David Bruce: Resist Psychic Death — Work, Zen

Work

• When author Lucy Grealy, author of Autobiography of a Face, was a skinny little girl, she used to work at a stable owned by a Mr. Evans in exchange for being able to ride the horses for free. She earned that right both for her work and for helping Mr. Evans whenever one of the amateur riders who paid to ride a horse complained when the horse wouldn’t go. Mr. Evans would point to Lucy and say, “I bet this skinny little girl could get this horse to go.” Lucy would climb into the saddle and because she knew how to ride, unlike the amateur paying customers, she would get the horse to fly.

• Many Jewish sages have had “real” jobs. Rabbi Hillel was a woodcutter, Rabbi Shammai was a builder, Rabbi Joshua was a blacksmith, and Rabbi Hanina was a shoemaker. They understood the importance of work. One day some Rabbis were discussing the creation of the world, and they decided to ask Rabbi Joseph about it, because he was a builder and so would understand such things. When they arrived where Rabbi Joseph was working, he was on a scaffold and declined to come down, saying, “I was hired by the day, and my time belongs to my employer.”

• Ballet stage managers sometimes have strange duties. While dancing in Jerome Robbins’ Tyl Eulenspiegal, Tanaquil Le Clercq released a helium-filled balloon into the air. Unfortunately, during the rest of the concert, the balloon lost helium and eventually made an appearance in a Pas de Trois, thus forming the fourth member of a quatre. After that mishap, the stage manager was given the job of shooting the balloon with a BB gun after the curtain closed on Tyl Eulenspiegal.

• A Hasidic Rabbi was walking alone when he met a man. The Rabbi asked the man, “Who do you work for?” The man replied, “I’m the night watchman, and I work for the village. Who do you work for?” The Rabbi replied, “Sometimes I’m not sure, but I will offer you a job at twice your present salary. Your job will be to walk with me and from time to time to ask me, ‘Who do you work for?’”

• Caspar Wistar, a Quaker, first earned his living hauling ashes in a wheelbarrow, but later he became a mayor. Some of his opponents tried to embarrass him by wheeling a wheelbarrow outside his house, but Mr. Wistar came out of his house and offered to show them how to wheel the wheelbarrow correctly.

Zen

• Zen master Kangan once pointed to some boats on the sea and said to his disciple Daichi, “You speak of mind over matter — let’s see you stop those boats from sailing.” Daichi quietly put a screen between them and the boats, shutting off the sight of the boats. Kangan smiled, but pointed out, “You had to use your hands.” Daichi closed his eyes.

• Sakyamuni asked his disciples, “How long is a person’s life?” His disciples guessed various lengths, such as 70 years, 60 years, etc., but Sakyamuni rejected all these answers. After his disciples gave up guessing, Sakyamuni answered his own question, “Life is but a breath.”

• A famous Zen master from Korea came to the United States. When he was asked where he wanted to go, he replied, “Las Vegas.” This sounds shocking, but be assured that the Zen master didn’t gamble. He had heard from other Koreans about the bright lights at Las Vegas, and he wanted to see the bright lights for himself.

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David Bruce: Resist Psychic Death — Wisdom Story, Work

Wisdom Story

• A flood came and forced a man to climb out on his roof. A boat came to rescue him, but the man said, “I have faith that God will save me,” so the boat went away. The water continued to climb until it reached the man’s waist. Another boat came to rescue him, but the man said, “I have faith that God will save me,” so the second boat went away. The water continued to climb until it reached the man’s neck. A helicopter came to rescue him, but the man said, “I have faith that God will save me,” so the helicopter went away. The water continued to rise, and the man drowned and went to Heaven. In Heaven, he told God, “I had faith that You would save me from drowning. I am surprised that I drowned.” God replied, “I am also surprised that you drowned. After all, I sent two boats and a helicopter to save you.”

Work

• At a time when it was easy to find a job as a busboy, Taoist teacher Luke Chan got a job as a busboy. He wasn’t making a lot of money, but he was able to afford to buy what he calls “a third-rate automobile.” Often, he would pick up hitchhikers because he felt sorry for them because they could not afford a car. But one day a hitchhiker asked him for a dollar, and he thought a moment and realized that the only difference between him and the hitchhiker was that he was not lazy and that he worked. Thereafter, he picked up no more hitchhikers. According to Mr. Chan, “Laziness is a major cause of poverty in developed countries.” Mr. Chan also tells this story: A rich man’s son and a poor man’s son had to choose careers. The poor man’s son chose making furniture, but the rich man’s son chose slaying dragons. Soon, the poor man’s son was rich because many people needed furniture made, and the rich man’s son was poor because no one needed a dragon slain. By the way, Mr. Chan says that modern universities have lots of classes about how to slay dragons. He then asks, “But if you had a choice, wouldn’t you rather learn something practical rather than something that’s merely theoretical?”

