h2>Dating : THE GREAT PUMPKIN HEIST
by Mark Oshinskie
I like a good prank: seeing one and, even better, pulling one. I’ve even admired a few played on me, even if I didn’t like the actual experience.
I used to work in a law office with about 100 people on my floor. There was a table next to the photocopier on which the coffee maker rested. People would place on the table doughnuts, bagels and outdated, unappealing mass-produced desserts that they wanted to clear from their houses so these snacks would fatten other people instead. How thoughtful.
In mid-October, a supervisory attorney bought a massive pumpkin, brought it to the office and put it on the coffee/junk food table. It was almost spherical, over three feet in diameter, so broad that it was hard to get your arms around it. I hefted The Pumpkin and estimated that it weighed at least 75 pounds.
The Pumpkin and the orange-frosted Dunkin Donuts enabled employees to celebrate Halloween in style. Predictably, in the days that followed, people placed much unwanted surplus candy alongside The Pumpkin: Candy Corn, Raisinets and various forms of unlabeled, artificially colored, crystalline sugar.
The Pumpkin still looked fine at Thanksgiving. And not yet out of place or date. Orange. Autumnal. Solid.
As Christmas approached, someone brought in a Santa Claus hat and a cotton beard to adapt the surprisingly durable Pumpkin to the season. As people hosted weekend pre-Christmas parties, they re-gifted unwanted, pasty, bland sugar cookies with green and red sprinkles, gingerbread men and fruitcakes by putting them next to The Santa Pumpkin. Snackers ate even the fruitcake. Right after Christmas, more similarly bad snacks were divested on the table. The Pumpkin suffered no seasonal compression.
I thought The Pumpkin might turn to mush early in the New Year. But January passed. As did February. The Pumpkin had some paper hearts taped to it around Valentine’s Day but revealed no loss of tone. Somehow, no one thought to decorate it with a black top hat and beard for Lincoln’s Birthday.
The Pumpkin was still had a healthy glow. It was aging better than some of us were. Perhaps not surprising, as it wasn’t eating daily bagels or coffee cakes. I envisioned an infomercial where the merchant would claim that a substance first derived from some massive ancient Incan pumpkin would make your skin look ten years younger.
In March, people predictably began to bring in junky, green, flab-building snacks as some weak sort of tribute to the Irish. It has never been clear to me why St. Patrick’s Day gets special attention. And I’m part Irish. Regardless, someone put a goofy leprechaun hat and a little beard on The Pumpkin for St. Patrick’s Day. The Pumpkin remained round and firm. I wondered if there was some gimmickry going on, if some magic substance had been injected or topically applied. I started thinking about taxidermy. Mummies. Lenin’s Mausoleum.
Of course, in early April, someone fastened bunny ears to The Pumpkin. After Easter, stale Marshmallow Peeps were delivered to the table. Some connoisseurs maintained they tasted better that way.
American holiday celebrations have become bland, interchangeable and uninteresting. A few unoffensive symbols and official colors are displayed. People gather and eat too much, typically sugary and starchy, food while they talk about celebrities, sports or medical tests. Mostly, there is commercial opportunism; stores sell holiday trinkets and cards with sappy poems, and put their overstocked inventory on sale. There’s very little substantive story-telling, re-enactment, meaningful discussion, reflection, song or dance.
No matter. The important thing was that The Pumpkin still looked good. Though by now, its longevity was getting creepy.
Even though the building is climate controlled, the table on which The Pumpkin rested adjoined a southwest facing window. I thought the summer heat and sun might break The Pumpkin down, especially on weekends, when the air conditioning is throttled back.
But the summer had no obvious effect. The Pumpkin was becoming the Elephant in the Room. When I noted, to a colleague, how long The Pumpkin had lasted, he replied, “I know, it’s weird. It’s also weird about how people dress it up. I’m worried that if it lasts much longer, people will start to worship it!”
Autumn came again. The Pumpkin defiantly sat tall. As Halloween approached, I thought, “Something needs to be done.”
I had an idea.
