Tuesday, November 5, 2019

The Key Lime Juice Episode

    "I saw my opportunities and I took 'em."
    A good prankster, like a corrupt Tammany Hall official—the quote above is from New York's notorious George Washington Plunkitt—must know when the moment is right. A good prank presents itself as a fleeting opportunity. The window opens, and you must leap.
     First, some background is in order: among my sons' many marvelous qualities is an enjoyment of baking, particularly the younger one. Breads, souffles, pies; a key lime pie at Thanksgiving with enough regularity—the past three, four years—that it has become a family tradition.
     It being November, and jumping the gun on the prodigals' holiday return, my wife went to buy a bottle of lime juice, a necessary ingredient for key lime pie (I suppose he could use actual key limes instead, but I try not to look a gift pie in the ... wherever you'd look a gift pie. The crust perhaps). 
     There was a hitch in her plan, however, because Nellie & Joe's Famous Key West Lemon Juice looks very much like Nellie & Joe's Famous Key West Lime Juice (can they both be famous? I sense some commercial puffery at work here). Unpacking a bag last week, she let out an oath. She had bought lemon juice. Oh well, she said, making the best of it. When life gives you lemon juice, make lemonade.
      Last Sunday she returned to Sunset to try again. I stayed at home, writing. When she returned, I heard the back door slam and went into the kitchen, as is my habit, to examine the haul, under the guise of helping put the groceries away. I started removing bags of fruit, cans of this and that. My wife went back to the car for more groceries. I reached into the bag and removed the bottle of lime juice.
    What would you do? Do you even see the prank there, shimmering, like a diamond in the dark? Waiting to be seized? Maybe not. Maybe you have to be of my frame of mind.  I hurried to the refrigerator, removed the lemon juice purchased the week before, replaced it with the lime juice, and put the lemon juice in the bag. It would have been better had I left it, but I was thinking on the fly. Assembling my face into a neutral mask of tedium, I continued removing food items—Cheerios, frozen vegetables—as she returned.
     She bustled a bit, I waited until the exact moment, as her attention swung in my direction, to remove the bottle and cast it an idle glance, then a second one, surprised this time.
    "I thought you were getting lime juice," I said, turning the label to her.
    The next three seconds I will shield from the public record. She was not happy, so vigorously irked that I immediately revealed the prank. And here is the second important skill for the prankster: know your audience. She laughed, sincerely, and admitted that I had gotten her, and this was in keeping with my fine tradition. Not every wife would feel that way. She wouldn't always feel that way. But my timing, again, was perfect, so much so that she brought up one of the foundational stories of our relationship.
      For a few years, while we were dating, I drove a cool white Volvo P1800. In the trunk was a steel thermos that had been rattling around there for as long as I knew my wife-to-be. Months, if not years. She eventually, in that female imperative toward rational living, urged me to take the thermos out of the trunk.
      One day, when she said that, I said, "Okay" and took the thermos into the kitchen to be cleaned. But first, I unscrewed the top, poured a steaming cup and took a sip, while she gawped in shock.
    "It's still hot!" I marveled. 
    Earlier that morning, unbeknownst to her, I had removed the thermos, cleaned it, poured in fresh coffee and returned it to the trunk. Worked like a charm. No column or book I've written impressed her as much as that prank. 
     Life doesn't always deliver the surprise and amazement we wish it would. Sometimes we have to help it along, seizing our opportunities as they present themselves.

The 2017 effort, middle pie, back row. 


  1. Funny! The best pranks or "practical jokes" are the ones played on people we care about.

  2. I'll be telling everyone I meet today about the coffee stunt -- hilarious to say the least. The juice switcheroo seemed to border on meanness, such that the immediate confession was absolutely mandatory, I'm sure. But I'm not so sure that I could have gotten away with either of those pranks -- as important as the audience is, the performer is more so. Kudos to Neil.


  3. that reminds me of the old one where you have a neighbor that lords it over you about the terrific gas mileage he gets in his car. So everyday you add a couple of gallons of gas to his car & he keeps going goofy about it. Then you start siphoning out the same amount & he goes nuts trying to figure out what's wrong with the car.
    I heard that one told by Johnny Carson years ago.

    1. Click & Clack also related that story long ago. As told by Crusty, the mechanic, I believe. Not something I would try, especially in these days in which everybody has a gun and isn't afraid to use it to protect his precious property.

    2. You can drive a roommate nuts with weight gain and weight loss in the same fashion. Keep replacing their clothing with a larger or a smaller size (but be sure to remove the labels first). Hawkeye and BJ pulled this stunt on Charles in a MASH episode, and it was as funny as hell.

      I'm not a subtle or skilled prankster. I'm old-school...the sight-gag type. Rubber vomit works well if you happen to have pets, so both wives fell for it, multiple times each. On a kid sister with a year-old daughter? Not so much. She was PISSED.

      A tip: Coat the rubber vomit with dish soap, for that realistic glistening effect. Works wonders.

  4. Thanks for letting us readers into your home life!

    And should you tire of your key lime-pie-maker son, I shall gladly adopt him.

  5. Always enjoy the family stories.


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