Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Happy April Fool's Day!

I am now 9-1/2 hours into my 40th AFD celebration.  And I am still trying to figure out what to do today.

Let me explain….

I was introduced to April Fool’s jokes early in life.  The concept was explained to me in first grade, as my mom bandaged my arm with a split to make it look like I have a broken arm (my left one, of course – she doesn’t want to interfere with my schoolwork).  I spent the rest of the day in absolute wonder at how easy it was to fool people, and how much fun it was to do. 

The next time I had an April Fool’s day was in Brasil.  Dates have almost no significance when you are a kid in Brasil.  Days are important; Sunday means church services (tapes recorded from my granddad’s Sunday school class) and Saturday means dad doesn’t work.  Mondays we start back school again.  But dates mean nothing.  Even my dad didn’t keep good track of what the date was, or at least he didn’t until he forgot my mother’s birthday….

But we had no clue what day it was when April 1st came around.  Went through the whole day without a single Oh-you-have-a-spider-on-your-shoulder-April-Fool’s! joke.  And then dinnertime came.

Now the layout of the house was distinct to the area.  The screened-in porch wrapped all around the house, and the windows inside the porch didn’t close, allowing air to circulate through the house pretty easily.  After a day of working in the house and hours of preparing dinner, the last thing mom wanted to do was to look at the dirty dishes in the sink, so she claimed the spot facing out, across the river.  Caroline and I sat facing the kitchen.  With our backs to the window.

Halfway through dinner, mom drops her fork, which clatters to the floor unnoticed.  Covering her mouth with her hands, she quickly says through tears, “KIDS.  DO.  NOT.   MOVE.  There is a snake, coiled and ready to strike, right behind you.  Oh my god, Mac, go get the shotgun.”

You have to understand, the shotgun never gets brought out for any reason.  Dad looks at the looming form over our heads and says “Oh, Lord.  Hold still, kids.” 

I was trying to turn my eyes around in my head to look without moving a muscle.   Dad and mom both are just petrified, and keep warning us not to move, lest the snake strike.  I am even wondering if I move fast enough, whether it will just strike Caroline, or whether it is big enough to get us both.

Dad finally starts to crack up laughing and flees the scene, ostensibly to get the gun.  My mom holds up her end of the drama (anyone wondering where Caroline gets her theatrical talents, look no further) and weeps for her babies that are in mortal danger. 

Dad comes back into the room, just shaking with laughter.  I am incredulous.  He doesn’t have the gun!  What is wrong with him?  Why is he shaking?  Mom bursts out laughing, too, finally dropping her act.  I am still wanting them to shoot the snake, when they explain to me (still rigid with fear) that it was just a joke.  Caroline and I both immediately burst into tears of relief.  Mom and Dad can’t stop laughing.

In the words of Watterson’s Calvin: “You can tell this little story to the reporters when they ask when I started to go bad.” 

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So anyway, it should come as no surprise that April Fool’s day is one of my favorites.  The next time I got a good one off was against my mom when I was seventeen.  I had bought a car a few months earlier, and really liked it, as well as the freedom that it gave me.  April Fool’s day rolled around, and I went dutifully to school, and was to pick up Caroline afterwards.  After waiting until I was a few minutes late, I called Mom.

“Mom?” I made my voice tremble, just a little bit.

“Hey!”

“Mom, I just want to tell you first, don’t worry, everybody’s all right.  Caroline and I are both okay.”

At the words “don’t worry”, my mom goes into instant panic mode.  “Crorey, what happened?  Are you both all right?”

“Yeah, we’re fine, but my car!  Oh, mom, my car is totaled!”

“As long as you are both all right, everything will be okay.”

“But the car!”

“I’m sorry, son.”

“Can you come pick us up?” I asked.  “We are at the corner of April and Fools.”

The worst part for her was that she had planned an April Fool’s joke for me when I got home, and was planning on telling me that the police had discovered that the car was stolen, and that they were taking it back to the rightful owner.  So not only did I really get my mom, I also pre-empted her joke, making it my only single-scam double-whammy of my life.

