how well we click, and his family never let him live down many of his shenanigans. They were often a frequent topic of discussion around the dinner table or just idle living room chat. Indeed, it seemed having company over was just an excuse to tell “Dark stories.” Through many of these occasions, I learned quite a bit about the young man who would come to be my best friend.
By the time he was 5, Dark was already putting blue food coloring in the family’s hand soap. At 6, he emptied out his mom’s push up deodorant and replaced it with cream cheese. His Dad used to take naps on the family sofa in the afternoon, and once when Dark was 7 years old, during one of these naps, Dark painted his Dad’s toenails with glow-in-the-dark nail polish. His Dad was pretty mad at first, but saw the humor in it, and even came to find it more amusing in the dark when he got up to go to the restroom in the middle of the night. He joked it helped him avoid stubbing his toes.
When he was 8, intent on getting the brother who was always rushing out the door in the morning, Dark “buttered” the entire linoleum floor in their kitchen. He actually got several family members with that prank. Given the time of year, they were all lucky to be wearing heavy winter padding, so no one broke any tailbones falling on their backsides, but Dark got his own hide tanned good for that one, due to the scare that someone might have been hurt. Dark never tried anything quite that physical again.
The brother who was unfortunate enough to share a room with him got his pillowcase stuffed with catnip when Dark was 9. That brother woke up screaming in the middle of the night, certain that the family cat was trying to kill him. Dark nearly passed out laughing at that incident, which he still says worked way better than he’d planned.
As Dark grew in experience and intelligence, the pranks became more sophisticated, more daring, and more fantastical. When Dark was in 4th grade, his Dad walked into the kitchen to find him holding a cup of water up to the ceiling. When Pops (my name for Dark’s Dad) asked what in blazes was going on, Dark told him it was an experiment, for science. He said he needed to record some data, but had to go get his notes, and asked Pops to take over for a moment while he grabbed the rules of the assignment. Dark handed his Dad a broom, and instructed him to please hold the cup of water against the ceiling with the broom for just a couple minutes until he got back. Then he left Pops there, holding a cup of water above his head against the ceiling on the end of a broom, and went downstairs to watch TV. After 15 minutes, Pops started hollering for Dark to get his butt back up there, and 5 minutes later, appeared in the den drenched and steaming mad. Dark said the grounding was totally worth it.
Dark learned to accept his family’s punishments pretty well. Said they were “all part of the game,” or sometimes referred to them as “the cost of doing business.” He was in the doghouse for a month when he was 11, and his oldest brother, home from college for the summer, made the mistake on a family day at the beach of falling asleep in the sun without any sunscreen on. His mother thought he was being very thoughtful when he took the sunscreen and began rubbing it on his brother. She was so proud, until her eldest son woke up a couple hours later, completely red all over his back, except in the area where Dark had used sunscreen to write “I <3 Boyz II Men.”
When he was 12, Dark offered to “help” his mom “pick up” at her outdoor party with some of her friends. He gathered up a few of her empty wine cooler bottles, filled them back up with water and food coloring, and then casually wandered in front of her guests chugging a couple at once, stopping just when he knew he’d caught her attention to “down” the rest in a double fisted action right in front of her. It took quite some convincing to keep her from calling the emergency room to have his stomach pumped. Thankfully, Dark wasn’t very good back then at picking up after himself when he was in the “prank zone,” so all the evidence that supported his story was still by the sink.
His family could never stay mad at him for long, though. I think one of the reasons Dark gets away with so much of what he does is that it really is mostly harmless. That was probably the closest he ever came to actually hurting anyone, and turns out, it was himself. You’d think that woulda put the fear of consequences over a stunt gone horribly wrong into him, but not Dark. He just kept upping the ante more, sometimes with incredible results, and occasionally, even a reward.
At 14, Dark filled the A/C ducts of his family’s station wagon with about a trash bag full of those little pieces of paper you get from a 3-hole punch, so they blew all over everything as soon as the family turned on the A/C. The only trouble he got in then was having to clean up the mess himself, but he was still finding those little buggers in the carpet and the crevices of the car several weeks later. It would not be the last time he would mess with the family ride, though.
