Author’s note: This is the 100th episode!! Thank you to all of you for following along with this story. It means a lot that you find enjoyment in my storytelling.
Toilet-papering houses has long been a traditional prank among teenagers and young adults. High school and college students would decorate houses, yards, and trees with toilet paper as a way to play a good-natured joke on someone.
At least that was what I had always heard. I was never one of the cool kids, so my house never got toilet-papered when I was in high school. I lived far from most of my friends, and none of them knew where I lived, and even if they did, I did not have the kind of social connections that led me to be involved in any of these pranks, either as an instigator or a recipient.
This year, though, I felt like I was living with the cool kids, or at least closer to the experience than I ever had before. Many of the students in Jeromeville Christian Fellowship lived with each other in large houses and apartments, and many of those students’ social lives revolved around JCF. I had begun attending JCF about a month into the school year last fall, and over the course of the year I had gotten to know many of the other students in the group over the course of the year. One of the cool kid houses split up because most of the residents graduated, but two residents of that house who were still in Jeromeville, and they were now my roommates for this year. Shawn Yang was still a student at the University of Jeromeville, in the teacher training program, and Brian Burr was working part-time for JCF, supported by contributions, and taking the year to apply to medical school.
Shawn and I moved in the first weekend of September, and Brian moved in a few days later. Our fourth roommate, Josh McGraw, had not moved in yet. On the first Monday after Brian moved in, I had a chicken pot pie from the freezer in the oven for dinner. When I came downstairs to eat, Brian was in the living room. He had been busy that morning, so this was the first I had seen him that day. He wore a shirt with the logo of the Bay City Captains football team; the shirt said, “One for the thumb!” next to a drawing of a hand wearing the Captains’ five football championship rings, one on each finger. The Captains had won their fifth championship recently, in the 1994-95 season.
“Nice shirt,” I said.
“Hey, how was the game yesterday? Looks like you saw a blowout.”
“I know. 34 to nothing.”
“Where were you guys sitting?”
“Section 27. We were pretty far up, though.”
“Nice. Do you guys go to Captains games often?”
“This was my first one in person. The doctor that my mom works for has season tickets, and no one was using them this week, so he asked if we wanted them.”
“Nice! It’s been a few years since I’ve been to one.”
“It was so much fun! Traffic was really bad on the way home, though. It took longer to drive across Bay City from the stadium to the bridge than it did to get from the bridge to Jeromeville.”
“Wow. That’s crazy.”
“I know,” I said. The distance from the bridge to home was about ten times as far as the distance across the city. It took almost three hours to make a trip that would have taken an hour and a half with no traffic.
Shawn walked in the front door a few minutes later, covered in sweat and wearing nothing but running shorts and shoes. “Hey, guys,” he said.
“What are you doing tonight?” Brian asked. “I wanna pull a prank. It’s been a long time. Let’s toilet-paper someone’s house.” I could not tell from Brian’s tone whether or not I was going to be included in any potential toilet-papering, and I did not want to impose. Instead, I sat at the table eating my pot pie, listening eagerly and hoping I would be explicitly invited, or at least that I could find a way to ask that did not come across as awkward.
“Hmm. Who do we know who’s around, but not home right now?” Shawn asked.
“I need to get Lorraine back for last year. But I know she’s gonna be home tonight.”
“How do you know?”
“I saw Mike Kozlovsky earlier. He’s in town today. He said they’re gonna watch a movie over there tonight, and a few other people will be there too. That won’t work unless we find a way to get them out of the house. Or… unless…”
“Unless what?” Shawn asked.
“We could TP their house while they’re watching the movie. The sound will be turned up, so if we’re quiet enough, they won’t hear us!”
“You know what would be really fun? If we hid somewhere after we finished, and then, when everyone was leaving after the movie, we’d hear their reaction.”
“That would be amazing,” Brian said. “They’d probably catch us, though. And they’d recognize my car parked outside.”
Unbeknownst to me, I possessed a hidden power that would be very useful to Brian and Shawn in their prank. Shawn realized it first. “Let’s take Greg’s car,” he said. “None of them know Greg’s car.”
“Yes!” Brian exclaimed. “And Greg’s car has plenty of room, so we can hide in the back of Greg’s car and wait for them to come outside!”
“Sounds good,” I said. Sounds like I was invited after all. “When do we leave?”
A few hours later, after it was dark, the three of us piled into my Ford Bronco with an unopened 12-pack of toilet paper in the back. As I pulled out of my parking space, Shawn said, “Hey! Remember how Mike Kozlovsky is scared of snakes?”
“Oh, yeah!” Brian said, laughing. “That was hilarious that one time.
“I saw a dead snake in the middle of the road when I was out running earlier. If it’s still there, we should go get it and leave it on their porch.”
