* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where nothing says "Merry Christmas!" like a look at the rape culture elements in beloved seasonal songs. Let Christina Bebeau be your Sabrina Rubin Erdely. Or your Lena Dunham. And if you don't know who they are, you are already well on your way to having a very Merry Christmas.

Baby It’s Cold On A Slow Boat To China

By:
christinabebeau@gmail.com

There are standards out there that are about straight up MURDER, like “Mack the Knife” (multiple killings by knife in cold blood), “Miss Otis Regrets” (murder with a side of lynching!), and who can forget the Sammy Davis classic, “I Masturbated After Strangling You to Death in Your Sleep?”

But while I generally have to seek out those songs to listen to them, it is hard to escape the Christmas season without hearing “Baby It’s Cold Outside” at some point, thus sparking the annual debate in my mind: which is the more rape-y Frank Loesser standard, “Baby It’s Cold Outside” or “On a Slow Boat to China”?

Since many people today don’t even know “On a Slow Boat to China,” the obvious choice would be “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” right? The song is written as parts not for woman and man but “wolf” and “mouse,” and at one point the mouse literally says “the answer is no,” along with questioning whether a drink has been drugged (or, optimistically, if it just has way more booze than it should, if that particular drink is even meant to be alcoholic at all). It’s more widely known today than “On a Slow Boat to China” as it continues to be played on radio stations every Christmas, and it even won an Academy Award for Best Song.

Of course, there are plenty of things in other Christmas songs, and other songs in general, that take me out of the moment of the song. As a New Yorker, it’s hard to hear the lyric “down to the village” in “Frosty the Snowman” without the image of Frosty smoking a joint on Bleecker Street and then catching a flick at the IFC Center coming to mind. Whenever they sing “caroling out in the snow” in “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” I swear they are saying “Caroline out in the snow” and always yell at my iTunes “THEN WHY DON’T YOU GO GET HER?” until I realize, for the millionth time, that they obviously said “caroling.” And although Barbra Streisand has a beautiful voice, it’s hard not to get a chuckle out of one of the most famous Jewish people in America singing about remembering Christmas as a young child or opening presents by the fire on Christmas Eve. In the future I would like to hear a song about eating Chinese food and going to the movies on this particular holiday, written and performed by a gentile.

There are Christmas songs that aren’t even Christmas songs but have been re-appropriated as such, like “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music, because they fit into the ever-present spirit of commercialism. Why don’t Harry Connick Jr. and Michael Bublé do hokey jazzy covers of “The Lonely Goatherd” on their holiday albums instead?

But no matter how distracting these elements might be, “Frosty the Snowman” or Barbra Streisand or The Sound of Music are never distracting me with, well, rape. Not that I’ve noticed, anyway.

While “Baby It’s Cold Outside” is almost exclusively a duet, “On a Slow Boat to China” is not. When done solo, it is romantic at best, and John Hinckley-esque at worst. Its lyrics are less overt:

I’d love to get you
On a slow boat to China
All to myself alone
Get you and keep you
In my arms ever more

And so interpretation relies heavily on delivery. The slower, the better. If you assume that the singer is alone when singing it, then he or she becomes a stalker plotting to be “melting your heart of stone” and thus knows full well that the person in question has no interest in them, at least not yet.

If you imagine that the singer is singing to another party present, then they’re uncomfortably forward about their intentions. The wolf in “Baby It’s Cold Outside” is persistent, sure, but at least uses the weather as an excuse, and one can assume that the mouse is free to leave when the weather clears up. The subject of “On a Slow Boat to China,” on the other hand, is not only taken against will, but will remain there for an extended period of time, essentially turning the song into, “I’d like to rape you repeatedly and hope that you eventually develop Stockholm Syndrome, and I have no problem telling you this point blank, in fact, I expect it to turn you on, so whaddya say?” (as this is my personal dating strategy, “On a Slow Boat to China” is unsurprisingly one of my favorite songs).

The Jimmy Buffett and Dean Martin arrangements are great examples, especially since Dean Martin usually appears to be drunk while singing, and so it’s that much easier to picture some inebriated fool hitting on some poor schmuck in this fashion. The Jimmy Buffett version is deliberately made to sound like it takes place in a sleazy bar; the song features the host slurring his words while introducing Buffett (and mispronouncing his name), followed by the pop of a cork, glass clinking noises, and various people calling for their waiters. You can just picture Bill Murray singing it to Sigourney Weaver or Andie McDowell or Karen Allen in some cut scene from Ghostbusters or Groundhog Day or Scrooged or, I guess, most other Bill Murray movies, too. This version is just that delightfully cringe-worthy.

The duets of the song are mostly harmless; they usually feature the singers singing the chorus together numerous times and gazing seductively at each other, so the feeling is seen as mutual.

But then there’s the Rosemary Clooney and Bing Crosby duet. Bette Midler and Barry Manilow follow a revised rendition of this arrangement, but it is as hokey as you would expect a Bette Midler/Barry Manilow duet to be, and thus has an entirely different tone from the original. My favorite exchange from the Clooney/Crosby follows as such:

Bing: Get you and I’ll keep you in my arms ever more…Leave all your lovers on the shore…
Rosemary: For me they’d swim to China, to China and back…
Bing: Tell ‘em to bring me an anvil.

Tell them to bring me an anvil. The best line.

There are two ways of looking at this statement, one being that Bing intends to drown Rosemary’s other suitors, adding this song to the list of other murder-y standards, though slightly more understated in its approach. However, as I mentioned earlier, the delivery is key here, compared with the more obvious lyrics in “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” which are creepy no matter who is singing them (though the ridiculous Tom Jones/Cerys Matthews version is among the creepiest and most hilarious; he is the devil who has pointy white fingernails and she is literally in a cage at the beginning of the performance — he’s in the cage by the end). Bing Crosby says “Tell them to bring me an anvil” almost as an aside rather than directly to Rosemary Clooney, as if speaking to a third party. In this context, while the wolf in “Baby It’s Cold Outside” might be drugging the mouse, the aggressor in this arrangement of “On a Slow Boat to China,” if not a murderer, knocks out the object of his affection with an anvil, rendering her unconscious so he can get her on the boat in the first place, unlike the mouse in “Baby It’s Cold Outside” who, even if drugged or blackout drunk, is already at the wolf’s house by will.

