Wednesday, April 8, 2009

What I Do Instead of Working

By Josh Cain * Other Josh Cain Posts

Before my current job, I worked for a clothing retailer that had a huge back office in Mumbai, India. One of their innovative ideas was to send a bunch of kids who had just graduated from Ivy league universities and unleash them upon our Indian co-workers with a gleam in their eye and the words “process engineering” on their lips. I was one of those kids. Several promising youths, myself included, were shipped off to India for six months and placed in houses together, despite being mostly unfamiliar with one another. We were each given instructions to “make India work better” and told little else. This meant that I had free reign to do pretty much whatever I wanted and, industrious fellow that I am, I soon found myself arranging a beach vacation to Goa for all of my fellow ex-pats.

I wrote an e-mail to everyone explaining the itinerary of our trip and, applying my usual attention to detail, managed to search the company directory and include “Michael Bergman” on the list of recipients instead of my new roommate, “Michael Bernstein.” Pretty much everyone on the list noticed my mistake and, as good recent acquaintances would, made sure to let me know it. We all had a good laugh.

Since I couldn’t get my video games working in the foreign sockets, I decided to amuse myself by “accidentally” including Michael Bergman the next time I sent out a group e-mail. You could send fake e-mails to people by switching the “I” and “l” in the e-mail address because they looked identical in our e-mail client. The result was you could give the appearance of e-mailing someone (e.g. Michaei Bergman) but in reality the e-mail would be undelivered, although anyone else on the message would think the fake person had gotten it.

Employing this technique, I again “e-mailed” Bergman instead of Bernstein on a group message, resulting in responses similar to those from my first, although with a slightly more exasperated tone. My other roommate, Conrad, had the most notable increase in irritation in his response. He somehow managed to make the standard “I can’t believe I’m wasting my time communicating with you” tone of his e-mails even more terse. Unlike our roomie Mike, with whom I had spent considerable time outside of work, Conrad and I were acquaintances at best when we moved into our Mumbai apartment. Where I was an expendable person sent overseas because I didn’t do anything essential in the US, Conrad was actually important. Despite his youth he was managing a department and had been ordered to go overseas as part of his steady climb up the corporate ladder. Hard working, tight-lipped, and commanding, if the company were the court of a medieval king, he would be a knight to my court jester. I tried to make friends, but he had spent most of his free time with his girlfriend, Mary, who was also in India with us. Thus, given our lack of familiarity and my generally clownish demeanor, it was perfectly reasonable for him to believe that I was actually stupid enough to accidentally e-mail Michael Bergman our vacation plans twice.

Curious to see people’s reactions (Conrad’s in particular), and still having time on my hands, I continued to send e-mails about the trip and somehow “accidentally” include Mike Bergman on every one. The other people on the list eventually stopped commenting on my error, but Conrad never managed to disappoint. He responded to my e-mails like clockwork, always within about five minutes with a message informing me that, despite his previous warnings, I had again managed to include Mike Bergman on the e-mail and that Bergman was probably getting really confused. His responses demonstrated an impressive mastery of the language, managing to remain brief and professional while simultaneously escalating in their tone of disgust and the simplicity of their wording (presumably his opinion of me lowered with each e-mail and this was his attempt to communicate in terms I would understand). After the fourth or fifth message I decided that Conrad’s responses were now funnier than my original joke, so I shifted my focus. I told everyone but Conrad what I was doing and asked them to play along.

With my new plan in mind, I began to invent reasons to e-mail the group, just so I could include Mike Bergman. Conrad never wavered in his responses and eventually brought it up in person. Slightly unsettled by Conrad’s narrowed eyes and disdainfully curled lip, I managed to laugh it off and flippantly tell him that I “type really fast” and promised to be more careful in the future. A half hour later I sent another Bergman e-mail.

