Tread Lightly, Pranksters!

On this April Fool’s Day, here is some heartfelt advice for those who are scheming about practical jokes: tread lightly today.

Any capable prankster has to consider the setting, the nature of the prank, and the prankee. Any kid old enough to attempt an April Fool’s Day gag during his formative years intuitively understood this. You might try the “put salt in the sugar bowl” trick on your brother, but you were risking an explosion if you pulled it on your Dad as he was taking his first, wake-up sip of morning coffee. And doing anything permanently destructive, like sawing through the legs of a chair so your sister would crash to the ground when she sat down for her cereal, was clearly out of bounds.

This year, any practical jokers need to understand their audience and some reasonable boundaries, too. We’ve been pretty battered by the past year, and we’re more brittle than normal. So slipping somebody one of those dripping cups, or putting an obscene hat on the statue in Schiller Park, or sticking a “kick me” sign on Captain Kirk’s back might be funny, but nobody’s going to get much of a belly laugh out of a COVID-oriented gag. Let’s not mess around with vaccination needles, for example, or cut up vaccination cards. And I’m not sure how those who have been involuntarily housebound for more than a year now would react to a flaming bag on their doorstep, either.

The best April Fool’s Day jokes have a certain silly, timeless quality, anyway–like the 1957 BBC broadcast that convinced some gullible Brits that pasta was harvested from trees in Switzerland. If you’re interested in reading about legendary pranks of the past, take a look here and here. But if you’re going to actually try a prank, please–go easy on us!

Fool-Free

To the extent that the pranksters among us are tempted, I’ve got a very strong suggestion:  please, no April Fools’ Day jokes this year.

fof-the-fool-action-shotI’m not much of a prankster, myself.  As a kid I tried a few of the time-honored classics, like the well-placed Whoopie cushion on Uncle Tony’s chair, or the salt in the sugar bowl gag, but mostly my jests involved convincing a credulous person about some far-fetched story.  At the office, I’ve participated in a few jibes, too — including one incident that involved constructing a wall of boxes to block the door of a fellow attorney while he was in his office with the door closed for a telephone call.  This year, though, I’m not much in the mood for gags of the April Fools’ Day variety, and I don’t think that anyone else is, either.

It’s not that I’m opposed to pranks, in principle.  But there’s a time and place for everything, and pranks just seem kind of pointless and childish given the current circumstances.  Part of the idea of the April Fools’ Day jest is that the target will laugh at it, too — which doesn’t seem likely right now, no matter how well-crafted and humorous the scheme might be in a normal setting.  Plus, who are you going to pull the prank on — that person you’ve been spending 24 hours a day with for the last three weeks?  It doesn’t seem like a wise course when you’re going to be spending every waking hour with that person for the foreseeable future, does it?

So, I’m hoping that all of the pranksters among us hold their fire, and let this April 1 pass in a blessedly fool-free fashion.  Next year, perhaps, we all can let our inner pranksters loose.

The Death Of April Fool’s Day

Hey, it’s April Fool’s Day!  Who’s in the mood for a good prank, or an elaborate hoax story — like Sports Illustrated‘s famous The Curious Case of Sidd Finch?

f77aaa7a0ed1f7e38493bbeee74ea5b8Probably not many of us.  In fact, with the way the world is going these days, you’d probably have a hard time determining whether what you read or were told was intended as a funny joke, as more of that “fake news” we’ve been hearing about, planted or leaked to advance some political agenda or another, or as a honest statement about something that has really happened.  Part of the fun of a good prank or hoax is playing on the hoaxed party’s credulity, and picking your target to avoid the inherent skeptic and instead trick the hopelessly naive among us.  But who can truly be deemed naive, or skeptical, about what has or has not happened in the weird reality we now find ourselves in?