And with each listen of “Baby It’s Cold Outside” this time of year, I shake my head and wonder exactly what happened in these fictional rape-y universes penned before my parents were born. I wasn’t there. I’ll never know for sure and neither will anyone else, except for Frank Loesser, who died over 45 years ago.

* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where helping keep you alive with pertinent health advice is right near the top of our bucket list. Hearken to our good friend Candy Schulman.

Stand — Or Die

By:
candy@candyschulman.com
candyschulman.com

Sitting is associated with more than a 25% increased risk of colon, endometrial and lung cancers. — The National Cancer Institute

DAY 1:
Digest the startling news that sitting can be fatal. Stand up to the specter of death — even if it gives me flat feet. Avoid that toxic, carcinogenic chair as if every inch of upholstery is infused with ebola.

Swig a bottle of red Two Buck Chuck, allegedly lowering cholesterol. Rant to Dr. Oz: “Wasn’t it enough of a lifestyle imposition when they made us raise our heart rate 30 minutes five times a week? Now I’ve got to take a goddamn stroll every half hour and intensively treadmill walk every 20 minutes? No wonder they call you health nuts.”

Day 2:
Arrive at work with a hangover and a resolution: live long enough to be cast off into assisted living by the children I don’t have yet because I can’t find a guy to marry let alone date who’ll stand by me in sickness and health.

Forget about treadmill desks. They’d never squeeze into office cubicle, a microscopic prison cell with no natural light — an entirely different health hazard. Just jog in place while doing mind-numbing work. Contemplate unwritten screenplay.

“Why are your memos so shaky?” Boss reprimands.

Demonstrate liberal arts education by quoting Hemingway: “Never sit at a table when you can stand at a bar.” Papa had the foresight of how detrimental resting on one’s butt can be….

Day 3:
Jealous how guys pee standing up, rather than risk their life urinating from a toilet seat. But can’t indulge in analyzing my penis envy. Dropped out of therapy, when shrink accused me of resistance when I embarked on a power walk twice during my fifty-minute session. So what if I never unravel my traumas, which began when my mother strapped me into a stroller for hours on end, rather than letting me run free?

Shrinkless, whine incessantly to friends during our nightly race walks around the park. “I’m sick of your complaints,” these alleged fitness buddies claim. “Find new walking partners.”

Day 4:
Escape to the movies. Standing — in spite of belligerent audience members cursing my upright torso. Warn then: “You’re all going to die of cancer! Before the 10th sequel to Planet of the Apes!” Remain unfazed as they bombard my back with popcorn kernels to get me to sink into lethal stadium seating. Ascend and soar, warding off disease. No tall bald head will block my view of subtitles again.

Day 5:
Delay boss’s request to talk about annual review. Inform him unflinchingly that I’ll be available after my two minute intensive workout. Which I’m doing to counteract all the disease-invoking sitting that pays my paltry salary.

Meet with boss, heart rate up, dabbing sweat from brow. Can’t resist pointing out he’s morbidly obese. Curiously ask if he ever suffered angina climbing that rickety corporate ladder. Disdainfully watch him slurp his illegal supersize soda while he flip-flops from firing me because of economic downsizing, quoting another health hazard:

“Your colleagues are complaining about your B.O. from your hourly exercise sprints.”

He doesn’t smell so great himself. Reeks of cheap aftershave.

Pack up desk. Wipe away tears. Co-workers think it’s because I’m going to miss them. Break the news it’s because it’s too late to sign up for Obamacare.

Day 6:
Stand on line at the unemployment office — the greatest biped exercise of all! Recall how I mastered loveless, unprotected sex standing up, long before it was a healthy option. In showers, behind trees in Central Park.

“What are your skill sets?” the clerk asks.

Reply: “Dining standing up.” Just sold kitchen table to offset salary plunge. Soon won’t be able to afford NYC rent, which could never afford anyway. Feast on ramen for dinner — standing at a counter in Whole Foods. Trotting down the road to malnourishment, refuse to get depressed. Even though have no money, no friends, no therapist, no hope. Vow to sleep on the street before moving back home into childhood bedroom with all those soccer medals everyone got just for showing up. But just in case: apologize to Mom for being ungrateful that she put homemade granola in lunchbox instead of Cheetos.

Day 7:
Feel self-righteous being a vertical, upstanding member of society, albeit jobless, strolling aimlessly down the street with headphones, belting out harmonies to Stand By Me. Bipeds must not sit still in the advance of science.

Consider advantages:

Don’t descend into Neanderthal mob-like behavior, shoving old ladies out of the way on the subway to vie for the last seat.

Standing room seats at the theater cost a fraction of the price.

Reduce risk of dying tragically from painful, debilitating diseases — until those scientific sadists endorse new preventive guidelines that totally contradict the old ones.

Day 8:
Refuse to be one of those lazy panhandlers. No languishing on ass behind a tear-inducing sign listing an array of illnesses from sitting on the sidewalk. Practice begging completely upright.

A man in an Armani suit drops a dollar in my cup. “Sorry you’re down on your luck,” he says.

Confess your days are numbered. Ask for cigarette. Light up together in bliss.

* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where we celebrate the season with something meaningful about how social media have brought us all closer together. Maybe a little too close, says Juliana Gray. Be sure to check out the link to her web site, where you can see what she does when she's not writing humor.