Soon after my last message to “Bergman” I got a call from Mary. “Conrad’s really angry about the whole Bergman thing. I just got off a call with him where all he did was rant to me about it. I told him that I was as shocked as he was that anyone could be so careless.” Delighted at the turn of events, I asked for some more details. “Well,… He said that your behavior really calls his faith in your ability to do your job into question… He also said a few other things I think it’s best that I not repeat.”

I realized that I was running the risk of ruining my relationship with a colleague and roommate. The prudent thing to do was clearly to stop, explain myself, and request forgiveness. Instead I composed an e-mail directed to Mike Bergman himself. When I sent this e-mail I made sure to Bcc all of the people who had been on the previous Bergman e-mails, especially Conrad. Again, it’s worth re-stating that Bergman NEVER got any e-mails beyond the first one I sent him accidentally. Fortunately Conrad didn’t know that when he read the below:

From: Cain, Joshua
To: Bergman, Michael

Bcc: Argos, Conrad; Bernstein, Michael; Papadapolous, Mary; Brithomo, Arminder; Rouge, Tiara

Subject: Come hang out!

Mr. Bergman,

I apologize for the barrage of e-mails you've been receiving from me about my impending trip to Goa. Unfortunately for you, your name shares many letters with my friend Mike Bernstein, who has been the intended recipient of the aforementioned onslaught. I feel that, having given you insight into our impending Bacchic revels, I would be remiss if I did not invite you to join the festivities. We will be in Goa for the weekend and, if you are available, I highly encourage you to grab a plane ticket and head over here. We'll be happy to hang out with you, take you to the beach, and try to get you laid by one of the many hot Goan gals who roam the streets looking for someone to be their Berg-Man. Also, the other Michael is a serious lush and he has already challenged you to a case race to determine who truly deserves to hold the mantle of the name Mike B.

Hope to see you on Saturday,


Joshua Cain • Assistant to the COO
21 Bay Yard Road • Lincoln Gulf, NY 12402

While ostensibly reviewing a process flow to determine a way to make our supply chain more efficient, I peered over my monitor, scanning the office for any reaction to my e-mail. I was hoping for people to come congratulate me or Conrad to arrive in a fury, but I was disappointed. My friends later told me they were amused, while Conrad muttered under his breath that he “didn’t think it was very funny.” Other than that, not much happened.

Feeling that the potential had not been reached, and also because I had nothing better to do, I decided to kick it up a notch. Spending a good amount of time which otherwise would have been spent doing my job, I crafted an e-mail to myself from a fictitious and irate Mike Bergman. Bergman was a store manager somewhere in the Midwest, so I researched his store number and contact information, which I included in his e-mail signature. Store managers aren’t known for the quality of their e-mails, so I intentionally misspelled a few words. I even went so far as to include a sappy motivational quote, which is easily my favorite part of this whole e-mail, although I’m occasionally wracked with doubt as to whether I should have gone with “The best angle to approach any problem is the TRY-angle.” Once the exquisite forgery was complete, I forwarded it to the group but, WHOOPS, included “Mike Bergman” by mistake. You can imagine Conrad’s reaction when he saw this in his inbox:

From: Cain, Joshua
To: Argos, Conrad; Bergman, Michael; Papadapolous, Mary; Brithomo, Arminder; Rouge, Tiara

Subject Fw: Come hang out!

Hahaha, check this out! Who knew Mike Bergman was such a douche?

Joshua Cain • Assistant to the COO

21 Bay Yard Road • Lincoln Gulf, NY 12402

----- Forwarded by Joshua Cain-----

From: Bergman, Michael
To: Cain, Joshua

Subject: Re: Come hang out!

Mr. Cain,

I can tell that your trying to be funny with this email but I really don't appreciate being harrassed like this. I am a happily married man and don't want anythign to do with your juvenile behavior. If you cc me on another email I will report you to HR.

Are you really the kind of person we have working for our COO!?!