When he was 15, and learning to drive, Dark put a Guns N’ Roses cassette in the wagon’s player, and stuck a penny underneath the tape so it couldn’t be popped out, then cranked up the volume to the top notch, and broke the knob off so it couldn’t be changed. After three days, his mom got so frustrated with having to listen to the same side of that album as loud as it could go that she gave up driving the car, and effectively passed it on to Dark, the only one in the family who liked GNR well enough to put up with it. It was on its last leg anyway, and was a decent vehicle for him to learn to drive in, so as soon as he got his license, it became his “Darkmobile,” and his Mom had an excuse to buy herself a new grocery getter.
At 17, he did something similar that netted him claim to his Dad’s pickup, by painting “El Trucko” in bright neon letters across the sides and back of Pop’s work rig. Pops woulda had him work off spending his own money to buy the paint and cover it, but he figured having the responsibility of keeping an old jalopy running was punishment enough, so he bought himself a new one, and turned the keys of “El Trucko” over to Dark, because it was past the tipping point on cost vs. value in major repairs needed. Dark learned a lot more about automotive maintenance than he’d planned or ever wanted to know as a result. Pops figured it was a good skillset to have, so it was worth the trouble. While it lasted, though, never has a teenager seemed more like a redneck than Dark did riding around in that thing. The thing practically screamed white trash — all of the ignorance, none of the manners.
And, to further the redneck image, I have no idea how he came by it, but Dark once used that pickup to dump 200 pounds of unshucked corn all over the family circle drive. Maybe he wanted to go “all in,” on the redneck front, or maybe he just wanted a reason to actually haul something in the flatbed. His Mom was pretty mad, but she was actually happy to have the corn, so she just made him shuck all of it by himself. Not willing to let the joke end there, though, Dark then filled Pop’s trunk with the husks. It was weeks before Pops discovered them. By then, it was funny all over again, because Dark had completely forgotten about doing it. I think he did get his keys taken away from him for a week that time, though.
Dark’s family members weren’t the only victims of his relentless torment, though. That’s just where he got his start in this life of questionable conduct. The best pranks he ever pulled were in a variety of environments. When we were in high school together, I witnessed a handful of these myself. Someday I’ll have to tell you about his ongoing battle with one particular teacher, Mr. Magnus. But I’ll save some of those for later, and just hit a few other high school highlights.
Some of these took extraordinary planning. And patience. Like baby powder in the sousaphones. If you’ve ever been in band, you probably know the difference between a tuba and a sousaphone. Maybe your school even used both, but, in our music program, only the tubas were used for indoor events, like concerts and musicals. But the sousaphones were a big part of the magic that happened on the field, so the brass section would expand then to include them. They came out every year during football season, or any other time the marching band was in session. Which means that this prank could have been stewing for quite some time. And, fortunately for him, it happened during a rehearsal session that was not in dress gear, or Dark might have been stuck with a handful of dry cleaning bills. That stuff is a bear to get out of polyester. There was powder everywhere. If not for a heavy rain the night before the next big game, the team might have played with it all over the kickoff zone.
Then there was the assembly. Right in the middle of the vice-principal’s speech about something no one can remember, a radio started blaring “It’s Raining Men” loud enough to drown the administrator out. Veep insisted, "Someone shut that damned music off right this instant!", but no one could figure out where it was coming from. Turned out, after having to dismiss the entire class, and spending more than forty minutes searching, the custodial team discovered there was a radio alarm clock hidden in the rafters, set to go off that day at exactly that time. The search had been compounded by the acoustics in the gym, which were such that the sound echoed back, seeming to be bouncing off of every wall. Since the VP had very publicly — in a thunderous rage on the PA system, no less — threatened to expel the culprit, not surprisingly, no one ever came forward, and Dark kept acknowledgement of his involvement limited to only his closest friends, which pretty much meant just a couple of his brothers, and me.
