Both my parents loved practical jokes. My mother told me that once she sewed shut the flies in all of my dad’s underwear. Apparently, he was not very amused, but she laughed and laughed.
My parents played practical jokes on me and my sister when we were still very young and not really able to understand what was going on. Mostly I ended up feeling very stupid while they would laugh until tears would fill their eyes. I don’t think they knew how it affected me. If they had, I’m sure they wouldn’t have done those things. Well, I’m mostly sure.
I remember one time in particular when my sister was about three years old and I was around six. We were in a restaurant (something that didn’t happen very often) having dinner. Both Mom and Dad (by some unspoken cue) jerked suddenly and lifted their feet off the floor exclaiming “Did you feel that!?” Then Dad looked under the table and said “There it is! There it goes! What IS it!?” In a fraction of a second, both my sister and I were standing on our chairs and then she started crying. As soon as Mom and Dad started laughing, I knew it was another one of their practical jokes. It scared the … you know what … out of the both of us.
Unfortunately for us, we were easy marks and fell for that one a couple more times. And oddly enough, my younger sister “wised up” before I did. I was still fair game for such pranks until I was around 13 years old. If they were trying to teach me skepticism, they did finally do a good job of it. It wasn’t their fault it took me so long to get it.
Along with practical jokes, my dad loved sight gags, slapstick and pratfalls. He thought the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote were hilarious. And we went to see every movie the Three Stooges made. Mom wasn’t as into that sort of thing, but she loved a good gag just about as much as she loved strawberry ice cream. No … make that Neapolitan.
I think I was born serious. My dad did not display much emotion (other than laughing at tasteless jokes) and fancied himself a totally rational and logical man. But I think the truth was that he was an imp inside. He showed one face to the world and lived another in the privacy of his mind. So I have no idea where all my seriousness originated. It certainly didn’t come from Mom who continually delighted in the “Quick! Pull my finger” gag.
I think practical jokes are basically cruel. There, I said it. Giving someone a fake winning lottery ticket is simply mean spirited. Okay, there are some practical jokes that are basically harmless. Like putting a rubber band around the sprayer on a kitchen faucet so that someone gets sprayed when they turn on the tap. I’ve laughed at that.
Or putting shaving cream in someone’s hand while they are sleeping and then tickling their nose so that they slap the cream all over their face. That is, providing they are not allergic to shaving cream. I’ve often thought that whipped cream would be better, but then I’m allergic to milk and others are too. See my problem?
Oddly enough, I’m not nearly as serious today as I was when I was younger (ordinarily you would think it would be the other way around). Oh, I could play and laugh and have a good time with all my friends. And I was enthralled by the beauty of a sow bug or a butterfly. The sky could just send me. I had a good time as a kid … I still do. But there were just some things that were not funny to me that most people thought were hilarious. I never could understand why “hurting” people was funny.
Then there is the other kind of seriousness that can be a detriment to your life. The kind where you take every little thing so seriously that it causes you undo stress. I went through a very long phase of this. I’m glad to say that I’ve cured myself of that … mostly. But I still don’t personally get the appeal of practical jokes. And I may never.
However. I do understand laughing at adversity. I understand the need to make light of difficult situations in order to better cope with them. So, most likely, practical jokes will be with us forever. Just don’t try pulling one on me. You might not be happy with the result.