Saturday, May 22, 2004

Practical Jokers

Krakatoa : The Day the World Exploded: August 27, 1883I left the O Corporation after receiving a job offer from PMC. PMC was a division of a Fortune 500 company that specialized in motion control systems. Nearly every person in the small, Cincinnati office was either an electrical engineer or a software engineer.

The two funniest characters in the place were Tim and John. Tim was a really talented hardware guy. He couldn't write a lick of code (and was proud of it). For example, I once watched him write the following boot routine for one of his boards in assembler:

mov [r0 + 0], 0

mov [r0 + 1], 0

mov [r0 + 2], 0

mov [r0 + 3], 0


Loop, Tim, loop!

Tim, while growing up, was also famous for his "fireworks". Once, he patiently explained to me that he had gone to a junkyard with some friends, filled a hefty bag with pure oxygen and gasoline (while somehow preventing a static discharge), lit a fuse, ran like hell, and set off a monstrous explosion that mobilized police from several nearby towns. Don't try that at home, kids.

He was also notorious for an explosion of another type. One Friday a VP big-wig was visiting from corporate headquarters. A pizza lunch was generously brought in to the conference room so the VP could mingle with the commoners. Tim was the first to finish his lunch. He grabbed his plate, stood up and ripped a completely accidental fart that echoed from one end of the room to the other.

To this day, I have never seen a face turn that shade of purple, either before or since. And PMC employees still refer to that day as "The Great Pizza Fart of 1984".

John, his friend, was a combo hardware/software guy who was very skilled with autos. His sideline business involved buying Honda Civics with blown engines, rebuilding them and selling them to turn a quick $1k or $2K profit.

Tim and John were long-time buddies, but they loved to play practical jokes on each other. And, as these things sometimes do, the pranks got a little out of control.

I think it began with Tim "modifying" John's car by tying a short crowbar to the undercarriage with a steel cable. The idea being that the crowbar would drag on the ground for a while until sufficient speed was reached. At which point, the crowbar would start bouncing all over the place, slamming varying metal thingies under the car, and generally making a horrible racket - sounding something like your transmission had just fallen out.

Sure enough, John was driving home that afternoon and all hell broke loose under his car. "Cheezus! What the hell!" Pulling over on a busy street, he peered under the vehicle and instantly saw what was up. And he knew exactly who the culprit was.

A few days went by and Tim figured that either the stunt hadn't worked or John wasn't sure who'd done it. He was driving down I-71, during rush hour after work, when he heard squealing tires and horns sounding directly behind him. He looked in his rearview mirror and saw... thousands of pieces of paper flying everywhere, cars braking and swerving, just an unbelievable paper storm that seemed to be emanating from his car.

He managed to pull over to the side of the road. Checking his undercarriage, he saw what John had done. A "Yellow Pages" directory had been cabled to his car. It had just dragged along on the ground for a while, until sufficient friction had built up; it then started flinging pages, one by one in machine-gun fashion, everywhere.

At that point Tim decided that a "coupe de grace" was appropriate. One final payback so depraved, so horrible, that it would be the final act in their long-running series of pranks.

So one evening he and a few friends stayed late after work. John's hard-walled office was situated directly across the hall from the men's bathroom. Tim, with some expert mechanical help, re-routed the exhaust fan from directly over the toilet. He routed it into the HVAC for John's office, directly over the desk.

Things went back to normal, at least for a few days. John didn't notice anything. Must have been no one was stinking up the bathroom too badly. Finally, one Wednesday, John had a sales rep visiting and they were in his office with the door closed.

Tim watched as Jeff, a grizzled manufacturing guy known for eating all sorts of unhealthy slop, headed to the bathroom. Holy s**t... Tim knew Jeff had just had a nasty sausage lunch that had to be headed for oblivion. He watched as Jeff entered the bathroom and locked the door. And he waited. And waited.

Both doors remained closed for at least ten minutes. Finally, he heard the toilet flush, the sink run, and Jeff came out with a spring in his step. Not 30 seconds later, John and the customer burst out of his office. "CHEEZUS, WHAT THE HELL STINKS IN HERE!" John was freaking out, the sales rep was nauseated and had to leave. Tim tried to look innocent, so he turned away, doubled over in apoplectic laughter.

I never really found out how the "prank wars" ended. In fact, as far as I know, it could still be going on today. I do know this. If you happen to see either of them around, don't bother trying a practical joke on them. Biting off more you than can chew is the operative phrase.

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