I used to be a teacher, and April Fool's Day was a fun day. One year I took two rolls of Tri-X, loaded them into a developing tank, and gave them a thorough soak in fixer. Then I waited until one of my students–one of the better ones–showed up all excited about a couple of rolls she'd just shot and wanted to see. I casually mentioned that I had film to develop too, and could she please just mix up a double batch of D-76 1+1? We stood there at the developing table (right, no sink) and processed our film together, chatting amiably. In between agitation cycles, when she wasn't looking, I switched tanks.

When the film had finished washing and she went to hang hers up, there was a gasp, then a shriek, then "Oh, no! Something's wrong! They didn't turn out! I really wanted these pictures!" And so on. Meanwhile, I was quietly hanging up the film from the tank I'd finished. I casually said, "Well, there's certainly nothing wrong with mine. They turned out fine. Come and look." I had to suggest to her that she come look at "my" film about ten times before she actually did, and even then she had to look at half a dozen frames before it gradually dawned on her that "my" film was actually hers—at which point I cracked up—and she started repeatedly slugging me on the shoulder!

No wonder the kids' nickname for me was "Mean Mike."

Another nice one I remember, from high school: a bunch of guys from first period Physics snuck into the Physics homeroom late one afternoon and turned the teacher's big old wooden desk upside down. But being considerate, and meaning to not do any real harm, they first removed the drawers and carefully re-inserted them right-side up, so as not to scramble the contents. (They expected to be present when the teacher discovered the prank the next morning). But the teacher arrived at school early the next day and got a janitor to help him turn the desk right-side-up again. The pranksters just assumed they'd been foiled, until the teacher needed something in the middle of class and yanked open his top drawer....

Sorry to say I didn't have anything to do with that one.

Thinking of playing pranks reminds me of one that wasn't actually a prank at all. I used to live in a walk-up apartment in Washington, D.C., and I had terrible trouble with a downstairs neighbor. Being a teacher, I had to get up early to be at school on time. The guy in the apartment beneath me, a lower-level functionary from the Turkish Embassy, would play his television really loudly until way late at night, making it impossible for me to get any sleep. We had all sorts of run-ins about this, but he was belligerent as all get-out, totally uncooperative. And even the police couldn't do anything, since he had diplomatic immunity. Finally I figured out what was happening: he wasn't ignoring me, exactly. Every night after dinner he'd start drinking hard liquor in front of the TV. After a few hours of this, he'd pass out, with the lights on and the TV blaring. That was why nothing I could do could in the way of banging on the floor or pounding on his door would wake him up again.

One night, it was 4:00 a.m. and, with a mere two hours to go till the alarm went off, I still hadn't gotten a wink of sleep. In my desperation and sleep deprivation, a drastic solution occurred to me: I went down to the basement of the building, found the (ancient) electrical box, and unscrewed the fuses for his apartment.

Perfect. He was passed out anyway, so the dark and the quiet didn't bother him.

Then, as I was leaving the building the next morning at 7:30 or so, I went out through the basement and, on the way out, screwed the fuses back in. I figured I'd deal with the fallout later. As I passed his unit, I saw him through the window, stumbling around groggy and disoriented—because of course the lights and the TV had suddenly come back on, rudely awakening him to what I could only hope was a doozy of a hangover.

Well, I fully expected that he'd be waiting for me that evening and that we'd have a real shouting match, or that there would be a padlock on his fusebox, or something. But no, nothing...nothing at all. Finally it dawned on me—he was clueless. Not only did he not know it was me, but he had no idea what had happened at all!

So I did the same thing again the next night.

It got to be a regular habit. I did the same thing every night from then on. If I had to get up in the morning and his television was blaring, I'd just wait till midnight or one or whenever I wanted to go to bed, go down and knock politely on his door to make sure he was passed out, then amble downstairs and unscrew his fuse before turning in, restoring his power again when I left the next day.

This went on for the whole rest of the time he lived there—five or six months in all. And the beautiful thing was, he never did figure it out. I certainly never let on.

What can I say? Sometimes things just work out.



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