Southern Fun

It was a headline in The State newspaper I could not resist. “Fake Snake Causes Crash On S.C. 55.”

This prank sounds like something I’d do, I thought, and then I read the story, which I share here. “A Clover man was arrested this week after the rubber snake he tossed on S.C. 55 just outside town caused a crash, according to a York County Sheriff’s Office report.

“At the scene of an accident on September 13, a 17-year-old woman driving a Honda told a sheriff’s deputy that when she saw people beside the highway throw a rubber snake in the road then drag it back with a string, she slammed on her brakes to avoid the snake. She said she then heard tires screech as a white Dodge truck crashed into the back of her car. Although the accident caused roughly $8,000 in damage, no one was injured.

Stafford Farris, 20, was later arrested and charged with ‘putting a foreign substance on highway with malice.’ ”

“Putting a foreign substance on highway with malice.” Lordy, what a euphemism for “snake” and “practical joke.” Poor Stafford. He’s ruined for life I guess. The boy just wanted to have some fun, but now the law and insurance companies, I’m sure, are involved. I’m glad no one got hurt. I say give Stafford a break and drop the charges. Even better, give him a medal for trying to have a little fun in a world where fun is a rare commodity.

I, for one, love practical jokes. The only fellow who loves practical jokes more than I do is my friend, Camp. Among my prized possessions are a fake glob of cat poop (extremely realistic) and an envelope of “rattlesnake eggs.” I paid maybe $7.00 total for both and at last tally my investment had earned about $200,000 in fun and laughs.

Here’s a fact. People with cats are sitting ducks for practical jokes. One night I was invited to dinner and a night of cards at a couple’s home. I knew they had cats and stuck my little pile of fake cat poop in my pocket. Dinner was fine. We began playing Spades and soon thereafter a big black cat sauntered in, flipping his tail this way and that. I seized the moment. While everyone was studying their cards, I tossed the little plastic poop over in the corner. It landed right side up. Perfect!

We began playing our hands. I looked around and lifted my nose into the air and sniffed a few times. “I do believe I smell something,” I said. The husband looked at me.

“What?”

I sniffed a few times more and looked around. “Well, it’s not a good smell,” I replied. I looked around some more and sprung the trap. “Oh man, it looks like your cat had a little accident.”

Matt, the fellow’s name was, spotted the poop and his eyes grew wide as saucers. He immediately yelled at the cat and tried to kick it but the cat sprung safely away, looking back as if saying, “What in the Harry did I do?”

I jumped up with a paper napkin in my hand. “Here, let me clean it up for you.”

“No, no,” he said. “I’ll get it.”

“Oh it’s no big deal,” I said, gingerly taking the poop with the napkin. “Pretty warm, fresh out the oven,” I said as Matt came over with a dustpan. As he pushed the dustpan my way I threw the poop up at him. The poor guy fell over a chair behind him. We all had a good laugh. We didn’t see the cat anymore that night by the way.

My little envelope of fake rattlesnake eggs is a lock to generate cackles and deep belly laughs. Here’s how this little package of fun works. It’s a small manila envelope that looks very “government.” It warns the uninitiated that it is not to be trifled with. Printed on it are these words. “Warning! One Dozen Rattlesnake Eggs. Keep Away From Heat.” The admonition about heat seems to be the clincher. It dupes many a nincompoop into a moment of pure terror.

Inside the envelope are little plastic pieces that rattle and a rubber band running through a washer on a wire clamp. You wind the rubber band tight and wedge the washer into the crease of the envelope. Next, you plant it in a good spot where curiosity will get the better of a pinhead. When the hapless mark opens the envelope, the rubber band rattles the washer against the envelope and the fun begins.

I set this trap one hot summer day for a sizable lady I worked with at the South Carolina Wildlife Department, a place perfect for animal pranks. She had a towering beehive hairdo like Marge Simpson and was more than a tad nosy. Into her office I strolled. She was sitting at her desk. I asked to see her boss.

“What you got there, Tom?”

“Oh, some rattlesnake eggs. We’re going to photograph them for a magazine feature.”

“Rattlesnake eggs? I’ve never seen those before.”

I handed her the envelope. As she read the warning, I baited the trap. “Just take a quick peek. I forgot and left them in my car yesterday. They’re ok … I think.”

She slowly shook the envelope. The little plastic pieces clattered. She shook it harder and seemed content with the way it felt. And then the moment of bliss I anticipated arrived. She pried open the envelope and peeked inside. For a moment I blacked out with laughter. I do recall two sounds and one terrible sight.

One, the envelope set to rattling, something akin to movement, which held in your hands adds to the horror. Two, she let out a bloodcurdling scream, tossed the envelope into the air, and her chair flipped over backwards. Her legs went into the air, her arms flew out wide, and she landed on her back with her skirt over her head. It was a sight for sore eyes. She swore she would kill me.

As for me, I’m happy to have a joke played on me. I don’t mind as long as a good laugh is had. I was in a busy bar one night when I looked down at the floor. I couldn’t believe my good luck. Down by my right shoe lay a crisp ten-dollar bill. It took me but a second to lean over to get that ten spot. As soon as my fingers touched it, whoosh! The ten flew up the pants leg of a fellow standing near me. We both had a good laugh.