Facebook Group Message: Bridesmaids Dinner!

By:
gray@alfred.edu
http://julianagray.net/

Brittany: Hey ladies! I can’t believe it’s only three weeks before Chad and I tie the knot! OMG I’m so excited! And I can’t wait to see you all! And I’m so happy to have you all as my bridesmaids! I hope you like pink LOL.

Brittany: Anyway, I think all you bitches (LOL JK) know each other from our old Alpha Nu days (yay Alpha Nu! we’re better than you!) except for Cousin Imogen. Say hi to Imogen, ladies!

Tori: OMG Hi Immo LOL!

Kristen: Hey Imgen! What sorority were you in?

Kyrstyn: Imogen that’s a weird name do you go by Immy? LOL

Imogen: Hello, nice to meet you all. No, just Imogen. It’s a family name.

Brittany: Yep she’s family all right — in fact, she’s like a third cousin or something on Chad’s side, too! Isn’t that amazing?

Tori: OMG LMAO SMH

Kyrstyn: Small world! #doublecousin

Brittany: Anyways, I’m organizing a bridesmaids dinner for us at a sushi place called Blue Pearl. How does that sound to everybody LOL?

Tori: OMG I LOVE SMOOSHIE LOL!

Kristen: Put scoochie in my mouth! ROTFLMAO JK

Kyrstyn: South Beach Diet Snooshi FTW!

Imogen: Sushi sounds delicious! Do you know if the restaurant has a good sake menu?

Kristen: Sake ewww gross LOL SMH JK ROTFL

Kyrstyn: Ew hot wine I’m going to have a cosmo LOL

Brittany: Cosmo for me!

Tori: COSMOS AND SPLOOSHIE LOL

Imogen: OK, I guess I’ll just get sake for myself. Brittany, do you happen to know if the restaurant follows sustainable practices? Like emphasizing seasonal items?

Kristen: OMG Britt your cousins a treehugger

Tori: Hippy ROTFLMAO IMHO LOL

Imogen: Ha, yeah, but I do think it’s important to try to be a responsible steward to the environment.

Kristen: WTF SMH

Kyrstyn: LOL hippy go save a rain forest or something JK

Imogen: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” — Gandhi

Tori: LOL #getajob

Imogen: I’m a certified yoga instructor and a freelance writer for several social justice web sites.

Kristen: What

Tori: #liberal #hippy #dontblamemeivotedforromney

Imogen: Maybe I’ll just research the restaurant myself. In the meantime, you should all check out sustainablesushi.net. It’s really eye-opening.

Kyrstyn: …

Kristen: #idonteven

Tori: JK LOL J

Brittany: Immy don’t pout we’re just joking LOL.

Imogen: No problem. Brittany, let me know when you have a date and time. I look forward to meeting the rest of you.

Imogen Branford has left the conversation.

Brittany: I await the judgment of the council.

Tori: The offering is acceptable.

Kyrstyn: The sacrifice is determined. As both bloodlines flow in Imogen’s veins, so shall her bloodletting consecrate their union in Brittany and Chad.

Kristen: I will prepare the chamber. We can use my craft room.

Brittany: I thank you, Circle of the Sisterhood. We will convene on the night of the new moon.

Tori: AFTER SPOOCHIE LOL!

* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where we wonder, just as much as you do, what those odd-sounding compound German words mean. It turns out Lael Gold actually knows. Let me say that name again: Lael Gold. Isn't that a beautiful name? Yes, I thought so too.

There’s A German Word For That

By:
laelgold@gmail.com

The contents of this article have been tagged as disputed and may require cleanup to meet Wikipedia’s quality standards. Please go to the talk page to improve this article if you can. (July 2008)

German Loan Words

The following loan words were borrowed from German and incorporated into American and British English.

Schadenfreude 1. Pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others.

Sädensäken 1. Pep talk that induces a devastating sense of inadequacy in its recipient. 2. Any encouragement that makes its object feel three inches tall and incapable of simply crossing a room or digesting pablum much less of ever accomplishing anything of merit ever in their lives. Ever.

Animositätfestdiezeit 1. Jubilant if veiled response to the anger of others toward others. 2. Sense of relief that accompanies the realization that rageful individuals are angry at someone other than oneself. 3. Burst of delight felt upon learning of discord among friends.

Fassbucheraschollsindröm 1. Feigned casualness of social networking site posts carefully calculated to garner prestige for the writer and stimulate feelings of inferiority in the reader. 2. Shame that accompanies the sudden realization of one’s own transparent, pathetic and incessant posturing on social networking sites. (The obsolete meinspaäsenposz sometimes also used.)

Autzeiterunbehagen 1. Pained and helpless smirk indicating annoyance at the inside jokes of others, often masked by an anxious half-smile or uncomfortable chuckle.

Gezelfpitieolimpiadengezeit 1. Competition over who has endured the greatest suffering or suffered the greatest injustice. 2. Conversational jockeying to establish who has been most mistreated or misused. (Events in a gezelfpitieolimpiadengezeit range from a low stakes “Who Had a Worse Day” scrimmage to a “Whose Childhood Was the Most Miserable” playoff all the way to a “My People’s Genocide Makes Your People’s Atrocity Look Like a Walk in a Very Well-Manicured Park” championship match.)

