Feeling like an April fool? This should cheer you up

April 03, 2006|By STEVE CHAPMAN

CHICAGO -- April 1, wrote Mark Twain, "is the day upon which we are reminded of what we are on the other 364." That's a dispiriting thought, and it may have been more demoralizing if you fell for one of the April Fools' gags that may have been sprung on you.

But cheer up. No matter how foolish you may sometimes feel, you can always take comfort in knowing that over the past year, there were others who were even worse. Today, I try to brighten your mood by demonstrating beyond any doubt that you and I are smarter than a lot of people.

Some of the more conspicuous examples of folly come from the world of government. Chicago public high schools, it emerged recently, require all students to take driver's education - including students who are blind.

The Illinois Department of Transportation, meanwhile, advertised a phone number for motorists to call to get information on alternate routes during the Dan Ryan Expressway reconstruction. Turned out to be a very alternate route: a phone sex line.

But government officials have no monopoly on poor judgment. Some suspected criminals practically advertise their stupidity. Police said Andrew Jeffrey Webster robbed a bank in Waterford, Mich., and they didn't have much trouble finding him - thanks to a tattoo on his right arm that said, yes, "dumb."

Another alleged miscreant didn't stamp the word on his arm or his forehead, but he didn't need to. On parole from an Illinois prison, police said, he stole a riding lawn mower and was piloting it across a cornfield when they caught up with him. They ordered him to stop, but, under the influence of alcohol, he tried to outrace them. He finally surrendered after a cop trotting alongside the getaway vehicle threatened to use a Taser on him.

More evidence of the dangers of mind-altering substances came from a Tampa, Fla., man who was worried he had bought fake crack cocaine. He asked some passing cops to test the stuff in his pipe to see if it was real. It was, and they arrested him.

You think that's dumb? Consider the people operating a purported tanning parlor in South Carolina that had everything a tanning parlor needs - except tanning beds. Police noticed that it did have other kinds of beds, which they deduced were used for prostitution.

Then there was the gunman who held up a convenience store in Joplin, Mo., only to find himself trapped inside when he couldn't get the door open. Seems he was pushing when he needed to pull. He finally ended up smashing his way through with a magazine rack.

That robber was not quite as foolish as the Oklahoma man who, upon being sentenced to 30 years in prison, asked the judge to make it 33 - to match the jersey number of his favorite basketball player, Larry Bird. The judge graciously complied.

Artists know they sometimes have to suffer for art, but Trevor Corneliusen got more pain than he planned for. He hiked into the Mojave Desert, locked a chain around his ankles and drew a self-portrait. But when he was finished, he couldn't find the key. Thus encumbered, he needed 12 hours to hike - well, hobble - five miles for help.

One of the more spectacularly bad decisions of the last 12 months came from a New Mexico homeowner, at least if you believe his story. After catching a mouse in a glue trap, he explained, he took the trap outside and tossed it into a pile of burning leaves - only to see the rodent, now on fire, escape and run back inside, setting the house ablaze and burning it to the ground.

And you will be glad to know that poor judgment and romance still go together. Chris Taylor of London got wind of his live-in girlfriend's affair when his parrot, Ziggy, mimicked her cooing, "I love you, Gary," and made kissing noises. Said the guilty woman after being evicted, "I couldn't stand Ziggy, and it looks now the feeling was mutual."

You, like I, may have done some stupid things in the past year. But I'll bet you didn't do them in front of a talking parrot.

Steve Chapman is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. His column appears Mondays and Wednesdays in The Sun. His e-mail is schapman@tribune.com.

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