But my favorite, by far, was the chicken incident. Again, with the redneck theme (I suppose there were always enough of them around in that part of the world, so it was probably never too hard for Dark to use his charm in working backwoods deals with a few from time to time), Dark once released live chickens in the school at lunchtime to run amok, as part of a supposed vegetarian protest. But that wasn’t even the best part. There were only three chickens. THREE. And paint. In addition to the signage he’d placed around the cafeteria, the likes of, “Save the chickens!,” “Don’t eat poultry!,” etc., Dark had also painted each chicken with a number. Chickens 1, 2, and 4. That’s right, he left out #3. After the initial chaos, all three chickens had been rounded up in a little under an hour, but the Vice Principal spent the rest of the day trying to find Chicken #3. They even shut down a couple different wings of the school, and called animal control. In the end, it was determined that the last chicken must have escaped the premises, and had at that point become someone else’s problem. The best part, though, was the administration considered the event an actual protest, and began offering meat-free alternative options on the regular hot lunch menu. Score one for progress!
I lost track of Dark for a while after high school. He went on to college and I went on to, well, the rest of my life, I guess. But as advancements in web technology progressed, eventually we found the means to reconnect online, and have since renewed our friendship, albeit with a bit more distance between us now. We still visit each other from time to time in person, too, though. Dark has grown up in some respects. I’ve spent some time catching up on some of what he’s been doing since, and learned, he has a degree, a career, and a family now. But in other ways, he hasn’t changed a bit, because he’s still at his craziness, as shrewd as ever. Once a rascal, always a rascal, I spose. Through our communications, Dark has kept me filled in on a handful of what he calls his “greatest accomplishments.” Probably because I’m one of the few people on the planet who is still amused by them.
In college, Dark lived off campus in a kind of frat house. It wasn’t actually a fraternity, just a group of guys willing to pool their resources to avoid having to stay in the dorms. The school was local for Dark, so he could have stayed at home, but instead jumped at the opportunity, he said to get out of the house. I think it was to have a whole new set of “bros” to wreak havoc on. It started innocently enough. Emptied an entire bottle of dollar store bubble solution in the house toilet. Said the thing bubbled up nearly to overflowing every time somebody flushed for almost a week.
He picked one of his roommates to fall prey to what he referred to as the “underpants gnome” gag. It was a guy he knew slept in the nude, so he waited until he was asleep, then rounded up every last pair of the guy’s underwear and stuffed them all in the freezer. By the time dude woke up the next morning, they were all frozen stiff. The house had washer and dryer hookups, but no appliances, and the laundromat was too far away to get to before his first class, so the guy went to school that day with skivvies he’d dried out in the microwave. Dark said that made the whole thing for him. He’d expected the guy to go commando, but afterward considered renaming this particular escapade the “Toasty Buns” gag.
Dark must have loved having new people who didn’t know him well enough to be wary of his schemes. It completely opened the door for him to try out new material. Like the time he very nearly drove one of his housemates crazy. He put a couple of long lasting batteries in a small radio tuned to a mariachi station, and taped it to the bottom of the guy’s bed, just loud enough so only the “mark” could hear it, and only when he was lying down. It took him four or five days to find the thing, and in the meanwhile he started wondering if had problems with his hearing, or if a dental filling was picking up an AM signal, and in time, to even question his mental state when the rest of the house kept telling him he was nuts and hearing things. Dark got pinned down by three guys and given the mother of all birdchests for that stunt. So much he thought his “victim” was going to rub a hole in his sternum. But if not for that, Dark probably would have been laughing through the whole thing.
A lot of the guys who lived at the house either kept losing their keys, or never remembered to carry them along when headed out. Dark got tired of always reminding everyone to lock the door, so he decided to “cure” the problem. He placed an ad in the paper with their address. “Estate sale. All Day. Absolutely everything is up for grabs. Just walk on in, have a look around, make an offer on anything.” He’d bought a small footlocker to store his own valuables out of the way, but traded for everything that wasn’t nailed down, and even a few things that were. He actually sold quite a few items before he got shut down. His roomies never got into the habit of locking the front door, because well, what can you expect from lazy college kids, but at least they stopped leaving their stuff out in the common space. And, the free TV Dark got to replace the one he’d sold turned out to be nicer than the previous version. They never did replace the Sega Genesis system, though.
