Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Sorry about the keyboard

There's an old practical joke in which you fill a glass of water, cover it with a thin piece of card, quickly turn it upside-down upon a table, and then remove the card. The result is an upside-down glass of water virtually guaranteed to spill all over the place when it is eventually picked up.* You can use a clear glass, in which case the person who has to remove it instantly sees his eventual fate and despairs, or you can use an opaque cup, in which case the victim is caught entirely unawares. Both ways are good. It's a type of prank in which the perpetrator is usually long gone by the time all the action goes down, but even in absentia, it's immensely rewarding, if a bit childish. You've probably heard of this one. I think I must have first learned it from an Archie comic, which makes it, if not as old as the hills, at least as old as malt shoppes, jalopies, and plaid-pants/sweater-vest ensembles.

I'd kind of forgotten about it, but Jay prompted me while visiting on the weekend to share the tale of another gag from this school of Trojan-horse practical joking that I perpetrated back in university. And as I take a perverse joy in reminders of my youthful misdeeds (the first time something I did showed up in my local newspaper's police report, I kept the clipping for years), I relate it here.

I've probably mentioned that I used to write for a little campus humour newpaper named Golden Words back at Queen's University. The paper's offices were shared with those of the Queen's Engineering Society, by which I mean that they owned a spacious office that housed our operation in a tiny closet into which were crammed a couple of desks, a filing cabinet, and thousands of stale gags about the varying quality of cafeteria food.

It was late one night in the office, and everyone had long since gone home. Jeff, the office manager, had left. Keith, the EngSoc president, had retired to his abode. The only ones around were your narrator and GW stalwart Justin Skinner (one of the paper's true legends, incidentally). It wasn't a press night, as I recall; I believe we had simply stumbled in after the pub upstairs had closed. There was no one but us. Us and it. There it was: an old, broken keyboard sticking out of a garbage can.

Justin and I looked at each other.

We looked at the keyboard.

We looked at each other.

We knew what we had to do.

We pulled that thing out of the garbage can, pulled out the hammers (of course we had hammers; we worked for an engineering humour paper) and set to work on control-alt-deleting its very existence. Keys went flying. Wires were wrenched and left dangling. The adjustable legs were kneecapped, so to speak. Cords were tangled. The space bar stuck out at an ugly angle. The whole unit was bent slightly across a knee. We destroyed it with flair, specifically attacking its form rather than its function in order to make it not only be as broken as possible, but look as broken as possible.

Then we took it over to Jeff's desk, hid his perfectly functional keyboard out of sight beneath, and placed the shattered, murdered remains of the discarded keyboard in its place so that it would be the first thing he saw when he came in the next morning. As a final touch before we left, we left a small Post-It note stuck to the monitor simply reading thus:
Jeff,

Sorry about the keyboard.

Keith
As I heard it later, Jeff came in the next morning, saw the mangled keyboard, and absolutely freaked out, thinking the place had been vandalized and robbed. Then, as Jeff read the Post-It, Keith happened to walk in. As Jeff was strangling Keith, the two of them managed to piece together that the last two people seen in the place were Justin and Peter, and they worked out what had happened. Both being good-natured guys, they immediately saw the humour of it, and we all had a good laugh over it in the end.

As for the upside-down glass of water thing, I did that one too that night in the office. Only, I used urine instead of water. History does not relate how that one worked out, but I imagine I'm the only one who had a good laugh over it in the end.

* In fact, you could probably sweep the glass off the table into a bucket with a minimum of fuss. If you thought of it. Or if you read footnotes.

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