A perfect joke turns out to be impractical

It has been more than a dozen years since a reader in Grants Pass sent me the bright-red bumper sticker.

"I Got Sick Reading the Daily Courier," it announced.

Chuckling, I tucked it away in my cluttered desk, knowing that someday a special day would arrive.

The sticker was the result of a kerfuffle over a story the Grants Pass paper had done on a restaurant whose food made customers sick, including members of the news staff who had gathered there. The paper had legitimately written a story about the food-borne illness to warn the public.

But the restaurant owners were hungry for revenge. They quickly served up the short-lived bumper stickers.

Naturally, when Daily Courier editor Dennis Roler dropped by our office on Thursday to have lunch with MT editor Bob Hunter, I started grinning like the proverbial Cheshire cat. The day I had been waiting for had finally arrived.

It was time to strike. In this case, stick.

You should know that Dennis is an old friend. In a previous century, I once wrote for the Courier and have high regard for Dennis and his crew.

We were once competitors, but our staffs now complement each other, providing stories of regional interest to each other's papers.

Friendship and respect are fine things. But a rare opportunity to play a great prank is never to be wasted, according to my practical joke playbook.

After all, though Dennis had been at the MT many times in the past, the stars were finally aligned. I happened to be in the office. His car was parked just outside. And he would be gone for a good hour.

Opportunity was clearly knocking. Loudly.

All I had to do was find the sticker, locate his vehicle and slap it on a bumper. I couldn't help giggling as I began searching my desk. I could already see him innocently pulling up to his office with the bumper sticker on full display.

As though to egg me on, he had chortled at the sight of my cluttered desk after sauntering over for a friendly greeting.

"How do you ever find anything in there?" he asked as he broke into his infectious laugh. We chatted for a bit over old times before he and Bob headed out to lunch.

While I searched for the sticker, I did give some thought to the downside of launching a bumper-sticker war.

As a veteran of bumper-sticker battles, I can tell you it can bring out the ugly side of human behavior. Prisoners are seldom taken.

I was drafted into my first sticker smackdown when an older brother stuck one on my car. It announced that I supported someone I loathed in that year's presidential race.

Incidentally, I am a registered independent. I vote for the one who will do the least damage.

Yet, there I was, driving around with a sticker supporting the candidate I found the most repulsive. The thought still makes my skin crawl.

But few things are as sweet as bumper-sticker revenge. As it happened, someone had sent me an "Earth First!" sticker as a joke. We're talking about a self-proclaimed radical environmental group here.

It took a year or two, but I finally had an opportunity to stick it to my older sibling. My big brother, a longtime logger and a partner in a small logging firm, drove off proclaiming to the world his support of Earth First!

I still chuckle at the memory.

But I was never able to fire a shot in my second bumper-sticker skirmish. That's when a jokester and co-worker stuck a sticker on the bumper of my pickup truck a couple of years ago. It loudly announced a certain religious belief to which I do not subscribe.

For about two weeks, I cluelessly drove around, proclaiming my seemingly newfound faith. People I didn't know laughed and pointed. I may have committed blasphemy upon discovering it.

I have yet to avenge that bumper-sticker attack. I am biding my time.

As I searched for the old bumper sticker, I was thinking that Dennis would likely launch a counter attack. His sticker would read something like, "A mere glance at the MT made me hurl." Not that it would have any grounds, mind you.

Sadly, I couldn't find the old sticker before Bob and Dennis returned from lunch. Gone was the opportunity to pull off one of the biggest bumper-sticker pranks of all time.

Incidentally, I later found the missing missive. But I feel bad about even contemplating such a sophomoric practical joke. To make up for it, I probably should invite a long-time journalistic friend from Grants Pass out to lunch.

We'll take his car.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or pfattig@mailtribune.com.


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