To draw new mischief on…

Do you wonder why anybody would say mis chee vee uhs? I used to -unaware, of course that from around the sixteenth to about the eighteenth century mischievious was actually an alternative English spelling. For some reason, my grade school teachers withheld that information from me in their insistence that I learn not only the correct spelling of the word, but its correct pronunciation as well; they did not deign to tell me why ‘pronunciation’ was fiat -not ‘pronounciation’ however, so I used to annoy the teachers of each succeeding grade by defying their insistence on avoiding the heresy involved in mis-pronouncing the word (or is it mispronuncing…?).

But, protocol and common-law aside, is mischief a misdemeanour, or a felony? A type of misbehaviour, or a crime? I have tended to lean towards the former: a prank not intended maliciously nor with grievous bodily harm in mind; a thing done by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing -if I may paraphrase Macbeth.

In itself, mischief is annoying but rarely serious, vexing but with no lasting damage intended. I remember in Grade 4 I used to hide any long and useable pieces of chalk before the class, so the teacher had to resort to the little short stubs that squeaked across the blackboard when she tried to write our assignments for homework on it.

And sometimes, I used to leave Brian’s name and phone number on notes in various girl’s desks with little hearts pencilled in beside them. Jessica was the Grade 4 champion puncher if you got her mad, and she punched Brian in the gut when he was in the corridor I remember. Then Brian punched me -I remember that as well. But I was the one who got the detention after I kicked him.

So, is mischief something to be ashamed of, or proud of? Does mischief presage a life of crime, lighting fools the way to dusty death, or is it rather a playful and light-hearted form of trouble-making, aimed chiefly at creating amusement for those involved?[i] Context is everything, I suppose, but mischievousness is most likely the result of ‘a temperament that many of us have as children, but which is often lost in later life. Mischievous people are therefore to be commended for managing to retain it. Many of the best acts of mischief, in fact, are little more than expressions of this temperament: they are the consequences, so to speak, of a certain zest for life.’[ii]

At times, however, I have to wonder…

A group of my retired guy friends try to meet for coffee in the Food Court of the local mall on as many Wednesday mornings as their wives will allow… But the other day, Jonathan was the only person at our usual table. I waved at him from the lineup, but the usually jocular septuagenarian looked unhappy; only his index finger moved in recognition. What was left of his silvering hair was uncombed, and unlike his usually well-ironed appearance, his white shirt looked decidedly wrinkled and he’d forgotten to do up one of the buttons.

I wasn’t quite sure how to greet him as I approached, but I thought I’d better be careful. “Hi Jon,” I started… Then his eyes grabbed my tongue so I wouldn’t ask about anything.

He only nodded in reply.

“Where are all the guys?” seemed safe a safe question, however.

He thought about it for a moment. “Wives…” Was all he said before sipping his coffee.

I rolled my eyes to show him I understood. “I knew there was a benefit to staying single,” I said, smiling at my own wisdom.

Once again, his eyes flew to my face on a brief sortie before retreating again to their usual roost. He followed that with a deep and stertorous sigh. “You don’t know how lucky you are, G.”

I had a sip of my coffee and then tore my bagel in half and asked him if he’d like it.

His hand inched slowly towards it, then grabbed it and he took a bite. “Haven’t had breakfast yet,” he said, chuckling as he chewed. “Sophie was too mad at me…”

I raised my eyebrows in a silent question.

He managed shrug, and had another bite of the bagel. “Remember that party last night -the one at the pub you decided not to attend?” I nodded; I wasn’t interested in sitting around drinking with a bunch of old men. “Well, there were a group of young women there who found us ‘cute’ and started flirting and messing with our hair… and stuff.”

“And stuff…?” I just had to ask.

He shrugged again. “You know, hugging and kissing our cheeks -that kind of thing. They said it was a ‘girl’s night out’ and they were pretty drunk by the time we arrived. Anyway, George started filming it on his phone -just for fun, I guess. None of us minded, actually -I mean it was a little pervy, but hey, we’re all old, eh?” He finished off the bagel, so I pushed my still-untried half towards him. He grabbed it and had a little nibble so he could still keep talking. “It was innocent stuff, until one of the women -a blond with messy hair and stained teeth- tongued me…”

My eyebrows shot skywards. “Tongued you…?”

He shook his head apologetically. “Full, open mouthed kiss with her tongue wandering around in there…”

I didn’t  know how to react, to tell the truth; it sounded pornographic, but I didn’t tell him that. “I’m not sure I’d mention that to Sophie, Jon…”

His eyes hardened for a moment as he thought about it. “I didn’t… George knew Sophie’s Email account, though -they used to work together before they both retired. And by that time, he’d also had a little too much beer…”

“And…?” I could guess, but thought it might be rude to insist.

But Jonathan was so upset, he couldn’t resist telling me. “And George sent the phone video to Sophie as a joke… They’d both been good friends at work.”

I had to shake my head. “Now let it work. Mischief thou art afoot. Take thou what course thou wilt,” I said, quoting Shakespeare’s Mark Antony after the stabbing of Caesar. “So, what did Sophie do?”

“She took a selfie of herself tonguing the toast she’d made for breakfast, and Emailed it to George’s wife – they’re both friends as well.”

Then Jonathan actually smiled. “Fortune is merry, and in this mood will give us anything…” he said, adapting something Antony says shortly after my quote.

I have to hand it to my friends -they’re pretty mischievious for old people…


[ii] Ibid.


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