July 26th, 2006

Bruce, Caroline

The Art of Practical Joking

I heard a comedy routine years ago, where a talk-show host, Phil Montague, was interviewing a guy who specialized in fatal practical jokes.  He contended
that for a practical joke to be funny, the victim had to be killed in the process.

While my view on the subject of practical jokes is nowhere near this extreme, I do happen to be a big fan of the practical joke, provided, of course, that it's a harmless one.

For some reason, people are hesitant to play practical jokes on me.  About the worst one I can think of is when a friend of mine took me to the bank machine to deposit some money, and in the end had me convinced that my account had about fifteen hundred dollars less in it than I had expected.  I'm hoping someday for an intelligent, crafty, harmless-but-effective practical joke to be played on me.  When that day comes, I'll be ready for it ... I hope.

I think my favorite practical jokes that I've perpetrated on others have come at the expense of my wonderful family.  The first successful one that I can think of was played on my brother Brian.  I had just recently learned that the electrical outlet in the bathroom was tied to the light switch.  Turn on the light, and power is supplied to the outlet.

Armed with this bit of knowledge, I went through my rather vast archives of cassette tapes until I found a blood-curdling scream.  I transferred this scream onto another tape, leaving about two minutes of dead silence before it.  I plugged the tape player into the electrical outlet in the bathroom, positioned the tape at the beginning of the silence, hit play, and turned out the light, merrily going about my business.  It was Sunday morning, just before church, and my brother went into the bathroom to shave.  Click, on went the light.  I waited. Right on schedule, a woman on Star Trek being killed by a parasitic alien screamed her death scream.  My poor brother, who had to drive me to and from church that day, didn't speak to me all morning.  Success.

That was the first.  I think the best practical joke I managed to pull off on a family member was played on my dad around ten years ago.  I was out visiting my parents, and I had been watching a videotaped TV show.  After the show, there had been a football game on the tape, played some three or four months earlier.  Too lazy to stop the tape, I had just let the game's pre-game show play.  My dad woke up from a nap and walked into the living room.  I saw my chance.

"Who's playing?"  he asked.  I told him.  We proceeded to talk intelligently about the game, our predictions, the CFL (Canadian Football League) in general, and so on.  The game started, and we watched.  Dad thought it strange that some people were playing whom he had been sure the teams had traded some time earlier, but he decided he must have gotten that wrong.  Still we watched, for a good hour or so, until my mom called us to the table for dinner.  When Dad wanted to keep the game on so he could look over and watch during the meal, I decided that it was only fair to tell him it was a tape.  Dad didn't
speak to me for the rest of the day. Success.

While I may disagree with the fatal practical joker in the comedy routine, I nonetheless love a good practical joke.  Of course, practical jokes should be picked with care.  A joke that truly hurts the victim is not in any way worth it, and I'm sad to say that I have made some mistakes in that regard in my time.  But, if you know your victim and your subject matter, a good practical joke can make for wonderful memories and conversation pieces, not to mention the occasional Internet commentary, in future years.
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Bruce, Caroline

The Joy of Being Forgiven

It was my final year of Bible College.  In it, I took two World Religion courses, 1 and 2.  Naturally, being me, I took 2 before 1.  World Religions 1 dealt with some of the older religions: Islam, Buddhism, and so on, while World Religions 2 dealt with some of the more contemporary religions, those which have made themselves known over the last several hundred years.

The teachers of the two courses took very different approaches.  The professor of World Religions 2 took an almost mocking approach to religions not our own.  Deliberately or otherwise, we came away with the notion that you debate about your faith by trying to ridicule or demoralize the other person's viewpoint.  And yes, she led by example in this regard.  The professor of World Religions 1, Dr. Bonk, took a very different approach, making friends with the practitioners of other religions, listening to them, treating them with respect, making the lines of communication go two ways.

Unfortunately, this particular year, there were rather a lot of us who, like me, took World Religions 2 before World Religions 1.  So we brought into the latter class the ideas and methods taught us in World Religions 2.  One afternoon, Dr. Bonk brought in a friend of his.  I can't remember now where his faith lay, I believe the gentleman may have been Buddhist,but Dr. Bonk brought him, a very nice person, in so we could ask questions and learn.  Naturally, having come more or less straight from the other World Religions class, we asked questions designed to make his faith look silly and frivolous.  We ridiculed our guest mercilessly.  I am not proud to admit my own part in this.  Dr. Bonk was justifiably furious with us, because we had done a very effective job of undermining the rapport he had been building with his friend for years.

