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Practically Serious

by Kent Lewis

After graduating from college, I had a few months to reflect on my life and budding career. I determined that a personal mission statement was in order, as it would aid in guiding my personal and professional development. After a few failed attempts ("I'm just here for the beer" and "To better people's lives through plastic" among others), I ended up with "To educate, inform and entertain."

Since then, I've been able to execute my mission by teaching at Portland State University, speaking at industry events and writing for Anvil and other publications. Most importantly, however, is my desire to entertain people. I've been actively pursuing this goal since I was a wee lad, and don't intend to diminish the importance of laughter as medicine by spending too much time educating and informing.

I have a long history of silly antics, culminating one afternoon during my freshman year at Western Washington University. My first major epiphany came to me during lunch at the cafeteria the second week of school. I told my roommate that it would be funny if someone were to trip with a full tray of food. With tile floors, it would create an amazing racket and be visible to upwards of 300 people. My roommate challenged me to do it at the end of the year, and I said I would.

In the meantime, other opportunities presented themselves throughout the year: exiting the cafeteria through alarmed emergency doors, creating a stampede as students cut lunch short thinking it was a fire drill and pretending to trip at the mall for a sociology experiment. For a case of beers, I even "sneezed" on the salad bar sneeze guard with a mouthful of food (two students nearby assumed I'd thrown up and exited the cafeteria in disgust).

With one week of school remaining freshman year, I'd all but forgotten my initial bet involving the fake fall in the cafeteria, but my roommate was kind enough to remind me in front of our friends. Not being one to renege on a bet, I agreed to follow through during dinner. That evening, friends who didn't normally eat at the cafeteria paid cash for London Broil in order to see the "main event."

After finishing my meal, I loaded my tray up with extra salad, cake and soft drinks. Tension mounted as I bid farewell to my tablemates (30 of the 300 diners were aware of the bet). I completed a dry run (to get warmed up) and returned to the far end of the hall, splitting the two dining areas (for maximum visibility and acoustic impact). I took one last glance at my friends before making my final run.

About 10 feet from the cart, I stumbled, fell and dropped the tray in front of me. The loud crash was followed immediately by a roar from the dining crowd. The cheers from the few people that knew it was intentional were drowned out by those that assumed it was an accident. I stood up, brushed off some cake icing and took a brief bow before exiting the cafeteria and entering local foodservice legend.

The rush I felt upon hearing the crowd roar was amazing. Blood pulsed through my body and pounded in my ears, similar to what Lance Armstrong must feel when he trips and falls with a tray of food. Since I was never good at sports, music, or just about anything in school, it was my first applause, and I'll never forget it.

Sophomore and junior year flew by with little in the way of outlandish pranks. Feeling a bit like I was losing my edge, I decided to revisit the rush. Inspired by the movie Real Genius, I elected to sit in my friends' computer science class, pretending to be a student. Fifteen minutes into class, once everyone was settled and focused, I stood up, yelled "I can't take the pressure!" and ran out of the class yelping and hollering like Daffy Duck. The professor was aghast, and could only mutter, "Some people just aren't cut out for college." I again felt the adrenaline and endorphins course through my body as I exited the building. I'd proven I hadn't lost my edge, and successfully executed my mission statement.

Since college, I have dialed back the quality and quantity of my pranks, but I continue to do my best to entertain. Most of my post-grad experiments centered around the office, especially on April 1st. I can't stand a stuffy workplace, and enjoy pulling legs here and there. A few years back, I sent an email from the "receptionist" indicating that employees had to pay for drinks from the vending machine, even detailing a complicated compensation policy for clients. That brief email generated a ton of backlash (being pre-dot bomb and all) as free soda was a god-given right back then.

From time-to-time I revisit the entertainment aspect of my personal mission statement, but I find it difficult to act upon now that I'm a business owner with a family and children. But life without laughter is hollow, so I've recently renewed my commitment to my mission. Heck, even today I get misty eyed when I walk by a salad bar.



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