To celebrate “April Fools,” Robb has released his latest book as a free download for two days only—Tuesday April 1st and Wednesday April 2nd. Visit Amazon.com and look for “Potholes On Memory Lane “or check this link.
My brother JD is a prankster without peer.
Oh, sure, he looks innocent. He’s quiet, and has always had a baby-faced, angelic countenance. But don’t be fooled. That’s one of his secret super-powers.
The other is his ability to mimic voices and impersonate just about anyone. These skills and his impish personality have led to much mischief.
My little brother started acting up early on. In middle school, JD would wait for Mom to go shopping, leaving him unattended. Then he’d pull out the Yellow Pages and use them for “Phone Fun.”
And what’s “Phone Fun?” It’s his term, describing how to amuse yourself by annoying others.
Here are some examples.
Once JD prank-called the Toy Circus, a Bakersfield business that had its own TV show. He pretending to be a small child and begged to talk to the store’s mascot, a sock-puppet called the “Monkey Lion.”
“Is the Monkey-Lion there?” JD asked in his highest falsetto.
“No, I’m sorry, Dearie” said a woman with a warm, comforting voice. “He’s out right now. But you can see him on your TV tomorrow.”
“Oh, but I really, really, really wanted to talk to him.”
“What’s your name?” the kind woman asked.
“Timmy,” JD said.
“Well, Timmy. I can surely tell him you called, and if you give me your address, he can send you a picture.”
“But I don’t know my address.” (Fake crying)
“Well, then, why don’t you put your mother on the phone?”
“I haven’t got a mother.” (Loud fake crying)
“Oh, Timmy. I’m so sorry. Is there anyone there who I can talk to?”
“No. I’m alone.” (Whimpering)
“Oh, that’s terrible. So there’s no one there?”
“Wait. Yes. (Gasp) There’s someone hiding in the corner!” (Sudden screaming, a loud maniacal laugh, and then JD hung up.)
Alfred Hitchcock had nothing on my brother.
And the fake-little-kid wasn’t his only routine. He also loved to impersonate various grownups. One of his favorite alter-egos was a menacing police office.
Here’s how that prank worked.
JD would flip through the white pages, stab his finger down on a random number, and dial it up.
Here’s one such call:
JD: “Is this the Skyle’s residence?”
Victim: “Yes. Who’s calling?”
JD: “This is officer Sadanko of the Bakersfield Police Dept. We’re conducting a criminal investigation, and I need to ask you a few questions.”
Victim: “About what?”
JD: “I’m afraid I can’t reveal that information. Perhaps you should put your son on the line.”
Victim: “Why? What’s he done?”
JD: “Has he been a passenger in a blue Chevy pickup?”
Victim: “Wait. Who is this?”
JD: “Sadanko. Badge number 86.”
Victim: (Shouting at son, “Jay get in here.”) “Do I need an attorney?”
JD: “Not yet, Mr. Skyles. But you should bring your son to the station so we can settle this informally.”
Victim: (In a horse whisper) “Ah, when?”
JD: “Call the front desk for an appointment. Here’s the number.”
Then JD would give his victim the request-line of a popular radio station. This number was always busy.
JD loved his phone pranks so much that he recorded these conversations so he could listen to them later, playing them for the amusement of his friends.
Alas, “Phone Fun” came to an untimely end one day when Mom needed to borrow JD’s tape recorder. Being a considerate person, she spot-checked a cassette to see if it was blank.
JD came home to find Mom sitting at the table, a stack of tapes in front of her, looking grim. He asked how she was doing. Rather than answer, she pressed the “play” button, and the sound of a child crying in fake falsetto filled the room.
For a month, JD was forbidden to use the phone without supervision, and Mom made him call up the toy store and apologize.
Too bad she didn’t record that conversation.
But after chewing him out, Mom felt sorry for him, and disclosed some juicy tidbits about about her misspent youth.
“We’d call the store, and ask them, ‘Do you have Sir Walter Raleigh in a can?’” Mom said. “And it was always best when they’d have to put the phone down to check.”
