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  • (Note - this story is adapted, and borrows some from a story I posted last April Fool's Day - one of my favorite days of the year)

    Day after day, alone on a hill
    The man with the foolish grin is keeping perfectly still
    But nobody wants to know him, they can see that he's just a fool
    And he never gives an answer

    But the fool on the hill sees the sun going down
    And the eyes in his head see the world spinning round

    Well on the way, head in a cloud
    The man of a thousand voices talking perfectly loud
    But nobody ever hears him, or the sound he appears to make
    And he never seems to notice

    But the fool on the hill sees the sun going down
    And the eyes in his head see the world spinning round

    And nobody seems to like him, they can tell what he wants to do
    And he never shows his feelings

    But the fool on the hill sees the sun going down
    And the eyes in his head see the world spinning round

    He never listens to them, he knows that they're the fools
    They don't like him

    The fool on the hill sees the sun going down
    And the eyes in his head see the world spinning round

    Oh, round, an' round, an' round, an' round

    by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, “Fool on the Hill”, Beatles

    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, and life, too 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 as part of some absurd sitcom on T.V. When someone does something really stupid or dramatic, just hit that mental laugh-track button, and laugh at them, instead of taking them too seriously. Don't judge - laugh!

    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 house during my formative years. By the time I was born, my oldest brother was 8, and there were 6 of us kids. As if that wasn’t enough for my poor parents, my birth ushered in the worst years of Mom’s addiction. On top of her burgeoning alcoholism, which she had inherited from her father, my namesake, she had all kinds of mysterious physical ailments. Every time she went to a doctor, they'd prescribe a new medicine for her to take. She became a walking pharmacy. She tried to tell 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 were also of no worldly help to Mom - they would always tell her to have more babies, the Catholic cure to all ills in those days.

    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. "Here, take two of these", and sweep your problems and issues under the rug. I think the ignorance of the 50’s led to the explosions of the 60’s.
  • But 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 nice, but judgmental mother was around) !

    Then there was the time, 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 their fright. I was about 10 or 11 - 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, just as a scene in the movie was playing out where a head rolled down a long flight of stairs, and up to the feet of Betty Davis’ character. This was one of my all-time favorite “fool” moments. Everyone was screaming their heads off, but the best part of it was my brother Ken, 6 years my senior, yelling above the din, “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. That had to be my all-time favorite joke!

    Much later in life, when Dad began to write down the family stories, he began with a series of stories about me. This really surprised me, as I didn't think he ever really liked me. Maybe that was why he started with me, his way of beginning to show me that he did like me, he'd just had a hard time showing it. Anyway, after writing some of the funny stories about me, he wrote about my struggles to overcome addiction, which at the time, were still struggles. He wrote about how I had played the role of clown in the family, and how much it had helped ease the tension in the family, but how he thought it had been at my own expense - that behind the facade of the joker, lied the tears of the clown. When I first read it, I thought he had completely missed the mark. 'C'mon Dad, lighten up, for Chrissakes! Don't you get it? I was just having some fun'. But, eventually, I realized that maybe he was onto something.
  • After a bunch of my older brothers and sister moved out to go to college, or went away to work summer jobs at the shore, I became very lonely, without the masses to entertain at home. I went out to find friends, and I would continue to do what I had learned to do at home - play the fool. It became a role I was compelled to play. I quickly became the scapegoat of the crowd I was trying to fit in with. The more they scapegoated me, the more I played the fool, playing up to the role. In my family, it had worked to ease the tension, and no one had taken advantage of me. These friends were not family, though, and they just egged me on, and made me feel like a complete idiot. I grew to hate it, and I often wondered how I got into those situations. I didn't want to be a complete idiot. I just wanted to not feel so damned alone and lonely. Humor was the only thing I knew for doing that, humor, apparently, at my own expense. That's what Dad was talking about! I finally got it!

    I eventually learned how to put humor in its place. Laughing is still important. I tend to be the one who tries to ease the tension in a deadly serious meeting, if not by joking around, by just not taking it all so deadly seriously, all the time. I just try to keep it light. Life is too short for all drama, all the time. No matter how serious it all seems to be - find a way to laugh at it.

    Life is more fun that way - and you'll live a lot longer. Seriously!

    Happy April Fools, you fools! Try to have some fun out there!
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