Monday, February 23, 2015

The Perfect Prank

It was the spring semester of my senior year—the capstone of an enjoyable (as well as educational) four years at the University of Charleston. After spending the fall semester working as an intern on Capitol Hill in Washington, I was living those last collegiate months in the top floor of Benedum Hall, in a single room with a beautiful view of the West Virginia Capitol Dome.

As winter relaxed its icy grip, many of us (especially those of us with “senioritus”) were eager for spring break—just to relax from our studies and have some fun. In that era, not everyone disappeared for spring break, either because of lack of money to go back home (much less somewhere exotic, as many students today seem to do), or due to athletic team commitments, or just because we enjoyed being at our school.

There was a freshman who lived in our section of the dorm. He was basically a nice guy, but also someone who liked to kid around a lot (as well as talk a lot), and his nickname was “McChicken.” When he went home for spring break, some of us got together to pull off an epic prank that became a legend.

For some reason (notice that I did not use the word “unknown”), the key to his dorm room was available. It was decided to do something special for McChicken—a group project in which those of us staying on-campus over the week could participate. We came up with the idea to fill his room with wadded-up newspaper pages. It would be hilarious but harmless.

First, all electrical items such as lamps and the clock radio were unplugged—we certainly didn’t want to fill the room with tinder and then have a short circuit or some other calamity accidentally burn down the dorm! Then we started work gathering newspapers (e.g., some students were required to subscribe to the Wall Street Journal for business classes). We’d meet periodically in his dorm room and simply wad up the pages before tossing them towards the back of the room.

It wasn’t long before we had expended what newspapers we could find on campus. At that point, one guy who had a huge, early-1970s Chrysler Imperial (with trunk space large enough for the Mafia to carry numerous bodies) took some of us through the residential areas of Charleston, going door-to-door claiming that we were doing a recycling project and asking if we could take their newspapers off their hands. It was amazing how many folks were eager to contribute to this worthy project as we filled that Chrysler’s trunk!

With the supply of paper replenished, we were able to keep ahead of the wadding process. A party-like atmosphere soon grew around these nightly efforts (the attached picture shows a few of the participants about halfway into the process). It would surprise you how long it takes to fill a dorm room from wall-to-wall, from ceiling-to-floor, and from the window at the back to the final few inches next to the door. The last paper wads were forced through the narrow gap between the door and the door frame. We had succeeded in packing the entire room—all of the interior volume—with newspapers!

McChicken (I think the nickname had to do with his love for fast food from McDonalds, because he was not a timid, fearful person) had not returned from spring break over the weekend, but instead had waited until Monday morning to arrive. Given the number of students who participated in this stunt, as well as its audacity, it was hard to keep it secret.

Although I purposely tried to avoid seeing him that day, from what I heard he soon became suspicious because of the way people were reacting to his arrival. Despite his concerns, he had little idea what awaited him when he put the Schalge key into the knob of his dorm room door!

He had to use some force just to get it open far enough to see the problem. Even then, at first he couldn’t fathom that the wads of newspapers extended throughout his entire room. I was over in Riggleman Hall, innocently attending class when this happened, so I wasn’t there to see the initial reaction, but I remember hearing that he was impressed with our efforts. He was a good sport about the whole thing!

Eventually, with the help of push brooms, all those newspapers were swept down to the very end of the section hallway, beyond the side staircase. When I finally arrived at the dorm, the gigantic pile of newspapers had become a landing zone. Guys were running full-blast down the hallway, and hurling themselves into the forgiving newspapers, which were sloped at a 45 degree angle against the end of the hallway.

The best part was that if you were careful when getting up—extricating yourself just right—you would leave an exact imprint of how your body landed in the paper pile. Fortunately, I got a few turns at jumping into the pile—it was awesome! No one had anticipated that extra benefit when we had concocted the crazy idea of filling his room. It was a good example of a serendipitous result.

It seems to me that this was the perfect college prank. It involved lots of reading material, required community interaction, inspired our curiosity, and even provided some exercise activity—and yet this is just one of many treasured memories from my college days!

[If you have any connection to the University of Charleston, I would like to invite you to attend the “Close the King” celebration at UC’s Eddie King Gym this coming Saturday, February 28. Many of us will gather there that day to reminisce over beloved stories such as this one from our college years. It will be awesome, too!]

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