In either first or second grade, I met the guy that would be my best friend for the next 6 or 7 years. His name was John and he lived on the same block as me, just at the opposite side. I don’t remember exactly how we met, but I think I kept seeing him on my way to and from the corner store (right next to his house) that my parents used to send me to for groceries all the time. I’m pretty sure we declared ourselves enemies at first, but upgraded to friends soon after that. Details are sketchy.
Eventually I began spending a huge part of my free time at John’s house. I guess I wouldn’t say that we got into a lot of trouble together, but we sure caused a lot of trouble. John is mentioned several times on my pranks page for things like tying strings across the road (or sometimes just pretending to) to annoy drivers and causing merchandise in the grocery store to talk to customers via walkie talkies. Not since John have I ever had a friend where it seemed like every single day for us was just another insane mission to accomplish. We didn’t just “hang out” when we were together. We plotted and schemed and accomplished things.
He had the kind of parents that were more likely to encourage our craziness, than to punish us for it. Whereas my dad might whip me with a belt and ground me for a week for tying strings across the road, John’s dad would suggest hanging newspapers along the length of the string to create a giant wall for cars to crash into. (He actually did suggest this to us, though I doubt he was entirely serious about it.) This is the main reason 99% of our time was spent on John’s side of the block and not mine. I only remember John being at my house once, and it ended with my dad yelling at me for whatever we were doing and sending John home.
I lost touch with John after 8th grade, when their family moved into a different school district. I did visit his new house once or twice, after he moved but once I was 16 or so, I completely lost contact with him. In the late 90’s, maybe a year or two after moving back to Illinois, I sent his parents a Christmas card and we ended up visiting a few more times, but I guess life kept us both too busy hang out much more than that. But just a few days ago, John tracked me down! I was surprised to find that he has a blog and that I was even mentioned in it once or twice. Since he’s contacted me, we’ve been catching up via this post and email which has been a lot of fun.
So in honor of John’s sudden return, I’m going to list a few of the things we used to do to keep ourselves busy in the 80’s.
- First of all, apparently we attempted to make a bomb threat to our grade school from the playground in the 1980’s. John just reminded me of this incident yesterday. I don’t remember any of it happening, but I’m sure I’d do anything to get out of school. John’s account of the story is hilarious.
- Since we lived right next door to a busy grocery store, we got to screw with customers as often as we liked. Sometimes we’d yell at them from his porch, other times we would go into the store and do things like putting hidden radios inside boxes of merchandise so we could talk to customers. Once we had a robot campaign and election and made a few of the customers vote for us.
- We used to dumpster dive in the store’s dumpster, which seems kind of gross now that I look back on it since it was a grocery store that cut up their own meat products. We mostly took cardboard boxes from it for projects, but what we really liked to find were Procut stickers. They were these sheets of 6 stickers that I assume the meat guy in the store was supposed to stick on the products. But instead he seemed to throw them all in the trash. We stuck these all over our block, mostly in the alley. We would ride our bikes up and down the alley, slapping them on everything we passed, such as houses, garages, fences, the ground, telephone poles, the church, etc. You couldn’t walk down our alley without seeing at least a few Procut stickers.
- I know this is written somewhere else on my page, but during one of our years in grade school, our MO was to blow up the school (and later the world). We drew up blueprints involving bombs in the boiler room and talked about it often. The teachers seemed to have no problem with this, though John tells me I did get in trouble for writing a paper about wanting to be a terrorist when I grew up.
- John came up with the idea of prank calling talk radio stations. I think we only did KMOX and I later branched out to WBGZ (What’s Your Bid?) on my own a few years later. But John would wait on the phone for nearly an hour sometimes, just to try and say something silly on the air. The only one I can remember was when he called about his son being on drugs and he was able to talk to the host for quite awhile before the host finally said, “This is a child, isn’t it?” and John responded with, “Right! I’m a prankster!”
- He also came up with the idea of calling up a pay phone, just to see if anyone would answer. So we got the number to a phone booth at the Wilshire shopping center and began talking to people there. This began our obsessive collecting of area pay phone numbers. We didn’t even call the numbers that much, we just wanted to build up our list of pay phone numbers. We both kept separate lists, organized in our own ways, and routinely swapped numbers with each other. I started keeping a small notebook on me every time I went out with my parents so that I could write down new numbers. When they would ask if I wanted to go to the store with them, my answer usually revolved around whether or not I had the pay phone numbers at that particular store. By the time grade school ended, we both had over 100 pay phone numbers.
- We used to draw arrows on the sidewalks everywhere, hoping that people would follow them. As if someone leaving the store would think, “Oh, an arrow on the sidewalk. I better spend an hour following these all over the block to see where they lead!” We sure put a lot of effort into it, though. I always had to make everything official with a business name too. This one was Arrows Incorporated.
- We also left treasure maps lying around, hoping people would find them. The maps were usually a series of steps, with things like “Walk 72 paces straight ahead. Turn left at the pole and walk another 40 paces.” Once I taped one underneath a pay phone, then called the phone and told the guy who answered to look under the phone for the secret map. Nobody would ever do it, though. You’d think a random person would want a little adventure in his life. Why else would they pick up the phone?? I signed a lot of these DOT Inc, which stood for Don’t Open This, which is what I wrote on the outside of a lot of them, hoping to entice people into opening them.
- One birthday, I received some CB walkie talkies. This is another thing that’s mentioned on my pranks page. Within a year, John and his sister also received walkie talkies and we all drove the local CB community nuts with our antics. Leadfoot was the man who was ready to kill all of us. I still don’t understand how he never found us. We sure gave him plenty of incentive to.
- We wrote a paper together called The Weirdo Weekly. I don’t think we ever got a full issue out. We also wrote magic spells and John started his own language. (Not sure how far he got with that.)
- Speaking of newspapers, we would deface their newspaper before his dad could read it by using a pencil to erase and change certain letters in the headlines. Simple things, like maybe changing the word Loose to Noose or something. I’m sure it made interesting/irritating reading for his dad.
- Out of nowhere, my dad once grounded me from hanging out with John any more, his reason simply being that he was a bad influence. I can’t remember how long this ban on John lasted, but I do remember getting in trouble one evening because my dad drove by the playground during recess and saw us playing together.
At this point I’m tired of writing so I’m going to stop. But it’s great that John has gotten back in touch. I count him as a major influence in my life, and he made my grade school years approximately a billion times more interesting than they would have been without him.