Friday, April 1, 2016



My best April Fool's stunt was the day I wrote the Sun editorial recommending that all the extra  billions that had just been discovered as surplus should be returned by the provincial government to the taxpayers in surprise bonuses.
The NDP braintrust seized on this as their main chance in Question Period to roast the ministers. A researcher called looking for details because there were none in the rest of the media. Was it a scoop, he wondered?
I pointed out that he should read the final para again, where I had written that it was too bad that the editorial could only deal with billions that could be given back to the voters on April Fool's Day.
Oh, he said, it's a joke. Takes a bit longer with the socialists, apparently, but our readers figured out that it was a gag and no one else called the Editor.
Actually newspapers have a long tradition of elaborate April Fool stunts. Why even the Globe and Star have been known to play. The Sun had just acquired  a generalist from politics as rookie publisher and Paul Godfrey was antsy about allowing me to pull a stunt in the editorial. He was relieved when we sucked in the lefties.
The worst April Fool's for me came in 1961 when I was pried out of an elevator by paramedics and taken unconscious to the first of the four hospitals that I would be incarcerated in for three months.
By the time it was over, there had been no laughs  and I had to learn to walk again. Hell, I had to learn how to stand.
April Fool was big when I was a kid. Can't say my life then was filled with laughs because after my parents died, my two sisters and I lived with dour Dutch grandparents.
My life was ruled by Grandma who was a five-foot block of meanness. Yet for some bizarre reason, she liked April Fool's Day and a Whoopee Cushion.
She had a variety of gag stories but many Aprils she told me the schools had been closed for the day even when there was no snow. We three kids laughed gratefully because we appreciated even lame humour in that house.
Several times a year the Whoopee Cushion would be taken by one of us from its place of honour and slid surreptitiously underneath as someone sat down. A great fart sound that might crack the tiles in the average bathroom would echo around the little kitchen.
And we would all howl, especially Grandma, and then back it would go for another three months or so. It was understood that more constant use would make it, well, unChristian.
According to the Star, which gave the feature a place of honour on Page Two, where all its corrections usually go, the Cushion was invented in Toronto around 1930 and the basic rubber bladder was sold promising noises "that can be better imagined than described."
The writer quoted experts, including a "toy" historian, saying flatulence and fart joke in some ways transcend time, which is a complicated way to say they have come down through the ages as universal humour. You don't have to be an historian, toy or otherwise, or even an expert in rubber goods, to know that. Just survive an elementary school in Ontario and not just the lower grades where trick tooters are idolized.
I have always been intrigued by the broad cross section of people who find fart noises more amusing than embarrassing. This has even been studied in universities. One connoisseur of Whoopee Cushions was Leslie Nielsen, a great actor before his last clownish roles, and so Canadian that his father was a Mountie and his brother was a deputy prime minister.
Neilsen carried a Cushion most days even in his suit pocket, maybe one developed  by the first manufacturer,  JEM Rubber Co.,  which even at a quarter found sales "deflated," so other companies started to sell it, although one giant novelty outfit found it too "indelicate."
Nelsen would slip it under other diners or actors - probably once or twice on stage - and generally thought it the acme of humour.
Readers should remember the Cushion fondly because it's just another reason that Toronto, and indeed Canada, is superior to any American city.
After all, just look at all the Toronto inventions. Most of us knew about the creations from insulin and pablum to paint rollers and five-pin bowling that were born here in Hawgtown. Now add fake farters to the list and it is insurmountable.

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