• From her Paris teacher, Cécile Gilly, soprano Marjorie Lawrence learned that when asked if she knew a certain opera, she should always say that she knew it. That way, she would get more jobs; after all, she could always learn the opera after getting the job. Therefore, early in her career, when Ms. Lawrence was asked if she knew the Tétralogie, she replied that she did, although she had never heard of it. Later, when she met Ms. Gilly, she asked what the Tétralogiewas, explaining that she had said that she knew it. Ms. Gilly laughed, then explained, “Do you realize, young woman, you told the man you knew the whole of Wagner’s Ring? Here we call it the Tétralogie.” Ms. Lawrence was kept quite busy learning the Tétralogie.

• Gioacchino Rossini used to boast about his procrastinating abilities, which caused music managers to tear their hair as they waited for him to finish composing a piece of music. In a letter, Mr. Rossini boasted, “In Italy, in my time, all the managers were bald at thirty.” For example, Mr. Rossini composed the overture to Otelloonly after being locked in a room with a little food while a manager waited for the music. While composing the overture to La Gazza Ladra, Mr. Rossini was watched by four men. These men took each page of the overture as it was written, then threw it to the copyists, who were waiting in a downstairs room. According to Mr. Rossini, the four men had orders to throw himdownstairs if he failed to deliver the overture.

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David Bruce: Resist Psychic Death — War, Wisdom

War

• The United States certainly gets into a lot of wars. Journalist and cartoonist Ted Rall once spoke with a British reporter who came up with an amusing idea for keeping the U.S. out of wars. The British reporter said, “If the average American cannot identify three cities in a country, the U.S. should not invade it.” According to Mr. Rall, “Given that the average American doesn’t know their state capital, much less three cities in, say, Canada, this would transform us into a pacifist society overnight.” Of course, ignorance abounds, and not just among common American citizens. D-Day took place at Normandy, and the Allied forces brought tons of food for civilians because the Allied forces thought that food would be scarce in Normandy. Actually, Normandy had plenty of food, although other places in France had food shortages — Allied bombs had destroyed train lines that normally would have transported food out of Normandy to the rest of France. Military officials telegraphed Eisenhower: PLENTY OF FOOD. SEND SHOES.”

• Quakers tend to be pacifists. In 1854, Eli Jones, who was a Quaker, was appointed Major General of a division of Maine militia as a joke. Mr. Jones responded that if he were to accept the position of Major General, he would “give such orders as I think best. The first would be, ‘Ground Arms!’ The second would be, ‘Right about face! Go, beat your swords into ploughshares and your spears into pruning-hooks, and learn war no more!’”

• When the Nazis were ready to march into Athens, Greece, during World War II, people went shopping for necessities, emptying the food shops quickly because they knew that food would soon be scarce. In addition, writes Maria Callas’ mother, who was there, “The beauty shops worked overtime, for when war threatens, most women decide to have their hair washed and curled before the shooting starts.”

• British anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski (1884-1942) once spoke with a cannibal who was aware of the vast number of casualties in World War I. The cannibal asked how the Europeans were able to consume so much human flesh. Told that Europeans did not eat human flesh, the cannibal was horrified and asked how Europeans were able to kill human beings for no reason.

Wisdom

• Long ago, before Christ, a man traveled to the Han-ku Pass in northwest China. The Keeper of the Pass recognized the man and talked to him. The man was Lao-tzu, aka Old Master, and he planned on journeying into the wilderness and never returning. The Keeper of the Pass begged him to first write down some of his wisdom, and after thinking for a while, Lao-tzu agreed. He wrote a brief condensation of his wisdom on bamboo tablets, and then left, never to return. The bamboo tablets contained the Tao Te Ching, aka Tao Virtue Classic, and it speaks of Tao and its principles, the most important of which is to work with nature, not against it. This book did not remain static, for it has been interpreted and reinterpreted — the result of additional wisdom, as shown by the varying ancient texts that have come down to us. A famous passage from the Tao Te Chingis this: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

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David Bruce: Resist Psychic Death — Signs, Thanksgiving, Travel, War

Signs

• As a sometimes traveler, Peg Bracken occasionally ran across interesting signs. In Manhattan, she saw trashcans bearing this sign: LITTERING IS FILTHY AND SELFISH SO DON’T DO IT. And she once saw a shop that displayed this sign: SHOPLIFTERS WILL BE HAPPILY BEATEN TO A PULP. By the way, when Peg was a kid, her mother found this note in her pocket (and saved it and showed it to her when Peg was an adult): LUCILE IS A DOP.

