Mischief runs in my family’s genes. For some reason, there’s this underlying compulsion that exists in our nature that always has us trying to execute the perfect prank. The more shocking the prank, the better. It goes back at least three generations.
Take for example my grandma, my dad’s mom–we call her Lela.
When I was 10, she was visiting us and my parents decided that she would share our room. Me and my brother shared bunk beds. I slept on the top and my brother slept on the bottom. While she stayed with us, my brother slept on the floor and she slept on his bunk.
One night before we went to bed, we were laying in our beds, talking about something.
My brother had already fallen asleep and my grandmother was telling me a story.
All of a sudden, mid sentence, she stopped talking. I waited a few seconds for her to continue with the story.
So I waited some more.
So I sat up in bed and leaned over the side to look down at my grandma.
She was laying there, with her eyes closed, motionless.
“Lela,” I called down to her.
“Lela, are you ok?”
She didn’t respond. Hell, she didn’t even move. It was too dark to tell, but from where I was, it looked like she wasn’t even breathing.
Fear started to set in as the most horrific of thoughts started formulating in my head: “Was Lela dead?”
A knot formed in my stomach and throat as I quickly jumped off my bunk and moved in closer to look at her face.
She looked dead….
I wanted to scream for my parents but I couldn’t. Fear left me mute. All I could manage was a faint and trembling: “Lela, are you ok?”
‘Oh my God,’ I thought, ‘Lela is dead.’
I was almost in tears when she jumped up and let out a loud scream. I screamed like a frightened school girl and jumped back, stunned and terrified by my grandma’s passing and her miraculous resurrection.
Then she started laughing. I mean laughing so hard her tears were coming out. She laughed like it was the funniest thing she had ever seen. There I was, cowering on the floor, terrified because she had just played dead and scared the crap out of me, and she thought it was funny.
I got so mad that I jumped back on my bunk and pulled the sheets over my head and turned towards the wall.
I could still hear her giggling to her self for at least another 10 minutes before I fell asleep.
The next morning at breakfast she looked across the table at me and flashed me a mischievous smile.
I was still mad and I’m pretty sure I gave her a scowl.
She laughed as she went stiff, wrapped both her hands around her neck, stuck out her tongue, closed her eyes and played dead.
I was so angry that all I could manage to do was scream at her: “That’s not funny, Lela.”
She was in tears as she told my parents and my brother what happened the night before.
It took a while, but as I got older, and my very own mischievous nature began to develop, I grew to appreciate the mastery and artfulness it took to recognize and execute that prank.
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-How’d it go?
-What do you mean?
-You were in there for like 45 minutes. That’s a long time to be in his office.
-He said he had some concerns and asked me some basic questions.
-I gathered. About what?
-Just some general concerns and basic questions.
-General concerns, basic questions?
-Yeah, you know, just generally speaking.
-You’re in there for 45 minutes, you come out, and all you can say is he had some general concerns? Nothing specific?
-Yeah. What do you want me to say?
-How ’bout some fucking details, Manny, like what he asked you, what was his mood like, how should I respond to a certain question based on the way he responded to your answers to that question?
-Just be yourself and you’ll be fine.
-Be myself and I’ll be fine? I’m a six foot two brown kid with a heavy Chicago accent that goes to a state university with a nonexistent journalism program. Those dudes on staff in there come from a murderers’ row of journalism schools.
-You always do this to yourself. You got the skills and the clips, man.
-A feature on why you should ride your bike to school to save the environment is hardly a solid clip.
-That one prof liked it, said it was well written, said you had a journalist’s knack.
-It was well written, just not the stuff that gets you these gigs.
-You’ll be fine.
-I’ll be fine… I’ll be fine. Fuck, here he comes…
-Who? The guy you just interviewed with.
-Oh, yeah, that guy. He’s a real dick. Make sure you don’t….
-Hello, sir, Rolando Ithier. Pleasure to meet you.
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So we’re hanging out one summer day in the back yard of my parents’ house, bored to death, trying to figure what we’re going to do with ourselves for the rest of the day.
Grade school had just let out, and my buddy, my little bro and myself were eager to get our summer started on some exciting adventure.
“Wanna go throw rocks at the bums over at the Blue Line stop on Pulaski?” my buddy asked.
“Nah… We did that yesterday,” I said. “Besides, that one bum that’s always there with the mohawk, he’s going to kill us if he sees us over there again.”
“Let’s go to the park,” my little brother chimed in.
“We’re not going to the park,” I said. “We wanna do something fun.”
“The park is fun,” my brother said. “We can mess around in the playground.”
