* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where we are celebrating the second half of a monumental literary event known as Michael Fowler Fortnight -- two weeks of one of our favorite humorists. This week Mr. Fowler takes on an amazing new development in senior care, or possibly a new form of elder abuse, depending on your view of England and those who love her. When you've finished perusing his latest laugh riot, be sure to check our blogroll on the right for a link to his book, God Made the Animals.

Visiting Anglophiles

By:
mfowl4916@gmail.com

You’re worried about your dad. He’s at home — your home until other arrangements can be made — and some days he seems lost and confused, often turning the stove on right before he locks himself out of the house. On top of that, when asked whether the English or the Germans have the superior music culture, your dad’s response is listless and not very pro-English. What to do?

We at Visiting Anglophiles will have a knowledgeable caregiver by your dad’s side within 48 hours to assess his health concerns, ensure his home is senior-proof, and impress upon him that, song-by-song, England’s Rolling Stones outperform Germany’s Scorpions even if Klaus Meine does rock.

Betty, age 87, can comb her hair, prepare lunch, and even bathe herself. But the native Kentuckian doesn’t always pay close attention to the doings of the British Royal Family. The fashion sense of Princess Kate is a muddle to her, and the climatological insights of Prince Charles go right over her head. This can be embarrassing when she has company over for high tea, and to make matters worse, she calls digestives “cookies.”

Our Visiting Anglophile will administer a dementia test to Betty, asking her to repeat three common words from memory, such as “loo,” “peckish” and “Brexit.” Then Betty will draw the face of a clock with the hands at 3. She receives extra points toward lucidity if she draws Big Ben, the clock tower built in London in 1859 and today a prominent symbol of the great nation of England.

Why a Visiting Anglophile?

You recognize that the English do everything best, and that a Visiting Anglophile is like a Supernanny for geriatrics. Under the tutelage of a Visiting Anglophile, your aging parent or relative will acquire the look and even sound of an English peer, while you stand in the background happy as a king. Please note that we are not that other elder care agency with a similar sounding name, Visiting Angels. We are Anglophiles, not angels. Angels may care about everybody, but we Anglophiles care about the English and enforcing a strictly English way of life — always in your elder’s best interests, of course.

Meet One of Our Anglophiles

Samantha, born in England 57 years ago and the proud possessor of an English peaches-and-cream complexion, is well up on both Medicare billing and English pub fare. Does your aged mother prefer a light breakfast? Not anymore, as Samantha will introduce her to the “fry-up,” a series of hearty meats that the English adore for their first meal of the day. Does your dear mother like a foaming glass of cold beer with dinner? She’ll soon prefer a nearly noncarbonated pint of rather warm bitter, which is Samantha’s favorite as well. Mom, in her unenlightened phase, may fear the bitter was drained from her goldfish aquarium, but will find that it tastes much better and is eventually habit-forming once she adjusts to that corrosive aftertaste.

A Word about Falling

What many elderly and their families fear most, not without reason, is a fall, after which the victim may lie helplessly in pain until discovered. Statistics show that fully half of American citizens over the age of 75 will suffer a painful fall in their lives. But if you’re concerned that something like that could happen to your elderly parent, you may be reassured to know that the wonderful BBC television series Downton Abbey, set in Edwardian England, is now shown throughout the United States on local stations. Actress Dame Maggie Smith takes a role in the show, and isn’t that a great title for a lady — Dame? It’s English, you know.

A Word about Solicitors and Scams

Here at Visiting Anglophiles we are ever on the alert to protect your elder from uninvited solicitors and phone scammers. These unscrupulous dealers may want to sell your mother or father a security system or an emergency call button that is quite unneeded. At Visiting Anglophiles, we believe in having an Anglophile on the scene before any emergency occurs, in particular an Anglophile who is licensed to offer your parent the complete box set of Downton Abbey DVDs — that’s eight full seasons — in case her local TV provider doesn’t subscribe to the broadcast. These beautifully packaged discs are ready to be shipped to America for the low price of $59.95 per season, shipping extra. Yes, we accept dollars!

A Word about Sex after 75

Visiting Anglophiles is pleased to sponsor a nine-day bus tour of England, beginning in England’s capital. From an open-top bus, your mum or dad will view all the famous sites in London, and then it’s off for golfing on the coast, a castle sleepover, a pub crawl, and those big stones at Stonehenge. Here at Visiting Anglophiles we can arrange for even the most enfeebled American tourist and her breathing apparatus to enjoy this exciting trip. The climax of the journey? Undoubtedly the night at Stratford-upon-Avon, where a naughty few will choose to see our special live production of Anne Hathaway’s Cottage: After Hours, for very adults only.

A Reminder about Dementia

Nothing is more tragic than your parent forgetting the names of those nearest and dearest to him or her, or that Henry the Fifth was also called Hal, or misplacing her passport and credit card when packing for our nine-day bus tour. A Visiting Anglophile will be present every step of the way to be sure that these oversights don’t throw a spanner into Mom or Dad’s well-deserved vacation.

A Final Word about Sex after 75

We don’t know what Anne Hathaway looked like, but as the wife of William Shakespeare, the world’s greatest playwright, she must have had a tidy pair of ankles and a pert bosom, at the very least. We can say with assurance that a man like Shakespeare, with his intimate knowledge of Cleopatra and Juliet, would have settled for nothing less. The mere thought of Anne Hathaway’s cottage and its contents, especially the “second best bed” mentioned in Shakespeare’s will, is arousing to many seniors. They love to speculate about what went on in that bed when the playwright was in town, and also when he wasn’t, until Anne died in 1623, likely from the plague.