I lived with the guilt of this incident for years.  It didn't take a rocket scientist to make me see how utterly unacceptable and inappropriate my behavior had been, and how poorly I had represented my own faith.

A few years ago, our church got a new pastor, with whom I quickly developed a friendship.  I discovered, somehow, that this new pastor of ours knew my old World Religions 1 proffessor, and what's more, knew his e-mail address.  I saw a chance here to try to undo some of the damage I had done, so I e-mailed
him.  I reminded him of the incident some eight years previous, and I told him how deeply I regretted my actions, that I was truly sorry, and that I had at least learned from my indiscretions.  Dr. Bonk wrote back to me, telling me he forgave me and that he considered it an honor to have had me in his class.

These days, apologies - and I mean sincere apologies, not the shallow placating type - are almost frowned upon in society.  For men, it's not "manly" to apologize.  Women who apologize are viewed as submissive.  Either way, apologizing is viewed as an almost cowardly act.  Far easier to try to twist things around so we're right, far easier to deceive people, especially ourselves, into believing that we're right and the rest of the world just has it wrong.

If you're one of those people who think they simply can't afford to be wrong and admit it, consider the freedom I felt when I knew my former teacher had forgiven me.  Consider the relief I felt when I realized my apology had not been too late.

I lost a parent just over five years ago.  I've often wondered, how would I have felt if I'd had unresolved guilt, things which I hadn't cleared up with my dad until it was too late?  There would have come a point when I simply would have no more chances to deal with Dad on these issues.  What then?  How would I live with myself?  Again, I was blessed to have dealt with all the major issues well before Dad's death, and so Dad and me could both live through those last days in peace and father-and-son love.  Thank God for that.

There's nothing wrong with an apology when you owe one.  In fact the person who admits a mistake is a lot more worthy of respect than the person who refuses to admit those mistakes, though you can bet he or she has made at least as many of them.
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Bruce, Caroline

The Joy of Radio

I'm sitting here now, listening to my favorite radio station. But for local Winnipeg Goldeyes baseball games, my radio might as well be glued to CJOB in Winnipeg. I love the station, I know some of the people there, and many otehrs know me by name/disreputation.

It wasn't always this way. Growing up on the farm, our radio was always tuned to the local news/farming/elevator music station, CFAM in Altona, Manitoba. So I basically grew up on this station: lots of classical music, lots of instrumentals, and the only station I know of to actually censor a commercial, and even Paul Harvey News!

I was laughed at for listening to this station. It was viewed as an old-people's station, and not without warrant. So I tried CJOB for a while, kind of liked it actually. But I was getting laughed at still, because CJOB, dubbed the "Hair-Net Station", was little more than CFAM for the city instead of the rual environment. Trapped. I didn't much are for the music of my generation, what was I to do?

I did what any red-blooded Canadian blind person named Bruce Toews would do, I decided not to care. Ignore the problem.

Over my college years, I grew to largely ignore the radio, surprised to come home for the summer and discover that Paul Harvey was still alive, let alone still broadcasting. He still is both, you know. But I digress.

After college, I started in on being a radio fanatic again. I guest hosted a comedy program on 92 CITI FM here in Winnipeg (can't find the Website) for a while, then when comedy all but left Winnipeg radio for good, I gravitated slowly to CJOB, hair-net or no hair-net.

When Charles Adler came on the scene in 1998, CJOB's reputation began to change, and its audience began to youngify (new word; it was either that or youthen).

I love radio. Ever since I was two or three, I wanted to be in radio. I used to wander around the house as a very young kid, and be doing my own little radio show called the Brucie Bang Show. No, if tapes of that survive, you may not hear them. When I discovered boomboxes, patch cords, turntables, and later CD's, I started recording some programs with a reasonable amount of technical quality. IT was no longer the Brucie Bang Show. I know some of these tapes survived, and no, you may not listen to them. I don't care who you are, you may not listen to them. Not. Got it?

So I would get tours of radio stations. Radio personalities who had the misfortune to get cornered by me would spend hours answering my technical questions.

So the radio dream has been at least partialy fulfilled with Toews on the Waves, my Internet radio show. I've come to realize that, much more than announcing, what I really want to do is to produce, to push the buttons, to put the programs on the air.

Most of what I learned about radio I learned from CJOB. It's a Winnipeg institution and easily one of the most community-minded stations I've heard anywhere. If I ever win the lottery, I'll offer to pay CJOB to let me work there.
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