Monday, July 1, 2013

A regular attraction at Doc Films (for men only)

Posted By on 07.01.13 at 02:35 PM

The offending element
  • Peter Merholz/Wikimedia Commons
  • The offending element
Whenever I see a movie at University of Chicago's Doc Films—which is fairly often—I encounter the same inconvenience. Either before, during, or after the show, I excuse myself to the men's room in the basement of Ida Noyes Hall, and as I'm washing my hands, I notice that someone (presumably male) has placed a little rectangle of paper towel over the drain of the sink. I can respond to this situation in one of two ways: I can disregard it and let the basin fill with water, or I can be civic-minded and throw away that bit of paper. Neither decision takes more than a few seconds to perform, which makes me wonder just what the prankster had hoped to achieve by masking the drain. Did he think he'd trick me into believing the sink was clogged? Anyone can learn the real story simply by looking down. Or does he get a rise out of knowing an unsuspecting stranger has to suffer the indignity of handling soggy paper, if only from the sink to the garbage can?

Perhaps this sort of thing constitutes an act of rebellion at the University of Chicago. I have to admit, though, that I've witnessed far superior college pranks. In my first year as an undergraduate, I remember having breakfast in the campus cafeteria one Sunday morning. It was a lovely building with high ceilings and large skylights; on one of these panes, a group of people (presumably students) had pasted a mural-sized message made out of crepe paper. It was a peace sign, followed by the words POOPY TITTIES. The message cast a shadow of its own likeness across the cafeteria floor, drawing the attention of everyone who entered to the desecrated skylight. It was a good thing the administration had that crepe paper removed the next day—if they hadn't, nobody could have eaten in the cafeteria without cracking up.

I wouldn't call myself a connoisseur of pranks, but I consider that the best I've ever seen. It displayed real creative effort, left no lasting damage, and its message was too absurd to offend anyone. (I liked to think the poor custodians forced to peel POOPY TITTIES off the roof did so with grins on their faces.) I'm reminded of it almost every time I discover a criminal scrap of paper towel in the basement men's room of Ida Noyes Hall. As nice as it is to find a pleasant memory waiting for you in an ordinary spot, I usually leave the men's room with a pang of disappointment. I'd expect more inspired gags at such an illustrious university.

Ben Sachs writes about moviegoing every Monday.

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