“Dude. That’s kind of messed up. But we totally should.”
“Where am I going?” I asked.
“Turn left,” Shawn instructed me. I turned left on Maple Drive and followed it north, to where it makes a curve to the left at the edge of the Jeromeville city limits, becoming a frontage road to Highway 117. “Turn on the high beams,” Shawn said. “The snake was right up here somewhere.”
I slowed down to about fifteen miles per hour, hoping that no one would come up behind us, looking at the road below me. After about a minute, I saw it, just as Shawn described: a snake, about two feet long, lying dead in the road, its body making the shape of the letter S. “Is that it?” I asked.
“Yes!” Shawn exclaimed. “I’ll get out and get it.” Shawn got out of the car, picked up the snake using a napkin he found in my glove compartment, then returned to the passenger seat holding the snake.
“Where am I going?” I asked. “Lorraine’s house, right? I don’t know where that is.”
“Corner of K Street and Columbine Court,” Brian answered. “So take Coventry to K.”
I made a U-turn and headed back down Maple Drive, past our apartment, and turned left on Coventry Boulevard, past two shopping centers, the high school, and the C.J. Davis Art Center. The street crossed over a railroad track, and at the bottom of the overpass I turned right on K Street. I certainly had to admit that this was a new experience for me. As much as I was looking forward to having fun with roommates this year, I never expected that, just a week after moving in, I would be driving across town in the dark with a bunch of toilet paper and a dead snake. This would definitely be a night that I would remember for a long time.
That stretch of K Street between Coventry Boulevard and Ninth Street had a long row of apartment complexes on the right, wedged between the street and the railroad track, with detached houses on the left. Lorraine’s house was on the left, the east side of the street; I did not know her well, but I knew who she was. Her loud boisterous personality made her hard to miss at JCF events. Mike Kozlovsky, one of Brian and Shawn’s other roommates the previous year, had graduated and moved back home, but he had a younger girlfriend, Jeanette, who was still in school. Jeanette was one of Lorraine’s roommates in this house.
I parked across the street from the house. “I’m gonna go make sure the coast is clear,” Brian said. He tiptoed across the street into the yard, staying low and close to the bushes planted below the living room window. The front drapes were closed, and a dim light glowed through the other side of the living room window, presumably by the television on which the people in the house were watching the movie. Brian tilted his head to listen to what was happening in the living room. After about a minute, he looked directly at Shawn and me, still in the car, and motioned for us to approach. I grabbed the toilet paper and tiptoed quickly across the dark street, with Shawn following me carrying the dead snake.
I quietly opened the package of toilet paper, and each of us took a roll. Shawn put the dead snake on the porch, far enough from the door to be visible to whomever opened it, and unrolled his toilet paper across the bushes. Brian and I each took our rolls and threw them into the large maple tree in the yard. I watched in awe as the unrolling toilet paper left behind a long stream stuck in the branches. I picked up the roll and tossed it again, watching as the tree became covered in toilet paper. I continued throwing two more rolls into the tree when I noticed that Brian was no longer next to me.
Brian had walked back out to K Street, where he was now covering a black Chevrolet S-10 pickup truck with toilet paper. “Mike’s car,” Brian explained in a whisper as I approached. I unrolled more toilet paper to decorate the outside of the truck, then I went back to covering bushes near the front door. Shawn was adding to the toilet paper already in the tree. When I noticed there was no more toilet paper in the package, I stepped back to the sidewalk to admire our work. A few minutes later, when Brian and Shawn were finished, we grabbed the empty bag and the cardboard cores of the toilet paper roll and quietly walked back to my car.
“Shawn,” Brian said. “Hop back here with me. Greg, can you stay out of sight up front?”
“Sure,” I replied as Shawn and Brian climbed over the back seat into the cargo area.
“Roll down the windows, so we can hear them.”
“Okay.” I lowered the windows, then reclined the driver’s seat all the way back so that as little of me would be visible from the outside as possible. The glow of the television was still showing from behind the living room drapes, and the occupants of the house did not appear to react or notice our handiwork.
“Now we wait?” I whispered.
“Now we wait,” Brian replied.
The minutes dragged on in silence as I lay on the reclined driver’s seat, my head poking up just enough to keep an eye on the house. Nothing had changed. I had no idea how long it would be until the movie was over and people left. After a few minutes of silence, Brian began making small talk.
“Greg?” Brian asked. “Are you going to Outreach Camp?”
“Yes,” I replied.
“It’s your first one, right?”
“You’ll love it. I always had a great time at Outreach Camp.”
“I wish I could go this year,” Shawn said. “But I’ll be teaching.”
“That must be kind of hard juggling everything,” Brian said. “The school where you’re teaching and Jeromeville being on different schedules.”