Our special DVD, Anne Hathaway’s Cottage: After Hours, filmed on location right in Mrs. Shakespeare’s cottage by Visiting Anglophiles Productions, is now available for $49.95, shipping extra. Note: Be sure to specify the After Hours edition, or you may receive the scholastic version of Anne Hathaway’s Cottage that we send to libraries in Iowa. We want you to receive the titillating film we made with very adults in mind.

A Few Testimonials to our Services

“Your DVD Anne Hathaway’s Cottage: After Hours really steamed my cataracts.”

“What I liked best were the accents. And the buns on Shakespeare’s daughter.”

“We love that big Irish nurse you guys sent over who makes Mom take her pills with hardly any screaming.”

“Juanita is fluent in both English and the Spanish my dad pretends he learned in college. And he loves her bangers and mash.”

 

 

* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where solving little family squabbles is sort of a sideline for us. And for Michael Fowler. Incidentally, this week marks the first half of what we like to call Michael Fowler Fortnight. Come back next week for another dose of Mr. Fowler. When you've finished reading his latest piece, do check our blogroll on the right for a link to his book, God Made the Animals.

Hey Brother And Sister, Mom’s Will Is Grossly Unfair To Me

By:
mfowl4916@gmail.com

Listen Up Sibs,

The cruel document I received in the mail that supposedly is Mom’s final will has my head in a spin, and I’m sending this note to the two of you to let you know how cheated I feel. I’d phone or come around in person, except as you know my jail time for expectorating in a government building after repeated warnings lasts another two weeks. I do thank you and your pals at probate court for keeping me in the loop Momwise, but hear me out.

I understand Mark is the executor. Mom always doted on her legitimate son much more than on me, and on Mark more than Tina, and the dad you guys shared was the one stud our old slut of a mother had a financially rewarding relationship with. Brendon had a job and a bank account, unlike my dad, who simply joined Mom for a margarita or two and then a wild night at the Green Roof Inn, Hour Rates, 59 years ago, back when she had a pulse.

Blood is thicker than margaritas, I get that, but don’t forget I’ve got as much of our mother’s DNA in my genome as either of you. And dealing me out of any appreciable inheritance is about as fair as the way Mom treated my dad Al at the end. I mean his end. You may recall she wouldn’t let him pitch his tent on her lawn when he turned up out of the blue a while back and then refused to tide him over during his extended battle with demon rum, forcing him to live under a bridge on I-75 South near Cincinnati. When they found him late in the summer, he was indistinguishable from road kill.

So now everyone wants to deny me all sustenance too? Are the sins of the father to be visited upon the son? Well, based on my impression of your dad, the aforementioned Brendon, our mother probably had more fun on the night she made me than in all the 20 years she had to put up with that insufferable stuffed shirt before his cancer made him even grimmer, and then dead. You know what he said to me once, at that grill-out I came to on their 19th anniversary or whenever the last time I saw you two together was? The one where I had to put up with those kids of Tina’s whose names I didn’t know and who obviously needed medication for behavioral issues, since they treated my Ford convertible like a latrine? Brendon-Boy handed me a beer, and then told me he’d once hired Al to paint his fence for 20 dollars, and to show his gratitude Dad stole his wristwatch. Then he got upset when I laughed and told him Dad never overlooked life’s freebies. What did he expect me to do, pay for the watch? It was one of those periods I wasn’t even working.

Well it looks like I’m paying for it now. Mark and Tina get the entire house and property and all Mom’s possessions per stirpes and in equal shares, as the will states in plain English, and if there’s any money left over after Mom’s bills and debts are satisfied, I get all of $100 cash and the lawnmower I sometimes used to mow Mom’s yard. I guess the idea is, I can go on mowing Mark’s grass while he continues to live there, as he has rent-free for the last five decades. Mark also gets my stepdad’s shotguns and cars, never mind that I don’t have a lethal weapon to my name, and my car is that same old convertible Tina’s kids threw up and peed in after eating and drinking too much crap all those years ago.

The final insult, of course, is that if and when Mark does sell the place, you two, my fine and fair-minded sibs, split the proceeds equally, and I’m left out in the cold. And I suppose you think that’s fair. True, Mark took care of Mom till the ugly end with adult diapers and awkward sponge baths and whatnot, never being man enough to move out and let the hospice care tend to the maternal relic. And Mom and I had always fought. She never forgave me the time I heaved a pound of frozen hamburger at her when she refused me a loan, and hit that precious porcelain bird she kept in her living room. Or the time I filled the house with thick smoke trying to burn that dead raccoon out of her chimney and sent her to the ER with coughing. After those fiascos, I pretty much left her alone.

But Tina ignored her as much as I did. You have to admit, Sister dear, you didn’t come within a mile of her if you could help it. You never took her shopping, never went out with her for a meal, because you were afraid she’d start fondling total strangers, the way she did in her final years, and smile too broadly at minorities. Yeah, Mark told me all. His gossip was the only payment I got for cutting the yard. And when you did show up, Sis, it was to borrow money from the old broad that you never paid back. At least she gave you a few bucks now and then, which she never did me, not without raking me over the coals first.

I know how you all felt about me, of course. If I had a dollar for every time I heard you guys repeat after Mom “Like father like son,” or for every time I blew a job interview because my breath caught on fire, I wouldn’t need the Roth IRA I don’t own. But come on. I’m still your brother, your half-brother, anyway. And I’m not asking for you to split the sale of the property with me when Mark unloads it. Likely it’ll fetch a cool hundred and fifty too, it’s a nice location, and that figure is wonderfully divisible by three. But never mind, it’s all yours.

Here’s the deal. On the day I’m discharged from the justice center, greet me with a hundred bucks each on top of my hundred from the estate, and we’ll call it square. With three hundred my heap and I can make it down to Florida, where I can fish and live in a thong. And if that plan seems sketchy for a man pushing 60, and my bleached bones wash up on the shore in about a month, you don’t need to move a muscle to identify me, the way I had to go and identify my dad’s tanned, trim and lifeless corpse. Like him, I’ll be too dead to care. One way or the other you’ll never hear from me again.

