In the sixth grade I met Manny who would become one of my best friends.
When Manny and I got together, there was always some sort of adventure. Or trouble.
One time we put together an animal magazine for an animal loving old man down the street from Manny’s house. We wrote articles. Drew pictures. Even put in some comic strips. Sadly the old man died before we could give it to him. His tearful daughter took it in his stead.
Manny inspired the mischief in me and vice versa. We regularly performed random prank calls, back in the time when it was safe to do so. “How many spots does a lizard have?” Manny asked some confused guy on the phone one day. “What?” the man asked. “How many spots does a lizard have?” Manny asked again. “What is this?” the man said pointedly. “It’s called a prank call sir,” Manny said brightly. “You bet it is, you jerk!” the man stammered. We collapsed in laugher as Manny hung up the phone.
Our best tricks were reserved for my poor younger brother Kip. Kip was easily angered and easily fooled. The best combination for a prank victim. Kip didn’t really have friends of his own, so he was hungry to connect with Manny and I. In retrospect, I feel a lot of guilt for taking advantage of that.
Manny and I would often cruise the local alleys to peruse for backyard fruit. Usually we targeted the branches that hung out into the alleyway. Occasionally we climbed fences to fill small bags with stolen treasure. A couple of times we were even caught in the act, which never seem to dissuade us.
Once we came across a fruit that neither of us had ever seen before. It was egg shaped, about the size of a large peach, and bright sunshine orange. We took one home and cut it open to dug into satiny orange flesh. As soon as we put it in our mouths, we were sure we had poisoned ourselves. It felt as if the inside of our mouthes were coated with a leathery wax, and the bitterness was overwhelming. Upon recovery, when we asked my dad what it was and why it tasted like it did, he told us: “You just ate an unripe persimmon.”
Of course being the caring twosome we were, we knew we had to share our discovery with my hapless younger brother.
We brazenly lead him into the alley with tales of the most delicious fruit we have ever tasted. We quickly peeled it on the spot and handed it to him. He took a bite and immediately tried to spit it out. He made a horrified choking noise as he jumped about in panic. Manny and I could not stop laughing.
Our next trick was even more complicated, requiring advanced planning and forethought. It involved the Hispanic version of elves, called Duendes. For the purpose of our trick, Manny and I shortened it to Dwends.
Manny spun a mythic tale of how the “Dwends” appear once a year to haunt disbelievers. How that one time a year was the summer solstice, the longest day of the year (the day we played the trick). How they proved their existence by doing mysterious things.
As Manny told his tale, I looked at Kip and shook my head mouthing the word: “Crazy.” It was all part of the plan to lure him in.
When we got home, Kip found the kitchen chairs stacked up on the table. Manny insisted it was the Dwends. He picked up off the table a couple of rainbow feathers that he had gotten from his love bird at home. “These must’ve come from their wings!” he said with realistic fear in his eyes. Still pretending to be skeptical, I grabbed one from his hands and looked at it closely. “These feathers change colors when you move them in the light,” I said in sudden wonderment. “That’s impossible!” And then I pretended to believe too.
It was the turning point for Kip. He discovered things shifted in his room as well as a few of the feathers in front of the door. He became fully convinced that Dwends were real. He made Manny and I sleep with him in the living room asking endless questions about the fabled Dwends.
By morning, his senses got the best of him. He was clearly upset by what we had pulled off. Even hurt. I started to think that the tricks were no longer worth it.
But then Manny and I got another bright idea.
One night we brazenly told our respective parents that we were sleeping at each others’ houses. Instead we went to a local park by a lake and spent the night in the bushes. It was an uncomfortably cold, sleepless night. We told each other that next time, we would have to bring Kip.
Kip was not the outdoors type. So we told him lies. We told him Manny’s parents had a giant RV parked at the lake. Inside the RV was a large TV with Nintendo and cable. The RV park had a swimming pool and a basketball court (one of Kip’s favorite activities). None of these things existed.
Kip walked with us to lake, at first very excited by the whole idea. As we got closer, we finally admitted that the whole thing was made up. There was no RV. No TV. No Nintendo. No cable. No swimming pool. No basketball court.
“Take me home now!” Kip yelled. It was already dark. It was a two hour walk home. Manny and I were already putting down our sleeping bags. “I’m telling mom!” Kip threatened.
But when his anger subsided, something magical happened. It was so different from the first trip Manny and I took. The night was warm. We slept on soft grass on the side of a hill. We ate our camping snacks and swapped stories. Kip had fun. We all had fun.
Decades later, when I apologized profusely for the stupid things Manny and I had done, Kip laughed. According to his memory, these were great times. And maybe he’s right. Maybe I’m the one who was hung up about it.
At the very least, they make for some pretty entertaining stories.