Blake hated April Fool’s Day. Don’t fools run the place? They need a holiday too?
The fact that his birthday fell on April 1st didn’t help its reputation. Thanks to his brother, Jeff, he grew up being his family’s April Fool.
How many shaving crème or mayonnaise frosted cakes can one kid bite into and laugh? He never wanted to see another cake . Any mention of Marie Antoinette made him gag.
Despite his parent’s efforts, Jeff’s ingenious pranks always succeeded.
Blake admitted to himself, the hot fudge mashed potato sundae was inspired. And, though absurd, also delicious. Hold the gravy, please.
Blake understood this relentless sibling cruelty said more about Jeff than himself. But being the perennial butt of his jokes said plenty about him too.
When would it end?
When Blake left birthday celebrations behind his brother innovated into short-sheeting his bed and other tricks. One year he discovered his deodorant sabotaged with cream cheese.
Jeff over-stepped with the plastic wrap under the toilet seat gag. Playful humiliation is one thing. But there is no humor in threatening someone’s health and hygiene. Is this how family treats family? Blake doubted the time-honored saying ‘blood is thicker than poop.’
Jeff avoided earning his mother’s wrath. He wasn’t stupid.
In high school, no one knew Blake’s birthday. He had no time for ‘kid stuff’. If pressed, he would say, “February 29th,” denying March 1st as a proxy.
But word got out. Blake brought his girlfriend, Shelly, home for dinner. When he left the room, Jeff casually mentioned the approach of Blake’s natal day. Soon, the whole school knew and there was no escape.
He marked that birthday with a record of six ‘kick me’ signs stuck to the back of his shirt.
It wasn’t Shelly’s fault. She had no idea the reign of terror she’d unleashed upon poor Blake and felt terrible. They’d grown close until then. But that breach of trust doomed what could have been.
And it wasn’t that he lacked a learning curve. Growing up with that kind of treatment severely inhibits one’s ability to trust.
Once at a Christmas party, when the hostess offered him a plate of candies, he pushed the plate away. They looked like sparkly pebbles. As much as anyone Blake had a sweet tooth. But he didn’t want to carry it in his pocket.
Guarded against any hint of past experience, Blake walked out of a surprise party in his honor. If he felt the service lagged, he would leave restaurants. What some thought paranoid, he called careful.
In college he heard about someone putting honey on a local musician’s keyboard. Pretty nasty. Where is the humor in destroying someone’s source of income? Or the local wits who poured milk under the carpet of a ‘friend’s’ car. People did worse things. The depravity people sank to in the name of ‘humor’ seemed without limit.
“Everyone thinks their clever ‘jokes’ are so funny. Thinly veiled antagonism is all,” he said to his co-worker, Tom. They were talking about the ‘hazing’ planned for Dylan, the new hire. Collier, their boss, put every new employee through it. To him, it built staff camaraderie.
Tom said, “I remember when we hazed you. No reaction at all. Unbelievable.”
“Been there, done that. Saw it coming.”
“Some felt let down. They get a kick out of putting one over on the newbie.”
“I’m surprised no one has sued the company. I wouldn’t do it, but doesn’t Collier…”
“The boss always clears things with his lawyers. He’s not stupid. Whatever the deal, I’m sure it’s airtight.”
“Odd way to get people to connect.”
“Does he ever vary the snake gag? Mix it up a little, man…”
“Think about it, nothing actually happens. It’s all in their head. Fear creates the illusion.”
“Yeah… no evidence.” Blake thought a moment. “How do you sue over a ‘Boo!’?”
“Exactly! Sue over a ‘Boo!’ Perfect.”
“And the fact that everyone has survived it in good shape...”
“There you are. No big deal.”
‘No big deal, indeed. A waste of time and another chance for the yahoos and rubes to get their yucks at someone else’s expense,’ Blake thought.
Staff orientation was part of Blake’s job. Collier always reminded him not to give away the ‘big surprise’. Retired from the Navy, Collier loved recounting the pranks people pulled on his ship.
“I’m surprised we didn’t lose a few overboard,” he laughed.
This duplicity didn’t build trust or endear Blake to new employees who felt set up. He decided to treat Dylan like an adult.
After completing the paperwork and reviewing the employee manual, Blake faced Dylan.
“Welcome aboard, Dylan. There is one other item I want to discuss.”
“We’re a bit different from other places you may have worked. Mr. Collier, our CEO, has every new hire go through a process. He likes to think of it as a lark. A fun thing to build morale among the staff.”
“Some call it hazing. A prank. A practical joke. Every employee goes through it. They did it to me when I started.”
“Are you afraid of snakes?”
Dylan shrank from the word.
“Nothing to fear. There won’t be any snakes tomorrow.”
“I hate snakes.” Dylan spoke huskily, as if to himself.
“As I said, there won’t be snakes. But they pretend there’s a snake.”
Dylan got smaller. “I hate snakes,” he whispered.
This wasn’t what Blake expected. “Dylan, are you afraid of ropes? They stretch a rope through a puddle and a guy standing behind a tree pulls it so it looks like a snake. I lost count of how many people they’ve pranked with this.”
Dylan stared at the floor.
Blake waved his hand to get Dylan’s attention. “It’s really nothing. Kind of silly, if you ask me. Wanted to give you a heads up… Dylan?”
“I don’t know. Maybe…”
“It’ll be fine. Come tomorrow it’ll be a funny memory. Everyone’s been through it. Remember, it’s just a muddy rope.”
Blake stood and after a few moments, Dylan realized the meeting had ended. As if in a daze, he shuffled through the door.
The next day at lunch time, the staff gathered outside. The group strolled toward the adjacent park for their ‘picnic’. Hanging back, they let Blake and Dylan take the lead. Everyone wanted to watch the prank play out.
Dylan barely responded when Blake tried to make conversation. As they approached the puddle by the path, he slowed and began to tremble. He groaned.
People turned to each other in alarm.
Blake touched his arm. “Dylan, you okay?”
He mumbled and looked about as if seeing things.
Behind the crowd, unaware of Dylan’s agitated state, Collier signaled to the guy to pull the rope.
Dylan saw the rope moving snake-like through the muck and began to scream. His knees buckled. He collapsed and several people rushed to break his fall. Dylan kept screaming and flailing about. Others began to scream. Some yelled for help.
Blake tried to bring him back to his senses. “Dylan! It’s okay, Dylan. Look at me! It’s nothing!”
Blake wondered if he made a mistake warning Dylan. This didn’t make sense. For a moment, Dylan seemed to come out of it. Their eyes met. Dylan winked and then began to scream again.
Blake stepped away. He let others comfort Dylan.
For the first time, Blake had to laugh at the prank. This was too much. The punkers got punked.
After that day, no more hazing was authorized at the company.