* Welcome to The Big Jewel, a hearty advocate of staying in touch with one's high school English teacher, regardless of what hideous life-threatening disease he or she may or may not be suffering from. We think. Anyway, that's Christina Bebeau's take on it, and who are we to argue with her? She's a mean one!

A Letter To My High School English Teacher


Dear Mrs. Riley,

I’m not sure if you are still teaching, and if not, what is occupying your time. I know you had cancer, which is quite time consuming and really sucks. As much as I hope you don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it, and I regret to bring it up at the risk of reminding you about what was (or still is) the worst thing that has ever happened to you, I can’t not ask about it since it’s a super major important thing, and so the really ridiculous result is that this e-mail now reads, “Hey person I haven’t spoken to in a year or two, I’m excited about achieving the first signs of success and wanted to share it with you, by the way how’s your cancer?” and that is way worse. I wish I could come up with something less lame to say than “it sucks,” as no doubt you have heard more profound descriptions of it, like “worst experience that could ever happen to a person” and “worse than getting fisted by someone holding a sea urchin covered in hydrochloric acid for the rest of your life,” which are all probably totally accurate and saying it “sucks” might downgrade it to phrasing you would use to describe a new Jennifer Aniston movie, but it really does suck a lot and I wouldn’t wish it on Hitler or that person on the subway sitting next to me who has a cold but won’t blow his nose and just keeps sniffing every five seconds for the entire train ride. Basically I hope the cancer business isn’t still happening. I know that with cancer it’s always still happening in the sense of “is it going to come back?” and it’s a fear that probably penetrates your day-to-day life and always will, but I hope that at least maybe it’s not ACTIVELY still happening. That is, I hope that you are only plagued with a crippling lifelong fear and not actual pain and awfulness. Isn’t it nice when you get an e-mail from someone you haven’t seen in a long time and they tell you they hope you are plagued with a crippling lifelong fear? I always look forward to those e-mails, too. You are very brave and I’m sorry that such a shitty thing happened to you, and is hopefully not still happening to you. I mean, I hope you are not dying anymore, or at least, that you are no longer dying at a really scary and painful accelerated pace, but rather are dying more slowly and at a relatively similar pace to everyone else.


Christina Bebeau

* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where we support the aspirations of today's young people to follow their bliss, even if it leads them to a trail of elephant droppings underneath a big tent. Dan Abromowitz has the story.

Mom, Dad, I’ve Run Away To Intern For The Circus


Dear Mom and Dad,

I know this is the first you’ve heard from me in a long while. I just had to get away. I knew if I didn’t get out of Flint I’d end up, well, just like you, Mom and Dad. Please don’t worry about me, though, because I’ve found where I’m supposed to be. Mom, Dad, I’ve run away to intern for the circus.

When Colonel Comanche’s Big Top Bonanza rolled through town, with their banners and pennants all gay and bright, I knew I’d found my ticket out. I stowed away under a pile of canvas ’til the Hanoi Hercules found me, at which point I went through a rigorous series of interviews and submitted a writing sample. Colonel Comanche himself sat me down to explain that they didn’t have anything for me at the moment by way of job opportunities, but that interning could be a great way to lay a circus-centric groundwork for myself, and who knows where they’ll be at in a few months. It was all like some mad, wild dream.

Before you ask: no, it’s not paid, and no, I’m not getting course credit. They only offer that for clown colleges, and so few of those are accredited. There’s a whole reform movement around it that I’m actually getting pretty into. I’ll forward you a petition.

I know all this sounds reckless, dangerous even, but it’s really not. Nearly three-quarters of circus interns get offers from traveling troupes, medicine shows, or gypsy caravans within one year. And it’s not totally unpaid. Not really — I get free board on a straw pallet in a boxcar, unlimited hay bale privileges, and a daily allowance of two bowls of circus stew (I want the recipe, but no one will tell me). Plus, I get to keep most of what I can grift, after the barkers get their cut. And would you believe I’ve already gotten LinkedIn endorsements for “hustling” and “flimflam”?!

Everyone here’s so kind to me, even though I’m just an intern. Whenever the Reptile Queen of Kai-Mai or the Living Head send me into town for coffee, they always tell me to get something for myself, or let me touch their horrible textured skin. And I’m making tons of contacts in the clown world. Key players, Mom and Dad: movers, shakers, honkers, beepers, weepers, the ones that get sawed in half, and clown doctors. Yes, Dad, just like Patch Adams.

