Laughter, Medicine for Life – Gags at P&G

The Dolly Parton Bldgs (aka P&G HQ)

The Dolly Parton Bldgs (aka P&G HQ)

Life is short.  We all need to laugh.

Written about in several stories, (like one of my favorites here), I like making people laugh and I’m not above pulling a few pranks on people I like to get those laughs.  I would never prank someone that I do not like, that’s just mean and I’m not really into taking advantage of others.

A good laugh at the workplace brings people together.  I’ve always felt that and have experienced it many times over the years.  The Sanka gag (link) from my foundry days is one of my favorites.  Joe didn’t care for it at first, but later admitted that the joke was funny and in the aftermath, he, Rob and myself had an even better relationship.  In my experience, when people like, (or at least don’t hate), their workplace and the people there, they are more free to be themselves and therefore they are more productive.

So far I’ve shared stories about pranks at home, at Taco Bell (the famous burn ’em sauce) but none yet from my P&G days.  As I am now celebrating my first full year of being unemployed by good old Mother Procter, I’m thinking that today is the day for writing about some of those good times.

There wasn’t much to laugh about in my first assignment with P&G.  I spent less than a year in a tiny accounting group staffed with three ‘old timers’.  The old timers like to talk about the good ‘ole days and well, I just could not relate (note that for some unexplained reason, that has changed).  There was a team leader there named Wanda and she liked to present herself as the mother of the flock, keeping her hens, (we three men), in order.  The big moment of the day there was the trudging down to the basement for Wanda’s daily smoke break.  Even today as you drive past the Clock Tower building at the old Ivorydale campus, you can still catch a glimpse of cigarette smoke escaping from the bowels of the building.  Typically, I’d have lots of time to kill in my day so I’d walk next door to entertain the younger accountants working in an area called Contract Mfg.  I’d get them laughing and then as I’d notice the time, I’d have to get back into a serious mood and in an act of solidarity, head on down to the dungeon with Wanda and her flock.

Can you see the smoke?

Can you see the smoke?

To try to keep me busy, my boss soon yanked me out of the retirement home and moved my gear next door where the work was supposed to be more hectic.  I found that it wasn’t really that busy there either, but the folks there seemed to enjoy laughter a lot more.  Hmm, what to do?  The room we were in was on elevated flooring.  The building itself was very old so instead of refinishing the flooring or installing new hardwood, a floor was built about a foot above the old floor, finished off with easy to remove tile squares. The tiles could be removed with a suction cup and there just happened to be a suction cup doohickey in our possession.

Amy liked to sometimes, (often), walk around the office barefoot; easy prank material.  In those days, there was a lot of paper.  We just barely had computers – this was 1987.  For the massive amounts of paper records we all produced, there were designated storage rooms.  Our storage room was located at the very rear of the floor, back by our boss’s office.  I took my opportunity when I saw Amy get up to go back to the storage room, rushing over to collect just one of her shoes and then taking it across the office where I lifted a tile and quickly dropped the shoe underneath.  Everyone watched, everyone snickered.

I didn’t even have to coach anyone, for when Amy returned to her desk, everyone clammed up and played out their roles perfectly.  We all went about the business of debiting and crediting, (technical accounting jargon), and acted normal (as normal as accountants could act, that is).  Amy didn’t miss her shoe immediately.  It took perhaps 30 minutes before we all heard “ok, who’s the wise Guy?”  No one smiled, no one smirked.  I spoke up and asked ‘what’s up’ and she told us one of us took her shoe.  We all played dumb, (not hard to do for accountants), and went back to our green sleeves.  Finally it was time to go home and she announced to us “so am I going to have to walk to my car in one shoe….ROB?”  Apparently someone had given me up…must have been the other female in the group, Susan (daggone females sticking together).  So I had to confess (and got mildly whacked on the back with her shoe) and we all had a good laugh, with a promise from Amy that she’d get me back somehow.

That same year I was awarded an intern from the local university.  They like to do that, the bosses – dish out the interns to people who don’t look very busy.  Co-ops are what we called them.  Ann was her name.  She was smart, likable and my type of co-op (not above acting like a kid).  One day we stopped in to see a good friend of mine, Jeff, after lunch.  Jeff was not around so Ann suggested we hide his keys.  (Oh, I like this girl).  That’s a great idea, but where to hide them?  She said, “let’s hide them here in his office partner’s coat pocket”.  Brilliant!  The problem though was that after we pulled the prank, I forgot all about it.  I was going to call Jeff before leaving that day to clue him in on the whereabouts of his keys.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, Jeff had an important rendezvous with his wife, a dinner or something (I think it was something unimportant, like a wedding anniversary).  He was trying to lock up his desk but his keys were nowhere to be found.  He and his partner searched everywhere and just as he was about to give up, his partner put on his own coat to head out the door and reached into his pockets to find the extra weight of another set of keys.  “Are these yours?”

