"I'm the copyright owner on April Fool's Day," says Norman Cousins. "On my calendar it says, 'NC's holiday. Staff stays in bed.' "
The former editor of Saturday Review, author, lecturer and peace activist offers this guideline for a successful April Fool's Day: "No practical jokes. They make people feel foolish. But a spoof is something everyone can enjoy -- including the victim."
Some of Cousins' more notorious spoofs, a few of which sound suspiciously like practical jokes: the article on "How I Taught Golda Meir to Play Golf"; the rubber hot dog the Review publisher almost had for lunch; the pseudonymous letter to the Review warning that the sinister purpose behind a bill by "Rep. A.F. Day" was to limit the size of golf courses; and a police inspection of beard stubble at a luncheon during a water shortage-inspired "shaveless day."
It became a game whether the Review staff would be alert to what was going on, and Cousins' spoofs consequently became ever more intricate. His most fondly remembered effort:
"I told the board of directors that we received a complaint about a headline we had just used. Then the board was told by a receptionist that the police had called and said there was a picket line outside the building denouncing the magazine, and did we want police protection?"
Ten minutes later, Cousins recalls with glee, four young women shouting obscenities invaded the boardroom. The chairman of the board explained that Cousins was sorry about the headline, but they kept on yelling.
"Finally, the chairman noticed me smiling, and they all got it."
Figuring the jokes were over for the year, the office began to rest easy. But Cousins was going to strike twice.
Advance copies of the next issue of the magazine were brought into the boardroom -- with the covers upside down. The printer, who was in on the spoof, was summoned. He pretended to check, and confirmed that all 250,000 copies were wrong. Urgent meetings were called; frantic consultations were held.
"Impound all copies!" shouted someone. "Tear off all the covers and repaste them!" demanded another. "Maybe everyone who receives his issue will think he's the only one," volunteered a third.
And then, once again, the chairman noticed a small smile on Cousins' face.
* "Without humor," says Cousins, 70, "I probably wouldn't want to be here. Life is serious, and you never pretend that it's not, but it need not be solemn."
Think of humor not as a way of life, he suggests, but as a leavening agent. "We're all mortal and fallible, and there's nothing like humor to remind us of that."
And this April Fool's Day?
Nothing too extensive. He does, however, have a buddy who's particularly proud of his orange grove, the fruits of which he sends to friends everywhere.
"He's got them stacked up for shipping outside his house," confides Cousins. "Well, I've contrived a way of putting a 'Sunkist' label on each of them."