So far they mostly have me running sound for the Flying Merengui’s podcast (“Trapeze In A Pod” — rate and review!) and writing blog posts like “The Tattooed Man’s 213 Most WTF? Tattoos Of All Time,” but soon I’ll finally have logged enough hours to be allowed to see a performance! There’s one other intern, a girl my age named Emily. Emily gets to work with the elephants because she’s a “senior intern” but I think that’s just because her father does circus law and knows Colonel Comanche from Villanova. Everyone loves Emily. Ugh.

I’m sending a PO box where you can reach me, Mom and Dad. Please send me those old hair dye bottles on my dresser, and some cover-up, too. Occasionally they’ll have interns sub in if a clown’s laid up, and the bruises can be enormous. Here, I’ll send you a picture of me as a clown doctor, sawing another clown in half. Don’t worry, he was fine eventually!

I love you, Mom and Dad, but please don’t come looking for me. I signed a ton of nondisclosure agreements and I honestly think they’d take any chance at all to sue me.

I’ve got to run; it’s Emily’s birthday, so they’re firing her out of the cannon. I’ll see you in two months, and we can talk grad school.



P.S. I sabotaged the cannon. Oops! ;)

* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where the mental health of the nation's beloved cartoon characters (other than the ones in Congress, we mean) is high on our list of priorities. In his first piece for us, Dan Smolinsky highlights some of the most tormenting afflictions suffered by our animated Americans.

Psychiatric Diagnoses From A Cartoon Universe


Wolfe’s Hypersexuality: Otherwise normal behavior is punctuated by periods of acute hypersexuality in the presence of certain sexual stimuli. Psychosomatic symptoms can occur, including intense, visible increases in body temperature, facial flushing, ocular bulging and vocalizations including howling, whistling or an “ah-oo-ga” noise. Occurs almost exclusively in males. If untreated the patient may begin to exhibit predatory behavior.

Acme Syndrome: The patient experiences a form of monomania in which he pursues a single goal through the use of increasingly complex mechanical devices. Treatment should be administered as soon as possible, as the patient is a danger to himself both physically and financially. Although the patient is frequently highly intelligent in technical matters, he may be incapable of seeing easier ways of attaining his goal. In one case study, the patient went deep into debt buying rockets, slingshots, etc., for the purpose of catching a bird when he easily could have purchased dinner instead.

Hundred Acre Schizophrenia: This is a subset of dissociative personality disorder. The patient attributes intentionality and various personalities to inanimate objects, such as plush toys. The sub-personalities may themselves suffer from other disorders. One patient, well known in the literature, had sub-personalities including a stuffed donkey with depression, a bear with a binge eating disorder, a piglet with generalized anxiety disorder, and a tiger-like creature with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. The sub-personalities can cause the patient distress by becoming ensnared in problems such as upsetting a bee’s nest, becoming stuck in undersized doorways (due to chronic overeating), and starting intra-group struggles.

Audience Awareness Delusion: The patient suffers from a misperception that he is constantly being watched. Unlike in the case of paranoid schizophrenia, here the patient enjoys the sensation and attempts to interact jovially with his “observers.” Patient may exhibit a physical tick of turning over one’s shoulder to address the unseen observer. Comments may be conspiratorial in nature, reflecting the patient’s future plans, or may consist simply of snide remarks about the environment, situation or other persons — particularly the failures of those other persons.

Tasmanian Mania: Patient experiences an uncomfortable excess of energy, distracted attention, and frequently destructive tendencies towards property. This condition frequently coincides with binge eating disorder or pica as well as difficulties with anger management. The patient may also exhibit garbled speech. Dizziness can follow periods of especially high hyperactivity.

Paranormal Delusional Disorder: Patient claims to experience supernatural or paranormal occurrences. These are often accompanied by feelings of dread and anxiety. They may also be accompanied by other delusions, such as verbal communication from animals. Patient may comfort himself through attachment to a favorite pet. Psychosomatic symptoms can include running in place or feeling lost and confused in hallways with many doors. The relief offered by remission of these symptoms can be marked by periods of binge eating. The patient’s behavior can be harmful to the community at large by casting suspicions on upstanding business establishments, e.g. claiming that a popular amusement park is haunted, or that a popular museum exhibit is inhabited by a resuscitated mummy.