I had lunch the next day with Jeff and he told me the story about his frantic search for the keys.  I had to confess that Me and the Co-Op hid them.  He laughed, but I think he wanted to kill me.  Luckily we were on company property and he valued his job.  🙂

Typically I’d pull a prank if things got slow or if I felt people needed to lighten up.  Sometimes though an opportunity presented itself unannounced, one you just couldn’t say no to.  Back in the mid 90’s I was working on a huge project, one where we sometimes worked late hours.  On one such evening, 3 or 4 of us were walking out and as we did so, we liked to make the rounds, checking that people locked their desks and computers.  Fortune was with us that night as one of our coworkers who was also working late had left his email account open on his computer.  One of my devious teammates suggested we send an email from his account, but to whom?  She knew this guy had a friend named Scott so she typed while I dictated:

Scott – hey buddy, I had this weird dream last night about you.  We were both in our tightly whities, running through this golden field of wheat.  Anything like that ever happen to you?  Anyway, catch you later, let’s talk about it.

Kim, my teammate, was laughing so hard that she was crying, we all did.  We confessed the next day of course, but not until later in the day after Scott and our victim had had a chance to squirm a bit.  Fun times….

Along the way I had opportunities to play out my acting fantasies in sketches like Hans and Frans and a takeoff on Wayne’s World where we made a longer training video to share with plant mfg departments.  I share excerpts here in these links.

I also was not above making fun of myself.  Who else had the guts, (or stupidity), to dress up as Vanna Wyatt in a Wheel of Fortune skit?  As I was getting dressed in the restroom of a downtown hotel, I had a couple of guys do quick double takes on the door to make sure they were walking into the Men’s Room.  Maybe I looked good in dark hose?  Luckily, these were the days before smartphones and video cameras were a bit bulky to carry around, so no video for that one.  Oh and I did get roasted out of one assignment as the only guy who could go to Puerto Rico on business and then get caught in a snowstorm (true story – believe it was Jan ’94 in Kentucky).

There were lots of other harmless pranks like switching the computer’s mouse button to left-handed or taking a screen print of someone’s desktop and then opening that picture, sizing it to the whole screen (that one’s pretty funny to watch).  But ask me what my favorite P&G prank of all time was and my answer is quick because I do have one that I pulled that still makes me laugh, even today after 25 years.

I mentioned Jeff earlier.  I first met Jeff in 1987 when I worked next door to him in my first assignment.  When I got transferred out of that one and into the one next door, I was to replace Jeff who was moving just up the street into a new assignment of his own.  Jeff and I hit it off immediately and we were like peas and carrots for years, always laughing and always enjoying each other’s company.  I love to tease people I really like and Jeff got to be the brunt of a few good pranks because he was tough enough to be able to laugh at himself; not everyone can.

In 1990 I was working in Louisiana.  Once I had traveled north to Cincinnati where I was to train a group of accountants on a new software platform and the training was to occur up on the same floor as Jeff’s office.  At a break in class, I stopped by Jeff’s office to say hi.  We were to eat dinner together later on that night.  He wasn’t at his desk and I could see him through the glass window of a meeting room.  It’s at that moment that it hit me – an idea for playing a joke on Jeff.  Jeff was the earliest Apple fanatic I ever met.  He had a Macintosh computer that he had to get special permission to purchase and it was his baby.  If anything were to happen to it, I knew he would totally freak out.

Not Died, Tide Dummy

Not Died, Tide Dummy

Near his desk was a monitor and keyboard that was used mainly for data entry into our corporate accounting systems.  The user interface software that it used was a program called Reflections.  I happened to be kind of a technical geek and was familiar with a lot of Reflections’ commands so I issued one that just cleared the screen so that I could type a message on the screen, one that would look formal and important.  I put the caps lock on and here is what I typed:










And then I walked away to go back to my training class.
(This is making me laugh even as I’m writing this)

I totally forgot about my joke when I got into my training class.  In my afternoon break, I went over again to say hi to Jeff.  When I walked by, I could see Anne in his office.  Anne was an IT person and she and Jeff looked like they were engaged in something serious so I decided not to bother them.  I would see Jeff later at dinner.

