Many years ago, I worked for a mercifully short period of time in an office building. It was an interesting experience at first but it didn’t take long for the shine to wear off. Having spent so much of my life in close proximity to ripped Levis and steel-toed boots, I just assumed that a workplace noted for starched cotton shirts and men’s perfume would have more to offer in the categories of intelligence, honesty and civility. It appears that no amount of education will ever undo a hundred thousand years of natural selection (six thousand years for my gawd fearing friends). I have plenty to say about well-spoken liars and mealy-mouthed ass kissers but that will have to wait until another day because this post is about practical jokes.
Forgetting for a moment the misery of being cooped up with self-important nimrods and having to breathe their rank recycled air, I did meet a few people that I still consider good friends. None of them were natural born practical-jokers but they did ok for beginners. The gags started out small and fairly painless but eventually escalated to a level that could not be sustained. I knew the end was near when I walked into my little office to find what appeared to be a hundred pounds or so of trash piled everywhere. It was a simplistic gag but funny nonetheless. Then I noticed that several files that had been on my desk, files representing days of mind numbing data entry, had been dispersed in and around the detritus. The mound of trash consisted primarily of thousands of legal sized sheets of paper printed with black nondescript text. My missing documents fit the same description. I was so screwed. I used the downtime to plan my response.
The ring leader of that particular crime was a man of impressive dimensions, twelve feet tall with hands the size of ham-shanks. He was well over a thousand pounds of pure, unbridled teddy bear. Ok, he wasn’t that big, but he was big enough to warrant embellishment. I guess I could just hand over the cold hard data, but I think that would constitute negligence on my part. So that you might truly understand the enormity of this man’s physical presence, I submit the following.
I’m not a man hugger but every now and then I bow to social conscript and hug a man, always finishing with a hetero-style triple pat on the back. The triple pat is a common move that most men, even if they don’t use it, are familiar with. George Bush uses it on men and grieving widows alike. It is a maneuver that conveys the sentiment, “I’m hugging you but I’m not getting a boner.” There is a more modern version of the “homophobe hug” that protects against the accidental bumping of pee pees by employing a cross-the-body handshake. This method is fraught with affected machismo and is typically shunned by older males. Anyway, I did hug the big man once but a proper execution of the triple back pat was not possible due to the planetary scale of his person. I simply couldn’t reach around that far so I ended up patting him somewhere between his left nipple and armpit. I was terrified that he might think I was coming on to him and when I am terrified, I get a boner. We have never spoken of that event; he is truly a man of poise and decorum.
I have nothing but respect for the big man and I would almost never consider public humiliation an appropriate response to a practical joke, but he wouldn’t let up. He started sneaking up behind me during lunch excursions and hugging me. It was actually more grapple than hug, but to the random spectator, it was so much more than that. It typically went like this: He grabs me. I struggle. All heads turn in our direction. He looks at me like a porn star getting ready for the money shot and then he blows me a kiss. He finally stopped doing it when I retaliated by attaching myself to his leg at the checkout counter in a Soup-R-Salad. I felt like a Chihuahua dry-humping a redwood tree. He decided his little gag had run its course and we spoke no further of it.
Time passed and he thought I had forgotten about the paper incident. All the while, I was planning and building the Retribution Machine. The machine itself was an over-engineered manifestation of an anal inclination to convert two-dimensional pieces of metal into three dimensional objects, mostly for utilitarian purposes. The Retribution Machine started out as a flat sheet of light gauge galvanized sheet metal, a short length of pre-punched angle iron and a box of bolts, rivets and plastic tubing. For all of the resources expended in its construction, it was destined to be used as nothing more than a diversion, a gadget intended to clear the decks for the coup-de-grace.
This is the Retribution Machine. It is a trip wire triggered device that sets off two cans of Silly String and an air horn. I originally designed it as a remotely controlled tracked vehicle, like a little tank, but I ran out of time and had to deploy it to active duty before completing the motorized carriage.
On his day of reckoning, I took the big man’s office door off its hinges and hid it in the file room to make sure it didn’t interfere with my setup. I then removed the fluorescent tubes from the overhead lights and closed the blinds. I tied the blind cords into knots and tucked them away out of reach, all except for one, the cord I wanted my friendly giant to tug on. I had just finished setting the trap and was sitting at his desk admiring my work when I heard a noise and looked up to see him standing at the doorway. He noticed the door was gone, saw me sitting in the dark, and knew something was up. He surveyed the office from a safe distance just outside the doorway. After checking overhead for the old water bucket gag and then hitting the light switch to no avail, he hesitated, allowing his eyes to grow accustomed to the dark. Then he saw the Retribution Machine sitting on the desk a few feet away. After a short study of the situation, he narrowed his eyes and grinned, nodding his head slightly as if to say, “Not this time buddy.” Then he crossed the threshold. The five-pound monofilament fishing line serving as trip wire made contact at mid torso and began to stretch as he moved forward. I thought it might snap before putting my plan into motion. I saw the thin crease in his shirt deepen as the line pulled tight; surely he would notice and back off. As it turned out, he did not notice and the line held as long as it needed to hold. The smug look on his face gave way to wide eyes and gaping mouth. The blaring horn froze him in his tracks long enough for my twin cans of Silly String to cover his face, shoulders and belly with wet slimy gunk.
Phase one: Check!
Mr. “Poise & Decorum” closed his mouth and quickly regained his composure. “Yeah” he said, “I saw that coming from a mile away.” I said nothing as he moved toward the blinds. He searched for, but could not find, the cord for the first blind and then moved a few feet to his right, reaching for the only available string. As I said, the Retribution Machine was only a diversion, a setup for a much more primitive device nesting overhead. Had he looked up, he would have seen that the ceiling tiles had been shifted slightly but he would not have seen the container holding about two pounds of gold, silver and blue glitter. He pulled the cord. Time really does appear to slow down in moments of danger. It also slows down when a glitter bomb goes off. I watched as the initial wad of glitter made contact with his head, exploding in a shower of sparkles. I was amazed at how long it took for the cascade to end. He turned towards me, his hair and beard glistening in the low light, and said “OK, you win.” He was still sparkling like a Party Glitter Barbie Doll days later. I had sprung far more elaborate traps, but that one was one of the most satisfying.
What brought all this to mind is our ongoing problem with thieves in the neighborhood. From 1976 to 1989 I lived in a seriously high crime area. Vigilance was a daily affair but even so, rarely a week passed that some crime or another didn’t spill over into my general area of concern. Regarding this current batch of neighborhood shoppers, I’m not surprised in the least and I’m reasonably sure I can knock a dent in this little crime wave without causing any major bodily harm (legal issues), and even more importantly, without painting a big fat target on our house (common sense). I toyed with the thought of rigging up something like an industrial sized chicken plucker and I have to say that the thought of a thieving jackass hanging naked and upside down from a tree in our front yard gives me a warm feeling deep down inside. Gotta be civilized about it though. A retaliatory response is currently in the design phase.