Does that seem too much to ask?

Your Prisoner Bastard of a Half-Brother,

Toddikins

 

 

 

 

 

* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where not every house invasion is a home invasion, if that makes sense. If it doesn't, blame Barton Aronson, whose ability to turn a monologue into a dialogue is unmatched in our view.

Tonight’s Home Invasion

By:
bartonsaronson@gmail.com

Honey? Are you awake? Honey? Do you hear that? Do you — really? For ten minutes? Huh. That long? Huh.

It sounds like the door. It sounds like someone’s trying to jimmy the lock. I wonder why they call it that — “jimmy.” We should Google that.

There it is again. No, it’s not your brother. No, he doesn’t have a key. Yes, I know you told me to give him a key. When he returns my skimboard and promises to stop “borrowing” money out of your purse, I will give him a goddamn key. He owes us, like, two hundred dollars.

It doesn’t sound like a key. It keeps going in and out. What do they call that? Got it — burglarious tools. No, I am not making it up. It’s a thing. Burglarious tools. You can Google it. Burglarious tools. Stop what? That’s ridiculous — I’m not repeating it because I like saying “burglarious.” You’re ridiculous.

Christ, I think it’s opening. Where’s the alarm? Why isn’t the alarm going off? Oh, right – we canceled the alarm. Okay, we didn’t pay the alarm bill. Okay, okay, I didn’t pay the alarm bill. Fine! I forgot to pay the alarm bill. There. I took responsibility. Happy now?

Okay, it’s okay – Toby’s going downstairs. Good boy, Toby! Get him, boy! Kill! Get — wait, is that — kibble? Is that the dog we rescued from certain death having a snack? Oh, great. Good to know our man-eating Rottweiler can be bought for a scoop of kibble. Good to know, Toby!

We need to call 911. Where’s my phone? Where’s — oh, right. I forgot. Someone decreed we couldn’t have phones in the bedroom. Someone decided we’d communicate more and sleep better and awaken more refreshed. Great — we’ll be refreshed when we describe our stolen crap to the cops.

Jesus, was that the window? Why break the window if he’s already — never mind. I said never mind. Yes, yes, it’s the wine glasses, not the window. No, I did not load the dishwasher. I said I’d do it in the morning. Yes, I know your folks are coming for brunch. I was going to do it in the morning. I didn’t think I needed to tidy up for tonight’s home invasion.

Okay, enough of this. I’m getting the shotgun. Once this idiot hears me rack that bitch he’s gonna — oh, right. I can’t rack it, because I don’t have it, because the police still haven’t issued me my permit. What? Well, it feels like a pretty high priority right now, doesn’t it? Did I mention how happy I am we moved to Boston for a job you already hate? Cradle of the revolution, my ass.

Honey, where are you going? What’re you — honey, wait. It took me six hours to hang the T.V., you can’t just rip it off the wall! You can’t — WHOA. Okay. Settle down. Honey? Where are you going? Honey?

Jesus Christ that was loud! You had to throw it down the stairs? That thing cost eighteen hundred bucks! You couldn’t just — wave it at him? I don’t know. Wait — is that the door closing? He’s gone? Oh, my God. Thank God. Thank God. Honey, that was awesome. You sounded really scary. I mean, I couldn’t really hear you from under the pillow, but for a second there, I swear — you sounded exactly like your mom.

 

 

* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where our good friend Matthew David Brozik has a good new piece about what was so not-good about those television shows from the eighties that you remember a little too fondly. When you have finished reading the piece, please click on the ad for his book "Whimsy & Soda" on the right-hand side of this page, and your memories of those beloved eighties television shows will be restored to their pristine glory.

Kids Of The 80s, Let Me Ruin Your Childhood Before Someone Else Does

By:
brozik@gmail.com

Ah, youth. And specifically the years between 1981 and 1990, inclusive — when everything was better than anything that had come before or has come since, including entertainment. Especially entertainment, actually. Superb, flawless entertainment that set our expectations unreasonably high for decades after. Except that none of it made a lick of sense. Sorry!

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

In 1936, archaeologist Henry “Indiana” Jones is asked by United States Army Intelligence agents to help find Jones’s old mentor, an expert on the ancient Egyptian city where “Indy” surmises the Nazis believe the Ark of the Covenant to be buried. If the Nazis obtain the Ark, they will become invincible! So Indy and friends try to discover the Ark before the Nazis do…and in the process our heroes effectively deliver the divine relic directly into the hands of the bad guys. Then, when the Nazis finally open the Ark, all of the bad guys present are killed, but Indy and his girlfriend — who at the time are tied up, literally — are spared. If Indiana Jones had never gone looking for the Ark himself, the Nazis might never have gotten it; in any event, the Ark takes care of itself. If Indy had just stayed home, in other words, everyone would have been better off. Small wonder, then, that his name was not in the movie’s title, originally.

Knight Rider, Season One (1982)

Of course you remember, and fondly, the greatest television show ever made — the one about high-tech modern crime fighter Michael Knight (David Hasselhoff!), who was assisted by his advanced artificially intelligent, self-aware and nearly indestructible car, K.I.T.T.! And the single best episode, of course, was “Trust Doesn’t Rust,” the one that introduced K.A.R.R., the evil prototype of K.I.T.T., who had been mothballed in a warehouse until a pair of hobos accidentally reactivated him! Didn’t you get chills when you first saw K.A.R.R., who looked almost identical to K.I.T.T.? Two awesome black Pontiac Firebird Trans Ams! So cool! Until you realized that K.I.T.T. looked like that only because Michael had been driving a black Trans Am when he was left for dead in the desert in the pilot episode…and no other reason. Hmm? You’ve never thought about that extremely unlikely “coincidence”? Think about it now!

