It is 4am on an dark overcast Monday morning and I am waiting.
It is April 1, 1985, and I am waiting in the shrubs in the front yard of my family’s Southern California suburban home.
I am sixteen years old, dressed in sweat pants and a jacket to ward off the chill, and I am waiting to play an April Fool’s Day joke on my father.
I have been waiting in the damp greenery for fifteen minutes, but the length of time I have waited to pull off this prank is exactly one year.
Three hundred and sixty five days ago, I saved the entire edition of The Los Angeles Times newspaper that was delivered to our home that day. For one whole year, I kept all the sections of the Times wrapped in plastic, stored in a box, and away from sunshine so that it looks as pristine as it did on April 1, 1984.
Pulling pranks on April Fool’s Day is not a tradition in our family, but I am hoping to start one today. I have been waking up before the sun over the past two weeks to do reconnaissance. My mission was a success as I have determined that our paper is delivered by car between the AM times of 4:00 and 4:20. This is the window when I must be outside. My father rises from bed at the unearthly hour of 4:30 to begin his morning ritual of showering, dressing, and coming outside to grab the paper and then read it over his nothing-added-to-it coffee before going off to work. It is my hope that my prank jolts him awake more than his usual caffeine fix.
My plan is ludicrously simple and as I hear a car approach, I am ready to put it into action. The car arrives at five minutes after four. As I hear it slow, I crouch even further into the bushes to hide myself. With a satisfying thump, the paper lands on our driveway. I depart from my hiding space, wipe some mud from my knees, and approach my quarry.
I am ready to swap out my saved year-old copy of the Times with today’s version and I imagine again the look on my father’s face as he reads the news from last year. I wonder if he will wonder if the stories seem vaguely familiar, if he will wonder if he is losing his marbles, or will he not notice anything at all. As I unwrap the 1984 version of the newspaper out of its protected shelter and place it on the driveway next to the 1985 edition, I realize the first of the two mistakes I have made.
The first day of April in 1984 was a Sunday and so, emblazoned on the front page of the Times, in large dark letters, is SUNDAY COMICS SUPPLEMENT INSIDE. I had not noticed this flaw in my plan because I have kept the newspaper out of sight for a year and thus, out of mind. I switch the papers anyway and frantically pray that my father will be so in unobservant that he will not notice. This prank is still salvageable, I believe, as I position the paper with the large dark letters facing the ground.
I make my way back into the darkened house and hide myself in our living room. From here I can watch my father go out to pick up the paper and I can hear him in the kitchen. “Operation: Last Year” is proceeding right on schedule right up until the moment when my dad mutters, “What the hell is this?!? Where’s the game?!?”
My second mistake is now revealed. My dad is a Los Angeles Lakers fan and there was a big game on last night, but he wasn’t able to watch it. This morning, he flipped right to the Sports section to see if his favorite cagers had won, only to see all the wrong box scores.
“Where’s my paper?” my father now thunders into the Monday pre-dawn air. I come out of hiding and deliver his paper to him so the rest of the house isn’t stirred from its slumber.
My dad’s mood is mellowed, albeit slightly, when he sees the Lakers did beat their division rivals, the Phoenix Suns. He chuckles at my creativity, but tells me that the joke wasn’t all that funny.
Pulling pranks on April Fool’s Day is not a tradition in our family but, just like in sports, there’s always next year.