Michael Bergman
Manager - Store 67
Office: (534) 441-0340

"T.E.A.M. - Together Everyone Achieves More"

I sent the e-mail and sat there, waiting. After less than his traditional five minutes I got a frantic message from Conrad, who had e-mailed everyone announcing that I had accidentally e-mailed Mike Bergman (AGAIN!) and we were all in serious trouble. He suggested calling the head of HR immediately (which would have been 4 am for the HR director) and possibly contacting Mike Bergman to apologize in case HR couldn’t get IT to remove the e-mail before he saw it. As I read this message, I heard fellow e-mail recipient, Arminder, laughing hysterically from across the room. I turned around and saw her get up, stride across the room, and gave me a running high-five. I soon got calls from all of the other people involved, congratulating me. This was the response I had been hoping for. For the first time, I felt like I had really made an impact at work.

Reveling in my victory, it wasn’t long before I started plotting my next move. My brilliant scheming was soon interrupted, however, by a concerned call from Conrad’s girlfriend. Despite my assurances that I would handle things, for some reason he didn’t seem to have much faith in my abilities and was planning to call the head of HR and Mike Bergman directly to exonerate himself. I briefly entertained the notion of bringing the head of HR in on the joke, but realized that had enough risks associated with it that it was best to pull the plug.

If I was going to end it, though, it had to be in style.

I told my accomplices the plan and then called an “emergency meeting” to discuss how we were going to deal with the situation. As we gathered everyone was appropriately solemn, although no one managed to match Conrad’s scowl. Pacing as Patton would, I outlined my plan:

“Ok, so I think I know how to deal with this issue. I work for the COO, so what I’m going to do is fake an e-mail from Mike Bergman to me saying all kinds of nasty stuff. Then I’ll forward it to my boss and try to get Bergman fired before he ever has a chance to read his e-mail! What do you guys think?”

Conrad’s expression could only be described as “pure disgust.”

“You’re just digging yourself in deeper, dude. That’s never going to work.” He said, obviously trying to contain himself.

“No, it’s a great idea,” I retorted. “You see, the trick is to switch the “L” with the “I” in his name so that it looks like it’s from him, but really it’s a fake e-mail address. A lot of people would fall for that trick.”

“Yeah, a LOT of people,” echoed Conrad’s girlfriend, starting to smile.

“Oh yeah, people fall for that one all the time,” continued Arminder, also smiling and looking pointedly at Conrad.

I watched intently as Conrad slowly surveyed the circle of smiling faces, his furious scowl turning to a look of dawning comprehension before quickly being replaced with a mixed expression of rage and embarrassment.

“I’ll get you for this, Cain,” he muttered, storming off.

You might think that it would be hard to recover from something like that to actually befriend someone. But, despite this rocky start to our relationship, Conrad and I ultimately became close friends. Turns out that once you got him out of the office and put a few beers in him he was an awesome guy. It took a few months, but he was even eventually able to look back on my little prank and laugh.

Whenever I brought it up he would always threaten revenge, although I didn’t think he’d ever made good on it. I have to admit, though, that at times I had misgivings about playing such an elaborate prank on someone I shared a house with. For example, I couldn’t help being a little suspicious when one day I awoke from a nap on the couch to see Conrad standing near me. “How was your nap?” he nonchalantly inquired as he walked into his room, a slight smirk seeming to imperceptibly flit across his face. I told him it was fine but, in the back of my mind, couldn’t help but thinking that my mouth tasted, ever so faintly, of balls.


  1. Josh, that story is hilarious! I love stories of work shenanigans. Now you need to find some way to put your talents to good use, instead of tormenting your co-workers! (not that I have anything against that)

    Hope to see you soon!


  2. Holy shazbot... Mr. Cain your comedic skills are apparently greater than I ever knew. I shall have to be on guard from now on!

    ~Greg T.

  3. Hilarious! I've pulled a prank or two on people through email, but I really appreciate the planning you had in yours after accident turned into hilarity!

    well done


  4. well done good sir, well done . . .

  5. Every time I read this I laugh so hard.