David Bruce: Resist Psychic Death — Pranks and Practical Jokes

Pranks and Practical Jokes

• Eric Carle, author and illustrator of the children’s book The Very Hungry Caterpillar, loves animals. When he was young, his grandparents kept a few animals in back of their factory, which was located next to their home. One of the animals was a goat that used to visit Eric’s grandmother, whom Eric called Oma. The goat climbed up three flights of stairs in her home and then butted her door with his head so she would open the door and give him a treat such as a handful of oats. Eric’s grandparents also kept chickens. Eric knew something about chickens, and although he loved his grandmother, he was not above playing a trick on her. He gently took a chicken and put it on its back, holding its body and its head down for 30 seconds. When he released the chicken, it lay there quietly. According to the adult Eric, “Thousands of years ago when chickens still lived in the wild, they ‘played dead’ in order to fool a fox or weasel about to attack.” Eric did this to four chickens in all, and then he rang the bell to his grandmother’s room. When she looked out the window, he pretended to be greatly excited and pointed to the chickens, which looked as if they were dead. His grandmother came running, and when she reached the chickens Eric clapped his hands and the startled chickens jumped up and began to act the way live chickens act. His grandmother then took Eric by the ear and marched him to her kitchen — but Eric was not punished. Instead, she made him hot cocoa and fed him a cookie she had made from scratch. Eric says, “You can see why my Oma was special.”

• In the late 1970s, the Pail & Shovel Party, which became known for its art projects, aka wacky pranks, led the student body of the University of Wisconsin. In 1979, they made it seem as if the Statue of Liberty were located in the nearby, frozen Lake Mendota by placing on the ice of the lake a replica of the top half of the Statue of Liberty’s head and the arm holding the torch. Also in 1979, they planted 1,008 plastic pink flamingoes on the front lawn of Bascom Hill, a campus landmark. Flamingo-planting became and remains a University of Wisconsin campus tradition.

• Sol Hess, the cartoonist of the long-ago comic strip The Nebbs, once returned home late and noticed that a neighbor’s window was covered with newspapers — the neighbor had taped them to the window to protect his privacy after sending out the drapes to be cleaned. Mr. Hess telephoned his neighbor and requested that the neighbor turn the pages and retape the newspapers to the window because he had already read the pages that faced the street.

• Comedian Jonathan Winters and his friends will sometimes put on the people around them. In a crowded elevator, he once asked fellow comedian Pat McCormick, “You don’t think we tied him up too tight?” And in a crowded hotel lobby, he once told a friend, “We never should have operated in a hotel room. Granted, he’s alive but you shouldn’t have let the brain fall on the rug. Next time, St. Vincent’s [Hospital].”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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