• Composer Johannes Brahms had a big ego. While walking with his friend George Henschel, he saw a building bearing a commemorative plaque. Mr. Brahms said to Mr. Henschel, “The day after I die, they’ll put up a sign on my house, too.” Mr. Henschel joked, “Of course they will. It’ll say, ‘House to Rent.’”

Thanksgiving

• When Sarah Dash was in the 2ndor 3rdgrade, she sang for the first time in front of people: a Thanksgiving song. She had been ordered not to scratch, but little Sarah was itchy, so before singing, she told her audience, “They told me not to scratch, but before I start to sing, I’m gonna scratch.” Her audience laughed, and she says, “I’ve been a clown ever since.” Later, she sang in the group LaBelle.

Travel

• Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach was on an airplane about to depart when an airline representative announced that two people with medical emergencies needed to be on the airplane. The airline representative then asked if anyone would voluntarily give up their seats and take a later flight: “Is there anyone here who is willing to extend themselves to help out these people?” Immediately, Rabbi Shlomo said, “I’m ready!” He said this even though he was probably more booked and busier than anyone else on the flight.

• On a British airplane about to take off, a steward announced, “Passengers are warned to keep their safety belts fastened throughout the flight until otherwise advised, as the trip is likely to be bumpy.” A worried elderly woman asked, “Is it going to be very bumpy?” The steward — who was very dignified — replied, “Madam, I said bumpy, not very bumpy.”

War

• At the 1936 Olympics, Jesse Owens failed twice to qualify for the finals in the long jump. He should have qualified easily, but he was now in the position of not making the finals if he were to fault one more time. Fortunately, his German competitor, Lutz Long, helped him by advising him by start his jump about a foot before the fault line — that way, he would not fault and should easily qualify. The advice worked, and Mr. Owens made the finals, where he and Mr. Long competed for the gold medal, with Mr. Owens finally winning while Mr. Long won the silver medal. The two men became friends, and they stayed friends, although Mr. Long fought for the Germans in World War II. On a battlefield, Mr. Long wrote Mr. Owens, “I hope we can always remain best of friends despite the differences between our countries.” Not long after, Mr. Long died in battle. After the war was over, Mr. Long’s son, 22-year-old Peter, wrote Mr. Owens to ask him to be his best man at his wedding: “Even though my father can’t be here to be my best man, I know who he would want in his place. He would want you to take his place. And I do, too.” Mr. Owens flew to Germany, and was Peter’s best man.

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David Bruce: Resist Psychic Death — Rabbis, Royalty and Aristocracy

Rabbis

• R’ Elya Chaim, the Rav of Lodz, discovered that a shopowner had been desecrating the Sabbath by opening up his shop on the holy day. Therefore, the good Rabbi rose on the Sabbath, sent a message to the synagogue that no one was to wait for him, then he went to the store and sat down in front of its door. The shopowner soon arrived, keys in hand and ready to open his shop for business. He saw the Rabbi, figured that he was waiting for someone, and decided to wait for the Rabbi to leave so he could open the shop. A couple of hours passed, and the shopowner finally realized what the Rabbi was doing, so he admitted defeat and told R’ Elya Chaim, “Rebbe, I give up. Go home and eat. I swear by my wife and children that from now on my store will remain closed on Shabbos.”

• Rabbi Zushia of Hanipol never rebuked a sinner for sinning. Instead, when he saw a person commit a sin, he would sit near that person, then begin crying, “Zushia, how could you commit such a sin? Don’t you know that you will have to account for that sin in the World-to-Come?” The sinner always listened to Zushia and eventually repented.

Royalty and Aristocracy

• Prima donnas can be vigilant in the pursuit of what they regard as their rights. While traveling with Colonel James H. Mapleson (1830-1901) and his opera company, two prima donnas — Caroline Salla and Anna De Belocca — feuded over who would get the best suite at a hotel. The good Colonel solved the problem by having the hotel manager mention that an equally good suite — which had been reserved for Lady Spencer — existed upstairs. Ms. Belocca asked to see the reserved suite, and when the door was open, she ran inside and locked the door, telling the hotel manager to find another suite for Lady Spencer.

