My senior year in high school wasn't all bad. In fact, at times it was pretty fun.
Close to graduation I started wondering what pranks I could pull on a few best friends, or even teachers. Our chemistry teacher, "MadMan" Larry Dean, was one of my favorites. MadMan’s nickname was well deserved.
He was brilliant but crazy. It was not uncommon to hear explosions coming from his lab. Boom! Cakes in the Home Economics room next-door went flat. Boom-Boom!! Our gym instructor Mr. Hanson would sprint down to the lab like a firefighter ready to tackle a building on fire. MadMan was also on our principal Mr. Schmitt's watch list. However, Mr. Shields - the biology teacher who’s room adjoined the chemistry lab - always found Mr. Dean's antics hilarious.
I had an idea on how to prank MadMan. First, I found an old toolbox in our home workshop. Inside I placed an eight track player, loaded with Cheech & Chong’s ‘Big Bambú’ tape, attached a speaker, and installed a small battery from our garden tractor. On top I put an on-off switch. Pull the invisibly thin wire on the switch once and the player turned on. Pull it again and it turned off.
Mr. Shields grinned when he saw my toolbox, then let me into the lab late that afternoon. At the front of the classroom - close to where MadMan usually lectured - was a ventilation duct. Next to the grate covering the duct was a intercom speaker connected to the front office.
I removed the grate, set the switch, then placed the box deep inside the duct. Perfect. With the grate replaced you couldn’t see a thing. Then I strung the pull wire along the ceiling and to the back of the room.
The next day we came into class and sat down to take a short quiz. “Silence!!” demanded MadMan as we dropped our books on the lab benches. Remember my friend Jeff from an earlier story? He was also a volunteer in the lab. As the quiz was about to start I showed him the hidden wire. Then, (accidentally) he pulled it.
Blaring from what seemed to be the front office speaker came screams, followed by slow, deliberate, clicking Gestapo footsteps: “Zey are killing zee girl tonight old man ... Do you hear zat old man? ...” MadMan looked around, glared, and shook his head. “Sign zee papers old man!!”
Audio track from Cheech & Chong's album Up in Smoke.
As the tape continued playing, MadMan became more agitated, convinced it was coming from the front office intercom. Ever seen a 5’, rather rotund man with a long beard and wild, slicked back hair looking as if he was getting ready to be abducted by aliens? We did.
With the tape still playing, MadMan flipped the intercom switch up and called the front office. The principal answered “Yes Larry?” but before he did, we tripped the switch a second time and shut off the tape.
“Uhh … Mr. Schmidt … uhhh … there were strange sounds coming from the intercom … but … they’re not coming from there anymore … and … uh … "
Remember, MadMan was already on Mr. Schmidt's watch list. This time you could tell he thought MadMan had really gone off the deep end. “Stay right there Mr. Dean, I’ll have vice-principal Knight come down.
The whole class was laughing hysterically. Jeff was laughing so hard he was crying and snorting at the same time. For some reason, MadMan frowned, steeled a look in my direction and rather calmly said “Foster, did you have anything to do with this?"
Once I quit laughing I told him what I did. Then I grabbed a bench stool, climbed up, took the grate off and pulled the player out of the air duct. With the toolbox in both hands, I turned around - and there stood the vice-principal Mr. Knight (who was a stickler for keeping the school orderly and under control).
I was busted. But as it turned out, later that day MadMan told Mr. Knight it was the funniest trick anyone had ever pulled on him and that we should just “forget Foster ever did that.” The next day in class MadMan pulled me aside. “Foster,” he said, "that was f#*&'ing brilliant. Best joke anyone ever played on me. I’m giving you an A for the semester."
That Spring I graduated and a year later went off to Iowa State. What happened to MadMan? About five years later he really did go off the deep end.
He was a hobby gunsmith and his specialty was automatic weapons. One day police showed up at his house and there was a standoff. MadMan with machine guns and wife held hostage inside the house, police surrounding the outside. No one was hurt, but MadMan went off to prison for a few years to cool down - and presumable to get some well needed counseling.
Looking back, I should have been catching up on overdue homework and thinking about college instead of inventing portable sound systems. But, sometimes, especially when life feels a bit sucky - like it did when I was a senior - you need a mental diversion. The prank on MadMan was mine. Years later I couldn’t tell you what the quiz covered that day, but I can tell you I’ll never forget the look on Larry’s face - and the A he gave me.