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If thirty-five years in radio broadcasting didn’t teach me anything else, I sure learned how to pull pranks and practical jokes. There is a code of ethics in pranking; it’s only funny if no one gets hurt, and if you’re going to dish it out – you have to be able to take it, as well.
Mark Denny was our news man at that time. He was a nice guy; well informed, polite, and maybe a little bit bashful in those days. Mark was a bachelor, and I used to give him a bad time for eating out every day. “Don’t you ever eat at home?”
“Nope,” Mark replied, taking a bite of his sandwich, “Only if all the restaurants are closed.”
Our FM studio and newsroom were separated by a large glass window, double paned to keep sound from transferring. Mark had just finished reading the eight-o-clock news. Bill Bishop was our morning announcer at the time. After the news, I would join Bill from the newsroom desk for our “Morning Show.” The morning show in those days only ran twenty-five minutes.
I had a large coffee mug that I made in a ceramics class. It was white with a black lightning bolt on the side. It read, “Mr. Cool,” from the Snoopy cartoons. But I messed up when I painted the cup. Snoopy’s character was “Joe Cool.” Not Mr. Cool.
I filled the cup with java, but forgot it by the coffee machine. No problem, I needed to run to my office for some show material, and grabbed the cup while I was there. As I was coming back, Bill started the bumper music for the Morning Show, and I took my seat in the newsroom. I adjusted the microphone and was ready to go. Bill opened the show, “Good morning, everyone…”
Bill and I shared a little chit chat, then he rolled into the first story. By now, my coffee had time to cool a bit. I could tell from the feel of my coffee cup, the beverage was the perfect temperature. I took a good size gulp of coffee. HOLY THUNDER BUCKETS! WHAT IS THIS?
There was so much salt in my coffee, my mouth was burning. At the same time, I nearly gagged on the sickening amount of sugar that was added into the mix. I desperately needed to cough, but couldn’t with the liquid in my mouth.
There was no time to hit the “cough button” that would have cut off my mic. I pressed my lips together as tight as I could. Unsuccessfully trying to suppress the cough, coffee shot out my nose, all over my papers in front of me. I could no longer contain the pressure. A cough and sneeze happened simultaneously. Coffee projected from my face, all over the glass window in front of me.
On the other side of the glass, Bill and Mark nearly died, rolling with laughter. Mark literally had tears rolling down his cheeks from behind his glasses. I had been wondering why Mark was hanging out in the FM studio with Bill.
The window, the desk, my face and shirt were all covered with a brown spray. It was a mess! After a raging fit of coughing, and trying to clear coffee from my airway, I told Bill we needed to take a break. Through his laughter, he said, “Well, Tom, we’re not scheduled to take a break yet.” He and Mark shared more laughter. Finally, Bill announced, “We’ll be right back after these important messages.”
Bill and Mark came to the newsroom, still laughing. “What’s the problem in here,” Bill asked with innocent curiosity? I reached inside Mark’s desk drawer and grabbed some napkins.
Mark always had a stash of napkins, plastic tableware, and straws; packets of salt and pepper, parmesan cheese and hot peppers. There was catsup, mustard, and mayo; taco, BBQ, soy sauce, sweet and sour sauce, and every condiment you can imagine, in his desk drawer. I think there may have even been an old hamburger in there. “A man never knows when they’ll forget to put something in your bag at the drive-up,” Mark would reason. With a wad of napkins, I attempted to clean my shirt, the window and desktop.
Now this was a good prank; no one got hurt and the coffee stains would probably come out of my shirt in the laundry. Bill adamantly swore he had nothing to do with it. “So, this was all you, Mark?” Mark was too innocent to pull a prank on anyone, let alone his boss.
Mark tried to compose himself, then said in a dry tone of voice, “I thought that was funny. Don’t you think that was funny Mr. Palen.”
“It was a riot,” I said, dabbing coffee off my shirt. “Now go rinse out my cup and get me a fresh cup of coffee; hold the sugar and salt this time.”
Mark refused. “It’s not in my job description to wait on you, or go get your coffee.”
“It’s not in you job description to sabotage my coffee either,” I told him. “Now come on, we have to get back on the air, go get me a cup of coffee.”
Mark refused, “Why should I go get your coffee?”
“Because you ruined my coffee,” I justified. Mark still refused, claiming I had no proof that he did it; at least no proof that would hold up in court.
However, Mark was willing to negotiate, “If I go refill your cup, will you buy a Mountain Dew for me?”
“No, I’m not going to buy you a bottle of pop. I didn’t do anything to your Dew.” Mark stood firm on his decision.
Anyone who has ever worked in radio, knows the importance of having a beverage with you when you’re on the air. “Fine,” I said. “I’ll get my own coffee,” then reminded Mark, “But remember what they say about paybacks!”
