Office Pranks, Pens, and the Shrinkwrap Trap


We stared at the shrinkwrapping machine much the way cavemen might have looked at the first wheel. Fascinated... seeing the promise... but recognizing it as one more damn thing to make cave-life all that more complex.

Of course, it wasn't cavelife we were talking about. It was Cubicleland. My first real job out of college. Equally tribal, political and cut-throat-- only, caves have the benefit of full-walls.

Bummer for us, really.

The shrinkwrapping machine, we were told, was going to make shipping product all that much more professional.

What I personally felt would be more professional would be not having the same person shipping the product (namely me), as answering the main telephone... ordering the office supplies... user-testing the product... making all the product icon graphics... and writing the software manuals.

But I didn't mention that part.

So, one of my supervisors at the time-- we'll call him Jeff-- demonstrated how to use this machine with a sort of zest he'd apparently summoned up from somewhere deep-- possibly in the Big-Toe Region.

He showed how I should ensure each software manual was safely entombed in plastic, then add those manuals to a box that got the shrinkwrap treatment again.

It was a Brave New World in Product Packaging! And gosh, you could almost hear the music from 2010: A Space Odyssey playing...

Only we weren't allowed music in the office. Y'know, because it clashed with the overall atmosphere of deep depression and abiding wheel-spinning futility.

Well, interestingly, Jeff was also a bit of a practical joker. He was one of those quiet, placid pools of a person, where miles underneath, there lurked steamy magma just waiting to bubble up to the surface.

It didn't bubble up much-- again, probably due to the aforementioned depression/wheel-spinning futility-- but every now and then something would overcome him and-- gloop!-- volcanic fun.

Now as Technical Writer Office Manager Shipper Receptionist, one of my first tasks every morning was to check the company answering machine and distribute the messages that had come in overnight.

I was usually only roughly-caffeinated at this point, but that was okay because I'd worked out a system where I tried to spend as much of my morning on autopilot as possible.

The way I figured, the less I actually contemplated my daily routine, the less I would want to throw myself on the railroad tracks below the office building windows. I always assumed the office windows didn't open for a reason.

So, this one morning, I went to check the messages, pushed the button on the answering machine only to discover...

The answering machine wouldn't talk to me.

Pushed again?

Nada!

Once more?

Nope!

The light was on. Plug was in. Power was fine. Pushed the button and...?...

Zippo.

And that's when I discovered that at some point between the day before and this morning, someone had encased the answering machine in a thin, tight, virtually-invisible layer of shrinkwrap. I knew instantly who the culprit was. I also knew this shrinkwrap trap had been set for me.

Thus, began my plot for revenge.

It was as I made the day's first pot of coffee, I developed my scheme. It had to be subtle. Personal. Inoffensive yet unquestionably making the statement that in Cubeland, one Technical Writer Office Manager Shipper Receptionist Practical Joker reigned supreme.

I went into Jeff's office and took...

His favorite Cross pen.

For two years, this pen had been Jeff's trusty weapon. Where King Arthur had Excalibur, and Milton had his red Swingline stapler, Jeff had this slim, beautifully-weighted Cross pen.

He twiddled it in thought in meetings. He drafted memos and diagrammed ideas with it. He even used it to sign our paychecks. It was a constant companion to his workday. His own personal Yes-man in stylus form.

And ohhh, I shrinkwrapped that baby like nothing had ever been shrinkwrapped before! Shrinkwrapping perfection! The seams were almost undetectable to the unsuspecting naked eye.

Then I put it back on his desk.

Jeff came in not long after, and I waited to hear some exclamation emanating from his office...

Silence.

Jeff went to get coffee just as I made a second pot. He said good morning to me with a smug smile, his beard bristling merrily as he considered his own office prank genius.

So we stood, two smug cyphers poised around the Coffeemate and artificial sweetener. We chatted. It was stilted as he waited for me to mention how some joker had shrunkwrapped the answering machine. But that confession would not be his. I was biding my time.

Disappointed, he headed back to his office, and I to my cube.

There I waited.... And waited.

Hours passed. Jeff stepped out to the men's room and I slipped into his office to see if he'd found my little trap.

But (gasp)-- impossible!-- there was the pen, and the shrinkwrap was still intact!

Of all days, Jeff had had no occasion to write. No occasion to push that button at the end of his slim Cross beauty and discover the Nib Blocker to beat all Nib Blockers.

I went about my day, but found myself unnaturally alert to any potential groan or laugh from our ranks-- which didn't happen much anyway under the grim Dickensian sort of office tone. Yet, the clock ticked on. I had not been rewarded.

