It wasn’t exactly World War III, but in the spring of 1995 I found myself embroiled in a battle of the sexes that would have sent Napoleon Bonaparte running home for his mama.
I lived in a house in college with eight other guys, and we shared a driveway with a house occupied by nine young ladies. Whose bright idea was that? We would either all hook up or kill each other.
When it comes to global conflict, the word escalation is never a good thing. One country picks a fight with a sling-shot. The other fires back with a bow and arrow. Given enough time, tension and technology, the situation goes nuclear.
I know this because I’ve seen it unfold in the microcosm of my own back yard.
This whole thing began one Sunday evening when the ladies next door called a house meeting, which meant that all boys were banned from the premises. So really, they brought this on themselves. Bored males are dangerously creative.
The ladies had a small gravel parking lot behind their house, so we decided to put our brute strength to good use while they were meeting, pick up their cars and rearrange them so that it would be almost impossible to get out for class the next day. It’s the kind of thing that college guys do because they can’t dip pigtails in an inkwell.
Yes, it was immature and foolish. But yes, it was also absolutely hilarious.
A few weeks later our house began to stink. This wasn’t unusual. Again, we’re talking about nine college guys under one roof. But even for us this odor was foul. We cleaned out refrigerators, scrubbed our bathrooms and actually began to bathe on occasion.
Nothing helped. And that’s when we began to suspect that we’d been had. It turns out that the innocent girls next door had hidden a couple of dead fish in our heating vents. Better than live ones, I guess. Once we’d located the source, we retaliated, and returned the fish to their proper owners, hidden in their fireplace, giving them a whiff of their own medicine.
The next week someone swiped the labels off of every can of soup in our house. Not just once, but multiple times. We had no idea what we were eating until we opened a can. Absolutely ridiculous. This thing had clearly gotten out of hand.
We’d been one-upped and consistently humiliated by a bunch of girls. Something had to be done. We needed a decisive victory that would utterly demoralize them. True, they outmatched our intelligence. Yes, they were much sneakier, but we had sheer audacity on our side. The only way we could properly extract revenge would be an all out assault on their house.
One practical joke would not suffice. We knew we had to unleash every dirty trick in the book.
Thus, “Operation Girls Stink” was born. We spent hours pooling our collective devious knowledge to craft a strategy that would make the Normandy invasion look like a walk in the park. It was April Fools D-Day, and there would be no turning back.
Kool-aide in their shower head. Saran Wrap pulled taut under the toilet seat. The contents of every can of unlabeled soup dumped in their bathtub. Vaseline smeared on the earpiece of their phone. And the list goes on.
I have to say that even as I type these words, the older, wiser, more mature Jason cringes that I could ever have been a party to such childish acts of vengeance. But, the eight year old in me stills smiles, knowing that it was a glorious victory for dumb boys around the world.
Yes, the war had obviously been won, and the clear victor had emerged. Sure, there were hurt feelings. Maybe we had gone too far. But at least it was over.
Or so we thought.
Little could we have guessed what a devilishly patient enemy we faced. If revenge is a dish best served cold, these girls waited it out until it had reached positively polar proportions.
By this time, we had forgiven our female friends of their earlier transgressions and had committed to turning over a new leaf of fellowship and goodwill. Who would have guessed that our olive branch would be snapped in two and thrown in our faces?
One night, after the other men and I had said our bedtime prayers (praying for the safety and welfare of the girls as we always did), had laid aside our Bibles and snuggled into bed (exhausted from serving widows, orphans and homeless puppies earlier that day), we drifted off to sleep unaware of our impending doom.
We awoke the next morning to shock and awe.
The entire house had been desecrated with graffiti. The female chromosome symbol and phrases like “Girls Rule” were spray painted on every wall. They had also plastered the house with pictures of themselves to mock us in our defeat.
I will spare you the details of just how far they went to wipe us off the face of the practical joke map. Suffice it to say that we never truly recovered from the catastrophic blow dealt to us by our heartless adversary.
Okay, so maybe both sides got carried away. And maybe some of us took it way too seriously.
But the grown-up version of this scenario is far worse. It’s one thing when a bunch of immature college students wage a prank war. It’s another matter when those of us who are supposed to be mature adults wage wars of escalating revenge.
You hurt my feelings, so I hurt yours back. But I have to go bigger to make sure you get the point. I go bigger, you have to do the same back to me. The whole thing escalates, and the next thing you know, you end up with two sisters who don’t speak to each other for years. We avoid certain people at funerals. We snub others by not inviting them to our wedding. We trade rich, healthy relationships for petty bitterness.
The biggest joke of all? Everybody loses.
The Bible tells me not to repay evil with evil or insult with insult. Instead, I’m to repay evil with blessing. That’s a total game-changer. Not only does it keep my own heart free from animosity but it breaks the cycle and takes the steam out of all of my feuds.
In the spirit of full disclosure, though, I have to confess that I did play one final joke on my old enemies. I tricked one of them into marrying me. I have to say, though, as much as we all enjoyed one-upping each other, this last sixteen years of peace-making has been a lot more fun.