Rediscovering April Fools' Day

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THE salt is in the sugar bowl. The sugar is in the saltshaker. The eggs in the refrigerator were skillfully sucked dry the night before. ``Gee, Dad, how come the car's rolling down the driveway?''

``Why's Bowser foaming at the mouth, Mom?''

``April Fool!''

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I had lost touch with this playfully diabolical day as I matured into a boring pillar of the community, having become the co-publisher of a weekly newspaper, the Gazette. Then one day, oppressed by multiple impending deadlines and a terminally serious story on ``sewer avoidance,'' I realized that the next issue would be coming out on April 1 and that I now had the power to fool entire municipalities.

I hesitated at first. After all, I was a newspaper magnate of sorts. Anyway, I was a grown-up. But the temptation, the sudden pull of reawakening childish impulses, was too strong: just one little, absolutely irresponsible, untrue, fabricated, never-happened, made-up story. On Page 1. Up top. With the size of headline most papers save for the outbreak of world wars.

On the big day, the article announced that the diminutive Gazette had purchased the nearby great big daily newspaper -- a preposterous proposition on the face of it. Each succeeding paragraph of the bogus dispatch was laced with increasingly obvious clues to tip off readers to the ruse. Finally, it read that we planned to ``expand the daily's news staff by cutting it in half -- literally, at the waist; this would create twice as many reporters, although, of course, they would be half their former stature.''

Who would possibly swallow such a tale whole, especially with an ``April Fool'' garnish at the end? Virtually our entire readership, that's who. Don't let anyone tell you that people don't believe what they read in the newspapers or that they examine them very carefully. Our phones were ringing off the hook for weeks, and classifieds came pouring in through the mails.

The following April 1, we wanted to have fun but leave no doubt as to the nature of our ersatz story: ``Soviet News Agency Tass Buys the Gazette'' stretched across the top of Page 1. ``It was the first expansion of the Communist media giant outside of the Iron Curtain,'' according to the story, which continued: ``. . . the new publisher, Vydonch U. Kissov, promised that his paper would be thoroughly red.''

Several paragraphs down, the untimely and simultaneous deaths ``due to natural causes'' of me and my partner were duly noted.

Among the changes Kissov planned for the Gazette were a whole new philosophy for the popular ``Social Notes'' column, plus a revolutionary home delivery system for the weekly: cruise missiles. That last proposal, said the new publisher, laughing uncontrollably and slapping a shoe against his knee, was a ``leetle Soviet joke.''

And, naturally, the paid paper would be transformed into a free tabloid, according to Kissov, who explained, ``In glorious Union of Soviet Socialist Republics everything is free except dissent -- you pay for that.''

No need to waste any ink with an ``April Fool'' at the bottom of this story.

Bright and early the next morning the phone rang. The gentleman on the other end said he had known it was bound to happen sooner or later, that it was only a matter of time that before long all the newspapers in the country would be Communist-controlled. My partner and I explained at length that it was a joke, an April Fools' Day prank, sort of a tradition at the paper, and that he had, regrettably, been fooled. After we finished, there was a long pause on the line.

Then he said, ``You expect me to believe a bunch of Commies?''

David Holahan is a free-lance writer.

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