David Bruce: The Funniest People in Neighborhoods — For, Games and Contests, Gifts

Food

• When David B. Feinberg got AIDS, he had to make changes to his diet. For example, he was advised to put on extra pounds while he still could because AIDS wastes away the body. Also, he had to avoid such foods as sushi and soft, runny cheeses — such as brie. This upset Mr. Feinberg. He complained to a friend named John Palmer Weir, Jr., “How can I be a card-carrying homo without brie?” Mr. Weir pointed out, “There’s still quiche. We’ll always have quiche.”

• Arturo Toscanini and Carla, his wife, once visited the home of Arthur O’Connell. Mrs. Toscanini, always a curious sort, went into the kitchen to investigate a huge pot of spaghetti. The Italian cook, always a sensitive sort, abandoned the kitchen to ask Mr. O’Connell who “that woman” was. Fortunately, the cook was pleased to learn that “that woman” was Mrs. Toscanini, and fortunately, the spaghetti was excellent and enjoyed by all.

• While in Paris, Robert Benchley told some friends that he had once had some memorable pressed duck in a restaurant in Montmartre, so they all set off for the restaurant. Unfortunately, after everyone had ordered and been served the pressed duck, Mr. Benchley recalled why the pressed duck was so memorable — it was the worst he had ever tried to eat.

• During Lent, many Christians give up something they like as a sign of penitence. One small boy gave up ice cream — “all except chocolate.”

Games and Contests

• Young people’s novelist William Sleator grew up in a family of oddballs. When William was a young boy, his father, his younger sister Vicky, and he used to play a game. His father would blindfold them, drive them to a part of the city that William and Vicky had never been before, then drop them off and let them find their way back home. Of course, William and Vicky did have enough money to call home in case they ran into trouble finding their way back. The only time they used the telephone money was when two of their friends came along to play the game and panicked. Then William and Vicky let their friends use the money to call their home. Unfortunately, since the two friends didn’t know where they were in the city, they also panicked their parents, who called Mr. Sleator. Mr. Sleator calmly finished his lunch, which he had just started eating, then drove off and found the children within 10 minutes. Meanwhile, the friends’ parents called the police, and both parents left the house to look for the children. Mr. Sleator did not know the police had been called, and he could not contact the friends’ parents, since they had both left home. (This was in the days before cell phones.) Perhaps understandably, the friends thereafter did not visit the Sleators.

• When Marvel Comics maven Stan Lee was fifteen years old, he started entering a news contest run by the New York Herald-Tribune. Contestants were supposed to write in 500 words or fewer their pick for the top news story of the week. Mr. Lee entered the contest three times in a row, he won three times in a row, and the editor of the Herald-Tribune wrote him, saying to stop entering the contest so someone else could win for a change.

Gifts

• When soprano Beverly Sells was a girl, she sang on Major Bowes’ radio broadcasts. During one broadcast, Major Bowes said that he had given young Beverly a gift for good luck: a small figurine of an elephant. In the days following, Beverly received through the mail gifts of hundreds of small figurines of elephants. Beverly was intelligent. She mentioned on the air that she was upset because her mother wouldn’t let her have long dresses. Sure enough, dozens of gifts of long dresses arrived in the mail for Beverly. She continued to con the audience by mentioning occasionally that she liked such items as Mickey Mouse watches and sleds.

• When children’s book author Sid Fleischman started going bald, his kids made him a hairpiece — they clipped hair from the family pet dog and glued it to fabric. Mr. Fleischman writes in his autobiography, The Abracadabra Kid, that he was very happy with the gift — “It gave me a punk pompadour decades before spiked hairdos became trendy.”

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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