When does a practical joke go too far? After four years married to my husband, I’ll admit my gauge is a bit off. In our house the rule is: nothing is off limits, as long as it’s funny. That being said, we’re also the couple that thinks jokes about our miscarried child are HILARIOUS and TOTALLY APPROPRIATE at dinner parties with women less than three months pregnant.
It probably won’t come as a shock that sometimes our humor gets us in deep shit. My favorite example of a practical joke gone awry is the molestation prank we played on my sister Pam last year.
It started at our house one Friday night in September. Jason, his sister Chiara and his hot lesbian friend Neveen were in town from New York and staying the weekend. We ordered take-out from three different restaurants because nobody could make a decision and proceeded to get stoned off our asses.
After dinner, Jason made fun of my lack coordination on our newly installed strip pole, then proceeded to choreograph a routine he believed could easily win him a mirror ball on “Dancing with the Stars”. In response, I decided to whip out his high school yearbook to remind him that he’d married up. This seemed less time consuming than using his beard trimmers to shave profanities on the dogs, something that happened the last time I was angry and stoned.
After an hour of standing in the garage trying to remember why the fuck I left the house in only a workout bra and boxer shorts, I honed in on a bin of old albums. Opening it, I realized they were mine. Earlier that year, my mom had given my sister and me all our childhood photos as a gift. (Code for: had no use for them in her new condo.) (Code for: didn’t love us.)
Waylaid by my own cuteness, I carried the ten-pound bin back into the house and started going through it. The alarming thing about these albums wasn’t seeing my parents married, happy and seemingly not about to make skin suits out of each other’s sun damaged bodies, but the obvious absence of my sister, Pam. There were no shots of her anywhere! I felt like Michael J. Fox in “Back to the Future,” but was entirely too stoned to make it to the Enchantment Under the Sea Dance in time to affect any real change! From the look of these pics I was OFFICIALLY an only child. I can just picture my mom plopped in front of the TV with her wine and Triscuits, emotionlessly sorting through the first decade of our lives like trading cards. What a weirdo.
After enough digging, I finally found photographic proof of Pam’s existence. Relieved, I held up a faded 4×6 of Pam sitting in a rocking chair with our great Grandpa Earl. He seemed serene, while Pam on the other hand, looked scared to death. I guess it makes sense since Grandpa Earl was a molester.
Well, I’m not certain he ever really molested anybody, but his brother Marvin down in Texas did!
As children we always heard the stories of weird Uncle Marvin who went to jail for inappropriate behavior with his children and grandchildren. Details were never expounded upon because this was the Goyim side of my family that didn’t like to deal with things like facts or reality. Suffice to say, he was a scary fucking dude.
For as long as I knew him, Grandpa Earl had no teeth and whenever he kissed you, your mouth would inevitably collapse into his. I never saw him wear anything but overalls and his welder’s hands were swollen from years of hard labor- and (probably) molesting. He never tried anything on me that I’d consider outrageous but he had this vibe that just made you feel like he was undressing you with his creepy grandpa eyes. His daughter, my Grandma Betty was the kind of hot mess who stored TV Guides in her oven, rarely showered, and claimed she was super Christian whenever she wasn’t drunk on her couch watching Cinemax. Earl’s late wife, my Grandma Irene carried a revolver in her kitchen apron and slept on the floor between Pam and me every time we spent the night. Because of this, I was always certain of two things: 1. Grandpa Earl was a molester and 2. Pam and I were NEVER molested. Over the years, especially after Grandpa Earl passed, I’d try and bait my mom into admitting something, anything that might incriminate him. Unfortunately, she never cracked, and to this day, my mom insists Grandpa Earl was a good man. BOOORRRIINNG.
Under any other circumstances, finding this photo of Pam and Grandpa Earl wouldn’t have meant much. However, I was stoned and around people I deem the worst influence ever.
I donned my best narrator voice, like Burl Ives in the claymation version of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer—who, incidentally, I also always suspected of being a molester and told the tale of Grandpa Earl. I finished my story by pointing out how this innocuous snapshot could be the photographic evidence I’d long been waiting for. Knowing full well that this was of course not the case, the four of us erupted into laughter.
“ You guys, how funny would it be if I sent this picture to Pam anonymously telling her she was molested?” I joked.
