ValueSpeak
A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker

THE PERFECT APRIL FOOL

In a nationally syndicated news story in 1983, a Boston University history professor named Joseph Boskin explained the origins of April Foolís Day.

According to Professor Boskin, it all started when a gaggle (or should that be giggle?) of court jesters told the Roman Emperor Constantine that they could do a better job of running the empire better than he was doing.Iím thinking this was a little like what Jay Leno, David Letterman and Jon Stewart do to President Bush in their comic monologues every night, with this exception: if you displeased the emperor you could be playing your next engagement in the Coliseum with a bunch of hungry lions.

But evidently the jesters caught Constantine on a playful day.He invited one of them, a fellow named Kugel, to come to the palace, where the emperor turned the scepter over to the jester for one day.According to Professor Boskin, Kugel didnít lead any armies into battle or anything like that during his one day on the throne, but he did send out an edict calling for a day of absurdity.Evidently Constantine liked the idea, and it became an annual event.

ďIn a way it was a very serious day,Ē Professor Boskin explained in that 1983 newspaper story. ďIn those times fools were really wise men.It was the role of jesters to put things in perspective with humor.Ē

The interesting thing about Professor Boskinís explanation of the beginning of April Foolís Day is that it sounds reasonable and logical even though it was completely fabricated.He made it all up as a sort of historical April Foolís joke, only the Associated Press picked it up and ran it as an April Foolís day feature without knowing that it was a joke.It was weeks before the AP figured out the hoax, but by then the story had already been printed as factual in dozens of newspapers across the country.

I donít know about you, but part of me thinks that is pretty funny.Itís sort of nice to see the media get its self-important nose tweaked every once in a while Ė especially on April Foolís Day.But the other part of me knows perfectly well that if I had been one of those newspaper editors I probably would have printed the story, too.

What can I say?Iím gullible.Itís like Mark Twain said: ďApril 1st.This is the day upon which we are reminded of what we are on the other three hundred and sixty-four.Ē

And Iím the perfect April Fool.Iím the kid who spent an entire day at school looking foolish because I had a ďKick MeĒ sign taped to my back.Iím the one child my mother could fool with her traditional April Foolís Day caper of taking the sugar out of the sugar bowl and filling it with salt (youíd think Iíd learn after that first year of eating a big spoonful of salty Corn Flakes, wouldnít you?But no Ė two or three years later I was still falling for it).And Iím the one member of the family who took a second bite of some April Foolís Day pancakes into which my wife, Anita, had cooked a nice, round piece of cloth.In fact, I think Iíve still got a cloth crown on one of my molars.

So, OK Ė Iím gullible.I admit it.I want to believe, to trust, to rely, to accept.Itís my nature.Heaven knows, life gives us enough reasons for doubt and mistrust.†† I donít want to spend even one day of my life looking for ulterior motives in every person, every situation, every Corn Flake and every pancake.

Either that, or Iím just plain . . . you know . . . foolish.Like those editors who printed the professorís story.In which case I must once again cite Twain: ďLet us be thankful for the fools,Ē he said.ďBut for them the rest of us could not succeed.Ē

Even if Iím one of ďthemĒ instead of one of ďus.Ē

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ó © Joseph Walker

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