The next morning I had a true brainstorm, and my moment of inspiration came to me in the most unexpected way. I was in the main office of my school, and Mr. Melosh, my math teacher, was making copies of an upcoming test I was just dying to get a look at. We students could not go behind the counter in the office, so there was no hope of my seeing it, but as Mr. Melosh was loading paper into the machine, some twenty feet away, I noticed something that had never struck me before. Mr. Melosh, you see, was one of those types who carefully unwrapped only one side of a ream of copy paper before pulling out the paper and putting it in the machine. In fact, he did it so neatly that I believed I could tape the end of the wrapping paper shut again to make it look like a full ream.
The usefulness of this idea will become apparent in a little while, but why had I not thought of this sooner? I loaded twenty or thirty reams a day of the same kind of paper into the offset presses I ran in the print shop. Why only now was I getting this idea?
To put it simply, anyone who runs a printing press does not tear the wrapper off a ream of paper. Rather, he bangs the corner on a hard surface like a counter or a full box of paper or even—as Ken liked to do sometimes—his head. The wrapping paper would then split, and the pressman would simply grab the exposed ream with his other hand and load it into the press.
“Mr. Melosh!” I called as I left the office, “You’re a genius!”
“I wish I could say the same for you,” he called back. Little did he know.
About seven hours later, I was in the pressroom of our shop unloading a box of ten reams of paper I opened each ream Mr. Melosh-style and immediately attracted Ken’s attention.
“Why are you opening those reams like an office copy boy?”
“Because,” I said, “I’m a genius. I wish I could say the same for you.”
He didn’t say anything back. He just went back to his press. He had a long job in process, but he looked over every few seconds to see what the heck I was up to.
Instead of using tape to reseal the empty reams, I used glue stick. I had to let them dry for a few minutes, but before long, I started loading the empty reams back into the box. Ken was really perplexed at this point.
“Ya know, it’s nice that you decide to show up after school while I’ve been working in this hole all day, but it would be even nicer if you actually helped out a little by running off a job or two once in a while!”
“Ken,” I replied, “Do you remember what we pulled off yesterday?”
“Yeah. So what? You heard what Junior said. We gotta lay of the old fella.”
“Not yet,” I said. “We have one more thing to do.”
“Nu-uh. This one’s all you, kid. And what are you gonna do with a box full of empty reams?”
A little mathematical note for the reader here. A full ream of the paper I had just emptied from its wrappers weighs five pounds. A box of ten reams weighs fifty pounds. Carrying such a box, due to its weird shape, can be an awkward affair. I picked up the box of empty reams and started fumbling about as if it were full.
“Holy smoke!” said Ken. “I think I know what you’re up to.”
I positioned my hands on either side of the box so as to be able to flip the lid off the box with my thumbs. Within a few minutes, I was satisfied that I would be able to do what I had in mind.
“Junior out front?” I asked.
Ken walked over to where he could see better. “No,” he said, “He must’ve gone next door to Eddie’s.”
“All right,” I said. “Shut down your press and grab a full box. You go out first, and just play along.” Without asking a single question, Ken obeyed.
Ken took the liberty of adding a twist I would not have thought of. Instead of walking past the shelving by the platemaker to approach Joe Senior from behind and to the left as I had envisioned, Ken went to the far side of the pressroom and made a right behind the shelves of paper that acted as a barrier between the pressroom and the wrapping station where we packaged a lot of our jobs. The advantage here was that we could approach Joe at his light table from his direct left.
Now, imagine the poor old fellow sitting on his stool, his face periodically twitching, his hand smoothing his hair every half-minute or so, most of his conscious mind engrossed in his work at a table of glass—glass that would shatter into deadly shards if fifty pounds of paper were to land on it—and imagine him looking up from his work to ask Ken, who came out first, why he was carrying a heavy box of paper out to the front door of the shop.
“Uh—wrong color, Joe,” was Ken’s reply. As he turned the sharp corner toward the front door, there was nothing between me and Joe Senior at his fragile light table except what he believed was a fifty-pound box of paper, and I was not carrying it steadily at all. A look of worry came over his face.
