Timfoolery: The Yearlong Prank That Defined our 2015

Believe me when I tell you, as unlikely as it sounds, that we did it out of love. In the end, anyway. When it started, it wasn’t quite that. It wasn’t that we didn’t love Tim; we do, we did, we probably always will, for his genuine enthusiasm at everything, for the cadence of his laugh, for his willingness to be photographed in an ill-fitting wetsuit. But when we began the prank that would dictate our 2015, the one that became the worst-kept secret of the year, known to nearly everyone in our lives except for Tim, our goal was more to mess with him than anything else.

But, like an overlooked mole or the career of Vin Diesel, it eventually grew into something far bigger than we could have imagined. We told people all across the world about our project; people in foreign countries who’d never met Tim felt like they knew him. He tied all of us and all of this Timfoolery (as we had taken to calling it) together. He became a recurring motif of our year. And when we tried to tried to pinpoint why Tim had become our target, it boiled down to simply this: he’s always good for a laugh. Even if the laugh comes at his expense.

Rand with a totally unsuspecting Tim on St. Patrick’s Day.

In the end, when we finally revealed what we’d done, he did laugh. Along with it, I hope, came the realization that he was loved. Because you don’t make someone the target of a year’s worth of mocking unless you care, right? Of course not.

But I get ahead of myself. I need to start at the beginning, more than a year ago, in December 2014. We were visiting Tim and his wife, Alyssa, for Hanukkah and as Tim was frying latkes the story of the photo came up. The image in question was one of Tim’s father and Tim’s (former) stepmother, taken in matching Christmas sweaters, a Bernese Mountain puppy sandwiched between them. (I’ve covered up their faces in this post to preserve some measure of anonymity, though their dog received no such courtesy.)

It remains etched on to my retinas, though. I see it when I close my eyes. I see it in my sleep. The image haunts me. The torment is my doing. There is no one else to blame.

The framed photo had been a gift from Tim’s dad, and devolved from there into a sort of personal joke between Tim and Alyssa. They would hide it in various places for the other to find. She would get up early to go to yoga and there it was, sitting on the passenger seat of her car. He’d take a business trip and as he was unpacking his suitcase, it would come tumbling out.

On that night in December, while Tim’s back was turned, I quietly asked Alyssa if I could take the photo. She nodded, and I slipped it into my purse. That’s how it started. Rand and I, taking a framed photo with us on our travels and documenting its adventures; a perverse, maniacal, occasionally drunken version of Flat Stanley.

I tried to pinpoint when, exactly, the whole thing got weird, and I realize that it was weird from the beginning. It took approximately 15 seconds for Rand to develop an unnatural attachment to a formal portrait of two people we’d never met and their dog.

He looks utterly demented here. I don’t know if I’ve ever loved him more.

Eventually, Alyssa would email Rand saying that she needed the photo back, lest Tim notice it had disappeared. Before returning it, we made a copy, and the journey continued with that facsimile of the original. We referred to it simply (if inaccurately) as “Tim’s parents.”

“You know who would love this?” one of us would say.

“TIM’S PARENTS!” the other would scream in reply. And then we’d take out the photo and pose with it. We’d gone mad.

We made friends and loved ones participate as well.

Did we take any photos of the six of us that weekend? NO. But we managed to get a snapshot of us and Tim’s Parents. Of course.

“What is this?” they’d ask.

“We’re fucking with Tim,” we’d reply.

“Oh, okay.” It’s amazing how easily they all jumped on board.

This photo somehow didn’t make it into Tim’s album, but it’s my favorite: Rand, our (and Tim’s) friend Matt, and me at dinner, after I’d suggested we all look inexplicably shocked.

We took the photo of Tim’s parents to Ireland, England, Italy, Germany, and Spain. We dragged it with us to New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, California, Florida, Oregon, Texas, Oklahoma, and North Carolina.

Here it is at the World’s Fair in Milan.

In Stratford upon Avon, at the house in which Shakespeare was born, and his grave.


At Jane and Stephen’s wedding in Wallingford, England.


On stage at Benaroya Hall in Seattle, when someone was crazy enough to let me MC an event (I remain hopeful that most of the attendees were drunk and remember nothing).

At the Cliffs of Moher


While we were eating paella in Spain …

Visiting a Banksy in London …

And a piece of the Berlin Wall in North Carolina.

A lot of times, the resulting photo was a totally romantic snapshot of the two of us … and Tim’s Parents.

We compiled the pictures (more than 100 in all) into an album and gave it to Tim a few days before Christmas. We watched as he opened the cover, and slowly began to process that we’d spent an entire year schlepping around a photo of his family members. Finally, after uttering “What the hell?” and “Oh, my god” a half dozen or so times, he laughed.

I think he liked it. I hope he did. Because when tried to explain our motivation, it came down to one thing: we loved him.

Tim, giving us the “You are all insane” look.

We just have a funny way of showing it.

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  • http://vandevliet.me Jelle Van de Vliet

    Going for the long con. Well played

  • kristybolsinger

    This adorable. I think I’d feel nothing but honoured if someone did this to me. For me? Against me? Either way 🙂

  • http://moz.com/rand Rand Fishkin

    I think the best part of this troll was all the amazing things we did as a result. There were days when I wanted to crash in the hotel room and avoid the stiflingly hot weather of Milan, but just couldn’t resist the desire to take Tim’s parents to the World’s Fair. It may have started as a gift to Tim, but in the end, it was a gift to us, too.

    • kristybolsinger

      I had a similar experience – although mine humbly only lasted two weeks – when I took a friends 12th man flag to Paris. Definitely pushed me to go do things that I might have let slip otherwise because I NEEDED A PICTURE IN FRONT OF THAT ONE THING!

  • Stelian Mezin

    Almost every time I go somewhere I forget to bring something. Sometimes something important. And you have not forgotten to bring that photo!? Everywhere!? For entire year!? Amazing.
    Agree with Kristy and Rand. It’s more an honor and a gift than a prank.

  • Michael Dent

    “But, like an overlooked mole or the career of Vin Diesel, it eventually grew into something far bigger than we could have imagined”. This line made me laugh out loud in my office!

  • Everett Sizemore

    Love it! I volunteer for the next one, only instead of a picture can you take the actual person around the world with you?

  • https://expresswriters.com Julia McCoy

    Adorable prank… best one I’ve seen for 2015 (it was all-year and involved the stationary copy of people you didn’t even know)! Good work, Fishkins!

  • http://grace-filled.net jen

    This is seriously an AWESOME prank!

  • http://www.countrymouseclaire.com Claire @ Country Mouse Claire

    This is brilliant – what a lovely, good-natured prank!

  • http://www.willcritchlow.com Will Critchlow

    You’re both crazy.

  • Laura Lee Lizak

    You two are just wonderful… Great prank (because it was sweet) and Tim’s face at album presentation must have been fantastic! You may have run out of underwear, but you had Tim’s parents!

  • Amanda

    This is funny. I want to know what Tim’s dad thought about this! He had his Christmas sweater on a world tour by people he doesn’t know! Haha!

  • Rachel Sullivan

    My husband and I did this with a pair of florescent shorts from the 80’s that my mother in law used to wear around the house a bit too often.

    So, if you’re feeling self-conscious about this just imagine setting up a pair of ridiculous shorts in their own seat on an airplane, on their own towel on a Hawaii beach, celebrating NYE in Times Square, etc. You’ll feel much better.

    • Everywhereist

      This sounds utterly amazing.