• The Quakers used to be persecuted in the early years of the colonization of America; however, King Charles II ended the practice by sending a Quaker as his envoy to America. Quakers believe in the equality of Humankind, so they don’t take their hats off before humans of high rank. The American Governor was so displeased by the Quaker’s not taking his hat off that he knocked the hat to the ground. However, as soon as he learned that the Quaker was the envoy of the king, he hurriedly picked up the Quaker’s hat — and took off his own.

• Leo Slezak, the famous tenor, was disembarking from Vienna to go on tour with his opera company. As part of his luggage, he carried a stage prop — a jeweled crown (with fake jewels, of course) in a hatbox. At the border, the customs officer went through Slezak’s luggage. When the officer saw the crown, he was startled, then bowed respectfully to Slezak, saying, “I trust your Highness will forgive my having inconvenienced you. Please pass, your Highness.”

• Mary Lidbetter was a very pretty Quaker woman. In Brighton, England, in 1797, she caught the eye of the Prince Regent, and he followed her and kissed her. She immediately slapped his face, and he thereafter left her alone.

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David Bruce: Resist Psychic Death — Problem-Solving

Problem-Solving

• Early in her career, while she still was in Athens, Greece, Maria Callas sang the lead in Toscawith Antonis Thellentas (sometimes spelled Dellendas). Mr. Thellentas was popular with the Greek audience because of his voice, acting, and size, all of which were great. He had the reputation of being able to eat almost two pounds of macaroni at a single sitting, and because of his size Maria’s mother writes that when he and Maria sang an impassioned duet together, she sometimes was forced to close her eyes.

• Opera singer Ian Wallace recalls the time when a very heavy Italian soprano played the part of Gilda in Rigoletto. In this opera, Gilda is murdered, then carried off in a sack by the character Sparafucile. Unfortunately, the singer playing Sparafucile was unable to lift the singer playing Gilda, so the opera director invented three new characters — burly men all — to help Sparafucile lift and carry Gilda off the stage. (This story may be why Sir Rudolf Bing once wrote, “The greatest singers in the world don’t fit easily into blue jeans.”)

• Adelina Patti, a celebrated diva, seldom showed up for rehearsals (she included a no-rehearsal clause in her contracts), so she often first met her singing co-stars on the stages of the opera house she was performing at the time. In a first-act trio featuring Ms. Patti, a baritone and a tenor, the baritone altered the words of the song he was singing on stage to ask her for an introduction. Ms. Patti being willing, the tenor sang the formal introductions.

• According to an ancient Jewish tradition, a blessing must be chanted when the Sabbath candles are lit. A businesswoman was scrupulous about chanting the blessing, but one Friday she found that she would be unable to return home in time to observe the tradition. So the businesswoman called home and had her maid light the Sabbath candles, then hold the telephone receiver near the candles so she could chant the blessing.

• Pope John XXIII regarded some old customs as nuisances, but having respect for tradition, he modified them instead of entirely doing away with them. He was embarrassed by his attendants’ kneeling three times before him whenever they entered or departed from his presence, so he changed the custom so that they kneeled to him only once in the morning and once in the evening.

• Tenor Enrico Caruso was multi-talented. At a performance of Bohème, the bass who was singing the part of Colline whispered to Mr. Caruso that he had lost his voice. Mr. Caruso whispered back for the bass to move his lips, then Mr. Caruso sang the part of the bass with his back to the audience so no one could see what he was doing.

• Tenor Lauritz Melchior was a big man. Fellow opera singer Marjorie Lawrence writes that when he stayed at the Ansonia Hotel on Broadway, it did not have a bath big enough for him. Therefore, each morning he took the service elevator to the basement, where he dunked himself in the swimming pool.

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David Bruce: Resist Psychic Death — Problem-Solving

Problem-Solving

• Architect Frank Gehry was Jewish, and when he was serving in the US Army from 1954 to 1956, he occasionally ran into anti-Semitism. One Army sergeant called him by the slur “Kikey.” Mr. Gehry complained to his company’s commanding officer, who brushed off his complaint. Later, he complained to some officers he knew at the service club, and one officer told him, “Don’t worry about it. Give me his name.” Mr. Gehry did, and within three days the anti-Semitic sergeant learned that he had been transferred — to Alaska. When the sergeant told Mr. Gehry the news, Mr. Gehry replied, “I’m sure you’ll find lots of kikes up there.”

