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The Joke's on Us!





The biggest holiday in the Stone household was April Fools Day. I come from a vaudeville entertainment family where the credo is, "Fuck 'em if they can't take a joke." Or, as Mom said, "Joke 'em if they can't take a fuck."

Nothing we did on our special day was spectacular or hilarious. It was more the anticipation of something to be pranked than the actual prank. Still, I recall the day with fond memories: intestines churning, eyes bugging out of my head, short, shallow gasps of air. Yes, in my family, there was no such thing as boundaries on April Fools Day.

Those days are long gone, yet I look back with nostalgia, no longer the brunt of family pranks as malicious as they were and the general indifference to my victimized plights. Yes, I was the dour child, the target of all those April Fools jokes...

Around thirty years ago, my sister, Sveya and her husband visited with my parents for the April Fools Day weekend. I joined the crowd. It was a perfect spring day.

For some reason, Sveya and I decided to go for a long walk before dinner, something we hadn't done since we were kids. It may have had to do with Dad's undertone suggestion: "Why don't you girls go out for a walk around the lake. It's great exercise."

Not even a second went by when my sister suggested, "Let's walk around the lake! It's great exercise!"

"Terrific idea! I wonder why we haven't done this since kids," I stated out loud to no one in particular. My dad giggled in the background.

My sister called to her husband, "Honey, do you want to join us?"

"No, you two go ahead and bond. I'll stay here and hang with your parents." He wanted to watch tv with my father, truth be told.

Enthused, we put on our sneakers and prior to racing out, my father bellowed from the kitchen, "Where are you two running off to?"

"A walk around the lake."

"Oh boy," he said. Dad knew better. "Dinner's in three hours."

"We'll be back way in time," I said.

"Oh boy," he repeated.

The first two miles things were okay. We chatted, laughed, caught up on gossip. Around the third mile in, Sveya had to pee.

"Now?" I yelped. "Didn't you go right before we left?"

"I can't help it!" she wailed. "Just stand guard while I find a spot." Prepared, she pulled out a wad of kitchen towel from her jacket pocket before walking off the road into the woods.

"Stand guard? We're on a country road. There won't be another car here for two more months!"

"Turn around!" she continued to wail. "I can't pee if you're watching."

Moments later, I heard a cry. "Shit! I missed and peed on my foot."

That was nothing new. Until that moment, I entirely forgot her proclivity for wanting to pee in woods and her poor aim.

"Quick, pull over!" she shrieked the last drive back into the City. I swung off the highway and took the closest exit which led to a lake. Sveya popped out of the car and ran into a copse of trees. Seconds later, I heard a giant plop and she emerged soaking wet. "I lost my balance," she explained.

This time, peeved, she joined me on the road. The former bonhomerie dissipated as she glumly stared at her wet sneaker. "You wanna turn back?" I asked.

"Nah, we're halfway through. Let's keep on moving." Sveya had no concept of distance. We were anything, but halfway through. I'm an accommodating soul and looked forward to this walk even though I didn't have sufficient foresight to take into account Sveya's bladder and accidental peeing incidents. That's when things went sour. Upset, argumentative, Sveya brought up issues we had since her birth, pummeling me emotionally, "I was right, right? Right? Huh? Right?"

After forty-five non-stop minutes of this, I pointed out, "The sun's starting to set." That shut her up. For, in the country, there are no street lights.

"We're FUCKED!" she cried. "How're we gonna see in the dark?"

"More importantly," I brought up, "we've been gone for a loooong time. Do you think anyone at home noticed?"

"No doubt they already ate dinner and are back watching tv, forgetting all about us," she spat out in anger.

"Do you think your husband would at least go for a drive to make sure you're okay?"

Her eyes narrowed. "He just put our insurance policy together. Let him live under the illusion that this may be his lucky break."

"Listen, we're at the halfway point. We could either turn around and go back through the woods or continue to the major artery where we'd be fodder for drunken truck drivers." I could barely discern her facial features in the dimming sunlight. "Your call, Sveya."

"Let's go forward. Perhaps we can hitchhike."

"It's off season. This is gonna be some walk."

Without exaggeration, it was the longest walk of my life. The entire time Sveya groused, cursed up a storm, invoked the rage of deities. I regretted going on that walk to have a bonding period with my kid sister.

We hit the major artery and soon came across roadkill.

"Dinner!" Sveya yelled with enthusiasm.

"You're hungry as well?" I looked at the fluffy pancake. "Perhaps we should take a piece of it, just in case."

"You may have a point. Do you think they left any food for us at home?"

Sidestepping the carcass, we trudged on in the darkness. Until we noticed headlights. It was a cop car heading our way! Jumping up and down, we hailed him. The officer rolled up to us, rolled down his window, saw me, rolled his window up again and peeled away.

"Was that Dilbert?" Sveya asked.

"FUCK YOU, Sveya!" I cursed. "This is YOUR fault!"

Six years' earlier, I dated Dilbert. I was crazy mad about him. But I was also crazy mad about another guy I dated in NYC. Things were okay until my mother 'accidentally' on purpose slipped in front of Dilbert the other guys' name which was Don, signaling the end of my relationship with Dilbert.

It didn't help that Dilbert and Sveya were besties, especially because their common enemy was me. For six years they used me as the counterpoint to all their jokes. It was my turn to grouse. "If you didn't rub Dilbert's face in the fact that I cheated on him, around now we should've been home. I hope you're happy with yourself."

She didn't say a word cause this time I was right. Right? Right.

Not a single car passed for the ensuing hours it took to walk the side of the major artery in darkness homewards. I got a cramp in my right calf and Sveya whined about wanting to pee.

"You'd think Mom or Dad would get worried that we haven't been home in hours!"

"You'd think my husband would give a shit whether I'm alive or dead."

Finally, we spotted the local ice cream parlor that we nicknamed, "Crappy Cone." In the chiaroscuro from the neon lights, our faces lit up with joy. "FOOD!" Sveya and I screamed in unison. The 10 mile walkabout made us very hungry.

We ran up to the counter to order. "How much money did you bring?" I asked.

"Nothing."

"Nothing? Shit, Sveya, I've only thirty-five cents." I cried. In defeat, I added, "We're almost home, we can wait."

Ten minutes later, we tromped into the living room, shaky, exhausted, limping, disheveled, sweat-stained, ravenous, one of us sporting a urine-stained sneaker. Lackadaisically, my parents and brother-in-law swiveled their heads from the tv set and glanced at us.

"Where were you guys again?" asked my father, the man who suffered from my mother's selective memory.

"Out for a walk!" I yelled.

"What were you doing outside for a walk in the darkness?" asked my mother. With the faintest of gestures, Mom waved towards the kitchen. "Are you hungry? There may be some leftovers."

Incredulous, my sister asked, "You mean you didn't notice we were gone for four hours?"

Actually, they did. The joke was on us.


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