The Fastest Thing

I remember a joke of when I was younger. With younger, I mean really young. I don’t remember how old but like, maybe 10? It was definitely in elementary school, that I remember. We used to think we were so cool, my friends and I, telling dirty, “adult” jokes. The premise was simple, a school with kids, just like us, and the teacher asks a question. What is the fastest thing in the universe? Weird question to ask a bunch of eight to ten year olds, when you think about it, but jokes have little logic I guess.

Frank had always been an asshole. He is the kind of smug and wise cracking co-worker that loves to dish it out but takes it terribly when someone goes after him. He is the kind of opportunistic boot licker that always agrees with the boss even when everyone thinks they’re wrong. Frank has been known to cut people off in meetings, but even worse, to steal ideas from others and take full credit for them. He is also bad at taking blame, even when his actions are directly tied to a poor performing project. Worse, he is the office’s resident prankster. And not a good one. God, Frank is such an asshole.

I knew a lot of jokes growing up, the dirtier the better. My friends and I were a bit of a misfit group, humor was the only thing that glued us together. And it was definitively that kind of low-brow humor that we shared, the Adam Sandler in his forties type of humor. There was this classic three act set-up I loved when I was a little kid. The set-up is: authority figure (usually a teacher) asks a question. Act 1 – the teacher’s pet answers the question with what could be the right answer. Act 2 – another smart kid answers with a more creative, equally likely to be right answer. Act 3 – Pepe answers the question. I don’t know why, but the name of the third kid was always Pepe, or “Pepito” as we used to call him. Sometimes the answer itself was the punchline, other times it required an explanation. Either way, Pepe would give an unrelated, clearly wrong, and so despicably crude answer that people would burst out laughing out of sheer shock. We used to think we were such bad asses, all the way back in grade school.

I always got along well with everyone at work. I am a bit of an introvert and kind of shy, so it’s not like everyone’s best friend, but I get along just fine. I am most comfortable at happy hours, tie undone and a cold beer in my hand. Not too many beers though, I was never much of a party person. I enjoy the casual conversations, telling blue jokes and such. The people I work with are, for the most part, the same. Casual, good-mannered people, most of them a bit older than me, with mortgages and young kids. My future selves I suppose. I even liked Frank at the beginning, but we are just too different of people. He is the outgoing one, the I-can-do-this-my-first-try kind of guy, the go-hard-in-the-paint kind of guy. I am a bit more of the, I-like-me-a-quiet-night kind of guy. I think I fit better in the company in general too, but I am not sure. I always found that to be a bit weird.

So, the set-up is the teacher asking her class What is the fastest thing in the universe? The first kid answers: Light. Surely light is fast, she says, is it the fastest thing in the universe though? The little boy contends that it is literally a measure of intergalactic distance (light-years) and is used in hyperbole often, (the speed of light). We cannot fathom anything faster than light, so even if it exists, that is the fastest thing we can observe. Very good! replies the teacher, satisfied with the kid’s precocious rebuttal. She is happy, the student is happy. The joke builds on.

Everyone in the office knows that Frank is an asshole. At least I think they do. People talk, you know? I remember Janet saying something about how uncomfortable he makes her, the way he looks at her and says weird things as if they were just jokes. He had never “crossed the line”, but he had asked her out at least three different times and didn’t take her rejections all that well. Janet had been in a long distance relationship for the last two years at least, and Frank knew this, but he didn’t seem to care. Janet just tried to avoid him around the office, she didn’t want to make a scene. I’m sure HR would get involved some time, hopefully sooner rather than later. Alan was the first person to comment on how Frank likes to steal people’s ideas. He once said in a meeting with our regional manager that we could save some money if we shipped packages in bulk at specific times instead of shipping them every time we need to. Everyone nodded in approval but no further questions were asked. A few days later, Frank had a full power point detailing how bulking up packages and shipping them only once a week could save up on average $500 per month, or around $6,000 a year. In the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t much, but it was savings after all, and the process was adopted immediately. Truth is, we probably saved more money than anticipated, and it is a minor inconvenience, if one at all. Frank took the credit for that, of course. Kennedy almost lost it when she was the recipient of one of Frank’s famous/infamous April’s Fools prank. The only person more addicted to coffee than Frank, Kennedy likes her drink very sweet. Frank not only switched the sugar for salt, but even made her a first cup, no sugar added. Kennedy fell perfectly for it. She thanked him first, and as soon as she sipped the drink went on to the sugar bowl. She slowly but surely kept adding salt, too polite to admit the taste was worsening with every tablespoon. Frank strung her along, making worried faces and asking what was wrong. When she finally broke, Frank broke in an uproarious laughter and when he confessed a couple of people in the break room chuckled along, but Kennedy didn’t find it all that funny. More than the joke, she felt humiliated for having gone along with it for long. Everyone knew Frank was an asshole, but no one seemed to care much. The rare occasion he would bless us with his presence in happy hours, people were usually nice to him. I was the only bitter person around here I guess. “It’s just a job man” Carl told me once “can’t live hating the guy all day, just leave your problems at the door, you know?” I wish I knew.

