April Fool’s Day. Gotta love a day that celebrates fools! Fools are important. They make us laugh – at them, and at ourselves. If you can’t laugh at yourself, you’re probably taking yourself too goddamned seriously. If you can’t laugh at what’s going on around you, might I recommend you invest in a mental laugh-track. It doesn’t cost a thing – you just have to imagine whatever drama is playing out around you is part of an absurd sitcom on T.V., and when someone does something really stupid or dramatic or beyond all reasonable comprehension, hit that mental button, where the crowd laughs, and laugh along with them. Try it – it works!
In my family growing up, I played the role of the fool quite well, I am told. There was a ton of tension in the family during my formative years. By the time I was born, my oldest brother was only 7, and there were already 4 other kids in the family between me and him, 6 of us in all. As if that wasn’t enough for my poor parents to handle, my birth ushered in the worst years of Mom’s addiction. She had all kinds of physical ailments, that everytime she went to a doctor for, they kept prescribing new medicines for. She was a walking pharmacy. She tried to tell a few of them that she thought she had a drinking problem, but none of them believed her. “No, no, you’re fine - here, try this, it will help you to sleep at night”, and “Here, take 2 of these, they will help you to wake up in the morning”, or “Try these pills, they will help you to relax.” The priests would always tell her to have more babies.
When people talk about the idyllic ‘50’s, I have no idea what they’re talking about. I call it the Ignorant ‘50’s, when doctors thought drugs cured all, and nobody liked to admit that there were any problems. Take two of these, and sweep it under the rug. The ignorance of the 50’s led to the explosion of the 60’s.
I was born with a knack for making people laugh. I was a natural practical joker. Like the time that Grandma and Great Aunt Margaret were visiting us. They were sitting in the living room, talking with Mom and Dad. Bo-o-o-ring! I had to liven things up. I had a large, black rubber spider that I tied to the end of a stick with some fishing line, and slowly lowered it from my perch on the landing of the stairs to the second floor, through the railing that sat above where they were sitting and chatting, down onto Aunt Margaret’s head. I damn near gave Aunt Margaret and Grandma a heart attack as all hell broke loose, and earned the ire of, and a beating from, my father – but everyone else laughed their asses off, (I even detected a little passing smirk on Mom’s face, which made it totally worth the price of admission – she was always a little more uptight when Dad’s judgmental mother was around) !
Then there was the time, which I’ve written about before, when, during a frightening scene in “Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte”, half my siblings and their friends gathered around the T.V. in a dark, Saturday evening living room, glued to the tube in fright, I snuck up to the landing on the stairs, buttoned my black altar boy cassock (robe) around the top of my head, making me appear headless, and threw myself bodily down the flight of stairs, rolling “headless” right into the living room, simultaneously with a scene in the movie where a head was rolling down a long flight of stairs, to the feet of Betty Davis’ character. This was one of my all-time favorite “fool” moments. The best part of it was my brother Ken, 6 years my senior, yelling above the din of shrieks and blood-curdling screams, “Oh, my God, Oh my God - Pete, is that you?!?! Goddamnit, Pete - is that you?!?!?”, me trying to stifle an uncontrollable laugh as I shook convulsively under that cassock.
I still believe in making people laugh. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to do it in a more subtle fashion, but when all else fails, I am not averse to pulling out my Elvis head mask, in the middle of a deadly serious meeting, just to get people to lighten up, already! What’s the worst that could happen?
Thank you .... thank you very much.