Professional Delusional Disorder: The patient frequently imagines himself engaging in activities completely unrelated to external stimuli. He frequently pictures himself in “heroic” professions such as lawyer, tennis player, hockey player, flying ace, or hack novelist. Acting out of the delusions may go so far as to include the use of props, or enlisting the help of small animals such as birds.

Antagonistic Personality Disorder: Patient picks a perceived enemy and harasses them, attempting to “thwart” the target at every turn. Behavior can become more obsessive and more complex over time. This condition may coincide with Fourth Wall Disorder or Acme Syndrome. Although the cause for such a link is unknown, this condition is frequently accompanied by speech impediments.

Comical Binge Eating Disorder: Patient feels compelled to eat absurd amounts of food — seemingly of greater volume than could fit within the patient’s body — at a rapid pace, sometimes literally shoveling food down his open throat. Sometimes certain foods are preferred, such as ludicrously large submarine sandwiches, entire platters of hamburgers, jars of honey, trays of lasagna, or the scenery.

* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where, if your idea of fun is taking an Elvis Costello song lyric to its absurd conclusion, boy, do we have the piece for you! Say hello to the very literal minded and clever Jordan Moffatt.

Every Day Elvis Costello Writes The Book


Elvis Costello is tired. He yawns, and then looks down at his watch to see if it’s a good time to go to bed. It’s 11:51 pm, which seems like a good time to shut his eyes for the day. And then it dawns on him: he hasn’t written the book yet.

“Oh God no!” he yells, jolting out of the sofa.

“What is it?” his wife, famous Canadian singer Diana Krall, asks. She pauses the television.

“I haven’t written the book yet today!”

“It’s fine, my dreamboat. Your book is long enough.”

She’s had this conversation before. She’s tried to fight him on this, but to no avail. She doesn’t want to fight him again; she wants him to know the difference between a lover and a fighter.

“No! No! It’s never long enough!” Elvis says.

Elvis runs over to his electric typewriter and puts in a fresh sheet of paper. He doesn’t use the computer — he started out the book with an electric typewriter and he’ll finish the book with it.

“Honey, please…” Diana says.

“Give me a minute, Di! I’m writing!”

He looks back at the watch. It’s 11:54. He takes a deep, regretful breath and places his fingers on worn-down keys.

Chapter 14,834 he writes.

“Elvis, you have to stop,” Diana says. “You’re old enough to know better.”

“No. I have to write…I have to write this book…every day…every day…every day I write this book.”

Elvis doesn’t remember how it began, and he doesn’t know how it ends either; all he knows is that he has to write it every day. In 1983, he wrote a song about writing the book, hoping it would provide the necessary catharsis to break the habit. Instead, he used the Billboard Top 40 hit to justify the writing. People want me to write the book, he thought, so he kept on writing every day.

The book is very long. Elvis looks around his house and sees stacks and stacks of paper. While most couples furnish their houses with nice furniture, the Costellos’ home is filled with papers. They sit, in an order only comprehensible to Elvis, and gather dust. The papers just sit there. The book is impossibly long, and not one page has ever been read. When Diana reminds Elvis of this, he always says that the book will only be read when it is finished. Diana knows the truth: the book will only truly be finished when Elvis is dead. He’ll never write the sequel, and the film rights will mean nothing.

Poor Diana. She knew nothing about this obsession when she and Elvis started dating. When Elvis proposed, she accepted under one condition: that he would stop writing the book. He agreed, but couldn’t stop — he returned to his old tricks and would write the book in secret. Even when she found this out, she said she’d stand by him. She loved him too much. It hurts her, though. Each day she sees the wrinkles grow on his face. He sees his fingers twitch when he’s away from the electric typewriter for too long.

“Please stop,” Diana says. She is giving him a longing look. “Elvis, please. You can’t keep this going forever. Elvis, I love you.”

Elvis begins to cry. He hasn’t cried since beginning to write the book; he has saved up his tears. Since they are only coming out now, the tears are heavier than usual, and they are flying everywhere. The tears are landing on the keyboard, and since they are so heavy they are actually typing. Elvis hears the clanking, so he looks up at the page to see what his tears wrote.

It says THE END.

* Welcome to The Big Jewel, also known as the writer's only friend. Actually, if you're a writer and your mom is still alive, she's probably your friend too. But not because of your writing. She probably hates your writing. Our guess is that she likes Molly Schoemann's writing, though.

