I had a buddy named Andrew, and we were ridiculously mischievous whenever we were together.
When I was about 12, we were hanging at his house during his older brother’s high school graduation open house. We decided it would be a great idea to make it look like the house was on fire in the middle of the outdoor party, just to mix things up.
It was a single level house, save for a small FROG-style (but not above a garage) upstairs room + bathroom with low, slanted ceilings and ’70’s era faux wood particle paneling. That’s where Andrew’s graduating brother stayed, and where Andrew was soon to take over when his brother vacated.
We slipped away from the buffet of Midwestern casseroles and sticky, fly-frequented fruit plates into the house. Andrew had a stash. He always had a stash. Not drugs or booze or naughty magazines or things most parents worry about with boys. His stashes were always a mix of flammable and explosive stuff, pilfered here and there from his brothers, other buddies, or smuggled across state lines in annual pre-July 4 stock-ups. Somehow, Andrew always had more and better stuff than anyone I knew.
We made all manner of ingeniously stupid devices, from black-powder filled aspirin bottles with a too-short wick, to a mini wrestling ring made from a small square of half-inch thick wood with a nail in each corner and copper wiring wrapped around like ropes, connected to a power cord ripped from an old lamp. We blew half the breakers in the house, threw sparks, and instantly liquefied the poor plastic soldier we’d twisted into the copper ring ropes when we plugged it in.
Sorry, I got distracted. Back to the stash. Today, we opted for something far less exotic, with more theater than real danger. A little round smoke bomb. After some deliberation, we opted against the brighter colors and picked one that released a thick plume of plain white smoke. The soon-to-be-his upstairs lair was locked. We needed to stage the prank up there to have maximum effect with minimum damage and parental fallout. Back outside we went.
Lucky for us, it was warm that day, at least by Michigan standards. This meant the un-conditioned air in the house was hot, so windows were open. The upstairs room was a long single corridor with a bed and window at one end, and a bathroom with a window at the other. The bathroom window faced the front of the house, and the party was out back. Its screen insert was loose and prone to falling out. A few tosses of small objects knocked it back onto the bathroom floor. We ducked into the shrubs a few times when cars went by. Finally, the coast was clear and the screenless window open. We could see the shower curtain pulled back, offering a perfect landing spot. I lit the fuse and Andrew hurled the little yellow orb over the windowsill and into the bathtub.
We grabbed a backpack with a few items and snacks and ran into the woods laughing all the way. When we were safe, we turned back and edged toward the treeline by the yard just in time to see a massive plume of smoke billow out the upstairs bathroom window on the front of the house, then a smaller plume out the back window facing the yard where everyone mingled. Andrew’s younger sister was the first to notice. She yelled, “Dad, is that smoke?!” Several people looked up, someone ran around front to see the thicker smoke there, then a few people started screaming, “Oh my God, the house is on fire!”
It got pretty chaotic for a few moments, even though most of the guests did nothing. Andrew’s dad sprung into action immediately, running through the garage, grabbing an extinguisher, and bounding through the house up the stairs. You could hear him from outside like in a cartoon. By the time he reached it, the smoke bomb was spent, and the cloud was slowly dissipating (it took a surprisingly long time for the upstairs to clear completely, and the smell never really did).
His dad screamed out like Dave from Alvin & the Chipmunks, “Aaaaaandreeeeeeew!!!”
We dashed deeper into the woods to let things cool down a bit, and spent the next several hours laughing and retelling all we’d witnessed, especially his brother’s look of knowing rage as soon as he saw smoke spoil his party.
When we wandered back to the party-strewn lawn just before dark and into the house, Andrew got the standard high-octane lectures from mom, dad, and siblings. Besides the panicked exit of a few people who had been in the house, no real harm was done. Well, except for Andrew. His older brother gave him a flurry of hard wallops in the shoulder that had to hurt, but Andrew just gave in and crumpled to the floor laughing maniacally and victoriously even as he took his lumps. I just stood there watching trying not to laugh too loud.
That was one of our mildest exploits.
Disclaimer: This is how I remember the event, but my memory is 100% narrative focused, so details and facts may be incorrect, or the whole thing could have been a lot less exciting that I remember.