We met somewhere for dinner and began our usual catching up.  How’s your wife, how’s Louisiana going, etc.  I told him about the training class and then I asked him what was going on in his world.  (I’ll never forget this conversation).  He said, “Well let me tell you what happened today.  When I got back to my desk from my meeting, there was this big message on the workstation monitor that said system backfire or something like that.”

I’m paying attention while I’m recalling my little prank and I’m trying to keep a straight face.

He goes on to say “so I went over to get Anne and she calls downtown to the data center to ask what the hell was going on.  They didn’t know what was happening and they’d never heard of the warning message before.”

And it was at this point that he saw my smirk, the smile I was having trouble holding in.  Knowing me as he did, he just stopped and looked at me and he said, “no…tell me that was not you…did you do that?”  To which I confessed, laughingly.  Well the story’s not over.

Jeff was laughing, but he was also trying to be serious.  He continued, “well buddy, let me tell you the rest.  I called Rick over and said Rick, look at this.  Rick’s response was ‘Oh shit…..Alan, get over here right away’.  He sent Alan downstairs to get a whole bunch of floppy discs so we could all back up our hard drives.  The entire floor backed up their computers.  We were all scrambling around, all of us backing up our computers, you should have seen us!  You know long it takes to back those damn things up; it was crazy for several hours”.

I was laughing but also, I was afraid, afraid I was going to get into trouble at work.  “I totally forgot all about it Jeff.  That message was fake, it was just something I made up.  There’s no such thing as a system backlash, I just made that up.”  Jeff asked how I got the system to write that message and I told him that the system didn’t, it was just manual typing on the screen by me.  “Wow!”  We must have laughed for a solid five minutes.  It was a great reunion dinner but I was afraid of getting into trouble the next day when the truth came out.  I’ve always been a transparent guy so I told Jeff it was ok to tell Rick and others the truth.

A guy named Tim ran that department and he was also my technical reporting boss.  I was afraid he was going to lecture me the next day, so I was really not looking forward to seeing him on the floor.  I had to go back for day 2 of the training class I was conducting.  By the time the afternoon rolled around, the truth had come out and everyone on the floor knew they had me to blame for having to scramble around the previous day.  Just as I was always the first to get the whipping from Dad, I figured it was best to fess up to mistakes and get the punishment over with.  So I reluctantly walked back to where Tim’s office was and I peeked around to see his door.  Damn – it was open.  No excuse for hiding, so I went back there and stuck my head into his office.  “Well, I guess you heard.  I’m sorry and….”  Tim cut me off before I could say anything further.  He just smiled and said, “well, it got everyone to back up their computers and they’re supposed to be doing that anyway, so I figure no real harm done.”

WHEW!  Personal crisis averted.  I loved pranking Jeff.  He was my best friend for several years and we are still very close…even after his system backlash.

A lot of P&Gers live to work, but having been struck by a school bus as a kid, I guess my outlook on life was a tad different.  I believed that work should get my best while I was there, but that it was more important to know ourselves in order to best leverage our personal talents, therefore working smarter, not longer hours.  I also believed that if we could laugh at work, we’d feel more free to just be ourselves.  If we each felt free to be ourselves, we’d feel enabled, empowered.  Empowered employees are productive employees.  I first learned this in my youth as a manager at Taco Bell and I used it in my coaching of others all throughout my career at the foundry and at P&G.

I’m an introvert.  I don’t have a lot of friends, but for those few friends I do have, I am very loyal to.  Introverts just hate ‘small talk’ but we’ll talk about life with you for hours.  Over my 27 years working at P&G I made a few very close friends, people I am still close to today and stay in contact with (one of those friends ‘accidentally’ took me to the 11th floor where the CEO had his office so I could see that floor – you know who you are and I know you’re reading this).  As I sit here in my beautiful breezeway in the crazy-great California weather, I am now thinking about those few close friends.  They each have striking differences amongst themselves, but there is one very strong similarity – they each love to laugh and they each seem to care more about others than they do themselves.  I wonder if those two characteristics go together.

Life is short and we all need to laugh.  Go make someone laugh today.

One comment on “Laughter, Medicine for Life – Gags at P&G

  1. […] In 1987, I began working for P&G.  The very first person I made friends with was a guy named Jeff.  Meeting Jeff was one of those rare moments, those moments you meet someone and you hit it off immediately and you get the sense that a great friendship could develop.  Jeff was featured in an earlier story (link). […]

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