* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where your unborn child is almost our entire focus! Heed the clarion call of R.T. Sehgal.

Let Our Prenatal Analysts Reveal All About Your Future Baby!

By:
rtsehgal@gmail.com

In today’s fast-paced Internet-driven age, it seems like we have instant access to all the information important to making life’s big decisions. Unfortunately, as expectant parents, you’re still almost entirely in the dark about the little Joey or Joanna you’ll be taking home to raise for eighteen (or more!) years. Besides the baby’s gender, what do you really know? Will he be an artist or an athlete? Will she like sushi or burritos? We know that these are the questions that keep you up at night. But science has failed you…

Until now! Here at Ultrasoundz Plus, our goal is to get future parents the nitty-gritty details of their future Michael or Michaela. With our customizable Process-guided Reveal Plans, you can choose how much you want to know about your upcoming bundle. To help you figure out if our services are right for you, we’ve put together a list of frequently asked questions (FAQ):

Q: What information can you reveal about our baby?

A: We can currently evaluate your baby in over five hundred domains, including:

—       Political affiliation

—       Likely college major

—       Favorite sports team

—       Spotify playlist preference

—       Estimated lifetime number of tattoos and piercings

—       Estimated lifetime number of sexual partners

—       Eye color

Q: A lot of these seem oddly specific. How do you do it?

A: We’re able to estimate the likelihood of particular traits through a combination of advanced ultrasound imaging, blood sample testing and pseudoscience.

Q: Wait…pseudoscience?

A: Did we say pseudoscience? Must have been a typo. We meant real, hardcore, actual “science.” With beakers and lab coats. The whole nine yards. And don’t let the fact that we put “science” in quotes make you question our “scientific” integrity. Just one of those weird regulatory quirks that the Trump administration will hopefully be doing away with.

Q: Well, how accurate are your findings?

A: It varies, of course, depending on which trait we’re analyzing.  For biological sex, we hit the nail on the head a solid 55% of the time. Everything else is a bit more hit-or-miss. But that’s “science” for you!

Q: So, what do you mean by “advanced ultrasound imaging”?

A: Well, while your neighborhood fly-by-night ultrasound clinic just looks at the basics like fetal size and penis presence, our Processors go the extra mile by examining fetal response to stimuli ranging from various musical genres to TED talks to excerpts of Russian literature.

Q: That sounds in-depth. How long does this exam take?

A: Roughly sixteen hours.

Q: What?

A: It flies by! We offer a wide variety of second-tier Hollywood titles and quasi-religious Process infomercials for the mom-to-be to watch while we subject her little hombre (or hombrette!) to a variety of noxious stimuli.

Q: Wow. So, how does this actually work?

A: We’ll give you an example. Like most expectant parents, you’ve probably wondered, “Which side will my little angel take in the ongoing feud between Taylor Swift and Katy Perry?” This is exactly the kind of question our Process is set up to answer. Through headphones placed strategically over the pregnant belly, we’ll play selections from the catalog of each pop princess and monitor fetal movements. We’ll also examine fetal blood cells cultivated from a maternal blood sample. Did you know there’s a gene associated with the phenotype of preferring Taylor Swift to Katy Perry?

Q: Really?

A: Are you a geneticist, a family member of a geneticist or otherwise a member of the “scientific” community?

Q: No.

A: Then, really!

Q: You keep mentioning the “Process.” What is that?

A: Oh, the details aren’t important. Suffice it to say that Processors are the reincarnated soldiers of the Western Song dynasty, now training under the guidance of Master Tyler in preparation for the Third Intergalactic War.

Q: So…you’re a cult?

A: Wow! Slow down there with your trigger words! You sound just like the IRS. Are you from the IRS?

Q: Umm…no.

A: Great! We should leave the details of what’s a “cult” vs. what’s a legitimate ultrasound business to the results of several ongoing lawsuits. The only two things that you need to know are:

  1. We would like access to your human baby’s blood, and
  2. We would like to play that baby some messages in utero while you watch a series of increasingly brain-cleansing videos.

And, in return, you’ll get a seventy-five-page personality profile! Ready to sign up???

Q: [  ]

A: Think it over, but don’t take too long! Our current Groupon is only available through the end of the week. And once the Third Intergalactic War begins, our staffing will be pretty bare-bones.

 

 

 

* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where sometimes reality overtakes us but we run and run and do try to keep up as best we can. Words fail us, but fortunately they do not fail our good friend Dan Fiorella.

What A Dump

By:
daf118@aol.com
danfiorella.com

We know that President Trump isn’t shy with his opinions, no matter how misinformed, so it should come as no surprise that a recent article in Sports Illustrated (that well-known political publication of record) reports that the President told some fellow golfers he prefers his own housing because “that White House is a real dump.” So in the spirit of full transparency, we’ve obtained the President’s reviews of other American historical sites:

 

The U.S. Mint

“Is that the only flavor?”

 

Fort McHenry

“You call that a fort? I’ve built better forts with my pillows.”

 

Dinosaur National Monument

“It’s no Jurassic Park, believe me.”

 

Mount Rushmore

“Are they going to finish it or what?”

 

Governors Island, NY

“Well, I was never governor, so I don’t know about that one.”

 

Washington Monument

“Mine’s bigger.”

 

The Gateway Arch in St. Louis

“I looked all over, I couldn’t find that McDonalds! What a gyp!”

 

The Library of Congress

“Meh. Are my books in there?”

 

Independence Hall

“This was the place in American Treasure, right? I love that movie. Very historical.”

 

The Brooklyn Bridge

“I think I owned that for a while.”

 

Ellis Island

“How is there not a wall around this???”

 

The Statue of Liberty

“Maybe a four. Five, tops.”

 

The Liberty Bell

“Seriously? They can’t get that fixed?”

 

Grand Canyon

“What a waste of space! Do you know how many golf courses this thing could hold?”

 

National Mall, Washington D.C.

“How are there no stores here? It’s the worse mall I’ve ever been to! I would never let that happen. Whose fault is this, Obama’s?”

 

Sequoia, the former Presidential yacht.

“This is a yacht? I have tub toys bigger than this!”

 

The Supreme Court Building

“So plain. Where’s the gold plating?”

 

USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor

“I like memorials that weren’t sneak-attacked.”

 

The Capitol Building

“Can you imagine the casino this thing would make?”

