Sunday, June 26, 2011

Acting on my own bungee accord - 6/27/2011

This will be the final installment of the practical joke/prank series. It is not that I don’t have more foolishness to relate to you; it is that I want to move on to another topic that has come to mind. Unfortunately, I have little control over what my fractured and fragmented mind will produce and when. I have to grab an idea when my memory proposes it, or it is gone, sometimes forever. Such as it is with insanity.

Most of my past antics were not the result of meanness or malice, but the consequences of boredom and world-weariness. This is totally the case with the one I am relating in this posting.

In all Air Force maintenance organizations, there is one common necessity; bungee cord. It was as essential as duct tape to a redneck and we had reels of it. Though I am not mechanically inclined, whatsoever, I have created many interesting uses for this magical material. This is the story of one of those uses. When I was working in missile maintenance I was always looking for a release from the tedium. Sometimes these releases were the result of bad judgment. This was one of those times:

One day there was a munitions squadron staff meeting and I volunteered to stay in the shop and “man the phones,” which translated to taking a nap in the break room and/or reading from our stash of magazines that objectify women. I soon tired of relaxing and searched for something to do. That is when I am most prone to mischief.

I decided that it might be fun to rig a booby trap to spring on my returning co-workers. The entrance to the missile bay from the office area was a huge blast door that slides open on rollers. I stretched a bungee cord from the inside handle of the door all the way to the back of the missile bay. I tied the cord to a wet mop head and pulled it as taut as the elasticity of the cord would allow. So essentially I had extended a 75 foot cord to about 100 feet. It was stretched to the max. I don’t recall exactly how I secured the mop head but with all the equipment available, it was not a challenge. There was a hair trigger so that any movement of the door would release the mop head.

I had barely gotten the apparatus rigged up when I got the call that the crew was at the gate. I had to buzz them in. As a result I didn’t get to function test my device, but I was confident it would work as designed.

As the door slid open, I only had a split second to realize that it was not only my co-workers entering the missile bay, but the officer in charge of the munitions storage area and another Captain that I did not know, though would soon enough.

Another instant reality was that I had totally underestimated the velocity that a bungee cord that length would generate. Suddenly, a 45 mile per hour, soaking, mop head was screaming towards my court martial. Luckily, my lack of knowledge of physics caused the mop head to slam into the door handle that it was tethered to, narrowly missing the entourage. Had it hit someone directly, it would have knocked them down like a Nolan Ryan fastball. There was a loud report (never good in an explosive environment) and a significant splash, but no actual casualties. Well, other than my humiliation as I had to explain “just what the fuck was I thinking.”

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

When a Stranger Calls and Gives You the Weather Forecast, Don't Answer - 6/15/2011

Continuing with my theme of practical jokes/pranks I have pulled. The one I have decided to relate in this posting is my favorite one ever. I stated on a previous post that no one was actually hurt as a result of any of my monkeyshines. That may not be entirely true. The tomfoolery that I am about to describe could actually have resulted in some grievous bodily harm. But, for me, ignorance is bliss.

One of my additional duties when I worked in the missile field was as maintenance liaison at the Command Post. In short, the Command Post is a hardened facility where leaders of an installation direct the operations of their units. It is filled with communications, status boards, coffee, and lots of brass. I worked there during exercises, deployments, real world emergencies, etc. My job was to keep the commanders informed of fighter aircraft status, weapons loads, and maintenance progress on broken aircraft.

After all the senior staff (Colonels)had gone home for the day, there was not much to do. We had to keep the Command Post manned, but activity was minimal. There is a saying that “idle hands are the Devil’s tools.” This axiom was never truer for anyone than it is for me. When I am bored, mischief is a distinct possibility. Those that know me know this to be a certainty.

Each of our work stations in the Command Post was equipped with state of the art communications. As this was over 30 years ago, the telephones we had would be laughable now, but for then, they were cutting edge technology. My console had the capability to conference call with several individuals. I could cause phones to ring all over the base, connecting them together at my caprice. As you can imagine, I was want to explore this capability. In addition, the Command Post maintained a listing of the home phone numbers of ALL base personnel. This was before anyone lived under the illusion of privacy and the availability of caller ID was still well into the future. You can already see where this is going. The combination of my ennui, a super-duper phone, and my access to everyone was not going to end well for some people. The problem was that I could not share this prank with anyone as even in those days, I was violating a number of military and FCC regulations.

I started fairly innocently. I would dial two random people and connect them. Of course they both assumed that the other person called them. You can imagine how the conversations went, particularly when I redialed multiple times. While I was listening in, I also had the capability of joining their conversation, taking the role of instigator, both parties thinking that the other guy was speaking. Swearing and threats of ass-kickings were common. It is possible some of these people met to have physical altercations, but I prefer not to think about that. Well, actually, it is kind of fun to think about.

