The best practical jokes take a little work – Empty Nest, by Curt Swarm


Kimn Hassenfritz looked up from the breakfast table. “What is that awful noise?” she asked.
There it was again. The noise sounded like a cross between an elk bugling and a sick goose. It was coming from their neighbor’s house.
Tom Hassenfritz, Kimn’s husband, put down his morning newspaper and cocked his head. “Oh, that’s just Ron Clouse making his morning Tarzan call.”
It was Ron Clouse’s habit of stepping outside on the deck early in the morning, with his cup of coffee, to watch the sun come up. When the first rays warmed his body, he would let out a Tarzan yell that would get dogs barking half a mile away. Ron just felt so good in the morning that he wanted to let the world know he was alive and ready to take on any and all challenges of the new day.
The empty lot between the Hassenfritz’s and the Clouse’s was a point of worry for Tom Hassenfritz. It was an odd-shaped lot, like a slice of pie, and owned by some out-of-state doctor. Tom was afraid a developer would come along and build a convenience store or fast-food restaurant there. He had tried to buy the lot but to no avail.
The Hassenfritzs like to vacation in Michigan where the family has a lakeside cabin. It was during one of these vacations, while the Hassenfritzs were gone, that Ron Clouse got the idea for a practical joke. It would take some work, quite a bit of work actually, but it would be so much fun. He knew where there was an old abandoned trailer house that he could pull onto the vacant lot. He also found an old clothesline, a rusted out pick-up truck, and some busted lawn chairs. To add authenticity to the scene, he hung some clothes from the clothesline, and was in the process of rounding up a herd of goats that he would turn loose to graze on the lot. However, the Hassenfritzs returned from their vacation a day early and foiled the goat idea.
It was 2:00 a.m. in the morning, when the headlights from the Hassenfritz vehicle picked up the mess that was next door to their house. Kimn let out a scream, and Tom hollered, “What in tarnation?” There was even a realty sign in the front of the lot that proclaimed, “Sold.” Tom’s palms became sweaty on the steering wheel. “You might know it,” he sighed, knocking himself in the forehead with his fist. “The minute we leave, someone comes along and buys it.”
That was in 1998. Since then, the Hassenfritzs have forgiven the Clouses for their little bit of trickery, the Clouses moved to a country acreage south of Mt. Pleasant, where Ron’s Tarzan cry has been known to stampede cattle, and the Clouses were named Citizens of the Year by the Area Chamber of Commerce. You see, the Clouses are or were involved in just about every volunteer activity there was in Henry County, from Habitat for Humanity, the Fellowship Cup, St. Alphonsus Church, the SE Iowa Symphony, Henry County Health Center and Kiwanis. Tom sent Ron a text saying, “It couldn’t happen to better people.”
Tom Hassenfritz continues to the mow the vacant lot next to their house. He figures that if he cares for the property long enough, by law, ownership might transfer to him.
And Ron Clouse knows where there is an old oil derrick he might be able to move.
Have a good story? Call or text Curt Swarm in Mt. Pleasant at 319-217-0526, email him at, or find him on Facebook. Curt’s stories are read at 106.3 FM in Farmington.

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