 

Trail of Tears National Historic Trail

“What a bunch of crybabies!”

 

The Lincoln Memorial

“Have you seen this? It’s so out of proportion! I know Lincoln was tall, but this is ridiculous!”

 

The Alamo

“Fuggedaboutit!”

 

The Jefferson Memorial

“Thomas Jefferson is amazing. He’s living a very interesting life, if you know what I mean. I think you do.”

 

The 9/11 Memorial

“9/11 is a very important date for me, so I totally get this place. You know, after 9/11, my buildings became some of the tallest buildings in New York City!”

 

Ford’s Theatre

“And this is why I only watch home video!”

 

Arlington National Cemetery

“Not bad. I could be buried there if I wanted to be, but I have this much better place picked out on my golf course in New Jersey.”

 

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

“Well, he couldn’t have been that good if nobody knew him.”

 

Yellowstone National Park

“I love this place…wait, ‘Yellowstone?’ I thought you said ‘Orangestone.’ This place sucks.”

 

The Constitution

“So outdated!”

 

* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where we often celebrate Mother's Day in November. This time it really is a special occasion, as our co-founder and editor Kurt Luchs is celebrating the release of his first humor collection, "It's Funny Until Someone Loses an Eye (Then It's Really Funny)," from Sagging Meniscus Press. This harrowing autobiographical piece is only one of 50 stories, bits and parodies contained in the book. Copies of the paperback and Kindle ebook editions can be ordered at Amazon using the link below or the one to the right in our blogroll. May we humbly suggest this would make an ideal Christmas gift for the readers in your life? Well, we just did suggest it. Now it is up to you to act. America is counting on you!

The Imperturbable Mrs. Luchs

By:
kurtluchs@aol.com
https://www.amazon.com/Funny-Until-Someone-Loses-Really/dp/1944697403/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

Do not judge my mother.

You don’t get to do that unless you go and have seven children, one right after the other, in just ten years. Pretty much everything strange and mystifying about her mothering could be ascribed to a never-ending case of postpartum depression. And that’s before you take a closer look at those children. If you want to know what kind of feral society we siblings formed in the absence of real adult supervision, reread The Lord of the Flies.

Even if you do happen to have popped out seven unruly mini-monsters in one decade, you still don’t get to judge her because you were not married to my father, a maxi-monster if ever there was one — and there was. Dad was an ex-Marine, which is like being an ex-Catholic: i.e., there is no such thing, because once they have you, they have you for life, run where you will. He taught us the words to “The Halls of Montezuma” (aka “The Marine Corps Hymn”) before any other song, even Christmas carols, though for reasons best known to himself he often made us sing it while goose-stepping and delivering the Nazi salute. Come to think of it, he had us sing Christmas carols the same way. Under his command, we didn’t merely clean the yard, we policed the yard. Yes, yard maintenance was a police action like the Korean War, in which he had served as a sharpshooter, and about which he never uttered one syllable to me or, to my knowledge, to any of my siblings. He made the Great Santini look like Gomer Pyle.

But I am getting away from the subject, which is supposed to be my mother. Perhaps partly in reaction to my father’s short fuse, hot temper and lethal military training, she cultivated a persona resembling that of Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire. She lived in a world of her own. It was a world more like Rivendell than planet Earth, populated by fairies and elves and myths and mythters, not by Stanley Kowalski’s understudy and seven hell-spawn. Inhabiting this mystic mental fog may have been what preserved any sanity she had left. She could retreat into it at will, and did so constantly. It made her unflappable and imperturbable, and as we shall see at certain crucial moments, utterly unreachable.

She read poetry. Worse, she wrote it. Some of my earliest and most persistent childhood memories are of her drifting through the house iambically reciting Yeats, Frost, Eliot and Dylan Thomas aloud. That kind of thing gets into a boy’s head. It would be many years before I understood that other mothers, normal mothers, did not carry on so. She also knew by heart many songs by the Irish folk sensations The Clancy Brothers, such as “The Wild Colonial Boy,” “Whiskey You’re the Devil,” and “The Men of the West.” Her renditions were seldom on key, but gained in power when our two dogs and half dozen cats caught the spirit of it and added their own howls to the choruses.

Speaking of animals, her big heart for them was the reason our house and yard on the outskirts of pristine, suburban Wheaton, Illinois, looked more like a Dust Bowl farm. In addition to the dogs and an unending supply of cats and kittens, we had four chickens and four geese, along with an occasional hamster or mouse and any number of woodland creatures that we rescued (usually from our own cats) and kept temporarily until we could turn them over to the Willowbrook Wildlife Center. These included everything from bats and raccoons to pheasants and opossums. We had a pet crow named Edgar Allan Crow, whom we taught to say, among other things, “Nevermore” and “Brookwillow” (his charmingly dyslexic attempt at “Willowbrook”). Imitating our mother with cruel accuracy, he could also scream, “Shut the door!” and do a very moving impersonation of a baby crying, one of the few ways to get her attention.

For some reason it was the men of the family who brought home the amphibians and reptiles. I kept a newt and a small tortoise, and usually an aquarium stocked with painted turtles and crayfish. One winter I housed twenty-seven baby snapping turtles in an aluminum tub under the kitchen sink. Why? I don’t know. Maybe I was taken with their hypnotic little six-pointed starry eyes and the fact that at that tender age, their vicious bites couldn’t even break the skin. It is a testament of sorts to my mother’s culinary skills that the smell of those turtles and whatever she was cooking could not easily be distinguished. It is a testament to her imperturbability that she allowed them to remain in the kitchen all winter with the windows shut tight against the Northern Illinois cold.

My father topped us all when he and a Marine Corps buddy returned from a fossil hunting trip in the western part of the state with a live timber rattlesnake. Not many women would have retained their composure under the circumstances. My mother was delighted, almost giddy. She promptly named the snake Gertrude and put her in a Plexiglas cage in the crawlspace. Gertrude proved very useful while we had her. When we caught some of the neighbor kids trying to steal our bicycles, we showed them Gertrude. We urged them to make sudden movements in front of her cage, causing her to strike at the Plexiglas. The venom from her fangs dripped down the inside of her cage quite convincingly. We never had to lock up our bikes again. Eventually we donated Gertrude to the Brookfield Zoo. Six months later she was killed by a falling rock under suspicious circumstances, and I believe the Chicago Police Department may still have a cold case file on her. My mother wore a black armband for a year.

