CAMERON: Sometimes you’ve just got to do the right thing

Practical jokes and the art of being fast on your feet

By Neil Cameron

My affection for office humour originated from my very first job.

I was a grave digger/crowner. After many decades, wooden coffins decay. The earth breaks through, leaving a, well, pothole. I filled them in and then crowned them; shoveling and raking the ground into a ‘crown’ of what would eventually settle flush to the ground.

I worked alone, nobody to talk to. Sort of. I would read a name on a head stone of a grave to repair, say something like “tickle, tickle Ambrose” or “let me fix that draft for you Isabelle” and shovel in the dirt.

I didn’t take the lack of response to my humour personally. I knew it was a dead audience.

In other jobs there were real people around. Perfectly timed jokes in the office can do wonders for morale. Bad jokes, or bad timing, can be potentially disastrous; as I found out while managing editor of a newspaper in Saskatchewan.

As managing editor I was second in command, but my desk was my office. And my desk was in the main thoroughfare between the advertising, circulation and production departments. Pens and pencils disappeared off my desk at an alarming rate.

It was a Thomson newspaper. The only way to get a pen replacement was to turn in your old one. Or, as others did, steal one. The publisher, Dan, looked up at me and said, “Another pen? Do you eat them?” He smiled and I smiled back because we were great friends. He was the boss and he liked making it difficult for me.

“You know, if you just put your pen away somewhere, like in your drawers, nobody can walk by and take it,” he said, tossing me a new Bic.

I worked late that night. While leaving I noticed Dan had left his office door open. I stood there looking for something to steal. There were no pens, or anything else out on his desk that he would miss. I studied my options, leaning on the open door frame. And then I, well, giggled.

I was in at 5 a.m. the next morning and waited for Dan. When he didn’t show by 10, I learned he was out on sales calls until early afternoon. Disappointed in not getting to see his reaction, I ended my shift at noon. Some reporters and I went to the bar for lunch and beers.

After a few beers the bartender approached me.

“It’s The Paper,” he said, holding his hand over the mouthpiece of the telephone. “The guy says it’s important.”

I shrugged and held out my hand. I took the phone and turned three shades of white.

It was Dan. He said Bob Hogg, the Circulation Manager of Thomson Newspapers Canada, had paid a surprise visit from Toronto. Then Dan whisper-growled, “So where the ‘f’ is the door to my office?!”

I was a dead man drinking.

There was nothing to do but eat the crow while it was still flying. I ran the two blocks back to the office, went in through the back door and down to the basement where I had hid the door in the archives. I pushed open the heavy metal door and turned on the light.

The door was gone.

I tried to think, as if it was a set of keys, where I could l have put it. But it was a big damned door with a glass window upper half. It had taken me an hour to get it off its hinges and down to the archives safely.

I was dead as a doorknob.

And then I saw the ink-stained footprints. Why would the pressmen, two of them, be in the archives? I followed the footprints up the stairs and saw where they had turned in behind the big presses. Then I saw the door.

I walked through the pressroom. The pressmen were taking a break and one called out, “What’s wrong Cameron? You look like you lost your best friend.”

They broke out in gales of laughter. I did the only thing an honorable man could do. I went to the door-less office to confess.

“Dan, Mr. Hogg, I have a confession to make.” They stood with their arms crossed, both were angry. “When I heard the door was missing I wondered who would do something like that. So I came back and searched and found the door. It’s behind the presses. But you can’t tell the pressmen I told you, I don’t want to be known as a rat.”

Mr. Hogg looked at Dan and then at me. As Dan passed me heading to the pressroom he said in a knowing growl, “We’ll talk later.”

Mr. Hogg looked at me and said, “That was a very courageous thing to do young man.”

“I don’t think of it as courageous, sir,” I said. “It was just the right thing to do.”

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