Gremlins (1984)

You know that you must never feed a mogwai after midnight. But midnight where? And what is “midnight,” anyway? It’s always “after midnight” somewhere, including wherever you are. Even if it’s noon on a Tuesday, it’s after midnight Monday. So, really, mogwai would never be mogwai, and this movie should have been a nonstarter, but instead it grossed more than $153 million from domestic box office sales alone.

The 1986 World Series (1986)

On Saturday, October 25, 1986, at Shea Stadium in Queens, the Boston Red Sox quickly took a 2-0 lead over the New York Mets in the sixth game of the annual Major League Baseball championship series. The Mets tied the score in the fifth inning, but then an error in the seventh gave Boston a 3-2 lead. Some other stuff happened, resulting in the game’s being tied again at 5-5 in the bottom of the tenth inning. Mets outfielder Mookie Wilson hit a ground ball that went through the legs of Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner, which allowed Mets infielder Ray Knight to score the winning run…and because this was so extraordinarily exciting, the Commissioner of Baseball declared the New York Mets the 1986 World Series Champions right then and there, even though the Mets’ win that afternoon only evened up the series and there should have been a Game 7, which no one seems to have noticed, even to this day.

Die Hard (1988)

Die Hard was based on the 1979 novel Nothing Lasts Forever by Roderick Thorp, which was the sequel to an earlier book, The Detective, which in 1966 had been made into a movie of the same name starring none other than Frank Sinatra. 20th Century Fox was contractually obligated to offer Ol’ Blue Eyes the lead role in Die Hard — which they did — but Sinatra, then in his early seventies, turned it down. This is actually just a bit of trivia. Die Hard is a perfect film.

Back to the Future Part III (1990)

Time travel is tricky, so follow me closely here. At the end of Back to the Future Part II, Doc Brown is in the DeLorean when it is struck by lightning, in 1955. Man and machine are transported to 1885. Marty, with help from 1955 Doc Brown, travels back to 1885 in the DeLorean that Doc had taken back to 1885 and promptly hidden in an old mine shaft, where it had then sat for 70 years. When Marty gets to 1885, he accidentally tears the fuel line of the DeLorean, making it impossible for the car to get up to 88 mph under its own power. The main plot of the movie therefore involves getting the DeLorean to go fast enough to return Marty and Doc Brown to 1985. Because they don’t have any gasoline in 1885. (If they had gasoline, the movie would be all of twenty minutes long.) But they do have gasoline. Because the DeLorean in which 1985 Doc Brown traveled from 1955 to 1885 is there. It’s in the mine shaft. With gas in its tank. “Great Scott!” indeed.

Sesame Street (1969 – present)

Officially, Bert and Ernie are not gay. In fact, they are not even technically “human.” So, I mean, is anything even real?

 

* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where our very own copy editor David Jaggard reveals, with touching modesty, that his many gifts are completely au naturale. When you're done reading this fine new piece, click on the iTunes link below, which leads to his audio humor album "Totally Unrelated," or stream it for free on Spotify. We also invite you to check out David Jaggard on Paris Update. The link is in our blogroll on the right-hand side of this page.

Never Took A Lesson In My Life

By:

https://geo.itunes.apple.com/us/album/totally-unrelated.../id1082542414?mt=1&app=music

Yeah, I’m a successful musician — in fact, hugely successful, as everyone knows — but I never had any formal training. Or informal either. Never took a lesson in my life.

Everybody in my family was musical, but they didn’t teach me squat. Whenever they played music at home, I’d go outside and plug my ears with mud to make sure I didn’t learn anything.

I’m not even self-taught. Any time I was fooling around with an instrument on my own, if I stumbled across something that sounded good I’d put it out of my mind right away and never play it again.

It goes without saying that I don’t know how to read or write music. Or even how to read or write the word “music” — I’m illiterate. I never once went anywhere near a schoolhouse! And don’t go trying to teach me anything either, because I’d forget it faster than you can say “natural-born genius.”

Which I can’t — I never learned how to pronounce most words. I also never learned how to count to ten or tell right from left or right from wrong.

Nobody ever told me what gender I am or what my name is. I can’t tie my shoes, and when we’re on tour one of the band members has to help me get dressed.

They also have to help me get to rehearsals and gigs, because I can’t tell time and never learned to tell day from night. Never needed to.

I never make an effort to memorize my band’s songs or lyrics or anything. I just get up on stage, and play or sing or whatever it is I do, I’m not sure, and then the producer hands me a check for $50,000.

Hell, I don’t even know what instrument I play. If I even play an instrument. I might be a songwriter — I just don’t know!

So don’t talk to me about “theory” or “harmony” or “humility” or any of those fancy-schmancy high-tech musical terms. I don’t know anything about that and don’t want to know. I just make music.

If what I do is, in fact, music. Maybe I’m actually a surgeon or a senator and don’t know it.

* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where we are so open-minded we like to think that even a demon-possessed pig has a voice. Unfortunately, the voice is at the funeral of Emily Schleiger's mother.

Open Letter To The Priest Who Read About The Death Of Possessed Pigs At My Mother’s Funeral

By:
emily.schleiger@gmail.com

Dear Father,

I’m left with questions about the unconventional readings at my mother’s funeral.

In our hasty church shopping to grant our mother’s last wish of a funeral mass, my brother and I considered your parish. We had some distant family history there.

But we finalized our decision based on the endorsement from the funeral home. In the midst of our mental and physical exhaustion, we were reassured that you, the pastor, were “laid-back” and “like us.” The funeral home professional described you as casual, often going by your first name when you enjoyed craft beers at the neighborhood bar.

