“Excuse me?” the employee at the grocery store told me. “You’re not allowed to have that in here.”
“What?” I asked.
“The camera. Those aren’t allowed in here.”
“I don’t know. But it’s our company policy.”
“That’s dumb,” I said.
I sulked toward the front of the store, holding two 12-packs of toilet paper in one hand and the Santoros’ video camera in the other. Taylor, Noah, and Erica were standing near the front of the store, each also holding toilet paper. “They said we weren’t allowed to use the camera in here,” I said, disappointed.
“What?” Erica replied.
“Maybe because they don’t want competitors to find out how they do business, or what their prices are,” Noah explained.
“I guess that makes sense,” I said. “But then we’ll be missing the start of the video where it shows all of us buying toilet paper.
“What if we film from the parking lot? We can show each of us walking out of the store with toilet paper,” Taylor suggested.
“That’s a great idea,” I said. “Where are Brody and Courtney?”
“Here they come,” Taylor pointed across the store, where Brody and Courtney approached us, each carrying toilet paper and giggling about something, as they often did. The six of us all got in line to pay for our purchases.
“Wow,” the cashier commented, seeing all of us buying toilet paper together. “Someone’s getting hit tonight.” I laughed.
I went through the line first and waited outside, with the camera running. We had each paid separately because we wanted to record a video of each of us individually buying toilet paper. I stood in the parking lot and recorded Taylor, Noah, Courtney, Brody, and Erica each walking out of the store holding toilet paper, with about three seconds between each person. I then walked inside the store and walked back out carrying my toilet paper, with Brody holding the camera, so that I could be in the video as well.
Lucky closed at midnight on weekdays, and we had finished our purchase and left the store about half an hour before closing. It was a Wednesday night, and a few hours ago, we had all been at The Edge, the youth group for junior high school students at Jeromeville Covenant Church. I was borrowing a VHS video camera from Zac Santoro and his family, because we were making a movie based on my characters Dog Crap and Vince. That was the week that we had recorded the school dance scene after youth group. The students did not know that we had plans to make another video with the same camera after they went home and went to bed.
A week ago, during our weekly meeting before the students arrive, we were talking about playing some kind of fun, non-destructive prank on a large group of students, and making a video of it to show at youth group. “Does anyone have a video camera?” Noah asked.
“I’m borrowing one from the Santoros right now, because we’re working on the Dog Crap and Vince movie,” I explained.
“That’s perfect!” We discussed all of the usual playful pranks that were popular at the time and made a plan. Not everyone participated; Cambria and Hannah both had midterms to study for and could not stay up all night, as this would probably require. Adam, the youth pastor, politely declined, although he was completely supportive of what we were planning to do.
Back then, Brody drove an old family sedan that seated six, three in front and three in back. The car had been his family’s old car. We all piled in the car and headed north on Andrews Road, across Coventry Boulevard, toward the Santoros’ house. We went there first because it was the closest. “Kind of ironic that we’re using the Santoros’ camera to record the Santoros getting toilet-papered,” I remarked.
“I know!” Taylor said.
Brody stopped the car around the corner from the Santoros’ house, far enough away that they would not notice. “Wait,” Taylor said before we got out. “Let’s make sure to ration our toilet paper. How many houses are we hitting?”
Noah looked at the list that we had made earlier. “Eighteen,” he said.
“And we each got two 12-packs, so that’s 24 rolls. Six of us, what’s six times 24?”
“One hundred forty-four,” I blurted out.
“And eighteen houses, what’s 144 divided by 18?”
“Eight,” I replied just as quickly.
“Good thing we have a math major on this adventure!” Courtney said.
“Yeah, because apparently you need my advanced math skills to do second grade arithmetic. Just kidding.”
“So,” Taylor said, “maximum of eight rolls per house. Ready? Go!”
We began unwrapping the cases of toilet paper. We carefully counted out eight rolls and walked quickly but quietly to the Santoros’ front yard, some of us carrying one roll and some of us carrying two. Brody looked ready to throw his in the tree, but Taylor grabbed his arm. “Wait!” he whispered.
“What?” Brody mouthed silently.
“We should show the house on camera first with no toilet paper. So Zac can recognize his house. Then we’ll show scenes of us TP’ing it. And do that for all the houses.”