Talk Page: German Loan Words

Schadenfreude a loan word? Not so! The loan of schadenfreude, a German term with very real currency in English, Basque and Danish, was forgiven by the Brandt government during the Nixon administration. The ceremony marking the occasion was attended by Vice President Ford and a small coterie of American academics — literature scholars, linguists and a lone biochemist. — Languagebabe22 12:45, 30 September 2008

Languagebabe, allow me to correct you and fill in some details. To wit: At the time of the Vietnam War, in a fit of barely contained glee at the demonization of the United States by the international community, Germany forgave the loan of the word schadenfreude and gifted it to the US. This occasion was marked by a ceremony attended by Patricia Nixon at which Wiener schnitzel was served. Documentation of this occasion abounds. — Nevergoesout71 20:13, 14 November 2008

Languagebabe and Nevergoesout, I beg to differ. Loan of this term to the English speaking peoples is currently in default. — Frau_online 15:00, 23 December 2009

Please delete schadenfreude immediately. I am a professor of Germanic languages and have never heard it. At the outside, the term may be a remnant of a joke circulating in turn of the century Vienna playing on the name of the Austrian founder of psychoanalysis. (See C.G. Jung’s late treatise “Jokes I Really Shouldn’t Repeat but Find Damn Hilarious” later reissued as “Individuation and Dreams.”) — Germanicdepressive 04:32, 3 December 2008

I suffer because of blurred terminology here. How is animositätfestdiezeit not merely schadenfreude by another name? — Helmut-hed 11:24, 6 December 2008

What’s missing here is adequate context. I propose the following addition to this entry: While American netizens have been communicating in ever more straightened circumstances reduced to terms such as “douchebag,” “asshat” and “netizen,” their Teutonic confreres continue to range widely and even expand their native vocabulary, particularly in the area of their own tongue’s expressive specialty — the description of human weakness and failings including the darker sides of human nature and social interaction. — Liesel 18:15, 24 January 2009

Liesel’s remarks seem off point. Only two of the terms mentioned in this entry relate to the Internet. Also, “douchebag” is itself a loan word from the French. — Spandau_jazz_hands 21:05, 30 January 2009

Words missing? I can’t believe this list is complete. — Soundofmucus 14:24, 30 January 2010

Soundofmucus, you’d have to be totally out of touch with the zeitgeist, a kindergartener with the IQ of a schnauzer, to doubt that this list is exhaustive. Any inclusion of ersatz, German-sounding locutions should be strictly verboten. — Wunderkind92 18:40, 1 March 2010

As much as it pains me, I must agree with my colleague Germanicdepressive. Sädensäken, fassbucheraschollsindröm and the rest are fine, but the term schadenfreude is obviously entirely made up and needs to be removed from this otherwise substantive list. Derive pleasure from the misfortunes of others? Who would do that? — Too_tonic2020 13:01, 15 February 2013

* Welcome to The Big Jewel, your only source for what's happening on television, unless you happen to turn on your television, in which case that would most likely be a better source. Anyway, Matthew David Brozik has the story. And while you're at it, would it kill you to click on the ad for his book "Whimsy & Soda"? Don't pretend you can't find it. It's on the right-hand side of this page.

Greenlit

By:
brozik@gmail.com
@spidermensch

Viewers of television programming this season will be the most well-read yet, thanks to these new shows!

Napoleon Berkshire, Esq. is the most highly regarded porcine lawyer at the bar — feared and respected by adversaries and clients alike — and known for his thorough preparation. “All arguments are equal,” he’s fond of saying, “but some arguments are more equal than others.” With the passing on of “Major” Willingdon, Berkshire is poised to take the reins of the prominent white sow company…but there’s a hitch. The old Major’s youngest son, Snowball, has just graduated from law school, and he’s been promised a place in his father’s business, despite being an incorrigible party pig. With Napoleon and Snowball fighting hoof and horn over the future of the practice, will they have anything left for the courtroom? The new dramedy to watch is ANIMAL FIRM. (ABC, Mondays.)

[Plus: A mid-season episode will serve as a backdoor pilot for a Lou Grant-style spinoff featuring the firm’s aged janitor with a knack for carpentry who retires to travel the country restoring barns with equine equanimity in THIS OLD HORSE.]

THE NEXT GREAT GATSBY. Man of many talents — Yale graduate, military veteran, bond salesman — Nick Carraway IV spends a week each with different real-life wannabe entrepreneurs-cum-socialites, advising them on such matters as changing one’s name, purchasing a mansion, entertaining, winning the love of a shallow woman, driving, swimming, and choosing the right shirt — or shirts — for every occasion. (CBS, Wednesdays.)

Special Super-Secret Agent “Y” is deep undercover, with just a day to prevent the assassination of Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Y has one day — but there’s a catch: The International Super-Secret Agent Union rules mandate two hours of downtime in every 24-hour period… so Y really has less than a full day to work with. Fortunately, he’s a master of observation and interrogation. If anyone can, he’ll put two and two together…to get 22. (FOX, Thursdays.)

The groundbreaking documentary CHIASMUS returns in a new iteration for a new generation! Board the “Ship of the Intimation” to explore a multi-verse of poetic phenomena — from allegory to zeugma. Individual episodes will focus on such topics as large-scale onomatopoeia (“big bangs”), the discovery of foreshadowing and the nature of litotes, microscopic oxymorons, and the (un)likelihood of an omnipotent deus ex machina. (PBS, Sundays.)

NATIVE AND SON promises to be the breakout litcom of the year. Twenty-year-old Bigger Thomas lives in utter poverty on Chicago’s South Side with his father, the irascible Older Thomas. Each week, Bigger tries to improve his situation, taking whatever job he can find, only to be accused of one heinous crime or another…with hilarious results! Not even Older Thomas’s never-ending parade of colorful friends and relatives can keep Bigger out of trumped-up trouble, but he’ll have to continually prove to the authorities and himself that Bigger is better. Based on the British program Wright On. (NBC, Mondays.)

Also much-anticipated is the single-camera, buddy-cop comedy chronicling the misadventures of patrolmen Rom Montague and his cousin Ben as they police the streets of Verona, New York (pop. 6,293). Verona should be an uneventful town, and it would be…if it weren’t for the criminal machinations of the mysterious man known only as “Cap,” who seems to have his finger in everything unlawful for miles around. And of course the young boys in blue don’t know that Rom’s crush, Julie, is Cap’s daughter! Ride along for laughs with CAR XLIV, WHERE ART THOU? (TBS, Tuesdays.)