She stopped, smiled, and had a far-away look in her eyes.
“Then they’d come back and say, ‘Yes, we do.’ And we’d shout ‘Well, you’d better let him out,’ and hang up.”
JD and I laughed.
“And,” Mom added, “You’d call back later and ask them if their refrigerator was running. If they said ‘yes,’ then you’d say ‘Well, you’d better go catch it.’”
Mom’s mixed messages didn’t make her the most effective disciplinarian. Still, Mom apparently thought she’d humbled him and broken JD of his problematic proclivities. And she did, for a while….
But then he moved out, got a job, and began his old tricks with a few new twists—sound effects. Thanks to advances in technology, JD collected gizmos that made all manner of obnoxious noises. His arsenal included machines that giggled, guffawed, snorted, sneezed, farted, as well as ones that simulated explosions and machine gun fire.
He still has many of those noisemakers, but he’s always preferred to do his own screaming.
“Some things, you just can’t farm out,” he explains.
Even now when you call him, you never know quite what to expect. Sometimes the phone will quit ringing, you’ll hear a shriek, gunfire, or an explosion, and then the line will go dead. Other times, a confused little-old-lady answers and you think you’ve reached a wrong number. So you apologize, but before you can dial him up again, he’ll call you back, laughing.
Such a great use of the acting talents he developed in high school.
Years ago, there was a time that JD had an oilfield job which required long, boring hours. He was alone, usually, logging trucks in and out of a waste disposal. His only companion was a multi-line phone, and a box full of sound-effect gadgets. He used them to good effect. On slow days, he’d dial up two numbers, and while they were both still ringing, connect them with the conference-call feature. Then he’d wait silently on the line. The callers were faced with a puzzling situation that sounded something like this:
Line 1: “Hello.”
Line 2: “Who’s calling?”
Line 1: “Who’s calling who?”
Line 2: “You?”
Line 1: “You, who?”
Line 2: “You who called me?”
Line 1: “But you called me!”
Line 2: “No, I didn’t.”
Line 1: “Look. My phone rang. I answered it, and now I’m talking to you.”
Line 2: “I didn’t call you.”
Line 1: “Well somebody did.”
Line 2: “Who.”
Line 1: “You, that’s who?”
During his glory days, JD could get three or ever four people going in circles. Or so he says. There’s no recordings of these calls. (I wonder why.) He passed many an hour in this manner. But, sadly, it came to an end when caller ID and *69 came along. The days of anonymous dialing were over, and he had to hang up his receiver.
Technology giveth, and then it taketh away.
Recently I asked him if he missed all this, and he reminded me that phone pranks were only part of his repertoire. In high school, he briefly ran his own “contracting business” called Mothers Funeral. For a fee, JD or one of his, ah, associates would show up in a ski mask, and plant a “pie” in the face of someone you didn’t like.
Although it was profitable, he quit the business before the high school authorities could trace the trail of whipped cream back to the culprits.
But he has other stories, too many to tell here, and some that can’t be shared until the statute of limitations runs out.
So, when April 1st rolls around, I’ll make sure I call and wish him a happy day. Whoever dreamed up “April Fools” holiday surely had him in mind.
But I will have to brace myself when the phone stops ringing. I never know what will greet me on the other end. Will it be an explosion? A shriek? Or the voice of Sgt. Sadanko demanding that I report to Precinct #2 and answer a few questions regarding the whereabouts of Sir Walter Raleigh?
I can’t wait to find out.
Robb has enjoyed writing and performing since he was a child, and many of his earliest performances earned him a special recognition-reserved seating in the principal’s office at Highland Elementary. Since then, in addition to his weekly column on A News Cafe – “Or So it Seems™” – Robb has written news and features for The Bakersfield Californian, appeared on stage as an opening stand-up act in Reno, and his writing has been published in the Funny Times. His short stories have won honorable mention national competition. His screenplay, “One Little Indian,” Was a top-ten finalist in the Writer’s Digest competition. Robb presently lives, writes and teaches in Shasta County. He can be reach at email@example.com.