If you saw him on the street, you might easily mistake him for St. Nick due to his silver white halo of hair flowing freely from his head and chin, his bulky frame hidden by the festive red color of his apparel from his pants held in place by his suspenders and loosely fitting tunic. Despite his striking resemblance to the Jolly Old Elf from the holidays, Alppers is the Patron Saint of April Fools’ Day. If truth be known, Alppers temperament and attitude is the polar opposite of Santa Claus. It is said he prefers a more subdued approach to his task as the patron saint of the one day of the year when cruel pranks are not only encouraged, but expected since it is April Fools after all. He does not seek the notoriety of his more flamboyant and famous colleague, but from some of the stories that have been circulating around the streets of the big city, Where once April Fools was marked as a festival in medieval times where a Fool King would be selected by a rowdy drunken crowd, the tradition of employing cruel pranks on friends and loved ones continues to mark the day, As the Patron Saint of April Fool’s Day, Alppers wants to change tradition substituting acts of kindness for cruel pranks.
Cassidy Home for Men is near the docks of the harbor where once merchant marines would spend the night waiting for new orders to sail. Built during the Great Depression by the WPA, Cassidy Home for Men is a safe boarding house for the displaced and forlorn for nearly a century. It is here a strangely dressed man enters requesting a room.
“Name.” Earl the proprietor asks the strange man. Holding a clipboard, Earl is wearing the sleeveless white t-shirt, suspenders, a grisly salt and pepper five o’clock shadow and a cigar hanging loosely out of the side of his mouth stood at the counter with a clipboard.
“Alppers.” He answered. He was an older gentleman with long flowing silver white hair and a vibrant red outfit.
“First name.” Earl growled, already losing patience with the peculiar man.
“I don’t have one.” He answered as the corners of his mouth hidden by his thick white beard turned up into a smile.
“What do you mean?” The man bit down on his cigar as he glared at him. A couple of the residents stood on the stairs to get a gander at the oddly dressed man at the front desk applying for a room at the Cassidy Home for Men.
“I don’t have a first name.” He shrugged.
“Strange…” He mumbled, “Now it’s four dollars a day or one hundred for the month. Mail is given to you when it arrives and meals are extra.”
“Sounds fine.” He handed Earl four dollars.
“Alright, sign here.” He put the clipboard in front of the man as he counted the bills. Alppers signed without hesitation. Turning his head he called out, “Whitcomb, show Alppers to his room.”
A man stepped from the crowd on the stairs. He was thin and dressed in clothes that had holes and tears in them, but he wore a bowler hat as a proper gentleman might and addressed the stranger, “Right this way, sir.”
Alppers followed Whitcomb up the steep stairs as they passed the curious onlookers from the boardinghouse.
“Pay no attention to them. They just are curious.” Whitcomb shook his head, “This will be your room. B-10.”
Nearly overcome by the strong odor of mold as Whitcomb opened the door, Alppers asked, “What is that awful odor?”
“Dunno.” He answered oblivious to the smell that nearly gagged Alppers upon entering the tiny closet of a room. Besides the powerful stench of mold, the stale odor of cigars and whisky still hung heavy in the claustrophobic room. Whitcomb pointed to a piece of paper, “Rules are right there. No smoking or alcohol and no hot plates.”
There were three pieces of furniture in the room of questionable quality, a bed that sagged a bit, a table and a chair. Checkerboard curtains hung over the only window and at the moment source of light. There was a bare 60 watt lightbulb hanging overhead. The window was so dirty that it did not allow much of the sunlight into the dark room.
“Welcome to the Taj Mahal.” Whitcomb chuckled as he closed the door behind him. The irony dripped like the moisture from the air conditioner in the window.
“He was weird.” Benny giggled. Blessed with a noticeable developmental delay, Benny acted like a ten year old boy most of the time.
“Whose turn is it to deal.” Earl asked sitting at the table in the lobby where he manned the counter wearing his suspenders and t-shirt.
“Mine.” Luke took the deck from Earl’s hands.
“Ain’t got no first name. Now that to me is pretty weird.” Earl scratched under his hairy armpit. Luke began to deal the cards.
“We still playing Spades?” Chad asked. Luke just nodded his head as he kept dealing the cards. Suddenly Alppers began to descend the stairs.
“Where you goin’ slick?” Earl burped.
“Out for a walk.” He answered.
“Not in this neighborhood. Not at this hour.” Earl chuckled.
“It’s alright. It’s my habit.” He smiled.
“No, you didn’t hear me, slick. You go out there and you will get your ass blown away.” Earl tilted his crooked head a bit.
“I’ll be fine.” He insisted as he pushed open the door.
“Front door is locked at ten p.m.” Earl added as Alppers stood there.
“I plan on being back by then.” He then walked out of the building, the door shutting behind him.
“Idiot.” Earl grumbled, shaking his head as he picked up his cards. “You deal like crap, Luke.”
