A few years ago I got in trouble on April Fools Day.
Back in my more tamed civic citizen days in the mid 2000s, I was a member of the Rotary Club of Chicago and the writer of the club's weekly newsletter. Part of my little volunteer position was to publish an emailable newsletter --also available in hard copy on every table during Tuesday luncheons-- that detailed stories of interest to the club. Service projects like Rotary's efforts against polio were among the usual entries along with the bio of the CEO or political figure that was the week's speaker.
Honestly, the skills I use to do my writing here and for ESPN were tested years ago, as I plied my amateur trade hands into assembling each week's Gyrator newsletter. Still, I felt the need to keep people on their toes, and that's where the April Fools Edition was borne.
The April Fools Edition came as it sounds, with mock stories about intergalactic service projects like teaching underprivileged Klingon children how to read and apply sunscreen. But in the midst of the 2008 financial crisis, I couldn't help but abuse the club-wide email list of professors, conservative businessmen, and other civic minded Rotarians to celebrate April Fools.
"Rotary Club sold to Kiwanis" was the title of an email sent by Juan Valdez to the entire club membership at 12:01am on Tuesday, April 1st. That morning's news cited mounting debts and an adverse financial market for the necessary receivership, and sudden sale for the princely sum of $1.
Basically this email was nothing more than an article I had poached from CNBC. All I had done was replace the name of one bankrupt Wall Street firm, Bear Stearns, with "Rotary" along with the name of its buyer, another Wall Street firm, with "Kiwanis". And it was this email that prompted the first person I saw walking into the Union League Club to hastily ask me, "Did you hear the news?"
"What news? The April Fools Joke?" I said to Mike, a retiree in his 60s. Puzzled, Mike followed me before the April Fools' fuse in his head snapped while the elevator doors shut. He laughed and replied under his breath, "Man, I'm getting old."
A few smiles and high-fives from others awaited me as I approached the check-in table, since they figured out it was me. Also awaiting was the red-faced club president.
"Can I talk to you for a minute?" Dave said, more in the form of a command than a question. Turns out he was pissed about fielding phone calls all morning regarding the club's demise, by people referencing "the email everybody got" from Juan. Clearly, he wasn't pleased about being April Fooled.
And for a couple of minutes I felt like an asshole.
Though I wasn't a club insider, I had started to wonder what the other displeased higher-ups would have thought of bogus news hinting financial improprieties at the founding chapter of the world's oldest service club; all perpetrated right under the nose of a good and hardworking guy, Dave, whom I really respected. My face turned equally red while thoughts of messing up peoples lives stirred in my mind. And I tried to summon a suitable apology as Dave recounted the number of personal friends at Bear Stearns and other firms that had had their careers ruined by recent turmoil.
But later, as lunched passed and we digested our food, Dave eased up enough to approach me, conceding that being blindsided on April Fools Day was kind of refreshing amidst it all. He said sorry for getting wound up and said that the prank was actually "kinda funny". I knew he meant it when he bought me a beer at Callahan's shortly after.
One thing I've learned about pranks is as people get older, a good prank --one that is both surprising and tasteful-- is appreciated like a fine wine.
I can't say that as an adolescent --in that time of my life, in youth, when I was supposed to make jokes of everything-- that I had the courage to fill our high school quarterback's jock strap with Ben Gay, or leave a dead squirrel in someone's locker over the weekend. Back then, I would have feared bodily harm or humiliating retaliation.
But later in life I see that so long as you don't do something careless enough to injure people or get yourself fired, creativity shows you that the sky is the limit. And the better the prank, the better the day.
Though I didn't grow up in Chicago, as a football fan I knew of the legend of Walter Payton; not only Walter Payton the Super Bowl champion, but Walter Payton the legendary prankster. People who know about or have read about Payton know his sense of humor was something that people loved him for.
Fellow players talked about being blessed by #34's pranks
Honestly, I wasn't trying to be Walter Payton that day. But as just a fan I will try to take a little inspiration on April Fools Day from the great #34 and other perfecters of what I consider to be one of the world's finest artforms, the prank.
After all, just like a game of football that ends with a win and a last minute touchdown, all that pranks well ends well.