I’ve told you about the good times, the times when mom’s imperturbability was an asset to a household full of wild creatures, human and otherwise. But there were other times, too. Times when her ability to retreat into those golden mental mists almost amounted to neglect. Again, I ask you not to judge. You weren’t there. You can’t know what it was like. You probably think I’m exaggerating or inventing for comic effect, but you have no idea how wrong you are, or how much I’m actually leaving out because you would never believe it.

Take the time when I nearly bled out on the living room couch while she sat there reading the paper. The evening had started normally enough. I always had a copious supply of fireworks around, which I needed for my ongoing scientific and philanthropic work. That night I was working with bottle rockets. I had become jaded with the pedestrian experience of setting them off one at a time. Inspired by the twin ideas of a Roman candle and a Gatling gun, I used corrugated cardboard to construct a multiple bottle rocket launcher. It was fiendishly simple. Roll the cardboard into a tube, and stick a bottle rocket into each of the many holes at the end. Then twist all of the fuses together, light them simultaneously, aim the tube at your target, and voila! Instant hellfire.

In this case my target was a Wheaton Police cruiser. There was an intersection nearby with a small hill overlooking it. Perched behind the crest of that hill, I waited until the cruiser stopped at the empty intersection and then set off my launcher. Seconds later, dozens of bottle rockets zipped and whistled and exploded over the cruiser’s windshield. I’m sure the two patrolmen, who had probably never handled anything more menacing than a kitten in a tree, thought they had somehow found themselves in the middle of a gang war in sedate, lily-white Wheaton. Within moments, though, they figured it out. Their siren and cherries went on, and they began flashing their searchlight around the car, looking for a criminal mastermind.

I ducked and quickly rolled back down the hill. On the way down, my right calf encountered one of those beer cans from the days before pop tops, the type you had to open with a can opener, leaving a protruding jagged metallic triangle that could do real damage. It ripped through my jeans and opened a gash several inches long in my leg, which began bleeding profusely. A sizable, grisly-looking piece of flesh dangled by a thread. Not having the time or the means to apply a field dressing, I hightailed it home through empty lots overgrown with weeds, keeping as close to the ground as possible.

I burst through the front door out of breath, and haltingly told Mom that I had been injured and would require medical attention. I also mentioned that we needed to turn off the lights and draw the curtains, and if the police came to the door, we should pretend not to be home. “Oh no you don’t,” she said, without even looking up from her newspaper. “I’m not going to fall for that again.”

Perhaps I should explain here that only the previous day I had conducted a different experiment, wherein I combined ashes, candle wax and ketchup into a fair imitation of a horrific burn wound on my left arm. That had got her to take notice, however briefly. But actions have consequences.

Not knowing what else to do, I sat down and let my cut bleed onto the floor. I began to get dizzy, whether from shock and adrenaline or loss of blood, I don’t know. The cop car slowly pulled down our cul-de-sac and back out again without stopping, gumballs still on but siren off. A few minutes later my mom finally put down the paper, looked up, saw the growing pool of blood at my feet, and smiled. “Well, are you going to clean that up, or what?” she asked. I managed to whisper that I needed to see a doctor, the sooner the better. Then I fainted.

When at last she understood that I was indeed hurt, she calmly and coolly snapped into action. She had the neighbors drive me to the emergency room. Dad was not home, you see, and she would not learn to drive until many years later. In fact, most pedestrians and light poles unlucky enough to find themselves in her path would say she never did. But that’s another story.

The wound took thirty-three stitches to close. The scar is still visible today. As usual, though, there were compensations. The respect of my peers, for one thing. Drugs, for another. That was back when they handed out opiates like Veteran’s Day poppies, even to children. It would be several more years before I would test mom’s patience to the limit by starting a hydroponic marijuana farm in the basement and using my augmented chemistry set to synthesize mescaline in honor of Aldous Huxley, another author to whom she introduced me. For now, I was satisfied to have gotten a rise out of two imperturbable entities, the Wheaton Police and mom, with mom being by far the tougher nut to crack.

* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where our main goal is to distract you enough so that you can forget your past boy- or girlfriends. But for some reason all Michael Fowler wants to do is to remember his. When you're done perusing this piece, see our blogroll on the right for a link to buy Michael's book, God Made the Animals.

My Past Girlfriends Looked Like Rock Stars

By:
mfowl4916@gmail.com

I was never part of the music scene, but the women I got into relationships with starting back in the 60s shared a certain trait: they resembled well-known rock stars. Perhaps unfortunately, it was male rock stars they looked like, and not the prettiest ones either. I never dated a girl as drop-dead gorgeous as Jim Morrison, or as cuddly-cute as Beatle Paul, as gorgeously tressed as David Coverdale, as perfectly lipped and eye-lidded as the King, or as glitzy as David Lee Roth. Instead my girlfriends resembled some of the plainer, even grotesque male rock stars. But I’m not complaining. This detracted not a bit from their femininity, and never compromised my gender identity. These young ladies may have looked like plain-to-ugly male rockers to a startling degree, but each and every one overcame that with cherry lips, Bambi eyes, a tidy rack, sometimes a Marilyn mole, and other wow features.

My first girlfriend, a desperate score I made in time for senior prom in 1965, having gone dateless up to that time, looked like Sam the Sham, right after he and the Pharaohs scored big with “Wooly Bully.” Carla didn’t have a beard, not yet anyway, but she did have the Sham’s thick mat of curly, dark hair, jutting jaw and monstrous overbite, and an identical reluctance to pay a dentist to rein in those buck teeth, despite the hit single royalties that must have been accruing in his, if not her, pocket. As for her more womanly attributes, Carla added to Sam’s overt maleness some seriously cute female dimples and a sassy, womanly pout. Carla and I experimented with pot and a bunch of new dance steps together. The jerk comes to mind. But the highlight of our relationship was attending a costume party the summer of our graduation. She went as the Sham, no surprise there, wearing a false beard and a paper pharaoh hat. Lacking a costume, and wanting Carla to take center stage, I came in a flannel shirt and blue jeans as the pharaoh’s food-taster, and I still remember how great those finger sandwiches were. Carla and I lasted a few months of doing wild coming-of-age things together, but somehow we managed to go off in different directions to college.

