Fun at the office

June 7, 2006
A lot of people like the NBC sitcom The Office.

— Leland Teschler, Editor

A lot of people like the NBC sitcom The Office. The main character, portrayed by Steve Carell, is a boss whose horrific management style is played with a straight face to comical effect. TV critics say the show's appeal stems from viewers' realization that the characters resemble people they actually work with or, unfortunately, work for.

But I like The Office for entirely different reasons: It is a great source of ideas for practical jokes. I can relate to many of the stunts pulled on the TV show because I've been party to similar antics. One of my colleagues, for example, once phoned a mutual acquaintance and impersonated the publicity director of a recently completed local footrace. The victim, who had won first place in his age group, was convinced to show up in his shorts on a weekday morning for a nonexistent group photo of winners. He wandered around on a downtown street corner that way for a half hour before he realized he'd been had.

This, of course, was mere kid's stuff. One of my own more elaborate escapades took place a few years later on a business trip to Boston. I was rooming with one of our sales guys who, conveniently, could be quite gullible at times. Early one morning I arose for my usual exercise regimen. But before I left, I deposited a Hummer-sized rubber bug in the shower stall. (Yes, I've been known to pack such items on business trips.) I positioned it as if emerging, creature-from-the-deep style, from the drain. The scenario was all the more plausible because the hotel was in the final stages of renovation, with construction materials still visible in some of the halls.

I departed for the running paths of the Charles River, figuring my rubber bug would be good for about 10 seconds of fun when my roommate finally got up. It didn't work out that way.

As it was later explained to me by one severely peeved salesperson, my victim entered the bathroom, spotted the bug and, firmly convinced it was genuine, jumped back three feet. He was instantly on the phone complaining loudly to the front desk clerk, who then dispatched a member of the maintenance staff. He, too, thought my bug was real and would go no further than the bathroom door without arming himself. He returned brandishing a five-gallon pail of water.

I would have been willing to pay a lot of money for a glimpse of the two grown men cautiously sneaking up on a joke-shop toy. They somehow missed the fact the thing hadn't budged in the 10 minutes they'd been dealing with it. Only after dousing the beast did they find the courage to actually examine it and discover the truth.

Practical jokes like this one can go a long way toward keeping your fellow employees loose, especially once the recipients have calmed down and cooled off. And the old whoopee-cushion and live cockroach-in-the-drawer tricks never lose their attraction. These are classics in anyone's book.

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