Humbug on April Fool’s Day

Not a big fan of April Fool’s Day. Might as well just say it.
In fact, after the health-care thing, the Supreme Court should strike down April Fool’s Day.

As a connoisseur, student and humble practitioner of the jokey lie – the witty whopper, the deadpan deception, whatever you want to call it – I see April Fool’s Day as a giant open-mic night, where people who have no business pulling anyone’s leg suddenly think they’re brilliant, world-class leg-pullers when, in fact, they’re not.

True, AFD offers an advanced degree of difficulty for the born liar who has to get something past an audience that fully expects to be lied to. But for every virtuoso performance, there’s still a whole lot of hack work out there.

Of course, maybe I hate AFD because I was once burned by it, not by believing something that wasn’t true, but by disbelieving something that was.

I will now call time-out on April Fool’s Day to declare the following anecdote is absolutely, honest-to-goodness, no-fingers-crossed true – you see why I hate this ridiculous day?

Anyway, one April 1, about 15 years ago or so, a young man who was working for me called me to say that the next time I would see him, he would be dressed as a woman. In fact, he was taking the first bold steps toward becoming a she, and he would insist on being called “Tammy” instead of “Tim” – and, yes, I changed the names.

Any other day of the year, this would have been stunning news, and I would eventually have gotten around to offering my support any way I could for what I’ve always considered a courageous act. But on this day, my first thought was, “Aw, man. Is that the best you can do? Seriously? That’s so hackneyed. I mean, if Henny Youngman had a book called ‘Best April Fool’s Gags,’ that whole sex-change thing would have been on page 1. C’mon. Didn’t Milton Berle do this joke on his old TV show? You can do better than that.”

I didn’t say that, of course. Whatever I said it was so thick with sarcasm, you could have spread it on sandwiches. I may have even pulled a facial muscle smirking. I think I said something like, “Well, that’s an amazing coincidence, because the next time you see me, I will be a walrus.”

The next day, my freelancer comes in, wearing a dress, heels, make-up, the whole enchilada. Because it was April 2, I did not burst out laughing. But I was perplexed. Did someone declare April Fool’s Week without telling me? Is he doing some kind of Andy Kaufman/Borat-style never-break-character performance art? But as the weeks and months passed, it was obvious that everything he told me that day was in earnest.

So, I dropped the “him” and took up the “her.” I introduced her around the office, wrote up a job referral for her, helped her find part-time work. She was a perfectly nice person, so I never had the opportunity to tell her:

“Did you have to go around making an announcement like that on bleepin’ April Fool’s Day? Do you not own a calendar? Did you not grow up in North America? Please, tell me you didn’t tell your parents that big news on the same day.”

So you see my problem with April Fool’s Day. Nearly everything you say to other people has to go through this complicated matrix of credulity – “Are you joking? No, you’re not joking. Wait, you have to be joking. You’re not serious. Are you? Are you?”

The thing is, April 1 is a day like any other day. Stuff happens. Someone wins the lottery. Someone has a car accident. People are born. People die. How does the news of these events spread on that day? It’s almost like we need a cultural safe word to break the spell of silliness so we can tell one another important news – how about “Mozambique”?

Imagine if Newt Gingrich had served his bedridden wife with divorce papers on April Fool’s Day. If Geraldo or Rush apologized on April 1, would it count? Last year, the Obama administration took out Osama Bin Laden on May 1. What would have happened if the window of opportunity on that mission was exactly one month earlier? Would anyone now believe Bin Laden was dead?

See, we already have a problem in this country with believing things that are not true and not believing things that are. AFD just makes things worse, not by giving people license to lie, but by making us believe we get it right all the other days of the year. It’s like Thanksgiving, that gluttonous holiday that makes our regular overeating look tame by comparison.

So I plan to spend my April Fool’s Day communicating with others as little as possible, so as to stay out of the house of mirrors. And if you do have something to tell me and want to be taken seriously, please remember – “Mozambique.”


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