Inspiring Stories Of Famous Writers


It’s not easy being a writer. Toiling in obscurity, hoping for that big break, struggling not to give up as you face rejection after rejection. But take heart, aspiring authors! Many rich and famous writers were once in your shoes — but they kept trying (and trying and trying) and eventually, against enormous odds, they kept trying some more. And you can, too! We hope these stories of well-known authors who achieved success by overcoming great adversity and ambivalence will inspire you to keep reaching toward your own probably impossible goal.

Author #1

Our first author has received some harsh rejection letters in his day, but they never broke his spirit or dissuaded him from trying again.

“One editor’s letter informed me that he’d read the first paragraph of one of my stories to his pet goldfish, and it died,” he said. “Another editor enclosed a knife in my SASE and asked me to stab myself in the face for being such a terrible writer. That one hurt,” he admitted. “And not just from the stabbing.”

Throughout the years as he continued doggedly writing and submitting his stories, his life and the lives of his family members were threatened on a regular basis, and he endured thousands of dollars in property damage at the hands of irate editors in the form of the egging and toilet-papering of his home and car. Rejection letters were frequently tied to bricks and thrown through his picture window.

“I don’t really understand why, but some people just really hated my stuff,” he said. “Like, with a blind, terrible rage that is difficult to comprehend. Several people hated it so much that they said they didn’t even want to live in a world in which a person like me existed who was so awful at doing something. One intern apparently jumped off a building after rejecting one of my submissions. He blamed me in his suicide note, which was enclosed with his rejection slip.”

But this writer didn’t let these obstacles get him down. He kept on trying, even as the threats escalated and he was forced to hide his identity and relocate across the country several times. Eventually he managed to secure a contract for a lucrative thriller series with a venerable publishing house. You may have heard of the first book in the series: it was called The Da Vinci Code.

Author #2

Our second author’s story is especially inspiring. She struggled for over a decade to complete her first novel, pouring her heart and soul into it, forsaking family and friends to spend years in a locked room, writing furiously, months behind on her rent and subsisting only on ink fumes and eraser dust. Yet when her opus was finally ready to publish, she was unable to find an agent who would agree to represent her. She submitted her manuscript to hundreds of agents, but after another decade of rejections, during which she subsisted only on the glue from licking stamps and envelopes, she gave up. Deep in despair, she decided to destroy her life’s work.

The author was in the act of flushing her manuscript down the toilet during a drugged out and drunken haze in a nightclub bathroom, when an agent who happened to be tripping her face off in the next stall saw several sheets of it flutter to the ground near her feet. Upon reading them, she told the author to stop what she was doing, and immediately signed her. The agent sold the book two hours later, and within a week the previously broke and obscure author was a millionaire with a private jet. The author’s name was Louisa May Alcott, and the book was Little Women.

Author #3
This author wrote his first novel when he was only fifteen years old. He submitted it to every single publisher he could find — and received only rejections.

“I know I must have piled up thousands of rejection slips over the years,” he once said in an interview. “At first I papered a wall in my back bedroom with rejection slips, but the papering became so thick that soon it filled the entire room, so I had to move on to other rooms as well as the floor. Eventually there was no room to walk around in my house because of the encroaching mountains of rejection slips. It was great insulation during the winter, but ultimately it became too much, and I had to move.”

But he never gave up. Instead, he continued to amass tens of thousands of rejection letters from publishers all over the world. “I started collecting rare and foreign stamps at the same time,” he said. “It was a fun hobby that kept me going through the hard times. The years and years of hard, hard times. So hard. So many years.”

When he finally found a publisher for his book, it sold a million copies across the globe on the day it was released. Some fans buy a new copy every single day. This author’s book has remained on the New York Times Best Sellers List for over five thousand weeks. The name of his book is The Holy Bible.

Author #4

Our final author grew up in a world of wealth and literary privilege. His father was F. Scott Fitzgerald and his mother was Toni Morrison. As a second grader, he penned an essay that was published in The Atlantic. Instead of attending scout camp, he spent his childhood summers as an associate editor at Penguin Books. After graduating from Harvard with a minor in Yale, he worked his way up the ranks to become the editor-in-chief of both The New York Times and The Paris Review, at the same time.

Despite the fact that he owned the majority of publishing houses on the East Coast, he was unable to find a home for a collection of vignettes he’d written about his time working as an aide in the White House, where he’d been a close personal friend of President Nixon’s, and was standing right behind President Reagan during his famous speech about the Berlin Wall.

This author has actually not yet found success and is still struggling to find a publisher for his collection, so you will likely not recognize his name, but we’ve included his story just to prove that it isn’t always only about who you know.

* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where we like to believe we're making a difference. We like to believe it even though it isn't true, which gives us more in common with our fellow citizens than we are inclined to admit. Our good friend David Martin knows exactly what we're talking about. When you're done checking out his latest and greatest, click on the link below or on our blogroll to purchase his most recent humor collection "Screams & Whispers" on Amazon.

Making A Difference


I don’t know about you, but I’m concerned about the health of our planet. Unlike you, however, I’m doing something about it.

Just yesterday, I traded in my giant SUV for a hybrid. Right there I’ve saved thirty miles per gallon. And when I eventually convert the rest of my personal fleet, I estimate that I’ll realize triple-digit gas mileage savings.

You might think that because you’re not rich or famous that you shouldn’t bother trying. That your feeble attempts at greening your lifestyle won’t make a difference.

That’s where you’re wrong. Sure, by downgrading my personal jet, I’ll be able to save almost 100 acres of rainforest. But if you and your neighbors carpool, I bet all of you together can save an Amazonian tree or two.

I suggest you take a hard second look at your lifestyle. I bet there are little extras you can change or forego that will make a difference. Not as big a difference as I can make, of course, but a difference nonetheless.

For example, I think I’ll cut back on my fleet of luxury watercraft and only keep a few or maybe just lease when necessary. That should halt the melting of one or two icebergs. I know you can’t even dream of doing that much. But maybe you could save one or two ice cubes just by exhaling less carbon dioxide or bathing even less frequently than you obviously already do.

Just getting to work can harm the environment. I’m going to let my chauffeur go and start working from home a lot more. Although it pales in comparison to my gesture, maybe you could stop taking the bus or subway and start walking to work.

It won’t help that much, but it’s a start. And if enough of you make that change you might be able to match the carbon footprint reduction I’ll achieve simply by changing the 650 incandescent light bulbs in my three residences to CFL bulbs.

Don’t despair. Despite your lack of fame and wealth, you can make a difference. Try to adopt the 100 Mile Diet, for example.

By foraging for turnips, carrots and potatoes in mid-winter, you can do your part.

Granted, you won’t make nearly as much of a difference as I will by adopting the new 100 Mile Restaurant Diet. By restricting my dining out to three-star or more establishments within a hundred-mile radius of any of my three homes, I estimate the savings to the planet will be sufficient to light a small third world country for a year.

If nothing else, simply try to guide your life by the three Rs: reduce, reuse and recycle. You’d be surprised what a difference those three little words can make.

For instance, I have reduced the size of the home theaters in each of my residences to a surprisingly serviceable 90 inches from the admittedly slightly excessive 120-inch screens. That’s a huge reduction, but it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make to save the planet.

Reusing items, of course, helps immeasurably in lessening our dependence on non-renewable fossil fuels. That’s why I’ve taken to laundering my designer shirts and wearing them more than once, sometimes even three or four times. (Handy hint: used shirts can be turned into great dusting cloths for your cleaning staff.)

Recycling is undoubtedly the hardest of the three Rs. But don’t let that deter you. Maybe you’re only recycling cans, bottles and newspapers. Don’t feel bad that I’m able to recycle giant shipping containers, an entire fleet of automobiles and most of my telecommunications satellites.

We must all do our part, no matter how big or how small. If enough of you take whatever small steps you can to help, the sum of your efforts will never match all those that I make. But together maybe we can save the planet for your children and mine. Well, for mine, at least.

* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where we left Vatican II in the dust a long time ago. Let Dan Fiorella guide you into the mysteries of the Mass as it will be very soon now. Also check out our blogroll at the right-hand side of this page for a link to his comedy Christmas mystery e-book, Lost Claus.

Excerpts From The #Live Tweeting Mass Twitter Feed


The overture is starting and already the priest is getting a standing O! Crowd fave, obviously! #LiveTweetingMass

Hey, it’s in English! #LiveTweetingMass

No missalette in this row. How can I tell the players from one another without the missalette? #LiveTweetingMass

Altar boy picking his nose. I saw you. #LiveTweetingMass #nosePick

My bad. Turns out it’s not a TARDIS in back, just the confessional booth. #LiveTweetingMass

What’s the point of reading from the Old Testament if we got a New Testament? #LiveTweetingMass

Scripture reading was the story of Lazarus. First zombie story! #LiveTweetingMass
Homily. Time to check out the bulletin. #LiveTweetingMass

