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Your Shoe's Untied

In (dis)honor of April Fools' Day, I'm reprising an essay that appears in my book, I Told You I Was Dehydrated. Enjoy, and be careful out there today.

I’m not an April Fools’ Day guy; never have been. Not even as a kid. I guess I just never found much humor in playing practical jokes or hoaxes on people, especially on a day when everyone expects it. (Kind of defeats the purpose, if you ask me.)

By the way, I love the word “hoax.” It sounds so 1950s, and I’m the elementary school principal with the crewcut, the heavy, black-rimmed glasses, white short-sleeved shirt and thin black necktie reprimanding students for putting grease on the doorknob of the teacher’s lounge. “You kids and your hoaxes!” I’d yell, shaking my fist at them as they ran down the hall after third-hour math.

Anyway, I digress.

Back to April Fools’ Day. I have a decent sense of humor, and I like to think I’m relatively glib and clever. I just never saw the humor in practical jokes (or as the kids call it these days, “punking”). I’m not big on getting a laugh at the expense of another (unless it’s my best friend/cousin Mike). It seems cheap and lowbrow, and it makes me uncomfortable, so much so that I don’t even like to watch that stuff on TV, when it’s happening to someone I’ve never met.

Another reason I don’t like April Fools’ Day is the escalation factor. It’s human nature to want to up the ante, right? And this can quickly get out of hand to a point where it strains relationships or causes real damage.

Let’s say you start the day with an innocent April Fools’ joke on your co-worker, Jim (not his real name):

“Hey Jim, your shoe's untied.” (Jim looks to see both shoes are tied.) “April Fool!”

A classic, right? The old “your shoe’s untied” trick. Never fails, if delivered in a nonchalant, off-handed manner. A quick strike and totally harmless.

So, a bit later, Jim “pings” you back:

“Hey Becky” (not your real name, I don’t think), “is your car parked illegally? I think I just saw it being towed.” You run down to the parking lot to find your car parked safe and sound (and legally) in the “Employee of the Month” spot, right where it belongs. At that moment, your phone chimes It’s a text from Jim: “Happy AFD/(smiley face emoticon).”

A couple hours later you retaliate, telling Jim he has an urgent phone call on Line 1. “I think it’s Peg (your wife; not her real name). She sounds upset.” You run to your office phone, knowing your wife has been waiting on some test results from a specialist and now you’re thinking the worst, only to find a Post-It that reads: “GOTCHA!”

This goes on all day, the “serve-and-volley” of pranks and punks, the escalation, the “one-upping” the next “gotcha” more intense and serious than the one before, until these little jokes have become serious and quite personal: “Jim, did you hear about Ron? He’s (you bite your lower lip and whisper the next word for effect) … terminal … April Fool!”

A while later you respond: “Hey Becky, remember last Wednesday when we had to work late on the Richmond proposal? I told your boyfriend you were really out cheating on him with Fred (not his real name) from Marketing … BOO-YAH! April Fools’!”

Now, it’s mid-afternoon and things have gone from innocent little “ha-ha-you-got-me” jokes to vicious personal attacks, where you both have completely forgotten about work because you’re obsessed with exacting revenge, and intent on winning April Fools’ Day.

Then, after you’ve made each other completely paranoid and skeptical about anything and everything,  something bad or surprising actually does happen, but by now, the recipient of the news (the “fool” as it were), does not believe the messenger (the “fooler”), and then, the crap really hits the conveyor. (I just made that up because I was looking for an alternative to “the shit hits the fan.” I think it works, but I’d like to get your input before rolling it out publicly.)

Anyway, here’s how it goes. You emerge from a conference room after a two-hour grinder of a Zoom call. As you pass Jim’s office, you stop and gently knock on the open door. “Jim, I just got off a conference call from corporate. We’re downsizing, and that means we’re eliminating everyone at the assistant director level. I wanted you to hear it from me. I'm so, so sorry Jim.”

Jim (an assistant director, but still not his real name), doesn’t even look up from his work. “Nice try, Becky. You know, I might have fallen for it if you hadn’t hit me at lunch with the old ‘The boss wants to see you, I think it’s about a promotion’ story. I’m done with this crap. Let’s just call a truce, OK?”

Except this time, you’re not lying. You’re not joking. You’re not “April Fooling.” You’re telling your co-worker, your friend, that he’s getting fired.

Sure, it sucks that it’s happening on the very day that most people would be pranking and practical joking one another about it. But just because it’s April 1 doesn’t mean time stops for practical jokes.

Every year on April 1 people’s pets die for real, cars do get towed, shoelaces are untied (OK, that one is still a classic, and you can lump “Your fly’s open” in there with it as well), friends and family are diagnosed with serious illnesses, spouses and significant others do cheat, and in general, bad news and bad things don’t stop just so we can joke about them without potential ramifications for both the “fool” and the “fooler”; like you losing your boyfriend because Jim kiddingly told him you were cheating on him, or Jim losing his job (for real) and not believing it because why would he after the day you've both had, punking and pranking and one-upping one another?

I don’t want to be a wet blanket, I’m just saying if you choose to be a Becky or a Jim on April 1, keep it lighthearted and know when enough is enough.

By the way, your shoe’s untied … HA! (Never gets old.)

Postscript: While best friend/cousin Mike and I have had many occasions to laugh at the other’s expense, I honestly don’t recall either of us playing an April Fools’ joke on the other.

Just sayin’ …

© 2024 David Haznaw

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