He told another story about his dad, Dwight, to illustrate his dad's subtle humor. There's no laugh-out-loud, knee-slapping, guffawing, corn-ball humor with the Hoff family. It's a quieter, laying-in-wait, tap you on your shoulder when your back is turned, get you when you least expect it sort of amusement. Once you've fallen victim, you'll know, but you don't shout it to the world, and-- unlike our family-- they don't ridicule, point, and laugh once you've fallen prey.
Paul told us about the time Dwight filled his bathroom medicine cabinet with marbles. This kind of humor takes patience for the reward of a laugh; an unknown victim would eventually be revealed.
I found this highly amusing, and couldn't wait to implement it. We got to work; Stephen drilled a hole in the top of the middle section of our three paneled wall mounted medicine cabinet, and we poured about 30 marbles into the closed cabinet from the top. Testing it, we had one of the kids open the cabinet door but to our disappointment nothing happened. There weren't enough marbles filling the space to cause a cascade and the few marbles that were sitting on the shelf sat like beady little eyes watching the reaction of our failure. Dejected, we knocked at a few of them and down they rained into the porcelain sink below.
The racket it created was loud, jarring and dangerous! Several marbles broke sending slivers of glass shards all over the tiled counter-top. This was not working, and clearly wouldn't have a fun outcome if the hail of marbles came down on someone's head, or worse, sent broken glass into someone's eye.
We re-evaluated the process, and considered other options:
ping-pong balls? Too big.
Super Balls? Too big, too bouncy.
Cotton Balls? Too soft, no surprise element.
We decided that gumballs would be just as colorful as glass marbles, equally surprising, and far less dangerous. Our intended victim was the nosy Parker house guest who secretly opens the medicine cabinet to see what family secrets are revealed from the pill bottle labels and unguents. We've all had one or been one.
Off to the candy store. We purchased three bags of 50 gumballs, installed them in the cabinet, and waited.
Over the months, with the cabinet prepared and full, we had several house guests and two Solstice parties with well over 20 guests and no one ever opened the cabinet. How 'bout that? We determined that this was actually a test of character of the company we keep.
A. Do you open the cabinet?
B. What do you do if you're caught opening the cabinet by unleashing a hail-storm of gumballs?
It wasn't until several years later when we learned how some people handle it.
After my mother died, our family started running the Bed and Breakfast my folks had been operating together for nearly 20 years. Early in the B&B season we had friends of my folks stay with us who'd been visiting Cleveland Place and The Bay of Fundy for years. We were pretty well acquainted, and thought that they would be good subjects for the Gumball Prank and set up the medicine cabinet in the guest bathroom with 300 hundred brightly colored balls.
This was no easy task. Cleveland Place is nearly 100 years old, and the oak medicine cabinet is built into the lath and plaster bathroom wall making it impossible to drill any holes. We had to form a sort of false cardboard door to funnel the gumballs in, close the real door, and then slide the cardboard out from underneath. After several failed attempts, and chasing countless escaped balls, we eventually got them all in. We welcomed our guests, Dan and Betsy, and invited them to make themselves comfortable in room #2 and enjoy their full private bath just a few steps down the hall.
For me, there's a bit of an ethical puzzle to this gag. If I was a family-friend guest in a home that is run as a professional lodging establishment and I saw the little door in the wall with the wee brass plate above the latch that read private please, I probably wouldn't open the door, assuming it was for the supplies or operations of the facility.
However, if I was a paying lodger and unfamiliar with the hosts I'd be concerned with what might be behind the mirrored cabinet that faces directly in front of the bathtub. After all, I've seen the 20/20 episodes on television that exposes creeps who use small video cameras watching the innocent in their most private moments. So, I'd probably peek inside the door to confirm that it simply contains travel sized shampoos and cotton swabs.
To their credit, neither Dan or Betsy ever opened the cabinet door. Over the years, we've become good friends and they've returned to Cleveland Place several times and have been our hosts at their home in Massachusetts. We eventually revealed the test that they unknowingly passed and they have since fallen victim to the gag in their own home. For a simpler version we used a cardboard Morton Salt container that was emptied of salt, the bottom cut out, filled with gumballs and secretly stashed in the kitchen cupboard when their backs were turned. Eventually, when it was time to fill the salt shaker, the prank was exposed.
As the busy B&B season came in full swing, we left the medicine cabinet as is, and actually forgot about its contents. Unfortunately, we were reminded very late one night after checking in guests. Kathryn and I were sitting in the den downstairs and heard the tell tale rattle of 300 hundred gumballs raining down on the wooden floor above our heads. Alarmed and startled at first, then quickly realizing the scene above, Kathryn and I were forced to leave the house as we were convulsed with laughter imagining the dazed guest, fresh from her bath, standing wrapped in her white Cleveland Place terry-cloth bathrobe in a pool of bright, shiny, primary- colored confectioneries.
The next morning at breakfast, nothing was mentioned by the guests (or by us) about the incident. When they'd left for the day, I went to the bathroom to refresh towels, swab the toilet, and assume the daily duties of running a B&B, and found several of the gumballs stashed about--a few in a basket, others in a soap dish, some that rolled to far corners. Most remained in the cabinet (though I'm curious how she got them back in the cabinet since several were crushed flat apparently from her shutting the door on them). The couple stayed 5 days. No one ever said a word about it. Was she embarrassed? Annoyed? Amused? We'll never know. I was tempted to use a few gumballs as garnish on their pancakes one morning to make mention, but chose to let it be. I wonder if they kept a few as a souvenir. So:
A. She opened posted private cabinet door.
B. She never said a word about it.
Odd? I think so. Curious, most definitely. But more, I wonder if she's told on herself.
Over the years, Dwight's little prank has made quite a few rounds in Alma village-- Cleveland Place has even fallen reverse victim to it on several occasions--but our rule is, you can't gumball someone until you have been gumballed, and like Dwight, you never let on that it was you who you set up the prank.
Patience. All it takes is patience.