September, 2002

Simon wrote:
>"... I wish the guy in the next cubicle wouldn't leave packets of cigarettes lying about.
> They prey on my mind. I am going to ask him to stop doing that..."

Don't add petty theft to the temptation to blow your quit, Simon. As a warning to you, this happened:

My father used to work at a major radio station in New York. In those days, people smoked everywhere, and especially at work in the newsroom. He had a real problem with his cigarettes disappearing. He was accustomed to leaving his open pack on his desk, next to his typewriter, and when he'd go away to do something and return later, someone would've filched a few of his smokes. This was pissing him off, as it was happening fairly regularly. He devised a way to get even, though...

One evening at home he assembled his little revenge kit: First, he removed and opened up the old-fashioned, crank-handle type pencil sharpener he had on his desk, and dumped out a small pile of pencil shavings onto a sheet of paper. Next, he took a pair of scissors and Mom's eyebrow tweezers from the bathroom, and a roll of caps from my room.

For those who don't remember, or who never saw these, they were a long, rolled strip of paper with small bits of gunpowder embedded in little, regularly spaced circular patterns down the center of the paper. This rolled up paper was fitted around a small shaft inside a toy gun, and a ratchet mechanism drew the paper thru the gun so that when the hammer of the gun snapped closed on the cap, it made a snapping, popping, explosive sound. Noisy, but harmless. I played with cap guns during most of the cowboys and Indians and cops and robbers type games of my youth. I don't think they make them any more. At least I haven't seen any kids playing with them in ages...

With a tweezers, he removed an inch and a half or so of tobacco from 5 or 6 cigarettes, stuck in 4 or 5 snipped bits from the roll of caps--just those portions containing the gunpowder--and substituted about a half inch of pencil shavings for the tobacco before topping off the final  inch with the replaced cigarette tobacco and tamping it all down solidly again. The finished product looked just like a normal cigarette.

So, now he had a half dozen little Marlboro bombs. They were crafted so that whoever pinched a smoke from him would get two or three regular drags of tobacco, followed by a drag of smoldering pencil shavings-- followed by a small explosion.

He took the doctored pack to work the next day, and carefully placed it on his desk next to the ashtray and the typewriter, with the flip top open ever-so-invitingly, and made himself scarce for a little while. When he came back, sure enough-- the bait had been taken! The pack had been moved from the precise position he'd left it in, and closer examination revealed it to be missing three cigarettes.

About a half hour passed, and he noticed the fellow sitting three desks away stop typing and take the lit cigarette from his mouth and stare at it. As he watched, the guy shook his head, as if to say "No; I'm mistaken..." and put the cigarette back in his mouth, continue typing and take another deep drag. The guy coughed and squinted one eye shut as the now obviously bad taste suddenly hit him full force. He said "What the hell...?" and got no farther as the end of the cigarette simply went "POOF!" and disintegrated in his mouth, showering his desk and pants with flaming embers and leaving him with a shredded filter and ragged bits of paper between his teeth. It had worked rather better than my old man had anticipated...

The thief shrieked like Nancy Kerrigan and fell over backwards in his chair, patting furiously at himself and trying to push himself away from the flaming debris on his desk and in his lap. People everywhere in the newsroom stopped what they were doing and watched this bizarre spectacle.

My father just sat there laughing hysterically and clutching his sides. Once the rest of the office stopped gawking, and the guy picked himself up and dusted himself off, my dad went over to him, asked how he'd been enjoying the free cigarettes that month, assured the guy it was going to be the last one he ever got, and  extracted the price of a fresh carton from him by way of having him make up for the prolonged theft.

They actually managed to remain friends, and laughed about the incident for years afterwards.

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