Some Fables

Here are some stories that I found amusing. The stories all generally involve a sudden change of perspective.


from "The Collapse of Chaos" by Jack Cohen and Ian Stewart

A duke was hunting in the forest with his retinue of men-at-arms and servants; he came across a tree. Upon it, archery targets were painted, and smack in the middle of each was an arrow . "Who is this incredibly fine archer?" cried the duke. "I must find him!" .

After continuing through the forest for a few miles he came upon a small boy carrying a bow and arrow. Eventually the boy admitted that it was he who shot the arrows plumb in the center of all of the targets.

"You didn't just walk up to the targets and hammer the arrows into the middle, did you?" asked the duke worriedly.

"No, my lord. I shot them from a hundred paces. I swear it by all that I hold holy."

"That is truly astonishing," said the duke. "I hereby admit you into my service." The boy thanked him profusely. "But I must ask one favor in return," the duke continued. "You must tell me how you come to be such an outstanding shot."

"Well", said the boy, "first I fire the arrow at the tree, and then I paint the target around it."

Omsk Telephone Exchange

from "The Collapse of Chaos" by Jack Cohen and Ian Stewart

Ivan and Pyotr were watching the installation of the Omsk telephone exchange. "These modem gadgets," sighed Pyotr, "I can never understand how they work."

But it is easy," replied Ivan. "It is like a very long dachshund. You twist his tail, and he barks in the middle of the city."

"Ah," said Pyotr. "That explains telephones. But what about radio?"

"Radio is exactly the same," said Ivan, "but without the dachshund."

Pyotr thanked Ivan for explaining telephones. "But what I really do not understand, Ivan, is television. I watch the soccer matches and the news every day -- but how is it possible to send color pictures from one end of the country to the other, and without wires?"

Ivan thought for a few moments and replied: "And with wires, you'd understand?"

Fifty Monkeys

from "The Collapse of Chaos" by Jack Cohen and Ian Stewart

A truck driver arrived at a bar with fifty monkeys. "What do you think I should do with them?" he asked the bartender. "I've lost all the paperwork."

The bartender thought for a moment, and then said, "Why not take them to the zoo?"

"Of course!" said the driver. He collected up the monkeys and disappeared.

The next evening he returned, still with the monkeys. But now they were all wearing sunglasses.

"Still got the monkeys?" asked the bartender in surprise. "I thought you were going to take them to the zoo."

"I did," said the driver. "Great idea, absolutely brilliant." He swallowed a mouthful of beer. "They loved it. They fed bread to the bears, rode on the elephants, ate cotton candy and hamburgers - they had a whale of a time. So I decided that tomorrow I'll take them to the beach."

Improving the Wheel

from "The Collapse of Chaos" by Jack Cohen and Ian Stewart

When the wheel was first invented it took a few hundred thousand years to iron out the bugs. The wheels made by Seller-of-Used-Rocks were square, and all of his customers complained about the bumpy ride. One day his best customer, Basher-of-Small-Furry-Rodents, was visiting the workshop. Seller-of-Used-Rocks proudly displayed his newest invention. "Here, Basher, is my new improved wheel, I call it the "rolleasy". Isn't she a beauty? Ten skins I'm going to charge; but to you, my friend, a real bargain at six skins each, provided you buy two pairs and a spare."

Basher-of-Small-Furry-Rodents stared at the new wheel with some puzzlement. Eventually he said, "But it's triangular!"

"Of course," replied Seller-of-Used-Rocks..

"How can that be an improvement?"

"Don't you see?" expostulated Seller-of-Used-Rocks. "One less bump."

Texan in the Desert

from "The Collapse of Chaos" by Jack Cohen and Ian Stewart

A Texan was driving in the Israeli desert. He was feeling thirsty, and he noticed a tiny house in the distance, so he drove up and knocked on the door

The owner, a wrinkled old man, let him in and gave him a glass of water.

"Do you own this place?" asked the Texan, making polite conversation.


"Why do you live out here in the desert?"

"I raise chickens."

The Texan looked around him. "How big is this place, anyway?"

"Hmmm - it must be about twenty yards at the front. And at the back, it's maybe sixty! Well, fifty, at least."

The Texan grinned. "Back in the States," he said, "I own a ranch just outside Dallas. I get up at dawn, and I get in my car and drive. I keep driving, all day, right into the evening. And I still don't reach the boundary of my ranch."

"Oh dear," said the old man, "I once had a car like that."

Sherlock Holmes on a Camping Trip

Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson went on a camping trip. After a good meal and a bottle of wine they were exhausted and went to sleep. Some hours later, Holmes awoke and nudged his faithful friend. "Watson, look up at the sky and tell me what you see."