And, finally, what would television be without a good old-fashioned game show recorded before a live studio audience? Introducing WHO WANTS TO BE AN HEIR? Each contestant has a limited amount of time in which to reconcile complicated, conflicting wills of a wealthy testator…but every mistake costs the estate substantial legal fees! Because of the extraordinary difficulty of the challenge, a contestant has three lifelines to use — “Call a Counselor,” “Poll the Peanut Gallery,” and “What the Dickens?” — but even these will go only so far toward improving a bleak situation. The contestant who walks away with anything more than the clothes on his or her back will have earned it!

* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where we consider it an honor and a privilege to make you comfortable with your inevitable physical decline and decay. Let Michael Fowler be your guide to senescence. As always, we invite you to check out the links to his books, "A Happy Death" and "The Created Couple," in our blogroll.

Something Wonderful Happens When You Turn 95

By:
mmfowler@fuse.net

Mom and Dad both turned 95 this month, and let me tell you, they’ve reached a peace of mind and contentment that didn’t seem possible only a year ago, when I excitedly predicted both of them would die. What I mean is, Dad at 94 was an emaciated, bleached-out skeleton with sunken pink eyes, no hair anywhere, lips that stretched tight around his face like two thick rubber bands, and a temper like a wet stick of dynamite set on permanent fizzle. A typical 94-year-old in other words, although there aren’t that many of them around, maybe one in a hundred million Americans, or so I assumed. I fully expected him to kick off any minute, because how much older and more decrepit could he get? He turned grumpy as all get-out if he missed his morning Perry Mason rerun on the Senile Network, and a puddle kept forming under his chair, neither a sign of immortality. Mom was no better at that age, physically or mentally — in fact, the two were indistinguishable. Mom complained even when I took the trouble to wheel her to a sunny spot by the window like the overgrown potted plant I thought of her as, and checked her for aphids.

I didn’t blame them for being upset, either. Since the age of 85 or so, they’d both collapsed into a funk of bad health, confusion, foul smells and even fouler moods. Welcome to retirement, we’d told each other joyously years earlier, not suspecting their life of leisure would last anywhere near this long. A combination of luck, good genes, and my dutiful ministrations have managed to keep them going no matter how much they wanted to die, or how much I wanted them to.

They hung on to 95, and that’s when the change happened.

I noticed it the day of the communal 95th birthday party I had for them at home. I got a cake colored bright red from the grocer and put the numeric candles “95” on it. Though technically Dad is a few weeks younger than Mom, I only do one party a year for the two of them. That’s trouble enough, and I doubt they know the difference anyway. Before the cake I served them their standard evening meal of pork and beans and creamed corn straight from the can, when suddenly I thought I heard Mom say something. Bending down to her shrunken level, I thought she said she felt like using a knife and fork, and might even be up to some chewing. Dad concurred, saying he wanted to try the paleo diet, meat and no grains, but plenty of Okinawan vegetables and ginkgo biloba supplements with the protein. Well, you might say I was stunned. Neither had spoken at dinner for a dozen years, unless it was to call me a fat, sadistic lummox. And before I could fry them some chops or dice the Okinawan veggies the way they wanted, Mom said she and Dad had talked it over while I was at work, and maybe they’d try watching some of those modern TV shows that night, the ones in color with actors who were still alive, instead of those archaic black-and-white programs on the Dementia Channel featuring stars dead and buried.

I studied their shining faces. Was it really they who had spoken? I saw tight grins and eyes almost gleaming. Was there still a spirit in those shrunken, desiccated husks of old skin? The facial flesh was so old and brittle, the smiles might have been only frozen grimaces. I had fallen for that once before, thinking there was life when there was only a mask. Ten or so years earlier I thought I heard Al, my dad, ask if I had any porn. He hadn’t said a word. And once after that I thought I heard Marge, my mom, ask for a double vodka with a lime twist. She hadn’t breathed a syllable. Surely the sparks in those dead, discolored eye sockets were only reflections of the birthday candles.

Then Dad said, “I will start life over again as a mover. Using secret ancient Egyptian pyramid-building techniques, I will lift heavy objects and put them down in new places, for a nice price. I will rapidly construct whole cities this way. I will connect them with railroads that I alone will build with a big spike hammer. I will then employ a method, long-forgotten until now, to host biweekly keg parties and car burnings.”

And Mom said, “I will have many babies, favoring those of men who are destined to greatness. An entire generation of magnificent humans will spring from my womb, without my once being unfaithful to your father.”

You could have knocked me down with one of their pocket-sized catheters. Now that they were 95, my parents really did believe they could do those things. And then, as I tossed some lamb chops in a frying pan and unwrapped some Japanese berries, they both apologized for their uncouthness over the last few decades. They told me that coincidentally with turning 95, an age they referred to as a magical milestone, they felt much livelier, and their anger and confusion, which they felt largely stemmed from a diet of talk radio and gluten, had vanished. Furthermore, Marge had found a website dedicated to 90-year-olds on my laptop that afternoon, and proudly announced that there was a whole group of super-oldies undergoing mental rejuvenation at that age that she and Dad jibed with. There were dozens of them out there hot to trot, she said.

I sat down beside them and we joined hands. It seemed like only yesterday we were all sitting around the table looking over nursing home literature and fearing global warming together, but no longer. My parents had decided to forgo death, and along with that made a commitment to clean air and biomass fuel. We all smiled, thinking what the future held. Mom wrote in her pad, “It’s about the planet, not about us, but we’re doing what we want,” and passed the tablet around the table. Dad signed on, and to make them happy, so did I.

Mom continued the new tone by apologizing for all the racist comments she had made in the past. “I don’t know what I was thinking,” she said. “I’m not a racist.”