Then, about one in the afternoon, my intercom buzzed. "Jenn, could you come in here for a minute?"

Ah, there it was, I thought. But he didn't seem to be laughing. Had I gone too far with the pen retaliation? Was my original attacker not, in fact, Jeff at all?...

Had I shrunkwrapped too rashly?

I entered his office on numb legs and he asked me to sit down. I tried to gauge his mood. Would I get lectured? Would I be fired? No, I learned, there was a new writing project to do. But I couldn't quite hear what he was saying, because there, in his unsuspecting hand was that perfectly shrinkwrapped pen.

I choked back a giggle and straightened my face. Must pay attention, I thought, as I forced myself to jot down project notes and be the efficient, serious employee that had somehow set me up as the office's Chief Cook and Bottlewasher.

But as the discussion progressed there was a technical aspect I wasn't quite visualizing. Putting my tech writer hat on, I asked a few detailed questions...

And that's when Jeff decided to pop the pen to draw me one of his helpful diagrams.

Push... no click.

Push... no click.

Push...

At this point I was struggling with internal laughter combustion. If I'd exploded in an earth-shaking rattle of laughter, office coffee and bodily fluids, I wouldn't have been a bit surprised.

And without moving his head... without so much as a flinch... Jeff's eyes lifted to me. His beard bristled, hinting at a smile somewhere under the fur.

"Niiiiiiiice," he said.

I wiped away a few tears and managed to thank him, somewhere between the now-releasing hysteria.

"How long?" he asked.

"Oh, God-- hours and hours and hours."

And the funny thing is, the shrinkwrapping machine and I came to terms with each other after that. Jeff and I, too. Every time I'd look at one or the other of them, I'd think about Cross pens that wouldn't write, and answering machines that went silent.

I guess it just goes to show, even in the deepest, darkest grimmest of caves-- sometimes a little glimmer of light can shine through.


If you have a moment and want to read more office pranks tales, you might enjoy these past posts:
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28 comments:

Jaffer said...

I suspect he's the same boss who took a dip in Walden Pond with his suit on ?

That was hilarious ! And why does it does happen that the best prank of your life takes forever to discover !

I did many in my day but one I fondly remember was when I was around 10, I replaced a plate of colourful candy with colourful stones during a large dinner event with my relatives.

Revenge never tasted so sweet (chomp-chomp-chomp)
:)

Jenn Thorson said...

Jaffer- Actually, Jeff was a different guy, though he worked with the Walden Pond boss, as well. I don't think Jeff ever found out about the Walden Pond trip, but he probably would have found that extremely funny also.

Your stones instead of candy prank is hysterical! I can only imagine how surprised they were. Did the stones actually make it into any mouths? :)

Jaffer said...

I assumed because you described your job there earlier.

Why of course the stones made it to mouths ! And they were violently spat out and angered some !

You see, they were hard coated candies and were of irregular shape and of different colours - white, blue, pink, red etc.

The evening before when coming home, I came across a small garden in which were stones of similar colours and shape. I thought they were lovely and grabbed as many as my pockets could fill.
I was probably thinking that they'd make neat marbles to play with.

The idea of replacing candy with stones came later when I thought it was time to make an older cousin look stupid.

The goal was achieved with complete success although those innocent who also popped rocks could not be helped.

When later my aunt knew it was me and I was trying to target her son, she laughed so hard she cried !

:)

Matt said...

I had to Google a shrink-wrap machine...I'd never seen one before.

I'm saving up to buy one now.

Jenn Thorson said...

Jaffer- I had NO idea you were an evil genius! That's awesome.

Matt- Yes, those machines open up a whole level of possibilities for frustrating coworkers and family members. Good times... good times...

jay said...

Oh - what a perfect prank! ROFL!!

Melanie said...

Priceless!!

Da Old Man said...

Nice prank. I had nothing torival that. All we did was steal each other's cars. It's a Jersey thing, I guess.

Jenn Thorson said...

Jay- It was just one of those things that had to be done! :)

Melanie- Hey, have a good weekend, thanks for reading!!

Da Old Man- Oh wow, um, yeah, I can't say I've ever taken vehicles or anything. And wouldn't a car be hard to shrinkwrap? :)

Chaotically Calm said...

Ha ha there's nothing better than a good office prank!!!! Til this day I don't know who stole all of my gel pens but it was a darn good prank. But since no one would own up to the prank I switched everyone's cube badges. No one noticed until the HR guy came by and called someone by the wrong name. It took so long I almost forgot I did it.

