One time, when I was in the Navy, we’d been out to sea for many weeks, and we were all struggling to find activities to alleviate the persistent gray boredom.
My buddy Ski was a guy so crazy he once snuck back onto the ship while AWOL to say hello to everybody.
Ski asked me if I played chess.
I admitted I didn’t.
Ski said he’d teach me.
We played for a half an hour or more.
I was really beginning to feel like I was getting the hang of chess when Ski couldn’t hold it in anymore and burst out laughing. I looked up from the board with my standard stupid-puppy expression, and Ski said, “Man, I don’t know how to play chess.”
Rummaging through a box of local memorabilia, I ran across an April 1, 1965 copy of my county newspaper, the Queen Anne’s Record Observer.
The whole front page is a gag.
When it comes to funny fake news, 50 years ago, my county newspaper was a forerunner to National Lampoon, The Onion, and The Crabwrapper.
The top headline announces: LIZ TAYLOR AND RICHARD BURTON TO LIVE IN COUNTY. According to the paper’s jokester editors, the famous movie star couple had recently purchased a piece of property near Kent’s Island’s Turkey Point and were planning on building their dream home on a piece of land that was usually underwater.
In an exclusive interview, Burton told the Record Observer that the water did not bother him, as the house was to be built on stilts, reached by a short swim, and “enclosed in a temperature regulated glass bubble.”
The proposed construction was to feature two indoor swimming pools, a tennis court, a driving range, a 28 boat garage, and an underground-underwater railway tunnel to Friendship Airport.
Liz expected to keep the number of servants at 15 because she “likes to keep things simple.”
Estimated costs: $500,000.
And that’s with a secret tunnel to the airport.
COUNTY CIVIC CLUBS START NEW LOCAL TREND by obtaining and caring for namesake mascots. The Lions Club purchased a lion, the Moose bought a moose, and the Elks an elk. The American Legion formed a legion, the VFW started a foreign war, and the Rotary Club “didn’t know what to get, so they just kept on rotating in circles.”
SPACESHIP IS REPORTED IN SUDLERSVILLE. Aliens landed in this rural Eastern Shore farming village on the Sunday night past, snagged one Mrs. Coleman from the middle of town, and took off with her. No sign of Mrs. Coleman had been seen since, and Mr. Coleman was worrying because their “children are getting very hungry.”
KENT ISLAND CHANGES NAME TO ATTRACT MORE TOURISTS. The new name? Bermuda.
April Fool’s Day is next week.
My friend Greg and I have pulled pranks on each other since high school.
He was 15 when I signed him up for the marines.
For about a month when we were in 10th grade, this yacht broker wouldn’t stop calling, trying to sell me a cabin cruiser. My mom had to get on the phone and confirm that a 16 year old was screwing with both him and me.
For a while, I’d fill out those magazine subscriptions that say ‘Bill Me Later’ for my friend Greg.
They were not magazines to which he would typically subscribe.
That I know of.
I once gave another friend a capped soda cup full of mayonnaise with a straw in it and told him it was a vanilla shake.
That’s about the worst thing I’ve ever done.
But as I’ve mentioned, I’ve been the fool, too.
On Bourbon Street, I was approached by a street kid who bet my drunk ass 20 bucks that he could tell me where I “got” my shoes.
I knew there was no way he was going to say the outlets at Kent Narrows.
Instead he said, “Now, don’t be mad. You’re not the first and you’re sure not the last, but I didn’t say I would tell you where you ‘bought’ those shoes, I told you I would tell you where you ‘got’ those shoes. You ‘got’ those shoes on Bourbon Street, in New Orleans, Louisiana.
I gave the man his money.
On the back page of the Record Observer was the real local news for April 1, 1965:
STUDENTS TAKE PART TUESDAY IN GROUNDBREAKING FOR NEW COUNTY HIGH SCHOOL.
SUNDAY LIQUOR BILL DECRIED.
SET DATES FOR COUNTY’S 1965 FAIR.
Of course in the world beyond the Eastern Shore’s fields and marshes, Viet Nam was starting to make headlines. Soviet Cold War spacecraft were attracting some attention, too. There were earthquakes and tornadoes in the news, right along with California highway snipers and In Cold Blood killers.
Sometimes it’s good to go back and remember what felt like simpler times.
Even if you’re just playing the fool.