One of the surest ways I know I’m well on my way to crotchety old man status is not the grey in my hair, but my gut reaction to a certain tradition in our small town. To celebrate homecoming, our high school cheerleaders and dance team spends the night covering the high school football players houses, cars, and possibly yards with toilet paper, saran wrap, and plastic forks. They call it tradition, I call it vandalism, but, like so many other things in this tiny Iowa town, I’m simply outvoted.
One of the oddest aspects of this annual event is that it’s completely legitimized by the adults in town. Some of them even drive the kids around to the different houses. I know TP’ing happened when I was a kid too, but at the time it was done by kids who snuck out at night and did it knowing full well it was illegal and that if caught, they would be in somewhat serious trouble. Last year, one of the local cops helped the cheerleaders throw a roll of toilet paper at a house. It’s like the kids who used to do this on their own grew up and wanted to make sure their kids had the same experience, but in a safe, supervised way.
So tonight teams of cheerleaders and dancers will drive around the area, chauffeured by a few parents, and visit 28 homes. At each of the homes various acts of light-hearted vandalism will occur, throwing toilet paper over the house and trees, wrapping the cars in saran wrap, and maybe even filling up the front yard with plastic forks, known, I’m told, as forking the yard. The kids and parents involved say it’s all in good fun, and I understand that, what I don’t understand is who cleans up the mess after the night is over. TP makes a heck of a mess when it gets wet, and if it rains in the next few days some folks are going to have a heck of a time getting it off their homes and property.
Speaking of it raining, another prank that I’ve been told is reserved for those that really deserve it is to fill the front yard with a few boxes of instant mashed potatoes. After it rains, as I understand it, I’ve never seen this done, the potatoes absorb the water and cover the yard. I imagine the owner would have to shovel it out.
The kids have a great time and get to feel like they are breaking the rules, even though the rules have been temporarily adjusted, so they aren’t actually rebelling at all. I think that’s really where the crux of my issue with this tradition lays. It’s become phony, fake. Like mandatory corporate shuffleboard or trust falls. The kids aren’t really being rebellious; this is all pre-planned, packaged and vacuum wrapped like a lunchable. Sometimes I wonder if we are doing the next generation any favors by protecting them so much. There can be no bravery without danger.
But, it is all in good fun. No one gets hurt, no one is in trouble. No one complains about cleaning up the mess, at least no one I’ve talked to has. Maybe some of the kids from the teams have to clean it up, I don’t know. I’m just the grouchy old man who really wants the kids to stay off my lawn.