In 1966 I met Sherry in my freshman psych class. She resembled bandleader Paul of Paul Revere and the Raiders, right down to his short blonde hair, his come-on smirk, and the roguish twinkle in his eye. Sherry could prance to “Kicks” the way Paul and the band did, too, flaunting her solid tush and round thighs in skin-tight pants just the way that stocky Paul shook his own generous bum in snug cavalry britches and riding boots. Sherry and Paul were two prancing fools. The difference was, Sherry shook her bouncy little rack and added a hip roll as she worked her go-go boots, and this turned my head much more than Revere’s manlier motions. And talk about a kisser: I still remember her breath warmed by 3.2 beer and tongue skilled from licking cigarette papers. She was such a good smoocher that I could hardly take my eyes off those cherry lips crinkled in a smile. And in case you’re wondering what it was like to kiss Paul Revere, or his copy, it was great, and it never occurred to me that I was kissing a guy, because I wasn’t.

In 1967, when student radicals moved in on campus and began to plot against the administration, I shacked up with Sandra, who was an exact lookalike for Smokey Robinson, only with pillowy lips, Bambi eyes, a rack so tidy as to be pointy, a magnificent collection of earrings, a Marilyn mole, and her process beginning to explode into naturalness. We only lasted a month or two before conflicting views on the role of police in society sundered our relationship, but meanwhile we stoked each other in the bedroom with talk of justice and equality between heated sheets. I like to think that in some way we liberated each other’s souls, and man, could she nibble an ear.

Right after I dropped out of the higher education racket in 1969, I met Barb at a laser show in an art museum. This foxy lady looked so much like Question Mark of Question Mark and the Mysterians, a band I often saw on TV, that I was floored. In case you don’t remember what Question Mark looked like, he resembled a worm with shoulder-length dark hair, always wore dark glasses, and had very bad skin, as if he had been badly burned in an accident. That was Barb all over, and her little sister Babs too. Barb and Babs both had that wormlike quality with really bad, my-house-burned-down-with-me-in-it skin. Barb and I loved to frug to “96 Tears,” “Magic Carpet Ride,” and my then favorite, “Draft Resister.”  For a while I was eyeing Barb and Babs at the same time, getting off on their fantastic Question Mark looks. But eventually Barb’s cherry lips, sparkling Bambi eyes, and roly-poly hips put her over the top in my little red address book. She told me I could use her VW Beetle if I needed to hightail to Canada until peace broke out, and maybe she’d come with me. We never tried to sneak over the border, though, since I drew a winningly huge number in the draft lottery.

After graduation in the early ’70s from a junior college with lax admission policies, I went with the spitting image of Ginger Baker, drummer from Cream. Cherie wasn’t as tall as the over-six-foot Baker, but still towered over me by a couple of inches, and sported Baker’s gangly build, red hair, enormous feet, and unfortunately those not-great British teeth, though her fangs were American. But she also had flashing blue eyes like Ginger’s, legs that went to heaven, and a rack that, though small, was definitely not minor league. Like the drummer, she had great energy and endurance. She could play hacky sack and ride bikes with me all morning, and had strength left over to chase a Frisbee and rip my clothes off in the afternoon. Aware of her resemblance to the great musician, Cherie didn’t mind in the least that my nickname for her was Ginger, and she flashed a gray-toothed smile, and opened up those baby blues, when I teasingly said such things as, “Hey, Ginger, come over here, and bring your tidy rack.”

The great blonde in my life circa the ’80s was Julie, who was the duplicate of that blowzy blond singer, What’s-his-name, in Flock of Seagulls. In a blur of acid after a rock concert, we went back to my place, where her hair twisted and curved all over the pillows like a sculpture of fine wires. Our first night together, I dreamt her hair took flight and soared out my apartment window like a bird. Then I awoke and, after ascertaining she didn’t need a shave or have an erection, made love to her. She explained afterward that her hair was the result of many less than successful dye jobs and home permanents, these having caused lasting damage. I loved Julie hair damage and all, but we disagreed about Bill Clinton’s talent on the saxophone, I insisting it was an impeachable offense, and we soon split up.

Neanderthal-thick and sporting a sloping forehead that looked atavistic back to the chimp level, my future wife Claire was a dead ringer for Meat Loaf. In 1990, tired of frequenting fleshpots and panicked to find myself still a bachelor, I noticed that my librarian’s pelvis was every inch as wide as Meat Loaf’s sprawling pant-load. This presaged easy childbirth if we went the family route, and why wouldn’t we, after I checked out a few books and made advances? I also found bewitching Claire’s cute-as-a-button Marilyn mole, and her sparkling Bambi eyes beneath an adorable jutting brow. And oh those sweet cherry lips, though compared to Meat Loaf she probably wore too much makeup. On our first date, she told me I was a dead ringer for Rudyard Kipling. I said, Whoa, but figured I shouldn’t argue with obsession. I only wondered if Kipling was handsome or at least a five. I later saw from his picture that he was about a three, and that I did look like him.

My son, I’m proud to say, takes after the old man. Over the holidays he brought home the body double of Adam Levine of Maroon 5. She had Levine’s tattoos all up and down her arms, his cherry lips and short brown hair, his slim hips and flashing eyes, even his tidy rack, but still she was all female. “Can she sing?” I asked my son. I don’t know why I asked him that, since none of my old girlfriends despite their rocker looks had shown one bit of musical talent.

“What do you mean, can she sing?” my son shot back. “She’s in medical school. What are you thinking?”

Yeah, what the hell was I thinking?

* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where we don't even know what a Herschel backpack is, but we know a funny piece of writing when we see it. Enjoy the latest from trend-keeper-upper-wither Charles Stayton.

A Herschel Backpack Changed My Life

By:
charles.stayton@gmail.com

I bought a Herschel backpack the other day and it changed my life. I was pretty sure that good things were going to happen (I’d been seeing the chambray-clad Herschel type crushing it in reclaimed wood coffee shops all over my television), but I had no idea how dramatic the change would be.

As soon as I put the backpack on, I got this feeling that I should go to my kitchen. Somehow my body (or the bag) took over and I was frothing milk on the stove and drawing a perfect portrait of Albert Camus in my coffee. I didn’t figure out who I had drawn until I posted a picture on Instagram and my followers shot up to 1.3 million, all gushing about what quickly became known as the “Cam-Moo.” Soon the “Whitney” people messaged me to offer an independent study based on my portrait.