So, What is the fastest thing in the universe? It could be Light, but that would make for a boring joke. Thought, the second kid answers. Now that is an interesting answer. It at least shows some out-of-the-box thinking from the kid, so kudos there. But why should “thought” be thought as the fastest in the universe? 300,000 kilometers per second the little girl replies from memory. Light is fast, yes, but we can measure it. But how can you measure the speed of thought? You can’t, it is that fast. When you talk you say things without even thinking about them. Or you do, but you think so fast you don’t even realize you did. Very good! says the teacher. That shows not only creativity and knowledge of facts, but cohesive reasoning too. She has some very smart students indeed. It continues, of course.

I actually got along fine with Frank at the beginning. We both started at the same time almost four years ago. He fresh out of college, I with just under two years of experience in a terrible sales job I had gotten after graduation. He was a bit younger but we started in the same place, as pricing analysts. Our jobs revolved mostly around our desks and crunching large sets of numbers, though in a small company, everyone wears many hats. Having had that bad experience before and generally being an inside-voice person, I had a harder time dealing with business development, and stayed mostly on my computer, rarely venturing in other areas of the company. Frank was ambitious though, so he did everything to stand out and eventually got a promotion before I did. I always resented him for that, but that is my fault I guess. Or so it would if it’d be just that, but everyone knows he’s an asshole. He got the promotion after taking Alan’s idea, after harassing Janet, after generally being a dick to everyone around. Yet he not only avoided his karmic punishment but coasted through life in his silk robes. For a little while now I had resigned to just ignore him, like everybody else, but then he finally found the straw that broke the camel’s back. Exactly 362 days ago, I was Frank’s newest April Fools target. Confession time, yes I am a bit odd and particularly peculiar with my office supplies. So sure, when I noticed my stapler missing, I shouldn’t have reacted the way I did. My suddenly high-pitched voice and pointed questioning of everyone around me sparkled the quiet laughter of all who were in on the joke. I didn’t see it then, but I see now how it could have been seen as funny if I had reacted like that to a colleague hiding my stapler. But it didn’t end there, did it? Frank assured me that it would be okay and sent me on this stupid quest to the warehouse to find my stapler over lunch, and hadn’t it been for Kennedy, I probably would have gone too. But she intercepted me in the elevator, and told me he had had it all along. I came back to him still setting up the punchline on my desk, a box that looked like a cake. He was visibly disappointed by me coming back that fast, but he still smiled slyly and said “here, I brought you dessert”. Again, I admit I probably overreacted, and that threw fuel to the fire (but hey, at least I didn’t set the building on fire, amirite?) But what kind of asshole takes the time and effort to put a stapler into a jello mold overnight and lets the owner discover it in front of everyone around? God, Frank is such an asshole.

So Light was an interesting answer and Thought an even more creative one, but could anyone top any of those two? A proud hand raises in the very back of the classroom. Oh, no the veteran teacher thinks to herself. It is that little rascal Pepe again, coming up with who knows what antics this time. Her eyes scan the classroom for another kid who’d spare her from yielding the floor to that little devil. Everyone sits tight though, still in earnest awe of the previous answers. Everyone but Pepe, whose hand is now anxiously reaching for the sky, his body almost jumping from his seat, his entire arm almost trying to escape his body. Okay Pepito, the frustrated teacher gives in, What is the fastest thing in the universe?


This is the moment where it starts getting funny. If you’ve been telling it right, this is when people show a sly smile and open their eyes wide in expectation. You’ve peaked their attention, all eyes are on you and the ball’s been set for the kill shot. Now you’re just left with the punchline.

Soft chuckles inundate the room and the teacher has to quell the noise. All eyes are on Pepe, smiles from ear to ear drawn in all the children’s faces, waiting with anticipation for what they expect to the harder in a one-two punch. Why, Pepito, why in the world would that be the fastest thing in the universe? Asks the teacher, visibly beaten by the constant antics of this ten year old. Because says Pepe, oh so calmly, this morning I couldn’t get the light switch or even think of the first thing before I woke up in shit.

Funny right? Well, I said it from the start, this is clearly a grade school joke. I honestly thought it was funny back then, and oh-so daring. What can I say, I still think it’s kind of funny now. Just the word, diarrhea, I mean, you gotta laugh at that. It’s funny, right?

Frank didn’t think it was funny. Nor did most of the people in the office, really. Truth be told, I guess I didn’t expect it to act quite like that, but I guess I poured too much on his coffee. I seriously thought he’d just spend a really bad day, but nope, it was all really fast. Less than ten minutes after he finished his coffee, and during the all hands meeting, he suddenly crumbled in a roll and let it all go. It was also more fluid than I expected. You’re right, I probably shouldn’t have cracked up laughing so loudly then. I mean, nobody else was. And his face, looked so… pathetic. I don’t know, I still thought it was funny. And Pepito was right, that shit is fast!

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