Bulletin says the next service is the Folk Mass. Wow, dodged that bullet! #LiveTweetingMass

Really, @Pope, did you think adding “consubstantial” to the Creed was going to clarify things? #LiveTweetingMass

All this standing, sitting, kneeling! What’s next, spin mass? #LiveTweetingMass

I see they have Stations of the Cross, but I was really in the mood for an Omelet Station. #LiveTweetingMass

Didn’t want to shake hands so I just waved a peace sign at everyone. #LiveTweetingMass

All these statues, but not one of @StephenColbert. Wonder if he’s aware… #LiveTweetingMass #ColbertNation

Oh, not Spin Mass, Cath-listenics! You know how many calories you burn genuflecting? #LiveTweetingMass #betterJoke

Organ is good and loud, drowning out these tone-deaf people next to me. #LiveTweetingMass

Going to eat body and blood. I guess it’s in keeping with the zombie theme. #LiveTweetingMass

I like that they have a snack time, but the cookie is really bland. #LiveTweetingMass

Why does this blood taste like cheap wine? #LiveTweetingMass

Apparently, they frown at going back for seconds on the sacramental wine. #LiveTweetingMass

Disappointed. Choir hasn’t done anything from Sister Act soundtrack. #LiveTweetingMass

Leaving right after communion is like leaving the ball game during the eighth inning to avoid the traffic. #LiveTweetingMass

How awkward, everyone is standing around waiting for the priest to leave. #LiveTweetingMass

During cold and flu season, it seems they should replace holy water w/Purell. #LiveTweetingMass #ProductPlacementOpp

* Welcome to The Big Jewel. We'd wish we had time to say more but we're so busy getting our band started. Oh, do you have a band as well? Tell David Jaggard about it. He's such a good listener. When you're done with his amazing prose, click on the Amazon link below, which leads to the Kindle version of his new humor collection Quorum of One: Satire 1998-2011. Many of the pieces originally appeared right here. And as if we haven't already shilled enough for our talented copy editor, 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.

My Band


Hi! My name’s Phil.

I’m Linda.

Hey, whaddaya know — the drummer in my band has a sister named Linda!

Well, it’s a pretty common name. Nice party. How do you know Lee and Elaine?

Lee and I used to work at the same company before he opened his bar. He gave my band some of our first gigs!

At O’Connell’s?

No, the Midnight Oil.

No, I mean you worked together when he was at O’Connell’s Digital Equipment?

Oh — yeah. We found out later that Gabe — he’s the lead singer in my band — also worked there once, before we met. Just a coincidence.

It’s a pretty big group.

Not really — just a full rhythm section, lead singer and two horns.

No, I mean O’Connell’s. It’s a large company so a lot of people in town have worked there. Are you a keyboard guy?

I’m the rhythm guitarist.

I mean at O’Connell’s — I know Lee used to work in quality control for screens and keyboards.

Oh. Right — I was in quality but I transferred to sales, at that office out on Route 4. It’s next door to the studio where we rehearse.

I hear the brass is hard to work with.
I don’t think so — we only have the one trombone player, but we get along with him really well.

I mean the management at O’Connell’s. Lee told me he quit to open the bar because he hadn’t had a promotion ten years after joining the company.

Ten Years After! Great group! We do one of their songs.

Well, you have to have a strong base…

That’s for sure — the bass player really carries the whole thing in those sixties blues numbers.

I was going to say you have to have a strong base of education and experience to get ahead in a tech company. Lee never went to college, you know.

We’re playing a college dance next weekend. My brother teaches remedial English at State and gets us gigs there once in a while. In fact, he handles all our bookings.

That must be a hard job.

Not really — it only takes about ten minutes to work out the details for a gig. It’s like half an hour a day on the phone, tops.

No, I mean teaching remedial English. So many young people today have poor composition skills.

Not us — we write most of our own songs.

Uh-huh. So, ah, OK — tell me about your band.

Well, we’re called Sonic Tsunami and we do a mixture of folk, rock and folk-rock but with a pop beat, and we do this thrash metal version of “Doe a Deer” as our break number that’s…

Wait — I mean your awareness bracelet. I wear a “Livestrong” wristband. You know, for Lance Armstrong’s cancer foundation.

Mine’s just a wristband. Hey — our sax player’s father is dying of cancer!

Sorry to hear that.

We’re probably going to play at the funeral.