In the brief planning phone call, you told me you “just liked to make things simple for the families,” and only asked that we recruit a reader for the Old Testament passage. I sighed with relief as we concluded our conversation. I liked “simple” in a time of high stress and emotions. I liked the idea of relinquishing some responsibility.

When I met you before the service, you asked questions about my mother, then told me, “We just go with the readings of the day, to keep things simple.” I nodded in a similar chill style. “Simple,” again.

I get it. Why micromanage the message?” I thought, trustfully.

Then you said, without apology or hesitation: “Just so you know, today’s Gospel reading is Mark 5:1-20. When Jesus heals the possessed man by driving out demons via pigs.”

I should have just politely asked, “Aren’t there some nice verses about God being a shepherd?” But I didn’t. Grief’s dominant stages of shock and denial don’t steer people toward sensible reactions. Instead, I tried to prepare family members. “Well, I guess Mom’s dark humor strikes again! Ha ha! Well, you can’t control life, can’t control funeral readings!” When their eyes grew bigger, I walked away. “Trust the priest,” I whispered to myself. “Don’t get worked up. Be cool. He likes craft beer.”

As the service began, I realized you hadn’t even warned me about the first reading. My poor aunt had consented to be our volunteer reader. She cringed as she recited Old Testament verses about murderous and wicked men, followed by a reference to lopping off a dead dog’s head. Thoughtful words in memory of my mother who was a dog lover.

And then, as you’d warned, you read the Gospel according to Mark. The bit about the possessed man in shackles and chains, bruising himself with stones, and the evil spirits coming out, saying, “We are Legion, that’s our name because there are many of us,” followed indeed by Jesus forcing Legion into a herd of pigs and sending them over a cliff to drown in the ocean? Well, I started to sweat just a little. I mean, even you, Father, have to admit that’s a bit intense. My mom, a loyal supporter of organizations like the Humane Society, wasn’t really into stories about the deaths of a thousand formerly innocent, then suddenly possessed pigs. I’m sure my face flushed as I thought about the handful of Mom’s high school classmates present, probably questioning these reading selections. “Susan must have had a rocky relationship with her kids,” I imagined they’d whisper later.

Now, I do have to give you credit for appropriating the two horror readings into a eulogy. Yes, my mom is free now from the shackles of a stressful life. And she will never again be metaphorically stoned by cancer. And while you didn’t throw this in there, it was also pretty easy to imagine Legion as the many personalities of her ex-husband, my dad, from whom she is now truly free forever.

Still, I have to wonder if there wasn’t a less demonic Bible verse to add to the mix, for balance. Like, maybe something from Corinthians about love being patient and kind. That would have worked. It’s not like we can request a re-do service; there’s nothing more final than a funeral.

Have you used these readings at other funerals? Did you question at all your policy of “just using the readings of the day?” Are there no “back-up” readings, anything slightly more vanilla?

Or, did you know something we didn’t? Was my mom some form of the Antichrist? She did have a very protective black dog, as did Damien in The Omen. And that dog never loved any of us like it loved Mom.

Or, given our distant family history with the church, maybe my grandparents somehow slighted a previous pastor at their matrimony. Perhaps a forgotten tip at my mother’s christening. Maybe my Dad, Legion, attempted a curse on the building at my own baptism. He often loved stealing the stage like a macho Maleficent.

Or maybe you sensed there were many among the crowd who had left Catholicism, and the readings served as a warning. I noticed you pierced my atheist brother with your eyes, then insisted that he accept the crucifix at the burial. Maybe despite your easygoing nature, you remain a determined crusader? In our defense, though, Father, no one burst into flames upon entering your church, nor did the sky turn black, so any such worries about our collective salvation are probably baseless, if not a tad dramatic.

While I await your response, I’ll do my best to explain to others why I tear up at exorcism movies. “You do realize, this character’s demonic possession is just a metaphor for the all-too-common struggles of life, right?” I’ll sniff. “That verse about the pigs…always takes me back. Be free, Mom.”

In Simple Confusion,

Emily Schleiger

 

* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where we watch in horrified fascination, but still giggling, at this bizarre real-life farm tale from Ricardo Angulo.

After That Rogue Square Baler Transformed Me Into A Living Hay Bale, I Chose To Use My Powers For Good

By:
air@mail.usf.edu

I’ve always been a loner. Neglected, dismissed. From the cornfields of southern Indiana to the cattle farms of central Oklahoma, I was God’s forgotten farm hand. And then came that fateful day… when that rogue square baler took a tragic turn, swallowed me whole, and malformed me into a living, breathing, heroic bale of hay.

Sometimes I lay stiff at night wondering, why me? Why not some selfless do-gooder with a hard-on for serving his community? Clearly, I was chosen by that heavy-duty baler for a higher purpose. I shed my human form and became this impervious brick of raw hay, but at what cost? What good is my complete mastery of summoning free-range livestock whenever they feel the need to eat, when it’s at the expense of my own humanity?

By day, I am just the overlooked company bale working as a seat on a hayride. Joan would never suspect that the mild-mannered square she carts around on a wagon every Saturday in November for children’s birthday parties is actually the notorious all-powerful hunk of feed with a soft spot for vigilante justice. She can never know my secret. The night she and I slept together, filthy rainy tears poured out of my inner spongy reservoir as she laid her body’s weight on my head. But I sucked it up, and stayed silent behind my aloof stoic façade.

It’s too late for me. She has a bright future studying biophysics at the state university. If I opened up and unmasked my identity, someone might hurt her to get to the real prize. And god only knows what instruments of torture some egg-headed scientists could design for the U.S. military once they perform their classified experiments on my super mutant exoskeleton of nutrient-rich animal fodder.

