I get easily bored at work. One of the ways I amuse myself is by playing little tricks on my co-workers. The more elaborate the prank, the longer I'm able to remain amused, so I have no qualms about going to extraordinary lengths for a gag with the most minimal payoff. The punch line is not the point; it's the journey there that keeps me going.

My most recent scheme involved tattoos. I noticed how many people were getting tattoos of Chinese characters, and wondered why Americans of European descent think there is some special magical property to all things Asian. Buddhism, acupuncture, kung fu, feng shui: if this crap originated in Germany, no one would care.

So I got an idea. I started by talking to the delivery guy from the Chinese take-out near my office. I made up a few fake Chinese phrases from words I saw in a Chinese newspaper, and started throwing them out at him. Now, I have no idea how to speak Chinese. I couldn't figure out how to pronounce the stuff I had, or how to make sentences out of it, or what dialect it was, but none of that really mattered. What mattered was having the proper Charlie Chan accent and loud, confident delivery.

"Wan shang an!" I'd shout out when he came in. "Hao chi bao fan jin wan?"

The guy would respond, sometimes in English, I think, but no one can understand him, so sometimes I think he responded in Chinese. Once I think he said, "Crazy," in English, but I can't really be sure.

"Song bie!" I called out as he left. And he never failed to wave.

Naturally, some of the people who work for me asked if I knew how to speak Chinese. "Not really," was my response.

Anyway, we're in the middle of the busiest time of the year at work, and we have about 100 temps working for us. It is out of this group that I pick my mark: a young woman, probably 20 or so, and very pretty, in a kind of higher-class New Jersey trailer-park way. Sort of a skinnier, dirty-blonde version of Jessica Alba. She has a little haze of pot smoke around her, and a Chinese character tattooed on her bicep.


(Note: not really her. This is Mel C., a.k.a. Sporty Spice!)

She's working in our bindery, and the first copy of every job off the binding line has to come to my desk for approval. Eventually everyone has to come in here. Finally, my victim arrives.


Next: The punchline!