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Berger’s Burg: Fools’ follies not dampened by April showers

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The first day of April will be April Fools’ Day, a time to give all April Fools the foolish opportunity to make fools of themselves. So, beware the pranks of the well-intended, but misguided, pranksters who will have you believing that rats are running amok in the Lincoln Tunnel, sewer alligators have just devoured a subway worker or Bell Boulevard is completely covered with green snow.

Last April 1, I was almost taken in by the prank stories of my neighbor, Gerard, who told me of the man who won an around-the-world cruise in a raffle but refused to accept his prize because he had no way of getting back home, a streaker who ran fully clothed through a nudist colony and a woman who wrote a post card stating, “Check enclosed.” April Fool, yourself, Gerard, you can’t fool this old columnist.

Historically, this day of sanctioned mischief and chicanery has been mostly fun and games, but at times things have gotten out of hand. There was the story of workers in a chemical plant in Georgia planting a rubber snake above the manager’s office door. He didn’t come to work that day, but the snake dropped onto the shoulders of the night cleaning lady. She fell screaming to the floor, smashed her head and passed out.

The company paid her medical bills, but she refused to work there again.

In other prank incidents, office doors were covered over with drywall to make it appear that they never existed, faxes were sent to employees notifying them that they were fired, and phony love notes were sent to the office nerds, supposedly written by the pretty receptionists. Ah, man’s inhumanity to man.

April Fools’ pranks have been a staple in the business world for eons. An e-mail network still encourages consumers to send someone a free e-mail from a collection of special messages in its “prank vault.” More than 30,000 customers a day register on its Web site every year.

But the day is not without its supporters. Some management consultants say April Fools’ jokes help relieve stress and improve morale. One even contends that all CEOs should come to work in their pajamas and a rubber nose at least once a year (Steve Blank, take note).

A large accounting firm continually mails out prank letters annually to its clients and friends. Last year it stated that the “U.S. government has just raised the retirement age to 82.”

In previous years, to save money, the firm announced that it would “stop using computers and return to typewriters” and that “the Supreme Court has declared income tax unconstitu­tional.” They subscribe to the theory that humor pays off and most people love an April Fools’ gag. Hmm! What do you really think?

April 1 is followed by April 6, “Shirkers’ Day.” People stuck in dead-end jobs answering phones, fetching cappuccinos for their superiors or making abstract sculptures of paper clips do their bit for the other workers of the world by calling in sick on this day.

They show their dissatisfaction with the rat race by playing hooky from the office. One problem with calling in sick is formulating a formidable excuse. If you kill off your poor grandfather more than three times your boss may get suspicious; however, back pain is a great excuse because it is not provable. So, I tried it.

A few years back, I phoned my editor to say that I would not be writing my column this week because of a back pain. “Don’t worry about it, Alex,” Roz said. “Bob’s here.”

“Who’s Bob?” I questioned. “He is our new, young intern — a graduate of Columbia School of Journalism, No. 1 in his class. Take as long as you need and Bob will write your columns.”

I was only five minutes late when I punched in that morning. So, I don’t recommend observing Shirkers’ Day for those people raising families or homeowners paying off mortgages. You may win the battle, but you will lose the war.

Finally, there is daylight-saving time, also on April 6. Each year when it arrives, it takes me longer and longer to reset all the clocks in my house. It’s not only that I can never remember whether the time becomes an hour earlier or later; the real problem is that there are just too many darn clocks to adjust.

My answering machine has a digital clock, as does my desk telephone, caller I.D. gizmo, VCR, microwave, oven, two computers and almost every other electronic gadget purchased in recent years. And I mustn’t forget the clocks in the dashboard of our two automobiles. Oy, Gevalt!

Why do all these machines think I must know the time, anyway? Does it really matter if the call on the answering machine was recorded at 4:16 p.m.? I would be just as glad to receive the call if it had come at 9:43 a.m. And what business is it of the oven or the coffee maker or the microwave to know the time of day?

Being reminded of the time once around the house is certainly enough. If these other appliances feel such a need to display something on their little screens, why not a line of poetry, the home telephone numbers of my two sons (which I always forget) or the winning lottery numbers?

Lately I have noticed that certain newer, so-called “smart” appliances, such as my son’s new laptop computer, already know about daylight-saving time and simply reset themselves by themselves. They flash a little message jubilantly announcing that they have done so — an insolent reminder that I had forgotten to do it.

If these gadgets were really smart about time, they would help me out a little more by adjusting the clocks with some hints for preparing my income tax.

I got to thinking about this “time” dilemma several years ago when I discovered that the telephone company had a number to call for the correct time. And newscasters reported the same on radio and television. But curiously, the time announced on the radio, the TV and the phone company did not always agree.

Some of the discrepancies were as much as two minutes apart. Whatever the roots of this intriguing problem, I welcomed it, because it gives me — albeit within a regrettably small window — something that life never gives us, a choice about what time it is.

And it made me think. When I reset all the clocks, why be so mundane as to have the same time in every room? In the bedroom it can be earlier so I can have time to roll over in the morning and get some more sleep. In the den it could be later — more time for Gloria to finally turn off her computer for the night.

And in the kitchen, it should never be set. Gloria knows that when hunger strikes, I never pay attention to an omnipresent clock. I simply eat what I eat when I want.

Nonetheless, readers, remember to turn your clocks ahead on Sunday, April 6, when daylight-saving time arrives, and remember to reset every last one of them. Good luck!

Contact columnist Alex Berger by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com, or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 140.

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