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We were in London for Holy Week in 1991, and April Fool’s day fell while we were there.  In this one, I honed my art and learned about how important it is to keep mum.  The Concert choir was performing at a couple of locations, and we had a concert scheduled for the evening.  Dr. Bilanchone, the director, was a gruff, white-haired old-school director.  I made mention a few times of April Fools Day on the trip (my only real mistake) and so everyone was on their guard.

While we were there, we frequented an Indian restaurant down the street, and I made friends with the son of the owner, who was about our age and more of a travieso than I. I made the phone call, and the receptionist at the hotel got Vic on the phone for me. 

“Dr. Bilanchone, this is Constable Johnson, of the Fourth.  I have one of your students here.  He got into a bit of trouble, and requested that we call you.

“He apparently pulled a prank on a bobby, who did not see the humor in the situation, and arrested the boy.  Would you care to speak to him?”

Vic held for me, and I took the phone.  “Dr. Bilanchone?  I’m so sorry.”

“Hey, Crorey.  Where are you?”

“I am at the corner of April and Fools.” (My punch line has changed little over the years).

“Are you going to get here before we leave for dinner?”

“I’ll be right there.”

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I didn’t get another good opportunity to pull a full-fledged gag again until graduate school.  Ali Kaylor and I had become friends over the two years of classes at Northern Illinois University.  Julie, an anth undergrad, and I had also become friends.  And what use are friends without testing the limits of their gullibility?

I made a trip home that weekend for a party some college friends were throwing.  I left on Friday after class and came back Monday morning, having slept a total of six hours for the entire weekend.  I rolled into town at 7 am on the 1st and called up Julie.

“Julie.”

A sleepy voice responded “Hey Crorey.”

“Listen. I just came in from SC this weekend, and my car died just outside of town.  Can you come pick me up?”

“Sure.  Where are you?”

And I provided my stock line.  But then I amped the joke up a little more.  “I’m going to pull this on Ali, too.  I’ll tell her that I have already called you to arrange the use of your car, and tell her to call you.”

She agreed to it, and ten seconds later I got Ali on the phone. “Uhnngh?”

Ali is not at her best early in the morning.  “Ali, listen.  I broke down outside of town, and need your help to get to class.  Julie has class this morning, so she can’t pick me up, but agreed to let you use her car.  Can you come?”

Ali stumbled through my explanation, then agreed to come and get me.

The rest of the story I heard from Julie, because Ali didn’t speak to me for three weeks.  After hanging up with me, she called Julie, and started to explain.  When she got to the part about borrowing the car, Julie interrupted.

“Ali.  What is today?”

“It’s Monday.  Can I meet you to get the keys?  Crorey is waiting…”

“Wait, Ali.  What is today?”

“Why do you keep asking me that?  It’s Monday.  Crorey needs…”

“Ali.  What is today?”

IT’S MONDAY!  MAR… no wait, April…  THAT F***ER!”  The phone slammed down.

And she didn’t answer her phone on April Fool’s day for years.

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In my second semester at Tulane, I still did not have a relationship with my advisor, Will Andrews.  But I made the same call to Will, Judie Maxwell, and Bob Hill, who was the chair of the department of the time. 

“Judie?”

“Hey, Crorey!  How are you?”

“Well, I’ve been better…”

“What’s wrong?”

“Well, I was down in the French Quarter last night, and got into some trouble.  They took me to jail, and I need to get out so I can go to class…. I tried to post bail, but they wouldn’t take a check, and I don’t have $500 cash on me.  Can you help me get out?”

To my astonishment, all three agreed to do what was needed to bail me out (at which point, I asked if they could pick me up at the corner of April and Fools).  When I called Bob, I got his wife, Charlotte on the phone.  She later told me that when she handed the phone to him, she was actually frightened by the look on his face, and walked out of the room.  When she got to the end of the hall, she heard him burst into laughter.

Will, my adviser, was the scary one, though.  I just wasn’t sure that I knew him well enough to try and pull it off.  I finally got to the punch line, I was actually shaking.  The silence on the other end of the line didn’t help. 

Finally, he said, “so I’ll see you in class today?”

“Heh, hee, uh, yeah, heh.  I’ll heh, see you heh then, heh, heh.”

