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Our friend Ken Hagerman was an unrepentant practical joker. After visiting a friend’s home, the hosts would find pictures upside down, their bed short-sheeted or pebbles in the toes of their shoes — or all three. He just couldn’t resist.
But to his credit, Ken also enjoyed practical jokes played on him. Perhaps not quite as much, but when someone ‘got him good’, Ken would be the first to congratulate the perpetrator. And of course, he would begin to plot revenge.
Ken and his wife Donna had been friends and neighbors in town for years. We were delighted when they also became neighbors at the lake. During the following summers we would often be at the lake at the same time. That’s when mutual practical jokes became daily events, much to the chagrin of our spouses and the entertainment of our neighbors.
One summer, we were on vacation at the lake when Ken and Donna called to say they would arrive Friday afternoon. We were so pleased. But a few days later, disappointment. Ken phoned to say they’d be delayed until Saturday night.
Ah, but that was also good news. What a golden opportunity to pull a practical joke on Ken! Several neighbors jumped at the chance to get even. We hatched a diabolical plot. It would catch Ken totally unaware. We took delight knowing this one was going to put us one-up on the undisputed King of Practical Jokers.
Here’s how the plot unfolded. A huge roll of clear film wrap had been left behind by the previous owner when Ken and Donna bought the property. It had remained untouched under the picnic table on Ken and Donna’s deck.
For the conspirators, the plot was a no-brainer. We would shrink wrap Ken and Donna’s cottage. We knew it would be dark when Ken and Donna were due to arrive Saturday evening. They wouldn’t notice until the last minute. With the shrink-wrap firmly in place, they’d have a devil of a time getting the door open.
It was perfect . . . made in Practical Joke Heaven!
So, four men took turns unfurling the heavy roll of 24-inch wide shrink-wrap. The roll weighted close to 50 pounds so it took two men to manage the thing. First, two of us unfurled it down the front of the 30-foot cottage, being careful to cover the door. Then the other two conspirators unrolled the shrink-wrap down the far side of the cottage and across the back, keeping it tight. The pairs took turns. Around they went, four times, five times, and then six times, sealing the door tightly.
The opressive heat continued overnight Friday through to Saturday morning. The conspirators were smug, and beside themselves with delight over the practical joke they’d played on ‘The King’. It was going to be difficult just waiting to ‘catch’ Ken trying to get into their place. It was ‘excrutiating’, frankly.
Saturday was blistering hot, as it had been on Friday when the deed was done. As the day wore on the conspirators and their spouses began to worry about the whereabouts of Ken and Donna. Eventually, everyone retired for the night. No sign of Ken and Donna. And again, no reprieve from the oppressive, sticky heat.
Sunday came and with it another blistering hot day. Again, there was no sign of Ken and Donna. But it was a long weekend so our friends still had Monday. It was a two-hour drive for them to the lake. Monday morning, as the day headed toward its hottest hours, the errant couple arrived. They were hot, tired and delighted to finally be at the lake. They couldn’t wait to get into shorts and out on the lake in their boat.
The conspirators kept out of sight, initially, awaiting audible signs their practical joke had hit a bulls eye. Nothing. An hour later, still nothing.
The suspense eventually became too much for the conspirators. They decided to sneak over to Ken and Donna’s as a group. They were not proud of what they found.
Ken and Donna were there . . . and were they ever busy. Ken was packing full garbage bags into the back of his truck. He was not in a pleasant frame of mind. Donna was handing Ken another full garbage bag. She was even unhappier than Ken.
Finally, the truth emerged. The conspirators’ fiendish practical joke had backfired . . . and in a very unpleasant way.
With amazing restraint, Ken and Donna informed the conspirators the shrink-wrap had blocked the vent on their fridge that stuck out the back of the cottage. Heat had built up, tripping the circuit breaker. Both the fridge and the freezer had shut down. Several dozen pounds of frozen meat had turned rancid and smelly in the unseasonably hot mid-summer weather. It had been their summer meat supply: burgers, steaks, stewing been, bacon, ribs, you name it. An assortment of other foods also spoiled.
The conspirators slinked away, deeply embarrassed and humbled, as they should be. Our spouses said so, just to be sure.
The four bandits offered to replace the lost food, but to no avail. Ken and Donna made it clear, graciously somehow, that they would have none of it.
The humbled four decided each would secretly leave peace offerings. During the next few days, the offerings appeared on Ken and Donna’s deck, in the form of their favorite wines, beer and rum. But just as mysteriously as the peace offerings had appeared, over the next few days they somehow showed up back on the exact deck of the very conspirator who’d made the offering. That is, the beer made its way back to the beer donor’s deck. Ditto, the bottles of red wine and white wine, and the rum.
Nothing more was said by anyone about the day we shrink-wrapped Ken’s cottage. Make no mistake. Ken got the last laugh. Those never-uttered last words spoke loudly.
Happily, the practical jokes didn’t stop.
Perish the thought!
In Memory of Ken Hagerman
1942 – 2009
A great friend, deeply missed.