The night before Halloween, using canned pumpkin, I baked two pumpkin pies. I also explored my closet and pulled out a pair of old, expendable dress shoes and dress slacks. I got up for work two hours early, dressed casually and arrived in the office at 7 AM. The coast was clear.
First, I took my expendable shoes and slacks to the men’s room. Then I went to the coffee table and, lifting with my legs and not my back, hoisted The Pumpkin. I quickly waddled down the hallway with it. Twice setting it down so I could rest, I toted it to the men’s room about 75 yards away. I saw no one.
And no one saw me as I nudged open the men’s room door. Once inside, I opened one of the steel stall doors. The stall enclosure started about 18 inches off the floor and reached nearly six feet high. I balanced the pumpkin on the toilet seat. I then placed the shoes on the floor and set the crinkled pants legs atop the shoes, to make it appear that someone was excreting last night’s dinner. Thereafter, I latched the enclosure from the inside of the stall. I crawled under enclosure’s locked door and exited the bathroom.
I returned to my office and fetched the two pumpkin pies. I brought them to The Pumpkin’s prior location. Next to the pies, I left a note, saying only “I’m History!” I had drawn a frowny face below the message.
I returned to my office, changed into my work clothes and began to work. It was about 7:05.
People started to trickle in around 8 AM. When a quorum of employees had arrived, a perceptible buzz grew in the hallways.
“The pumpkin’s gone!”
“It was there last night when I left at 6:30.”
“I was here until 7.”
“Is it in behind some file cabinet?!”
People were excited and motivated. The search was on.
But as I worked on a brief, no one could find The Pumpkin.
Around 10:30, I was in a colleague, John Stanton’s, office discussing a case. I mean a real case, not the Case of the Missing Pumpkin. John had a reputation as a wiseass. Two of our colleagues came to his door and blurted out to John, “You did it! I know it was you.”
John smiled like the cat that ate the canary. He said, “Maybe I did. And maybe I didn’t.”
John was playing it to the hilt. It was very funny to watch, especially because he didn’t know that it was me who had made The Pumpkin disappear. John only knew that he hadn’t done so, and was clearly pleased that people would think to blame him. He did nothing to discourage that suspicion.
“What did you do with it?” they demanded to know. The Pumpkin was sufficiently large that every one of few plausible hiding places had already been plumbed.
Joh smiled again and said, “Who was that guy who cut up all those people in Wisconsin? Jeffrey Dahmer? I Dahmer-ized it!”
We both laughed out loud. I had to give John credit. He was spontaneously going to Level 2.
The exasperated ersatz detectives departed to pursue other leads. John and I finished our business. On the way back to my office, I could hear the secretaries still talking about The Pumpkin like they did about some other, darker, more common office drama, like who had crashed the computer system for two weeks by going on an unauthorized, virused website or who had used a key to scratch a colleague’s new car in the parking lot before being found out by a security camera, and fired. I know but I’m not saying.
But The Pumpkin Heist was far more amusing. Walking down the hall, I saw Sherita, a young, new paralegal, exclaim, with a big smile, and to no one in particular, “This is a FUN place to work!”
I felt good about helping Sherita to like her new job.
Halloween day came and went and The Pumpkin was still hidden, almost in plain sight. I went to the bathroom several times that day and saw the shoes and pants still on the floor, as if someone was just taking a very long time in there. Like maybe they had eaten too many orange-frosted doughnuts.
Two days later, The Pumpkin was found. I guess the janitor figured out that something wasn’t right. The Pumpkin was returned to the coffee table, with a paper tablecloth beneath it. I hope it was cleaned first.
Shortly after its second Christmas, The Pumpkin began to collapse. The end was stunningly swift, but peaceful. Scores of admirers filed by to pay their respects. I didn’t see anyone kiss The Pumpkin, though I heard it was composted with full environmental honors.
In the two decades that followed, I never told anyone in the office that I was responsible for PumpkinGate. I knew I might want to pull other pranks and didn’t want to be suspected of those based on The Pumpkin’s disappearance. I also didn’t want someone else to pull a future prank that someone would find offensive and have me unjustly found guilty because of my prank history.
Did I end up pulling more pranks?
Well, maybe I did. And maybe I didn’t.