I should have known better, knowing him as I did, that taking on a Special Delivery would be something special indeed!
“Son,” he said, “This order needs to go to Needham first thing in the morning. Can you do that for me?”
“Sure thing, boss, you got it!,” I told him, feeling grateful, and taller, for the expression of confidence to let me, just eighteen, drive the company van through morning rush-hour traffic. Besides, the trip would eat up the better part of two hours of work time, not to mention that I’d earn the commission for completing the order.
Boss said, “By early, I mean it has to be there no later than 6:30. Got it?”
Damn, I said to myself. that is early! “No problem,” I said to Charlie, my boss. “I’ll leave here by 5:30, that’ll give me plenty of time.”
Charlie was a self-made man, old school, who worked harder and longer hours than any of his employees. He was intense, demanding, but enjoyed a good laugh at anyone’s expense. Whenever special customers or old friends in the business dropped by with birthday announcements or special news to share, Charlie produced a bottle of bourbon and shot glasses seemingly out of nowhere no matter what time of day it was.. “Have a pop,” he’d say, and then it was back to work.
That night, I set two alarms to make sure that I was up and out on time. I arrived at work in the morning to find the biggest damn box, I swear it was four-foot square, sitting on the loading dock for me to grab. I nearly got a hernia lifting it up and into the back of the van. I grabbed the delivery sheet, rolled down the van’s overhead door and jumped into the cab and left. Five-thirty-five. Not bad.
The traffic was horrendous. I’ve never seen so many cars not going anywhere…including me. I started to panic, worried I might not make it on time. I began rehearsing what I’d say to the boss when he found out that my delivery arrived late. The palms of my hands got so sweaty I was wiping them on my pants as I crawled along on Route 128.
Suddenly things began moving again, and with less than six minutes to deadline, I stepped on it every chance I could.
I rolled into the wholesale distributor at 6:30 exactly, backed the van up close and staggered through the doors with the beastly box and plopped it on the counter.
“Here you are sir,” I said. “On time as promised!”
“Thanks kid.” The manager smiled…then grinned, as two more employees came out from the back and just stood there. I figured that’s how many they’d need to carry this box away.
“Oh,” I almost forgot,” the manager said. “Your boss called and wants you to call him before you leave.”
He spun the phone around on the counter for me to dial. Charlie answered.
“Kevin,” the boss said anxiously, “I need you to open the box, and somewhere in the middle of it there’s an envelope that I need you to open.”
Really?, I thought to myself, thinking maybe he was worried that the order wasn’t right.
The store manager handed me a cutter and I carefully snapped off the heavy-duty strapping and popped the box lid open. I fished past the packing material and started removing one by one, what appeared to be perfectly square patio tiles. After about the eighth cement tile I found the envelop. By now the audience had grown to four men looking on.
I unhooked the string-clasp and pulled the large piece of cardstock out of the oversized envelope. It was blank…until I turned it over…
…and there, in large red letters read, “April Fools!”
I was stunned and in such a daze that I barely heard the roar of laughter on all sides. I didn’t know whether to laugh, start swearing or run like hell hoping to never see these guys again.
The manager, pausing from the chorus, said, “Guess he got you good, huh?” He does that every year to someone!
With the envelope in hand I turned to leave when the manager said, “Take the box with you, kid. We don’t sell patio tiles here.”
I should have known better, knowing Charlie as I did.
But then I thought, just wait until next year.