“That goes for me too, for all those homophobic remarks I used to come out with,” said Dad. He paused a moment, chewing his paleo chop. “But just who are cisgenders, and what do they want?”

It was true. All that hate seemed behind them now. There were those smiles again, and they looked pretty genuine.

“We’re not perfect,” Mom acknowledged. “I can’t sleep at night sometimes, for fear of what dark matter may do to our world.”

“And I still cling to Jesus,” said Dad. “I can’t get with modern atheism, but give me time. I’m working on it.”

The two seem so happy that no one mentions the obvious, that there’s no turning back the clock for them even now, not physically. Marge proved that yesterday by fracturing her thumb, so disfigured with arthritis, trying to open a can of ancestral Vienna sausages, and Al by shaking so badly with hypoglycemia this morning that I could hardly force a candy bar down his throat. They have another year or two tops, I’d say, of blissful happiness inside those horrible, decayed bodies.

That thought must occur to them too, of course, but they don’t show it. Instead they want to know if I’m looking forward to 95.

“I’ll take it if I can get it,” I answer cagily, but is it worth it? Sure, there’s a rejuvenated sense of purpose and rekindled mental vigor, but then there are those little yellow claws they wave at me when I put them in their highchairs.

Who am I kidding? Damn straight I’ll take it.

* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where getting you out of important social obligations is all we live for. That, and reading something new by Jason Ryan.

Excerpt From “The Anti-Social Monsters Of America Handbook,” Chapter 12: Excuses

By:
jasonryanfilms@gmail.com
https://twitter.com/JasonRyGuy

Here, fellow monsters, is the chapter you’ve all been waiting for. We’ve all been in a situation where a “friend” or “loved one” invites us to a social event that we have no intention of attending, and while time-honored excuses like “I’m sick” or “I can’t find a sitter” work on paper, let’s face it: by now your friends have heard them all.

Fear no more! We’ve compiled a handy list of some outside-the-box excuses guaranteed to get you out of anxiety-causing social obligations. So the next time you are confronted with a sentence that begins with the words “Would you like to attend…” and feel the flop sweat forming, remember these three steps: Stop. Drop. Roll.

Stop! Listening to them immediately, it’s a waste of time.
Drop! One of the excuses listed below, and make sure they definitely hear it.*
Roll! Away slowly while avoiding eye contact.

* I cannot stress this enough.

Without further ado, here are some great excuses, officially sanctioned by The Anti-Social Monsters of America, to use in difficult situations. Remember: you aren’t alone! Unfortunately.

1. “There was a bee/wasp at the bus stop/in my car.”

Look, we all hate bees/wasps. Who is going to fault you for avoiding one? This is a foolproof excuse. Go ahead and try it out on a fool! You’ll see.

2. “I couldn’t find my pants.”

What are you going to do? Not wear pants at an important social function?

3. “Tai chi class ran long.”

Have you ever seen those dopes in the park? They go so slow! Classes are bound to run long. If they doubt you are in tai chi class, just do a killer tai chi move* and that’ll show ‘em.

* Warning: must know tai chi.

4. Gypsy curse

This is more of an advanced excuse and it involves some rudimentary improv skills, but if you sell it just right it not only works but elicits some major sympathy points, especially if they are racist against Gypsies.

5. “The remedial reading class for adults I take at night is happening at the same time.”

This is a great one because it quickly ends the conversation and is a real NQATQ (No-Questions-Asked-Type Question). “Is he/she really in a remedial reading class for adults?” “Is it rude to ask?” “Maybe he/she is!” “I should just let this slide in case it’s true.” The other person in your conversation will think all sorts of thoughts like these.

6. “My wife!” (said in Borat voice)

Does anybody want to hang out with somebody still quoting Borat in the year 2014, much less want them to come to their party?

7. “I couldn’t make sense of your invitation. It was in Wingdings!”

This only works if you neglected to consult your Union Issued Excuse Handbook before the fact and have an angry “friend”/acquaintance on your hands. They can argue all day long but deep down nobody fully trusts computers. Maybe their invite really did show up on your computer in the Wingdings font. We may never know.

Note: Will NOT work on IT guys/tech dudes.

8. “I am getting married that day.”

This one is great because it doubles as a way of making the other person feel like garbage for not getting invited to your imaginary wedding, and may result in them not asking you to do things at all in the future.

9. “FIRE!”

Self-explanatory.

10. “I am very sorry but due to a hectic schedule and/or the fact that I am suffering from a bit of seasonal depression right now, I don’t think I will be able to attend your function. It just sounds like a bit much for me. I think the world of you and wish you all the best, and I hope you have fun and wish to retain your friendship”

Yeah, admittedly this one is pretty lame and a tad far-fetched but let’s be honest, ten is a lot of excuses. YOU try making ten of these! On my salary! You know what? Forget it. Let’s just make it a “Top Nine” list. Forget this last one even exists, much like your ability to interact with your fellow man. Now, on to the next chapter, where we’ll discuss the finer points of avoiding eye contact with small children and the elderly.

* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where we always have an opinion about whatever Hollywood chooses to throw at us. It takes a guy like David Martin to get to the bottom of it all. When you're done checking out his latest and greatest, click on the link below or on our blogroll to purchase his most recent humor collection "Screams & Whispers" on Amazon.

Recent Movie Reviews By A Retired Guy

By:
david.martin@bell.net
http://www.amazon.com/Screams-Whispers-pieces-rejected-Yorker/dp/1482395320/ref=sr_1_1?