And what would Joan think of me once the national news broadcast my multi-million dollar citywide escape?

Would I still be her beloved cube? Or would she envision me as a six-sided monster with the heart-stopping potential to cause catastrophic rifts in this region’s ecological food web? What then? Blot out their Tiger tanks and field artillery with my telepathic army of seasonal straw mites until every last infantry soldier is obliterated under an awesome wave of skin itching? Demolish squadron after squadron of highly explosive F-35 stealth fighters with the help of a bale throwing attachment on the back of a tractor?

Destroy half the town while battling the bigger, blockier, more biodegradable version of myself released by their task force for this very occasion?

That’s a risk I can’t take. I was endowed with this god-like well-insulated box, and I intend to use it for good. To persevere outside the law and exact my own brand of justice on this rural township. This is the path I chose. I am not the villain.

I am the Haymaker.

This is my gift.

My curse.

 

* Welcome to The Big Jewel, the literary humor destination of choice for those who adore and those who deplore carnies. Which of those is Jason Rhode? Only you can decide.

From The Collected Edition Of The Carnie Letters — Vol IX: The Carnitelligentsia Strike Back

By:
jasonrhode@gmail.com

Burke’s Guide the Peerage:

SIR,

The proper address to give to a carnie in polite society is not “Hey Rube.” “Mr. or Mrs.” will be fine; however, as carnival folk attempt to uphold the medieval guild system in all matters of social intercourse, the preferred title to a full member is “Master _____ of (Ride Name).” Quelle atroce invention que celle du bourgeois, n’est-ce pas?

Sincerely,

Ol’ Blasphemin’ Joe

 

An Open Letter The New York Times:

We, the Carnies of America, wish to state publicly our dismay with your paper’s heartless and mean-spirited hucksterism in publishing a sensational expose — it has not a soupçon of truth to it. Also, glowy swords for the kids are $10 dollars by the funhouse gate this Tuesday.

Thankee,

Doctor Shudders

 

To the editors of The Atlantic, and James Fallows in particular:

As a carnie, I am licensed, and, quite frankly, expected to leer, and occasionally spit. Perhaps if you chain-smoked your nights away next to the nerve-destroying Tilt-A-Whirl, you’d develop what your reporter described only partially unfairly as a “nightmarish, phlegmy cackle echoing from the bowels of Hell with its chorus.” Purple prose aside, this was an unfair dig.

A carnie is not a Bernini or society belle; we will not simply stare and remain in silence forever, but must return sallies (but no refunds). We do not stomp to death those poor souls who have already shuffled off from this mortal coil of tears; we stomp those kindred spirits who can fight back. To be called a commensurate liar by the Atlantic is like being called accident-prone by Red “Fire Trap” Willie. And unlike the Atlantic and its neo-con pals, carnival folk have not helped start a war since the late Russo-Japanese unpleasantness.

Let your readers know this: carnival folk are god-fearing folk, just not yore god.

Yours,

Big Sizzlin’ Mike

 

To Harper’s Weekly:

No, Madam, I assure you, Carnie Lent IS a holiday, let’s make no bones about it. It most certainly is not “a tax dodge for a gilded bracket of bovine loafers and maladjusted tricksters” (what then is journalism, one might ask?) nor is it “a postmodern reflection of American society’s blue-collar woes.” The Big Wheel took one of my fingers. Let me give you one more finger, if you know what I mean. I trust you will discover my meaning.

Regards,

Sherry by the Dockhouse

 

To the Editors of The New York Review of Books:

Alas! My disappointment in you, combined with a recent detainment in an Alabama hoosegow, have made me a martyr in more ways than one. Is American scholarship now as compromised as the ancient canons of the backlot bottle-fight? It would seem so. You are entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts. I wonder what you mean when you cite Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase & Fable, c. 1898: “Car’ney: To wheedle, to keep caressing.”

Did you not look at the following entry in Brewer’s, which reads, “CARNIVAL: the season immediately preceding Lent; shrove-tide. Ducange gives the word carne-levale. (Modern Italian, carnovále; Spanish and French, carnaval.)”

That is the source of our name, not some spurious provenance drummed up by an author who, I doubt, has ever knocked down the milk bottle, or bested a dog in a fight for the very last clean steak.

Yours in Christ,

Stinks McArdle

 

To Nature:

To whom it may concern,

Jared Diamond has erred greatly. His analysis of our ills is, at best, creative. As far as our death rate goes, stabbing greatly exceeds rickets, although not by much (Please see Brussels: Academie Royale des Sciences des Lettres et des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, 1952, Vol. 2, pp. 38-56).

What Diamond calls “an unusual form of epilepsy” and we call “the hollers” was more common in the last century, especially in the fin de siecle years before the “State Fair Purges” of 1913.

The “hollers” were due less to what Diamond euphemistically calls “cousining” and more attributable, I think, to the carnie diet of the time, which included voles, mice, squirrels, chipmunks, shrews, dogs, cats, little brown bats, mouse, vole, rabbit, coyote, fox, muskrat, rat, woodchuck, wolf, bear, weasel, “the furry lizard,” various domestic animals, and drifters (rarely).

Also, our ticks are Ixodes angustus, not Ixodes scapularis. A common, but careless, error. Diamond makes a good case for Rhipicephalus sanguineus as the species behind “the carnie’s curse” — so what? A blind pig can find an acorn — although he cannot, apparently, find a revolver on command.

I assure you there is empirical truth behind both of these sayings.

Regrettably yours,

Barry “Bigcoat” Fitzpatrick

 

 

 

 

 

* Welcome to The Big Jewel. If you know the novel The Comforters by Muriel Spark, or The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold by Evelyn Waugh -- or for that matter the Will Ferrell film Stranger Than Fiction -- then the premise of this piece will seem slightly less strange than fiction. Whatever you make of it, we think Jack Peacock deserves a round of applause for managing to be both creepy and clever.