You would have thought that the pleasure I received would have been enough for me, but alas, no. You see, military installations are awash with “secret” affairs and dalliances. I was privy to some, shall we say, sensitive information. So I used that knowledge to select my victims. You would be surprised (or maybe not) at the reaction of a guy receiving multiple phone calls from the person he suspects is diddling his wife, or girlfriend. Sometimes, I had to insert a name in response to, “who is this,” just to up the ante a bit. The most fun of these was when the woman involved did not cohabitate with either of the men, and had her own residence. Dialing the “triangle” was always entertaining. You would think that after a while one of them would stop answering the phone, but they never did.

Sometimes I would just connect two people that I knew simply disliked each other and if there was no immediate profanity or enmity, I would insert some, to get the conversation going. Another of my favorites was dialing a party and connecting them with the weather, time, or traffic report, over and over. I did that to a coworker once and he came in the next day and said there was something wrong with his phone. Evidently, someone kept calling him and giving him the weather forecast. I asked him why he kept answering and he said that he kept thinking it might be something else. I had a hard time listening to him with a straight face. I can still not think of that gag without laughing out loud (LOL).

As with all my pranks, I was much younger then and would not implement such a cruel and thoughtless deed now. I am now much too mature for that kind of shenanigans. Plus I don’t have a phone with that capability and there is that pesky caller ID.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Why I Am No Longer Welcome In The Republic Of China - 6/13/2011

This is the second installment of my account of pranks/practical jokes that I have contrived. The fact that I am chronicling these events does not mean I am proud of them. It just means that I am accepting ownership of these deeds. I did many things when I was young that I do not condone now. No one was physically harmed by any of my actions, but it is possible some extensive therapy was required. And now for the back-story:

In 1974 I was sent to Taiwan for a few months temporary duty, from my base in the Philippines. Taiwan is my favorite of all the Asian countries that I visited. I like the people, food, and countryside. I could do an entire blog on Taiwan, but probably won’t.

I was assigned to Ching Chuan Kang (CCK) Airbase, a Republic of China installation, near the city of Taichung. My task there was to maintain a stockpile of air-launched missiles for F-4 fighters, as the Vietnam War was still a going concern. Our missile shop was “guarded” by Chinese conscripts in stripe-less, ill-fitting uniforms, shouldering carbines that probably would not fire, but were fixed with somewhat rusty bayonets. So anyone storming our facility would run the risk of tetanus. They all had an Asian Barney Fife look to them and I would bet you would find their single bullet in their shirt pocket.

I became quite friendly with one of the guards. He spoke a bit of English and I could count to ten and swear in Chinese. He would stand just outside the door of the missile bay and split his time between cautiously watching for marauding Communists and watching us; young guys with hangovers handling high explosives. He had both a look of interest and a bit of trepidation. His name-tag was in Chinese but he told me his name was Chen. I am guessing half of the conscripts on the base had the same family name. I have spent some time in the Orient, so I can accurately put his age at the time between 12 and 40. Hell, I can’t even guess the gender of some Asian people, and I have a one in three chance at that.

He was there all day, nearly every day, and never seemed to get a lunch break or anything to eat. We would give him sandwiches, snacks, and sodas. He would have probably been court-martialed, had he been caught eating on duty. But my kindness did not come without a price.

Be patient, I am getting to the prank, but I have to give still more back-story.

My crew was working on some inert AIM-9 sidewinder missiles. For aircraft loading and pilot practice, we put a functioning guidance unit on what are essentially pieces of pipe, the exact weight of a live rocket motor and warhead. They look exactly like a real missile except they are painted blue, instead of white. The warhead is about 20 pounds, a little over a foot long, and five inches in diameter. The active guidance unit mounted on a piece of pipe allowed a pilot to lock on a target (sometimes an airliner) and practice the firing sequence without an actual launch. Thereby greatly reducing the danger to the occupants of the airliner.

As it was a very hot day, the blast door was open. It normally is not, but we weren’t working on live missiles on that day. Chen was standing just inside the door, out of the sun. I told my other two crew-members to follow my lead. I started hollering, grabbed a dummy warhead, ran toward the door, handed it to Chen, and we all ran out the door. Chen, still carrying the warhead, ran after us, also screaming. When we stopped running and started hysterically laughing, Chen continued running. It took a bit of time and effort to convey to him that it was a joke. I think if he hadn’t dropped his carbine at the onset, I would have needed a tetanus shot. I hope Chen had been issued a second uniform, because I am certain that he soiled that one.

