Last night, I received a map of the world for my thirty-third birthday, and it was the most extraordinary gift I ever received. Even now, I am still coming to terms with the whole story. Do you want to know why? Then read on. What follows is the story of a prank that spans over eighteen months, involved the participation of dozens of people and contributed to hours of discussion. As for me, it simply represents one of these moments in a lifetime that you know you will remember for years.
But first, we need to take a little trip back in time...
In the beginning
About a year ago, in February 2001, I received a birthday card in the mail. I wasn't exactly surprised by this, even though my birthday was about a month old (January 2nd). This birthday card had been sent from a place in America which was not San Francisco (sorry, I can't remember where) but its most startling particularity was in the sender. Or lack thereof.
The card was anonymous.
I flipped it over several times, double checked the envelope and the handwriting, but to no avail: I couldn't find any indication of who the mysterious sender was. Thinking it was a simple oversight and that I would probably never know, I threw the card away. If I had only known...
Two weeks later, another anonymous birthday card showed up. The writing was the same one, it was postmarked from another place in America, but then again, held no signature and no hint. In the coming month, four of these cards landed in my mailbox, and I was seriously beginning to think that there was more to it than met the eye. And then, a recollection struck me.
Moving further into the dark
At my previous company, my coworkers had developed a strange habit. As we tended to hang out a lot and go out as a group, one of them (Martin I believe) found it funny to tell the restaurant that it was my birthday. From that day on, it became a tradition to celebrate my birthday on any day of the year as long as it's not January 2nd.
After our project disbanded, the little group scattered away and the tradition stopped. But this series of incident brought it back to my memory. Two people immediately came to mind: Elliot and Marcus, whom I used to work with in this project and was still seing on a regular basis. Of course, a cursory interrogation revealed nothing but I kept them on my short list of suspects, along with Martin. Marcus and Elliot are known to pull this kind of prank, and be pretty good at it, as I can testify (I will save the "Propecia prank" for another time).
Time passed, and more and more cards arrived, at the approximate pace of three a month. Half of them came from America and the other half, from the rest of the world: Moscow, Australia, Kenya, Ireland, South Africa, Antarctica, Hong-Kong, South America, etc... At this point, I was no longer throwing the cards away. I religiously stored them after a quick, but always fruitless, analysis.
Card Scene Investigation
Of course, I did my best to get as much information from the cards themselves as I could.
The handwriting on the card was rigorously the same for all of them but two. One of these anomalies was written with a typo on my first name and the other one is the card from Hong Kong. This card shares a characteristic with another one: unlike all the others, it was not written by the Master Mind but really by a resident.
But let's get back to the card themselves, because they do reveal something. I noticed that the sevens were crossed. This is very unusual for any native English speaker. Whether it be America, Great Britain or Australia, natives of these countries usually don't cross their sevens. This reinforced my conviction that the Master Mind could be of French influence, something that of the three suspects on my short list, only Martin matched. But still, it wasn't enough for me to discard the other two since they could definitely have altered their writing to throw me off. And even do so consistently over more than fifty cards and a one year period.
The birthday cards themselves were fairly random. I don't think the Master Mind was trying to communicate some kind of message, or if he/she did, I never made sense of it. I noticed that most of these cards were from Hallmark, which pointed me toward an American perpetrator. Granted, it wasn't such a clue but when the Master Mind caught wind of this remark, they slightly changed their tactics and started buying cards from more varied origins (a clue I failed to pick up).
After a while, I would only pay a very cursory attention to the cards themselves and simply stocked them up with the others, hoping I would one day find the key to this riddle.
Advance to the present time. In the week that followed my birthday in 2002, nothing new happened, to my great disappointment. I did receive two more cards during this period but the place they were sent from (Mexico and America) ruled out any kind of planning. Besides, none of them differentiated itself from the others.
And then we reach Friday, January 25th, 2002.
I was supposed to play a game of broom ball on that night (in case you don't know, this game is played in an ice rink with sneakers, brooms and a lot of padding). Elliot picked me up at 7:45 and we headed for the ice rink.
Well, not quite. He tells me he first needed to get his gear from a friend's place. We chat on the way there and I notice that this friend must be living very close to Melissa's, a common friend of Elliot's and myself. I decide to wait in the car but as Elliot is headed for the house, he seems to change his mind and tells me to join him.
I follow him up to Melissa's place, still not really paying much attention to what's going on and next thing I know, I'm in a room filled by about thirty very familiar faces. I am quickly hustled inside, unable to utter a simple word. Some people who know me really well told me they had never seen me so shocked. Shocked doesn't even begin to describe my state of mind at that moment.
As I grab a cup, Kim tells me they have a gift for me. She hands me a long cylindrical wrapped object, which is obviously a map of some sort. I unfold the document on the floor and my heart starts pounding as I am finally realizing that in front of me lies the answer to the riddle that has been puzzling me for over a year now.
The plastic map features about forty numbered stickers representing the locations where the postcards were sent from. Along, I receive two sheets of paper with a summary of the people who were involved in the year-long scam and the locations. Some of these cards were sent and never arrived and others were never sent at all.
But the question still remains... Who came up with this scheme? Who could have not only the prankster mind to conceive such a devilish plan but most of all, the resilience to carry it out through a full year?
A girl of course :-)
The Master Mind is none other than Kim. From there, it's easy to piece everything up. Kim has been to enough "Coolcats Events" to know about the tradition and if I had even considered her, she would probably have struck me as able to come up with such an incredible scam. But the thing is... she never even entered my radar.
If you think about it, it's not very hard to accomplish this kind of feat. All you need is to keep your ears open and ask whoever you hear mentions they are traveling abroad to post a card for you.
Just because it's materially easy doesn't mean everybody can do it. I am still so impressed that Kim was able to plot and sustain this idea for a year that words fail me just when I think about it.
Throughout the surprise party, I managed to collect more pieces of evidence and a series of events and recollections started forming in my mind. I had been taken on quite a trip, indeed. Here are some random events that have happened over this past year:
Well, there are a lot of people to credit for this fabulous prank, so my apologies if I forget some...
One thing for sure: my next birthdays are going to look very dull from now on...
February 4th, 2002