Tuesday, April 1, 2014

April Fool's Flamingos

"Ichabod Crane," one of our April Fool's visitors, guarding our walk
during the period of the flock's five year sojourn in our garage, c. 2006
Earlier today, I met over coffee with a friend who I vowed I would never, ever again cross paths with on April Fool’s Day. I knew from years of experience that she would have devised some evil scheme to torture me, but because she now lives in New York City and is rarely in the area, I decided, against my better judgment, to chance it. And just so you understand the depths she will go to, this is the woman who, one year, when our Passover Seder happened to fall on April 1, sneaked fake ice cubes filled with plastic flies into the ritual, symbolic “Miriam’s Well” (a pitcher of water meant to represent the rejuvenating spring that followed and sustained the newly liberated Jewish people on their journey through the desert). Not. Cool. Another year, her terrified co-workers at her law firm ended up calling the police when they found the lower torso of a bloodied person (think Wicked Witch of the East meets Blacklist) under a parked car. My friend’s defense was that anyone should have been able to plainly see the torso was a fake. She has since claimed that the latter experience chastened her (the firm was none too pleased), and that, as a result, she is no longer a practicing prankster. Yeah, right. Clever way to lull me into a false sense of safety.

I myself love to instigate a good joke, but I also believe that the best April Fool’s jokes have to walk that tricky line between scaring the living daylights out of someone (or scaring them at all), and being anemically pointless. You also can’t do something that would be devastatingly disappointing. For example, telling your partner you have won the lottery when you haven’t will only end up disappointing both of you. And any joy you might have experienced as a result of the “gotcha” moment will soon vanish with the fight that follows. Sometimes, even with the best planning, the fun in a joke will elude you. One year, helped by my then 10-year old son, we decided to surprise my wife by pretending we had found and taken in a stray kitten. We were positive this would not be a welcome addition to our two-cat household, and thus she would be relieved and pleased to eventually learn that no kitten was anywhere on the premises. But to our surprise, she was excited to hear about the kitten, wanted to see it immediately, and was inconsolably sad to learn we were fabricating the whole story.

Some of our best pranks have involved whole groups of people, like the year my wife convinced her amateur improvisational theater group that a representative from the TV show, Whose Line Is It Anyway, was going to be featuring amateur improv groups from around the country, and their group had been chosen to perform on TV. Everyone was over the moon! The gag went on way past April Fool’s, with e-mails flying about dates and travel plans, what games they would be playing, etc. Best of all, since this was an improv group, when the curtain fell on the whole tall tale, everyone was suitably impressed. Win-win all around. [By the way, aside to any TV producers out there: How great a show would that make? Reality collides with art? Think about it.] 

But far and away my favorite April Fool’s joke ever was played on our whole family. One April Fool’s morning, we awoke to find 17 pink flamingos perched on the hill in front of our house. Just to be clear, these pink flamingos were the plastic variety that one typically imagines – if you imagine them at all – gracing lawns in warmer climates, like Florida. But these were no ordinary plastic lawn ornaments. These flamingos, some small and some large, were dressed in a charming assortment of clothes - scarves and hats, jackets and capes. And affixed to their clothes were an odd assortment of items, including little plastic books, tennis racket, basketball, sunglasses, a snorkel, and, best of all, a poetic introduction in anapestic meter (think extended limerick) to our flock of April Fool’s flamingos. And what a bunch they were, with clever nom de plumes (yes, pun intended) like Larry Bird, Ichabod Crane, Mallard Fillmore, Ladybird Johnson, Blue Jay Leno, Oscar Wild Turkey, and Mynah Shore. Figuring out who gifted us took days, but eventually we figured it out. Delighted with our delight, our friends instructed us to pay it forward the next year.  

I’m ashamed to confess that the original flock lived in our garage for about five years before we got it together to send them back home, new poem in hand, one April Fool’s eve.  As much fun as we had looking out that April Fool’s morning and seeing the flock advancing up our hill, that was nothing compared to the excitement of our two-minute run in the middle of the night to bring them home. April Fool’s surprises don’t get any sweeter than that. 

That is, until today, when my friend presented me with a huge bag of bagels and cream cheese, straight from Zabar’s in New York City. No flies, no bloodied bodies. And nothing could have surprised (and delighted) me more.

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