Watson replied, "I see millions and millions of stars."

"What does that tell you?", Holmes said.

Watson pondered for a minute. "Astronomically, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Astrologically, I observe that Saturn is in Leo. Timewise, I deduce that the time is approximately a quarter past three. Theologically, I can see that The Lord is all powerful and that we are small and insignificant. Meteorologically, I suspect that we will have, a beautiful day tomorrow. What does it tell you?"

Holmes was silent for a minute, then spoke. "Watson, you idiot, someone has stolen our tent."


A woman at a formal dinner was quite discomfited to observe that the man across from her was piling his sliced carrots carefully on the top of his head. She watched in horror as the pile grew higher and higher and the sauce began to drip from his hair. She could finally stand it no longer, so she leaned toward him and said, "Pardon me, sir, but why on earth are you piling carrots on your head?"

"My God!, " he said in disbelief, "are they carrots? I thought they were sweet potatoes!"

A Thousand Fish

A very rich man once commissioned a famous artist to do a painting of a fish. One year later the man returned and asked for his painting. The artist took out a clean sheet of paper and painted a beautiful fish while the man waited. The man then asked why it had taken a year to get the painting of the fish. The artist opened a door to a closet, which was filled with 1,000 paintings of that fish.

The Monkey Trap

Start with a cage containing five monkeys. Inside the cage, hang a banana on a string and place a set of stairs under it. Before long, a monkey will go to the stairs and start to climb towards the banana. As soon as he touches the stairs, all of the other monkeys are sprayed with cold water.

After a while, another monkey makes an attempt with the same result - all the other monkeys are sprayed with cold water.

Pretty soon, when another monkey tries to climb the stairs, the other monkeys will try to prevent it. Now, put away the cold water. Remove one monkey from the cage and replace it with a new one. The new monkey sees the banana and wants to climb the stairs. To his surprise and horror, all of the other monkeys attack him.

After another attempt and attack, he knows that if he tries to climb the stairs, he will be assaulted. Next, remove another of the original five monkeys and replace it with a new one. The newcomer goes to the stairs and is attacked. The previous newcomer takes part in the punishment with enthusiasm!

Likewise, replace a third original monkey with a new one, then a fourth, then the fifth. Every time the newest monkey takes to the stairs, he is attacked. Most of the monkeys that are beating him have no idea why they were not permitted to climb the stairs or why they are participating in the beating of the newest monkey.

After replacing all the original monkeys, none of the remaining monkeys have ever been sprayed with cold water. Nevertheless, no monkey ever again approaches the stairs to try for the banana. Why not? Because as far as they know that's the way it's always been done around here....

The Best is not Perfect

The world's foremost cellist, Pablo Casals, is 83. He was asked one day why he continued to practice four and five hours a day. Casals answered, "Because I think I am making progress." -- Leonard Lyons (columnist)

The Trip to Abilene (Abilene Paradox)

Four adults, married couple and the wife's parents, are sitting on a porch in 104-degree heat in the small town of Coleman, Texas, some 53 miles from Abilene. They are engaged in as little motion as possible, drinking lemonade, watching the fan spin lazily, and occasionally playing the odd game of dominoes.

After some time, the wife's father suggests that maybe they should drive to Abilene and eat at the cafeteria there. The son-in-law thinks this is a crazy idea but doesn't see any need to upset the apple cart, so he goes along with it. Since two of the four want to go, the two women agree also. They get in their unair-conditioned Buick and drive the long dusty roads to Abilene. They eat a mediocre lunch at the cafeteria and then drive the long dusty road home. No one says much of any'thin' on the way back to Coleman. Everyone is hot, sweaty, dusty. When they finally get back, frustrated by heat and the general futility of the whole exercise, it became clear that none of them had actually wanted to go to Abilene in the first place! They each went along with the idiotic plan because they each thought that the others were keen to go. Naturally, everyone sees this miss in communication as someone else's fault!

Everyone has a Role to Play

On a visit to the NASA space center, President Kennedy spoke to a man sweeping up in one of the buildings. "What's your job here?" asked Kennedy. "Well Mr. President," the janitor replied, "I'm helping to put a man on the moon".

The Pond

An old farmer in Kansas had owned a large farm for several years. He had a large pond in the back, fixed up nice; picnic tables, horseshoe courts, and some apple and peach trees. The pond was properly shaped and fixed up for swimming when it was built.

