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Life, papered over

We woke up the other morning to the lovely sight of toilet paper waving in the breeze.

Actually, we woke up to the jarring sound of insistent doorbell ringing, followed by even more insistent knocking. The police were at the door, summoned by a concerned neighbor who apparently managed to miss high school.

When your house is TP'd, you have two choices. You can rage against kids-these-days, like the man so infuriated by repeated episodes that he got a pair of night vision goggles to catch the offenders and sprayed them with fox urine. Or you can laugh at the spectacle and get to work unraveling it.

My husband and I chose the latter. Our teenage daughters, one of whom was the muse behind this mischief, happened to be sleeping at friends' houses, so we snapped a photo and e-mailed it to them.

The neighbors came out to reminisce about their own attack years ago -- has it really been 10 years? -- and to take pictures for their now-grown daughters. The parents driving kids to swim practice slowed down to gawk and commiserate. The streams of paper fluttering in the wind took on the air of an installation by Christo.

It really was an impressive job. This was not a half-baked effort, a few rolls casually tossed here and there. It was a three-tree, double-ply extravaganza. The diligence of our attackers will stand them in good stead later in life.

There was a shaving cream component and, my favorite touch, a Dada-esque field of plastic forks stuck in the lawn.

Signifying, what: Stick a fork in it? Or that there was a big box of plastic cutlery in the garage next to the extra toilet paper roll? Research reveals that "forking" is a wintertime prank: You stick the forks in the lawn, it freezes and the heads snap off when you try to pull them out.

In an age of sexting and cyber-bullying, good old-fashioned TP'ing has its quaint attractions. At least it got the kids off the couch. And there was no damage; this seemed less a hostile act than a mischievous prank. My neighbor Susan Kellam pointed me to a 2008 piece she had written for Washingtonian magazine about her son's brush with the law over egging a neighbor's house. He got caught on the 7-Eleven security cameras, the neighbor refused to accept an apology even after Kellam sent over a contractor to power-wash the splatters.

When Susan asked her son why he did it, his response was to the point: "Because I'm a teenager." To be a teenager is to act impulsively and, almost inevitably, stupidly. To be the parent of a teenager is to be on constant guard against this tendency -- and to know that you will never completely succeed. If the worst you can say of your children is that they are toilet-paperers, or toilet-paperees for that matter, you should count yourself lucky.

It's been several days now, and streams of toilet paper are still snagged in the highest branches. The scene is looking rather bedraggled, and that's before the rain arrives.

I can't say I welcomed the intrusion or appreciate the ugly residue. But there was an element of unexpected sweetness in awakening to festooned trees and a fork-studded lawn.

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