Brian Slocum thought he had a pretty good idea for a joke.
The 43-year-old was driving down the main commercial thoroughfare in Sarasota, Fla., on Tuesday evening when he spotted A&F Pawn Jewelry and Loan, nestled in between a vape shop and a beauty salon in a shell-colored strip mall. Nabbing a prime parking spot in front of the store, he breezed past a sign warning that no one under the age of 18 would be allowed inside, and plopped his infant son, Caden, on the counter.
“This is what I got,” he announced to the pawnshop’s owner. “I know, no one under 18 in here, but he’s barely used, 7-and-a-half months old. What do you think he’s worth?”
The single father figured the stunt would be prime material for the comedic Snapchat account that his nephew had recently encouraged him to start. But his attempt at dad humor went over like a ton of bricks.
Before long, Slocum learned that his face was splashed all over the local TV news and the Sarasota Police Department had asked anyone who recognized him or spotted his dark blue Nissan to call 911. As it turned out, the pawnshop had taken his questions about whether it was possible to pawn a baby completely seriously, and handed authorities surveillance footage that showed Slocum, clad in cargo shorts and a blue baseball cap advertising Corona beer, offering up a wide-eyed infant to a complete stranger.
“This is not funny!” Richard Jordan, the store’s owner, told WFLA after he learned the truth, his eyes flaring with disgust. “This is not funny, this is serious business."
The new father was hardly the first to underestimate the stakes of what was supposed to be a harmless joke. Other pranksters have wound up injured or in jail as a result of poorly conceived stunts they cooked up in hopes of going viral, from the man who had to be rescued by firefighters after he cemented his head in a microwave to the YouTuber who was escorted out of his home in handcuffs after he decided it would be funny to film himself taking down stop signs.
Slocum, who got off relatively easy by comparison, had similarly thought of his stunt as lighthearted fodder for social media. Unbeknown to the store clerk, he had surreptitiously been recording their exchange with his cellphone, and had anticipated that the man would get the joke and run with it.
"I was thinking I’d go in there and the guy would be like, ‘Oh, if it was my son, I’d give you ten grand,’ or something,” Slocum later explained to WFLA. In the Snapchat videos that he provided to the station, he can be heard telling the clerk that he only wanted the boy to be held as collateral: “Just pawn, I don’t want to get rid of him.”
Instead, his cavalier attitude toward the small boy in striped footie pajamas, who stamped his feet with obvious relish as he waited to learn his fate, set off alarm bells.
"It was the weirdest, strangest situation we’ve ever encountered,” Jordan told WFLA. “He put it on the counter, he was pretty serious about it. He spun the baby around, and said, ‘Can I pawn this?’ ”
Stunned to the point of speechlessness, Jordan didn’t respond. With a nod of resignation, Slocum hoisted the baby’s car seat back up off the counter.
“I just need a babysitter for like two weeks,” he reportedly complained as he left the store with his son in tow.
After the door slammed shut, the clerk picked up the phone to notify authorities that he was worried about the child’s safety. Equally alarmed, officers began using “vast resources” to track down the identity of the strange man who had asked about the retail value of a baby, a Wednesday statement from the Sarasota Police Department said. In an alert that was shared with the public on Tuesday night, police noted that they had no idea if he was even related to the infant he had apparently been willing to treat like a flat-screen television or used guitar.
"They didn’t find it funny or hilarious at all and there was a lot of resources and time and money that went into it,” Slocum shamefacedly acknowledged in a Wednesday interview with WFLA.
Just hours after he pulled out of the pawnshop’s parking lot, the lanky, lightly bearded father was shocked to discover that law enforcement was searching for him, and it was all over the evening news. He called police to explain that the “suspicious incident” had actually been a prank intended for social media clout. Before long, he told WFLA, dozens of officers had surrounded his home.
Eventually, the officers confirmed that little Caden was safe and not in any danger of being sold to a pawnbroker. Police announced Wednesday that they had contacted the Florida Department of Children and Families as a standard part of their investigation, but found no reason to press charges against the boy’s father. Making terrible dad jokes, it turns out, isn’t considered a crime.
Sitting on his porch later that day, Slocum told WFLA that he was very sorry for all the trouble that he had caused, and had learned his lesson. He warned other aspiring comedians not to make the same mistake.
"A lot of these young people don’t realize that doing things like this has a consequence,” he told the station, dressed in a T-shirt that proudly spelled out the letters “D-A-D” in bold capital letters across his chest.
“There’s nothing in the world I would trade for my son,” he added. “He’s my world."
The boy bounced in his rocker and emitted delighted screams. “How could you want to get rid of that?” Slocum asked.