• After hearing a song by the lesbian poet Sappho, Solon was so impressed that he immediately requested that the singer teach him the song. Asked why he wanted to learn it so much, Solon replied, “So that having learned it, I may die.”
• In My Life and Hard Times, James Thurber tells about a practical joke that Roy, one of his brothers, played on their father in Columbus, Ohio, during the early days of the automobile. Roy gathered a lot of kitchen stuff — pot lids, can openers, pie plates, etc. — and put it in a canvas bag that he placed under the car and that he rigged so that the bag would open when he pulled a string. Then, when he was driving with his father in the car, he pulled the string, and the kitchenware made a wonderful racket as it fell onto the street. His father shouted, “Stop the car!” but Roy replied, “I can’t. The engine fell out.” (According to a Wikipedia article on Mr. Thurber, his mother was also a practical joker. She once pretended to be crippled, attended a religious revival event hosted by a faith healer, and jumped up, shouting that she was cured and could walk again.)
• Horace Greeley, the editor of the New York Tribune, is famous for his advice: “Go west, young man.” However, the advice resulted from a trick. Mr. Greeley visited Denver, and the people living there discovered that he was proud, so they decided to trick him. Therefore, they “salted” a claim; that is, they went to a worthless claim and sprinkled a few flakes of gold where they were sure Mr. Greeley would find them. The salting worked. Mr. Greeley panned for gold, found the flakes of gold in his pan, and told the miners, “Gentlemen, I have examined your property with my own eyes and worked some of it with my own hands and I have no hesitation in saying that your discovery is what it is represented to be — the richest and greatest in America.” Mr. Greeley then returned to New York and gave his famous advice to the young men of the United States.
• In the days when steamboats ruled the Mississippi River, steamboat clerks often played a practical joke on people who asked for a copy of a newspaper from New Orleans or some other city the steamboat had recently visited. Often, in the summer several small boats would wait while a lone boat made the hot journey across the river to the steamboat to ask for a newspaper. To this boat, the steamboat clerk would give some copies of the newspaper it had asked for. As soon as the other boats saw that the first boat’s request had been successful, they would also make the hot journey across the river and ask for a newspaper. To these boats, the steamboat clerks gave religious tracts.
• Science fiction writer Philip K. Dick enjoyed playing jokes on acquaintances who pretended to be connoisseurs when they were really not. For example, an acquaintance claimed to be a wine connoisseur, so Mr. Dick served him $3.95 Armagnac — which is not a cognac — and told him that it was Rémy-Martin cognac. The acquaintance could not tell the difference. On another occasion, an acquaintance told Mr. Dick that Mahler was his favorite composer, so Mr. Dick put a Mahler symphony on the turntable, then followed it with a Sibelius symphony. The acquaintance listened to Sibelius, then told Mr. Dick that what was playing was one of his favorite works by Mahler.
• Humorist Frank Sullivan once saw novelist Kathleen Norris on a crowded street, so as a joke he walked up behind her and asked her for money to buy a cup of coffee. However, Ms. Norris turned the joke on him. She turned to him and shouted, “Not another penny for you, Frank Sullivan. No, not another cent will you ever get out of me. Gambling and drinking it all away while your poor family suffers. Have you no shame?” Ms. Norris kept up the torrent of abuse until Mr. Sullivan was forced to flee because the crowd of bystanders was getting angry at him.
Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved
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