Most parents are barely adults when they start having children, and young parents can hardly be trusted with raising children, let alone naming them. I have a friend, quite the drinker, who named his first son Jack Daniels Bezrutczyk. Similarly, Mrs. Christmas, a teacher at a rival high school, named her daughter Mary. Yes, there are quite a few stories about children with odd names, but this is a true story about a girl, a name, and an historic prank.
I knew the new family next door were the Phool’s—it said so right on their mailbox. I didn’t find out the name of their daughter, however, until my mom and I brought over a chocolate cake to welcome them to the neighborhood.
Mr. Phool owned Mr. Phool’s Pool, Patio, & Garden Center, where everyone in town preferred to go for cheap chlorine and a guaranteed laugh, as Mr. Phool enjoyed playing practical jokes as well as making bad puns. His wife, who helped out in the back, was his equal in groan-inducing word play and complicated pranks. Poking fun at all times was a Phool family tradition. And who could blame them—as their first names were Noah and Jaina. When Noah Phool called for his wife in the back of the store, he’d sing “Jain Jain Jain, Jaina Phool…” in a passable Aretha Franklin impersonation.
Their only child was born in the spring. Now, I know what you are thinking: They named their daughter April. April Phool. Well, you’d be wrong. Instead, they named her Beatrice, but everyone called her Bea. Bea Phool.
Bea was a lovely child who turned into a rebellious teenager. In the Phool family, rebellion wasn’t like it is in your family or mine. The way Bea rebelled was to simply fit in, to be normal, and to not engage in tricks or any other sort of mischief.
This was heartbreaking for Noah Phool, especially, since he enjoyed dressing up in a dinosaur costume, hiding behind bushes, and jumping out to terrify joggers out for a run. He could often be found in the middle of night, carrying a ladder, as he’d often duct taped plastic baby dolls to the outside of neighbors' windows and rooftop skylights. All the neighbors were very careful about opening their mailboxes because with the Phool’s as neighbors, inside the box could be a thoughtful gift or an explosion.
What upset Noah and Jaina Phool was that as Bea grew older, she was less inclined to carry on what she saw as the Phool’s foolish tradition of fooling friends and neighbors.
“Flaming bag of dog poop?” Noah Phool suggested, matches in hand.
“Nope,” Bea Phool declined.
“Ding-dong ditch?” Noah Phool inquired, putting on his running shoes.
“Pull my finger?” Noah Phool asked, with a hopeful eyebrow raised.
“You are disgusting,” Bea Phool replied, returning to her room and slamming the door.
The Phool’s could have handled calling Bea a They or if Bea loved a Dee, but her quest to be just like everyone else made all the other Phool’s sad. Bea, like an unemployed jester, was nobody’s Phool. Yet in not so many words, Bea told her parents they were childish, immature, and embarrassing.
So her parents decided not to be. It would prove to be the greatest prank ever in the Phool’s history of foolhardy fun.
After telling her parent’s how much they embarrassed her, especially her senior year of high school, Bea returned home to find her entire house was painted beige. Not just any beige. Beige, the color of a dead camel in a barren wasteland of sand and oatmeal. As she walked inside, the interior was painted eggshell with notes of white and cream. The former reds and yellows and oranges were gone. Even the new nondescript couches in the living room did not boast the prerequisite Whoopee cushions and familiar loud floral patterns. They were simply normal couches with tasteful monochromatic throw pillows.
From the walls, the pictures of clowns and funny optical illusions and assorted faces with eyes that seemed to follow you as you walked by were all gone. In their place were still life paintings of fish and musical instruments and cheese. Bea ran to the garage, usually packed to the rafters with her parents’ tricks and gadgets and costumes, exploding cigars and black pepper sticks of gum and Chinese finger traps. To her amazement, the entire garage was cleaned out. Nothing resided in its space except two late model Volvos, which got very good gas mileage.
If you think that was bad, the worst was yet to come. Bea, dazed and confused, stumbled back into the house making a Bea-line for the backyard. In this, her strangest of days, she needed something to ground her, something to show her she was actually in the right house. To her shock and dismay, the Phool pool, usually dyed hot pink and filled with colorful beach balls and pool noodles was now filled with plain blue, boring, chlorinated water.
The final straw was her parents. Noah, dressed in a pair of khakis and a white, crisp polo, was seated at the outdoor table reading the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal. Jaina, decked out in black yoga pants and a long sleeved white shirt, busied herself with apparently a new hobby: scrapbooking.
“Mooooom? Daaaaad?!” Bea cried, incredulously.
“Beatrice, my dear. Good to see you,” her father replied, causally flipping the newspaper page. He didn’t bother to look up at her. “Jaina, did you schedule my colonoscopy?”
“Seriously, Noah. You think with all I do around here that you could do one thing yourself,” she snapped. She continued cutting a decal the read “FORCED FAMILY FUN,” then pointedly affixed it to a picture from a trip to the oral surgeon who removed Bea’s wisdom teeth.