Eventually, Dark’s “brothers” stopped trying to fight him, and started to work with him. Spose, given enough time, most people probably find that’s the path of least resistance. Better to be on the planning side than the receiving end.
Now, Dark never drinks. Says it dulls the senses. But give most college guys enough alcohol, and they’ll go along with even the most harebrained conspiracies. Like that time Dark convinced his buddies to drag a working outhouse (who knows where he found on of those — rednecks, probably?) into the middle of a four-way stop intersection on the edge of town. I don’t know what kind of fanfare Dark had been expecting, but it actually stayed there through an entire 4-day long holiday weekend, with cars just maneuvering past it like it was the center median of a roundabout. It even got “tagged” a few times by some local graffiti artists. Dark couldn’t have been prouder, but, because all good things must come to an end, he decided to give it a proper sendoff. So on the 4th night, he and his crew snuck back to the scene of the crime and lit the thing on fire. It burned for three hours, with Dark and his mates sitting around it on lawn chairs, roasting hot dogs and marshmallows, drinking, and waiting to get arrested.
But the cops never even came by. The few people that started down that road just ended up stopping and joining the party. I guess things are pretty slow in a small college town, and folks will hang out with anybody who knows how to turn any occasion into a good time.
The professional world didn’t do anything to straighten out Dark’s mischievous streak, either. One of his first off-campus jobs was as a janitor at a local country club. Once again taking a page out of the redneck handbook, Dark decided in his second month there to do some late night “tipping” of his own, but seeing as how there weren’t any cows around, what did Dark use? Golf carts. Turned them all upside down, and scattered them all across the course.
Bolstered by some of his first “real world” earnings, Dark decided to enter the real world of adult financial responsibility, too, and marched himself straight into one of the largest family owned bank operations in town. Tried to open a savings account. With Monopoly money. Had to be dragged out by security, screaming obscenities, making legal threats, and yelling about citizen’s rights.
Once Dark had graduated into the world of the office job environment, though, one of his favorite hobbies was pulling pranks on his coworkers. You did not want to be working with Dark and get under his skin. Especially not if he has access to your cell phone number. A common theme he’s used is to place ads on Craigslist with your number in the contact section. He’s done this posing as a disgruntled parent offering a free Playstation. “My kid’s lost too many brain cells. I want this thing out of my house now!” Or a husband in the doghouse. “Free pool table, you haul. Wife says it has to go.” Even when asking for money, though, he can still test the bandwidth on your data plan. “2009 Kawasaki Ninja. Good condition, runs. Some minor repairs needed. Don’t have the time, baby’s been stored too many years. Just want it to see the sun again. $600 CASH and it’s yours.” Basically, the more effort he puts into pranking you, the more screwed you are.
Take that time one of his bosses was constantly riding him for no reason, so Dark got a friend who still worked at his old alma mater to get the kid at the radio station to broadcast an on-air spot to the entire campus that you could be entered to win $5000 just by texting your favorite song to this number. (Guess whose?) The ad ran for several weeks. His boss got so inundated with broke college kids texting him, he actually had to get a new service agreement and change his phone number. When the source was finally tracked down, the station manager just apologized, and claimed there must have been a misprint on the copy.
To Dark, finding the joy in pulling a prank does not always require him to witness the results, or even be aware that the prank has been pulled off successfully. For him, there’s enough satisfaction in just following through on the idea. Like the Swedish fish, for example. Dark once put a handful of Swedish fish in an envelope with a handwritten note that read, “Thinking of you. Thanks for the laughs. Wishing the best, hope these help. — Linda” and addressed them to a fake address, using a real return address he pulled at random off a house in some neighborhood where he was stuck at a stoplight one day. He giggles every time he imagines the look on the face of whomever lives in that house, wondering why the heck someone else would try to send Swedish fish from their home.