“Oh my God! That’s hilarious” Chiara instantly replied.
“Wait, was she?” Jason asked.
“No! Of course not! But it’s an inside joke. She’ll know I sent it, but how funny?” I answered.
For the next two hours the four of us worked on rough drafts of the letter we’d send Pam. Mine started:
Dear Pam, I am the woman who took this photo. You were molested. Love, A Silent Neighbor
Neveen opted for a more friendly approach:
Hey Girl, longtime no talk. Hope you’re well. PS. You were molested. Mall this weekend?
Jason meanwhile, went with the trusty stick figure explanation.
He drew two people then an arrow to each. The first said: “You” the second said: “ Me molesting you”
We were crying from laughing so hard. I pulled out a feminine set of pink Crane’s stationary and made Chiara write the note. After much debate, she decided my draft sounded the least abrasive. We folded the photo inside the envelope, sealed it, and drove to the nearest mailbox. Under the blanket of night, the letter was sent and subsequently forgotten.
Two days later, Chiara and I had lunch in Century City. My phone was on vibrate but I could feel it going ballistic in my purse. I picked it up and heard Pam on the other end.
“Jenny! Oh My God! Are you sitting down?” she said heavily.
Initially, I didn’t realize why she was calling.
“Did you get a letter in the mail today?” she asked.
That’s when it hit me. Grabbing Chiara’s thigh, I started to panic.
“No… why?” I said.
“I walked out to get the mail this morning and I opened this cute little envelope I thought was a thank you note and guess what it said? It said I was molested by Grandpa Earl!” she screamed.
I had to cover the phone with my hand as I doubled over in my seat, laughing uncontrollably. Pulling myself together, I reengaged.
“Well, were you?” I asked earnestly.
“Are you fucking kidding me? Of course I wasn’t! You know that!” she exclaimed.
Chiara motioned for me to give her the phone.
“Pam, Chiara wants to talk to you” I managed to blurt out.
Chiara got on the phone and my sister explained how after opening the letter, she popped two Xanax, called the police, and turned the note over to them for analysis. What I forgot in my weed-induced haze was that my sister was in the middle of a lawsuit against her fiancé’s crazy ex- girlfriend.
The girl had broken into Pam’s house more than once, stealing photos, art and various personal belongings. My sister had been unsuccessful in obtaining a restraining order because the suspect was blonde, white and under 100lbs. Convinced they hadn’t heard the last of this wacko, Pam and her fiancé had been quick to act on their suspicion and had notified the cops. It hadn’t even occurred to her that I was the ONLY person on the planet, including our mother, that would have access to photos of her as a child. In her tormented head she assumed the ex must have broken in, gone through her baby books and conjured up this ridiculous tale to fuck with her.
She ranted for a few more minutes before I interrupted.
“Are you seriously not putting this together? Who else has the inside joke with you that Grandpa Earl was a molester? I probed.
“What? I don’t have any inside joke about Grandpa Earl being a molester” she said plainly.
Was she serious? Had I imagined all of it? No way! Maybe she blocked it out? She did have a knack for revisionism.
“Am I the only one who has any recollection of our childhood? That was always what we said. Remember, with his weird toothless mouth kisses?” I went on.
“Jenny, you are really fucking sick. Did you send me this letter?” she barked.
“OBVIOUSLY!” I cried.
The line went dead almost immediately. Pam hung up and didn’t speak to me for a full week after that. Her fiancé, Larry called once or twice trying to smooth things over but to no avail. Pam was furious I’d duped her in such a dark way. Later we heard the police report ended up reading something like:
“No break in, just an asshole sister.”
A month later, over dinner, Pam finally confronted me in person.
“Who does that? I mean, I knew you were sick but I never thought you were THAT sick!” she said.
The worst part was, every time she tried explaining how “unfunny” it was, Jason and I would start giggling. Hearing it again, as told by Pam only seemed to make it funnier.
Galvanizing my sister’s temporary descent into madness was of course NEVER my intention. In retrospect, I guess I should have been more sensitive. But being sensitive is just so annoying. What I really learned from this event (beyond what not to say to my sister), was how lucky I am to be with a man where nothing is verboten! There’s a freedom and ease to our relationship that before this, I think I took for granted. From now on, all my molestation jokes will be directed at Jason… someone who, I know, can appreciate them.