The Narrator

By:
jack.peacock@outlook.com

Sarah slipped off her dressing gown and stepped into the bath. She slid down, immersing herself in the warm soapy water. Just then her eyes widened and darted around the room. She jumped up and grabbed her dressing gown, threw it over herself and held it tight shut.

“What was that? I’m not hearing things, am I?” she said, almost in a whisper.

She opened the bathroom door and checked around the hall outside, but all was empty.

“Is someone there?” she said.

“Who is that? Show yourself!” she said, “I KEEP HEARING ‘SHE SAID’ AFTER EVERYTHING I SAY,” she yelled down the dark hallway…Oh, you can hear me?

“Yes, I can bloody well hear you! I’m going to call the police! Where are you? Have you planted some camera in my house?”

Erm…no. I’m the narrator of the story.

“The narrator? The story? What the hell! Get out of my house! How can you see me? Where are you?”

Erm…I don’t actually know. I’m watching from a sound booth reading from a script. I think you’re supposed to have a glass of wine and read a book after the bath.

“Don’t tell me what I should be doing. This is completely insane. Where did I put my phone?”

Ah, I can help you there. It says here that you frantically search the house like a demented foxhound before finding the phone on the kitchen table. The place where you first looked, obviously.

Sarah walked across the hallway towards the kitchen, all the time scanning the room for signs of a…

“I don’t need a running commentary on my actions!”

Sorry…

“Said the pervert of a narrator.”

Well if you are going to be like that, then fine. I will stay quiet. We could have made a good team as well. Now you will have to go and find out that your husband is having an affair with his secretary on your own.

“Ah, my phone is here…Damn, the battery’s gone. I’m going to my neighbor’s. She has a gun, you know. This is just too creepy and…Wait a minute, what was that you said about my husband?”

Oh, so you want my help now?

“Just tell me what that ‘script’ says and maybe I won’t report you to the police!”

Hey look, I’m just doing my job. I’ve got a wife and two kids at home to support.

“WHAT DOES THE SCRIPT SAY?!?”

OK, OK, calm yourself…erm…Let’s see…she yelled at the top of her shrill voice (that’s already done), drank half a bottle of wine (far, far less than usual), read a cheap supermarket novel, and…Ah! Here it is. She found her husband’s mobile phone, which he’d left in his coat pocket, and used it to make a call.

In the process of making the call you should find a message about tonight’s “meeting.”

As Sarah fumbled through her husband’s coat pockets, she could be heard tutting at the phrase ‘shrill voice’ and mumbling that she doesn’t drink that much, and that one glass a day is her absolute limit. Of course, anyone could see that that was clearly nonsense. She had already drunk two glasses over lunch that day, and a casual glance could reveal at least a dozen empty wine bottles lying scattered about the…

“ENOUGH ALREADY! I’m sure if you had a lying, cheating, waste of space for a husband like I do, you would be drinking more! Ah, here’s his phone! Now let’s see what messages…A pass code! He’s obviously trying to hide something.”

The rage on Sarah’s face was now so intense that she could scare away a ravenous tiger. She began trying different number combinations on the phone. She started trying memorable dates, and years — birthdays, anniversaries… — but found nothing that unlocked the phone. It never occurred to her that in his laziness, her husband had never intended to secure his phone with a code, and had simply never bothered to change the default “1111” that locked the SIM card.

“Thank you very much!”

You are very welco…Oh damn, you weren’t supposed to hear that. Well, that ruins three pages of script. And it’s good script too. I would like to have seen you smash that mirror with the phone, and seeing you slip on the wet floor would probably have been hilarious.

“So he’s at her house, is he? Well I know the address! I think I might just pay them a surprise visit.”

As Sarah paced the room, fumbling with her husband’s phone, a thought suddenly popped into her head.

“Wait a minute, you mentioned earlier that I had two glasses of wine over lunch. How do you know that? How long have you been watching me?”

I err…I can’t remember…I…

“And how far ahead is this ‘scripted?’ If I go to this woman’s address, what will happen?”

I err…my script doesn’t go that far. The writers must still be working on it.

“The writers? When I get back from killing my husband I’m going to have a few words with your writers. I won’t have my life scripted like this. I mean: ‘demented foxhound?’ ‘Ravenous tiger?’ Honestly, where do they get this rubbish?”

Sarah flung open her wardrobe and threw on the first set of clothes she laid her hands on. She marched down the hallway to the front door, her footsteps resonating sharply around the house. Her eyes were fixated on her husband’s mobile phone as she marched to her car. She did not look up, and so walked straight into her waste bins outside. The sound of empty wine bottles crashing together could be heard halfway down the stre…

“I CAN STILL HEAR YOU!” came a shrill voice from outside the front door.

 

* Welcome to The Big Jewel, your number one source for information on the tough and gritty noirish world of genetic research. It takes a talented gumshoe to track the semi-human genome back to its lair -- a gumshoe like Michael Fowler. When you're done reading his latest case, be sure to check our blogroll on the right for a link to his book, God Made the Animals.

The Double Helix, Hardboiled

By:
mfowl4916@gmail.com

I reported straight to the Cavendish lab to powwow with my new bosses. The two eggheads wore white lab coats like the soda jerks at Woolworth’s back in Chicago, and introduced themselves with friendly but strained grins. Crick, English and crisp as a fried kipper, and the soft-spoken yank Watson, nicknamed Birdman due to his liking for birds, the winged type, and I’d have bet the kind that sashayed on pretty gams too. I came on like a jolly and brash young chemist, but I sensed a fog of gloom in the lab that the off-kilter grins only made heavier. The fog lay on everyone’s sprit, even mine, and I’d just arrived. “What is it, chums?” I said. “Spill it.”

