April 1, 2020

by James Smart

An April Fool's Day joke from long ago
Here we are, on the first day of April, traditionally designated as a day for folks to play tricks on each other. I suspect that few people are in the mood for such nonsense in this year of sickness and disruption.
          But it cheers me up a bit to recall with a grin some April Fools’ Days of years ago.
          I was first assigned to write a column, six days a week, for the old Evening Bulletin, after having worked there as a reporter and other lesser journalistic tasks for 21 years.  March 2, 1969, was my first column, and, as I saw April first approaching, I decided to play a trick on the readers.
          Satellites orbiting the earth were all the rage then. For the first time, the United States, Russia and about eight other countries had all sorts of hardware whizzing around up there.
          So on April first, I wrote a column about a Philadelphia scientist who had designed an artificial earth satellite that would provide the earth with a uniformly temperate climate.
          I identified him as Dr. Justin A. Geste, an associate professor of theoretical defenestration at the Philadelphia College Geromorphic Physiognomy.
          His plan was simple. The satellite would be launched in a circumpolar orbit, passing over the equator and one of the poles alternately about every 25 minutes. As the earth rotated under it, the satellite would pass over a different sections of it with each passage through its orbit.
          An array of ducts and fans, controlled by radar-sensitive thermostats, would suck up hot tropical air and frigid polar air, and dump hot air on the poles and cold air on the tropics, giving the surface of the earth a uniformly temperate climate.
          I thought that readers’ tongues would move quickly to cheek as I outlined the details of the plan. Beside Dr. Geste’s obvious name, the official name of his project was Satellite Project, Orbital Oven-Freezer (abbreviated SPOOF.)
          Dr. Geste outlined many benefits and some problems with the plan, each getting more and more nonsensical. The column ended with the good doctor saying that there was no use anyone complaining, because melting the polar ice caps would put the entire earth under 37 feet of water anyway.
          He mentioned that with the fantastic scientific advancements reported, it seemed, daily, some people would believe anything, even if announced by a non-existent professor like himself from a fictitious university.
           I wrote that he taught “defenestration,” which is defined as “the act of throwing something or someone out the window.” Physiognomy is the study of the earth’s surface.
           His name was obviously a joke. And the column’s last line clearly pointed out that it was April Fools’ Day.
            I imagined readers chuckling at the absurd article. What I didn’t expect was that I began getting phone calls, some angry and some patiently sympathetic, helpfully explaining that there were several flaws in Dr. Geste’s plan.
          Also, two callers wanted to get in touch with the doctor because they were interested in investing in his project.
          The day or two after the five or six phone calls, which I found a bit difficult to handle diplomatically, I got a few letters of the same sort.
           In later years, I did pull an April Fool’s Day joke on my readers again. (This is not one of them,)

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​   James Smart's Philadelphia

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