Some people just don't appreciate them.
|"I started a joke—a prank, I mean—against Todd yesterday," Clarice said. She and her friend Randal were eating lunch at The Motte and Bailey, the pub/sports bar across the street from the offices where they worked. "I told Paula that—"
Clarice paused. "I keep forgetting we hired another one," she said.
"She doesn't work in your department."
Clarice gave Randal a look. "I know. So why would I be telling the other Paula—?"
"I just wanted to be clear. Also, I really don't think you should mix Paula up with any of your pranks."
"Who, Paula Miller?"
"No, the other Paula. New Paula." He snapped his fingers. "Garrison."
"What's wrong with her?"
"There's nothing wrong with her," Randal said. "She just seems very serious."
Clarice snorted. "You're all serious over on your side. But, I was saying, I told Paula that Todd really likes—
"Where did that come from?"
"What? Where did what come fr—?"
"That. 'You're all so serious over on your side'." Randal frowned at her.
Clarice blinked. "Well, like that. I'm just teasing, Randal. And you take it so seriously."
"Just tell me about Paula and Todd."
"You know, it's like death over there in Editorial! I have to go through there to get to Sylvia's office, you know, and I swear, the buzz from the fluorescent lights is deafening. Like crickets. Ooh! That's a prank I should play on you all! I should catch a cricket and hide it somewhere over on your side of the floor. It would drive your team nuts!"
"Oh, we'd get even if you tried something like that with us."
"You would not. You have no idea over there how to pull off a prank."
"How do you know?"
"Well, who over there could? You?"
Randal looked hurt. But he only said, "You know, there's such a thing as the internet these days. And we've got crack researchers. Five minutes with Google—"
"Oh, like what would you do with Google? Figure out how to hide a rotten egg in one of our file cabinets? That wouldn't even be— That's why the cricket prank would be so classic to pull on you."
"It would not."
"It would so! A good prank's like a good, you know, commentary. As in, it's so dead over in Editorial you can hear crickets! That's why—"
"It would just be annoying."
"You just don't have a sense of humor."
"Then maybe that's a reason not to go pranking people. If someone hasn't got a sense of humor—"
Clarice groaned. "I don't mean it like that! When I say you don't have a sense of humor— Don't take it personally, Randal!"
"Who says I'm taking it personally?"
"Your expression, for one! And you do have a sense of humor, it's just not— Well, I guess it's just not attuned to practical jokes."
Randal smiled faintly at her. Almost it was a smirk. "I wonder," he said, "if that's a requirement for being in marketing."
"Having a sense of humor?"
"No, having a taste for practical jokes. And I don't just mean at Madsen. I mean marketing in general. Advertising, all of it. Because isn't that what marketing is?" His smile now deepened unmistakably into a smirk. "A practical joke at the expense of the public."
Clarice stared at him, then burst out laughing. "I'll have to tell that to Cathy. 'Marketing is a kind of practical joke carried out at the expense of the public.' Except it sounds like something that someone somewhere probably already said."
Randal shrugged and glanced around. He and Clarice had arrived early for lunch, when the place was still almost empty. It was rapidly filling up now, and still they hadn't gotten their food. That was getting to be more of a problem with The Motte and Bailey. It had suddenly become very popular, even as the quality of the experience declined.
"But I was telling you about the prank I'm setting up for Todd," Clarice said.
"This is Todd Baylor, right?"
"Uh-huh. I told Paula that he really likes Krispy Kreme donuts, and—"
"Is this some kind of food prank?"
"I wouldn't mess with a man's food."
"What?" Clarice said again. "Wh—? I mean, as far as I know, Todd—"
"What if he's got an allergy?"
Clarice's jaw fell open. "An allergy? Randal— The prank, it isn't even—"
"And you said Krispy Kreme? Did you stop to think maybe he's diabetic?"
Clarice stared. She was staring still when the waiter glided up with two large, bone-white plates that staggered under the weight of the pub-style burgers and onion rings. He set them down, and she looked at her food and waited until the waiter had moved on before saying, "I haven't even explained it to you yet."
"Well, go ahead then," Randal said as he reached for the salt.
"No," Clarice said. She sat on her hands. "I don't want to now."
"Because you've killed it."
Randal bit off half an onion ring. "What do you mean I've killed it?"
"Every time I try to start, you—"
She broke off, and glowered darkly at Randal. "Are you doing it on purpose?"
"Doing what on purpose?"
"Are you still mad at me for the time I filled your car with balloons?"
"I don't remember that."
"Oh, bullshit. This isn't the way to get back at me, Randal. It isn't even funny."
"You bet I am. Why else do I get the feeling—this whole conversation since I brought it up—that the joke is on me?"