Sunday, April 2, 2006

The Spirit of Aper Ilfyu

No matter what happens... somebody will find a way to take it too seriously. ~Dave Barry
I’m not a big fan of April Fool’s Day and always feel relieved to have survived another one. The problem is not jokes that are played on me personally. It’s the time I waste having to explain to the gullible of the world that, no, there aren’t any spaghetti trees or no, the space shuttle isn’t landing today at the local airport. It’s ironic that as we distrust media, including the Internet, more and more, we seem more willing to accept obvious hoaxes from those same sources.

Of course, the idea of mainstream media having their little jokes has been around for a long time. Years ago it was even easier for them to pull off a gag because people were inclined to believe almost anything they read, heard, or saw in a newspaper, on radio, or on TV. Some of these were really funny, such as the aforementioned spaghetti trees, Sidd Finch (the Mets rookie pitcher who could throw a fastball at 168 MPH), the country of San Serriffe.
(For details on these and 97 other spoofs, check out this site.)

Funny or not, there always seem to be people who will fall for one of these gags, whether well-crafted or not. For instance, there was the great Ashtabula Star Beacon trout crisis.
If there’s one thing that fisherman anticipate eagerly, it’s the opening of trout season. Pennsylvania has always had an excellent stocking program, so their opening day was even more highly anticipated than others. Fisherman from neighboring Ohio counties spent weeks getting ready for the big day, partly because of the great trout fishing and partly (maybe mostly) because of the cabin fever they had suffered since October. PA trout season opened the first week of April.

In the sports section of the April 1 edition of the Star Beacon, there was an article that chilled the hearts of fisherman throughout Ashtabula County. According to the story, the EPA had determined that monofilament fishing line had been found to cause cancer in fish, particularly trout. Therefore, Pennsylvania had outlawed the used of monofilament in their trout streams, effective immediately. Only braided Dacron line would be permitted.

To understand the impact this would have on fisherman, imagine that you had heard that the government had banned radial tires because they caused inordinate damage to highways. Effective immediately, you would be required to buy bias-ply tires with inner tubes. Monofilament line was ubiquitous among fisherman; braided Dacron belonged to the bygone days of guys in 1920’s Abercrombie and Fitch ads, wearing plus-fours and smoking a pipe while they walked along the stream bank.

I worked with a dedicated fisherman nicknamed “Z” (short for Zimmerman). Z bought the story hook, line (braided Dacron), and sinker. He was in a panic, telling me he was going to rush out to his local tackle shop that very evening to get whatever braided line they might have. I tried to point out to him that monofilament did not dissolve in water (as stated in the article). I mean, how effective would a fishing line be if it dissolved? You couldn’t land a guppy, for crying out loud, without the line coming apart. Then there was the matter of Aper Ilfyu.

Toward the end of the article, there was a name and address to contact for more information. You were supposed to get hold of Mr. Aper Ilfyu with the address “Washington D.C. I said, “Z, look at the name. Say it fast, man.”
After a minute or two, Z said, “Well, he could be Hindu.”

Of course, the story was a joke, but a lot of fishermen who subscribed to the Star Beacon bit as hard as Z did. Unlike Z, who was waiting to get off work to buy his braided Dacron, many of them took time off from work (because this was TROUT FISHING, DAMMIT) and rushed to tackle shops all over Northeastern Ohio, desperately trying to get refunds for their monofilament while purchasing every foot of Dacron line they could lay their hands on.

The next day, Z came in to work looking very smug. I asked him if he had gotten his Dacron line. “Nope,” he said. “Y’know, that article was actually a joke.”

I asked him what finally drove that simple fact through his thick skull. It turned out that, with the rush on the tackle shops, the paper had been inundated with calls about the article, mostly from the shop owners wanting to know what the devil was going on. As a result, the local television news in Erie, PA got wind of the story. They had interviews with the author, who apologized effusively for the near riots that had occurred as trout anglers fought over the few available spools of braided Dacron. Z had been halfway out the door to get his own line when he saw the news on TV.

I told him I was glad that he didn’t waste his time and wasn’t one of those guys in line today to return the Dacron line. I also suggested that he might be able to identify joke stories a little better in the future, especially those containing names like “Aper Ilfyu.”

“I dunno,” he said, “It still sounds Hindu to me.”

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