Sunday, February 3, 2013


(Jean Cocteau, c. 1939)
As we wend our way through life, we experience events in a myriad of ways. Some have a bigger impact than others, but each experience gets tucked away into our grey cells in the form of memories. Countless memories, many of which we never recall. But some of them we do. A person, word, phrase, place, situation…all have the ability to resurrect memories. The mysterious aspect of a memory resurrection device is the memory that is pulled from the dark recesses of the mind. There are the ones that are completely relatable to the trigger device (ex: a Disneyland commercial reminding you of a childhood trip you took there with your family). Then there are ones that aren’t as easy to relate to the mental film they pull from your past. The subject of this post is one of the less obvious recollections.

The trigger device for the sake of this post is the photo at the top of the post. A photo of Jean Cocteau, taken in 1939. (Frenchman Cocteau, was a multifaceted creative person…poet, artist, playwright, filmmaker…I’m sure I left a couple of talents out, but you get the gist. On a side note: he was the creative mind behind the 1946 film masterpiece, “Beauty & the Beast”…I wrote a post about the film on this blog that can be found in the ‘Movies’ section under “Labels”...if you’re interested.) The fact that the picture is of Cocteau has nothing to do with the main focus of this memory. The photograph could be of Moe Howard, or Thor. Personal identity doesn’t matter in this case. It is the structure of the photo. The placement of Cocteau’s head and the wooden hand beside it.

Seeing that image took me to a weekend. A weekend at my Dad’s house many moons ago. The latter half of the 1970's. The players in this remembered tale are me, my brother, and my step-sister. The parental units (Dad and step-mom) weren’t home, so it was the three kids fending for themselves at the two-story house on Mount Vernon Highway. The scene begins with step-sister, Debbie (she prefers to go by Debra now, but for the sake of this retelling she will be referred to as ‘Debbie’). Debbie is chatting away on the kitchen phone. Since the cord of said phone will reach across the downstairs hall into the dining room, she has seated herself on the bottom area of the staircase leading to the second floor. Right foot pressed up against the banister, her back is against the wall.
(Me & Mike)
Cut to the upstairs, where a bored brother and a bored sister are…bored. (Another note for the sake of this post: Mike and Debbie are both four years older than me…I think I was around twelve years old at the time, so they would both be around 16. I shuffled through my meager catalog of old photos of family members, and was only able to come up with photos of my brother and me. The school photos I selected for this post are in the neighborhood of the correct ages we were at the time of this event. The one of me is included due to it being one of my better school pictures…the others should have been burned years ago…yes, they are that ‘good’. The one I picked of my brother is probably a couple of years younger, but it reflects the mischievous nature he possessed in those days.) Mike and I are upstairs in his room, unable to think of something to do to pass the time. Then a proverbial light bulb goes on over Mike’s head. I can say with all honesty that I have no recollection of how he managed to come up with this “scathingly brilliant” idea (a “Trouble with Angels”, reference).

Before I get to the actual mischievous act, I will first try to accurately paint a picture of the stage: The staircase leading to the second story was positioned against a side wall of the dining room, and had a banister up to ceiling level that faced out on the dining room. The upstairs hallway ran parallel to the staircase, with a banister overlooking the staircase and the dining room beyond. Mike and Debbie’s bedrooms were on the second floor, one on either end of the hallway. Their bathroom was positioned in the middle of the hall, in the wall opposite the hall’s banister that looked down on the stairs.

As I stated before, Debbie was casually seated on the bottom few stairs, her right foot pressed against a banister post, and her back against the wall. Basically, if Mike and I looked over the banister, we could look straight down on Debbie and the top of her head. Upstairs, Mike and I are bored, and out of nowhere Mike has a brilliant idea. An idea that involves a latex surgical glove, a length of fishing line, and a few other small aesthetic elements. A prank. Yes, the initial idea of the prank was his, but I will admit that I probably did add my two cents. As I don’t remember any specifics about my creative involvement, I will assume it was the use of aesthetic elements.

The key to the successful execution of our prank was for Debbie to remain on the phone throughout the preparation phase of things. Since she was prone to long gossip fueled conversations with her friends, we were able to tell that she was going to be glued to the phone for a good while. Perfect. We had every confidence that we could see Mike’s mischievous idea become a reality.

(An example of water filled surgical gloves.)
Luckily, we had everything we needed in Mike’s room, so there was no danger of Debbie figuring out that we were up to something by one of us having to use the stairs. Our mother worked in the lab at Grady Hospital (in Atlanta, Georgia), and she had brought home some surgical gloves from work (to explain the presence of the gloves in Mike’s room). The first step was to “fill out” the glove so it resembled a hand more. For it to be useable in the way we wanted to use it, Mike quietly entered the bathroom and filled it with water, tying the open end closed. Perfect. The water gave it enough firmness and weight to do what we wanted, and also have the appearance of being on someone’s hand. Mike had a large puzzle ring (a silver ring that could come apart and then be reassembled…like a puzzle), so we put that on the glove's ring finger. To add a little more aesthetic character, we fashioned a fake shirt cuff and put one of Mike’s cuff links in it. The final stage was to tie a length of fishing line to the knot on the wrist end of the glove. The result was better than we had initially hoped for. After lifting the hand up on the line to test the integrity of the line knot, we prepared ourselves for our big reveal.

(Puzzle ring...haven't seen one of
these in years.)
Just as we knew she would, Debbie was still in the same spot engaged in her dramatically intense chat with her friend on the phone. Stifling the laughter that was fighting to come out, Mike and I crept quietly out of his room until we were standing right above Debbie’s head. Slowly, Mike dangled the glove on its line and began to slowly feed it over the banister towards unsuspecting Debbie. The water filled glove had a very ghostly quality, and I can remember thinking how creepy it looked as it seemed to float down at her.

When the fingertips of the phantom glove were just to the top of Debbie’s head, Mike paused to wait for the right moment. Then slowly he fed the glove past Debbie’s left ear, and…tapped her on the shoulder.

Her head snapped around to the pale white of the glove. Needless to say, she jumped. Screamed. The phone handset flew out of her hand. She was really terrified. Then she heard the raucous laughter of my brother and I, and her fear turned to anger. I don’t remember what the aftermath was like, but I’m guessing that my brother and I holed up in his room for a bit to let things blow over. 

For the most part, that prank is a vivid memory. I expect that I’ll remember other things, as usually happens. One memory, sparks another, which sparks another, and so on, and so forth. I do remember that Mike and I did prank our unsuspecting step-sister other times. Of course it was always in good fun. From our perspective anyway. Though I don’t think Debbie appreciated it much. She has always had a great sense of humor, so I would like to think that she would eventually see the humorous side to what we did. As she had been an only child before Mike and I became her ‘step-siblings’, Debbie hadn’t had the conditioning that Mike and I had. Not to say that our youths had been all that typical, but we grew up having a brother/sister. We were more accustomed to getting on each other’s nerves.

Hopefully, we didn’t annoy Debbie too much…   

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