He eventually forgave me or I returned to the Philippines before he figured out how to load the bullet into his rifle. Either way, I left Taiwan in one piece.

I know that those of you that have read both of my practical joke blogs think that I only pull pranks on Asians. That is not true. These are just the first two that came to mind. I assure you the next chapter will document Caucasional high-jinks.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Be Careful Who You Prank - 6/10/2011

This blog is the first of several that I may or may not write concerning my penchant for practical jokes and pranks. First, a little backstory:

In 1983 I attended the Manpower Management School at Keesler AFB, Mississippi. After over ten years as a missile systems technician, I thought it might be advantageous to retrain into a carrier path that might make me more employable once I left the Air Force. Manpower Management is Air Force speak for Industrial Engineer. Obviously, I was mistaken about the applicability to civilian life, but that is another story.

Many of the Air Force schools are attended by foreign military members. Manpower is one of those. This is a story about one of those officers, and my inappropriate behavior towards him.

I arrived at Keesler on a Friday to start classes on Monday. Most of my classmates also arrived prior to the weekend. We were assigned rooms and immediately began the long military tradition of partying all weekend. One of our classmates was a Korean (South) Major named Ko. He was a very nice, quiet, little man, who had never been to the United States and was overwhelmed by the plenty we take for granted. He also enjoyed that during the months as an exchange officer, he received the pay of an American Major, many times that of which he was accustomed. We introduced him to the American custom (which I made up) that the ranking officer traditionally bought most of the beer. In reality, that NEVER happens. His English was very broken but as always, the more we drank, the better we communicated.

When the meet and greet ended, Major Ko and most of the students retired to their rooms and the rest of us to my room for a few more beers. I noted that Major Ko’s room was directly across the court from mine. An idea for a prank came to me, which seemed very funny at the time. I called several pizza delivery stores and had them deliver a pizza to Major Ko. Then, a few of my new comrades and I watched from my window. As each arrived, Major Ko answered the door, accepted the pizza, and paid the driver. There was never a discussion or attempt to refuse or dispute the order.

On Monday, as we arrived for the beginning of class, Major Ko came in toting several pizza boxes and set them down on the coffee bar. He said, “here are pizza for anyone who want them. It is too much pizza for Major Ko. I no order but they bring them to me. I don’t know what happened. I like Pizza but one is enough.” At that point I took up a collection from those that were involved and gave the money to Major Ko. I explained to him that it was a joke. I wasn’t sure if he fully understood, but he smiled and declined the money.

When class started, we all had to stand up and introduce ourselves to the class and give a little background as to why we were in there and what we did previously during our military service. When it was Major Ko’s turn, he stood up and introduced himself and said very seriously: “I am Major Ko. I am from South Korea and before I came here I, how do you say, administer death penalty.” (Looking directly at me and using a chopping motion towards his neck). Several of us immediately turned a bit pale. As he sat down, he leaned over to me and said quietly, “I funny too.” I laughed so hard I painfully shot whatever beverage I was drinking out my nose.

We became instant friends. Funny is universal.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Exploding Toilet - 6/4/2011

My daughter used to live in an apartment in Clemmons, North Carolina. I not only hated that residence, I was somewhat afraid of it. I think Anne Frank had a nicer place, even when it was full of Nazis. I know it was all she could afford as a single mom with a young son, but that didn’t make me at ease there during my visits. The management of the apartment complex never fixed anything. Light fixtures that occasionally caught on fire were troubling, but the worst thing for me was the exploding toilet. She actually had two bathrooms, but one of the toilets was permanently disabled as my grandson, Carson, then a toddler had flushed countless toys and clothing items. As a result, anything you attempted to flush was returned to you, immediately and emphatically.

The other toilet functioned, but using it was like a game of Russian roulette. You could use it several times without incident, but once you had been lulled into dropping your guard, it would attack. Sometimes it would work enough times consecutively that I would forget the inevitable flare-up. Then when I least expected it, woosh. I and the novel I was reading (yes I am one of those bathroom readers) would be soaked by ice cold and thankfully clean water. It would continue to shoot torrents of water until I had composed myself enough to reach down and shut off the valve behind the toilet. Every time it detonated, it took my breath away.
Not in a good way. Carly kept a supply of old towels and rags to sop up the couple of inches of water that each episode would flood the floor with. I often wondered if the apartment below received unexpected drippage when these incidents occurred.

I am not sure that it happened to me more often than anyone else because I exceed the recommended weight allowance for this particular model of toilet, or because the apartment hated me and chose to punish me in that manner. Anyway, Carly and Carson have since moved on and the apartment is probably occupied by some other family huddled together in humid darkness, afraid to illuminate or flush.