This is the day to beware of those that may attempt to use you for their own amusement as well the amusement of others. To be honest, I can’t recall in recent years much of an attempt to make more of a joke out of me than I manage on a daily basis to make out of myself. Nonetheless, even with my continuing to practice that social-distancing stuff, this could be the year, so my acuity as to the potentially nefarious intentions of those around me, I think, will be pretty sharp.
This business of having fun at the expense of others really doesn’t need a particular day. There are those whose careers have been built on making others the caboose of their jokes. For every self-deprecating standup comedian like the late Rodney Dangerfield, who delightfully double negatively used to say, “I don’t get no respect. My fan club broke up. The guy died,” there’s an insult comic emulating the late Don Rickles’ modus operandi out there, leaving few stones unturned when it comes to lampooning other people’s race, religion, creed and personal appearance.
As for the origin of April Fool’s Day, if you want to call it a holiday, it is arguably one about which the least is definitively known. In parts of Europe, there are references to Fool’s Day as far back as the 1500s, but the day’s origin has remained through the years somewhat of an enigma. What is far more definite regarding April Fool’s is, over time, there has been quite the compilation of hoaxes perpetrated, some harmless while others, not so much.
One that was memorably harmless and one known to scores of sports fans who were regular readers of what used to be a weekly sports publication, Sports Illustrated, occurred some 35 years ago. It was the late (and I find myself using this morbid adjective more and more the older I get), great participatory journalist George Plimpton who stepped away from writing about his own attempts to play sports such as pro football, hockey or baseball as he did to gather experience to write the books Paper Lion, Open Net and Out of My League. That stepping-away time, he used to write a feature for the April 1, 1985, issue of the magazine.
The feature was about a supposed New York Mets rookie phenom named Sidd Finch, a lanky and eccentric pitcher who could supposedly throw a baseball 168 miles per hour. The article came complete with interviews with then-current Mets and also photos and was so realistically done despite the absurdity of what Plimpton wrote of Finch’s life journey that delivered him on Gotham’s doorstep and his bionic abilities that thousands of readers bought the story, using a pretty cheesy baseball pun, hook, line and sinker (ball) and anticipated the start of the season to see the prodigy that was nothing more than a figment of Plimpton’s fertile imagination.
Centuries ago, it was The Bard himself who contributed to this whole pranking business when he gave Shakespeare lovers like my Lady Jane that little lute-playing fairy Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Unlike other pranksters whose attempts have gone terribly wrong, Puck proved his alternate name Robin Goodfellow was apropos since his pranks were all pretty harmless.
The one prank I witnessed probably most memorable for its failure to be truly funny occurred during my bartending moonlighting days on a Friday that coincided with April 1. With a lot of my regulars around me on that Friday eve, the atmosphere was good. Among those regulars that night was a couple that, if they were younger, would have been called boyfriend and girlfriend. Those terms have transcended time, I suppose, because it seems kind of weird to call unmarried adult couples man-friend and woman-friend, which is kind of why I settled on Lady Jane for the one who always makes my heart beat a little faster.
At any rate, the male with an earnest and loving smile suddenly produced a small black box and gave it to her. Thinking this was a ring box with an accompanying proposal, she got very excited, as did many other ladies around her, that is until she opened an empty box while hearing him yell, “April Fool’s!” The immediate change in her facial expression indicated how hurt she was that he would play such a mean joke on her in a crowded bar. I remember she immediately ran to the restroom, followed by a couple of ladies whose intention, I’m certain, was to console her.
The reaction around the bar toward him was universally negative, despite his protests that she and he were always on the same page as far as the non-marrying nature of their relationship. It wasn’t long after, as I recall, there was no relationship on any page for them.
So, this is the day, if you’re the practical-joking type to have a little fun, as long as it’s indeed in Robin Goodfellow fashion. Remember, you’re always standing on quite the slippery slope when using others for your own mirth.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at email@example.com.