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 …