Once upon a time, long before there were ads for lawyers on every corner, television, radio station, billboard and listed on 72 pages of every phone book in the country, job-site practical jokes were commonplace. A time when tossing a rubber snake into an occupied Porta-John would garnish laughter, not start litigation. An era when a person who was capable of pulling off a well-planned and perfectly executed scam was regarded as a hero, if not by the victim, certainly by all those who witnessed said prank.

Usually, later on after beers were tossed back and the tale was told and re-told, often having slight details changed or added to, even the "victim" would have to recognize the brilliance, albeit annoying, of the Joker.

Face it, pulling off a world-class practical joke sometimes involves days, if not weeks, of careful planning, linking layers of subterfuge and insider information. The first thing that had to be determined was the mark's weakness. Was it fear of spiders or snakes? Had he recently received a new tool that he was especially fond of? Perhaps there is a specific behavior that screams out "prank me."

Whatever the criteria, the mark is finally set up. Usually, there is a ringleader, the Joker, who regularly pulls off smaller solo pranks. After these small-time juvenile antics get old, a greater, more complex plan starts to formulate. The litmus test to judge how many hours a co-worker spends watching wolf packs on the Discovery Channel is how much arm wrenching it takes to involve him in the plan. The quicker the convert, the more avid the watcher. Parallels can be drawn between the Serengeti and a construction site, the strong survive and the weak get eaten.

Usually, the Joker burns all of his bridges. Not being satisfied with simply picking on the weaker members of the crew, he will invariably prank the wrong person, thus becoming the victim of the "payback."

LET THE GAMES BEGIN

The year is 1980. A certain crew who shall remain nameless was busy framing townhouses in central Nebraska. Since this job is hundreds of miles from where this group lives, they are residing in camp trailers parked on-site. That being said, certain amenities, such as toilets and showers, are unavailable. The first challenge is met by daily trips to the restroom at the local city park. A makeshift shower is crafted out of 4x8 sheets of plywood in the yet-to-be-poured basement in the first townhouse. Five hundred feet of black hose snaked its way across the job, one end attached to the water bib of a neighborhood home, the other end draped over the top of the plywood box.

At the end of each day, straws are drawn to see who will get to shower first. You don't have to be a mathematician to equate the following formula: An eight man crew, plus 500 feet of hose warming in the sun, minus the amount of H2O required to de-stink a sweaty worker, equals cold and uncomfortable workers. You can imagine that after weeks of 12-hour days, the preceding formula-along with the reality of eight men sharing 300 square feet of sleeping space-also equals short tempers.

On this crew is a guy we will call "Tim." He is an accomplished Joker. His pranks are legendary, including one involving a straw-stuffed roofer. While working on one job, Tim notices that a nurse walks by at the same time each day on her way to work. Playing upon the nurturing nature of a health care provider, a plan is hatched to prey upon this "weakness." A set of work clothes is stuffed with enough straw to create a lifelike rendering, replete with tool belt and cap. The following day, Tim and two other co-conspirators stage a fight with the straw man at the exact moment this hapless nightingale is trudging to work. We can only imagine the horror this poor soul felt as she watches three hooligans throw another man off a roof. You must be willing to do the time if you do the crime, as Tim finds out.

Let's just say, the nurse and the local federals are not amused. A rational person will at some point retire a repertoire that has regularly heaped wrath upon them. But fame is fleeting and the lore of having pulled off the best "gotcha" is too hard to resist for our hero. The pranks continue.

Back to our story: After a few weeks, our boy is methodically working his way through the entire crew. A nailed down lunchbox here, a capful of red chalk placed on a sun visor there, shutting off the water to the shower while a co-worker is in mid-soap-you get the point. The weather is ripe for a mutiny.

A plan is hatched for payback. Tim was the proud owner of a new 28-ounce framing hammer, along with a spanking new tool belt. These prized possessions will become the centerpiece of the plan. As a prankster, Tim was always suspicious and rightly so. He is not likely to leave these treasures unguarded. It is decided that the foreman will ride him hard for a morning, keeping him so flustered that he will let down his guard. By lunchtime he is so rattled, he is more than willing to take the lunch order and pick it up. Presto.

In the corner sits his most prized possessions. The requisite amount of time passes to make sure he doesn't realize his error and return to the scene of the crime before it is fully executed. I am chosen to execute the kill, and am more than willing to climb into the trusses, tool belt slung over my shoulder, hammer under my arm. A 12-penny nail gun is passed up and two entire strips of cement-coat sinkers are methodically driven through these innocent but essential props, offered up as a sacrifice to our suffering. For me it is very symbolic.

TRUSS ME

Just a day before, in this very spot, while traversing roof trusses, I was holding a piece of shaftwall in place. While waiting for my brother-in-law to nail it fast, a wasp flew up my shirt. Not wanting to kill my sister's husband, I dutifully held onto the piece until there were enough nails in place to safely let go. In the process, I was bitten dozens of times. Now teetering in the very same spot a day later, the pain of the previous day is all but forgotten as I rapid fire nails into the top cord of the truss. The victim returns carrying boxes of grub and everyone tries to act natural as we sit and eat. As we are all in on the plan, it's very hard to wait patiently for lunch to be over and see his reaction.

After lunch, Tim paces the job retracing his steps looking for his tools. Thinking he is much too smart to be had, the thought never occurs to him that we have done something to them. Each and every person is approached and quietly asked, "Have you seen my tools?" After repeating this drill a number of times, Tim's frustration is starting to show.

As he paces back and forth, his anger grows as the boss starts yelling for him to get back to work. A light bulb comes on as he starts to consider the possibility that he may be a victim of his very own brand of humor. I watch him out of the corner of my eye. I can almost read his mind as he begins running down the list of possible candidates. The beauty is, much like in an Agatha Christie murder mystery, there was not just one culprit. We were all in on it. No one is going to give him the slightest satisfaction of giving up even one clue.

As the day draws on and watching him sweat is not as fulfilling as it was earlier, the heat is turned up another notch as he is told to go and nail in blocking. It's figured that while he is up performing this task he will eventually glance up and catch sight of his violated tools. Sure enough, a short time later everyone hears a howl, as the tools in question are discovered. Mad would even not come close to describing Tim's reaction. It's odd how someone who could so readily dish out the dirt turns into a baby when the tides are turned.

True to plan, everyone acts completely surprised. He eventually cools down realizing no one is going to give him any information and the rest of the time spent on this job is pretty uneventful. Time moves on and wounds heal. Tim is eventually told the whole story. I think he even admired us for putting in the effort to prank him. And yes he went back to his old ways, scamming, scheming, pranking and joking his way through life. I haven't thought about Tim for a very long time and while I can't remember even half the jobs we worked on, I remember the Garter snake he placed in a nail pouch, the dead squirrel he draped on a steering wheel and yes, I remember the time we all pranked the great Tim.

This is where I must indemnify myself and this great magazine. The previous stories were for entertainment purposes only. The names have been changed to protect the guilty. The events and frankly any ideas contained herein are not meant to be copied or imitated.

Remember: It's all fun and games until someone gets an eye poked out!



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