Kage Baker hated pranks and practical jokes.
That may seem odd for a writer renowned for her humour, but she maintained that practical jokes have nothing to do with humour. They don’t make the audience laugh; they make the audience the victim, and are all to amuse the perpetrator. They held a streak of cruelty she loathed.
Nearly everyone who spends time as a teenaged girl with brothers feels like that at some point, I suspect. The charms of silly phone calls, salted nut cans full of spring-operated snakes and plastic vomit pass down unaltered through the generations, to the delight of young males and the weary horror of everyone who has to live with them. Being abjured to catch the running refrigerator or let Prince Albert out of his can are merely annoying – it was the things that result in screams, explosions and flying debris that really upset Kage.
As a grownup, she hated those classic pranks that always seem to involve bad news: a celebrity death, a bizarre accident, the loss of some well-loved landmark or program. This weekend, for example, I’ve noticed a lot of pranks involving the cancellation of Game of Thrones, or the recalls of Skyrim or Portal or Halo in their infinite numbers … makes one wonder about the reported compromise of Visa and Mastercard accounts by a New York cab company.
Kage just hated things like that. She didn’t play jokes, nor tolerate them from anyone over 5 years old – she said, baby jokes make no sense anyway, so it hardly matters; you just have to watch for when the kid cracks up and laugh along, and no one is the worse for having no idea what’s going on. But anything that relied for humour upon someone else looking horrified or sad was anathema. That fallen face reaction enraged her.
I must admit to a few baby pranks when very small. I tied a string to a dollar bill, put it on the sidewalk and then hid in the wintergreen bushes – but I learned pretty quickly that tying a string to a dollar bill shows. And that when the only string you could find was some of your grandma’s neon pink yarn, your clever ambush essentially has a glowing arrow pointed at it. And when you do manage to con your baby sister into reaching for the bait, and she overbalances when you pull it away, and smacks her face on the sidewalk … well, it were better you were not born.
Kage succumbed only once to the base urge to prank. She adored magic tricks, and haunted the Magic Shop on Hollywood Boulevard, occasionally saving up enough change to indulge in something. She was inexplicably enchanted once with a clear plastic fake ice crube that had a large fly preserved in it. She bought it, and convinced Momma that it would be the very height of hilarity to put the fake ice cube in Daddy’s dinner glass of iced tea. The doctored glass, with fly carefully installed at the top of the glass, was duly borne in to where Daddy was watching some sports event in the living room. Kage watched through the swinging door into the dining room, stifling giggles. Daddy took the glass, took a swig, took a second look into the glass – and promptly puked into his own lap.
I think Kage set a land speed record for her departure out the laundry room window. She related the story for the rest of her life as a bad example – not to mention divine retribution rebounding upon the prankster.
Mind you, a good silly story was different – she liked the mildly insane stories usually issued on this date by scholarly journals and institutions. Discover magazine has run some funny ones over the years: things like fossil musical instruments intended to be played by Neanderthals’ enormous noses, or hot-blooded naked ice rats burrowing through the Antarctic ice and eating explorers. Some of her own crazier stories were inspired by these standards of demented scholarship – “The Leaping Lover” and “Running the Snake” come to mind.
Anyway, today is April 1st. It’s April Fool’s Day, and I hope all of you, Dear Readers, enjoyed it. I hope no one pranked you cruelly, nor that you yielded to the loutish temptation yourselves. Amuse yourselves by imagining a baby Kage’s panic when her fly in the ice cube worked too well, and her vowing to never try anything so dangerously physical again …
Who knows? Maybe she wrote down her jokes after that in perpetual fear of paternal wrath. If so, we’ve all benefitted.
Happy April Fool’s Day, y’all.