My friend, Camp, loves a good laugh at the expense of others. In fact, he’s pretty dang good at it. As a boy he had a job in an Upstate South Carolina wool factory. He worked as something called a “cloth boy.” He worked with a group of women. The ladies would pick a day and bring in crafts they made and show them off.

One day the women were passing around their crafts. One woman had made a turtle pincushion. “It looked pretty strange,” Camp recalled. “It had a long red tongue, a green head, and two black, beady eyes. It had a face a bit like Godzilla.”

“Take this pincushion over to Sybil,” one lady told Camp.

“Sybil was sitting in a ladder back chair facing away from me,” said Camp. “So, I just laid the pincushion on her right shoulder. Well, she looked down at her shoulder and saw that red tongue and beady eyes and let out a war whoop. It was just awful. Her dress flew over her head and you could see things a man shouldn’t see. The woman fainted.”

Camp said another woman, trying to be helpful, revived her, and trying to convince her the pincushion was harmless, held it right to her face. Sybil fainted again.

Back in the 1980s, Camp and a co-worker, John, had to go to Atlanta for a conference. At that time, Atlanta was always in the news for its crime, and in particular, its murder rate. On the way to Atlanta, Camp read a newspaper as John drove. Camp read several Atlanta murder reports out loud to John, stressing that they needed to watch their step in the big city. He made up a few gory details, gilding the lily so to speak.

They arrived and checked into their hotel. Camp offered to help John with his bags.

“I had primed John good about how dangerous Atlanta was,” said Camp. “When we got to his room, John began emptying his suitcase. I put his hang-up bag in the closet. John had his back to me. ‘I’ll see you in the lobby,’ I said, and I shut the door and hid in the closet.”

Camp said John came over and put the chain latch in place and resumed unpacking his suitcase. He began humming and singing and even made a phone call or two. “Then he walked by the closet where I was,” said Camp. “I reached out from behind and grabbed him around the throat.”

John tried to scream but couldn’t. Then he began hollering, “Don’t kill me. Please don’t kill me. Lord, don’t kill me. I don’t want to die.”

Camp said John had to lie down for half an hour.

I can relate to Stafford Farris. I, too, had a plastic snake once, a rattler. It looked real. One day I attached some monofilament to its lip and hid it under some pine straw by the trail where I run. I crouched behind some shrubs and waited. Soon, three stout, power-walking women stomped my way. As soon as they were one good stomp away, I yanked that snake right across their path. The reaction was not what I expected. I thought they would shout, “Look out! There’s a snake!” or maybe stop and look around to see who was pulling a snake by a string.

Nope.

Not one woman said a word. Not one warned their co-stompers. They all screamed in unison, threw their hands up in the air, and took off running in different directions! The stomp turned into a stampede! I ran away as fast as I could, dragging my snake behind me. I was afraid to go out on the trail for a week. I feared posters would go up. “Reward Offered For Capture Of Snake Prankster,” complete with a toll-free number.

Now I have no doubt that pranks such as mine and Camps will land you in jail today. We’re so serious now. A little fun will not be tolerated in this day and age. That’s the price you pay for a society filled with too few people who appreciate a good practical joke. Play a good joke on some nitwits today, and they’ll get you fired, sue you, and ruin your life. That’s too bad.

I say phooey to the sourpusses. Phooey to underemployed attorneys. I like mischief. Bring on the practical jokes. Bring on plastic cat poop and fake snakes. In a land filled with unemployed people and stuffed shirts can’t we while away the time having a little fun? Can’t we enjoy a good laugh now and then?

One thing that makes us so very human is our need for laughter but being human has apparently fallen out of fashion. Sadly, people with a sense of humor are in short supply. I’m sure Stafford, that dastardly purveyor of malicious substances on highways, would agree.

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Tom Poland

Tom Poland, A Southern Writer – Tom Poland is the author of twelve books and more than 1,000 magazine features. A Southern writer, his work has appeared in magazines throughout the South. Tom grew up in Lincoln County, Georgia, where four wonderful English teachers gave him a love for language. People first came to know Tom’s work in South Carolina Wildlife magazine, where he wrote features and served as managing editor.Tom’s written over 1,000 columns and features and seven traditionally published books. Among his recent books are Classic Carolina Road Trips From Columbia, Georgialina, A Southland, As We Knew It, and his and Robert Clark’s latest volume of Reflections of South Carolina. Swamp Gravy, Georgia’s Official Folk Life Drama, staged his play, Solid Ground in 2011 and 2012.He writes a weekly column for newspapers and journals in Georgia and South Carolina about the South, its people, traditions, lifestyle, and changing culture and speaks often to groups across South Carolina and Georgia.Tom earned a BA in Journalism and a Masters in Media at the University of Georgia. He lives in Columbia, South Carolina where he writes about Georgialina—his name for eastern Georgia and South Carolina. Visit my website at www.tompoland.net Email me at [email protected]