“Good idea,” I mouthed, nodding. I started the camera and recorded the front of the house for a few seconds. Then as the others threw their rolls of toilet paper into the trees and bushes, I continued recording people throwing toilet paper flying through the air, and the trees and bushes covered in long white streaks. We stood back and admired our work for a few seconds, then quickly walked back to the car. It was already midnight on a school night, and we had a lot of work to do.
Next, we drove the quarter-mile to Samantha Willis’ house, on the end of a cul-de-sac off of Alvarez Avenue. We parked at the other end of the street, near the corner with Alvarez, and carried a total of eight rolls of toilet paper to the Willises’ front yard. I had not been to this house before, but it backed up to the Coventry Greenbelt, so I had probably been on a bike ride at some point and seen the Willises’ back fence from a distance without realizing it. The other five carefully tiptoed around the yard, throwing toilet paper up into the tree and across the bushes, as I stood back recording it all on camera. I made sure to get a clear shot of the house, so that Samantha and her friends would recognize the house. “This video is gonna be so cool,” I whispered to Taylor and Noah as we quietly walked back to the car.
We had been planning this event for the last week, and I had been assigned the task of making our route, since everyone knew that I was good with maps and directions. Noah and Taylor, in consultation with Adam, had made a list of which students’ houses to visit. We only included students from families that were regularly involved at church and families whom the youth leaders knew well. Some of the kids came from families that would not appreciate being pranked, and some families were unsupportive of their children’s involvement with Christianity, so we did not want to get in trouble or jeopardize our relationships with those students and their families.
We hit a few more houses in north Jeromeville, then headed west across the overpass at Highway 117 to three houses in west Jeromeville. We arrived at the Fosters’ house first of those three. As we approached the front yard, full of bushes that could hold a lot of toilet paper, Erica turned to me and said, “This is really weird, toilet-papering my own house.”
“I know!” I said. I kept one roll for myself, because of something I thought of on the drive over here. When the other seven rolls had been strewn about the bushes, I unrolled mine and began decorating a large bush that had mostly been missed by the others.
As we tiptoed back to the car, I could now turn to Erica and whisper, “Your house is now the only house in the world which I have toilet-papered twice, once on the outside and once on the inside.” I knew that Erica knew of my involvement in the prank that we pulled for her birthday last year, so I was not incriminating myself by saying that.
Erica thought about this for a second, then smiled and laughed. “Oh, yeah!” she whispered back. “And I never changed my answering machine from that night! People still hear you guys singing when they call me!”
“I still think it’s hilarious that you filled up all those water bottles.”
“I think that was Brody’s idea.”
“Sounds like a Brody thing.”
Several houses later, we were driving along 8th Street in central Jeromeville when we noticed another car behind us turning out from a side street. A few seconds later, flashing red and blue lights appeared from the car behind us. Brody swore and signaled to pull over. I looked at Taylor and Noah, horrified. “Hide the toilet paper!” Taylor said, as we attempted to push as much of it as we could under our feet.
As Brody rolled down the window, the police officer from the car that pulled us over approached and said, “Your tail light is cracked.”
“It is?” Brody said. “I didn’t know that.”
“Can I see your license and registration?” the officer asked. Brody produced the necessary paperwork, and the officer filled out a ticket for Brody to repair the taillight.
“I’ll get that taken care of,” Brody said, looking at the ticket and putting it aside.
“Have any of you been drinking?”
“What? No, we haven’t.”
“Step out of the car, please.”
Brody stepped out of the car as I sat silently in the back, terrified, looking at the others who were being equally silent. After a couple minutes, the officer was sufficiently satisfied that Brody was sober and let him return to the car. The police car drove off.
“Turn on the camera!” Taylor said. I did so and pointed it at Taylor, who spoke to the camera. “This is Taylor, reporting live from The Edge. We just got stopped by the cops! Brody, tell them what happened.”
I turned the camera to Brody, who said, “He said my tail light was cracked.”
“He wanted to know if I had been drinking.” Brody chuckled. “Of course not.”
“We now return you to your regularly scheduled program,” Taylor said. I turned the camera off.
