barcode attack!

Barcode stickers. Scads and scads of them at work, sheet after sheet, all being thrown out. A senseless waste.

I grabbed a stack of sheets and headed home.

It was imperative, of course, to blanket my roommates’ rooms in barcodes, but first I opted for subtlety: two stickers, in highly visible yet natural locations. Wait a few days. Four more stickers, in slightly less-noticeable locations. Wait a few days. Eight more stickers.

Then one morning Reuben trudged downstairs scratching his head. “You know that poster of mine, the one with the figures dancing in a circle?”

“Yeah?” I said.

“I’ve had that poster since I was in middle school, and I just noticed yesterday that I never took the barcode sticker off. It was right in the bottom corner, plain as day. And then this morning I found a barcode on my alarm clock, just beneath the buttons. And there’s one on the case of my graphing calculator. You know,” he said, dropping his voice to a tone suited for a great revelation, “I think these things are everywhere. They’re plain, they’re colorless, and we’ve gotten so used to them we don’t even see them anymore.”

Somehow, between giggles that had erupted into tear-streaming guffaws, I managed to squeak out the truth. The only way to escape the consequential beating was to enlist Reuben’s support in pranking our other roommate.

Rich still hadn’t noticed the sporadic placements. It was time to fix that. I brought out the full stack of sticker sheets and we barcoded every single item in his room.

With close to a thousand stickers, our determination to use them all forced us into creativity. Bed frame. Ball of his computer mouse. Door knob, plus the thin edge of his door. Each window pane. Manila folders in his file cabinet. Japanese ball-and-cup toys. Every tool in his toolbox. Pencils. Shoes, ties, the seats of his pants. The result was a spectacular sight to behold.  “He’ll be finding these things for weeks!” we laughed.

True to his punctilious nature, upon discovery Rich spent over an hour negating the fruit of our labor — yet even he was no match for our compulsive thoroughness. For days afterwards we’d chuckle to hear him suddenly yelp at finding the earpiece of his telephone, sticker-gagged; his ping pong paddle, each face festooned; the barcode-laden staple chain in his stapler. The best was his favorite poster, a simple black and white line drawing of a woman’s face large enough to clench a barcode snugly between her lips. Dead center though it was, Rich didn’t see that one for a week (and accused us of placing it after the first invasion).

The fun continued into later months as he discovered we’d hit the batteries in his flashlight; the spare light bulbs in his closet; random index cards within a stack; extra bars of soap within their boxes. Every barcode became our signature — even ones that weren’t ours.

This went on all the way to graduation.

And then a few years later I got a long-distance call. Rich and his wife were replacing the photos in some of their old picture frames, and wouldn’t you know it? The back of every photo was barcoded.

Years after that I got another call, this time about a sticker on the inside cover of his calculator’s battery compartment. “I still find one or two a year in some insanely ridiculous place,” he said, “and I just know it’s you guys.”

But there was one sticker I was sure would outlast them all, one hid so ingeniously he might never find it. Sure enough, I’ve never heard him mention it.

I’m pretty sure Rich doesn’t read this blog, so letting you in on the secret is probably safe (highlight to read — but not you, Rich!): it’s on the bottom of his red metal toolbox. Think about it: who ever lifts a toolbox above eye level, or empties it out and flips it over?

Shh — don’t tell him! That one’s lasted fifteen years so far — let’s see how much longer it can hold out …

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14 Responses to “barcode attack!”

  1. RubeRad Says:

    here's the first poster in question

    There is a small chance Rich may find out; I tagged up with Masami a few months ago when I mentioned her in Best Hymn Tune Ever. I sent her a link, and of course from my blog it's easy to find yours.

    I think there's a strong possibility Rich has been silently reading our blogs for the past months, thinking "sooner or later one of these jokers will slip up a I will find that last damn sticker! I cannot rest until I know it is gone! Hey, who moved my keyboard 0.0378 radians out of alignment?"

  2. david Says:

    Great stuff on the barcode front… But I also have to say that I really like your method of obfiscation of the answer… White text to be highlighted to reveal the answer. My mind is racing to think of other ways to use that technique. Nicely done!

