The hungry turtle and the unwanted barber chair

The hungry turtle and the unwanted barber chair
The Compleat Practical Joker

When I was a kid, I checked this book out of the library, attracted by the "practical joker" in the title as well as the Charles Addams cover. I dreamed that someday I would be rich and famous and would have both means and opportunity to carry out these two gags myself. Alas, that dream is still deferred.

I was told recently of a prominent New York attorney who had occasion to visit a warehouse in Brooklyn. In the warehouse he saw an antique barber chair which was for sale. He bought it. He remembered that once during a world tour he had spent a couple of days in Calcutta and he knew the name of one of the principal business streets there. He had the old barber chair crated and shipped to an address on that streetan address he simply pulled out of the air. And he spent many enjoyable moments thereafter speculating on the bewilderment of the people who received the chair.


Peirce, an artist and poet and fabulous character, was living in Paris and the concierge at his hotel became quite fond of him and went out of her way to do special things for him to make him happy and comfortable. He felt the need to repay her for these kindnesses. He knew the lady was fond of pets, so one day he brought home a present for her, a tiny turtle. She was overjoyed, and spent many happy hours coddling and nursing the creature, and worrying about its diet. Peirce, at the beginning, had no idea of carrying the transaction any further but, as so often happened, his imagination took over. Within a few days after the original gift, he substituted a turtle a size larger. The next day the turtle had grown another two inches in length. Madame was ecstatic. Her pet was flourishing wonderfully under her tender care. She talked about it constantly to everyone who would listen. Day by day the turtle grew bigger until Madame found herself in possession of an enormous and cumbersome creature, almost as big as a baby grand. She still loved the beast, and exclaimed over it and the way it had prospered under her care. But her American lodger could not let matters stand as they were. Now he began reducing the size of the huge turtle, day by day. The lady became frantic with worry: staying up nights, scarcely leaving her pet long enough to permit Peirce to substitute a smaller turtle. She was on the verge of losing her senses when the artist decided matters had gone far enough, and told her the truth.

You might be aware, however, of something I did not realize when I was younger. These
tales of elaborate practical jokes are told by jokesters, and it costs nothing to tell a story. 

Excerpts are from The Compleat Practical Joker by H. Allen Smith (1953) Read more excerpts from this book and others at Deuce of Clubs>>

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2 thoughts on “The hungry turtle and the unwanted barber chair

  1. I loved that book as a kid, too! Thank you public libraries, you made me what I am today, for better or worse.

  2. Public libraries and Mad Magazine – the subversive literature for yesterday’s youth.

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