Slightly confused about why Whitney Houston, or Whitney Houston’s people (is she still alive?) would be offering me an art gig, I happened to glance back over my shoulder. Something weird had happened in the kitchen. All the dishes were clean and back in the cabinets like I had never been there. My linoleum had turned to granite, my pantry had been replaced by cool industrial racks with glass containers, I counted six different varieties of kale chips, the wall was now exposed brick, and my coffeemaker had been replaced by something called a Chemex that I’d only ever seen dangling from the waist of a “drunken fist” character on Mortal Kombat. “Neat!” I thought.

I decided to go for a walk because a) I now had solid storage on my back in case I came across anything I wanted, and b) cool shit was happening to me in my apartment, so I could only imagine what would happen out in the world. Right outside my apartment, a hip group of ethnically ambiguous and ethnically diverse kids around my age waved me over to their stoop. It was the kind of group that normally would have intimidated me as a white kid with no friends, but I had my Herschel, so I went for it. Plus, I felt safe because a few of the girls were wearing those hats that look like Kung Lao’s from Mortal Kombat. Only theirs were semi-floppy and sweet-looking, like Kung Lao’s hat took a few Valium and a juice cleanse.

They invited me to join, so I sat down on the lowest step. For the next hour or so, we didn’t really talk, but we sure did laugh and point a lot. I had this one hilarious gesture where I would point at my boy with one hand, while touching my chest with the other — like one hand was Southern and kept saying, “Oh goodness, me” and the other (the pointing one) was like, “You know you’re my boy.” I think it was the juxtaposition that got them. We also laughed just because the McDonald’s sandwiches we were eating were really delicious and they made us so happy.

At some point a brand new Subaru Forester power slid to a halt in the street in front of us, causing a pile of fall leaves to cascade up through the dusk sunlight and trickle down in slow motion. I knew I was supposed to get in, and also that I wasn’t supposed to worry about my McDonald’s trash (“Herschel people don’t produce waste,” the bag whispered to me). My new friends followed with accessories that materialized for our journey through the empty city streets.

My man Long Shirt/Little Glasses had a ukulele; Jordans/Mumu tossed a surfboard up on the roof rack; the Sensible Tats Twins threw a few $10,000 fixed gear bikes on the back; and Beardie hooked up a parasail to the bumper and slapped the hatchback like it was a stallion. As we rode off toward a well-lived life full of EXPERIENCES, Beardie guffawing away above us, I thought to myself, “Don’t you even start to question this. You deserve to be happy. You had the good taste to pick that backpack after all.”

I am happy to say that I took my advice and haven’t looked back. My little troop from the stoop is still together. We’re on break from our group teaching post at Swarthmore where we guide pop-up, experiential learning experiences where students experience different learning material – like really experience and learn. The emphasis is definitely on experience, but there is plenty of learning that happens as well. Usually the learning happens much later on after students have more life experience and can look back on the learning experience and say: “Huh! That’s what I learned. Neat!”

I have also pitched a class for the fall on gender performance in Mortal Kombat. That will mostly be experiential as well.

* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where inner peace sometimes looks more like the outer reaches of madness. Just ask our good friend Eric Farwell.

We Need Your Help Paying For Our Festival’s Mandala

By:
emfarwell@gmail.com

Welcome to SirenSong, the premiere French Canadian yoga festival for people from New York! Here, you’ll enjoy lectures on the meditative quality of white noise, the healing properties of bird feathers, our giant mandala, and the best bulletproof restaurants in Brooklyn. Take in workshops on how to paint your own mandala, how to stay mindful at your advertising or creative merchandising job, how to paint someone else’s mandala, how to avoid falling for your reiki practitioner in Queens (long distance rarely works), and what medical treatment to seek in the event of a “mandala-related dispute.”

Have we mentioned our mandala? Situated on the lush cobblestones of the main walking area, and made from the most humanely-treated dandelions and violets, it’s a rather lovely grouping of things you could literally pick up off the ground. Truth be told, dear visitor, we kind of blew our budget on it and really need you to help us break even.

How can you assist us, blessed selves? Why, you could sign up for one of our foraging classes, with tiered pricing so affordable, you’ll be saying “Om”! For a humble hundred dollars, our master mandala maker, Griffin, will let the men trek off in search of wi-fi while holding the women back to explain what mandalas are. For a casual two hundred bucks, Griffin promises not to try and ply you with dandelion wine and invite you to an EDM showcase at his sister’s apartment. For a throwaway three hundred, he won’t DM you on Instagram or CouchSurfers with some weird sex quote from Rumi. No matter the price you choose, rest assured you’ll walk away with a bunch of sticks and leaves that represent your inner self, or something like potpourri.

If casual mansplaining or smug entitlement isn’t your thing, wandering spirits, we invite you to be a Chakra Speaker, and lead others wondering if their pr jobs are crushing their dreams to beauty. What is a Chakra Speaker, you ask? Let’s start with what it isn’t: a callow, desperate attempt to make up for the money we lost investing in someone who coined the phrase “up in dem ayewhaska guts.” Simply put, in exchange for a hundred dollars and three hours of your time, all Chakra Speakers will be comped a free meal at our Clean Barbecue. All one has to do is loudly discuss how beautiful the mandala is, and how much you love your job and the perks (mention the meal comp, not the hundred dollar down payment). You’re encouraged to say things like, “Wow, this is one quality mandala,” and, “With a mandala like this, you just know this festival was a great idea, and definitely isn’t in financial trouble!”

We understand that none of these options might work for you, silver unicorns. Perhaps you’d rather be at our roundtable, discussing the merits of the hemp milk at the Spanish grocery in Alphabet City, and comparing the sourness to that of the hemp milk at the bodega in Park Slope (you know the one). If that’s the case, we invite you to simply throw money into the mandala. Now, understand, we would never ask you to just toss money into some nature vomit so that we can explain to our parents that it was not a mistake to drop out of law school and mount this festival. However, if you felt that your spirit was in harmony with the universe, and you felt compelled to leave an offering of gratitude in the form of bills, one of our employees would sweep your gift into our nondescript donations box.