12 Years a Slave
This one’s a true story based on the life of Solomon Northup, a free Negro who was kidnapped in 1841 and sold into slavery for twelve years. It started out with a strong promising narrative but by the end seemed somewhat disjointed. However, that might have something to do with the fact that I forgot to take my afternoon nap that day. So about halfway in, I dozed off for thirty minutes or so and woke up to find Solomon on the verge of being freed from slavery. What I saw was very good but since I only got to watch about two-thirds of the movie, I can only give it three stars. ***

The Amazing Spider-Man 2
First off, this movie is not aimed at a mature audience, much less a senior audience. I read somewhere that it’s mainly for ankle-biters. Combine that with the fact that it’s only showing in movie theaters and it probably comes as no surprise that I have not seen it, much less reviewed it. I’m not about to drive to the mall, pay $15 for a ticket and an equal amount for popcorn and a drink for something that will be out on video in six months. Even then, I’m not likely to watch it. The last movie I saw in a theater was Lawrence of Arabia which I think tells you all you need to know about me and The Amazing Spider-Man 2. No stars.

Gravity
I gotta admit: when I saw that George Clooney and Sandra Bullock were starring in a movie called Gravity, I figured it was going to be one of them nutty romantic comedies that the wife usually likes. But to my surprise, it’s really more of an action-adventure film. Well, not so much action or even really adventure since it’s mostly just the two of them floating around in outer space. But it kept my interest and I didn’t fall asleep even once, which automatically rates it more than three stars for me. ***½

All Is Lost
The wife really likes Robert Redford so I figured we’d give this one a shot. I dunno — the guy’s even older than me, so I don’t see the attraction, but she’s always saying that we need to do something together and I figured this was a relatively painless way to get her off my back. Plus I got it out of the library for free, so already it’s got two stars in my book. Unfortunately, it only managed to add another half a star to those two. If you thought watching Clooney and Bullock float around in space for an hour and a half was boring, try watching Redford on a boat by himself for even longer. Mind you, I never cared much for that book The Old Man and the Sea back in high school either, so consider that. Still, two and a half stars. Period. **½

Captain Phillips
Now here’s a movie I can recommend. It’s got Tom Hanks as the captain of a freighter kidnapped off the east coast of Africa. Lots of tension and high drama and a satisfying end as the US Navy finally wins one. There are lots of convenient spots to pause the movie so you can get a snack, go to the bathroom or call your local paper to cancel your subscription because the paperboy didn’t put your paper in one of those protective plastic bags. My son, the film studies graduate, says he prefers the Danish movie A Kidnapping on the same theme, but he forgot to tell me that it’s in Danish with subtitles. If I wanted to read a movie, I’d buy a book. Anyway, Captain Phillips is great and I give it four and a half stars. ****½

* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where we are bound and determined to make your next screenplay a success, with the uncanny wisdom of Matt Hunter, alias Erwin Alistar.

Erwin Defeats The Elephant — Screenwriting Tips — Blog Post #1 By Erwin Alistar

By:
mrhnter@gmail.com
@matt_hunter_16

After the phenomenal success of my hit screenwriting book, Erwin Defeats the Elephant (based on my tip that your movie’s hero should face a challenge the size of an elephant), I’ve decided to start this blog to continue educating screenwriters. It has been a humbling pleasure to see that burgeoning and veteran screenwriters for every major blockbuster film have utilized the lessons in my book to successfully tell a well-structured three-act story — especially humbling after my recent divorce, not to editorialize (however, like I say, make your writing personal!).

TIPS:

• Make Your Main Character The Best He Can Be

The main character is the center, the focal point of your screenplay — our hero. For the sake of this article, we’ll name our hero after me, Erwin! (Like I say, always put yourself into your work!) Now, every emotional and plot conflict in the story revolves around the hero, Erwin. So in that case, it’s best that your hero is a cool guy, who is well liked and super awesome at playing the real guitar – not the Guitar Hero one.

• Every Movie Should Have A Leading Lady

It’s important that our Erwin have a leading lady — a total knockout to chase after. Sticking to my previously taught three-act structure, this heroine — who, let’s say is named Emma Blonski, from, I don’t know, Peoria, IL, 5’6″, with piercing blue eyes like a stoic doe — will first be noticed by your Erwin in high school, will not be attracted to him, and then will fall madly in love with Erwin when he does something awesome in Act III, like stop a terrorist plot, save the Earth from annihilation, or get unanimously voted Prom King by his peers / score the winning touchdown at the big homecoming game (if you go this route, make sure you show Erwin working out at the gym and getting ripped — it’s super important that he’s ripped).

• “Erwin Defeats The Elephant” — Addendum

As I’ve taught, Erwin must face a problem as big as an elephant. But make sure Emma is there to see him do it.

Addendum: Erwin’s antagonist, or “elephant,” is a large, negative force in his life — like a foreigner with a gun, a giant lizard monster, or an ex-wife – and must be called something like, say, Patricia. This enemy will try to get the best of your Erwin in Act II by belittling him, bringing up his absolutely platonic relationship with his mother, taking all his money and eventually divorcing him. But Erwin will prevail in Act III. He always does. And anyone who thinks differently should say it to my face!

Note: Make sure Patricia is there to see Erwin succeeding and doing just fine without her.

Things to avoid:

— Your main character shouldn’t be so self-involved with his goal that he utterly forgets about his loved ones and dog (because putting down a beloved friend of 13 years costs a lot of unnecessary screen time that he just can’t afford right now, especially after the divorce and moving into an apartment).

— If your Erwin starts to gain a “pop tart” belly, a phrase his former leading lady might coin regarding his sudden weight gain, force your character to go work out.

— Your Erwin should not mix alcohol and antidepressants. It’s a cliché sign of depression.

— If Erwin doesn’t want to wake up every day and work on his main goal, like writing a marketable screenplay, MAKE HIM. This can be done in a montage.

— Remember: Show. Don’t tell. For example, instead of a therapist telling Erwin that he needs to get over the divorce, show your Erwin going out and having a one-night stand.