They spilled it. Crick did most of the talking while the American, obviously a worrier, probed his thatch of hair with a long forefinger. What it boiled down to was, a dame called Dr. Rosalind Franklin, a knockout dish with a brain like Aristotle’s, was sitting on some critical crystallographic X-ray images of amino acids, as I twigged the lingo. She had them stashed in her lab down the hall, refusing to share them with my bosses, like a spoiled little vixen too special to be nice to fellow humans, especially male humans. My lads needed a peek at the snapshots to confirm a theory about the structure of the DNA molecule, and were dead frantic someone would chime to it first and beat them to a sure Nobel Prize. As I listened to these details, a light bulb clicked on in my skull.

Minutes later I crept down the hallway to Dr. Franklin’s lab. I silently pushed the door open, and was greeted by a reedy runt in the trim, spotless white coat that everyone wore around this place. “Are you enquiring after Dr. Franklin?” he twittered in an upper-class accent. “I’m afraid she’s not in. Come back tomorrow.”

I could see a long-legged knockout with raven tresses moving among the flasks and test tubes in the background, so I was having none of it. “Nerts to you, Clive,” I said, and dealt him a hand sandwich to the mandible, all lean knuckles and no mayo. His Fruit of the Looms kissed the floor. He was out like a defective flashlight.

“Who is it, Gosling?” the dark beauty said, gracefully moving my way to see what the commotion was. She did a double take on seeing the little shrimp napping on the floor, then turned to me.

“Your name Rosie?” I asked while she gathered her wits, taking in the lush curves swelling her lab coat in all the right places. Her lustrous, shoulder-length hair and full lips reminded me of midnight out back of my mother’s garage with the gardener’s daughter. I tried not to let her delishful exterior get to me and to concentrate on business, but hey, I’m as human as the next bodink.

“My friends call me Dr. Franklin,” she said breathily. “What have you done to my assistant?” As I set my mouth to reply, she fed me a kiss that plummeted to my arches and then rebounded up to my brainpan, where it ricocheted around for a country mile.

Before I succumbed to her wiles, I laid my cards on the table. I told her I’d come from the lab down the hall, where the inmates were desperate for a gander at her latest crystallographic snapshots of amino acid groups or whaddya call ’em, my lips stumbling over the odd syllables.

“Those hot dogs,” she scoffed, urging me toward a long sofa she kept parked in a back corner near the Bunsen burners and titration vessels. “I imagine they’ve got some shaky theory about the structure of DNA they want to confirm. Don’t those boys get that science is a gradual process, like a long, luxurious bath, and not a lucky shot in the dark?”

All the same, she pulled open a file drawer and handed me some glossy images. I couldn’t make heads or tails of them, but I knew Watson and Crick could. “Call me a sucker for your chiseled features and tapering waist,” the lady purred in my ear. “Just have them back to me tonight, shall we say at seven? I’ll be waiting for you.”

Suddenly a gat thumped “Hullo!” A speeding slug slammed into the file cabinet, neatly bisecting the space between us.

“Linus, no!” she screamed, as a highly recognizable figure scuttled out the rear window of her lab and dropped onto the surrounding yard before I could bring up my own heater.

“Was that–?” I began.

“You know it, handsome,” she said. “Linus Pauling, the father of modern chemistry. He was after my pictures too. Arrived here yesterday from California all in a lather. Soon as he spied my work he started cackling that he’d cracked the code, and spent the night here writing up a thesis to submit to Modern Molecule. Says when he garners the Nobel Prize, he and me are taking a little cruise to Miami. But if you ask me, he’s just another shot across the bow.”

“Who wants like hell to keep matters under his hat,” I said, fingering the bullet hole in her cabinet. At the same time I pictured Rosie in a bathing suit, one of those newfangled numbers with detachable straps and wire inserts. That Pauling had the right idea. I sussed that the two of them had done a lot more during the night than talk chemistry. “What’s his theory, sweetie?” I asked her, trying to sound casual. A lot depended on her answer, and to ease my nerves I flicked my thumbnail across my grizzled jaw. Flick flick. Flick flick flick.

When she said a triple helix, I didn’t show any emotion. I knew Watson and Crick were banking on a deuce, not a trey. And if the pictures I’d stuffed in my lab coat pocket bore them out, we would beat Linus, the lion of chemistry, to the Nobel punch.

Hours later my lab partners were still celebrating with beakers of hooch. They had built a toy model of the helical tidbit that coiled like an Erector Set, and almost finished typing up their report for Modern Molecule. Franklin’s pictures had done the trick, and I tried to feel their joy. I reflected that a Nobel Prize, even a third of one, was a fair day’s pay. But there was something big I still had to get off my chest.

When the smoke cleared, my intellectual pals agreed to leave my name off their script. It would only embarrass them when it came out that I was no chemist, in fact not even a college graduate. I was a lowly gumshoe from Chicago, stateside, who barely finished high school. I was there to track down one James D. Watson who had back-pedaled on a university instructor, an auburn wren with the sheaves to sky me across the Atlantic puddle to pin him. Watson went all red-faced on hearing this, but smug Crick seemed to enjoy the joke. Even geniuses have a funny bone.

The duo told me that they’d use the name Maurice Wilkins in their write-up, and leave me out completely. I knew this Wilkins character was another white coat who haunted a lab, but other than that, his involvement in the big-deal helix was over my head. Just another superbrain they owed a favor to, I guessed.

That night I made arrangements to fly home to Chicago and report to Watson’s oriole that he was still unattached and in winning form. That should cover her questions. But first I had a rendezvous at seven in Rosie Franklin’s lab. My nose told me the doctor was waiting.