Here’s a question I overheard today: “Have you been laying eggs on my desk all week?” I was in the middle of the putting together the year-end sales report when I heard it and the question immediately made my ears perk up. I peeked around the edge of my cubicle to see who was doing the talking. It was Brian Matthews from about two cubicles down and four over.
He’s got all the imagination and humor of a trout on a fish hook. People in the office have been taking turns all year pulling different practical jokes on him and trying to get him to laugh. The first one was pretty typical, someone taped his cubicle door over and then filled it full of balloons. You should have seen Brian’s reaction; hysterical! The next one involved a lot of string attached to his chair and to a number of other critical things on his desk. When he pulled the chair out, his stapler, his keyboard and his inbox all fell to the floor with a crash. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. After that, some enterprising soul stayed late and redid Brian’s cubicle in blank post-it notes. Everything was covered, from his monitor all the way down to his paper weight. Every joke after that has been either more elaborate or more simple, like when someone rearranged Brian’s cubicle so that everything was on the opposite side than it had been before or the time when someone fiddled with Brian’s computer desktop so that it seemed like the computer had frozen, when all the person had done was taken a screenshot of the desktop, made that the wallpaper and then hidden all the icons and the task bar.
Brian, for his part, has made it his business to figure out who the perpetrator was. So far, he’s been right every time and, usually, when he catches someone, he makes them clean up after while he stands over them like Col. Clink in Hogan’s Heroes.
Because of that, none of the practical jokes that have been pulled have ever been too awfully messy or destructive and none of us has ever pranked Brian more than once. Most of us tried to pull off our joke in such a way that he wouldn’t figure out who did it and never asked for help from any of our other co-workers so that they wouldn’t be able to give us away. He usually figures it out by the end of the day anyway, though. I thought my own idea was actually a pretty good one. While Brian was on his lunch break, I spent the better part of an hour connecting up all of his paper-clips so that, when he pulled one out, they all came out in a big old long chain. I was sure he’d never figure out it was me, but, sure enough, he had me cold by the water cooler not three hours later and I spent another hour dis-connecting all those paper-clips again while he watched me.
They don’t happen every day, of course. Practical jokes take a while to plan. So I didn’t even know that anything was going on until I overheard Brian’s question, “Have you been laying eggs on my desk all week?” My first thought was, All week? Wow! I listened for the response and had to stifle a laugh when I heard Mary Mason say, “No, Brian, this one wasn’t mine.” She sounded like she was trying really hard to keep from laughing but was going to lose it in another minute if Brian kept standing there.
“You’re lying,” Brian accused.
“Honest to God, Brian,” said Mary, still trying not to laugh, “I super-glued your pens to the bottom of your pen jar last month, remember?”
“Yes, but…” he began.
“And,” Mary interrupted, “don’t forget that you made me buy you a new pen jar and all new pens to replace the glued ones.”
“True,” he admitted, his eyebrows practically knitting themselves together as he walked away from her. Behind him, I heard Mary finally burst out laughing. Looking at Brian, I saw his shoulders bunch up and he looked back at her briefly before stalking back to his cubicle again. That just made us all bust up in fresh gales of laughter.
Okay, I know it’s rude to laugh at a guy when he’s upset. Sometimes, I actually feel a little guilty about all of this, even though I’m not even the one who started it all. Besides that, I think Brian likes the challenge of puzzling out who his latest tormentor is. Now, if only one of us could get him to laugh.
That afternoon, during our lunch hour, a bunch of us met at the Olive Garden and, about half way into the salad, I couldn’t keep my mouth shut any longer.
“So what’s with the egg on Brian’s desk?” I asked, leaning over my bowl of salad.
“It beats the hell outta me,” said Mike, whose cubicle is right next to Brian’s, “All I know is that every morning for the past week, Brian’s found a raw chicken egg somewhere on his desk. The first one was balanced on his keyboard. The day after that, it was in his inbox. Yesterday, he found one in his pen jar and had to take all his pens out to get it.”
“And today?” asked Mary, who was helping herself to more salad.
“It was in his phone charger,” Mike said, shaking his head in disbelief, “balanced to one side of his phone.”
“Who’s doing it?” I asked, pushing my salad bowl away.
“Heck if I know,” said Mike, taking a breadstick. “All I can tell you is that it wasn’t me. I was the one who put a piece of tape over the bottom of his mouse in February.”
“I remember that,” Peg smiled. “That man knows more curse words than my Uncle Barney. Well, you all remember mine. I switched a few of the keys on his keyboard.”
“That was in, what?” Mary asked, “May? June?”
“July,” replied Peg. “What about Fred in accounts payable?”
“It couldn’t be him,” I say with a laugh of my own. “He’s the one that did the cubicle full of balloons thing that started this whole mess.”
“What about Nancy, the receptionist?” asked Mary, her eyebrows drawing together in thought.
“She put Chinese hot mustard on his chicken salad sandwich,” said Peg, “He made her buy him a whole new sandwich at the local deli and have it delivered to his desk.”
“What about George, the mail room guy?” I asked. “Does he even know anything’s going on?”
“You’re kidding, right?” Mike laughed. “George is the one who plugged a radio into Brian’s power-strip and then turned it up full blast so that when Brian turned his computer on, he’d really get an earful and so did everyone else. That radio was tuned to George’s favorite death metal station.”
“Really?” grinned Mary, “What did Brian do?”
“I’m not sure,” said Mike, “but I heard that he made George pay for his hearing exam and mailed the radio back to him in little pieces.”
“Okay, let me get this straight,” I said, helping myself to a hot bread stick, “No one has any idea who’s leaving eggs on Brian’s desk?”
There were nods all around the table. After that, the subject turned to something else and then, eventually, we all went back to work again. When we got there, Brian was standing by the elevator door watching us as we got out. I did my best to give him a “What’s wrong with you?” look before heading to my cubicle and the end of the year sales report I had yet to finish.
As for Brian, he didn’t get any work done that day. He was too busy watching the rest of us like a hawk watching a mouse. Finally, toward the end of the day and just when I was turning in my report, Mr. Avery, our boss, walked into the office and asked Brian to join him. I went and discreetly pretended to be filing something in the filing cabinet near Mr. Avery’s office door.
You should have seen the look of terror on Brian’s face as he headed to Mr. Avery’s office. From the looks of things, he was sure he was about to be fired for not doing any work that day. Timidly, he knocked on Mr. Avery’s door.
“Come in, Mr. Matthews,” Mr Avery said genially. Brian walked in, trembling so hard, if he’d been carrying a cup of coffee, he’d have spilled some.
“Yes, sir?” said Brian, doing his best to sound perfectly normal.
“Do you know why I’ve asked you to join me?” Mr. Avery asked, his voice so cool he could easily have been an iceberg.
“No, sir,” Brian answered.
“I asked you to join me,” the boss explained, “because I’m impressed with you.”
“Im– impressed?” Brian stammered, “with me, sir?”
“That’s what I said, Mr. Matthews,” said Mr. Avery. “You see, for the past week, I’ve left a raw egg somewhere on your desk. I expected you to complain, since, quite obviously, the whole office has been trying to get your goat all year. What impressed me, though, is that I haven’t heard a peep from you. You’re obviously a good sport, Mr. Matthews, and I’d like to offer you a promotion, as my personal assistant.”
Then the strangest thing happened. Brian began to laugh. It was just a chuckle at first, but it quickly grew to a full out laugh. I smiled as I returned to my desk.