• As a girl, Moravian soprano Maria Jeritza was sent to a convent because her mother wanted her to take the veil, but Maria decided against it when she learned that her long hair would be cut short. Therefore, to get out of the convent, she made use of the rule that any novice would be dismissed whom the Mother Superior had reprimanded three times. To get her three reprimands, Maria performed these actions: during a time of prayer, she sewed the habits of two novices together; she stole fruit from the garden next door after climbing over the wall; and she crashed a domino board over the head of an opposing player.

• Dick King-Smith, the author of Babe: The Gallant Pig, had a chance to be a TV personality on a children’s show called Rub-a-Dub-Tub, on each episode of which he presented a segment about animals. However, he was stiff the first time he tried to speak to the metal box that was the TV camera. Fortunately, Anne Wood, the producer of the show, asked him, “Who’s your youngest grandchild?” The answer was Charlie, and Anne told Dick, “Just imagine that Charlie is inside that metal box. Talk to him as if he were.” This worked, and Mr. King-Smith started sounding much more like his natural self.

• A mother once asked Manuel Garcia, a noted voice teacher, to take her daughter as a pupil. However, Mr. Garcia knew that the daughter was not suited to be one of his pupils, so he asked the mother and daughter to attend one of his lessons. At the lesson, he made a voice student practice difficult passages over and over, and the mother and daughter soon looked at each other, horrified, then left. As they left, the daughter told the voice student, “That would kill me.” Mr. Garcia complimented the voice student who had been practicing the difficult passages, then continued with his normal lesson.

• Sir Hamilton Harty was conducting Brahms’ Second Piano Concerto when pianist Artur Schnabel’s memory failed him. Sir Hamilton recognized the error immediately, and he held up both hands. One hand made the sign for “2,” and the other hand made a slashing motion across his throat. The well-educated Hallé orchestra cut two bars of the music, and the audience did not detect Mr. Schnabel’s lapse of memory. Afterward, Mr. Schnabel told Sir Hamilton, “The Hallé is nearly as good as the Berlin Philharmonic.” Sir Hamilton replied, “They’re better — two bars better.”

• Cromwell Barnard was both a Quaker and the captain of a ship. Once, his ship was at a certain wharf, and the officer of a rival ship decided that his ship would take the place of the good Quaker’s ship. Captain Barnard protested, but the rival officer would not listen to him. Therefore, Captain Barnard called to his first mate, who was a non-Quaker, and told him, “Mate, I think thee’ll have to come up here and use some of thy language.” The first mate hurled a volley of oaths at the rival officer, and the rival officer decided to let Captain Barnard’s ship alone.

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David Bruce: Resist Psychic Death — Problem-Solving

Problem-Solving

• In 1988 in West Seneca, New York, 12-year-old James Bliemeister ran into a problem when the three-year-old child he was babysitting caused a gas leak by ramming his pedal-powered fire engine into a gas pipe. Gas began hissing out of the hole, and James covered the hole with his finger. A gas leak can be dangerous because of the dangers both of suffocation and of an explosion. He knew that a pack of chewing gum was upstairs, and he sent the three-year-old to get it. Unfortunately, the three-year-old brought him some toy cars, so James sent the three-year-old upstairs again. When the child returned with the gum, James chewed several pieces and used the gum to plug the hole in the gas pipe. He then tied a sock around the hole so that the gum and sock would continue to stop the gas leak. James next telephoned his father, and his father telephoned the gas company. No suffocation. No explosion. One hero.

• Sherri Jean Phelps, a teacher in the San Francisco Bay area, ran into a problem with a young Korean-American student named Young. He was a very good student, but the crossing guard complained that Young would sometimes risk his youthful life by running into traffic when the crossing sign clearly said, “DON’T WALK.” Ms. Phelps talked to Young and discovered that he knew how to read the words “WALK” and “DON’T WALK,” as she expected he did. He even demonstrated what the word “WALK” meant by walking. However, when she asked him to explain the meaning of “DON’T WALK,” he replied, “Sign say, ‘DON’T WALK,’ so I run.” Of course, she explained that “DON’T WALK” means to stand still and wait for the sign to change to “WALK.” Problem solved.

