April 1, 2011
Oh have you heard it’s time for vaccinations?
I think someone put salt into your tea.
They’re giving us eleven-month vacations.
And Florida has sunk into the sea.
Oh have you heard the President has measles?
The principal has just burned down the school.
Your hair is full of ants and purple weasels-
Last year April Fools’ Day fell on a Thursday, the day that I normally mail out these Freethinkers Anonymous missives. And since it had been fifteen years (give or take a month or two) since I’d started writing them I decided to celebrate, knowing it would be at least a year before another April Fools’ Day came around. Since it falls on a Friday this year I tried to think up a prank. I’ve never been very good at pulling pranks, though. Looking for an idea I did some reading up on April Fools’ Day and read about a traditional prank in Scotland. A guy would be given a letter to deliver to the next house over, presumably by his mother or someone he trusted. The letter would say, "It’s April Fools’ Day. Tell him to deliver the letter to the next house over." Eventually the guy would end up back where he’d started and everyone would have a hearty laugh. That’s the best they could do? Admittedly I did once have a friend who fell for the "Did you know they took the word ‘gullible’ out of the dictionary?" joke at least three times, but you’d think the guy carrying the letter would catch on eventually, even if it took him a year. On my first Boy Scout camping trip the leader sent me around to different campsite looking for a left-handed smoke shifter. After the twelfth guy I talked to giggled and suggested I talk to someone in campsite next to his I started to suspect there really wasn’t such a thing as a left-handed smoke shifter, especially since he was directing me to my own campsite. I didn’t return empty-handed, though-I built up an impressive collection of tent locks and skyhooks, but that’s another story.
And pranks can sometimes have serious consequences. According to the April 9, 1906 Atlanta Journal a man named W.O. Roberts attempted to cut his own throat because of an April Fools’ joke his wife played on him. She told him there was a cow in the yard. I’m not sure what the joke was, or why this would cause enough consternation to drive a man to suicide. That does remind me of the old joke about a man trying to explain to his son that leather is made of cowhide. The son says, "It’s made of what?" The man says, "Hide! Hide! The cow’s outside!" And the son says, "So what if it is? I’m not afraid of a cow." I’ve never quite gotten that joke, mainly because I’m a little bit scared of cows myself. Whenever I’ve been around cows I’ve always been afraid of being chased and trampled, even though the cows have never actually expressed any interest in doing this. But while most people see cows as hamburger on the hoof I see them as unpredictable grass-eating steamrollers. To get back to April Fools’ Day, though, I thought a good prank might be announcing my retirement, but then I thought about the potential reactions to this news. I doubt anyone would cut their throat over it, but I thought there’d be reactions ranging from mild disappointment to "Who are you?" So instead I tried to find out the origins of April Fools’ Day, but the details are sketchy. The best explanation I’ve ever heard is that March is so named because it’s when armies marched off to war, and April was when they realized what fools they were being and all went home, except that, if you look at history, it’s usually taken armies a lot longer than a month to figure out they were being fools. At least one of my sources suggests it had something to do with the Gregorian calendar which moved the beginning of the year from April to January. People who were slow on the uptake and celebrated New Years’ Day in April were considered fools. Well, in those days people were obviously hard-pressed for entertainment. Nowadays we’re much more sophisticated with our humor and don’t bother with such ridiculous pranks. By the way, would you deliver a letter for me?