Zero Moskowitz called yesterday to follow up on my gravestone order. For the second time in as many conversations, he peevishly referenced food he hasn’t eaten in thirty-five years, thanks to a practical joke played on him at sleep-away camp. While I admittedly participated in that particular prank, I’m pretty sure the statute of limitations on Zero’s claim has run by now.
“Operation Hot Buttered Popcorn,” as my Camp Cherokee bunkmates and I dubbed it, took place in the summer of ’76. The joke was planned and orchestrated by our bunk’s resident ringleader, Walter Bernstein. At his direction, I purchased a bag of popcorn from the “Canteen.” Walter and I met up with a couple of our bunkmates and all of us concealed handfuls in our pockets. Then, after ensuring Zero wouldn’t spot him, Walter snuck through the bunk and into the bathroom … where he peed on the bag’s remaining contents.
Once Zero shuffled in for rest hour, Walter sauntered out of the bathroom holding the bag in one hand while tossing the previously-removed, unadulterated kernels into his mouth with the other. I called out to Walter as if I’d just happened to notice his goodies: “Hey Walter, is that popcorn?”
Walter nonchalantly replied, “Yeah. Why, you want some?”
When I responded in the affirmative, Walter brought the bag over. I pretended to reach inside and draw out a handful, but actually used the unsullied batch I’d previously squirreled away. I ate the portion and theatrically announced: “Man, there’s nothing like hot buttered popcorn.” After me, our two other co-conspirators likewise requested a sample from Walter, and he obliged.
Zero had a passion for popcorn, as we all knew. And sure enough, after seeing Walter share his snack with three others, Zero screwed up the nerve to squeak: “Uh, Walter. Do you think I could try a little of that popcorn?”
Having masterfully hooked his “fish,” Walter proceeded to reel him in with a fittingly begrudging: “I guess you can have some, Zero.”
That did the trick. Reaching into the bag, Zero helped himself to a heaping handful. He tossed a bunch into his mouth and started chewing. At first he chomped rapidly. But then his face adopted a slightly quizzical mien. His rate of mastication slowly diminished, before ceasing entirely. At last, he mumbled: “There’s something wrong with this popcorn. It kinda tastes like pee!”
I didn’t dare glance at anyone else for fear of exploding with laughter. Even so, one-by-one, the other guys started snickering. I risked a peek and spotted blossoming grins throughout the room. Apparently, Zero also noticed. Sheer disgust crossed his face, and he spit out his unswallowed remnants. After a few moments doing his best imitation of a cat coughing up a hairball, he fled from the cabin. Tears streaming from his eyes, he yelled: “They made me eat pee; they made me eat pee!”
Let me tell you, there’s no sense of accomplishment better than the one derived from a perfectly executed scheme. Not one of us smug bastards would’ve traded the sight of Zero gobbling urine-soaked popcorn for all the Hershey Bars in the world. And despite the consequent loss of our Canteen privileges for the rest of the summer, none of us held regrets.