Thursday, March 12, 2009

When an Innocent Prank Goes Too Far

There are NOT many things in my life that I regret doing. Mostly because there’s really no point. Regret is a waste of time which can sometimes lead you down a very unhealthy path. However, there is one particular incident that occurred in my “innocent days” that I wish I’d thought about more carefully before proceeding. Because what seemed like a very innocent prank at the time soon spiraled out of control and ended up “biting me in the ass” in the worst possible way.

It all began when I got a part-time job as a telemarketer to help subsidize my other part-time job, which wasn’t exactly paying enough for me to survive in the Big Apple. (This was obviously many, many years ago when I first moved to NYC…Young, Bright, Energetic…I was ready to take on the world…Sigh!) Anyway, between selling Weekly Reader products, Phone Services, Bottled Water and Accidental Death and Dismemberment Insurance, I made some great friends among my co-workers. Especially because we could all commiserate about how much we hated telemarketing, and how we were only working there until we got our “big breaks,” whatever those happened to be.

Eventually I became part of a click that sat in a certain area of the room each night, swapping stories and jokes between phone calls. We’d bitch and moan about everything, including our roommates, parents, job interviews, acting auditions, whatever. It was a great place to vent and let off steam, and so a lot of stories came out that you wouldn’t necessarily share with your best friend—particularly if the stories happened to be about your best friend. Which sometimes mine were.

(Quick back story: In my early days of NYC, I lived with a college friend who was somewhat of a hot head. And although we got along most of the time, there were moments when he would flare up at me or at other people, and become the biggest “drama queen” on earth. His outbursts became sort of a running joke with me, because after witnessing several of them, they never had as much weight. Like the boy who cried Wolf. If your general demeanor includes yelling and screaming on a regular basis, people don’t take you quite as seriously any more. Plus, if you’re a rather funny, dramatic person to begin with, your anger doesn’t have quite the same bite. And despite all that, my Hot Head friend was a very nice and generous person…most of the time.)

That being said, it should come as no surprise that my Hot Head friend became the target of many of my bitching sessions at the telemarketing job. So much so that several people said they would never want to meet him in person, because they’d probably punch him in the face. I guess my somewhat exaggerated portrayals of him might have painted a bleaker picture than was actually there, but not by much. And my Hot Head friend was not unaware of his reputation. In fact, he rather enjoyed it. So when I’d occasionally tell him about my friends at work, and how much they hated him, he thought it was funny.

Anyway, at some point I developed a very nice friendship with a guy who had recently gotten married and moved to NYC with his wife. We became part of a small group that began to socialize outside of work, our lives becoming even more interconnected than they were before. And so through the natural process of socializing, my friends would now become their friends and vice versa. With one exception. No one wanted to meet my Hot Head friend, as they’d already written him off as “unacceptable.” The most adamant people about not wanting to meet him were the young married couple; who just happened to be the exact people I would most want to get along with him. And since I’d always referred to the Hot Head by his real name, I couldn’t exactly pass him off as someone else. Or could I?

And this is where the story starts getting uncomfortable…at least for me. Because I felt like I was in a bit of a dilemma. I hated having to split my time between my new friends and my Hot Head friend. I wanted them all to mix together, and get to know each other, and then I could have the best of both worlds. I knew there was bound to be a social occasion or a party or something where both would eventually be in the same place, so I got this idea about how to lay the ground work for that. What if I introduced my Hot Head friend to the married couple as someone else? That way, they could get to know him as a person, and not as the monster I’d colorfully created of him. And once they got to like him (as most people did), then I could tell them who he really was, and we’d all have a great laugh. At least that was the plan.

