It was the Summer of 1968, the world was changing at a rapid pace, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed in early April, Robert Kennedy was shot and killed in June. The War in Viet Nam raged on, while the Chicago Democratic National Convention brought it's own chaos in the streets in August, and Old Man Daley had his hands full as Mayor of Chicago.
That year I had graduated from eighth grade in June and was enjoying the summer of my thirteenth year before beginning a new adventure called high school. I had turned thirteen in late March and graduated as a thirteen-year-old (having skipped the 1st grade due to my brilliance, or perhaps the fact I could use a crayon better than most children my age). Having always been the “youngest” in my class I excelled in school up until about fourth grade, then in an attempt to “prove myself” to the older kids, I honed my skills as “class clown,” and perhaps becoming one for a bit more over the edge behavior.
I had a pretty good track record of not getting caught in my school and out of school antics. My folks we aware of this, and planned to send me to a private high school in the fall, "because they didn't like the crowd I was hanging with, and they were a bad influence on me.” Needless to say, and I admitted it not only to myself, but to them later in life, admitting that I was the “peer pressure” and strangely, that followed me into much of my 20's and early 30's, during my “lost years” of drinking and drug use.
So that summer of '68 with the transistor radios blasting the Top 40 songs on WLS and WCFL AM in Chicago, I set out to make it a memorable “final fling” with my closest grade school buddies. We had a pretty good “crew” and being the ringleader, I found all sorts of "adventures" for us to get into. Some were merely, going to E.J. Korvette (or also known as Korvette's) and grabbing a few dry cell flashlights and shining them into the security cameras (you could see the monitors go black) while stuffing record albums into some oversize clothing (they had an amazing record department that I have never seen the likes of ever again in a department store).
Who would ever suspect our “diminutive friend” (he was small for his age and therefore more unsuspecting) dressed in a long winter coat in mid July, with LP's crammed under his armpits, walking out the doors, his arms tightly at his side while another friend and myself flanked him on each side? We pulled that tactic off for quite some time, and I still have some of that precious vinyl in my vast record collection.
It was about that time damn near everyone on every block had at bare minimum a 4' x 18' above ground swimming pool (usually 4’ x 24' was the “cool” size, as our family had, but my Dad opted for the expandable liner and dug it out to about 6 1/2' at the “deep” end. That being said, a lot of the neighborhood kids had "camp outs" in backyard tents and would go hopping over fences at about two in the morning from yard to yard and pool to pool. It became our ritual. Instead of sleeping in tents, we would stay at my “diminutive” friend’s garage (his brother was in the service, his sister was always out with some “new guy of the moment.” His parents long divorced, and his mom was busy working two jobs to support the family. That made for perfect unsupervised all nighters.
These “campouts” occurred a few times a week that summer. Late at night we would creep around the neighborhood all night getting into shit, usually fueled by a few bottles of my Dad's beer I stuffed into my pillowcase before trekking across the street and two houses down to our “headquarters” in that funky two car garage. We'd smoke cigarettes, we'd acquired and have a few beers and then head out into the night. On these nightly journeys, we noticed a few unlocked garages (and later we made our way into them more forcibly). It began as just messing shit up in there, then stealing spray pant or anything we could get our hands on. After a while I got the idea of maybe swiping a bicycle here and there, taking it back to the garage, taking them apart and swapping various parts from one to another, spray painting them and later taking them out on the streets. It was our own little “chop shop” of sorts.
We were having a blast that summer, just doing goofy shit and staying one step ahead of the law.
That seemed to be threatened one morning as the one neighbor (recently divorced) was a railroad cop. He cornered us one morning and told us he knew what we were up to and that we wouldn’t want him “investigating” our “crimes.” This may have been my first encounter with “the badge amplifying the asshole.” This guy was some low-life railroad cop who suddenly thought he was Dirty Harry Callahan. We took a few nights off that week, but I was pissed and began to plot something.
Hanging out in the pool one afternoon at the house next door to “Dirty Harry,” the idea for my greatest prank ever came to me like a gift from the Gods!
“Harry” had one of those “in the door” mail slots, which was not in a storm door. His mail slot, in that heavy wooden front door with a window above it, deposited his mail right into the foyer off the living room. Thus began the personal quest for what still may have been my best “prank” (and calling it a “prank” is really sugar coating it) ever.
Harry had about 50 feet of green garden hose coiled up neatly on the wall of the house behind some bushes off to the side of that wooden front door. Now my brain was racing wildly, as I knew what had to be done. During our "campouts" we knew "Harry" left for work about 6:30am and worked a lot of 12 hour shifts, which had him returning home well after 8pm. It was to be. We planned a "campout" and right on schedule "Harry" left for work the next morning. The bushes provided us great cover and my two buddies served as lookouts.
I tested the hose and made sure that tapered, cylindrical nozzle was turned to a nice fan spray and fed it through the mail slot, into the foyer and kept feeding it until I could see it in the early dawn light damn near in the center of his living room. Perfect. I gave the signal to turn on the hose and it was a thing of beauty (to me at least) as I jiggled the hose around for maximum effect. We then just went about our day, doing what we did as it was a scorcher that day, we swam, rode bikes and hung out.
We weren't too close when "Harry" arrived home that evening, but from our vantage point a few houses across and down the street, we knew he was "surprised." We didn't "campout" that night, but all went home to our own beds. The next morning (and subsequent mornings for that matter) we began to see the piles of waterlogged belongings start piling up by the curb.
Chairs, a sofa, a table, followed by rolled up carpeting, a few paintings, a TV, some stereo equipment...it was like seeing the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina many decades later (I think I did have a few flashbacks when seeing that carnage on the news). But the strangest thing was we never got called on it.
It was like some weird unspoken silence, and soon after that “Harry” moved. Hell, the water bill alone that day probably broke the poor bastard. I did feel bad a few years later, and especially when I became a homeowner and thought, if some little bastards did that to me, they would have a better chance of finding Jimmy Hoffa.
A few years ago, when my Dad was battling his cancer, we all sat at the table at his house (which was to be his last Thanksgiving and started telling stories. it was then, in November of 2008, 40 years later, I told that story. My dad chuckled as he would and said "You know, I always had a feeling you had something to do with that.”
Thank God for the Statute of Limitations.
I proceeded to go to that different High School that Fall (while my "partners in crime" attended the larger public high school.) I walked into a school of 1500 kids, not knowing a soul, and made a personal vow to myself, that in four years, everyone will know of me, and it most likely wouldn’t be from my academic skills. It’s another story for another time, but let me just say that there was never another senior trip after my class of 1972 and the fury we unleashed on Washington D.C. (I ruined it for my sister and my brother, who followed a few years later with academic skills.) Those four days almost cost me graduation and could have brought felony charges against me. My folks knew about that one immediately, and didn't have to wait a few decades at a family dinner.
There were a few more “fun filled adventures” that summer, but none quite as heinous and memorable as that water-logged prank, which may remain my “Tour De Force.” It's no wonder a few years later, I howled at the antics of O.C. and Stiggs while reading National Lampoon. I like to think I may have even served as “inspiration” of sorts.