  3. Sandra Says:

    I need to pull this prank on my co-workers. 😀

  4. the forester Says:

    But I also have to say that I really like your method of obfiscation of the answer… White text to be highlighted to reveal the answer. My mind is racing to think of other ways to use that technique. Nicely done!

    Thanks, but I can't take credit for it. I frequented all too many a Star Wars fan site in the months before each new movie came out, surfing for spoilers. The reputable sites hide all their spoilers in exactly this manner, to prevent unwilling eyes from accidentally ruining their movie experience.

    Oh, and Ruberad … thanks for the link to that poster!  Haven't seen that in years.  What a blast from the past …

  5. happychick Says:

    hehehe… this is awesome! you must have had so much fun back in the day… lol

  6. the forester Says:

    you must have had so much fun back in the day…

    Thanks for chiming in, happychick! I spent far too time in college pulling practical jokes — so much so that I actually had to swear myself off of them in my first year in the real world (and even then, I had several relapses).

    After several years of successful abstinence, however, it’s been safe to return to occasional wilyness. Just the other day I played one on my principal. Our media center used to have a large convex mirror (four feet or more in diameter, no exaggeration) for security purposes. I snuck into the principal’s office and set it up directly behind his desk, glaring right at his chair, with the following sign: “In accordance with the Federal No Child Left Behind Act, this Principal Surveillance Device (PSD) has been installed by the Board of Education. Please contact the Superintendent for more information.”

    He thought it was funny enough to leave up for a day … then took it down when some parents, in the middle of meeting with him behind closed doors, got weirded out by this monstrous mirror glaring at them from behind his chair.

  7. Jenny Says:

    What a great story!

  8. the forester Says:

    Thanks, Jenny. What kind of fun practical jokes can you play with liquid nitrogren?

  9. RubeRad Says:

    Here’s what my high school chem teacher did:

    In the standard demonstration of dipping things into LN (liquid nitrogen, not a surgical cavity in my cousin LN) and smashing them with a hammer, he used a banana, a balloon, etc. Then, for a grand finale, he snapped on a surgical latex glove, and explained that he would dip his finger in the LN, whereupon a gentle tap with the hammer would cause the latex to flake off of his finger. So he dipped, he placed his finger on the black-slab lab-table, and WHAM smashed it with the hammer to reveal a bloody stump, and started screaming.

    Turns out, his finger was tucked in his palm, and the glove had been staged with a finger full of hamburger. Awesome.

    The rest of the story involves what he had to go through to acquire a raw patty from a Carls Jr. (Hardees).

    Your genius in practical joking, Forester, is not crossing the line between joke and harm. It is to your credit that you creatively prank people, and nobody gets hurt, and to my knowledge, nobody gets mad or offended. Fun for all!

  10. Aunt Barbara Says:

    I remember Ruberad arriving at his first of many Thanksgivings at our house and asking how to wash shaving cream out of his jacket. Seems there were many shaving cream “fights” in the first year dorm that year!

  11. RubeRad Says:

    Yes, and freshman (and sophomore) year was pre-Forester for me. And shaving cream actually can cross the line; I’ve seen what shaving cream can do to the paint job of a new car overnight…

  12. the forester Says:

    I remember your liquid nitrogen story to this day. Funny thing was, I’d forgotten where I’d heard it. What a classic prank — wish I’d been in your class to witness that. I probably would’ve screamed, too!

  13. seedlings » quoted! Says:

    […] "Barcode Attack!" was read aloud last night on NPR's Open Source with Christopher Lydon.  The show's theme was Blogsday 2006, a cross-section of the world's cyberchatter sampled on one specific day: 6 Jun 06 (the dreaded 666).  Open Source brought in two actors from the Actors' Shakespeare Project for the dramatic readings, and Greg Steres delivered a lively and humorous rendition. […]

  14. Ellen Says:

    This is tantamount to that story of the game of tag between friends that has been being played for the last thirty or so years…

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