In 1965-66, my father was assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Brussels, Belgium. NATO was still in France until October or November of 1966 when France kicked NATO out. So, the only U.S. personnel in Belgium were diplomats and military advisers.
There was no high school in Belgium for American students, only elementary and middle school. Consequently, I and some of my friends from Brussels had to attend a high school in France. It was located on Dreux Air Force Base.
The student body included Americans from all over Europe and as far away as South Africa. The student body was also a mix of military dependents and children of American civilians working overseas. The student who traveled all the way from South Africa was the son of a U.S. oil executive.
Since almost all of the students came from so far away, we lived in dormitories. There were five day, six day, and seven day students.
Five day students lived close enough to come to school by bus on Monday mornings and leave on Friday afternoons.
Six day students lived a little farther away and came to school on Sunday afternoons, leaving on Fridays.
Seven day students, like myself, were there all the time except holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. During those holidays, the U.S. embassy in Brussels sent a plane down to pick us up and take us back to Brussels to be with our families.
The Vietnam war was big in the news, and was going to get bigger. Drugs were also in the news along with hippies and war protesters.
It was during this time that I started to develop my present personality of being a joker, a wise guy, a wise cracking smartass. LOL!
I was sitting in the Teen Club one Saturday with a friend when I came up with a practical joke to play on our “Fonzie“. This, of course, was long before anyone ever heard of Happy Days—I think. It was 1966.
My plan was to pull some ordinary tobacco out of a cigarette and put it in a matchbox. When our Fonzie came into the teen club, I was going to give it to him telling him it was marijuana. My friend and I were absolutely certain that Fonzie would immediately see it was ordinary tobacco. But—he didn’t. Oh, he came into the teen club, all right, but had never seen marijuana before. I assure you, neither had I.
He took the matchbox and left.
A little while later he came back and told us he never felt a thing. It didn’t make him high. I immediately formulated a reply. I told him that was amazing. According to an article I read in Time Magazine, some people are immune to the effects of Mary Jane, and he must be one of them. He was bummed. My friend and I never let on we pulled a prank on him.
A few days later, also in the teen club, another student came up to me and asked if he could get some marijuana from me. Hmmm—NOW what was I going to do? I told him I was fresh out, and I couldn’t get any more until I was given permission by the school or Air Force—whomever—to visit Paris again. One of our students lived in Paris, with his parents, of course, and the next time I left to spend a weekend with him and his family, I would get some more marijuana.
Well, soon many students approached me for some weed. I told them all the same thing.
I was becoming Big Man On Campus.
One Friday afternoon, Mr. Tipton, the principal, wanted to see me after school. I liked Mr. Tipton. He had been in the Navy, and he knew I was going to join the Navy after I graduated.
Mr. Tipton told me a student, whom he would not name, told him I sold that student a tranquilizer and gave the pill to Mr. Tipton. The truth is, folks, I never sold anything to anyone, so it was a big lie and a scheme to get me into trouble. It was also a sin. Remember “Thou shall not bear false witness against thy neighbor,”? Ever hear of that Commandment? I was so naive, I didn’t even know what a tranquilizer looked like. LOL!
I told Mr. Tipton the truth,. He believed me and he told me:
The government sent two investigators to the base to watch me that weekend and see if they can collect any evidence of illegal drug activity, so I needed to be aware of that.
I told my friend who was in cahoots with me what Mr. Tipton said. My friend knew about the prank from the very beginning, and knew I never had possession of weed or, to his knowledge, any drug.
I had a plan. I remembered a James Bond movie and decided to be a bit sneaky. I pulled, with an instant of pain, a strand of hair from my head, and, after carefully arranging my clothes in my dresser in a very particular way, closed a dresser drawer and attached the strand of hair to the dresser so that it would be pulled away and fall to the floor unnoticed if someone opened the drawer. I thought myself to be pretty clever.
