I’ve never been big on April Fool’s Day. I’m in the target demographic for its intense childishness, but tricking people has never really been my strong point. I’m too transparent. I’ve never been able to convincingly lie, and I can barely act, as evidenced by a high school career spent in comic relief roles in drama club productions. Normally, I’m just very good prey for the more cunning among us.
Thankfully, I’ve been spared by most people. There are occasional small tricks pulled on me (“Hey you’ve got something on your face” is particularly effective, due to my ability to eat like a feral animal and my nervous habit of pawing at my face), but there’s never been anything life ruining. I’ve had the good fortune to have never been part of an elaborate prank that starts with peanut butter smeared on my alarm clock and ends with me locked in a Honda Accord sinking slowly into a large body of water. I take that as evidence that I’ve surrounded myself with people who have found me affable enough not to destroy me as a human being.
I’ve not been totally left out of this devious madness though. The worst trick ever pulled on me was on April Fool’s of 2011. I had the day off, because back in Jinzhou I only worked weekends but got a full time salary for reasons I don’t care about, and was sound asleep. Then my phone rang. The coworker in charge of me was calling, and in a tone of voice equal parts sternness and worry, she asked me why I wasn’t at the train station. “[Our boss] is waiting for you at the train station! You’re supposed to go to the head office in Shenyang today, and your train is leaving in fifteen minutes!”
This was at a time in my life where I had just gotten back from a disastrous and soul-dissolving trip to Seoul, South Korea; I was trying to make up for my lack of job experience by being professional and agreeable all the time; and I was basically just trying to figure out how to make it on my own for the first time in my life. Missing a train to go to my company’s headquarters a couple hours away, where only important things happened, was a problem. It was a sign that all this troublesome bullshit that had been happening to me lately was not just freak occurrence; rather, I was unfit to take care of my barely twenty-three-year-old self. That version of reality would have crushed me, and I couldn’t allow it. And of course, I was twenty-five minutes away from the train station. As is typical of me, I panicked. I sprang out of bed, and though I had made it a point to not use crass language around my coworkers, I blurted out a very scared “Are you fucking serious?”
Of course, she wasn’t. She cackled and shouted “Happy April Fool’s Day!” just before hanging up on me.
It was a simple trick, but so, so effective. It left me shaking and wide awake in my bedroom. Whether it was on purpose or not, it played on deep-seated fears I had about being on my own and my unshakable feeling that I was in way over my head with this whole “China” thing. I think this is the way the best, and dirtiest, tricks work. They pick their victim apart piece by piece, exposing and exploiting the dark center they are so diligent to hide. The feeling of being played like that is terrible, and one I rarely wish on others.
Fast forward to today, and I’m standing in front of an open class. We have several different types of courses, and the purpose of this one is that it’s a free lesson or activity designed to get my students to practice and show off their English as much as possible. I was only vaguely prepared for the lesson, as I’d been somewhat busy before it and planning out an extensive lesson had fallen by the wayside.
And that’s when Phoebe came in. Phoebe is a leggy local girl with a very open mind and a degree in something called “pop music performance”. She apologized for being late, and then effortlessly pulled off the aforementioned “You got some shit on your face” trick on me. I was suddenly struck with inspiration. I looked around and noticed that I had a trained performer, a teenager, and a psychology major all in one class; they were an A-Team of manipulation, and mine to command. So, I did the only thing any reasonable person would do: I used my students to wage psychological warfare on my coworkers.
So we schemed. We talked about potential targets, and what we could do to them. Soon, it became clear exactly what we needed to do: we needed to toy with them. We needed to create a believable situation and then turn it straight on its head, and here’s how we did it:
Pheobe stormed out of the classroom, looking incomparably upset. I chased for a second before going into the teaching department, filled with teachers who most definitely saw her storm off, and started stammering at Lynn, her study adviser. “She just ran out of class! I don’t know what I said wrong, but I said something wrong and I need you to go talk to her.” It was a believable story, because Lynn, acutely aware of my rough edges and faced with the horror of a student demanding a refund because the foreigner pissed her off, ran after her. She caught up with Phoebe, calmed her down, and brought her back to the office, where there was our plucky teenager waiting under her desk, poised to scare the ever-loving shit out of her. And then poor, sweet Lynn was scared to death.
Emboldened by our victory, we ran variations on that grift for the remainder of the period, switching out students, figuring out the best ways we could manipulate these hapless rubes. No one was safe from our reign of terror. Some might call me Machiavellian for my manipulative tactics, others might just say I’m a dick, but mostly, I was bored. Bored, and ready to take revenge on an entire nation for waking me up at 9AM for a train that didn’t exist.