Not my finest riposte, but it worked well enough.
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Then came the magical moment during a field season in Yucatan in 2001, when I actually got my mom back for the Brazil joke.

In my weekly epistle home, I wrote the following:

Having a pretty phrenetic year. A problem recognized in late February over operating licenses shocked David Anderson yesterday.

The week has been a total disaster. Because of the need for informants and guides in the Hunucmá area, I decided to make Thursday a day to hunt up a guide that would be able to take us further than our current guide. Hunucmá is a large pueblo, but apparently is also a very small place. Our current guide heard about it, and exploded. We were dealing behind his back, and he went to the comisario to protest. Apparently, there is a long standing feud between Miguel, our guide, and Fernando Uc, who we talked to about being our guide us next week. As a result, for the moment, at least, our permission (operating license) to work in the Municipio of Hunucmá has been revoked.

In actuality, INAH is a Federal organization, with the right to go into any area at any time. In reality, once a municipality decides we are not good for community relations, we are effectively removed from doing work in the area, because our ability to generate guides, brechadores (machete guys) and to find sites is past.

Tony arrived last night, and after dinner, hit me with the news. He had been in contact with Fernando, and they had decided that they were less than pleased with the manner in which I had been running the project, especially my dealings with local informants. After a fair amount of discussion, the two of them decided that the best way to smooth ruffled feathers on the local political level was to remove the source of the problem. I am no longer welcome to work on the field project. Following the paper that Edgar and I are giving at the SAAs, I will remain in New Orleans, rather than coming back to finish the project. They have not yet decided whether or not I should be allowed to continue working at Tzeme’ or not, but early indications say no. I have no idea of the long-term consequences for my career, but I know that I will not be asking either of them for recommendations any time soon. For the time, Fer and Tony will be going out daily to meet with public officials in Hunucmá, trying to reestablish good relations. I will remain in the lab, doing paperwork until it is time for me to leave.

I am completely overwhelmed with the whole situation, as well as caught off guard. It hit just when everything seemed to be looking good for my thesis and for the project in general. Tony explained that the most recent incident by itself was bad enough, but it coupled with the problems with Gilberto early in the field season have created a working environment that is hostile to our project.

I hope everyone else’s week is better.

And yes, I know that frenetic is not spelled with a “ph”.  But it fills the acrostic like nothing else I could come up with. 

But it was my mom’s response to the email that won her over to the hearts of my advisor and his family.  She wrote me the sweetest letter I have ever received.  It spoke of how she was not proud of me because of my accomplishments, but because of the person I had become.  It spoke of my character, and exhorted me to not be discouraged.

And the last line, apparently written after my dad had come in and told her that it was April 1, read:

“And don’t think for one minute that we don’t know what day it is, you little shit.”

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The most controversial one, however, was one I pulled while singing with the Symphony Chorus. I created a gmail account – one that looked like it belonged to the director, and sent the following:

 

Symphony Choristers -

I have some wonderful news to share. During the week of our Christmas concert, there was a hotel convention in town, and several of the attendees heard our Christmas Oratorio concert. One of the hotel owners has asked us to provide a repeat performance - in Budapest, and has announced his invitation in the local media here: http://hollerung.hu/tevekenyseg/bacs/.

It is exciting news, because his offer includes airfare and hotel accommodations (http://www.corinthia.com/en/Budapest/home/) for a select group to perform (his e-mail suggested twenty-four singers). Unfortunately, we have to move quickly, because the invitation is for April 29-31 of this year. This means that in order to participate, you have to already have a passport in hand, and be willing to go this week to the consulate to request a visa. The Hungary consulate phone number is 404.213.5366.

I am very excited about the opportunity. The venue is fantastic, and we will be provided with three additional days to tour the area, following our concert. We will be calling it our "Christmas in May Oratorio"

Please reply today if you are interested. I will provide more details as I get them.

Sincerely,

Steven

 

I then set up an out-of-office reply to wish everyone a Happy April Fool’s day.

 
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This year, My Facebook friends have set up a series of announcements, starting days beforehand, to remind each other that there is risk.  Ring-led by my brother.

 

I’ll get him again, one day.  In the meantime, I need to get new victims. 
 
I mean, new friends.  I need to get new friends...

 

 

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