Think about it:  if someone told you that the President had tweeted something outrageous, how could you possibly evaluate whether it was true or not without checking?  If you accepted what you were told at face value, would it be because you were a gullible “April fool” or because, in reality, the President has tweeted a series of ill-advised and intemperate things and these days just about anything could come out of his mouth?  In fact, is there anything that any one of our current political leaders, Democrat or Republican, could purportedly say or do, about Russians or surveillance or climate change or leaked diplomatic communications or any other of the prevailing topics of the day, that are so inherently unbelievable that your fakery senses should start tingling?

When reality itself is so bizarre that any statement about an actual event could be considered a prank, and vice versa, April Fool’s Day isn’t quite so much fun anymore.

Hey, you don’t suppose Kish put salt in the sugar bowl, do you?

A Shiners Tale

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.

mens-dress-shoes-slip-on-leather-lined-business-casual-formal-suit-loafers-new-black-12_3852594At 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!

We’ve Decided To Get Three More Dogs

After years of having just two dogs, we’ve decided to adopt three more.
Penny and Kasey have been moping around with hangdog expressions.
Research indicates that dogs are happier with multiple companions.
I’m not quite sure what breeds we’ll be adopting.
Labs have been good to us, but maybe we’ll branch out.

For all of their shedding and barking, our dogs are good dogs.
Often, Kasey helps out by jumping on the table and licking dishes clean.
Or Penny will clear the counters by knocking stuff to the ground.
Let’s see what joys and pleasures three more dogs can bring!

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My Momentous Sports Fanship Decision

Having given the matter careful thought, I’ve reached a momentous decision.  After decades of complete commitment to Cleveland sports teams, I am declaring myself a free agent.  Persistence in the face of unrelieved failure is not a virtue!  Perhaps I’ve simply had more gut-wrenching losses and humiliatingly dismal seasons than a person should be expected to bear.  You can decide for yourself.

Akron, Ohio, the place of my birth, falls squarely within the Cleveland sports orbit.  Parentage and pedigree played a role, too, as my parents and grandparents were all Cleveland sports fans.  Rabid support for the Browns and the Tribe was a kind of birthright for the boys in our family.  I gladly participated, going to Indians games with my grandparents and watching the Browns with UJ on autumn Sundays.  Little did I know that, during those hopeful days of the late ’60s, I was signing on to a lifelong commitment that, for more than four decades, would not be rewarded with a championship.

Free agency feels funny.  Of course, I’ll have to figure out which teams to root for now.  Or, perhaps, I’ll just let sports fandom go by the wayside for a while.  Laying off professional sports for a year might just do me good.  Surely, it would have a salutary impact on my blood pressure and reduce the number of instances where my outbursts disturb the dogs of our household.

Don’t doubt for a minute my decision to live a Browns-free and Tribe-free existence.  Although I’ve lived, and mostly died, with them for years, my commitment to professional sports free agency is total.  Yes, I can — I think!

Happy April Fool’s Day (No Kidding)

Be careful when tapping salt onto your eggs this morning, or drinking something fetched for you by another:  it’s April Fool’s Day, and the prankster in your family might have loosened the cap on the salt shaker or spiked your drink with lemon juice in order to get a chuckle at your expense.

How did April Fool’s Day come to be?  Even though it’s been around for centuries, nobody knows for sure.  Some say it dates back to the date in 1582 when, by order of the Pope, the Julian calendar was replaced with the Gregorian calendar, and as a result the traditional New Year’s Day, on April 1, was replaced by New Year’s Day on January 1.  Some rustic types supposedly didn’t get the news and made fools of themselves by celebrating New Year’s Day three months too late, and the tradition of playing pranks on the gullible began.  Others say it started with the Roman Emperor Constantine, who appointed one of his court fools Emperor for a day, or just reflects the general high spirits that come with the end of winter and the hope of spring.

Whatever the origin, April Fool’s Day is celebrated around the world.  I particularly like the French variation, where the target of a prank is called an “April fish” — to reflect the fact that April fish are young fish that are easily hooked.

Kish is on the road today, so I’ve got nobody to fool except the dogs.  April Fool’s Day pranks on dogs don’t seem very sporting.  At some point today, however, I am going to ask Penny if the refrigerator is running.