My high school had a sad history of lame-ass senior pranks. In 1994, someone released a goat into the halls. Most people didn’t even see it, but we all smelled it. In 1995, jocks ganked the rival school’s mascot statue. Transporting it in a pickup, they were spotted by the fuzz and charged with grand larceny. (Who knew a big fake bull could be so expensive?)
As June of 1996 (my senior year) neared, my friends and I—not hearing any rumblings of anything else—began to formulate what we called “The Plan.” It was way cooler than anything from previous years. But I honestly didn’t imagine we had the resources, the commitment, or the balls to pull it off. The days ticked by. During finals week, it sunk in at last. My friends were determined to make this happen. I had no idea how, but I’d be damned if I wasn’t gonna be in on it.
Penultimate day—6:05 p.m.
My friends—let’s call them Spyrocker, BIGjesus and RealGenius—and I gather at Bj’s place to make the complete list of what we still need to get. Just a little time left to shop.
I call my mom and tell her I won’t be home that night, and outright lie about why. I feel a little ashamed about this, not only because I’m proud that I do it so seldom, but also because I’ve got the only parents who don’t know what we’re going to do. The rest of them are fully in support. (Spyrocker’s dad is taping it.) As my mom later confirmed, if I’d told her about it, she wouldn’t have let me.
Our friend Kermit—who will not be directly involved with the prank the way we will, but who will provide a crucial support role—leaves, after we’ve measured the length of our extension cord in Bj’s condominium parking lot and determined that it’s about 5 feet longer than necessary.
Having prepared all we can, we play Dr. Mario and chess, waiting for the hours to crawl by. Bj is a god when it comes to “the docta”, as we call it. I am merely an extremely talented mortal. My virtual antibiotic skills do nothing to help quell the nervousness in my stomach.
We leave for the school in RG’s mom’s station wagon. After about two minutes, we arrive. We do a couple drive-bys to make sure the place is empty and silent (it is), then we pull up by the math wing and untie the ladder from the roof of the car.
Quick note: Faced with a population explosion in the early 90’s, the town council chose not to build a true addition to the crowded high school (which they would end up doing in 1997 anyway). Instead, they voted for six classrooms basically held together with cardboard and thumbtacks: the math wing. The shoddy dimensions were good for us, though, because by placing the ladder on the handicap accessible ramp we could just reach the wing’s sloped roof.
I don’t remember exactly why I went first. Maybe it was a method to make sure we could all make it, since I was the shortest. I’ve just managed to securely and fully climb onto the slightly–steeper-than-45-degree roof when a thunderous noise behind me, from across the street, makes me flatten.
The garage door of the fire station is opening, and a truck is pulling out. I’m too far away to see if the driver is facing me, but the headlights are cast directly at me. I’m wearing a black shirt, but blue jeans. I’m sure he can see me.
On the ground, my friends swear and hide. After an agonizingly long time, we can see that the fireman is making a very slow three-point turn. WTF? I’m sweating bullets. I run arrest scenarios through my head. (The police station is just up the road.) Well, we didn’t actually do anything wrong yet, did we? No, we must be trespassing. And probably breaking curfew too. Fuck.
And then, the truck finishes pulling into the garage cab first. I glance at RealGenius, not believing it. Another colossal roar, and the door is shut. Once again, it’s just us and the school. I exhale, and laugh like an idiot.
We hoist all the shit up. Some of it is damn heavy.
Elation. Standing on the roof of the school is wonderfully bizarre. Wildly running across it is even more intoxicating. “We’re spies! We’re really fuckin spies!” (I remind the reader that this was shortly after Brian DePalma’s Mission: Impossible came out, just after our pirate phase, which peaked with Muppet Treasure Island.)
The roof of the science wing, the first part of the school building onto which we stepped, was actually covered with gravel. (Why?) From there it was a short jump down onto the much longer roof of the school proper, which had an outer surface of nailed-down sheets of something like black rubber. The rainwater from a couple days ago was still collected in small pools, with thick yellow pollen floating in swirls. We haul the equipment to the other end of the school, taking care not to get it wet.
There’s a certain punk satisfaction in pissing off the roof of the school. BIGjesus and I discover that if we stand at the right corner, in the back, we can piss onto the school as well, which makes a much better boast.
Getting pretty bored now. Wondering how the hell I expect to stay up the whole rest of the day. What exactly is going to happen to us after we do this, anyway?
