Ten minutes is too much free time for teenagers. And as seniors in high school, it was all we needed to pull the perfect prank during our last finals week. It was all the time we needed to be remembered.
Second period was Advanced Journalism (school newspaper, yearbook, etc.). We were by no means advanced journalists, but we did watch All The Presidents Men over two class periods once, so were understood what it meant to be great. In regards to what would go down as my triumphant high school exit, the journalism classroom was situated in the date, original half of our high school, adjacent to what everyone called the "Old Gym." Our door was merely feet away from a seldom used backdoor entrance to its former prestige.
The Old Gym was ousted as the primary arena for sporting events once our school underwent a major overhaul and addition in which the athletic facilities were the primary area of focus at Faribault Senior High School. The Old Gym was still utilized by gym classes and underclassmen sports teams and in its catacombs were dimly lit locker rooms that were possessed with the stank of decades of poorly bathed high school athletes. While a few teams still occupied the locker rooms, the training and coaches offices were left vacant, only housing equipment overflow and vintage metallic teacher's desks - the perfect setting for a kill room should Dexter discover a rogue athlete whose dismissal from the football team led to a series of unsolved murders involving Russian kettlebells or dark, subliminal messages in between the alternating AC/DC, Guns & Roses and Linkin Park weight room mix. Even though the vacant office space were deemed useless, they offered one key benefit to me and my cohorts: active phone lines.
Months earlier I was unintentionally introduced to a hidden trick up our teachers' usually predictable sleeves. During a late-night band rehearsal, our director activated the school's intercom or "all-call" system through his office phone line in order to hail someone to the auditorium.
The phone system?! That's all it takes?! The secretary didn't posses a sacred key to an omnipotent microphone?
The first call didn't yield results for the director's request. We both knew he'd have to call again. I played it cool, acting nonchalant, making small-talk with a teacher who I was probably closer to than any others in high school. Who knows what we talked about. His affinity for Nine Inch Nails? The Timberwolves' disappointing follow-up to their Western Conference Finals run of the year before? Our displeasure for any acronym-based downer of a student group? It didn't matter. He was about to make the most important phone call of my high school career.
After an appropriate amount of time, the director's patience waned and he lifted the receiver. I'd already been mentally preparing myself to memorize what might has well have been the coordinates to the Fountain of Youth. My mind was clear. He dialed; I watched out of the corner of my eye while I pretended to sketch on a used hall pass. I ran the four numbers through my head, over, and over, and over, like I was trying to remember a cute girl's phone number in the pre-cell phone era. I immediately dismissed myself with my pen and hall pass. As soon I was out of sight, I scribbled the digits on the hall pass and tucked it safely in my saxophone case.
I had what I needed.
As advanced journalists, the editors had access to the school on weekends, after hours. Our teacher was usually with us for a while, but since we'd procrastinated writing anything for the next issue of our high school newspaper, our need often outlasted our teacher's sleep cycle, leaving us alone. No teachers. No staff. Not even the janitor patrolled the halls this late on the weekends.
I'd already shared my recent discovery with my co-editors, Andy and Pete, and we abandoned our usual after-hours shenanigans to plan our all-call caper. We tested the system, sending standard roadie cadences over the loud speakers, "Check. One, two. Check. Sibilance, sibilance," and mixed in the kind of blue humor only 18-year-old teenage boys could dream of hearing when they harnessed the voice of God.
"Dude, we should use this during the day - freak people out!"
It had to be done. A bird doesn't posses the power of flight and migrate by Greyhound. A unicorn doesn't use its horn as a key ring. It slays ogres and pesky dwarves with a vengeance, probably. We deliberated over our plan at a detailed level that our teacher's couldn't possibly believe we were capable of, given the usually haphazard state of our homework assignments (that thanks to "No Child Left Behind," was perfectly acceptable work). Our final scheme would force us to be patient.
