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Pranks and embarrassments

By John A. Spritz

The problem with writing an article under such a headline, of course, is that everyone thinks that their own individual pranks and/or embarrassments are far more prankworthy or embarrassing than anyone else's. You may be right, but I have circumvented this problem, to some extent, by culling some of my favorite stories from my friends and then lying and telling you that most of them happened to me. That way, you, the reader, will know that I shouldn't be blamed if my tales appear colorless or all-too-typical: the responsibility which I assume is totally fallacious.

I figured I should start off with an embarrassing moment that truly happened to me, though. It's a very small incident but very peculiar. Last fall, one night about two o'clock in the morning, someone phoned in a bomb-threat to Eliot House. Every resident of the House piled out of his or her bed and into the courtyard, as those nightmarish klaxon-horns which double for fire-alarms resounded through the rooms. Everyone left, that is, except me. I became, that instant, the first non-drugged person in history to sleep through a bomb-threat, and those god-awful foghorns, one of which is in my own bedroom. What eventually woke me up? The phone, of course--my roommate called the room to see if I was still in there, and I just couldn't sleep through that phone's ringing.

One day last June, an official at Houghton Library (and I know this is useless: everyone has a library story--preferably Widener--but this one was too good to resist) one day, last June, an official at Houghton noticed a pen left lying on a table. Now it is universally known that pens are prohibited in Houghton, to the point of extinction: paranoid librarians would claim that potentially destructive annotations scribbled in a book's margins can be far more damaging in ink, than in pencil.

Hence the regulations. Hence that June day when the Houghton official saw that first pen. He walked over to pick it up, and saw out of the corner of his eye another pen, lying a few feet away. Picking up the second pen, he suddenly became aware that, through some bizarre biological mishap, a single Bic pen had reproduced itself a thousand times, throughout the library's reference room. Pens were stacked in piles on the shelves, magic-markers were falling out of wastebaskets, a bagfull of fine-points was spilled on the floor.

While the librarians madly scrambled for these orphaned ink'guns, someone spotted an unusually fat student running towards the exit. An official shouted 'stop him!' the student was tackled, and the mystery was solved: as the corpulent criminal went flying, his coat flew open, and enough pens to staff the Pentagon came flying out, blissfully freed. Psychiatrists were summoned to the scene when it was proved that the fanatical pen-depositer was actually a crazed grad student, seeking revenge upon the institution on which he had fed in the only way he knew: sabotage.

The most embarrassing moments, of course, occur in the presence of beautiful women (or men). It's sexist, I know, but there hasn't been a minute in these past four years more excruciating than--I should start at the beginning. Living in Claverly during sophomore year was painful enough, but living next-door to one of those notoriously-beautiful laxwomen made the experience doubly fraught with peril. Which to dread more: stepping out into that dingy hallway and facing that bleak linoleum runway, or stepping out into that hallway and coming face to face with this year's Cover Girl, fresh from some disturbingly-athletic activity?

And what had to happen, did. Late for a class one afternoon I raced down the hall, and foolishly grabbed for the closing iron-gate on the antiquated elevator. Slamming inside, and swinging the door behind me, I sensed a smell of squash rackets and straight teeth. She was there. In the elevator. With me. Well, you can only stare at the graffitti on the elevator-walls for so long, and you can only chew your shirt-collar in anxiety for so long, and you can only notice that the elevator is not moving, the elevator is not moving the elevator is not--.

We are stuck. Visions of a thousand Dick Van Dyke reruns dance through my head as I tried to appear casual, groping for the emergency phone that wasn't there. She said nothing all along, and I am convinced to this day that she never even knew that I was in the elevator with her. She existed on some distant ethereal plane of straight proud noses and beautiful smiles, neither of which I possess.

(Back) in the elevator, the minutes passed, I searched frantically for an exit, and we never said a word. Did I pass out? Did the elevator eventually start of its own accord, as the Gods had determined that they had played with me enough? I only know that I somehow made it through that day, that year, and I now see her on the street and smile foolishly, and she walks past, sailing indomitably onwards in that world of hers where embarrassed boys never talk to you and elevators never break down.

Telephone Prank No. 109 (Note: These mini-pranks are described only so that students may be enlightened as to the higher and more creative uses of the Centrex system.) When my freshman roommate was lonely, he would call, on the phone, every room in our dorm, and ask for himself. It was somehow reassuring to him to hear dozens of students tell him that "No, he doesn't live here, he lives downstairs," and it was double reassuring to have those same students come up to my roommate the next day and ask him if he ever got that call from that friend on the phone, last night.

