Karma calling

By Mir
February 23, 2011

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.]


  1. MomCat

    Wicked, naughty, EVIL Mir!

  2. Anna Marie

    I cannot WAIT to see your dad’s comment on this. :)

  3. Nancy R

    As our oldest approaches high school and the decision of where to go (private school-Dad’s alma mater, or public school – Mom’s alma mater) my husband has been sharing his high school…”memories”. Things like jumping out of a ground floor window on a 5-cent dare.

    The most gasp-inducing though, was the story of how upon hearing an announcement that all cheerleaders were to report to the gym for yearbook pictures, he stood up and began to leave his class. When asked where he was going, he said, “All cheerleaders are supposed to report to the gym.” The teacher, a nun I think, said, “I had no idea we have male cheerleaders! I think that’s just great!” They didn’t have any male cheerleaders. Just like that he found himself out in the hall, not sure what to do with his freedom because he never expected to get away with that fib!

  4. bob

    keerist – I must be ancient. I remember when it was fairly common for (mostly) men to roll their own cigarettes. half and half was another popular brand of loose tobacco. Before Jobs papers became paraphernalia. I used to work in my grandpa’s country store and I recall loose tobacco, snuff, plug tobacco were all popular. (Back when cigarettes were .40 a pack.)

    P.S. Is your refrigerator running? Well, you’d better go catch it.

  5. elz

    Oh, you rotten, rotten kid. I never really thought about prank calls going the way of the dodo. But, they sure are dead. However the tp, plastic forks in the yard still seems live and well. How that displays your affection to someone, I will never understand. teenagers, man. Hmph.

  6. birchsprite

    I did quite a good Leprechaun impression from our local phone box. I suspect that it was just extremely annoying rather than rotten though.

  7. Mary

    Our neighbor boys and a friend of theirs decided to do a “ring and run” at our house. (course, I saw them running away – LOL!) We hadn’t lived there long and when I asked hubby why he thought they would pick our house, he said “Jessica (their mom) probably told them to ring ours and I was all “you don’t tell your MOM you’re doing a ring and run!” Well, the laugh was on me cause when I next saw her, she told me that she gave the boys the okay to do it to us as she didn’t want them scaring any of the elderly neighbors!

    Boy, how things have changed since I was a kid! (Not that I EVER do a ring and run as a child. Ahem!)

  8. Aimee

    Wow, you really WERE rotten ;)

    Of course, I could only say that with sincerity if I ALSO was rotten and made a few prank calls in my day. I am ashamed of how very sincere I am right now.

    Rottenly yours &c,

  9. Tracy B

    Rotten is not the word. lol I think all of us has done something ROTTEN once or twice but you are so right, it’s so traceable now. Good luck! You do realize that this will come back and bite you, right? ;o)

  10. Beth R

    DAD? Where are you??? We’re all waiting for you to comment :)

    Of course, I only ever did one crank call. I screwed up the joke. That was embarrassing!

  11. Varda (SquashedMom)

    Oh does that bring back memories. HOURS spent on the phone being rotten. We would call up and say we were the telephone company and that someone was going to be working on a very delicate part of the line and there was a short, so the person in the house must not under any circumstance pick up their phone for the next 10 minutes or the workman would be electrocuted. You know what comes next? We cal back in 5 minutes and then when they pick up… one of us screams like we’re being electrocuted along with “electrocution” sound effects. Subtle, huh?

  12. Rocky Mountain Woman

    I would never have done something like that when I was young…(fingers crossed behind my back)…lol

  13. mamalang

    hehe, the ad is for that system that puts a fake number out instead of your own for caller ids.

  14. Heidi

    Hmm, looks like I’ll have to check in later for Dad’s response!

  15. Megan

    Oh. I never actually DID do prank calls. Because God would know. And, you know, he already knew WAY TOO MUCH. Prank calling would probably have been the tipping point: throwing your horrible nasty shoes that you hate against the wall to make black marks? Well, pray desperately and you’re forgiven. Getting angry and deliberately throwing your SISTERS stuff around because you don’t want to mess up your own things? Eh, confess and act as her personal slave for a month and we’ll let you off. PRANK CALLS?? You don’t go to the highest heaven if you prank call! Outer Darkness for you, missy!! I’m pretty sure that’s scriptural.

    I didn’t ding-dong-ditch either. Talk about a wasted childhood.

  16. Tenessa

    “That was good for quite a bit of giggling before we told him to get off our lawn.”

    Oh, that had me rolling. Too good. Too good.

  17. Dawn

    We used to ask if they had Aunt Jemima by the box.


  18. AC

    Worst prank call ever….

    My sister and I used to prank each other all the time. Until I went on a business trip at the same time as my husband and left my son with my sister-in-law. At around midnight, my sister’s male friend calls my cell and was supposed to say “I know what you’re doing right now” but what he said was “I know what your son is doing right now and you don’t”.

    Kind of scary but even worse when you know that I was a hospital social worker who had recently put a restraining order on a couple I reported for horrendous child abuse and had threatened me.

    We don’t prank anymore.

  19. liz

    Oh, thank goodness. I had to look up “Prince Albert in a can” too. I was confusing it with a Prince Albert, which I think you can find only on Urban Dictionary. I was slightly nauseated at the thought of talking about that with Chickadee.

  20. Frank

    I had the same bad thoughts as Liz…. thinking it wasnt so far out there given her age, and the sheer volume of things kids can ‘hear about’ nowadays.

    When I was a kid I loved to read Judy Blume… in the “boy book” Then Again, Maybe I Wont” they do this prank that used to crack me up… and I confess to doing it once or twice as well.