I went to the back of building, and got a fresh cup of coffee. I noticed more than a dozen empty salt and sugar packets in the trash can. I looked a little closer, “He put five packs of soy sauce in my coffee, too?” Revenge would be mine.
The morning show ended at eight-thirty, the same time Mark had to be on the AM station to host the Buy, Sell, and Trade Show. With only thirty minutes to orchestrate my own gag, I had to work fast, and that I did.
With just a few minutes left in the show, Bill rushed into the AM studio, giving Mark the time out signal. Mark started a commercial. “Don’t waste anytime wrapping up the show,” Bill said. “There’s a fire at the high school and you need to get up there right away to cover it.”
Mark dismissed the incident, “It’s probably just some smart aleck kid that pulled a fire alarm. It happens all the time.”
Bill reassured him, “No, it’s real. I checked it out. The fire started in the basement and has already spread to the third floor. The whole building has been evacuated. I’ll have the equipment ready when you wrap up.”
Mark quickly closed the Buy, Sell and Trade show. Bill met him in the studio doorway with the cell phone. (An original Motorola bag phone.) “Get going man, we’ll simulcast your reports on both stations.” Mark, took the phone, ran to the newsroom for keys, then out the front door, taking the twenty-seven steps down, two or three at a time. Bill and I ran to the FM studio to watch out the front window.
Mark’s truck was parked right outside the front door; a bronze-colored Nissan pickup with a topper on the back. Mark jumped in the truck and started the engine. We could hear him revving his motor, and slipping the clutch, but his truck wouldn’t move. He tried in reverse; no luck. He stepped out of the truck for a moment, then got back in and tried again. Still nothing.
An elderly lady was watching the spectacle from across the street. Trying to be helpful, she pointed to the back of his truck. We could easily read her lips as she said, “There’s something under your back wheels.”
Mark stepped out to the middle of Main Street, bent down and looked under his truck. He stood up, looking up to the FM studio window where Bill and I (along with the rest of the staff) were watching and busting up laughing. Mark just shook his head. I smiled as I held up my Mr. Cool coffee cup in my right hand, and pointed to it with my left index finger.
Mark came back upstairs. “Very funny, Mr. Palen. Now go take my truck off those jack stands.”
I could only remind Mark, “You don’t have any proof that I did it – at least no proof that will hold up in court.” I smiled with a vengeful, ornery grin. Then offered, “I’ll take your truck off the jack stands if you’ll go get me a cup of coffee.” Mark refused, and so did I.
Mark’s truck sat on the street all day. Marge the meter-maid, started putting parking tickets under his windshield wiper at ten-o-clock; adding another ticket every hour until five-pm. The next morning, Mark’s truck was still there on the jack stands, drawing another ticket each hour from ten to five.
The following morning, Mark’s truck was off the stands, and parked on the other side of Main Street. I suppose he parked there to keep watch on his truck in case another vandal, or prankster should return.
The jokes had ended, or so I thought. Later that day I asked Mark for the jack stands. “Jack stands,” he replied innocently, “What jack stands?”
“Come on Mark,” I explained, “I have to return those to Goodyear.”
Mark insisted, “I have no knowledge of any jack stands, but if you buy a Mountain Dew for me, I might do some investigative work to see if I can help you locate your jack stands.”
“Never,” I declared!
A few days later, I asked Mark again for the jack stands. Once again, he denied knowing their whereabouts, then asked if I wanted to buy a bottle of pop for him. I went to Goodyear, confessing to Gary that I wasn’t going to get the equipment back that I had borrowed for the prank. These were commercial grade jack stands, that cost a hundred bucks a set. I told Gary I would pay for the jack stands out of my next paycheck.
When I went in to pay Gary, he asked, “What about the floor jack?” He said Mark had borrowed a two-hundred-dollar floor jack to get his truck off the stands, but never returned the jack.
“Man, this prank is getting expensive.” I said, then told Gary I would pay for the floor jack from my next two paychecks. “I would rather buy a new floor jack for you, than to cave in and buy Mark a twenty-five-cent bottle of pop.
Gary started laughing as he handed my check back to me. “Mark brought the floor jack and stands back the same day he borrowed them,” Gary admitted. “He asked me to play along with it to see you squirm.” Hmm.
The next morning, Mark and I called for a truce. I bought a Mountain Dew for him, and he brought me a cup of coffee. I took a skeptical sip of the coffee. “Just as I suspected,” I said, “That rat fink salted my coffee again!”
From the AM studio, I heard Mark coughing, “What the heck? Palen!”
As if Mountain Dew didn’t already have enough sugar.