April 12th is a landmark date in American history, and this year it suddenly and unexpectedly revived for me a long-ago memory.
It's the day President Franklin Delano Roosevelt died. 1945. A Thursday, as I recall. I was eleven years old.
FDR had seen us out of the Depression and through a dreadful war that was coming to a successful conclusion. Moreover, he had been elected to the presidency four times, a completely unprecedented occurrence. He was our idol, our great leader, our country's savior in hard times.
I was eleven, as I said. We lived in central Massachusetts, in a region where winters were harsh and cold. The ground froze almost every year. By the time April rolled around, we could literally smell the scent of the earth thawing (it's quite a distinctive smell---I missed it when I moved to New York, where winters were not so lingering or severe). But the earth had already begun to thaw that April 12th. And, as my mother braided my hair before school, I thought about that with pleasure.
We played marbles at recess when the weather got warm, because the earth was soft enough. We would swivel our shoe heel around in the dirt and make a circular cup-like depression to hold the marbles when we shot them. And I was looking forward to recess that day, for that very reason.
And also because I was wearing a new dress. Would you like to know what it looked like? I have a rather vivid memory, and can still see it in my mind's eye! A cotton dimity dress, woven with white thick-and-thin stripes, and over-printed with pink and blue flowers.
Marbles and showing off my new dress---all in one day! Wow!
Then, as my mother was braiding my hair, we heard over the radio that President Roosevelt had died.
My heart sank. My first---and only---thought? No recess. No marbles. No showing off my new dress to the whole schoolyard.
Surely, I was an April Fool, under the circumstances. Selfish and self-focused.
But I was only eleven! What excuse can we use for the myriad April (and otherwise) fools around us today?
Let's start with the bureaucratic mind-set. When I was an Army wife in the 1950s, and we lived in a Germany still recovering from the war, we were struck by how rigid their thinking was. How narrow and mindless, with rigid ideas and rote behavior. They still had apprentices, locked into the proper routine for their various trades, and everyone knew his job and his place, and nothing more. Problems with electricity? Call the Spezialist. Couldn't get the plumbing to behave? Call the Spezialist.
Our kitchen sink was clogged. We told our landlord. We were promised that the Spezialist would come. Morgen. (Tomorrow.) After a week (and several days' worth of Morgens), my husband went to the PX and bought a plunger. A few quick plunges and the sink was clear.
"Mein Gott!" exclaimed our landlord to my husband, completely astonished. "Are you a Spezialist?" The classic, rigid bureaucratic mind-set. Very comforting, in a way, relieving a person of any need to think independently. We could see, in that example, and in so many others we encountered, how the Germans could have been led into Nazism. ("Do what you are supposed to do, and don't look around or ask questions.") We thanked heaven for "Yankee ingenuity." For our traditional American common sense.
Well, it's gone by the books. People in this country today are as rigid and as mindless and as tied to "rules" as the society we encountered all those years ago in Germany.
First-grader points a finger and goes "Bang, bang," and he's expelled from school, or he innocently
kisses his little-girl neighbor and is charged with sexual harassment.
And, just recently, a class of students from North Carolina was stopped at Ground Zero and forbidden to continue singing the "Star Spangled Banner" because, they were told, they needed a permit to perform. Because "The rules are the rules" and "You must obey orders!"
Surely today's bureaucrats are April Fools, who no longer know what common sense is!
And how about the movie theater company that was considering allowing people to text in the movie house, because, as one of the executives explained, "You can't tell 22-year-olds to turn off their cell phone."
Why the hell not? Where is the grown-up here? April Fools are the idiots who dreamed this up. Only after a loud public protest did they change their minds.
And then there was a pandering politician who made me laugh. Attempting to prove to his constituents that he was doing something for them, and earning his pay, he announced to senior citizens that, in order to fight identity theft, they should come to a specific site and bring important documents that they wished to be shredded. Just what we all need---a long bus or subway ride to destroy papers that we could certainly (and more conveniently) tear into multiple pieces for our protection, if we had to. (Or purchase a small shredder, which I have done,) Sorry---but that politician is an April Fool in my books.
And then there was the professional woman recently caught on camera screaming at an Uber driver. The video was posted and she lost her job. How many April Fools are there out there, who don't realize that, in an age of instant cameras and social media, you simply DON'T misbehave in public anymore and expect to keep it private!
And then there are the everyday, selfish little April Fools.
The woman on the elevator who is so busy texting (See my blog entry PUT DOW N THE DAMN I-PHONE!), that she can't make room for people who want to get on. (I'm not sure who is the bigger April Fool---the woman with the i-phone or the woman who wants to get on and can't even say "Excuse me, please!")
Or the guy on the subway who is so busy playing games that his extended elbows push against the people on either side of him.
Maybe it's my age, but I really do wish we weren't all so selfish and stupid and rigid.
April Fools indeed!