There is only one building in Harvard in which I seriously enjoy taking finals, and that building is Burr Hall. Specifically, the room melliflously known as 'Burr B' must have been designed with tricksters like me in mind. The room is constructed along the dimensions of a Aztec temple, giving the person sitting in the last and top row a fine range of the classroom, perfect for taking notes, counting bald heads, and spitting. For three years, I have taken finals in that room, and every year I try to improve on myself.

Sophomore year, I sat in the top row and deftly employed a water-pistol during particularly tedious moments. For my junior year tests, I dropped marbles down the stairs--on the right track, but still not distracting enough. Last January, I achieved comic nirvana; I brought a slinky to finals, and started it off on the top stair, ten minutes before the three hours were up, and patiently watched those coils undulate down the steps, taking a good five minutes to get to the ground floor. I am glad that I am a senior--how could I top that, next year?

In the same room, but in a different category, I once saw a freshman--of course--literally fall off the top row of Burr B. As I recall; he was laughing too much at some professor's witticism, and he catapulted himself down several rows, coming to rest on the back of a large yellow dog, who faithfully attended classes, there.

That student may have been embarrassed, but there is something more shaming still in the story of a freshman who fell four floors off the fire-escape of Grays, in the Yard. She is alive and well, needless to say, but will probably deny that the incident ever occurred. Do not let her fool you. After her accident, the proctors issued a memo to all Yard freshmen. The memo did not say "Do not sit on fire-escapes--; rather, it entreatied the Yard freshmen not to fall off the fire-escapes. The plunger ought to be proud, not ashamed, as she has instituted a major change in the University's housing policy.

Can I indulge in just one more sexist moment? This happened, not to me, but to my roommate. My roommate believes that, no matter what happens in the presence of a beautiful woman, there is always one dictum to be followed: Thou Shalt Never Lose Thine Cool.

He was put to the test one desperate day when, in the dining-room, he wheeled around a corner, tray in hand, only to confront The Most Beautiful Woman in Radcliffe (this is what everyone calls her--her family name has long since been discarded). The shock of being within three feet of The Most Beautiful Woman in Radcliffe was too much for my roommate, and his tray came clattering down, gracefully allowing the day's lunch to take up residence on his penny-loafers.

Thou Shalt Never Lose Thine Cool. With a resolve that Evil Knievel would admire, my roommate ran to our table, grabbed another tray, and threw it down at his feet. Not content with this, he took two trays--full of food, mind you--out of the arms of passers-by, and happily let them drop on the now newly-decorated floor.

The Most Beautiful Woman in Radcliffe looked confused, smiled weakly and passed on. I pulled my roommate aside. 'Don't you see," he panted, "I had to show her that I wasn't just another clumsy clod, that I dropped the tray on purpose." This story is told with a note of caution: readers should not attempt to emulate my roommate, as there are not that many trays of food in each dining-room, and there are fewer Most Beautiful Women in Radcliffe.

The most dangerous intersection in Cambridge is not the Harvard Sq. vortex, but the corners of Mt. Auburn and Boylston Sts., where I have suffered through my most humiliating moments. It is there that a decaying drunk collapsed on me as he wheeled out of the Rix drugstore, sending us both crashing to the pavement. As I stood him up, he swooped down again, once again taking me with him. I finally propped him up against the wall--he may be there, still.

At that intersection, I romantically dallied with a girlfriend in the small park outside of Grendel's. The magic of that summer moment was somewhat dimmed, however, when we spied a businessman urinating in the bushes not five feet away.

Finally, my memories of that street-corner are certainly colored by the time when, enroute to a party with a case of beer (bottles, of course), I tripped on the curb and shattered 288 ounces of Budweiser all over Mt. Auburn Street. Unlike my roommate, I did not immediately purchase another case and repeat the motion.

One of my few friends on the football team, actually, was a guy named Barry. Junior year, he thought that he'd fulfill his patriotic duty by giving blood, for the Red Cross. So Barry plodded over to Memorial Hall, filled out his forms, sat in line, and assumed the old horizontal position for 20 minutes, as he lost a pint of blood. When he got up to leave, one of those octogenarian ladies who were born solely to serve at blood-drive centers came over to escort him to the congratulatory cookies-and-soda table.

Barry started to walk over, and Barry--this huge Neanderthalish supreme physical speciman of a man--can you guess what Barry did, on the walk over, minus that pint of blood? No, that's not what happened. What did happen was that he leaned too hard on the arm of the little old lady, who promptly collapsed under his weight. They had to pick her up and bring some real nurse over to take care of her and that's the truth.8Tim Carlson, Mark Lennihan and P. Wayne Moore

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