That’s nice…

Maybe you’d like to come!

That might not be appropriate.

No problem — I’ll introduce you to the widow.

I don’t think so. Ah, maybe talk to you later…

Come on — it’ll be fun!

Bye now!

Well at least when we take drugs it’s not cheating!!!

* * * * * *
Hey Phil, calm down! Who were you yelling at?

Sorry, Lee! I was talking to that Linda person. Not much of a conversationalist.

Oh — Elaine’s cousin. She’s a professional opera singer.

Well that explains it!

Explains what?

Why she’s so full of herself.

* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where Google Earth is the only Earth and the Google Truck is the only truck. And who among us is fit to speak for the truck? Only Ioanna Mavrou, a citizen of the world who, according to Google Earth, lives in Cyprus.

The Google Truck Diaries


In Russia people stare because they keep their cameras inside their cars on their dashboards and I wear mine on the outside like my heart. Easier to get hurt this way, somebody tells me, but I don’t care, not even when some kids throw rocks at me somewhere in the Balkans. I am the Google Truck, I love everybody, the world is my oyster, and so on.

In France I get into trouble when in one of those super narrow streets in Paris I witness a mugging. I tell the muggers I swear I won’t tell anyone, but they chase me anyway. The bottles break on my back and my camera fogs with beer splashes. I don’t stop until I’m on the other side of the tunnel. When Headquarters ask I tell them I don’t know why some street view images are blurry. I don’t turn video on so they don’t see me cry.

I feel safe for a second but then England depresses me because it is rainy and overcast even though it is the middle of July. I call the Google Headquarters back home and complain but they just chuckle. I can almost hear the sunshine coming in through Hangouts. I ask to talk to my supervisor but they tell me he’s off street-viewing Hawaii and I want to die. I tell them that if they don’t get me back home ASAP I will drive myself off the White Cliffs of Dover. They tell me to get on the next boat to New York and I withhold uploads until they agree to a full-expense ride. I take full advantage of it and have so many cocktails I emerge completely wasted in New York and spend two nights in a Bronx jail.

After that I head west. I don’t stop for towns. I don’t look at sights. My camera is on but I’m not really home. I drive and I upload and once I almost run over a deer but I don’t and that makes me sort of happy. A couple times people acknowledge my existence and once some college kids moon me. It’s good to be almost home. I upload pictures and look at Google Doodles to pass the time.

In California things are easy because everyone is mellow and everyone knows me and I can see my home on the map on my dashboard, the dot where I belong within reach, no scrolling required. People wave and other trucks blow their horns as we pass each other on the freeways. In Santa Monica I fall in love with a taco truck and we talk about running away to Mexico together until its owner comes back and drives it away from me. I follow them all the way to North Hollywood and spend the night outside their driveway but in the morning the taco truck pretends not to know me.

I stop at every beach parking lot up the coast and stare at the waves and take street view shots and sigh. When I get back to San Francisco I meet a nice mail truck and we spend hours together, but it’s just a rebound thing. I tell it I am on a mission and can’t be tied down. The whole world is watching. I go back to Mountain View. FML.

* Welcome to The Big Jewel, your online life coach. This week we teach you the gentle art of bullying, courtesy of a man who understands it better than the average schoolyard punk, Michael Fowler. As always, we invite you to check out the links to his books, "A Happy Death" and "The Created Couple," in our blogroll.

School Bullies And How To Be One


It was in Miss Ankemon’s fourth grade class that I first decided to bully my classmates, mainly the weaker and weirder ones. How satisfying it would be to make them cringe in fear and burst into tears, of course without Miss Ankemon noticing. But how to go about it? To begin with I was physically preposterous. A shy, undersized boy with an undescended testicle and what my doctors called a “lazy spine,” I resembled a slender reed bent over by the wind, even when no wind was blowing. Then there was my hard stutter. As a fourth grader, I was still struggling to answer a question my first grade teacher had asked me. Top me off with a clunky pair of glasses the size of bicycle handlebars, and my intimidation factor shrank to zero.

And then did I even know what bullies did, what moves to attempt? Having never met an actual bully, I could only guess. For these reasons the imagined torments of my classmates, by which I hoped to gain their respect and admiration, remained abstractions in my mind, goals seemingly out of reach.