Just then, it seemed to Joe Senior as if my foot had caught on something. Then I flicked my thumbs. As the lid flew off the box, I acted as if I had tripped, and I lunged forward with the box. The next several seconds appeared to occur in slow motion.
What Joe believed to be ten reams of paper flew gloriously, gracefully out of the box toward Joe at his light table. His body turned to face the oncoming, deadly torrent of ruthless reams, though he instinctively pushed himself back on his stool, landing with his back against the wall and his arms spread out to his sides. His face contorted into a look of ghastly horror, both eyes cramping shut in anticipation of the disaster, and he cried out in anguish as ten empty reams landed harmlessly on him, his light table, and on the floor in front of me.
In a moment, I was on the floor, too, doubled over in a fit of hysterical laughter. According to Ken, Joe opened one eye, saw that he was okay, and breathed heavily for some time with one hand on his chest and another on his forehead. He then picked up an empty ream and crushed it in his hand. As the joke sank in, he crumpled it up and walked over to where I was rolling around on the floor, suffocating in my hilarity. He slam-dunked the crumpled wrapper on my head, and started bellowing:
“That’s it! You hear me, you vicious little…? As soon as Joe gets back, we’re gonna can you like a tuna and you’ll just see if you ever set foot in this shop again! You think I’m joking? I swear I’m gonna…”
He put his hand on his chest again.
Thank goodness Ken was right in the doorway as Joe Junior, who must have heard the commotion, came back from next door. Ken kept Junior outside long enough to explain the whole gag, and when Ken was finished, the two of them were laughing as hard as I was. This got Senior going again, and he was soon cursing all three of us. And the more he hollered, the funnier it all seemed. We couldn’t calm down until the poor man stormed out of the shop, enraged beyond the capacity of any further speech.
The story should end here, but literary convention, and the story as it actually occurred, require more. Some ninety minutes later, I was doing the first profitable work I had done since the previous afternoon. I had recovered from my laughing fit, received a not-so-convincing lecture from Joe Junior about how next time there would really be trouble, and started the press on a run of five thousand flyers, using, incidentally, the paper I had taken out of all of those wrappers in order to play my joke in the first place. Suddenly Joe Senior appeared in an opening between walls of shelving, apparently shouting and holding a ream of paper over his head. I couldn’t hear what he was saying, so I shut down the press.
“Is this another one?” He shouted. “Another one of your phony reams? I’ve had it with you and your stupid practical jokes!” And at this moment, he flung the ream, frisby-style, toward me on the other side of the pressroom.
I didn’t even bother to move. After all, Joe was screaming about finding a fake ream of paper. Why move?
When the ream was about two feet from my head, however, I had the sudden thought that it was moving rather fast for an empty ream thrown from fifteen feet away. Alas, there was no time for another thought after that, nor was there time to try to evade the projectile. In an instant, all went blank.
The next thing I remember was lying on the floor with my hand on my eye. Man, it hurt! Ken came out of the darkroom, and his jaw nearly hit the floor. Joe Junior had even rushed in to see what had happened. My mind was a bit foggy for a moment, but before long, it all came back to me: Joe Senior had thrown a five-pound ream of paper—it might as well have been a brick—from all the way across the pressroom and hit me squarely in the left eye. It was justice. I was at peace with it: an eye for a near heart attack.
Joe Senior, however, is one of those snatch-defeat-from-the-jaws-of-victory kind of guys. Instantly, all three men were at my side, Joe Senior taking my right hand, slapping it, and asking me if I could hear him.
“Are you okay?” He cried.
Was I okay? He finally had his revenge, and he was asking me if I was okay? Could this be true? Now, could I possibly let this go?
“Oh!” I moaned, “Oh! I can’t see.”
“Can’t see! Oh, my God! He can’t see! Ken go get some water!”
“I’m blinded! Oh!”
Senior tried pulling me to my feet, but I slumped like a corpse.
“Joe!” he called to his son, “Call 9-1-1!”
Then I sat up. I looked Joe Senior in the eye and winked. The concern in his face melted into a scowl, as he let go of my hand and stomped out of the pressroom.
“No-good, vicious little…”