“No it’s not,” my buddy said. “Well, I guess it is if you’re a little baby.”
“I’m not a baby….”
“I got it,” I said. “How ’bout we go steal some Chick O’ Sticks from the corner store?”
“That’s stupid,” both my brother and buddy said.
“Well what the hell are we going to do?” I asked, as if stealing Chick O’ Sticks was the best option.
“I’ll tell you what we can do,” my buddy said. “I’ve got this lighter, let’s go set shit on fire.”
“Yeah…Let’s set shit on fire.”
So we set out to set shit on fire. First it was little things, like a pile of twigs, or a stack of old newspapers we found in the alley.
Then we moved on to slightly larger things, like a card board box for a TV and a few plastic containers.
We delighted in each act of fiery destruction. We were appealing to our most caveman of instincts: Fire, good. Fire, warm. Fire, pretty.
With each thing we burned, we stood, watching, our little pyromaniac minds filled by the desire to want to burn something bigger, and better. Watch it burn to ashes. But all we had was the lighter, and the larger the object, the more difficult it was to set on fire with just the simple flame.
We came across a discarded kitchen cabinet. My buddy gave it a rip with the lighter, but it wouldn’t take.
Then I had an idea, an epiphany, really. We needed an accelerant.
“We need gas, or lighter fluid,” I said. “You know, to get the flames going.”
“Where the hell are we going to get that?” my buddy asked? “You got money to go buy some?”
“Nah, I’m broke.”
“We can use mom’s hairspray,” my brother said. “That’ll light on fire.”
“Yeah, yeah it will,” I said.
“You little genius,” my buddy added.
“Run inside and get it,” I said.
My little brother ran and got the spray and came back out to the alley where we had the kitchen cabinet.
We sprayed the cabinet all over with the hairspray and lit it with the lighter.
And, man, did the thing go up. But the hairspray wasn’t as flammable as we thought, and the fire soon died down with out completely burning the cabinet.
Disappointed by the results, we decided to give up on setting shit on fire, and returned to the backyard.
Bored once again, we tried to find ways to pass the time. We threw clumps of dirt at each other, took turns jumping the fence into the neighbor’s yard and doused each other with water from the garden hose.
Then, it hit me: Flame thrower.
“Give me the lighter,” I told my buddy.
“Just give it here.”
He tossed it to me and I ran and grabbed the hairspray and began to let out bursts of flames.
“It’s a flame thrower, guys.”
We all laughed and watched in awe as I let out burst after burst of flames into the air.
Then I got an idea, that at the time seemed like a good one: I began chasing my buddy and little brother as I shot bursts of flames at them.
It was fun and games at first. I chased my buddy for a while, then turned my attention to my brother. I chased him down the side walk and into the corner between the garage and the gate the led to the alley, which was closed.
My brother, never thinking to open the gate to make an escape down the alley, just sat there against the gate, trapped and cowering in fear.
I shot a burst towards him, thinking that it would be inches short, you know, enough to scare him, but not actually hit him.
Then I heard a sizzle and my brother scream out and saw a puff of smoke go up.
In my mind I thought, ‘Oh shit I just burned my brother, God is he ok?’
For a few seconds it was pure terror. I wasn’t sure how badly I had burned him. I was blinded by fear.
But then he screamed out, “You burned my hair you asshole.”
Then my thoughts turned to,’Oh shit, my parents are going to kick my ass.’
We spent the rest of the day trying to get the burn smell out of my little brother’s hair.
We tried washing his head repeatedly with the garden hose, went to my buddy’s house to get some hair gel to try and mask the smell, we even tried clipping some of the burnt ends off.
In the end, it wasn’t that bad, I had just burned the tips of hair on one side of his head.
And my parents never noticed. And my brother never ratted me out.
So, you know, I got away with it. That is, until my parents read this.
And then I’ll be writing next week about how a 32-year-old man got an ass whipping for something he did when he was 13.
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I grew up in a very conservative, Christian household. My parents follow a sect of Christianity known as Pentecostalism that adheres to a strict interpretation of the bible.
Now I know what most of you may be thinking. That must have sucked.
But actually, it was a good childhood. It kept me out of trouble.
Overall, I have no complaints about my childhood or being brought up in the church.
But even as a child as young as seven or eight, I noticed things about some of the church’s practices that seemed odd to me.
Take for example the belief in the ability to ”speak in tongues”. That’s when a practitioner is overcome with the “holy spirit” and acts as a vessel through which a message from God is transmitted.
It almost always happened during a period of musical “praise” where strings and synths were being played and the congregation was deep in a meditative state.