Then one afternoon I got a valuable and unforgettable lesson in bullying. School had let out and I had begun my half-mile walk home, companionless as usual, when I found that I had become an actual bully’s victim. You can bet I paid close attention to my tormentor, to see what I could learn. He, a lanky dullard who never shut his mouth and as a result drooled constantly, and who wore a long belt cinched so that one end draped down his leg (the belt must have been his father’s at one time), did not particularly impress me. My keen interest in his bullying technique outweighed any intimidation I felt. He demanded a nickel to refrain from unleashing all his powers against me in a wrestling match, a threat that struck me as comical since it seemed an admission that he couldn’t generate more than five cents’ worth of fear. However, I was prepared to pay this ransom, not because I was afraid to fight him, but I didn’t want to get his saliva all over me.

I was spared from forking over the coin when a girl from my class, Lawanda, came to my rescue. In the fourth grade any number of the girls were as big or bigger than the boys, and now all five feet eight inches and 165 pounds of the plus-sized Lawanda, who fancied me that year, weighed in and tossed my bully into a nearby bush, almost dislocating his arm in the process. I believe she was prepared to remove his belt and whip him with it if he persisted in his antisocial behavior.

Not only was I saved, but I learned my first important lesson in bullying: be a big girl in love. It’s formidable.

In high school my desires to bully, still unrealized, overpowered me. Unfortunately there weren’t many bullies around for me to emulate, since the kids at my school put academics above lowly physical pursuits. The most awesome guys had 4.0 grade point averages and college scholarships in the bag. Our feeble and uncoordinated football and basketball teams weren’t even in the running for coolness. Shut out year after year, our so-called athletes left the awards to our marching band and debate team. Anyone who tried to throw his weight around would simply be ignored, unless he had high SAT scores. Yes, there were a few bullies anyway, but they were academically inclined. I rode the bus with one of the most fearsome, an upperclassman named Calvin. One day Calvin told me, “I heard you said some things about Calculus Club. Bad move.” And he grabbed my copy of Julius Caesar’s Gallic Wars and tore out several chapters. “Now what will you tell your Latin teacher when you’re called on to translate?” he taunted me. I was speechless.

Another time on the bus this same Calvin, an academic rock star who took four advanced placement courses and who had been accepted early admission to Duke, came up to me and put his books in the empty seat beside me. I’ll never forget his words as I sat there looking up expectantly at him. This is what he said: “Watch my books, pal, and don’t mess with the protective plastic covers. I spent a lot of time getting them on straight.” When the bus arrived at school and I stood up to get off, Calvin tried to push me back down in my seat, but he lacked the upper body strength. I disembarked unharmed, but impressed.

Thanks largely to Calvin’s example, and that five-cent guy in the fourth grade, I was inspired anew to be a bully before I graduated or lost interest. Nothing could stop me, I decided, from pushing around most of the kids in my class. We were a diverse lot, but I detected a common thread of weakness for me to exploit: puny Asians with the biceps of Jack Soo, Jewish kids built like Woody Allen, beanpole blacks with the physique of Dave Chappelle, and I didn’t overlook the frail, super-pale whites like me who might have been first cousins to Johnny Winter. Regardless of race or creed, I’d have them all running scared, as soon as I figured out exactly how.

I learned the key move from a master bully in my gym class. A steadfast animal rights and vegan activist, this physically unprepossessing but slovenly and unwashed individual had taught himself to instill fear and even disgust in every male student, as well as to advance his causes, with a simple trick. By doing a barefoot handstand in gym class so that his rank feet went up by his victim’s nose, he gave a stark reminder of what a barnyard animal smelled like. One whiff brought to mind pigs and cows and their plight, and the need for a meat-free diet, as well as instilling disgust and fear. That was my second important lesson in bullying: don’t be afraid to be offensive, in fact go for it! And it didn’t hurt to have a gimmick, either.

As luck had it, I caught the measles soon after I was first treated to this miscreant’s foot odor. When I returned to school after two weeks, still spotted head to toe, I inflicted nude bear hugs on the guys in the gym shower. Asian, Jewish, black or white, I embraced their smooth, steaming bodies under the spray and cried, “You’ve got the measles now, Chang,” and “A pox on you, Schwarz,” and “Try some measles on for size, Odom,” and “Be glad I’m not giving you an STD, O’Malley.” Best of all, after all my spots faded, I discovered that bouncing my slick, sunken chest off dudes in the shower was revolting and terrifying all by itself.

True, I wasn’t advancing an agenda like the foot odor guy, and no fair maidens like Lawanda were smitten with me. But I was the scariest bully my school ever saw.