Bea looked from one parent to the other and back again. Her parents never sniped at each other. She always remembered them laughing, plotting their next prank, trying to outdo one another.
Bea was convinced this normal thing was just a phase, a midlife crisis, a temporary anomaly, but as days turned to weeks and the new normal became normal, Bea found herself one confused Phool. It was a terrible way to end her senior year of high school—with normal parents!
In an effort to understand her new life, Bea turned to her blog, “Phool’s Gold,” to find answers. Bea had started her online hobby as a way to dispense Phoolish advice, but now it was her turn to pick the brains of her seventeen followers. Turns out Bea wasn’t very popular as a blogger, but for some reason when she started asking for help, her subscriber list ballooned.
Why are my parents so boring now? She wrote, wiping her eyes. They don’t make tacos for breakfast anymore. They don’t put plastic insects in my shower or my sandwiches. We don’t sing all the parts of “One Day More” in the grocery store, and Les Miserables is their favorite! I miss how they used to be.
IronyAlert2020 posted: “All you ever did was rant about them before. Are you ever happy? You wanted this new vibe, so vibe.”
WhinyGirl8000 wrote: “I wish my parents would even talk to me. They just yell. Your parents seemed so cool.”
OverBredPoodle commented: “My mom is too busy writing my college essays and scheduling me for “enrichment” stuff so I can go to a good college. I wish I had your parents.”
Holidays and birthdays came and went. No gag gifts given, no boxes wrapped in boxes wrapped in boxes. Christmas passed with no ugly sweaters, and similarly, no crazy glasses or noisemakers were distributed on New Year’s Eve.
Bea’s trips to her father’s pool store were no more exciting than her bland days at home or school. She even felt the angry stares of the pool shop employees, as they blamed Bea personally for the change in beloved Mr. Phool.
In a cruel twist of irony, Bea’s friends, whom she was always trying to impress, stopped coming by the house to visit. It wasn’t fun to hang out there anymore.
In May, Bea sent out invitations to her high school graduation party, but she didn’t know if anyone actually wanted to come. She knew she didn’t, as the invitations her parents ordered were stark and clinical, printed on white cardstock in Times New Roman 20 point font, as impersonal as a business card:
Class of 2021
Saturday, June 5, 2021
7:00 p.m. - 8:30 p.m.
On the day of her party, her father walked into her room, looking at an invoice from the store.
“Beatrice, I need you to drive to the Chlorine Depot. They’ve shorted us a few hundred gallons. Take the store truck,” he said, or rather commanded.
“The Chlorine Depot? That’s three hours away! I was hoping to get my nails and hair done for tonight’s party . . .” she protested, but stopped when she saw his stoney glare.
“Must. You. Always. Complain,” he spat. “If you leave now, you’ll be home by 6:00 p.m. Plenty of time for you to get dressed.”
“But—” The reply died on her lips. She sighed, grabbed her car keys, and drove to the pool store. She grabbed the keys from her mother, who worked the cash register and who notably said nothing about the evening’s planned festivities. When asked about the event, her mother had waved her off and mentioned some random caterer’s name.
The filthy store truck was uncomfortable. Bea made the long drive to the Chlorine Depot, waited for the chlorine to be loaded, and took the equally long trip back to Mr. Phool’s Pool, Patio, & Garden Center.
Six hours is a lot of time to think, seven if you count the stop to load and drop off the truck. Bea contemplated her last year of high school, her family, and her life. She decided she was fed up with normal. She was a Phool and Phool’s are fools in the best sense of the word. She was going to go to her graduation party, have a good time, and then act the Phool, showing her friends and classmates how Phoolish she could really be. .
As it turns out, Bea didn’t have to wait that long. Back in her car and on the street where she lived, Bea saw her mom and dad waiting at the front door for her. The party wasn’t supposed to be formal, so she was a little surprised to see them in an evening gown and tuxedo. However, it was her dad who was in the evening gown (complete with heels!) and her mom sporting a very debonair tuxedo and a fake mustache.
The street in front of her house was blocked off to traffic as a loud chaotic party was going on. People were playing “Pin the Tail on the Donkey” on an actual donkey, and all of her friends were in Halloween costumes or wearing their clothes inside out. Barry Goldschmidt from her Calculus class wore only a sequined thong.
As she surveyed the buffet line, she noticed white gloved attendants served upside down pizzas, Girl Scout cookies, and Capri Sun juice pouches that attendees were encouraged to squirt on each other.
With tears in her eyes, she walked to her parents and embraced them.
“I’m sorry, you guys . . .” she said.
“Well, you know what they say, Bea,” her mother grinned. “Phool me once, shame on you. Phool me twice, shame on me. . .”
“Fool me 365 times, and you’re a weatherman!” they said together, jumping as one into the pool.