Outside Cassidy Homes, Alppers entered a world of traffic noise, neon lights, gas fumes and the cold damp air that shrouded the streets with a misty fog making the people seem like living shadows. Yes, the city could be a tough place to be, but to him this is where he belonged.
He heard a woman scream. When he looked up he saw a bulky man pulling an elderly woman’s purse from her protective arms. The man twice as big as the woman, managed to separate the woman from her purse. The mask wearing purse snatcher laughed and began to run.
Alppers waved his hand. Immediately the purse snatcher appeared as if he ran into a solid wall. He fell to his knees and then face first to the sidewalk knocked out cold. Walking over to the unconscious thief, he removed the stolen object and handed it back to its rightful owner.
“Thank you so much.” She was almost in tears. “My son has warned me not to walk past sundown.”
“He’s right.” Alppers nodded.
“What is your name?” She asked, reaching for her wallet.
“Alppers, ma’am. No I cannot accept it.” Alppers said, refusing the money she tried to hand him.
“Alppers, you are Good Samaritan.” She tucked her bag under her arm and hailed a cab.
“Whaaa.” The masked thief was just regaining consciousness.
“Let me help you up.” Alppers offered him a hand. Once on his feet, the man removed his mask. He did not seem like the criminal type to Alppers.
“It was like I ran into a wall.” He exhaled heavily. “I ain’t got a single dime on me and I’m as hungry as a wolf.”
“Let me buy you dinner.” Alppers suggested pointing to a small restaurant across the street called Mitchell’s.
“I’d be so grateful, mister.” Together they went to have dinner at Mitchell’s which was empty when they walked in. Alppers made sure Alphonse had plenty to eat and even had the waitress make him a doggy bag for later.
As he continued on his walk, Alppers saw a man shivering trying to sleep in a doorway. He waved his hand and instantly the man was covered with a warm down blanket and a soft pillow. Passing the man, Alppers could hear him snoring contently.
“Do you know that spring always comes late here. Hard to believe tomorrow starts April already.” A man at the bus stop told his friend.
“Are you kidding me? I gotta remember to pull a couple of pranks on my wife.” The other guys said with a laugh.
Yes, April Fools. How people liked pulling pranks on the people they loved. Alppers knew it wasn’t always funny to be the victim of a prank .
“Help me.” He heard someone yell from a dark alley.
There was a man holding a knife on another man who had just stepped out of a bar. With a wave of his hand the knife turned to rubber sagging in the robber’s hand. Discarding the useless weapon, the robber ran away, but the victim still stood there frozen in primal fear by the attempted robbery.
“Are you alright?” Alppers asked the man.
“No, my wife passed away this time last year and I was having a couple in her memory when this guy came at me from the alley.” The man staggered a few steps.
“It’s alright, he’s gone now.” Alppers picked up the rubber knife. “Do you need to call a cab?”
“I live just over there.” He pointed.
“Tell you what, I’ll walk home with you.” Alppers put the man’s hand in the crook of his arm.
“You are very kind. What’s your name?” He asked with a noticeable slur to his words.
“Alppers.” He answered.
“Alppers? Kind of a strange name, but I can’t thank you enough.” He wobbled a bit as he walked.
“Tell me about your wife.” Alppers suggested.
“Her name was Trish...Patricia and she was a saint if ever there was one.” He shook his head, “My name is Phil by the way. This is my place.”
There was a porch light on.
“Funny, I didn’t turn that light on before I left.” He stared up at the light. “She must’ve done it. I believe she watches over me...like tonight...sending you to help me.”
“She was a good woman, that’s for sure.” Alppers acknowledged as Phil opened the door with keys on the third clumsy attempt.
“I miss her so much sometimes.” His eyes were glossy when he turned to face Alppers.
“God bless you, Phil.” Alppers waved as Phil closed the door behind him.
When he got to the end of the street, there was a man standing there wearing a gabardine suit and a fedora.
“How’s it going, Alppers?” He asked.
“Every year you send me here and no matter how much I try to do, it’s just never enough.” Alppers told the man.
“You know you can’t stop it all.” He bent his head to look Alppers in the eyes after Alppers bowed his head. “Do you believe in Santa Claus?” The man asked him and upon hearing that Alppers laughed throwing his head back.
“Children still believe that he drives a sleigh pulled by reindeer to give Christmas presents to all the children who have been good throughout the year.” The man replies.
“He’s not real.” Alppers shakes his head.
“Yes, but you are.” The man turns to look Alppers in the eyes.
“It would take more than one day to do any good.” Alppers throws his hands up.
“We’ve been trying for years and we still have war.” The man sighs and in his exhale, Alppers can see his breath hanging in the damp air. “All the good that we do will never be enough. You knew that.”
“I know, I know, but it’s hard to accept.” Alppers bows his head again. “I just wish I could wave my hands and put an end to all this misery and suffering.”
