The Perfect Practical Joke for Retribution on a Neat-Freak Coworker

It all started innocently enough. My good friend and coworker, we’ll call him Dick, thought it would be hilarious to comment on the size of my backside in front of everyone in the newsroom. So really, there was nothing I could do but get him back. It wasn’t my fault.

In order to understand the brilliance of my retribution, you have to understand the obsessive compulsive nature of Dick. He hasn’t been diagnosed, but he’s close enough.

Since the first day we worked together Dick’s workspace has always been set up exactly the same way. Although I haven’t worked with him in a year, I’m willing to bet I could tell you exactly what’s on his desk and what’s tacked to the walls of his cubicle. I can tell you what he keeps track of on his wall calendar, what he keeps track of in his notebook, how he organizes his inbox and what he has lined up along the top of his computer monitor.

It’s important to Dick that his desk makes sense. That’s what he says. I say it’s because he’s a freak. He says it’s because he’s Dutch. OK, I say it’s because he’s a Dutch freak. As he has explained countless times he’s a lefty, so everything he reaches for regularly has to be on his left somewhere. It has to be in the same place every time because “it just does, damn it.” The right side of his desk is where he keeps things like photographs, the tape dispenser and a stapler. Whatever. It all just makes it that much more fun to use his desk as a prop for a practical joke.

And the best prop of all sits back on the left side, at the top of his desk, within easy reach: His sacred stack of newspapers. He keeps a copy of every edition within a year that carries his by-line right where he can find it and grab it for any one of a million reasons. He’s a valuable and prolific writer, so he has the most comprehensive collection of papers in the newsroom. Everyone else likes to paw through it for easy reference, too.

You can see his sphincter tighten every time someone comes near his pile of newspapers. As soon as they’re done, he has to fiddle with the stack, making sure they put the paper back in reverse chronological order and tightening the corners. He can not abide by sloppy newspaper folding, either. He grumbles like an old man every time.

So it was always relaxing for me to go over to his desk at the end of the day and take the top five newspapers and rearrange their order, or reorganize his rolodex from Z to A instead of A to Z. It was also fun to change his calendar page or mix up the line of Star Wars figures and shot glasses on his monitor. The miscellaneous papers we all tack up on our cubicle walls – jokes, phone lists, kids’ drawings – were fun to turn upside down. Every stupid little thing is fun if you know it’s really going to bug someone. That’s what makes a practical joke so cool.

Dick’s reaction made it funny. Regardless of whether I simply swapped the stapler and pen holder, or I reversed everything on his desk, Dick couldn’t function in the morning until he’d put it all back the way it was, sputtering and taking my name in vain the whole time to a chorus of sniggering coworkers.

Of course, as a lefty he never ran out of creative practical jokes of his own to get me back, but commenting on the growing size of my backside was something he only did once.

Knowing I was out to get him, Dick hung around the office later than usual that night. So I left, went as far as the coffee shop across the street, and waited for him to go home.

Back upstairs in the newsroom, I stopped by my desk long enough to read the apology he’d left behind, then walked straight over to his cubicle and sat in his chair for a minute. It was a sweet apology, I thought as I turned his stapler over in my hands. He had obviously not meant to cross the line. And after all, it had been a funny comment, funny enough to make me spit milk out through my nose if I’d been drinking it at the time.

Stuff it. He deserved to suffer. So I just started randomly stapling things. First, I stapled all the pages of his calendar together, one at a time. Then I stapled random chunks of Post-It Notes together in his stacks of colored pads.

A coworker passed by, shaking her head. “Don’t do it,” she cautioned as I reached for his rolodex. I stopped. She was right. The rolodex was mean, but the pile of newspapers was better.

Whistling softly to myself, I dragged the stack over in front of me and proceeded to staple the top left corner of the top one to the top left corner of the second one, then the bottom right corner of the second one to the bottom right corner of the third one, and so on until about a month of papers were connected in a zig-zag accordion way. I slid the stack back into place and tightened the corners as neatly as if Dick had done it himself.

Then, of course, I had to staple everything in his inbox together. The back cover of each phone book got stapled to the front cover of the phone book behind it, and the same fate awaited every other paperback reference book on his desk from dictionary to style-book to thesaurus.

Dick used to keep a handful of hard candies in his drawer, and if I remember right, I think I stapled the ends of the wrappers to each other. If I didn’t, I should have.

It was vicious, but I stapled random chunks of pages in his reporter’s notebooks together, too. That would slow him down on his next assignment.

By the time I was done, just about every piece of paper in and around his workspace had been stapled to something else. Everything, that is, except his apology note. That got taped to his computer monitor.

Dick came in the next morning to a neat, orderly desk. He glanced at the apology note, picked up the staple-remover I’d left on his chair and turned it over in his head for a minute as he tried to figure out what was wrong with this picture.

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