This is a big thing we’re asking you, reiki warriors, but after watching our financial advisor look over our spending in horror and saying “oh boy” in an exasperated, nasal voice, we’ve come to see it as necessary. If it helps to look at it from a different angle, assisting us will give you humblebragging rights at your next vegan potluck, doula workshop, or ungendered amateur tattoo party. If you missed out on donating to the McSweeney’s kickstarter in 2015, or failed to help that one kid make potato salad, this can be your chance to have a cool talking point on your next Bumble date at The Blind Tiger. All we’re saying is that we’d appreciate the help of yourself, a rich spouse, or any dad, uncle, or grandfather that owns a yacht. Who knows, if we make enough money this weekend, maybe we can get an even larger mandala next year 😉

Sincerely,

Callie and Marshall/The SirenSong Team

 

* Welcome to The Big Jewel, a site so warm and comfortable it will put you to sleep instantly! But when you awaken it will be from this nightmare brought to you by our good friend Luke Roloff.

Does My Tempur-Pedic Bed Know Too Much?

By:
lukeroloff@hotmail.com

My Tempur-Pedic bed knows every single inch of my body. From the small of my back to the girth of my buns. My upper traps. My inner thighs. Even my inner thoughts.

And boy, did I used to have a tough time sleeping. I’d wake up for work feeling all groggy — now I don’t wake up for work at all. This bed has changed my life. I’m so happy!

Soon as my head hits the pillow, my stress and ability to perceive reality just shed away!

This euphoric cradle is so intuitive, it knows the curvature of my spine like the arc of my depression. When I toss and turn and weep, it rebounds like only cellular-engineered sleeping equipment can. I wake up so refreshed I feel like leaving the house for the first time in three months!

I can’t begin to tell you how much I love this bed, because it’s been over a year since I’ve spoken to another human being, leaving me speechless when I come into contact with one. That’s probably when you know you’ve selected the right bed for your unique sleep habits — when nothing gets between you and your remote control adjustable base or the notion that you no longer have a need for the outside world.

This bed knows me so well it molds to my body like the mold growing around my headboard. No one knows me like this omniscient rectangle. Certainly not the homeless people I invited in after I lost my family. Those hobos will never comprehend the way I sleep on my stomach or why I’ve let my townhouse become a breeding ground for vampires.

It stimulates my reticular activating system for achieving the deep, deep sleep that’s so deep I experience night terrors in which I don’t know if I’m awake or asleep. Which is really the only way to elicit the supine position I need to snooze through the noise of the wildlife nesting in my kitchen.

It’s hard to fathom that I ever slept a wink without a symmetrical posturing mattress or a moat of lit candles keeping the ghost of El Diablo at bay.

Best of all, I’ve noticed a dramatic improvement in my posture and archery skills. Fending off the crusade of Medusa and her coterie of serpents has become a breeze!

It’s like this bed hugs me. And cuddles with me, too. Basically it strokes my hair and says it’ll be okay when the monsters come. I know how I must sound. I’m only whispering so I don’t wake them.

Some people say I don’t know what I’m talking about. That the elaborate fire dancing and ceremonial offerings are “inhumane.” The envious ones say that. The police. They don’t have a clue. They can’t get it through their thick skulls how crucial a well-rested lifestyle is for your health.

The moment I decided against my will to try the Tempur-Pedic padded white walls, that’s when it finally hit me — I’m Hypnos, the royal guardian of celestial slumber, sent to slay insomnia and shield the somnolent whom dwell in kingdoms near and far!

Yet to this day, when I melt into the proprietary spring-coil padding and my own empty toil, I can’t help but feel the flawless suspension and a sinking suspicion that maybe this clairvoyant comfort has gone too far. Perhaps I’ve flirted with too much mattress ingenuity? Am I in over my head, too far under the sheets or possibly behind on my payments?

Back and forth I sway in this emotional tug-o-war, rocking side to side in pure comfort.

* Welcome to The Big Jewel, which is dedicated to the proposition that there is a sucker born every minute. And who was born one minute ago? Our good friend Matthew David Brozik. When you finish reading his latest bit of hilarity, click on the link below, or on the one in our blog roll, to buy a copy of his hard-boiled noir parody, "Danger With a Hard G."

Thanks To Predatory Tactics, Some Legal Malpractice, And Mild Dyslexia, I Am Now A Franchisee Of 1-800-FOWLERS

By:
brozik@gmail.com
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06WLKSNKL

Not very long ago, I was underemployed and considering starting my own business. It was around then that I went out for an afternoon walk and ended up at a “franchise fair” being held in a convention center in my town. Fate brought me here, I figured. Maybe it’s my destiny to be a franchisee. And it does seem like every other business in the central business district of this town is a franchise, and they’re all still in business, unlike the mom & pop shops, which just can’t seem to compete in the new capitalist marketplace, I thought, already imagining myself at the helm of a local Subway, H&R Block, or Pittsburgh Pirates.

As if guided by a higher power, I gravitated toward a booth where I was greeted at once by both the friendliest man I’ve ever met and the most impressive floral creation. He was tall, lean, and sincere; it was white, soft, and the perfect semblance of a chicken. Even while the man was asking me questions about my education, financial liquidity, and threshold for risk absent any guarantee of success, most of my attention was being held by the magnificent “creature” on the folding table between us. “Carnations?” I asked the other man. “Cornish cross,” he corrected me. Clearly there was much I didn’t know about flower arranging, but I was eager to learn. “Made by hand?” I asked. “The hand of God, I suppose,” he said. Indeed! The craftsmanship was awe-inspiring, the attention to detail divine.

Now, I’m not too much of a man to admit that I find flowers as attractive as the next man who finds flowers attractive. And I’m not too proud to admit that I prefer making money to not making any. That night, still marveling at my memory of the flower “bird,” I fell asleep surrounded by the mandatory disclosure documents I’d brought into bed with me. I dreamt of inventing and selling at a great markup my own floral arrangements that looked like animals: dogs, cats, bears, bees, and maybe even a pig or a dragon. I’d have to hire someone who actually knew how to make those things, but I knew that those people were out there.

