I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Dinner is my favorite time of the day. I don’t know if it’s because we rarely ate together as a family when I was a kid, or because the various tidbits my kids choose to share always seem more hilarious when we’re all seated around the table, but whatever the reason, the best conversations are punctuated with the clatter of silverware and someone slurping their milk.
The daily ups and downs with a nearly-teen seem suspended at the table, too. No matter how rotten Chickadee’s been in other respects (hint: I love that kid more than chocolate but EGADS can she be rotten), the nightly meal is generally a neutral zone. Children who were too busy or too angry to chat earlier in the day find that eating loosens their lips and tongues and minds; some of our very best conversations happen between “please set the table” and “it’s your night to do dishes.”
So a few nights ago Chickadee asked us what the heck Prince Albert in a can is. I actually had to look it up after dinner, because although I knew the joke, I didn’t actually know what it was. This, naturally, led to a discussion about prank phone calls.
Chickadee assured us that she would NEVER, and Otto and I said THAT’S RIGHT, YOU WON’T, and like the old fogies we are, we explained that back in our day, dinosaurs roamed the earth and there was no such thing as Caller ID. This led to Monkey suggesting that “You could just find one of those telephone stations to use now” and after some initial confusion we realized that phone booths are now so archaic, he honestly believes they’re called “telephone stations.” That was good for quite a bit of giggling before we told him to get off our lawn.
So we made sure to go over the finer points of EVERY PHONE SHOWS UP ON CALLER ID, WHICH EVERYONE HAS and CALL TRACING IS VERY EASY TO DO, and Chickadee rolled her eyes and said that crank calls were just, you know, something she’d seen on TV, or on YouTube, and besides, she didn’t know any good jokes.
With a small grin she offered: “The only one I saw that was kind of funny was someone calls up and asks for Mr. Wall, and the person says they have the wrong number, so they ask for Mrs. Wall, and the person says they have the wrong number, so then they say ‘Well do you have ANY walls there?’ and when the person says no, they tell them they better get out of the house before the roof falls on them!”
We all agreed that with material like that, it was best that she stay out of the prank phone call business regardless of traceability.
And then, the inevitable question: Had we ever made crank calls as kids? Otto, of course, suddenly saw something very interesting in the middle of his plate—he is reluctant to give the kids any ideas—but I felt fairly confident that we’d driven the point home that crank calling nowadays is impossible to pull off, so I said, “Oh, sure, we used to do it all the time.”
Both children were immediately rapt. What had we done? “Oh, you know,” I said, now dodging Otto’s glare, “we used to… order pizzas to be delivered to teachers we didn’t like.”
Two sets of eyes went wide. And—forgive me, but it’s true—you know how I love an appreciative audience.
“We had this one teacher with a terrible combover who was a total jerk,” I continued, “So when they ran the commercials on TV for various baldness remedies where you could call for an information kit, we’d call and order them to be delivered to his house.”
Now the cat was out of the bag. I was revealing that Young Me was actually a ROTTEN, ROTTEN CHILD. The kids were, of course, delighted. I was musing on how it had never occurred to me that the pizza thing was especially cruel (because while it presented a minor annoyance to the recipient, it was probably the delivery kid who actually got in trouble when the homeowner asserted they certainly hadn’t ordered six large pepperonis) when Chickadee pointed out that technically, those weren’t really crank calls because I wasn’t calling someone and saying something ridiculous.
“Oh!” I said. “Well, we did that, too. But good Lord, I’m thinking now about what we used to do and I’m completely horrified. You have to understand I am MORTIFIED at my past behavior because it is SO, SO WRONG.” With a lead-in like that, both kids were begging for the story in no time.
“Uh, this is really terrible, guys,” I said. They clamored louder. “Okay. We used to pick a name out of the phone book, late at night, like at a sleepover. We were probably waking up whomever we called. And if a man answered, I’d go, ‘Dad? Can you come pick us up? We’re at the mall and we missed the last bus and everything’s closed.’” The kids waited, expectantly. “Of course, he’d say I had the wrong number, and then—” I looked around the table. The kids, ready for the punchline. Otto, looking concerned. I took a deep breath. “—and then I’d pretend to cry. ‘Dad? Are you drunk again? You promised you’d stop! How am I supposed to get home??’”
Three sets of shocked faces.
“I know. I KNOW! It was so mean! I can’t believe we ever did that.” Otto was shaking his head. Monkey was laughing, but in that “I probably shouldn’t be laughing but this is delicious” kind of way. Chickadee was thinking, though.
“Wait!” she said. “What if a woman answered?”
I chuckled. “Then I’d lead with ‘Mom’ instead.”
“But… what would HAPPEN when you did that?”
“Oh, they’d get really upset, thinking I really was a kid stranded somewhere, and I’d keep going with the whole, ‘This isn’t funny! Where’s Mom? I can’t believe you’re so drunk!’ thing, and eventually I’d say I was running away and then I’d hang up.” Chickadee was laughing, but she was still pretty wide-eyed. “I can’t believe I ever did that,” I continued. “Those poor people! They probably lay awake all night worrying about the random kid who’d called them!”
“You were ROTTEN,” Chickie said, in a tone reserved for the most searing of indictments.
“Yes. Yes, I was,” I agreed. “Totally, completely rotten.”
Still in awe, she continued, “Does Grandpa know about this??”
I sighed. “Probably not.” (Um, but I guess he does now. Hi, Dad!)
She then turned to Otto, who in the wake of this excitement ‘fessed up to how one of his best friends had a house rule that they never answered the phone, because a former disgruntled employee used to call the house and hang up multiple times a day. Otto took matters into his own hands; he got his hands on the “Big Book of Catalogs” and ordered every catalog in there for the perpetrator, who was later seen to have multiple mail bins of catalogs waiting on his porch every day.
Later, as I put food away and scraped plates, it occurred to me that what goes around comes around… and that a kid lying about cleaning up her room or being slow to get ready in the morning is—all things considered—not such a terrible payback for intentionally stressing out perfect strangers who were just trying to sleep.
[So now you know; I was totally rotten. But as I'm less rotten, now, I want to say thanks to everyone who came over to Off Our Chests yesterday! Part 2 of my sordid tale is now live on the site, so come on over to see what I ended up doing with my "homely intellectual" self as a result of the first part of the story.]