Life is a Laughing Matter

Photo: State Library of New South Wales
Photo: State Library of New South Wales

It shot up at a 90 degree angle. After 3 or 4 inches, it banked hard and raced back—paying little mind to the bald crater it could no longer mask. This Brylcreem-dependent pompadour was a curious thing; it served as my introduction to an equally curious man.

Gene and I never really “clicked.” I was young, somewhat abrasive, and my humor favored the absurd. This left Gene ill at ease. For the next five years, he’d find amusement in teasing me about how he loved steak (I didn’t eat meat, then). I, on the other hand, took enormous pleasure in offering him a hug. This left him flustered and sometimes angry.

One day, Matt (our IT guy) called me into his office. He wanted to show some VNC software he had been testing—something rather novel, at the time. It would allow him to log in to company machines remotely, when issues arose. At some point in our talk, we found ourselves connecting to Gene’s computer.

(This seemed like a delightful opportunity.)

We first opened a folder and closed it. No reaction. We then pushed things further, randomly resizing images he was scanning, and forcing them to open/close without him prompting such actions. After a while, Gene piped up, “Uhh… Matt… I think my machine has gremlins or something. Can you take a look?”

As the newspaper’s tech, it was Matt’s job to make these things run smoothly, so, he made his way to Gene’s machine. Upon his arrival, it (surprisingly) resumed normal behavior. I tried—not so successfully—to mask my laughter, as Matt stood patiently beside Gene, waiting for the computer to show another sign of this strange bug.

Finally, my fellow prankster made his way back to his office. We sat quietly for a while, in an effort to maintain the jig, and then resumed our shenanigans.

For the next hour, the game continued, with Gene little the wiser. To his credit, computers were somewhat foreign to him, which likely made the notion of a remote session almost inconceivable. Still, I thought we were throwing him a bone, when we opened a plain text document and started to type (and repeat) the words, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Alas, no.

Finally, we fessed up to our prank. Gene was confused by the whole matter and returned to his station. Most everyone else found it quite funny.

My role with this company was so tedious that I rarely gave times like this much thought. I wanted to move on, do more exciting things, and take on a position that challenged me more. This left me treating my time there like a layover, instead of seeing it as a significant part of my life.

Last week, Matt was caught in a freak accident. His car collided with a semi, killing him, his wife, sister, and his two teenaged children.

Your life is not a dress rehearsal. The moments you have are exactly what they are. You cannot script, edit, or revisit them. The only chance you have of living a full life is to appreciate experiences for what they are.

Sometimes, this means enjoying a good joke with a friend.


    1. Thanks, Matt!

      The part that I failed to add to this story, was what happened about an hour later. One of our co-workers leapt up from her seat and shouted, “Eric, stop screwing with my computer!” This was particularly funny… given that we hadn’t done anything at all to it.

  1. “Stop screwing…” that must have been Gail. Fantastic memory, well told, with a great lesson for all of us.

  2. A joyous memory results from a profound loss. There is joy where there is pain we just have to be open to it. It’s quality moments in life which make difficult times easier to take. God Bless Matt and his family.

    On a lighter note. My most memorable work prank was sending our busgirl to the fish monger across the road to get 5lbs of Spank. A few moments later 70 year old Vigo, the owner called me wanting to know if she meant skate or if I was playing a joke. So he just said he sold out! This young lady came running back to the restaurant and was so red when she saw us all laughing. But she joined in the laughter with us. 15 years later this young lady is a great friend and incredibly still loves to talking about this!

    You are right we must enjoy what we have in this moment while we are here.


  3. There’s that thing about forests and trees. And hindsight.

    You could tell that to your younger self, but if he was anything like my younger self, he probably couldn’t hear it. That’s the tough part. Experience gives us perspective, but it can so often be accompanied by regret.

    Is it enough to have gained the wisdom to fully appreciate those great moments now? I don’t know. But I think it’s better than the alternative.

    As office pranks go, that was brilliant. Sounds like Matt knew how to live it like he meant it.

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