My stepbrother is a lawyer, so I asked him to look over the contract. We don’t really get along much of the time, owing to an unresolved childhood feud over a rare, anatomically explicit “Buck Rogers” Col. Wilma Deering action figure, but Charlie agreed to give me an hour’s worth of free document review. By the end of the week, I had the paperwork back with “Sign Here” tape flags on every third page. When I’d finished putting my autograph everywhere I had to ice my wrist. I also had to get a cashier’s check for upward of $30,000, but I had that, and more, since I’d sold certain action figures I’d been quietly holding on to for decades. I sent the contract and the check off to corporate headquarters in East Lansing, Michigan — certified mail, return receipt requested.

Even before the return receipt came back to me, my check was cashed and I got my first shipment of wholesale merchandise. It was delivered to my home, being that I hadn’t yet found a storefront to lease, but I accepted the crate and opened it enthusiastically. When I saw the contents, I got the feeling that maybe mistakes had been made. There were no flowers in the box. Not even plants that might produce flowers. No vases, either. What I found instead were cheap plastic duck decoys, cheap wooden duck calls, cheap camouflage pants, and shotgun shells of various calibers, all of which I believe I am now expected to sell, presumably to others who live in my town, which is at least 300 miles from the nearest body of water where one might find the sort of birds — fowl, I guess you’d call them — that you hunt, trap, or shoot. If that’s the sort of thing that you do. It is not the sort of thing that I do, or that I know anything about, unfortunately.

I’ve asked Charlie if there’s any way I can get out of the contract, but his hourly rate is pretty steep and I’m not entirely sure I can trust him, anyway. Really, I’m not sure I trust anybody anymore. Not even that carnation chicken. Come to think of it, he did try to peck me. More than once.

* Welcome to The Big Jewel, your number one source for excrutiating detail about the current state of bluegrass music. After you've finished reading this week's bit of hilarity from Michael Fowler, see our blogroll on the right for a link to buy Michael's book, God Made the Animals.

Come To Bluegrass This Year

By:
mfowl4916@gmail.com

Everyone agrees that pop music is horrible, but no one does anything about it. There is no way to guarantee that Lady Gaga or Adam Levine will not offend our tympanums again, not with their contracts. But there is a simple solution. Drop all your preconceptions about hillbilly music, lose your pretentious rock sensibilities, and come on over to bluegrass.

It’s still summer, or warm enough that there are no blizzards or nor’easters on the horizon, and there are outdoor bluegrass festivals going on in every state, and have been since spring. There’s probably one not more than an hour or two from you, down a peaceful country lane lined with outhouses on skids that you’ll need your GPS to locate, if not a savvy mule. There you’ll find the sun is shining, the river is sweet, the grass is green if not blue, and the beat flat out rocks. Really, it does. Maybe not like AC/DC, but at least harder than Maroon 5 and “Bad Romance.”

Learning to enjoy bluegrass is easy, because there are essentially only two adjustments the listener must make. The first is to the instrumentation, particularly the banjo. Bluegrass novices, rockers and folk music lovers alike, have told me that they could listen to this music, in theory, but there’s something about the banjo they can’t go. They fear the pure twang of the instrument. I understand their apprehension.

There’s something about the cold, metallic notes that spring out of a banjo, amplified by a drumhead-like skin, that makes the uninitiated listener cringe as if the short hairs on his neck were being plucked out with ice-cold tweezers. Plus, those icy notes invariably conjure up the inbred mute in Deliverance, or the Clampetts gathered around the cement pond. They’re embarrassing, for heaven’s sake.

If it turns out you can’t do the banjo, you may comfort yourself with the fact that lots of bluegrass doesn’t contain a note of it. Keep telling yourself that and you won’t despair at the very outset.

By comparison to the banjo, the other bluegrass instruments are a piece of cake. These are usually a six-string acoustic guitar, a warm and roomy stand-up bass, also a fiddle, which is what mountain folk call a violin, and a mandolin. Nothing odd or offensive there, except one does wonder how a delicate medieval instrument like the Neapolitan mandolin can sound so good in the hands of rural Kentuckians and Virginians. You’d have thought they’d be handier with a jaw harp or a tin whistle. Who knew?

The other challenge for bluegrass novitiates is the singing. The best and most famous bluegrass singers have voices that are unlikely to front any other vocal format, even country. They are simply too downhome and honest, too evocative of coal mining and moonshining and backwater rapids. But they can be got used to.

The trick is to start with a band whose singer doesn’t sound like he or she is one big nose stuffed with coal dust. The angel-voiced Alison Krauss comes to mind, and her bandmate Dan Tyminski, who did the singing for George Clooney in the popular bluegrass-infused film O Brother Where Art Thou.

Tyminski has a fine, accurate baritone that makes a virtue of his southern inflections, while Alison has all but lost any regional accent (she’s from North Carolina) and easily performs mainstream stuff, sometimes with the British subject Robert Plant, who can also be got used to with patience. Start with these folks and then progress to the more rarified artists. Or stay and listen only to Alison Krauss and her topnotch band Union Station. It doesn’t get any better.

If you move on, though, take it in easy stages. Just because you can listen to Alison Krauss and George Clooney (Dan Tyminski), doesn’t mean you are ready for bluegrass stalwarts Ralph Stanley and Jimmy Martin, let alone those unique stylists who define the bluegrass sound for many, such as Screamin’ Del McCoury and Hazel Dickens. No, don’t ever think that after hearing angelic Alison warble “Down to the River to Pray” you can just run off and enjoy Screamin’ Del’s rendition of “High on a Mountaintop,” which parts the very clouds with sonic intensity, or the mournful Hazel Dickens wheezing out “Black Lung,” a tune that fills the air with carcinogenic dust. That’s not going to happen.

To be honest, I myself can’t listen to Jimmy Martin or Ms. Dickens for a note. Jimmy sounds like the irate cook at Jimmy’s Truck Stop in Corbin, Kentucky, who has been told his food must pass a health board inspection every year and starts keening like a wounded coyote. And Dickens is simply too authentic, having so much homespun veracity that I can’t stand the idea of her breathing. She sounds like a scorned woman in Chesapeake, West Virginia, standing on top of a hill dressed in black rags and wailing down into the Kanawha River Valley despite her advanced tuberculosis.

The late Ralph Stanley, though, is the great harmonizer in folk and country music. He can, or could, sing with anyone, and achieved fame back in the 1950s harmonizing with his brother Carter. After Carter passed on he performed duets with everyone from Patty Loveless, Dwight Yoakum, the aforementioned Alison Krauss, to even Bob Dylan. He was that well regarded, and that good. He really was, even though solo he sounded like a coal-mining foreman whose voice can still puncture your eardrums after traveling through miles of twisting anthracite tunnels.

