Mischief and Mannequins
by Tony Ertel
What teenage boy doesn’t like to create a little mischief? I’m not talking about criminal mischief, I’m talking about putting underwear on your brother’s pillow or forcing a pizza roll into your friend’s mouth or telling your younger cousin that putting the ice cream in the microwave for three minutes should be just enough time to soften it for a milk shake (it’s actually plenty of time for a full boil). Those are just completely random examples.
Little mischievous acts were normal around my house growing up, and I was typically the initiator. Looking back though, I wonder if “harmless” mischief is a necessary phase for maturing boys. Though she never condoned the behavior, I have to say my mother likely appreciated it after the terror and temper of her son’s early adolescent years. How bad was it? My 12th birthday also rang in the Chinese Year of the Tiger – what’s that tell ya?
One of my favorite acts of mischief as a teenager (and still, though I have to do it prudently now that I am an adult*) was to surprise my siblings. For some reason my four sisters would always exchange the word “scare” for “surprise” whenever they were telling my parents about the incident. I never understood that. Anyway...
There were two ways in which I would surprise them, both very innocent. I think you would agree that people rarely scream, jump, run for cover, or curse when talking about or seeing squirrels or babies, so I don’t see why such reactions were common in my household. I never imagined the amusement I would squeeze out of a taxidermied squirrel (I personally stuffed the squirrel in high school Agricultural Mechanics Class**) and a lifelike baby doll (commonly referred to as “The Chucky Doll”). Most people would call these toys cute, but the reactions elicited from my sisters would have you think that they were anything but.
Why is it that when you pull back your covers and Mr. Squirrel is on your pillow, he ceases to be cute? Why would a midnight apparition of the Chucky Doll wielding a plastic battle axe at the bottom of the stairs be deserving of a blood-curdling scream? C’mon, have the Chucky horror films actually created such a mark on society that the fear of a nefarious doll coming to life somehow worked its way into our semi-sheltered, partially homeschooled household? Or was it Toy Story?! The squirrel coming to life I accept as quite feasible; despite them actually being alive, what homeschool family doesn’t have a copy of Wind in the Willows or a few of Brian Jacques’ Redwall tales lying around?
In my sisters' defense, I guess it is hard to objectify “scary,” as Mickey Mouse somehow worked his way into my own childhood nightmares***. So regardless of how scary it might be found in a Fangoria Magazine poll, each surprise was frightening to my sisters. I mischievously duped them.
My thoughts had recently been drawn back to these years and funny memories (I mean completely regrettable and inconsiderate actions – the kind of stuff that creates “baggage” for the faint of heart) by a peculiar happening in my neighborhood. After a nice Saturday afternoon run, I stepped onto my outdoor balcony with a glass of juice, a book, and the intention of cooling down. As
￼I walked out, I surveyed the neighborhood only to find everything as it normally is – pretty uneventful.
Just before sitting, however, I caught something different out of the corner of my eye. I had a fellow balcony-sitter across the street at the bed and breakfast. As my initial glance revealed that the woman was staring right at me, I held off my own stare and started in on my book. Perhaps 15 minutes
passed and my gaze was drawn up as a large truck bellowed smoke below. Again, I caught the outline of the visitor on the adjacent second- story balcony. I glanced back thinking that she couldn’t possibly still be staring at me. My timid glance was met by an unashamed gaze.
Then it crossed my mind that this lady was checking me out – after all, I had come out shirtless. I simply went back to my book, now a little more curious about this nosey lady. After another 10 minutes my attention was diverted by someone walking his dog, leash in one hand and swinging poopy sack in the other. After his passing, I checked my surroundings as usual – and there she was again. I’ll say I wasn’t really bothered by the woman across the way, but I was increasingly curious as she continued to stare up at me.
My curiosity only increased (in an innocent way - really) as on my third or fourth glance I was fairly certain that her only covering was a sort of a scarf. A bizarre situation is only made more bizarre when you realize that the other party is mostly naked. But she was far enough away for me to give her the benefit of the doubt. Maybe she was wearing the latest fashion in nude-colored tops.
The upward glance, followed by the awkward look around (saying, “I wasn’t looking at you again, I just have this weird tic where I have to stretch my neck and rotate my head every eight minutes”) happened several more times. After 50 minutes of looking up and looking down, glancing this way and that way, and cooling down, I thought to myself, “enough is enough, this chick has barely moved and hasn’t stopped staring at me for the past hour.”
So I did what I should have done at the very beginning, what I learned from the Austrians over the course of living in their country for two years, I stood up and stared that naked lady down! And then after 30 seconds of unabashed staring, I recalled the strange events from the previous day. My wife and I had stopped on the sidewalk to watch three ladies exit their vehicles and carry a mannequin into the b&b (I wasn’t afraid to stare then). I had been duped by a damn mannequin.
I don’t believe in karma, but I do think there is some truth in that old saying, “what goes around, comes around,” and it stretches beyond the realm of tether ball. After all of my trickery and duping, I myself had been duped. My years of mischief were met with a mannequin.
*Prudent Mischief : the wise and judicious tricking, surprising, and scaring of your friends in an effort to be funny, with the knowledge that the action likely won’t be funny to all involved parties until sometime after the event.
**I’ll never forget that class. Some of my classmates were slower in shaving (cutting) the remaining bits of meat off of the squirrel hide. The result of several consecutive snow days was a disturbing return to “the shop” where we had class. The putrid smell of rotting squirrel could barely be contained in the shop, several students “lost” their squirrels completely, and I ended up with a war veteran (I had to amputate three feet – we were able to save one).
***Picture Mickey with fangs. Actually don’t – it is not a pleasant image for any individual.