We wandered down the dank stairwell that led us to court-level of the Old Gym and across the orange glow of its exit sign-lit wooden floor. Descending another set of stairs to the catacombs, we passed our hands across the cold cement walls feeling for light switches. We were irrationally giddy, recapitulating what was to become our status as FSHS legends.
Three of us stood inside a vacant coach's office and gazed down at an active phone line with repressed tears of joy. One of us activated the all call and we each heard our voices echo through the cement-and-metal-laden locker room. We cheered. We embraced. We left as students, knowing we'd return as kings.
Finals week arrived at a fever pitch. We'd been patient. And most importantly, we were prepared. During another late night session only days before finals week, we'd marched back downstairs to ground zero, boom box in toe, cued to a CD that was burned with nineteen or twenty straight tracks of "Relax" by Frankie Goes To Hollywood - the perfect message for stressed, test-taking students. We heard Frankie's plea over the intercom. Satisfied, we stowed-away our boom box in an empty desk drawer.
In a couple days, after our advanced journalism final, we'd promptly head down to the gym, press "play" on our boom box - one we were willing to part with given its impending confiscation - dial the all-call and make our way, unnoticed, into the crowded hallway conditions that only a special ten-minute finals week pass-time could produce. We'd coyly laugh with our classmates and wait the appropriate amount of time before we'd divulge our secret. After all, we couldn't risk having our graduation rights revoked.
The hum of the monotone passing bell made our hearts race. I felt as though I'd already been caught in the act and tossed out on the street sans diploma. Apparently, my body's defense mechanism towards risk is to induce a grave sense of dread and a sever case of unwanted thought syndrome, but I wasn't about to abort the mission and graduate with regrets.
We felt like astronauts crossing the gym floor, and even today, in my mind, we walked in slow motion towards history.
The locker room was empty. Our boom box was intact. And the phone had a dial tone.
Someone grabbed the boom box, probably Andy, and pressed "play," followed by "repeat," and set it on the desk. Tension hung in the air as we took one long, final look at each other, telekinetically asking, "OK, are we really going through with this?" But there wasn't time to hesitate, we'd already spent two minutes walking down to the coach's office and we needed to hustle back upstairs to soak in all of our glory.
I can't remember who picked up the phone; it probably wasn't me. We'd rehearsed this moment. Frankie made my toe tap. I could hear the dial tone as I watched my friend's finger slowly, one-by-one dial our destiny. One. Two. Three. Deep breath. Get ready to run! Four! Scatter!
"Dude, you dialed it wrong!"
Quickly, the all-call was dialed once more. Nothing. Third time's a charm. Nothing. Our hearts sank. There hadn't been a senior prank yet. At least not one worthy of the history books. This was going to be our one shining moment. It was the story people would ask us to retell during drunken nights at a local dive when everyone migrates home for Thanksgiving. We would have been immortal.
We were devastated.
In one last feeble attempt at glory, we walked down to the main office and convinced a secretary that we really needed to deliver a message to a friend, knowing the intercom was the only way to track down a student amongst the chaos of finals week. She bit. But as she picked up the receiver to summon our friend, she shrewdly perceived our interest in watching her dial the number. She cleverly guarded her dialing hand with her offhand, clearly satisfied with herself.
Calling our friend down from the opposite end of the school for no reason, nearly making him late for his next exam turned out to be our senior prank. Burn! You've been inconvenienced! How do you like us now?!
Recently, I had the pleasure of catching up with Andy after his tour in Afghanistan and then Pete just few months later while I was on vacation in Hawaii (he's stationed there as he's also in the service). It had been a little while since I had seen Andy and I hadn't spoken to Pete in almost eight years. But you better believe that we reminisced on "the prank that never was" as though it all went down according to plan.
Enjoy my favorite albums of the year's third quarter. Tracks 23-32 on the Spotify playlist are fresh and ready for aural consumption.
|Website | Watch "One For The Road" Music Video|