Then one night, the wife got free tickets to a show and asked if I wanted to go with them and bring someone along. I thought this was the perfect opportunity for them to meet Hot Head. I suggested we all go out to dinner first, so they’d really get a chance to talk to him, and meet the real person. Hot Head was more than willing to comply, as he loved the idea of becoming someone else for the evening, a great opportunity for him to display his many acting talents. And he did. He was very funny, down to earth and charming, and I could tell the young couple really liked him. So much so, that I wasn’t really sure how to broach the truth at that moment. We were all having such a great time that I didn’t want to ruin it by blowing Hot Head’s cover. So I didn’t. Nor did I tell them the following day when they called to say how much they enjoyed Hot Head and how funny they thought he was. Nor the following week when they asked when we could all go out together again.

And that’s when it finally dawned on me what a stupid thing I’d done. It never occurred to me that I might be breaking their trust by pulling this stunt, as I thought it would all be over in one night. But since I’d now dragged it on for a few weeks, it was becoming more and more uncomfortable to deal with.

So one day at work, I decided it was time to come clean and I told the friend what I’d done. I was hoping he would find the whole thing funny, and maybe punch me on the arm or something. But he didn’t do that. In fact, he didn’t do anything for a few moments. He just stared at me, as if he was trying to see something in my face that he hadn’t noticed before. At that moment, I felt like the worst human being in the world, and apologized profusely for lying to him. I defended my actions by saying that I was only trying to integrate Hot Head into the group, because I felt like I’d misrepresented him during my bitch sessions. And since the couple had told me they’d never want to meet him, I thought the disguise would help them see who he really was. It didn’t.

In fact, it ruined our friendship. And even though the married couple said they weren’t that upset by the incident, we slowly drifted apart and eventually the guy couldn’t even look at me at work. My frequent attempts at rekindling our friendship were met with icy excuses and evasiveness. And though I never intended to hurt anyone, I realized that I’d broken the one thing that keeps friendship going through all adversity---trust. Without trust, there is no reason to give someone your time, energy or attention. And that is exactly what the young couple felt about me. That I wasn’t worth their time. It was a sobering jolt to my carefree existence, and an experience that has haunted me for years. If only I hadn’t done that. If only I’d handled it better. If only…

As I said before, regret is not a path I often go down. And though I definitely regret my actions in this matter, I learned such a valuable lesson about friendship that I’ve never done anything like that to anyone again. I guess that’s why I’ve never particularly liked Ashton Kutcher’s show “Punk’d.” How can he sleep at night?

But that’s just me. Is there anything you’ve done in your past that you somewhat regret?


redb1ker said...

Good story and a great lesson. I know how the regret aftermath goes. I have a friend from childhood that choose to rekindle a friendship with me and I did something that hurt her feelings. I miss her company. She says sure call whenever you like but, I hear the flat tone. I know what that means. She used to call me but she has not called in quite some time. Regret, regret, lesson learned.

Jay T.

Anonymous said...

I think those people over-reacted in a major sort of way. It was humorous and a lesson in pre-judging people as well as a lesson in trying too hard to be accepted (that means you telling exaggerated stories to curry favor and attention).

Regrets are useful only for learning what NOT to do.

Judy said...

Oh, my friend - what a tangled web we weave....I think your married friends could have handled it differently, but perhaps Mr. Hothead is the better friend.

Henson Ray said...

redb1ker--It's a haunting feeling,knowing that something you did caused you to lose a very good friend. Hope you manage to rekindle that friendship eventually.

Grace--Yes, there were many lessons learned. Especially about learning the consequences of my actions.

Judy--Mr. Hothead has since gotten married and who knows? I never created a scenario like that again, or put any of my friends in a position where they couldn't trust me. No more web-spinning for me.

Rebecca said...

Yes, that's how we learn these valuable lessons, do you think it's that feeling of guilt that causes us to regret?
I left you an award on my blog!

TrishaRitchieNC said...

You didn't do such a bad thing and you probably learned many valuable lessons. One that you should have learned is "be careful what you share at work". Work is not therapy, it's a place to earn a living. Ask me how I learned that!

Henson Ray said...

Rebecca--Thanks for the award. That's very sweet.

Trisha--Okay, I'll bite. How did you learn that lesson?