Whenever I take students on overnight trips, or whenever I run an after-school program for students, my school district requires me to complete a time sheet so I can be paid for my additional hours.
One of the fields on the form asks me to list my position. For nearly 20 years, I have filled in that field with the word “Upright.”
No one has ever said a word about it, which says a lot about bureaucracy:
A lot of bureaucratic requirements are irrelevant, unnecessary, and oftentimes completely unexamined.
Having fun with official paperwork is something I have done for years.
When writing checks to friends, for example, I often fill in the Memo section of the check with something incredibly embarrassing in hopes that my friend will hand the check over to a bank teller, who sees the note in the Memo and laughs.
When asked to sign my credit card charge slip at the local pizza place, I always sign the name of a Simpson’s character in lieu of my own.
In that secondary street address field, which normally contains an apartment or unit number, I often write “87th floor,” even though I live in a single family home in a town with no building taller than half a dozen floors at best.
Small amusements that make my day a little more splendid.
When I was a kid, there were a set of dictionaries in the back of Mr. Morin’s middle school science classroom. Over the course of the school year, I taped new definitions over the original definitions, transforming the definition of a word like “ass” into “The teacher standing in front of you right now.”
One of my friends wondered why I was spending so much time stealing, altering, and replacing dictionaries that didn’t look like they had been touched in decades. “No one’s ever going to see those changes,” he argued. “You’re wasting your time.”
Probably right, but the alterations made me happy, just like writing “Upright” or “Ned Flanders” or “87th floor” do. No one ever seems to notice, but doing so makes me happy.
My absolute favorite example of this kind of thing comes from EB White, who declined an invitation to join the Committee of Arts and Sciences in 1956 with this brilliant bit of correspondence.
Unlike my dictionary alterations, White’s amusement managed to become public and has lived on for more than half a century.