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Hurts, Don’t It?

Children love to play pranks on one another, and the more painful and humiliating, the better. They are ridiculously transparent ruses, for the most part, and require on the part of the victim blind trust and a willful suspension of disbelief; when he is confronted with a patently absurd proposition he may know in his heart of hearts that once this thing plays out, he's going to be stinging, embarrassed, or both, and yet he persists, responding to questions, allowing his limbs to be manipulated, complicit in his own grisly fate.

I should point out that these type of shenanigans were in vogue when I was a boy and do not necessarily reflect the current status quo. I am completely out of touch with the short set, but from what I'm able to glean from mass media, children are far too sophisticated these days to engage in the sort of puerile mischief that so captivated us. I suppose when you're able to employ a global communications system to bully someone to death, administering a Titty Twister probably seems pretty tame in comparison.

The Titty Twister, for those of you raised in a vacuum, is exactly what it sounds like — a forceful pinch and rotation of about ninety degrees of both nipples, one clockwise, one anti-clockwise. The act in itself is not the prank, but the setup is, because it exploits the victim's natural tendency to display his knowledge of juvenile canon and legitimizes, in a way, the painful payoff.

The youth of my era held many cherished beliefs, hierarchical givens regarding comparative or qualitative degree. A crocodile, for instance, was worse than an alligator. A coral snake was worse than a rattler, but a baby rattler put them both in the shade. The H-bomb was worse than the A-bomb, and if someone asked you what was worse than a tornado, you responded promptly and confidently: a hurricane. Right, the inquisitor said, but what's worse than a hurricane? As you pondered possible responses — a volcano? an earthquake? — he exultantly shouted, "A Titty Twister!" and applied the aforementioned insult to your nips. There's no shame in falling for it, the first time — but subsequent twistings may be indicative of mental challenge or masochistic tendencies.

Another classic stimulated the spirit of scientific inquiry with its claim of biological regeneration. A cup of water was produced and claimed to possess the power to rejoin the two halves of a split hair. The mark was directed to pull a hair from his head, break it in two, and place it in his cupped palm. A quantity of water was poured into his hand (magical incantation optional here) and he was instructed to get right up close to observe the reunification process, at which point the prankster slapped the back of his hand, propelling the water and hair up into the sucker's face. The beauty of this prank lies in the contrast between the complexity of the magico-scientific setup and the crudely abrupt payoff. Like most gags of this nature, though, the hilarity is one-sided and the perpetrator is recommended to be either physically superior to his victim or very fleet of foot.

None of these compare, though, to the brutal simplicity and lethal effectiveness of the Hertz Donut. It relies on two things: wordplay, and the juvenile mania for sugar.

It goes as follows:

Prankster: Hey! You want a Hertz Donut?

Victim: Yeah!

Prankster: POW! (slugs victim) Hurts, don't it? (Slightly ruefully; the vic did, after all, ask for it.)

Although an inspired bit of punnery, it's hard to see — on paper — how this could work, but the fact is that the Hertz Donut is 100% effective, on all children. Why? Because even though the sonofabitch asking has never given you anything but wedgies and Wet Willies — even though your nose and eyes tell you there are no donuts in the immediate vicinity — even though "Hertz" is not a name you've ever heard associated with baked goods and you're familiar with every purveyor of donuts in the region — even though the malicious gleam in the inquisitor's eye is setting off every alarm bell in your survival system — even with all that contrary evidence, you say yes, because there is a possibility, however remote, that a donut may be forthcoming, that imagined pastry made this gag doubly diabolical, as you sat there rubbing your sore shoulder and thinking, “Damn… I'm not getting a donut.”

The only thing for it is to go find an innocent victim of your own to torment, continuing the cycle which I'm hoping survives to this day.

I probably didn't get Hertz Donutted more than three or four times before I wised up. I was a credulous child, alive to possibilities beyond my simple understanding and a believer in the innate good of humanity. Bullies could reform, right? How did I know the folks at Hertz Rent-a-Car hadn't decided to diversify? Best to be on the safe side.

But I grew up, and participated in far more sophisticated cons, as both victim and perpetrator. I lost my gullibility and became a streetwise playah upon whom no fly ever dared land. That malleable sucker with sore nipples and wet face, chasing imaginary donuts and magic hairs? Gone forever, replaced by a steely-eyed realist.

Cut to umpteen years later and yours truly is chilling in Albion, enjoying a brief interstitial period between binges. Having eaten nearly everything in the larder, watched all the movies, and smoked all the weed, I felt nearly ready to resume my mission of wanton self-destruction.