What resulted was a person speaking in some out-of-this-world language, to which, after a brief pause, either that person, or another chosen practitioner in the congregation would translate into English, or, in the case of my church, Spanish.
Not going to lie. At first that shit freaked me out as a kid. It also struck me as something that was a bit forced.
But like everything else weird and unusual, after seeing it several times, it became normal for me. It was far-fetched in my mind, but it was just something that happened.
For some odd reason one person spoke this martian language, and after a few seconds, someone else who apparently spoke the same language translated for the rest of us.
But then one day in church during one of those episodes, my young and bored mind had a thought: What if I translated the message? It seemed to me that it would be easy enough. All I had to do was close my eyes and appear to be deep in thought, throw my hands up in the air a couple times while delivering the message emphatically.
As I sat there listening to the person speaking martian, I quickly tried to come up with a message that held some meaning to my young mind. Something other than the “God wants you to be faithful and serve him” message usually served up.
Then it hit me: God wants you to take your children to Chuck E Cheese after the service and buy them pizza and let them play all the games they want.
It would be perfect. And all the fellas would think of me as some sort of hero, because surely if God says it, it will pass.
Sweet Jesus, it would be a miracle. Pizza and video games for everyone!
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-Do me a favor, kid, and pass me that box of tissue. This cold weather’s got my nose all snotty.
-Here you go, Verna.
-Thanks, toots. Christ I’m falling apart.
-It’s been a while. How’ve you been?
-Well I’m sick as shit, I’m old as hell and I’m back in this shit hole ER again, so not so good. I tell ya, the asshole that called these years golden was high on some good shit.
-Well let’s see if we can get you feeling better and back home.
-Well let’s see if we can get you feeling better…. I’m sick of it. You know what you guys are like?
-Shitty mechanics. Yeah, I said it. You’re shitty mechanics.
-What the hell are you talking about, Verna?
-I’m like and old ass car, with a old ass engine, and I keep coming into your shop here and you guys keep sending home with patch jobs that only hold up for a month or two then I get busted down again and I’m back in for more repairs.
-It’s not the same thing, Verna. It’s not like we can order you a new heart from the parts shop and swap it out. This isn’t the movies.
-Jesus Christ, I know that, kid. It’s just a… a…Damn it, what do you call it?
-Yes, analogy. I’m trying to make a point here, kiddo. And that point is I’m sick of your shitty patch jobs.
-Well how about this? As your mechanic, I have to tell you that it’s not worth putting anymore money and time into your old ass car. The engine is failing and the transmission is leaking fluid. It’d probably be better off if we put it out of its misery and drop it off at the junk yard and scrap it for parts.
-I’d probably say I want a second opinion.
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Fuck, why do I always wait to the last minute to study? Had all day yesterday to learn this shit and I’m doing it an hour before class on the damn L…. Run through it again: Deoxygenated blood enters into the right atrium from the superior and inferior vana cava, through the tricuspid valve into the right ventricle where it is then pushed past the pulmonary valve and into the pulmonary artery, then….
“Excuse me. Excuse me, y’all. Can a poor old lady get y’alls attention for a momentary?”
Christ what the hell does this freak want? Asshole, you threw me off my train of thought.
“I just would like to ask y’all if you wouldn’t mind signing my petition to state that I hate Bruce Rauner. Why do I hate Bruce Rauner? Well, cause he’s fucking up our Medicaid. Fucking it right up. I think that he should….
Ok, well this one isn’t shutting up so block her out and focus. …into the pulmonary artery where it is then carried to the lungs to be oxygenated, where it then is returned to the left atrium via the left pulmonary veins…
“Excuse me sir. Excuse me.”
Fuck she standing right in front of me. Don’t look up. You have your headphones on, just ignore her.
“Sir don’t be rude, I know you hear me. Can I have a momentary of your time, is all I’m asking?”
Fuck me I just want to study. Ah fuck it, she’s not going to go away.
“Yes, mam. What can I do for you?”
“Well thank ya for ya time, I appreciate it. I would like to know if you’d sign my petition against Bruce Rauner. You know he’s fucking up our Medicaid, right?”
“I hear he’s trying to change a bunch of things.”
“But especially our Medicaid. And we can’t let him do that. So will you sign?”
“Can I see the petition?”
“Yes you can.”
What the fuck? The damn thing just says “I hate Bruce Rauner” across the top in black marker and “He’s fucking up Medicaid” under that in red marker. And there’s two signatures with the same hand writing.
“I hate to break it to you, but this isn’t a petition. It’s your personal opinion. And you don’t mention anything about what you want changed or to be done.”