If you happen to become a fan of Ralph’s recordings, and again I recommend the ones where he harmonizes with all sorts of swell people on great and familiar songs, not all of them religious, you should take it as a sign. You may now move on to Screamin’ Del McCoury, whose followers are often hard-core in their devotion.

McCoury, who plays guitar and sings with a crack band largely composed of his sons, as did Ralph Stanley (that is, each played with his own sons, not the other man’s), has dozens of recordings out, and can still be found at many of those summer bluegrass festivals I mentioned. Known for his “high lonesome” tenor that can shear sheep, bake biscuits and dig coal all by itself, Screamin’ Del’s not my cup of grits, but I can listen to him now and then without shuddering. Not too much shuddering, anyway, and I always recover.

Let’s say that by some miracle you don’t shudder at Screamin’ Del, and you actually become a fan of the bluegrass genre, that you’re so fortunate. Next you’ll want this music served up live and outdoors, where the ambience of lawn chairs, portable toilets, and amateur pickers is so relaxed that even the bandana-sporting motorcycle gangs and their tattooed mamas are friendly. Plus, you can test your survival skills by lasting an entire weekend on soup beans and well water that you pump yourself, with an actual handle.

You may well become like the one-armed girl in a bikini I saw at a festival in Ohio, standing in a grassy field and smiling in the warm sunshine as she waved her sole arm to the beat. She had exited the rock arena and come to where the music is still good. She was having a blast.

 

 

* Welcome to The Big Jewel, your one safe harbor in a world full of frauds and sociopaths. Say hello to first-time contributor Charles Stayton, who gives more than a few reasons to say goodbye to Airbnb.

Overheard On Airbnb Messenger

By:
charles.stayton@gmail.com

Cole Thurston: Airbnb app; Wednesday, 7.12, 2:15 PM

Hi Gus and Joy. We loved our stay last weekend! We were thinking…would you guys consider permanently renting the space we stayed in? My partner and I think it may be a good fit for both couples, if you guys are interested in more cash…and maybe someone to help look after the place.

 

Joy Hanseen: Airbnb app; Thursday, 7.13, 8:15 AM

Hi Cole and Marissa. We appreciate the offer, but we are really just looking for the flexibility that Airbnb provides. We’re not exactly landlord material at this point in our retirement 🙂

 

Cole Thurston: Airbnb app; Thursday, 7.13, 11:47 AM

Hey Joy! Totally. Understood. We weren’t thinking landlords per se, though. Honestly, we feel like the energy between the four of us is more mellow and deep than that. We loved your vibe and it made us realize that we’re done with roommates. We want something more. Something more…grown up. Like where we can have Sunday suppers together and look after each other’s pets like in Gilmore Girls. We would help with any chores you want and pitch in to make your retirement amazing! You wouldn’t have to pay us an allowance, of course… 🙂

 

Cole Thurston: Airbnb app; Saturday, 7.15, 1:18 PM

Hi again! Not sure if you got my last message, but I hope y’all are having a rad weekend! Sorry if we came on a little strong before. It’s just that we really felt at home with you guys! We want you to know that we are excellent at social media and vegan cooking (provided we get ingredients from an appropriate meal service — Purple Carrot is perfect!). We could keep you wholesomely fed and relevant on the ‘gram! We’d also love to take on the responsibility of keeping you guys active! We love hiking, picnics, 80’s parties, walking tours [but only if they aren’t too boring and end with shots:)], road trips to see the fall leaves change colors, and adult summer camps, just to name a few…

 

Cole Thurston: Airbnb app; Monday, 7.17, 1:40 AM

Hi Joy. I just want you to know that we’re still cool. I saw the glowing review of “Ashley” and “Dan” that you posted and I get it — you need to keep business fresh while you line everything up for our rental. No rush on my end. I mean, the sooner the better since Marissa and I jumped in with both feet and broke our lease…but no presh. The couchsurfing thing is chill and it actually helps the hustle since we’re more mobile. It’s also nice because we can strip down and only keep the essentials. We accumulate so much stuff, right? You gotta watch this documentary on- oh shoot, I’m rambling. Sorry! Cheers!

 

Cole Thurston: Airbnb app; Monday, 7.24, 6:05 AM

I couldn’t stop thinking about that review, so I reached out to Ashley and Dan. Marissa and I met up with them and I have to tell you — I don’t get it. I bet Dan told you that dumb story about his frat bros and the pedicab driver in Cabo, didn’t he? That seemed like his go to for the “now-the-smalltalk-is-over” part of the couples hang. You know that story isn’t true, right? First off, there’s no way his whale patterned clothes-wearing ass left the resort area. Second, a basic geo-tag hack shows that he has never been near downtown Cabo, or, in his words, “Spanish colonial-ville, but, like, kind of shitty.” I’m trying to stay positive, but I really can’t wrap my brain around the glowing review. Ashley — I can see you liking Ashley. Everybody loves Ash Cash. But, Dan? Really?

 

Airbnb corporate: email; Friday, 7.28, 8:37 AM

Dear Cole: your account has been suspended due to a pending investigation. If you have any questions, please direct them to our legal team. Thank you for your cooperation.

 

Cole Thurston: handwritten letter; Friday, 7.28

You went to Airbnb? I thought you were one of those moms that kids could talk to, even about hard stuff. I thought you wanted me to be honest with you…

 

Cole Thurston: handwritten letter; Saturday, 8.5

I know I’m breaking the law by writing you guys, but I don’t care. Isn’t the law just a tool for the oppressors anyway? I went by your house today and the trash cans are gone. Are you selling the house? Our house? The house of my imagined childhood? The house where our little alternative family came together over that kitten jigsaw puzzle and top-shelf riesling?

 

Cole Thurston: handwritten letter; 8.24

Marissa left me and it seems like I’m going to jail. The only redeeming thing about Michael (my public defender) is that he smells like old-timey aftershave, cigarettes, and sweat just like Gus. Well, it goes without saying that he’s also a hugger, which gets him some points too. But, honestly, he’s pretty useless when it comes to defending me against the restraining order charges. I know you guys aren’t going to visit, but I hope this letter finds you. I just want to say I’m sorry if I let you down. I still think about you guys all the time.