There you go, everyone! Brand new tips that I guarantee will help you sell that screenplay and get your movie made by a big studio. I can’t wait to see these tips implemented into today’s silver screen blockbusters the next time I — or a certain woman of Illinois who’s in her mid-fifties, is hopefully single, and knows how to use the Internet — goes to the theater.

Unrelated note: Please leave a comment below if you went to West Peoria High School Class of ’75 for a chance to win a FREE TRIP to Hollywood, CA!

* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where nostalgia for even the most hideous PBS productions reigns supreme. Brian Boone shows you where the honey pot is.

The Most Salacious Passages From “Berenstained: My Life As A Berenstain Bear,” By Sister Bear Berenstain

By:
baboone@gmail.com

online ppi claim

It was always something with Mama.

“The Bear family eats too much junk food!”

“The Bear family watches too much TV!”

“The Bear family never picks up after themselves!”

No matter the fleeting problem of the hour, Mama would lay waste, armed with a trash bag and a smug sense of purpose, making some grand pronouncement about how our lives needed to change and immediately. How she’d shriek and scream about how we, as children, were deeply flawed.

Reprehensible. Shameful. Then she’d unplug the TV, or sweep up all our toys on the ground into a trash bag, or load a trash bag with all the junk food in the kitchen, which we’d only rarely eaten, as Mama had made it well known that the Beary Snacks and Bear-E-Os were “Mama’s special bad-day treats.”

Invariably, in the middle of it all, Papa would hear the yelling from down in his woodworking shop, and, taking a good hour to steel himself with liquid courage for one more showdown with the monstrous, sneering and intimidating shell of the woman he’d married, would calmly come in and offer up a solution that didn’t involve shrieking, insulting the character of his children, throwing away all of the Beary Yums or losing out on TV for a week. Something sensible, reasonable and obvious, like offering to build a shelf so our messy room could have some storage, or merely suggesting that we buy less junk food.

Then Mama would calm down and act as if everything was fine. We’d all go to our bedrooms and lie awake for hours, shaking. Papa would go back down to his shop, but really down to The Honey Pot, and Mama would quietly rustle around in the kitchen, seeing if she maybe hadn’t thrown away all of the Grizzly-Dee-Lites.

* * * * * * *

I am often asked if “Sister Bear” is my real name. The truth is that I was never given a name.
What kind of parent doesn’t name their child? It’s so necessary, even compulsory, that few even consider its importance. Mama couldn’t be bothered. I was born in the woods of Bear Country in an upstairs bedroom in a hollowed-out tree, so it wasn’t like she needed one for a birth certificate, but still. A name symbolizes so much.

She never even came up with a nickname, or some kind of term of enbearment. Just “Sister,” which is damaging to a girl’s sense of worth and identity, that her only excuse for a name is contingent on that of a man, in this case, my brother, Brother. He may have had it even worse — before I was born, our parents just called him “small bear.” After I was born, he was suddenly “Brother” and I was “Sister.” Only in retrospect can I see how disturbing it is to name your offspring “Brother” and “Sister.”

* * * * * * *

Maybe she had an OCD-related fear of something happening to the hundreds of jars of rotting honey she kept in the basement. Maybe she was embarrassed that she had to walk with a cane by the time she was 30. Maybe she was ashamed of being morbidly obearse. Whatever the reason, my mother only left the treehouse once or twice a year. I now recognize that most of these problems — the brain damage, the weight, the neuropathy — had something to do with undiagnosed and uncontrolled diabeartes.

Not only did she rarely leave the house, but when she actually got out of bed she never got dressed. She wore that same blue-with-white-polka-dots housecoat and matching floppy nightcap all day, all night, every day, every night, for decades. On the extremely rare occasions that she did leave the treehouse — to get more honey or to force the family on a walk (“The Bear family needs to get some exercise!”) — she still wouldn’t change, dressing up that stained, crusty, putrid smock by trading out her sleeping cap for a straw hat with a feather in it. As if that would fool the Bear Country gossips.

* * * * * * *

I realized that my situation was not normal around the time pubearty began, and that my only solution was to get out as soon as possible. Rapid changes to my body let me in on a shocking truth that had been hidden since my birth from everyone. Including me.

I wasn’t actually a girl.

Even then, at 11 years old, I knew instinctively that this had something to do with Mama. When I confronted Papa about it, he simply said he didn’t want to talk about it, then choked back a couple of sobs, then hightailed it out of there, right back to his shop (or The Honey Pot).

I tried to ask Mama about it, waiting until I could score her on one of her good days, which meant less of a chance that she’d accuse me of having a bad case of “the gimmes.” I grew impatient, and, expecting a grand pronouncement that “the Bear family is too impatient!” I asked her anyway.

“Mama, why did you pretend I was a girl?” I asked her, bearly above a whisper. She rocked in her chair, pretending to knit a scarf but really just wiggling the needles around in a pile of yarn.

“Mama Bear needs little girl cub. Mama needs girl cub. Girl cub. Girl,” she said distantly, over and over.
From clues ascertained from old pictures and what Brother can remember, I’ve been able to piece together a few scant details of my birth. She went into labor while she was alone. Papa was out chopping wood with Brother to make him a big-boy bed, as his old one would be needed for me. I believe that this afforded her the opportunity to deliver me, check my gender, and, when it wasn’t what she wanted, slap a pink bow on my head and name me Sister. And that was that.

The night I figured it all out, I couldn’t sleep; I was angry and confused and trying to process everything. While lying there, awake, praying Mama wouldn’t come in and proclaim that “the Bear family asks too many loaded questions!” I heard Papa clomp in. After some shouting, I heard a door slam. And then, according to Brother, he took the roadster into town to buy a pack of beargarettes. That was the last time anyone in Bear Country ever saw him.

If you’re out there, Papa, I’d love to see you again. Lizzy Bruin and I have three cubs now. They’d like to meet their grandfather and give him a great big bear hug.