    Who remembers the Jerky Boys???

  21. Chuck

    There was one time I called my friend late at night; I was expecting to get his answering machine and leave a message, but he answered having been asleep. He worked normally on the graveyard shift as a nurse, so I told him he needed to come to the hospital immediately, and he went along with it for a minute before I told him it was me.

  22. Debbi

    lol. and still waiting for your dad’s response ;-)

  23. Liza

    I tried to do the Prince Albert in a Can or maybe the Pickled Pigs Feet one to a random phone number when I was 12 or so. The person on the other end beat me to the punch line.

  24. Little Bird

    My grade school best friend was adopted, and she got it into her head that her birth mother might have been a telephone operator. So she used to dial “0”, wait for an answer, say “I love you” and hang up.
    We weren’t much for “prank” calls so much, my friends and I.

  25. Rose

    Oh my goodness, this had my laughing out loud and my 11 year old daughter asking me what was so funny.

    I didn’t tell her.

    But, it reminded me of the day my dad called and pulled that “Wall” trick on me. I was busy and distracted and getting really annoyed at the idiot who couldn’t seem to understand that there were no Walls living at this residence! Then he started laughing and I knew I had been had. lol

  26. dad

    Yes Mir, you are less rotten now.

    You are grounded indefinitely! (Is that a double entendre?)

    And thank you for not telling me this at the time.

  27. Kate in Michigan

    I used to do prank phone calls from my Grandma’s house. Until one time the operator called us BACK. Because that’s who we were pranking. Yeah, not the best plan.

    But nowadays? I like to do a REVERSE prank call.

    Every so often, we still get the odd sales call or annoying survey call, etc. OR even better, the “fireman’s guild” or somesuch.

    They start their spiel, and I listen for a bit, and then they ask me if I’d like to donate or whatever, and I respond, “Well, yanno, I’d do it, but I’m rather drunk at the moment.” I listen to them stammer and stutter, then I laugh uproariously and hang up.

    I know. It’s immature.

  28. Gigi

    We once locked our phisics teacher inside the phisics lab. We were high school seniors and the phisics lab had those thingies to put a paddlock? so one day it dawned on us that we could buy our very own paddlock! and lock him in! Which we did! it took them all day and finally had to call the fire department to come with the huge bolt cutters to set him free (the whole senior class, about 70 of us in the small catholic school, pooled up the money, we got a really big paddlock!)

  29. Brigid

    I used to get grounded A LOT in high school for missing curfew and other alleged bad behaviors. My parents would ground me from my phone. (I had my own phone line which was very ooh-la-la back in those days. Of course, it had a cord because we’re talking late 80’s here.) Not too long ago I confessed to my parents that I had a cheapie $10 phone I kept in my closet for when they ceremoniously removed mine from my room. My dad was impressed at my ingenuity. My mom, however, was totally pissed and we still can’t talk about it around her.

  30. mamaspeak

    Brigid – Your comment made me laugh the most. My mom would’ve been the same way about it, if I had done something like that.

    We had to explain doorbell ditch to our kids last year. They always have an adult around if they’re outside, so they can’t get into the kind of trouble we would conjure up. Really kind of sad.

  31. Karen

    I think we all did a rotten thing or two when we were young. I can say as an adult now with teen kids, getting a call in late hours like the one where you’re calling him Dad or her Mom… that coulda scared the bejeezus out of a parent.

    But.. when you’re a kid, you don’t think like that. and hey, atleast with pizza calls you’re feeding someone. :-)

  32. Brigitte

    As a past victim of some truly horrible phone pranks, I am making very stern eyebrows at you.

  33. Shelley

    So, this isn’t a prank call, but my husband recently told his father how he used to get by with staying out past curfew. Say his curfew was midnight, for example. Hubby’s dad would be in bed and a little after midnight Hubby would call his house (from whatever party he was at) and when his dad answered the phone Hubby would say, “i got it dad. It’s for me.” His dad would hang up the phone and think Hubby was in the basement in his room. Clever!

  34. Ingrid

    I remember making crank calls with you! You were a terrible influence!! (*points finger accusingly*)

  35. Lise

    I hope nobody ever tells Chickadee and Monkey about dialing *67 to block caller ID.

  36. Katie in MA

    Also not a prank call, but speaking of getting away with stuff…my friend’s dad would set his alarm clock for curfew so he wouldn’t have to stay up to make sure everyone was home. My friend would pay his brother to go in and shut off the alarm for him after his dad was asleep. Brilliant!

  37. goodenough

    I’m LOL and hope you kids never figure it out…but had to correct you on 2 points

    1) prank calls still in vogue – take the case of the wisconsin governor getting prank called that is all over the news lately.
    2)Caller-id doesnt show up every phone – some phones show as private

  38. ben

    We were such nerds, I remember we used to do something called “The Texaco American History Survey,” where we would open a textbook to some random fact and call people to see if they could answer it. I guess it was the precursor to “Are you smarter than a 5th grader” because it was something we would get tested on and all these smart people with phones could never answer.

    Then one guy knew the answer (the question that night was “The sinking of what ship brought the United States into World War I?”) and asked what the prize was, we hung up on him.

    Good times.

  39. ben

    Oh, and instead of taking away their phones, I change the security code on the wireless router. Drives my kids nuts.

  40. MaryP

    HA! “Kate in Michigan”! I am totally, TOTALLY going to do that to the next begging call. Of course, I might just have to *be* a little drunk to have the nerve…

  41. vanessa

    ya know, at least for verizon to verizon, you can input *67 and it will show up as a private number…
    just sayin’.

  42. Cele

    Oh mi gosh wicked and evil.

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