Monday, June 16, 2008

The Green Potato

Or, How to Spoil a Dinner Party

In general, practical jokes are inadvisable. The trouble with them is, you can never foresee all the unintended consequences. You never know, if you tell your fellow dinner guests you grew up in the circus and they find out later you didn’t, whether they may resent having spent the entire evening being enthralled by your tales of lion taming, and the host may never invite you again. You never know whether, if you send someone a poem anonymously in the mail, an innocent person may be blamed for your mischief. (Because, of course, your enemies will never believe you clever enough to have written it, and your friends won't believe you were stupid enough actually to have mailed it.)

And there will always be people who will utterly fail to see that your stunt was hilarious, who will see nothing faintly humorous about it, who may well turn out to be the very ones to whom you are forced to confess everything. That’s what happened to my brother, when we lived on an Army post and he painted the parade-ground cannon flamingo pink. And that’s what happened to me when I dyed my potato green. (Now if the dinner party had been in my own home – no, not even then would it have worked.)

It sounds funny, though, doesn’t it? Go to a company dinner at a steakhouse with a tiny, plastic bottle of green food coloring in your purse. Be sure your order includes a baked potato with butter and/or sour cream. When it comes, surreptitiously lift up the sour cream and/or butter and squirt a large amount of green onto your potato. Replace the topping and slip the food coloring back into your purse. Begin mashing up your potato with your fork, all the while pretending to be so engrossed in the conversation you don’t notice what color your potato is turning. Prepare to take your first bite.

Can you predict how this goes so horribly wrong? I should have, because in retrospect, the results were inevitable. You have to factor in that green food coloring, mixed with yellow butter, turns a really disgusting color. You have to put yourself in the other people’s places. They actually care about you! They care about themselves, too, and what they may be eating. Or serving.

“Oh, look at your potato!” cried one of my co-workers. “It’s green!”

“Eee-yew!” exclaimed another.

“Why, so it is!” I said, looking down at it. “How charming!” And I raised it to my lips.

“No, no!” someone cried. “Don’t eat it!”

I ate the first bite anyway. “Mmm! This has got to be the best potato I ever ate!”

“Please, please, don’t eat any more!”

“But it’s delicious! Really. Here, try some!” and I took another bite.

That’s when the boss summoned the waiter.

A large knot formed in my stomach. I tried hard to stave off my plunge into ignominy, assuring everyone I was delighted with my potato, it was scrumptious and I wanted the recipe, but I’m sure, by now, you can see how it went from there. The panic-stricken waiter called the manager to come see the green potato, and the panicked manager called the chef, and none of them could form any idea of what had happened, how many other green potatoes might show up, whether eating them might be dangerous, what the Health Department might say, whether anybody might sue the restaurant...

So I had to admit what I had done. I even had to produce the bottle of green food coloring to prove it, because the chef was on the verge of losing his job. I was extremely lucky not to lose mine.

That was the last practical joke I ever attempted. They’re just too dangerous. You never know whether, if you drop out of a tree at midnight dressed as a ghost, the drunk you are trying to scare may have a heart attack.