Classic AIS Pranks

Since this is the month of April Fools, it seems like a good time to remember some of the pranks AIS employees have played on each other and (inadvertently) the world at large.

When you think “AIS pranks,” John Menke immediately comes to mind. Many of the classic “gotcha’s” involved Mr. Menke in the Crestline days. Some of you may remember, or have heard of, the following events:

·         A pumpkin was blown up with a quarter-stick of dynamite (an m80) as it was rolling downhill.

·         A lit m80 was inserted under the bathroom door (the one off the mapping room) while James was using the facilities. There was a “kaboom.”

·         The oculars of a stereoscope were smeared with lead shavings, so that the next person to look through the stereoscope would get “raccoon eyes.” Unexpectedly and unfortunately, that next person was Toshie.

·         In the days before emojis, there was Fat Albert: a round face with a straight line for a mouth and a straight line across the top of his head. Albert would show up in places like the margins of mylar overlays. On at least one occasion, Fat Albert was actually drafted in a map for the National Wetlands database. It was not caught in QC, and to this day remains a published feature in their database.

·         A Fat Albert was grown at the 2000’ elevation level on a steep west-southwesterly facing slope just above the Arrowhead Springs compound. He was visible during the winter months across the canyon from State Route 18 for about half a decade. It was planted with rye seed and measured several hundred meters across.

Mr. Menke wasn’t the only one playing tricks up the hill. Debbie Limon (now Debbie Johnson) was associated with these pranks:

·         Placing some limburger cheese (a type of cheese known for its bad smell) on the warm engine block of a fellow employee’s car. She claims she got the idea from Mr. Menke himself.

·         By showing John McKay a box of chocolate laxative, Debbie fooled him into thinking she had placed a lot of it in his coffee (actually, she’d put a regular chocolate bar in there). John developed psychosomatic symptoms and had to leave work early!

Pranks didn’t stop once AIS moved to Redlands. For quite a while, Arin Glass was known to rearrange or hide things in the workspaces of fellow employees, or move the large wheeled trash can into someone’s office. People were known to retaliate by scaring him as he emerged from the men’s bathroom, in the hopes of making him “scream like a little girl.”

Speaking of the men’s bathroom, John Fulton pulled off a classic prank several years ago. As you may know, that bathroom only has one stall, which on a typical day gets a good amount of use. One evening after everyone else had gone home, Fulton stuffed newspapers in the legs of a pair of jeans, stuffed the pants legs into a pair of boots, and set them up in the men’s stall with the door closed. Throughout the next morning, male employees entered the men’s bathroom and quickly exited, to return 10 minutes later to find the stall still occupied. As their exasperation grew, they started asking each other, “Who’s in there?” After the prank was discovered, the stall received a steady procession of visitors!

In recent years we have been mapping onscreen, using wireless computer mice to move our cursors around. Our mapping staff in the big room figured out that if Person B switched around the hardware for the mice when Person A is out of the room, Person B (sitting elsewhere in the room) had actual control over the movement of the cursor on Person A's screen. When Person A returned,  he couldn't understand why his computer wasn't responding to his mouse, and his cursor was moving at random. Persons B-F tried very hard not to laugh and to act as bewildered as Person A.

Even further back there was an incident involving the kidnaping of Towelie, one of the numerous talking toys that used to be set off frequently during the day (“Don’t forget to bring a towel!”) and a particular favorite of Nate McCall. One day Towelie disappeared. In the following days, Nate received a ransom note (with words and letters cut out of magazines), a menacing phone call from the kidnaper, and even a set of snapshots, including one with a water pistol pointed at Towelie’s head. Finally Towelie reappeared on the day of a potluck, perched on the shoulder of our life-sized cardboard cutout of George W Bush. Mr. President, how could you?

And speaking of talking toys, we can’t leave the subject of pranks without mentioning the short, animatronic, motion-activated singing Santa. In most years Santa first makes his appearance after Thanksgiving, lurking behind a partition, ready to scare the pants off the first sleepy mapper to arrive early.

Throughout the Christmas season, Santa gets around the office, and you never know when the motion-activated feature is switched on – until it’s too late.

One December about five years ago, Santa spent some time standing on top of the map case in the big room – because, why not? At night, a light stays on in that room for security purposes.

One evening Eric and Toshie received a call from the Redlands PD. A passerby had reported suspicious activity at AIS. Eric drove to AIS to meet the police and other first responders, who told him a possible suicide had occurred. After Eric unlocked the building and turned on the lights, they all started laughing: the passerby must have seen Santa’s silhouette and assumed it was a real person who had hung himself!

Several months later, one of the first responders came by AIS on routine business and started laughing: “I remember this place – this is where Santa committed suicide!”

Do you remember any other pranks? We’d love to hear them!

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