Since at least 1700, April 1 has been the day to pull a prank and dupe the gullible. It’s a day to keep your skepticism level set at maximum, to make sure that strange memo you got at work isn’t a jest, and to double-check that what you’re stirring into your morning coffee is sugar and not salt.
The arrival of April 1 made me think about jokes we used to play as kids. One of the most successful and most elaborate was a prank that my sister Cath and I pulled on UJ shortly after our family moved to Columbus in April 1971.
At the time there was a pair of really cheap, almost plastic-looking black loafers lurking around the house. I don’t know where they came from — they weren’t Dad’s, and they certainly weren’t UJ’s or mine — but for some reason they became an object of ridicule and silly humor in our household. We called them the shiners, and they would mysteriously appear on your chair at dinner, or on your pillow when you went to your bedroom at night. It was one of those inside jokes that sometimes develop in families.
After UJ deftly deposited the shiners with one of us, Cath and I decided to kick things up a notch. We came up with the idea of making UJ think he had won a prize in a contest. We decided that the Columbus Dispatch had sponsored a “best brother” contest and, with devilish cleverness, we thought that it would be more believable if we made out that UJ had taken second prize rather than winning outright. So we typed up an official-looking letter stating that, on the nomination of his brother and sisters, UJ had come in second in the Columbus Best Brother Contest, and that the enclosed gift was his award. Then we boxed everything up, wrapped it in brown paper, and mailed it all to make it look even more legitimate.
One day, when we got home from school, Mom announced that UJ had received a mysterious package. With Cath and I barely able to control our glee, UJ first opened and read the letter — and fell for our scheme hook, line, and sinker. As he read the letter he seemed legitimately touched, saying something like: “Gosh you guys, you didn’t need to do that!” Then, with mounting excitement, he opened the inside box and found . . . the shiners. First a look of puzzlement, then a sense that a mistake must have been made, and finally the dawning realization that he was the victim of a practical joke washed over his face, and Cath and I had a good laugh. Mom, on the other hand, declared that enough was enough with the shiners, and they were never seen again.
As is the case with many practical jokes, the planning and execution was fun, but the act of consciously fooling someone ultimately seemed mean-spirited. I’ve always felt kind of guilty about the shiners incident. Sorry about that, UJ!
Happy April Fools’ Day!