On a March morning this year, Phil Lee stepped outside his Prince George's County home. He smelled the rotten rawness as the yellow and clear liquid dripped and congealed. It shone against his dark blue PT Cruiser and green Ford pickup. It stuck to the beige aluminum siding of his house.
Slowly, it dawned on him: He had been egged. Like countless other egging victims, he didn't call police right away. Lee, who is president of the Kettering Civic Federation, said that he didn't want to waste their time and that he had a few suspects in mind -- but no proof.
In a time in which grudges often are resolved with guns and knives, eggings might seem a throwback to a more innocent era -- teen pranks with no more consequences than irate neighbors. But eggings are an enduring social phenomenon, police said, and recently the consequences have been tragic and politically charged.
Early the morning of July 2, an activist, James Boissonnault, was awakened by an anonymous phone call. Minutes later, he heard his Alexandria home being pelted with nearly two dozen eggs, some breaking the screen on his sleeping daughter's bedroom window. Boissonnault saw the culprits and called police.
Police have charged two youths -- sons of politicians in Alexandria -- with misdemeanor destruction of property. Samuel Howard Woodson IV, 18, the son of City Council member Joyce Woodson, and James J. Luby, 19, the son of School Board member Melissa W. Luby, were released on a summons to appear in court. Melissa Luby has been the target of a recall petition that has been circulated largely by Boissonnault the past few weeks.
The high-profile nature of the parties involved helped propel the egging case into headlines and onto talk radio, but it's not the first time an egging has received media attention in Alexandria. Last year, Schuyler H. Jones, 16, was beaten to death in Old Town Alexandria by two teenagers in an attack instigated by a third teenager who was angry because Jones allegedly egged his family's home nearly a year before.
Nationwide, there is evidence of eggings escalating into much more than a practical joke. Last fall, about 100 high school students in a suburb of Austin used an estimated 4,000 eggs in an egging, causing $2,000 in damage to their principal's car. In Milwaukee, a 10-year-old was talked into throwing an egg at a 36-year-old man, which caused a fight between the man and the youths -- resulting in the man being beaten to death. In Modesto, Calif., an 18-year-old throwing eggs at cars with his friends was stabbed to death when egging victims attacked him.
The egg throwers tend to know their victims, police and civic leaders said, and usually are acting in retaliation -- from girlfriends mad at former boyfriends to students targeting teachers. They don't expect to get caught or reported, so the age-old prank has endured.
The adolescent activity draws the most attention near Halloween, April Fools' Day and graduation season, police said. Some police departments advise grocery stores not to sell multiple egg cartons to teenagers.
"They're pranks not meant maliciously, but usually kids in high school getting back at each other," Fairfax County police officer Sophia Grinnan said. She said that she has handled egging cases each of her 19 years on the Fairfax force but that she has not seen a sharp rise or decline in them.
Fairfax has no statistics on the number of eggings because the incidents are lumped together with other property destruction charges, Grinnan said.
In Alexandria, police responded to 36 calls about eggings last year and 28 such calls in 2002, police spokeswoman Amy Bertsch said. Police have responded to 10 calls this year.
"In cases where we identify a suspect, it usually is juveniles," Bertsch said. "There are cases where we've identified suspects and they've apologized, and it's the end of the case."
In 1999, Alexandria police arrested five teenage boys for egging a neighborhood along Fort Williams Parkway. Police said that the youths had "hundreds and hundreds" of eggs and that they had cleaned out egg stocks at several grocery stores.
In Boissonnault's case, he said the Luby family came to his house to apologize the weekend before police pressed charges. But Boissonnault said that the apology was not sincere and that he felt strongly about pressing charges.
Boissonnault, the parent of a third-grader at Lyles-Crouch Elementary School, has criticized the School Board's decision to allow Superintendent Rebecca L. Perry to keep her job after she was arrested for drunken driving in April.
"All the issues with the board are about leadership and accountability," Boissonnault said. "Why would I not hold an adult accountable for breaking the law?"
James Luby is scheduled to appear in court Thursday, and Woodson is scheduled to appear Aug. 4. If convicted, each faces a maximum fine of $500.
Some egging victims said getting retribution isn't easy without evidence. And they're usually left only with the gloppy, sticky mess of the eggs. After his Kettering home was egged, Phil Lee sighed, headed inside to tell his wife and children and began the hours-long process of cleaning. As he soaked and soaped, scrubbed and wiped, the youthful faces of the teenagers he had most recently reported for truancy came to mind.
"Some things come with the turf," Lee said. "I am very visible in the community during school times. . . . I could figure out who it was if I gave it enough time. I don't want to take police time to take a report for someone who's thrown eggs."
Police said that though eggings often occur randomly, a high number of the targeted victims are activists, teachers and politicians. During a heated campaign in fall 2002, Maryland Sen. Alex X. Mooney (R-Frederick) discovered that his car had been egged while parked in front of his home.
A year after his victory, Mooney said he again found himself a target, with about 10 eggs splattered across his house, front door and carport. Unlike after the first egging, this time he called police to investigate. No arrests were made.
"There are certainly people who don't like me," Mooney said. "But I just figure it's kids making pranks. What kids think is a childish prank can really work people up. My wife wants an alarm put in."
Some experts on pranks take a different view of eggings.
"It's totally unoriginal. They were probably doing that 2,000 years ago," said Alex Boese, author of the book "The Museum of Hoaxes: The World's Greatest Hoaxes" and curator of the Web site museumofhoaxes.com. "If you're going to create a hierarchy of prank, originality is high up there, and egging is not original at all."
Boese said that though teenage computer hackers generally receive more media attention than youths who throw eggs, he believes egging will endure.
"We live in an age of technology, but sometimes the sheer fear of physical crudeness is still appealing," he said. "Some things never go out of style."