“Yeah, but it’s only for one year.”
After a few more minutes of silence, Shawn spoke up with more small talk. “Greg? What classes are you taking this quarter?”
“Math 127A and 128A, Religious Studies 40, and chorus,” I said.
“I liked 127A. 127B and C not so much, but 127A was pretty easy. It’s just the theory behind everything you did in calculus. And I never took the 128 series.”
“I loved RST 40,” Brian added.
“It’ll be the last class I need for my general ed requirements,” I explained. “And I’ve heard a lot of people from JCF say good things about it.”
“Did you say chorus?” Shawn asked. “I didn’t know you sang.”
“I’ve never done it before. I have to audition, and I’m a little nervous about that. I haven’t had any formal vocal training, but I’ve been singing in the choir at my church for almost a year.”
“That’s the same chorus that Scott and Amelia are in, right?” Brian asked.
“I think so,” I said.
“I’ve heard the audition isn’t hard. They just want to make sure you can carry a tune.”
“I hope it’s that easy–”
“Shhh!” Shawn interrupted. “Movie’s over!”
I looked across the street to the house. The living room lights had come on, and I could vaguely see movement behind the drapes. About three minutes after the lights came on, the front door opened, and dark figures began leaving the house.
“Aaaaah!” someone screamed.
“Whoa!” a girl answered. “Where did that come from?” I thought it sounded like Jeanette speaking, so the scream was probably Mike seeing the snake.
“Dude, you guys got hit!” a guy said loudly. Possibly Lars Ashford.
“What?” answered a second female voice, whom I was pretty sure was Lorraine.
“Holy crap!” exclaimed a third female voice loudly. “Mike, they got your car! This was someone who knew you were gonna be here tonight!” I saw the outline of this girl’s body and curly hair in enough light to recognize her as Kristina Kasparian, the girl who gave me her extra Bible the previous winter.
“Wow,” Mike said after seeing his car.
“It must have been someone who knew about that time last year with Mike and the snake,” Lars said.
“This has Alex McCann written all over it!” Lorraine shouted. I giggled a little, because Alex McCann was not involved in this prank in any way. I hoped that they could not see or hear us across the street.
“We better go inside and clean this up,” Jeanette said.
As everyone was walking back through the front door, Brian loudly whispered, “Go! Go!” I started the car, made a sharp U-turn, and turned north on K Street. Brian and Shawn began cheering loudly enough for the others to hear, with the windows still rolled down, and I joined in, also honking the horn.
“That was perfect!” Brian exclaimed, as he and Shawn climbed back into actual seats and buckled their seat belts and I rolled up the windows.
“Yes!” I replied. I held my hand up behind me in a high-five pose, while facing forward keeping my eyes on the road and my other hand on the steering wheel. Brian and Shawn both slapped my hand. “That was so cool!” I said.
“Now both of you are sworn to secrecy. If anyone ever asks you about this night, say nothing. Find a way to deny it.”
I never said a word, and no one ever suspected me. Shawn’s idea to take my car, which none of them recognized, was ultimately the little detail that enabled us to get away with this prank for so long. A couple weeks later, after we got back from Outreach Camp, Brian told me that Lorraine had mentioned the prank in the camp cafeteria one day and asked him if he was involved, or knew who was. Brian played dumb and acted like he did not know.
Despite Brian’s insistence on our vow of silence, he was the one who finally cracked. Months later, in the spring, Brian mentioned to me that this night had come up as a topic of conversation, and he admitted his involvement to Lorraine. He did not, however, implicate me or Shawn in that conversation. As far as I know, none of the people in the house that night ever knew that I was involved, or that my red Bronco was parked right across the street as they discovered our prank.
Over the course of my life, particularly my early twenties, I was involved in many more pranks involving toilet paper. If God watched down on all of us and kept a ledger of how many rolls of toilet paper each of us had thrown with mischievous intent, compared to many rolls others had used playing pranks against us, my ledger would be far out of balance with many more rolls given than received. Hopefully, everyone who ever got pranked by a group including me knows that it was done in love and with no malicious intent. Sometimes it was obvious to the recipient who was involved, sometimes it remained a mystery, but when asked about these pranks, I always played dumb and never gave away my secrets.
When I was younger, I would often lament all the things I missed out on in childhood, because of my sheltered upbringing and lack of childhood friends. However, I have also come to find a silver lining: with so much that I never did when I was young, I still had lots of new things to enjoy as a young adult. Some of the people who played a lot of pranks in childhood engage in more risky behavior as young adults, because the thrill of a simple prank has worn off, but for me, it just took a simple night of toilet-papering to feel like one of the best nights of my life. The world is such a big place, and even today, I have so many new experiences to try.