WINTERHAVEN, FL - Imagine you fall asleep and wake up much later in the...century! That's exactly what a man went through recently when he awoke from what he thought was a forty-year slumber. His name is Freddy Cronk, but you can call him Rip Van Winkle. And he has the beard to prove it, at least until the glue wears off. Just listen to him tell the whole story the way only he could.
"I woke up with this grayish beard that I knew I didn't have when I went to sleep, and it frickin' freaked me out!" Cronk, 26, recalls. "I never have grown one before, so when I realized it was there, I didn't know what the hell to think."
Cronk was convinced for a few hours that he had taken a nap for the ages, where every second of sleep a person normally gets in his lifetime was gotten in one continuous doze. It all started about three days earlier in real time, when Cronk went to a keg party at his college fraternity house, Alpha Zeta Theta, at Southeastern Florida A&M Tech, where he is a sixth-year junior majoring in dirt studies.
"My buddies were real generous with the beer that evening, which isn't like them at all, but I'll take whatever I can get for free." Cronk barely remembers. "I guess I got a little plastered, and as the night wore on, I grew tired and eventually couldn't keep my eyes open." This is where his account of the events stopped until what he believed was the next day, but things didn't look quite right to him when he awoke.
"When I opened my eyes, I was expecting to see my normal surroundings...the television across the room from my bed, the door next to it leading into the bathroom, and the window on the other side with the blinds in a tangled mess." Cronk was instead puzzled, then a little taken aback at what he actually saw. "The place looked like something straight out of Star Trek...not the original series, but The Next Generation. You know, real futuristic looking."
His room, or what he believed to be his room, resembled the bridge on that sci-fi show with all the technical props and devices that screamed 22nd century. The walls were painted silver and the ceiling jet black. To his left was a machine that looked like it could destroy a planet, and to his right was a stack of computer displays blinking randomly in a multi-colored bouquet of lights and emitting sounds that seemed as if they could only come from something beyond present-day. Cronk wondered what he had gotten himself into. Then he touched his beard.
"That's when I freaked out, never having had one before. I pulled on it to see if it was real, and it felt real enough." Cronk immediately called out to anyone who could hear his voice, and someone in a gray labcoat entered the room. "Oh, you're awake! How do you feel?" The man asked him, checking his pulse with another strange implement without even touching him. "You've been asleep for a long time...forty years to be precise. Lots of things have changed since you fell into a comatose state."
Cronk says several other people he didn't know walked in and out of the room while taking notes on his condition and appearance. Finally, two of his fraternity brothers arrived a little later when they were "informed" of his awakening. "Yeah, a couple buddies came in looking like they were ready for the grave with silver hair and walking with canes." The two accomplices wore futuristic attire and talked in elderly sounding voices.
"Oh my god, you're not asleep anymore!" shouted one of his friends. "Do you know who we are?" asked the other. Cronk told the men that he recognized them, but he thought they were much older looking. "Then they asked me if I knew what year it was." Cronk told them 2011, and they chuckled at his "error". "No, this is the year 2050, and the world is a much different place now." Cronk felt a sudden strong desire to check his alarm clock for a malfunction but then figured there was no use if he'd overslept that long. So, he just decided to get up and look around.
"They wouldn't let me get up right away, saying I wasn't used to being on my feet and that I'd hurt myself if I got up too soon. My legs seemed to feel fine, maybe a little weak, but I agreed to stay in bed for a little bit longer." Cronk's experience got a little more realistic when the adult "children" of his two buddies arrived at his bedside to "meet their long-lost Uncle Freddy."
"Being an only child, I didn't know exactly how I got to be an 'uncle', but that really wasn't the kicker." Cronk elaborated, referring to an item that made the whole thing seem so real that he was completely convinced of what was going on. "On the wall to my right, I saw a calender hanging from a nail, and it read June, 2050. That sealed it for me...as far as I was concerned, I was really there." Cronk says he then started to cry in front of his friends, out of regret he thinks, for missing out on the prime years of his life. "I was sure I had wasted my whole life and had no way to go back."
After letting him continue to believe for a little longer this was all real, Cronk's friends finally let him off the hook. Cronk soon found out just how far they went to make this joke truly believable, and he wasn't a very happy camper. As Cronk tells it, he was the target of perhaps the most elaborate practical joke ever played in the history of humanity, one which will never be equalled or even challenged.
"My buddies found a way to induce me into a shallow coma using a date rape drug that is commonly found on the black market. They bought some on a porn website and just mixed it in my beer at the party." Cronk smiles and resumes his story. "It was enough of a dose to knock me out for a few days, long enough for them to completely decorate a room with paint and props that looked like they belonged in the future. I only hope they didn't use the drug for its intended purpose...my ass doesn't feel like it though."
Cronk's friends had a little help from the college drama department to add a touch of realism. "The drama people put them in makeup to make it appear like they were much older. They glued a beard on my face to make me believe I'd been asleep a long time, although I still don't know why they didn't bother to give me some long hair, too."
Cronk adds that the "extras" in this charade were student actors from the department who agreed to play (for some good beer) the parts of scientists observing him after his awakening as well as his friends' children. "They all deserve an award for their performances..I was completely fooled." What about the calender which was the veritable icing on the cake in making it totally real for him? "The calender was produced on an expensive laser printer by one of my buddies' girlfriends who knows how to create stuff like that, so she was in on it too. Just for that, I'll never allow myself to think naughty thoughts about her ever again!"
And the futuristic equipment in his observation room? "Again, props
from the drama department...the drama students were very instrumental in pulling this off, so I must give them credit for their efforts."
Cronk seems very gracious for a man who thought he had forty years stolen from his life, so can we infer from this that he bore no hard feelings toward his buddies?
"They put a lot of thought into this whole thing, and I have to applaud them for that, but I'm seriously considering pressing charges for the drugging thing. I mean, I have a good sense of humor and can appreciate a well-crafted prank, but this went a little too far." Cronk gets serious for a moment. "It wasn't cool at all what they did to me at the party. I could've gone to sleep for good considering the amount of that crap they slipped me."
Even if he doesn't go through with the charges, Freddy Cronk plans to do something to get back at his buddies, although not nearly as dangerous but just as effective. "I will patiently plot my revenge over the remainder of the semester, and when they least expect it, I'll pounce on them like a cat on a fat hamster."