“You can’t save everyone, but the ones you can save you should rejoice over. Remember that story about the shepherd who loses one sheep out of his flock. He leaves his flock to find the missing one and rejoices when he does.” The man puts his arm around Alppers’ shoulders as they walk the dark street together. “Being a patron saint is no picnic you know.”
“You know it. You know it.” Alppers put his hands together. “Why this day? Why a day when it’s okay to make a fool out of someone?”
“We need to remind people that kindness is still a more acceptable path to follow. Hey, it’s midnight.” He smiled at Alppers as he began to fade into darkness.
“It’s my time to shine.” Alppers tried to smile as his companion vanished into the misty darkness.
There was a man sleeping next to a hat that contained a few coins he had earned from passersby when he was playing the violin. The man was using his instrument as a pillow as he slept on the steps of City Hall. Snapping his fingers, the street musician was covered with a warm blanket and under his head a soft pillow in place of his violin. Alppers bent down and put a hundred dollar bill in the man’s pocket instead of the hat as he walked on.
When Alppers got to Cassidy Home, the door was locked just as Earl had promised. Alppers nodded and the lock snapped open. Earl was still playing cards with some of the tenants. He looked up when Alppers came walking in. Angry that Alppers had just opened the lock without much problem, he turned, “Where have you been?”
“Out walking.” He answered without looking at Earl.
“You are lucky you were able to get in the front door. I was going to have your stuff bagged and tossed.” Earl snarled.
“Thank you for waiting.” Alppers acknowledged.
“Just who are you?” Earl squinted.
“Alppers.” He shook his head.
“Man needs more than one name.” Earl snapped.
“C’mon Earl, you’re dealing.” Blurry-eyed Chad called out.
“There's something about you I can’t quite put my finger on.” Earl waved at him as he returned to the table and Alppers continued his way up to his room.
Once secluded inside his room, Alppers did not turn on the overhead light. Instead he lay on top of the bed listening to the constant howl of sirens until he drifted off to sleep.
Shaving cream in the hand while someone with a feather tickles the nose of the sleeping person. With the nose tingling, the sleeping person goes to scratch his or her nose with a handful of shaving cream. Laughter ensues.
Person falls asleep in a chair. A few hefty, burly men lift the chair onto a table and then someone yells, “Fire!” Person wakes up startled and falls off the table. Laughter ensues.
Sitting around a campfire telling slasher stories. Someone jumps out of the bushes with a fake knife and hockey mask. Screams and laughter ensue.
The line is thin between pranking someone and cruelty. Sometimes we have no idea when we have crossed the line. Sometimes it is the cruelty that inspires us to take it even further.
By the time Alppers has gotten to breakfast, Earl has pranked most of the tenants. Alppers gets a cup of coffee, but Earl has added vinegar to the grounds. Taking a healthy swig of coffee, Alppers spits it out all over the table as the others laugh, because they have already fallen victim to the prank.
“I love April Fools.” Earl slaps his knee.
“Funny Earl.” Alppers’ eyes are watering, “Now go do something nice to somebody.”
“I know, Alppers, April Fools.” Earl laughed, “Be nice to somebody. That’s a real hoot. You know Alppers, you have a really strange way of looking at the world sometimes. Right fellas.”
No one joined in with Earl’s laughter. Most of them were tired of being the brunt of the joke. The jokes just weren’t funny anymore.
“I just feel that there is a lack of compassion and empathy in the world today. It is much easier being harsh and cruel that it is to express compassion and empathy. Do you know what empathy is?” Alppers asks, but Earl’s facial expression goes blank. “Empathy isn’t throwing a rope down to someone who has fallen into a well. No, empathy is jumping in the well with them and spending some time with them.”
“You are one cracked egg, do you know that?” Earl glances around, but sees the others all looking at him with the same blank expression he had worn on his face just seconds ago.
“I really didn’t expect you to get that. People who do not know what empathy is, never get it.” Alppers smiles at Earl as if he has just been played for the fool. “My time is growing short.”
“What harm is there in a little prank, anyway?” Earl finally finds his voice.
“Sometimes a prank can shatter a person like an egg. You never know what someone has gone through unless you jump in the well with them, right Chad?”
Chad’s face turns white.
“What did they find when they pulled the car out of the river?” Alppers remarked.
“My brother’s body.” He bowed his head. “It was an accident. We all had too much to drink.”
“I never knew…” Benny gasped.
“No one did...except Chad.” There was a swirling of light surrounding Alppers. In a bright flash of light, Alppers was gone.
“I knew he was nothing more than some sick April Fools joke.” Earl remarked as the rest of them sat there with their jaws hanging open.
Chad shook his head, “He was sent to open our eyes to the foolishness we waste our lives on. He was a reminder on how easy it is for us to be misled by our own desire and distractions until our lives have no more meaning than an April Fools prank.”