“Kortenhof had heard of a high school where pranksters had put an automobile tire over the top of a 30-ft. flagpole, like a ring on a finger, and this seemed to him an impressive and elegant and beautiful feat that we at our high school ought to try to duplicate.”— Jonathan Franzen, The Discomfort Zone: A Personal History (2006)
Franzen, a bestselling and critically acclaimed novelist (Freedom), is my age, so I was intrigued by what of pranks he and his friends played in high school nearly 40 years ago. The question took on even more consuming interest for me because of the mischief created by more than five dozen seniors in Teaneck, N.J.,in the wee, wee hours of the morning a few weeks ago—a break-in that resulted in cops from neighboring Bergen County towns descending on the school, and possible criminal charges that led to a hue and cry, mass rallies by parents on behalf of their boneheaded progeny, and extensive Northeast regional media coverage.
I don’t know which side is closer to the truth in the Teaneck case, the cops or the kids. I am glad that, following an agreement with the Bergen County Prosecutor, the seniors who are adults in the eyes of the law won’t face criminal charges as part of their permanent record because of this idiotic offense. But even if little was damaged and the whole thing was just a gross overreaction on the part of the authorities, you wish that these teens could have exercised better judgment. Or, since the offenses were so plain stupid, at least they could have used more imagination, as Franzen and his friends did.