See, you really don’t have to be on Dark’s bad side to become his target. With Dark, unless you’re part of his “inner circle,” no one is really safe, and even then, the effects are just minimized. Mildly. Sometimes, he pulls stunts on complete strangers, just for the fun of it, because he enjoys messing with people. The first time he ever did this was at an airport. He had a 2-hour layover in Atlanta, and no cell service, so he picked a random yuppie who looked like he had, as Dark put it, “too much money, and a stick up his butt,” and paid a beautiful woman $50 to look distressed, go up to the man with tears in her eyes, hold onto his elbow, look him straight in the face and say, “Whatever you do, don’t get on the flight. The rest of your life depends on it. It’s already too late for me,” then hurry away sobbing. Dark has no idea what resulted from that encounter, but the idea of what it did to that yuppie for the rest of the day makes Dark smile every time he thinks of it.
Changes after 911 made that sort of thing no longer possible, but this particular bit of genius spawned the stream of consciousness and sequential thinking that eventually lead to the planning for what may be one of the greatest stunts ever pulled, in which I must admit, I was a more than willing participant. It required a good deal of advanced planning, and a few accomplices, myself included. One of Dark’s college mates was visiting from out of town. He’d settled in New York, in fact, where one might become used to people jostling against you, and a constant buzz of city life sounds around you as you travel throughout your day. The old chum was in town for a week, and on one of the days he was there, I also happened to be passing through, and planned to pop in on Dark and his household. When he told me about the plan, I think my reaction was pretty much, what part can I play?
As Dark chaperoned his companion about for the duration of his stay, he’d carefully coordinated three separate “encounters” in seemingly random public settings. Once, on a busy crowded street on the day he arrived, another time, at the local mall, and the third, at the airport as he was leaving to go back home. In each and every incident, Dark had persuaded three of his own friends, all of whom were complete strangers to his college colleague, to stay out of sight and observe the pair of them, Dark and his pal, then wait for a moment when Dark seemed to be on roll talking about something, walk straight up to both of them, interrupt Dark mid-sentence, take his buddy by the wrist, look straight into his eyes, and say, in the most intense voice possible, one of the three of the following lines, listed here in sequential order:
“Be careful. The trap has been set. They’re just waiting for you to fail.”
“They KNOW. It’s time. You need to wake up NOW.”
“Everyone’s in on it. Don’t trust ANYONE. You have to get OUT while you still can.”
...then the accomplice would suddenly shake his or her head as if coming out of a daze, look slightly puzzled, and move off in the opposite direction. Each time it happened, Dark, who was expecting it, would see the friend approach, and not only stop speaking mid sentence — sometimes mid-word, even — but also completely freeze, halting movement, blinks, and even breathing, to be immediately resumed as soon as the accomplice had passed. Dark always went about the rest of his statement as if nothing had happened, and every time was able to convince his companion that he hadn’t seen anything.
I also have no idea what happened as a result of that little “experiment,” but I wonder if Dark has ever fessed up about it, or if he’s going to contribute to the guy’s psychatriac care bill. I’d like to say I feel bad for the victim in this case, but in truth, I was just honored to have been in on it. An opportunity like that doesn’t come along every day, and if you get the chance to be a witness to it, you really should jump on it. There’s probably some interesting karma floating around out there with my name on it as a result, but I’m sure I’ll weather it with glee.
Sometimes, I wonder what Dark could actually accomplish if he really put his mind to using his powers for good. I fear the world may never know. Everything I’ve shared in this post has actually been written with Dark’s permission. In fact, he was not only so inspired by this endeavor for me to tell my stories here, but also so pleased to be featured in it, that he says he even took advantage of the opportunity to create an LJ account of his own. I haven’t seen it online yet, so I don’t know how disciplined he’ll be about keeping up with it, but maybe we’ll see him around again from time to time, and perhaps even get a few more “Dark tales” direct from the source himself. His only caveat was to request that I not use his last name, which I can respect. But if you should ever come across a rather jovial fellow who goes by the nickname “Dark,” let’s hope you have a sense of humor, or else you might want to grow a thick skin, and watch your back!
Moar Storeez!: All of the Ignorance, None of the Manners
i can haz votes, pleez?