A little bit later, we parked down the street from the Foremans’ house. The Foremans had two students in The Edge, eighth-grade Shawna and seventh-grade Cory. They lived on a cul-de-sac, this one in an older neighborhood, off of M Street just east of downtown Jeromeville. “Be careful,” Noah whispered to the rest of us just before we got out of the car. “They have dogs that might start barking.” I nodded quietly.
Courtney was in the front as the six of us walked toward the Foremans’ house. Their next-door neighbors had a tall sycamore tree that was beginning to shed leaves, and Courtney stepped on a dry, crunchy leaf as we reached the Foremans’ driveway. As soon as the leaf crunched, two dogs began barking loudly.
“Run!” Noah whispered. The six of us made an abrupt about-face and ran down to the car parked four houses away. After we caught our breath, Taylor told me to start recording. Brody turned north on M Street as Taylor announced, “This is Taylor, coming to you live from The Edge! Shawna, Corey, we tried to include your house on this, but your dogs started barking. If you woke up to the dogs barking in the middle of the night Wednesday night, or Thursday morning, that was us. Sorry if we woke you up. Hope you got back to sleep.”
We continued heading east after the Foremans’ house. Eventually we reached Beech Drive, where the Houstons and the Suttons lived across the street from each other. We only had to park once in order to hit both houses.
“They’re going to know right away it was us,” Noah said. “Whoever goes outside first in the morning will notice that both of them got hit.”
“Should we only do one of their houses?”
“No, it’s okay. Everyone will figure it out soon enough.”
I did my usual thing, recording each house from the outside first, then getting footage of the others throwing toilet paper into trees and unrolling toilet paper along bushes. After we finished on Beech Lane, we drove all the way to Bruce Boulevard on the eastern edge of Jeromeville and crossed south of Highway 100 to hit a few houses in south Jeromeville. By the time we finally got back to the church, where everyone had parked, it was almost three in the morning. I walked home, since I lived just a short distance from church, and very quietly tiptoed to my bed and slept for less than four hours, since I had a full day of class and working as a tutor tomorrow.
“Greg,” I heard a woman’s voice say as I was leaving church the following Sunday. I turned around and saw Mrs. Houston smiling at me. “How was your week?” she asked.
“It was good,” I said.
“I was thinking about you the other day. I was going to call you in the middle of the night and remind you that we love you.” I looked at Mrs. Houston, a little confused, and she continued, “You know. Because you stopped by in the middle of the night and told us that you loved us.”
“I see,” I said, chuckling.
Noah and Adam edited my footage down to a video about seven minutes long, with the Mission: Impossible theme song playing in the background. This song, originally from an old television show about secret agents, had become popular again in recent years. A movie based on the old show was released last year, and Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen, the bassist and drummer for the band U2, had a top 10 hit with their recording of the theme song. We showed the video at The Edge the following week, and students cheered and laughed as their houses appeared on the screen.
I have often humorously wondered if God keeps some kind of record for each person of how much toilet paper everyone has used for pranking purposes and how much each person has received as the target of pranks. If such a ledger exists, mine is far out of balance. I have thrown many rolls of toilet paper for amusement purposes, mostly during my early twenties but also a couple of times after that, yet I have only ever received one roll in return. During that same school year, different leaders with The Edge would take turns hosting watch parties for Monday Night Football each week. This had been a popular tradition with previous years’ groups of students, but the students we had this year were not into football so much. They would get bored by halftime and just to hang out or play games instead. The Monday after we showed the video, I was hosting the football watch party, and Noah and Brody, who shared an apartment right across the street from me, were at my house. Adam pulled me and a couple of the boys aside at one point and said that we should prank Noah and Brody while they watched the game, so in an inconspicuous span of five minutes, we walked across the street with a couple of rolls of toilet paper and decorated the bushes in front of Noah and Brody’s apartment. The following week, I was at Noah and Brody’s for Monday Night Football, and when I got home, I noticed that someone had tossed one roll of toilet paper into the tree in my front yard.
Of course, there is no eternal consequence for being out of balance like this, and it is not something that affects my life from day to day. All of this toilet-papering was in good fun, and as Mrs. Houston said, playful and non-destructive pranks like this are a way for recipients of the prank to know that we are loved.
Readers: Those of you who know where I live in real life, please don’t toilet-paper my house. I have enough to deal with right now. Also, tell me about some pranks that you’ve been part of.