• Soprano Frances Alda once was scheduled to give a concert at Versailles in the home of the Marquise de Brou. However, the audience was very noisy, and so she did not start singing even when her accompanist began to play. The Marquise asked her what was the matter, and Ms. Alda replied, “I know I am supposed to have a very strong voice, but even so it would be impossible for me to make myself heard above all this tohu-bohu.” This shocked the audience into silence, and she sang without distractions. By the way, Mary Garden once told Ms. Alda, “I am always having to explain you to people. Half of them think you’re a grand person, and the rest think you’re a b*tch.” Ms. Alda replied, “They’re both right.”

• Kathleen Engle, a middle-school physical-education teacher in Newcastle, Wyoming, is famous there for her toe talks. When kids are mean to each other, sometimes without realizing it, she makes the kids touch their toes when she lectures them “about their behavior, how it looks to others, and whether they realize what they’re doing.” Why make the kids touch their toes? She explains, “Because they’re staring at their toes, they can’t play off of each other with the rolled eyes and the shrugs and touching each other. Because when they’re looking at each other, they’re not listening to me.” This really works. She says, “Often kids will come to me and say, ‘I didn’t really realize what I was doing.”

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David Bruce: Resist Psychic Death — Prayer, Preachers

Prayer

• A pious man once went to say his prayers at a mosque. However, an uneducated man was already saying his prayers there, and the uneducated man mispronounced a word of his prayers. The pious man felt that it would be inappropriate to stand near the uneducated man to say his prayers, so he moved away from the uneducated man before saying his prayers. That night, the pious man dreamed that God spoke to him, saying, “If you had stood behind the uneducated man and said your prayers, you would have earned My pleasure. Instead, you found fault with his pronunciation, and you ignored the purity and excellence of his heart. I cherish a pure and excellent heart much more than the correct pronunciation of words.”

• On Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, God passes judgment upon people — either for life or for death. One year, Rosh Hashanah fell on the Sabbath. Rabbi Levi Itzchok prayed, “Master of the World, Thou knowest that today is not only the first of the year but also the holy Sabbath. Since Thou hast ordained that no writing be done on this day Thou too will not desecrate this day. It is therefore impossible for Thee to inscribe our verdict for the coming year without violating the Sabbath. There is only one thing that Thou art able to do. Thou mayest insert the word ‘life’ for all of us since Thy sacred law teaches that the saving of life alone permits the violation of the Sabbath.”

• Children sometimes say funny things in prayers. A nine-year-old once prayed, “Please bless dad’s family jewels.” A three-year-old whose father pretended that the long cardboard tube from a roll of wrapping paper was a sword prayed, “Please bless me that I can smash daddy’s sword into tiny pieces.” A three-year-old girl prayed to thank God for letting her “play in the middle of the night.” Often, her parents found her awake and playing after 10 p.m.

• Once, the originator of Hassidism — the Baal Shem Tov, also known as the Besht — declined to enter a house of worship. When asked why, he said, “The prayers recited here were uttered in a lifeless and mechanical manner. They had no wings. They never reached the higher spheres. They are choking the House of God. There is no room for me.”

• One day, Edwin Porter, a preacher, was playing with his little granddaughter and saying things like, “Throw the ball to Grandfather” and “Walk for Grandfather.” After playing like this for some time, the call for breakfast came, and Rev. Porter prayed over the morning meal, “Our Grandfather in Heaven, we thank thee ….”

Preachers

• The evaluation committee of Rev. J. Christy Ramsey, the pastor of the Ottawa (Ohio) Presbyterian Church, once gave him the humbling task of comparing his own ministry to that of Jesus. Rev. Ramsey came up with many observations, including these: Jesus walks on water; Rev. Ramsey slips on ice. Jesus changes water into wine; Rev. Ramsey changes water into coffee. Jesus curses fig tree; Rev. Ramsey kills houseplants. Jesus raises the dead; Rev. Ramsey wakes teenagers. Jesus casts out demons; Rev. Ramsey turns on night-light. And finally: Jesus cleanses lepers; Rev. Ramsey has changed dirty diapers.

• John Bright’s speeches could be understood by everyone in the audience. Before speaking in public, Mr. Bright tested his speeches on his gardener. If the gardener was unable to understand the speech, Mr. Bright changed the speech until the gardener was able to understand it. A famous passage written by Mr. Bright concerned the Crimean War: “The angel of death is abroad in the land; you can almost hear the beating of his wings.”

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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].”

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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