Monday, April 2, 2012

Hello… Prank?

Isn’t it funny how seemingly innocuous games you play with loved ones become favorite memories? My sister and I had this running gag: “Hello, this is a prank call.” “Hello, Prank! How are you?”

I love pranks. Jokes, tricks, hoaxes, teases, funny stories of all kinds. As long as they are not harmful in any way. Come about this time of year I start thinking of how I can prank, punk or otherwise poke fun at my colleagues, friends and family. I’ve come up with some good ones!

Like the time I was managing an industrial maintenance team and I mixed up all their assignments. The electronic technicians got mechanics’ assignments, the custodians were assigned to diagnose electronic problems, the air conditioning guys got appointed to monitor processing machines… and I laughed my fool head off, even though the joke was kind of on me because I had to go back into the scheduling matrix and schedule their assignments properly. The extra work was well worth the fun of seeing the confusion on their faces.

I’ve had a few jokes pulled on me, too. My son, then just ten years old, decided to be a sweetheart and fix my lunch. I didn’t think anything of it on this fine morning, the best Spring had to offer, when he met me at the door with my little Igloo cooler packed for work. I thanked him and rushed out, never once seeing the crack in his façade.

It was only at lunch that I realized I’d been punk’d. All the elements of lunch were there – sandwich, drink, chips, fruit and a pie for dessert, but the little darling had made me a wish sandwich. He didn’t put anything but mustard between the two slices of bread

Yep, you guessed it: I wished I had something between those two slices of bread. Actually, I wished he were in front of me so I could thrash him within an inch of his life! The job I was doing was hungry work, and physically demanding. By the time lunchtime rolled around, I’d been slinging forty-eight pound lead bars by hand for 5 hours. I was pretty darn hungry. And here, this little cherub of mine saw fit to mess with my food. Oh, just wait till I get home…

When I did get home his little blond head was sticking out the door, a monstrous grin splitting his face. Until he saw the look on my face, whereupon he decided it would be an excellent idea to disappear for the rest of the evening.

It was probably wise of him to do so.

Even though it was years ago, he and I still laugh about that one. Of course I can laugh about it now, but back then, it wasn’t funny. Where in the world did he get the compulsion to trick people like that? Oh, yeah! That must have been from me: his ever loving, practical-joking mother! And yes, he is still a jokester.

The best joke I’ve ever played was international. When I moved to China, in September 2010, I developed a large following of caring individuals at the school I teach. While cultivating those relationships I also had the pleasure of maintaining all my relationships in the States. To pay tribute to my Stateside friends and family, I have to confess that they kept me sane and grounded while I went through the shock and grief of abandoning one lifestyle and embracing a different culture.

Come April 1st it was time to pay everyone back for their kindness. First order of the day: send a text message to all my friends in China, telling them that I have some grave emergency Stateside that I must rush back to. Next I took to the keyboard and typed up a message detailing that I was going to forfeit my position as ESL teacher and just come back to the States because of homesickness and culture shock. I included a postscript that wished them happy April Fools’ Day, so they could see it was just a joke. I sent it to everyone in my address book, even my former employer. And then I sat back and waited.

Not for long! My phone started chiming with sympathetic, supportive text messages. My colleagues at the school were especially worried because, to date, they only knew me as a rather serious individual, not prone to lighthearted fun. It is not wise to ‘punk’ your colleagues until you have a good relationship with them and back then, we hadn’t developed that yet. My students, who really enjoyed my class, were concerned their foreign teacher was going to take a powder.

The next morning my inbox was full of messages from my Stateside contacts. Those who had seen the postscript said something to the effect of: “I knew I’d be hearing from you today!” Those more familiar with reality of culture shock, and those who had not read the postscript fell for the joke hook, line and sinker.

I sat in my apartment, on another continent laughing to tears at having tricked everyone so thoroughly. Stateside, my friends and family offered a place to stay till I could get back on my feet. My colleagues were prepared to welcome me. My former boss wrote too: Did I want my old job back?

I had to compose a reply that incorporated an apology for the joke, all while letting everyone know how much I savored the fact that, even from halfway across the world I still had the power to ‘punk’ them. The backlash was not pretty, but it was worth it.

Meanwhile, in China: one of my students tricked me with ‘toothpaste oreos’. Knowing how much I love Oreo cookies, she replaced the filling between the cookies with toothpaste. I was just getting ready to bite into one when she shrieked and snatched the cookie away. We had a good laugh once she told me what I was about to eat, but after that I decided to hide out the rest of the day.

Now, with the Day of Fools just around the corner I wonder what I can do that will top that harmless bit of fun. And how I can prepare for the fallout. Any suggestions?

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