Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The Joke's On Me

Yesterday at 9:30 a.m., the morning of April 1, I sent the following letter to my family and closest friends informing them that, surprise!, Claire, Kirsten and I would be moving to Hollywood within a matter of weeks. Claire had been discovered, the story went, hand-picked to star in the next Robert Zemeckis picture by talent scouts who visited her day care. Of course it was completely bananas, but I hoped I had packed the letter with enough random detail to make it passably believable to anybody checking their email before their first cup of coffee. (There was one tell: the version that went out via e-mail, and not on our blogs, had Claire's mother living in a rented home in LA with Kirsten, Claire and I – something which anybody who knows anything about us should have seen as equivalent to a sign of the apocalypse.)

I should say that this all started out as Kirsten's sick idea. After looking at pictures of her sister's ultrasound last weekend she suggested we send them to our friends and family and tell them we were expecting, as an April Fool's joke. I told her that was some twisted shit, too twisted for us even, and that she should be ashamed for even thinking it. And then I cooked up the Claire Goes to Hollywood story. Kirst didn't think anybody would buy it, but I had a feeling I could sell it with the right amount of deviousness.

So yesterday I wrote it up when I got to work and hit send on the e-mail. Then I waited.

Within minutes, I got a response from my brother Chris, who has humor as dry as rock salt, chastising me for spelling Zemeckis' first name wrong and telling me to get it right so I don't make a fool of our family when we meet all those famous people. Then he added: I AM HAPPY FOR ALL OF YOU!!!!!

I wrote back: Good point. Speaking of being made a fool of, it's April 1.

His reply: I will admit, you really had me fooled. That was a really good prank. I wish I had time to write long emails that take up other people's time for no reason.

Then I got a call from one of my best friends, Nicolle, an actress in New York who screamed in my ear: WHAAAAAAAAAAAAATTTT??? "Yeah, it's crazy, huh?" I said, already regretting the joke in the light of her enthusiasm. Nicolle launched into what I knew would be a life-affirming, impassioned speech about fate and the miracles that life brings to the right people and....

Me: Nicolle, hold on...

Nicolle: Yeah?

Me: It's a joke.

Nicolle: ....

Me: An April Fool's joke.

Nicolle: ...

Me: Are you there?


Me: I am so sorry...

Then the responses started to pour in. The sweetest, most loving responses. Emails from friends far and wide that are dear to me and want the best for me, and for whom my joy is their joy. I got "good things happen to good people" responses and "don't let Hollywood change you" responses. Kirsten, who had sent the letter out with a personalized introduction to her crew, began to get inundated with feedback too. As she would find out later, many of them secretly feared for her soul, thinking she was half batshit in the first place to transplant herself from Chicago to Detroit to shack up with some single guy with a kid – what the hell was she thinking packing up for California with him, a week into it, on a whim like this! But even the private naysayers, biting their lips at their computers, gushed enthusiasm and wished us well.

I began to regret my joke. Seeing the joy I had caused so many, hearing people tell me I had made their day, and knowing that I was going to have to pull the rug out from underneath all that happiness soon was kind of depressing. This was only the second April Fool's prank I have pulled. The first happened a few years ago in a bar, as the clock hit midnight and the date changed to April 1. Feeling spontaneous, I had texted two of my closes friends, who were also bandmates gearing up to begin touring with me in promotion of our record, that I had been "born again." Friend 1 tried to be cool, tried to be supportive, but his fear and disappointment still came through in his text response. Friend 2 didn't reply at all. I found out later that he had spent the night awake in bed, trembling at the repercussions of my salvation. I thought I had learned my lesson then: it's not a good idea to use "bad" news as the basis of a joke. Now here I was correcting that, using "good" news for my prank instead. But rather than bumming them out, and then letting them off the hook, I was asking them to share with me the joy of a small miracle, and then dumping a bucket of water on their head. Which was worse? And after the 25th congratulation, even I started to get depressed that I wasn't really about to get a free vacation in Southern California!

Then, at 11:44, Peter peed on the fire. A good friend and ex-coworker from my Campbell-Ewald days, Peter arrived at work for the late shift to open my email. He must have then heard the truth through the CE grapevine (I had already confessed to my old boss, Joe, that it was a cruel hoax) and assumed the jig was officially up. He did a Reply All: Oh my so had me. You little bastard. I put Castaway on my Netflix and everything.

Once my cover had been blown, I started getting an even mix of shock and rage from the people I had fooled, along with the occasional congratulations from true believers who must not have caught Peter's reply all.


MS: You're a dick! I can't wait to tell Claire that you did that when she's older, at her expense!

MG: Bastage!

GT: I knew something was up when you said you loved Castaway...but for some dumb reason you still had me going. Thanks a lot DAN!

CK: If this is an April Fool's joke I'm going to feel sad and possibly go into a deep, dark depression.

BP: I totally believed this and I would still be believing it if that Peter guy didn't reply to all with his response. It is a joke, right?

DM: I bought it hook, line, and sinker! And I KNEW it was April Fool’s Day. You sonofabitch!!!

As much as part of me wanted to take it all back, I still wanted to nab The Big Kahuna: my mom. I hadn't heard back from her yet, but knew that she probably wouldn't check her email until she got back home from work in the late afternoon. I also knew there was the slightest chance of this giving her a death by heart attack. But hey, it never stopped me when I was a kid from jumping out of the bushes at night, when she had returned from the grocery store, and watching her scream in SHEER DEMONIC TERROR.

Finally, at 4:34 p.m., her response came: The best April Fools joke I had all day. I am not the dumbest one in the group....

Now, I know my mom. I saw through her response, saw her disbelieving but still wanting to believe, and what her e-mail said to me was: STILL ABLE TO GET GOT. So I wrote back: Yeah, that's what everybody's been saying, mom. I had no idea it was April 1 and wish I would have waited to break the news. But this is really happening.

What happened next, I would find out later, was that my mom wept. Filled with belief in my story she wept from motherly fear for the safety of her granddaughter, her first-born son, and the new woman in his life, with whom she had just started to form a relationship. She wept for the same reasons she wept the first time I moved out to California on a whim, a decade ago. And she wept because it meant she would be seeing us now even less than the few times a year we've been able to get to Ohio for a visit.

Then my mom composed herself and called me. And we had a conversation. And it was serious, and it was full of details and planning, and I did my best to engage her concerns and talk seriously about Claire's future and to make her believe in this move and that, ultimately, it would be the best thing for all concerned. And once I totally had her, and knew that this was as real in her mind as anything could be real, I said: "And mom, you know what the craziest thing about this all is?"

Mom: What?

Me: I'm kidding. April Fool's!


Matt Johnson said...

I talked to mom (I'm his brother) and hour later after he broke the truth to her and she was still shaking. I told Dan that he had a good laugh at everyone's emotional expense and he said (laughing), "I was totally worth it."

!!!dr. thunder still high fives!!! said...

This was actually discussed last night via phone a number of times and in the true spirit of aprils fools agreed upon that it was a great ploy. i think when people really want to see great things happen to one another, they want to believe, no matter how ridiculous. you say?

ah, yes.


partymouse said...

For the record, it was a rare day where I was working the morning shift, and I fully believed this for 3 hours to the point where I lamented all of the good people I've known who've left the area... where I realized that even though I don't really see you at all, I like knowing that you're around... and where I was sincerely happy for you, but a bit depressed overall considering all the times I've moved and all the people who've come and gone in my life. I still think you're hilarious though. Brilliant, hilarious and, to repeat, quite a bitch when you want to be. xox Peter

Marie Lasferatu said...

WOW! You would be perfect for Cali!