Then, my friend and I, who was also interested in photography, went to the base photo lab to develop some black-and-white film then print the negatives. After developing the film and waiting for the film to dry, we stepped out into the waiting room. There were two men there in business suits looking at magazines. I suspected right away these guys must be the investigators, and they must have thought, because I just turned 18 and was still a high school senior, that I was really, really dumb and/or naive, which is why they looked so stupidly obvious sitting in a photo lab in business suits.
My friend and I stepped back into the darkroom to print the pictures. Once we finished, we scooped up the prints and headed for the bowling alley. The two men were still in the waiting room when we left.
Once we got an alley (it wasn’t busy on Friday evenings, usually), we bowled a game and noticed the same two men were sitting at a table behind us in the snack bar area. Yes, these two guys must have been dumber than me. I told my friend to watch what was going to happen. I was smoking a cigarette and headed for the snack bar. As I neared the table where the two Sherlocks were sitting, I stopped and looked around for an ashtray. The nearest one was the one on their table. So, I asked them if I could use their ashtray. One of them said, yes, go ahead, so I snubbed out my butt in it. Then I went to buy two cokes.
When I returned to my friend, I asked him what he saw. He told me he saw one of the men put a cigarette butt into an envelope. What idiots they were.
When I returned to my room in the dormitory, I inspected my dresser. Sure enough, the strand of hair was gone, and my clothes were not the same as I left them. Someone had searched my room.
I don’t remember what my friend and I did the rest of the weekend, except spend some time in the teen club. I’m sure we were watched all weekend, too.
Then, on Monday just before lunch, I was in Government class when the classroom door opened. The Dorm Supervisor poked his head into the room.
“I’d like to take Mr. *********, if it’s okay.” The teacher said okay. So, I left the room with the supervisor.
Whenever a student got into trouble, especially in the dorms like when we had dorm riots at 2 a.m., the student(s) was/were always taken out of class just before lunch. I could feel every eye in the classroom on my back as I walked through the door. The dorm supervisor and I walked out of the front of the school and got into the back seat of an Air Force staff car waiting for us.
In the front seat on the passenger side sat a young Lt. As the driver headed out of the campus, the Lt. said, “Sure is a pretty day.” I rolled my eyes and thought how square was that? Then the Lt. said, “It’s in your best interest to tell the truth son,” as he stared at me.
“I know that, sir, and will definitely tell the truth,” I replied. Nothing more was said on the way to Base Headquarters to see the base commander.
I was told to sit in the waiting room until called. After a few minutes, the office door opened, and the Base Commander’s secretary asked me to step in. When I did, I saw those two Keystone Cops sitting in chairs to the left of the Base Commander.
“You guys have a nice weekend?” I asked them with a grin. They glared back at me, unsmiling, of course.
I then told the Base Commander the entire truth from the time I pulled the tobacco out to all the times I made students believe I was selling pot, but had to go back to Paris to get more. It was all just a huge prank. The Base Commander believed me, scolded me, and told me I cost the government a lot of money to investigate this matter. I looked at the two “investigators” and apologized for wasting their time—and also told them how I knew they searched my room. Again, they just glared at me. LOLOLOL!!
The Base Commander said all I had to do now was clear things up with the student body. I said I would.
The staff car took me back to the school during lunch hour. There was a special room for students who smoked. Since I smoked, I headed for that room. As I entered, I was swarmed by students.
“What happened? Tell us!”
I told them, “You can’t prosecute anyone without evidence. They had no evidence. They were hoping I’d confess, but I didn’t. So, they had to turn me loose.”
LOLOLOL!!!! I was continuing with the charade!
In my school year book, some people signed things like, “Be careful what you sell in the future.” I guess everyone thought I was as guilty as sin, but beat the authorities.
When I was away at boot camp, my parents found the year book, and when I returned, I had to explain the entire story to my parents. They didn’t think it was funny.
France kicked NATO out while I was in boot camp, and the school shut down. The students scattered all over the world in the years following. I am certain those students who are still alive and remember what happened still think I am guilty.
This was the biggest prank I’ve ever pulled. I’ve been careful not to pull anything like that again. But I still think about it and still get a laugh.