“I want for him not to fuck up Medicaid. Ain’t that clear?”
“Alright, mam, I have to get back to studying here. I’m not got to sign that.”
“What you studying…”
“Mam, hey, don’t touch my book…”
“Why you got all those pictures of hearts in that book? You studying to be a doctor?”
“No. I’m not.”
“Lord oh lord, this world is surely coming to an end. A brown doctor man that don’t care about poor black folks that need they Medicaid. Mhm, mhm, mhm, this brown boy studying to be doctor and he don’t care a lick. Well you know what, brown doctor man? I hate you too.”
…It goes down past the mitral valve into the left ventricle and is pushed up past the aortic valve into the aorta and through the rest of the body….
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I was sitting at work, a day like any other, when Beth, a nurse, walked up to me and said: “Hey, Ro, can you help me clean and change room 22?”
“Yeah, no problem,” I said as we walked over to the room.
“It’s this cute little old black lady,” Beth said as we walked. “She’s 98-years-old.”
“Alright,” I said.
We got to the room and Beth opened up the door and we both walked in.
“Ms. Smith,” Beth said, “We’re going to clean you up and change you.”
“Ok,” Ms. Smith replied. “Oh, lord, who is this man right there? Handsome devil.”
“This is my friend, Ro,” Beth said as she giggled.
“Hi, Ms. Smith,” I said. “I’m going to help Beth change and clean you. We just have to take off these blankets and your depends.”
“For what, so you can get ready to come over here and lay on me?” she asked with a smirk on her face.
Beth’s nearly inaudible giggle turned to a full out laugh.
“No, Ms. Smith,” I said. “No one is going to be laying on anyone around here.”
“Well it’s a damn shame, I tell you, cause I’m ready.”
Beth and I both started laughing. We couldn’t help it. Was I really being propositioned by a 98-year-old lady for a booty call?
“Well I tell you what, when you ready to come get you some, you come see me,” she said as she began winking at me and blowing me kisses.
I guess that’s exactly what was happening.
“Ms. Smith, you’re going to get me in trouble. Beth here knows my girlfriend.”
“I don’t care. I got something for your girlfriend,” she said as she balled up fists in a boxing stance and starting throwing punches. “Pew, pew, pew, POW!”
At that point, Beth and I were practically in tears. Here’s this little old lady, old enough to be my great grandmother, and she was as feisty as could be.
Not only was she trying to “get some” but she was also willing to whip my girlfriend’s ass to get it.
We finished cleaning her up and I told her I was leaving.
To which she replied: “You know I’m just talking crazy.”
“I know Ms. Smith, it’s good to have a sense of humor. I’ll check on you later.”
“Ok, Big Daddy,” she said as I left the room with that same smirk on her face.
Time flew by, we got busy as hell, and I almost forgot about Ms. Smith. That is, until, Beth walked up to me with her own smirk on her face and asked: “Hey, do you want to take your girlfriend in 22 up to her room?”
“Why the hell not?”
I walked back to her room, opened the door and announced: “Ms. Smith, I’m here to take you up to your room.”
“Let’s go, daddy,” she said, smirking again. “You think we’ll have some alone time up there.”
“Probably not, but we’ll at least have the trip up together.”
“Fine by me.”
I packed her stuff on the cart and off we went. I turned left at the main hallway that connects our ER to the main hospital. It was mid afternoon so the hallway was packed with traffic. People going back-and-forth to the various parts of the hospital. No one really paying attention me or the little ball of energy that sat on the cart.
To be honest, I was surprised at how well she was behaving. I thought for sure she would act out in front of anyone who could be a potential audience for her nutty antics.
We got to the staff elevators and a few people were waiting to go up. Then she started again.
“Hey, mam,” she said to a young female transporter. “Ain’t he pretty? Tell me he ain’t pretty with that beard and that face.”
The poor woman, she had no idea what to say. I could tell she didn’t want to offend me or the old lady, so she said: “Yes. Yes he is pretty. With that beard and that face.”
Luckily the elevator arrived at the first floor and I got her in it as quickly as I could.
As we made our way up to the fourth floor of the hospital. Ms. Smith turned to me, smiled and said: “Baby, you know I’m just talking crazy, right? I’m old, and I don’t got much. No family, no friends. All I got me is some talking crazy to keep me from going crazy. Smile before I cry. You know what I’m telling you?”
“I get it, Ms. Smith,” I said. “I’ll take a laugh over a cry any day.”
Just then the doors opened and I pushed her out into the busy hallway.
“Lord or lord, I hope there’s some pretty men up here. Not that one, he’s too fat. But that one, yes, that one’ll do.”
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