During my senior year at Indiana University, I was a Resident Assistant —or “RA”— in a freshman dormitory, Wissler Hall. I had thirty residents on my floor. I took my job seriously and tried to look after these young men with as much concern and advice as I could muster, since I wanted them to achieve their full undergraduate potential. I might have overdone the hands-on guidance just a tad. Within about a month, they had dubbed me “Wissler’s Mother.”
Although there was an age difference of just three years between me and my freshmen, they saw me as prehistoric when it came to my musical preferences. While I was frequently running door to door insisting that they lower the volume on their Grateful Dead or Black Sabbath albums, inside my room I was treating myself to Broadway cast albums. When one psychology-major freshman came into my room and caught me humming along with songs from My Fair Lady, he said that my title might be that of “RA,” but my musical taste was a case of “AR”— Arrested Development.
And so exactly a week before my twenty-second birthday on April 8th of 1970, two freshmen on my floor insisted on buying me a ticket so that I could accompany them to a performance of one of their favorite rock performers, who had sold out the huge concert auditorium. I had never heard of him and so politely declined.
But then they told me that this singer had been born blind, overcoming tremendous obstacles to become such a great performer. They knew I had always admired both Ray Charles and Little Stevie Wonder for not allowing that same disability to dissuade them from such a demanding career. I now told them I would be glad to go.
The auditorium was packed. Our seats were about halfway back so we could see the stage quite well. When the singer first appeared and launched into his first number, I could tell that he had a great voice, and since his selections were more Jackson Five than Led Zeppelin, I was relieved.
But what absolutely floored me was his stage presence. There was not a moment’s hesitation in his lightning-quick movements. He darted back and forth on that stage as if he had full vision. And I actually grabbed the edge of my arm rest when he stepped forward to what looked like no more than a foot away from the stage edge while belting out his second song. There had to have been at least a five-foot drop from the stage down to the floor level of the front row of seats. I was watching my two companions — and they me — and we all gasped at such fearlessness, shaking our heads in utter amazement. We communed this way during the whole incredible show.
I also noticed that the rest of the students were only caught up in the music itself, seemingly quite blasé about the fact that this blind singer must have had to rehearse for hours in order to be so self-assured on that dangerous, narrow stage. To me, he was much like a tightrope artist perfecting his daredevil skills high off the ground.
As we were leaving the performance, I was proud of my two freshmen for being as visibly awed as I was by the bravery and grace demonstrated by that singer. Let the other concert-goers just groove to the music, ignoring the nobility of that performance. I even prided myself in thinking that just maybe I had instilled in my floormates , during our many late-night “bull sessions,” a sense of empathy and admiration for the indomitable human spirit.
I could hardly take my underage companions to Nick’s Tavern for a beer after the concert. I suggested the Dairy Queen instead, but they suddenly seemed eager to get back to the dorm. I bid them a heartfelt goodnight at my door, still glowing from the communion we three had experienced watching that intrepid singer.
As I opened my door, I noticed a large manilla envelope on the floor labeled “Mother Wissler.” Another early birthday gift? I opened it and saw a big piece of white cardboard on which had been scrawled in huge letters: HE WASN’T B*L*I* N*D!!
“What?” I cried out. Wait — NOT BLIND! Oy, had I been punked — and on April 1! Yeah, we’d had a “communion” at that concert — my Aunt Fanny we had.
I lunged at the door so I could run down the hall to their room. I needn’t have bothered. There standing outside my door were half the residents yelling, “April Fool!” and doubling over with laughter. And I admit to you now, these fifty-three years later, that I doubled over laughing too.
My only hope, readers, is that they punked you, too, as you were reading my “touching” tale of two terribly tender, empathetic young con artists.
OK—I just gotta know. Were you totally punked or did you pick up on the fact that this might be an April Fool?
I did drop you a couple of clues: I mentioned that the concert took place exactly one week before my April 8 birthday and that we three were the only concertgoers who were astounded by how the blind singer conducted himself on stage. Were you paying attention?
You may think this essay came nine days after the fact, but I say it came seven days before the biggest April Fool of all—Tax Day!