So, when a new manager, Andrew, transferred to our office, I decided he would be my new friend.
Making a new friend as a male in your forties is not an easy to thing to do, especially when most of your social skills involve typing, but I threw all my charm at the problem, meaning that I mocked Andrew mercilessly and got him drunk regularly. That pretty much did the trick. I was very proud of my new friendship.
One of the things I learned about Andrew early on was that he was working on a collection. He was trying to construct a complete deck of playing cards entirely out of cards he'd find on the ground. This sounded absurd to me. Think about the last time you can across a playing card sitting on the ground somewhere. Was it perhaps never? Sounds about right. Now imagine finding 52 different ones to make a complete deck. Heck, I'll even give you a head start. Imagine you have 51 of them and all you need is the exact right card to complete your deck? How long will that take you? Perhaps forever? Sounds about right.
I couldn't get this out of my head. I imagined he'd probably got so excited each time he stumbled across a card somewhere. I realized it was probably crushing to occasionally realize that he already had that particular card.
This is about when the light bulb went off in my head.
What if I manipulated this? What if I discreetly left cards for him to find out in the world, but it was always the exact same card, over and over and over. This would drive him nuts! I love friendship!
I scoured our house the next day, digging through all the game drawers, and finding about a dozen old decks of cards: regular decks, Winnie the Pooh decks, corporate-branded decks, etc. I pulled the Two of Clubs out from each deck and tossed the other 51 cards. I smiled fiendishly at my dozen cards and made sure to always have one in my back pocket.
From then on, every couple weeks, I'd drop a Two of Clubs somewhere I thought he might find it. I dropped them in bars and restaurants we'd attend. I'd leave them occasionally laying around the office, and a few in the neighborhood. I tried to be somewhere else by the time he found them.
Soon, I was buying packs of dozens of decks of used cards from mixed casinos. I'd distress each Two of Clubs in a different way to give it some charm and history, using a combination of folds, markers, rips, and fire. I carried them with me constantly and left them in any place I knew he'd show up soon, including hotel lobbies, Ubers, baseball games, our local haunts, and sometimes right in his jacket pocket. I enlisted my friend, Leonarda, to leave cards in places where I'd never be so that they didn't all have me in common.
I did this for four years. In those four years, I saw him pick up one or two of those cards, but by and large I made myself scarce shortly after dropping the cards. I really had no idea if he was finding any of those cards, or maybe even worse, had already figured out what I was doing.
So when I gave notice at my job, I realized I needed to wrap it up soon. That day I invited him to meet me at our local bar, and on my way there ahead of him, as I had done many times before, I placed a couple of Two of Clubs. One of them I left sticking absurdly ramrod-straight out of the top of an eye-level shrub.
Andrew strolled into the bar about 15 minutes later. He held one of the cards in his hands.
Me: Hey there. What's with the card?
Andrew: I found it on the way over here.
Me: Oh, that's right! You've got that card collection thing!
Andrew: Yeah, and what's weird is that I've found quite a few cards outside this place, and they're always the same card, the two of clubs
Me: What? That's weird. How can that be?
Andrew: I think I figured it out. I think the parking valets from the restaurant are using them for their parking system.
Me: Ohhh, that totally makes sense.
Of course this did not make sense. If you're a parking valet and are trying to keep track of different cars? Would you use identical cards to do so? Answer: you would not.
More importantly, Andrew HAD been finding my cards! And he had no clue that it was me. This was a glorious day. Now I just needed to find a way to bring this to an appropriate close.
The next day I called our mutual friend, Rand, who had been friends with Andrew for over a decade. I needed his help planning the grand finale.
Me: Are you familiar with Andrew's ridiculous card collection?
Rand: Of course!
Me: Ok, I need your help. Here's the scoop. For four years now...
And I laid it all out.
Rand and I batted a few ideas around. We decided an appropriate ending would be to gather our friends, and then utilize Rand's impressive card trick skills. I would buy 50 identical decks and would construct a deck completely of two of clubs. Rand's trick would end with me revealing the deck, showing how I had been surrounding him with twos of clubs.
A week later we made plans to grab a drink after work at our usual bar. Rand, Leonarda, and I were prepared. No one else knew a thing.
After we all had a cocktail in front of us, Rand kicked things off by asking if anyone wanted to see his newest card trick. He pulled out a normal deck, fanned it out for Andrew to see, and then performed some trick that was pretty good. Then, unbeknownst to Andrew, he swapped the deck for our deck consisting of all Two of Clubs, and asked Andrew to pick a card, any card.
Andrew of course chose the Two of Clubs, and chuckled to himself. He placed the card back in the middle of the fake deck, and Rand then magically "found" his two of clubs. Andrew was impressed.
Leonarda followed this up by offering to do a trick of her own, starting with asking Andrew to select a card. He picked, surprise surprise, the Two of Clubs. Leonarda then performed a byzantine set of cuts and swaps while furiously trying to throw cards under the table to Rand. The trick ended with Rand pulling the Two of Clubs out of his shirt pocket. Andrew was impressed again.
I then said I had one more trick and asked Andrew, one more time, to choose a card from the deck. Bafflingly (at least to him and half the people at the table), he chose the Two of Clubs again. There was no sign of recognition in his eyes. I did some lame trick and ended by displaying that I had found his Two of Clubs. And another Two of Clubs, and another. And the whole deck was Two of Clubs.
Andrew stared at me ununderstandly. He knew something was going on, but had no idea what it was.
"Andrew," I said, "For four years now..."
And I laid it all out. Four years of cards in bars, conference rooms, and baseball games, across multiple cities. Four years of Two of Clubs.
His eyes bugged out.
Andrew: Wait, that card in the hotel lobby in Portland...?
Me: That was me.
Andrew: The card in the Uber?
Me: That was me too.
Andrew: Did you leave the one in the alley on the way over here? I picked it up and then threw it back down in disgust when I saw it was the two of clubs.
Me: Of course that was me. They were all me, Andrew.
Andrew literally curled up into the fetal position in the booth. He was stunned. He was stunned that even after finding dozens of improbable two of clubs, he had made ridiculous theories to explain them away. Occam was nowhere to be found.
We all toasted and celebrated the long con. It remains one of my favorite times.
I got an email from Andrew the next day. He explained that when you're a kid, sometimes there are events that surprise you so much, they open your eyes and rewrite your understanding of the world, like when you find out about the tooth fairy. He said those things never happen as an adult, but that I had brought back that childlike wonder to him for an evening.
I like that a lot. Sure sounds a lot more lofty than what I thought I was doing.
I hope he completes that deck. It really is an amazing collection.