Excuse me … your shoe is untied

Randy Riley - Contributing columnist

For little kids, like my grandchildren, this is probably the most common April Fool’s joke. “Hey, look Pappy. Your shoe is untied.”

Then, while looking at my shoes, I make a fuss. “Oh, you little rascal. My shoes are tied. You tricked me.” The kids will giggle and laugh as they shout, “April Fool’s, Pappy.” Kids seem to really like April Fool’s Day.

Unlike the “untied-shoes bit,” a well-conceived April Fool’s trick takes a lot of timing, organization and planning. One of the most important elements of the perfect April Fool’s trick is never getting caught. Even when all the evidence points in your direction, you must be able to deny any guilt. There must be no evidence and, as much as possible, no co-conspirator.

If anyone else is in on the prank, they must promise never to rat you out. Planning needs to be flawless.

These pranks have been a part of our history for several centuries. As far back as the 1700s, on April 1 in England, pranksters would play elaborate jokes on each other. At that time, the day was called “All Fool’s Day.” The actual origin of playing jokes on each other on April 1st is lost to history.

Some historians believe the tradition of pulling pranks on April 1 started in the late 1500s. This is when most of Europe switched from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar.

As you can imagine, just like our change to Daylight Savings Time, some people forget or refuse to change their clocks or calendars.

In 1582, some people either didn’t get the news or refused to acknowledge the calendar change. These people, similar to our friends who are an hour late for church when we change our clocks in the spring, became the butt of teasing and joking.

The tradition of playing pranks on April 1 quickly spread throughout all of Europe and was brought to America by the early European immigrants who settled the American colonies.

Almost everyone likes to join in on a good prank, including businesses, newspapers and news agencies.

In 1957, the British Broadcasting Corporation reported that Swiss farmers were harvesting a record spaghetti crop. They even showed pictures and video of farmers raking noodles from trees.

Sports Illustrated ran an article in 1985 about a rookie pitcher who insisted on wearing work boots instead of baseball cleats, but the team allowed it because he could throw a fastball over 150 mph. Taco Bell started a furor in 1996 when they announced that they were going to buy the Liberty Bell from Philadelphia and rename it the Taco Liberty Bell.

As you can imagine, quite a few people fell for these pranks. That’s what makes April Fool’s Day fun.

These major corporations got away with their pranks (without being sued) because it was all done in fun and no one was hurt.

I must admit. I have had some first-hand experience with a few April Fool’s pranks.

Over 30 years ago, while still working at the hospital, the department heads and directors were notified that our president and CEO would be on vacation for a few weeks. He would not be returning to work until April 1.

That was just too much temptation.

Just a short time earlier, the hospital had received notification from the Joint Commission for Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations that CMH had received a three-year accreditation. This was the best accreditation the JCAHO awarded to hospitals. We were all very proud of this accomplishment. A copy of the award letter was sent to all departments heads, so we could post it for the employees to see.

I must have been feeling particularly ornery and secure in my job, because I found a typewriter that used the same font as the award letter. I copied the letterhead and signature line, while carefully blanking out the body of the award letter. I then carefully produced another letter.

This letter, written with similar wording and style, repealed our JCAHO certification. Each paragraph started with a large, bold capital letter. When put together, these capital letters spelled out – “APRIL FOOL.”

Just to keep the big boss from having a major heart attack, I let one member of administration know what to expect that morning. She was my boss and she also had a wicked sense of humor.

The bogus letter was sitting in the middle of the boss’ desk on his first day back. As I was told later, when he read it, he yelled for the entire administrative staff to get into his office immediately. He was really upset. My boss, who knew the trick, let him blow off some steam, then slowly told him to check out the first letter of each paragraph. I can’t print what he said next, but I understand it was pretty explicit.

For some reason, he thought that I might have something to do with his April Fool’s letter. When confronted, I denied, denied and denied. To this day, if asked, I would deny any knowledge of the prank.

That’s the way April Fool’s pranks are played. Never do any harm (other than scaring the boss) and never get caught. Now, you have a year to get ready for next April Fool’s Day.

Make it better than relying on, “Your shoes are untied.”

Randy Riley is a former Mayor of Wilmington and a local resident of more than 40 years.


Randy Riley

Contributing columnist