One evening the old farmer decided to go down to the pond, as he hadn't been there for a while, and look it over. He grabbed a five gallon bucket to bring back some fruit. As he neared the pond, he heard voices shouting and laughing with glee.

As he came closer he saw it was a bunch of young women skinny-dipping in his pond. He made the women aware of his presence and they all went to the deep end of the pond.

One of the women shouted to him, "We're not coming out until you leave!"

The old man frowned, "I didn't come down here to watch you ladies swim naked or make you get out of the pond naked." Holding the bucket up he said, "I'm here to feed the alligator."

Moral: Old age and cunning will triumph over youth and enthusiasm every time.

The Barber and the Boy

A young boy enters a barber shop and the barber whispers to his customer, "This is the dumbest kid in the world. Watch while I prove it to you." The barber puts a dollar bill in one hand and two quarters in the other, then calls the boy over and asks, "Which do you want, son?" The boy takes the quarters and leaves. "What did I tell you?" said the barber. "That kid never learns!"

Later, when the customer leaves, he sees the same young boy coming out of the ice cream store. "Hey, son! May I ask you a question? Why did you take the quarters instead of the dollar bill?" The boy licked his cone and replied, "Because the day I take the dollar, the game's over!"

The Empty Tea Cup

A Japanese Zen master received a professor who came inquiring about Zen. It was obvious to the master from the start of the conversation that the professor was not so much interested in learning about Zen as he was impressing the master with his own opinions and knowledge. The master listened patiently. He finally suggested they have tea. The master began to fill the visitor's tea cup until it was full and then continued to pour. The tea flowing over the lip of the cup filling the saucer and the over onto the tea tray. The professor watched the overflowing tea cup until he could no longer restrain himself. "The cup is full! No more will go in!," he said. "Like this cup," the master said, "you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup."

The Two Monks and the Lady

Once there were two monks who were traveling the countryside during the rainy season. Rounding a bend in the path, they found a muddy stream blocking their way. Beside it stood a lovely woman dressed in flowing robes. "Here," one of the monks to the woman. "Let me carry you across the water." And he picked her up and carried her across. Setting her down on the further bank, he went along in silence with his fellow monk to the abbey on the hill. Later that evening the other monk said suddenly, "I think you made an error, picking up that woman back on our journey today. You know we are not supposed to have anything to do with women, and you held one close to you! You should not have done that." "How strange," remarked the other. "I carried her only across the water. You are carrying her still."

(As told in Transitions by William Bridges)

The Scorpion and the Fox

A scorpion is walking along the bank of a river, wondering how to get across to the other side. Suddenly he sees a fox and asks the fox to take him on his back across to the other side of the river. The fox says "No, if I do that you'll sting me and I'll drown". The scorpion replies, "If I did that, we'd both drown". The fox thinks about it and finally decides that that is very reasonable. So the fox, being of good nature, invites the scorpion onto his back. The scorpion climbs on and the fox begins to swim. But sure enough -- half way across the river -- the scorpion stings him. As the poison fills his veins, the fox turns to the scorpion and says "Why did you do that? Now we'll both drown." The scorpion replies, "I'm sorry... I couldn't help it. It's my nature".

The Power of Story

The Baal Shem Tov used to go to a certain place in the woods and light a fire and pray when he was faced with an especially difficult task and it was done.

His successor followed his example and went to the same place but said: "The fire we can no longer light, but we can still say the prayer." And what he asked was done too.

Another generation passed, and Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sassov went to the wood and said: "The fire we can no longer light, the prayer we no longer know; all we know is the place in the woods, and that will have to be enough." And it was enough.

In the fourth generation, Rabbi Israel of Rishin stayed at home and said: "The fire we can no longer light, the prayer we no longer know, nor do we know the place. All we can do is tell the story."

And that, too, proved sufficient.

-- From A Big Jewish Book, Poems & Other Visions of the Jews from Tribal Times to Present. Edited by Jerome Rothenberg with Harris Lenowitz and Charles Doria.

Collision Course

This is a retelling of a old joke from when I was a kid. The story takes place on the bridge of a battleship.

"Again this is the USS Montana we request you immediately divert your course 15 degrees to the North to avoid a collision. Over."

The response comes back over the radio. "Please divert your course 15 degrees to the South to avoid a collision."

The angry ship's captain grabs the microphone from the radioman. "This is Captain Hancock. You will divert your course. Over."

"Negative captain. I'm not moving anything. Change your course. Over."

"Son. This is the USS Montana, the second largest vessel in the North Atlantic Fleet. You WILL change course 15 degrees North or I will be forced to take measures to ensure the safety of this ship. Over!"

