Sending 100 Skunks Is All in a (Birth)day's Work for Goofy Gifters John and Sam Matar

updated 08/29/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/29/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

When John Matar came home on July 14 to find 100 skunks burrowing into his South Chicago lawn, he was surprised—but not all that surprised. In recent years Matar has come home on July 14 to find an elephant, a two-ton boulder and an entire church choir. You see, July 14 (in addition to being Bastille Day) happens to be Matar's birthday, and his brother Sam has been sending these unusual presents for years. Next Feb. 7 there will be a similar occurrence in Seaside, Calif., when John, who's now 43, has something equally nutty delivered on Sam's 38th birthday. Promises John, "It will be bigger, better and meaner."

The battle of the birthday presents began innocently enough about 10 years ago and has been escalating ever since. It started when John sent Sam two birthday cards instead of one. Then Sam sent 10. The card exchange intensified until finally John sent Sam 100 cards—10 a day for 10 days. The next year Sam sent two models in bikinis. John's comeback was three bathing beauties—all overweight seniors recruited from a local retirement home. And so it went.

One year Sam got an airplane to tow a birthday banner over Chicago. John countered with a marching band that tied up Seaside traffic. Then there was the time Sam had a 4,000-pound "Pet Rock" delivered. John retaliated with 20,000 pounds of pebbles and a note that read, "Your rock was pregnant. Take care of the kids." Sam turned around and sent 8,000 pounds of manure with the message, "Your rocks weren't housebroken." This is the year of the skunk. After a six-hour visit the skunks were retrieved by the breeding farm from which Sam rented them. At $69 apiece, the animals were too expensive to buy.

The Matars (John is a printing foreman, Sam a car dealer) are sons of a Lebanese immigrant who was a foundry worker. They have two sisters and a brother who, according to John, "think we're crazy." Their mother, Lorena, though, doesn't seem a bit surprised by the goings-on, which she chalks up to an incurable case of sibling rivalry. "Those boys," she says, "were always playing tricks on each other when they were little." But John, a lifelong bachelor like his brother, attributes the shenanigans to a case of arrested development. Says he, "We became kids as we grew up."

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