We’re waiting for 7:10. That’s when we put the first phase of The Plan into action. There are two large tanks (containing—water? propane? Beats me) about ten yards apart, with wooden fences around them. We’re sitting behind these, split up. The school is far enough away from the road that if we stood out in the open, we’d be spotted by the morning traffic.
I’m staring at one of the pollen pools, near my feet. I’m pretty allergic to pollen—I take prescription drugs daily, which I haven’t had access to in 24 hours now. I’m getting to that shaky stage of sleep deprivation. Or is it the nervousness? The pollen is mesmerizing, like those lights you see when you close your eyes and rub them. The evil bunny man grins at me.
I start and shake my head. The pollen has reformed. No more demonic rabbits, just a cloud of dust. I whisper-shout over to Spyrocker, the closest one to me: “HEY! There was an evil bunny man in the pollen! And he was smiling at me!” He laughs but can’t contradict me. He knows I don’t joke about shit like that.
The first bus pulls up. After it parks, the students disembark, but we can’t see that, because we’re too close. We can just see the chrome yellow top of the bus. Soon, it'll leave, and others will come. By 7:15, at least ten of them will be lined up, with crowds of kids milling around before the 7:25 bell tells them to go inside, and that’s when we’ll make our move.
We realize we’re too close to get spotted, and so we stand up and begin organizing. It’s RealGenius’s job to run the cord over to the end of the school and drop it, so Kermit can plug it into the wall. (We previously tested the outlet; it’s live.) BIGjesus straps on the bass and it dawns on Spyrocker that he (Bj) isn’t really going to be able to play it competently. I guess we should have had a rehearsal. As for me, I’m just providing moral support, for now. I wish we’d brought some bongos.
Spyrocker gives up on trying to teach Bj the actual bass line. He puts his pick between his teeth and points. “See that? That’s D. Just keep playing D.” BIGjesus tests it out. “Okay, got it.” RG heads off to the edge with the cord, to meet Kermit, who’s supposed to be there at 7:10. We’ve no way of knowing if he is.
All the buses are all lined up. I never really realized how many of them there were. RG comes running back. “Is it good?” one of us shouts. He gives the thumbs-up. “All right. Let’s fuckin do it!”
Spyrocker and I grab the guitar amp. RealGenius and BIGjesus grab the bass amp. We muscle them to the front edge of the roof and look down.
A group of about ten or twelve of our friends is standing beneath us, clapping and cheering wildly. They knew about this. The rest of the 200 or so kids—most of whom, as underclassmen, we don’t know—are looking at us with lazy incomprehension.
Spyrocker counts off and strums the rhythm. BIGjesus hammers down that D. RealGenius and I take a deep breath and bellow:
“We don’t need no education!!”
“We don’t need no thought control!”
Below us, we can see Mr. Tancrede, one of the vice-principals, who we always called Big Red because he looks perpetually angry. He grunts and storms inside.
We actually made it through the entire song (minus the solo), with little or no reaction from the crowd at large. We were chuckling and thinking that maybe we should go into Mother when a hatch slammed open and one of the janitors told us it was all over, come on down. We peacefully obliged. I can’t remember how we got that damn bass amp down that tiny steel ladder.
We were herded into the office of the chief disciplinarian, Mr. Boyle, who didn’t even know who we were. He wasn’t used to dealing with smart, organized kids.
“So, what were you trying to do up there?”
“Uh…well, we did it. That was it.”
“What? Just crawling around up there?”
“No. We just wanted to play that one song, and we did. We figured you’d make us come down.”
(highly confused) “Oh.”
We spent the day in in-school suspension with about ten other kids, which was only tough because we were supposed to stay awake the whole time. Then, during C Period, we got to put our heads down on the desk and close our eyes. But we still weren’t allowed to sleep. We all did anyway. I didn’t understand that at all.
The preceding is a true story. I know where the video footage is. The bass is comically louder than the guitar.
We walk out to the parking lot. We get word that five of our friends from choir had a sit-in in front of the main office, chanting that we be freed. Damn, that felt good. But not as good as my bed’s gonna feel. As I’m approaching Kermit’s car, my sister runs up to me. She left college early that semester, and was working at the school through summer vacation. She seems pretty surprised at my behavior, but not entirely in a negative way. She tells me that my English teacher, who she also had, is bursting with pride. I wonder how badly the rumors mutated among the students who didn’t witness the event, and wish we’d done this a little sooner. We’re not even getting a chance to enjoy the notoriety.