"This is a lighthouse mate. It's your call... "


The story of aliens arriving at Earth and finding a different form of life than they expected: a story entitled "Meat".

A Philosophical Waitress

The French existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre was sitting in a cafe when a waitress approached him: "Can I get you something to drink, Monsieur Sartre?" Sartre replied, "Yes, I'd like a cup of coffee with sugar, but no cream". Nodding agreement, the waitress walked off to fill the order and Sartre returned to working. A few minutes later, however, the waitress returned and said, "I'm sorry, Monsieur Sartre, we are all out of cream - how about with no milk?"

Francis Crick and Eyeballs

After giving a talk Francis Crick, the famed British molecular biologist, was asked: "This evolution is all quite well and good but I simply can't imagine how evolution could evolve an eye. It is simply too complex."

Crick, without losing a beat, said "Apparently evolution is far more clever than you are."

Michael Faraday and his Demonstration

After giving an impressive demonstration of electricity to a lay audience. A lady stood up an asked: "Very impressive Mr. Faraday but what good is it?" to which Faraday replied: "and what good is a baby?"

It's Turtles all the Way Down

A scientist, after giving a lecture on astronomy, is approached by a little old lady who says that he's got it all wrong and that the world in fact rests on plate that sits on the back of a giant turtle. The scientist then asks the lady what the turtle is standing on, and she answers: on the back of a second, even larger turtle. But, asks the scientist, what does that turtle stand on? To which the lady triumphantly answers, "You're very clever, young man, but it's no use -- it's turtles all the way down!".

Lost on the Way to a Funeral

As a guitarist, I play many gigs. Recently I was asked by a funeral director to play at a graveside service for a homeless man. He had no family or friends, so the service was to be at a pauper's cemetery in the back country. As I was not familiar with the backwoods, I got lost.

I finally arrived an hour late and saw the funeral guy had evidently gone and the hearse was nowhere in sight. There were only the diggers and crew left and they were eating lunch.

I felt badly and apologized to the men for being late. I went to the side of the grave and looked down and the vault lid was already in place. I didn't know what else to do, so I started to play.

The workers put down their lunches and began to gather around. I played out my heart and soul for this man with no family and friends. I played like I've never played before for this homeless man.

And as I played 'Amazing Grace,' the workers began to weep. They wept, I wept, we all wept together. When I finished I packed up my guitar and started for my car. Though my head hung low, my heart was full.

As I opened the door to my car, I heard one of the workers say, "I never seen nothin' like that before and I've been putting in septic tanks for twenty years."

Your Glass of Water

A psychologist walked around a room while teaching stress management to an audience. As she raised a glass of water, everyone expected they'd be asked the "half empty or half full" question. Instead, with a smile on her face, she inquired: "How heavy is this glass of water?" Answers called out ranged from 8 oz. to 20 oz. She replied, "The absolute weight doesn't matter. It depends on how long I hold it. If I hold it for a minute, it's not a problem. If I hold it for an hour, I'll have an ache in my arm. If I hold it for a day, my arm will feel numb and paralyzed. In each case, the weight of the glass doesn't change, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes." She continued, "The stresses and worries in life are like that glass of water. Think about them for a while and nothing happens. Think about them a bit longer and they begin to hurt. And if you think about them all day long, you will feel paralyzed -- incapable of doing anything." It's important to remember to let go of your stresses. As early in the evening as you can, put all your burdens down. Don't carry them through the evening and into the night. Remember to put the glass down!

An Appointment in Samarra

A merchant in Baghdad sends his servant to the marketplace for provisions. Soon afterward, the servant comes home white and trembling and tells him that in the marketplace he was jostled by a woman, whom he recognized as Death, and she made a threatening gesture. Borrowing the merchant's horse, he flees at great speed to Samarra, a distance of about 75 miles, where he believes Death will not find him. The merchant then goes to the marketplace and finds Death, and asks why she made the threatening gesture. She replies, "That was not a threatening gesture, it was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Baghdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra."

The Idaho Body Building Program

Begin by standing on a comfortable flat surface with your feet shoulder's width a part. With a five pound potato bag in each hand extend your arms carefully outward til your arms are level. Hold this position for a count of 10. Each day do this for a second longer than the previous day. Soon you will be holding the potato bags with fully extended arms for a full minute! Now begin again but with 10 pound potato bags until you are holding them at arms length for a minute! Then move on to 25 pound potato bags, 50 pound potato bags. I have found I can now hold a 100 pound potato bag each arm fully extended for a minute! This has built your strength and confidence to the point that you can now put a potato in each bag.