"Well, Mrs. Stellington," I said to the one-eyed, three-legged cat with whom I kept company, "the county's not going to pillage itself. Time I dragged my ass outtahere and started fuckin' around with the fabric of spacetime, you know what I mean? I appreciate your company and all, but I'm hearing speed's siren song and she won't be denied.”

Mrs. S. pierced me with her one gimlet eye, clearly reminding me to fill her bowl before I left. "No worries, ma'am. Your kibble shall runneth over. Meanwhile, I'm gonna need some money…" The pump needed to be primed and I was going to require at least $20 to lay down a base coat of the old rikki-tikki-too. I checked my pockets — $3.18. Time to go on a domestic mining expedition. All houses contain veins of hidden and lost change and a good thorough sweep will generally net several frogskins, and occasionally some serious folding money if you're prone to blackouts and like to hide things from yourself, as I was and did. I hit the dirty laundry first, moved onto the furniture innards, under the bed and in the junk drawer. I upended every container, checked the medicine cabinet, rolled back the rugs, banged shoes on the floor, scoured the car's cockpit and when all was said and done, I had a little over seven bucks. Entirely insufficient to my needs. I could go down to the store and buy enough cheap whiskey to knock me back out, hoping some fortuitous occurrence might transpire in the intervening time — poor man's time travel — or figure out some way to turn that seven simoleons into $20 or otherwise make it work for me. The cranial cogs were churning furiously and I was beginning to smell smoke when the phone — incidentally, a land line publically listed in my name — rang. Excellent! Infinite possibilities suddenly arose. "Hello!" I said brightly.

"Yes, is this Mr. Washburne?" asked an official-sounding person. I allowed as it was, and he said, "This is Officer So-and-so representing the Police Athletic League of Santa Rosa. You were entered in a drawing benefitting our youth soccer program and your number was drawn for the second-place prize, a 50-inch flat-screen TV. Do you still have your ticket?" What the…?

"Uh, no? I don't remember entering any drawing or buying any raffle tickets."

"Flynn Washburne? Box 37, Albion?"

"That's me."

"Okay, just bring a picture ID and as long as nobody else shows up with the ticket, you can claim your prize." He gave me a few more specifics and signed off, and I sat there tapping my chin with the receiver and thinking the thing over. On the face of it, it stunk like the ass end of a beached mackerel. As is de rigeur for those whose livelihood and lifestyle occasionally veer into the extralegal, I make it a point to avoid cops — all things cop-related — like a grizzly bear with the plague. I don't hate them, I just feel much better when they're not around. I would not be likely to apply my name and particulars to anything bearing any sort of law-enforcement motif, as a P.A.L. raffle ticket surely would. But then again, I do have a keen and lively sense of irony which might, under certain conditions of intoxication, be stimulated by the possibility of winning their contest.

I was not ignorant of the scams perpetrated by law enforcement to rope in slippery scofflaws and bail-jumpers, but if this were a sting, wouldn't it purport to operate under the auspices of something other than a police-related entity? Unless this were a particularly devious ruse hoping to lull me with that very assumption. Were cops that crafty? I didn't know. I didn't have any warrants that I was aware of, and the bottom line was, that television would translate into an eight-ball. I decided to risk it.

As I got ready, I gradually convinced myself I was doing the smart thing, recalling many other instances of forgotten foolish, irresponsible, and impulsive acts. Once I'd turned the key in the ignition and pointed 'ol Betsy south, I was as much as saying, "Yes! Yes, I will have a Hertz Donut!"

When I arrived at the municipal complex and reported to the directed office, given the claim number (which was actually the case number for my DUI of the previous year, and for which I'd "forgotten" a $250 fine) and was standing there handcuffed and mentally wearing out my boots on my idiotic, credulous ass, I said to the arresting officer, "So— no TV?”

He laughed heartily and patted my shoulder. “Not this time, buddy.”

Apparently cops were that crafty. Although, come to think, it wasn't so much that the cops were that smart or that I was that stupid, only that however unlikely a scenario it was, there was a possibility at its conclusion of me being high. Like that long-ago donut, the dopesack in television form dangled in front of me obscured the manifest perils betwixt me and it, and whatever worldliness I'd acquired since was nullified by my need to believe in it. If the caller had told me that there was a magic meth-bearing gnome out frolicking in the pygmy forest just waiting to be caught and divested of his energizing freight, I wouldn't so much believe it, per se, but I would certainly conduct a sweep of the general area, because one never knows.

Asked to explain my gunnysack, I'd simply claim to be hunting chanterelles.

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