TRUE STORIES — Pranks, tomfoolery, and poetry

J.T. Knoll
Morning Sun

Growing up back in the 1950s and ‘60s kids didn’t have the Internet, computers and cellphones (and only two TV stations) so we had to come up with other ways to entertain ourselves (generally outdoors with things like backyard ballgames, tag, and kick the can).

We also entertained ourselves with tomfoolery — playing pranks. Most were pretty friendly and humorous … but some not so much.

When walking in line to morning Mass at Sacred Heart, a kid might step on the the heel of the kid walking in front of him causing them to stumble when their shoe came off and then call out, “Flat tire!”

Other times a kid might come up behind another and say, “How ya doin’” as they stuck a sign on their back that said something like, “Kick me” or “I’m in love with Mary Ann.”

Usually performed on a sleeping or otherwise unsuspecting person, the perpetrator of a Wet Willy wets his or her finger with saliva and inserts it into the ear of the target. While not resulting in physical harm, the moist sensation of spit in your ear was the ultimate “Yuck!”

A relative of the Wet Willy was the Spitball, which was when a prankster chewed a piece of paper, soaking it to dripping with their drool, and threw or spit it at someone to give them a sticky surprise. By 5th grade I’d learned that, rather than throwing or spitting, shooting them with a rubber band strung between thumb and index finger was the most efficient and deadly way to deliver a dribbling projectile.

If someone came up behind you, reached in and pulled your underwear up so that it wedged between your buttocks, you were the recipient of a Wedgie. A relative of the Wedgie was Depantsing, accomplished by sneaking up behind the unsuspecting target, grabbing their pants and applying a quick downward pull to expose their underwear.

Once, in Sacred Heart Grade School, when all of us were putting our heads on our arms on our desks taking a break, I ducked down and crawled on the floor to tie a string on the chair of the girl in the desk in front of me with the intention of pulling her chair out from under her. I was just about finished when a pair of pointy black shoes came into view. “Get up!” Sister Beatrice hissed, as she kicked at my hands.

Some pranks intentionally administered pain.

Getting your forearm grabbed with two hands and twisted in opposite directions resulted in a throbbing Indian Burn.

If you were grabbed in a headlock and someone created friction by rubbing their knuckles hard over your skull you were getting a Noogie.

I’ve had enough instant pain to bring me to tears when a certain body part was twisted between the perpetrator’s thumb and forefinger to administer a Nipple Cripple.

A really old one that I remember first seeing in cartoons and in Three Stooges slapstick routines is placing a thumbtack on a chair — point upwards — to poke the victim when he/she sat down. When I recalled this I dug out a thumbtack limerick written by my friend, Joe Ferraro, back when he was a grade school student at St. Rose in Columbus.

I emailed Joe to ask permission to print it and he sent along some background on his poem along with his consent. I’ve printed it below, followed by his limerick.

“At the time I wrote it (maybe 4th grade) there was a pandemic of tack/pin attacks in the school. The nuns were getting their fair share of it ... on their chairs ... on the floor.

“There were even pins pushed into the kneelers in the pews upstairs in the church (Mass every morning before class). I caught a few of those. I always blamed the big kids down the hall.

“So when I wrote this limerick for class, it was like a commentary of current events — and the reaction was public; the kids, the nuns ... everybody reacted differently.

“I sat on a tack today / and quiet, I could not stay. / For as it went in / I thought it a sin / to sit and have nothing to say.

“It was awkward. The nuns were not amused.”

J.T. Knoll is a writer, speaker and eulogist. He also operates Knoll Training & Consulting in Pittsburg. He can be reached at 231-0499 or