Prefers Her Fantasy Life said...

Is it possible the show The Office is based on your life? Too funny!

dizzblnd said...

AWESOME how fun that must have been! .... That would be such a great script to send in to the writers of "The Office" I was LMAO with the suspense you provided

You are a great writer

Tony Single said...

Hmmm... I work on my own, so I don't get the opportunity to play practical jokes on anyone. Perhaps I could play them on myself, but then I would know and that would ruin the surprise. Unless I gave myself amnesia somehow... although that would have to be after I set up the joke and before I stumble across said joke so as to reap the maximum benefit.

My head hurts now. Maybe if I shrink wrap it, I'll feel better...

Jenn Thorson said...

Faith- I love that you switched the cube badges and it resulted in someone actually getting called the wrong name. What a nice, subtle revenge!

Meg- I recall seeing the movie "Office Space" for the first time and thinking, "Oh my gosh, I LIVED through this!" And I LOVE "The Office." I totally understand that existence. Someday I'll have to tell you all about our office's version of Dwight Schrute.

Dzzblnd- Hey, thank you so much. You have to do office pranks sometimes or you'll go crazy.

Tony- Make sure to leave a little airhole for yourself if you do that head shrinkwrapping job. Suffocation isn't exactly the answer to headaches. Well, I mean it's a remedy, but a rather final one.

the human said...

Once upon a time I placed a strip of scotch tape on the bottom of a coworkers mouse, so that the ball wouldn't move when the mouse was pushed around. Since the scotch tape is transparent it was difficult to spot.

The following morning, before I arrived, she of course experienced some difficulty in operating said mouse and placed a service call with tech support. They arrived on site, then quickly and publicly identified the problem.

She told me later it was a good thing I hadn't been there. I can still imagine the steam coming out of her ears at that little embarrassing moment. hee hee

Vic said...

Funny! (Thank God Jeff had a sense of humor)

Why, why, do they have to make offices so soul-crushing???

Jenn Thorson said...

The Human- So you confessed to the deed? Sound like you were a brave, brave soul!

Vic- It is one of the great mysteries of life. :)

Chat Blanc said...

awesome! I'm extremely grateful I've never worked at a place with a shrink wrap machine because (given the jokesters I've worked with) the likelihood that I would have been encased in plastic wrap is quite high.

Jenn Thorson said...

Chat Blanc- Yes, well, there are some restrictions against trying to use the heat gun for it on, say, body parts, so perhaps you'd be safe. Any cat-related desk objects, however... Totally up for grabs.

The Office Scribe said...

Nothing brings me more joy in this world than one cubicle monkey exacting office prank revenge on another cubicle monkey.

Bravo, bravo....

freetheunicorns said...

Great story. That was so well written.

I'm glad you got to witness his discovery firsthand.

Jenn Thorson said...

Office Scribe- Thank you, thank you! (curtseys) :)

Free the Unicorns- It WAS truly amazing to get to witness it firsthand-- it also was almost impossible to not die laughing right there.

Babs (Beetle) said...

Great one! Sometimes I think it brings more success when we think our prank has failed and a long time has passed.

Margo said...

"Shrink (w)Rap" sounds like it should be a skit/poem at someone's retirement party. I'm never good at pranks, but my husband is. I always hope the victim will figure it out quickly, because I always start laughing pretty much immediately. I think this is one reason why husband and I get along after 20 yrs., or at least keep each other somewhat entertained. - I'm totally gullible and he's the opposite.

ettarose said...

I see I am not the only one that loves pranks. I like the one about the candy and the stones. I did a post about pranks a day or so ago. I love pulling pranks!

Prana said...

oh.. it's cool.

Robin Easton said...

You are SUCH a fantastic writer. All this time I've been missing your humor site?!!! I LOVE it. This is so funny it would be a great short play or skit or sitcom or something. My sweetheart and I both laugh a lot and play various small pranks on each other. But he is REALLY good at it and good at keeping a completely straight face. I can't contain my laughter and end up giving myself away. This was pure joy to read. You are very talented in so many ways. Very creative. :) :)

Jenn Thorson said...

Babs- I think you're right!

Margo- Sounds like you have just the perfect personality balance there.

Ettarose- I can totally see you being a prankster, too. :)

Robin- Oh, gosh-- thanks! I started this blog, well, it'll be a year now on the 9th of this month. It's been a blast so far-- and thanks for checking it out.

I love that you and your husband have such fun laughing together. That's got to make life wonderful.