* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where we love a parade.

* Only Miles Klee loves a parade more than we do, as he explains in his Big Jewel debut.

Let’s Go Parade

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Chapter 37: New York City

After accidentally merging with a parade column, take a moment to panic. Seize the wheel and yank as though a dislodged steering column is the answer. To drive at the speed of tourism behind a thing of papier-mâchéd chickenwire riddled with lip-synching Broadway lifers (and, like them, with no means of escape from hollow spectacle) is certainly worth your upset. Release tension with a few staggered honks — no one will even hear.

People may have heard. Did onlookers react with morose puzzlement and a touch of disbelief? Are they openly weeping? Underneath the flowers and American flag, is the “float” ahead of you a hearse? Badgering the funeral procession of a local dignitary isn’t the end of the world, but so far nothing has been. Get out and apologize.

The sick dazzle of a beer bottle exploding on your skull argues a grave misreading of the situation. Whoever’s dead must’ve been a controversial figure if their memorial service can pivot to wanton riot on a modest faux pas. Get back in the car. Apply pressure to the head wound. Swear the same way twice.

Applying tip #32 — Anarchy Is Just A Poorly Organized Parade — let’s assess the escalating frenzy as we would a ticker-tape celebration. People swarming your Corolla, destroying the futon you spent two hours securing to the roof with twine, siphoning your sixteenth-of-a-tank of gas: These actions give the impression of sheer chaos. In fact, such pack behavior is de rigueur among euphoric sports fans, the only difference being that unaffiliated rioters can hold their liquor.

Ticker-tape parades are only held in honor of a Giants Superbowl victory or the Yankees signing a player whose contract mandated a ticker-tape parade. If you see a fair number of Mets hats and Mr. Met himself, high-fiving like he needs the flu, well, there’s still no way it’s a parade for the Mets, who these days if they balanced the city budget and caught Osama bin Laden could at most hope not to be spat on in their local Duane Reade. Take no chances: Roll down the window, identify yourself as belonging to the nebulous “we” that encompasses an athletic team and the people who pay to watch them exercise, declare victory in no uncertain terms, and for God’s sake, don’t mention hockey.

OK, shameless bandwagoner boasting didn’t play well. Concede the windshield wipers and hubcaps, they’re as good as resold on Canal Street. Ditto the futon — your girlfriend was never going to allow plaid furniture in the new apartment, and those bed bug exterminators were none too thorough. So, karma! Still, time and options are running out: you’ve got to figure out what festivity you’ve ruined.

Yes, from running over balloon vendors to exchanging slurs with the gentleman in a Testaverde jersey hacksawing your radio antenna, everything’s easier with a sense of background. But before you jump to conclusions, recall tip #55: Dates Can’t Be Trusted, as New York City’s overstuffed public events schedule ensures that any parade can fall on any day, subject to the caprices of a giddy City Hall intern. Tip #106 (Color Is King) comes in handy here. Ever ask a colorblind person what a given parade is about? Tears will collect in his/her defective eyes as s/he mumbles something like, “I don’t know, I thought maybe The Festival of Brown.”

Should green, white and red abound, for example, you may be the tail end of Macy’s Thanksgiving affair and under attack by overprotective Santa groupies. Check the rearview. Same colors? In the form of plastic hats, sun-deprived skin and pubic hair left exposed by inadequate kilts? That’s St. Patrick’s Day. By the luck o’ the Irish, which history argues is scant, you’re the soberest person in a five-mile radius. Sure takes the pressure off. Unless you’re driving under the influence, in which case, congratulations! — you’re now the lead float in the St. Patrick’s Day parade. Hunker down; your mottled futon resembles a half-assed tribute to the Blarney Stone, and the rabble intent on kissing it will terribly compound your phobia of strangers’ lips.

Dispersing them will require the parade’s sole weakness: Rain. Dance to invoke proper gods — provided this parade isn’t some new part of Native American Week, of course. Feel free to pray for other disruptive circumstances if you’re unsure. The prepositional plea could just have easily been “Don’t earthquake under my parade,” or “Don’t run alongside my parade, brandishing a potato cannon.”

Alas, if you’ve succumbed to dramatic instincts and climbed atop the car yourself, a car now being overrun like the supporting lead in a zombie flick, hoping to make an impassioned speech that rises above the rollicking Sousa-blare of Ohio State’s marching band (flat, going flatter), a speech that questions the merits of reducing ethnicities to annual ambles along major avenues, or the necessity of confetti in a deforested world, or the causes of an apparent police barricade shortage, then you’ll probably learn tip #1 the hard way: Here No Salmon Swim Upstream. Except maybe at the Coney Island Mermaid Parade.

Even then, you’d need a costume to really sell it.

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Directions To The New House

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The get-together for next Friday is still on, despite the difficulties many of you faced last time in getting here. Unfortunately, Google Maps and the major commercial GPS systems have yet to put the new development in their databases, so please pay close attention to the new directions. Of course, once you get to the development, ours is the seventeenth house on the left — the one with the garden gnome that looks like Lyndon B. Johnson sucking on a kumquat.

From Philadelphia: Take Interstate 95 north across the Scudder Falls Bridge to Trenton. Take Route 31 north, turning right at the Quick-Chek two miles north of the Pennington Circle. Follow the signs to the Charles Lindbergh Jr. National Historical Site in Hopewell. (Note that the signs are in the familiar National Park Service brown, but utilize a more readable sans-serif font.) When you arrive at the Lindbergh house, walk around to the back, and climb the makeshift ladder up to the second floor, taking care to watch out for splinters. In the bedroom, you should find a light blue cashmere blanket, with a detailed map embroidered in the center. (The map is not to scale; I didn’t have enough red thread to make Cherry Valley Road as long as it by rights ought to be.)

From Atlantic City: Take the Garden State Parkway north to Interstate 195, then take Route 9 north to Freehold for seven miles. Turn right on Route 33 to Freehold Raceway. Walk to the paddock and ask for Stubby, who will guide you to the stables. (If Stubby offers to shake your hand, please do so; he’s very sensitive about his physical limitations.) If you decide to purchase racing silks, I would strongly advise that you get them one size larger than you think you’ll need, especially if it rains. As always, take extreme caution in crossing the New Jersey Turnpike, as harness racers do not have the right of way.

From New York: Take the subway or taxi to Madison Square Garden. Stand out front of the Garden and yell, at the top of your lungs, “STEPHON MARBURY IS A CRYBABY LOSER.” (This isn’t strictly necessary, but it will make you feel better, and you’ll be surprised how many other people start doing it, too.) Go to the bottom level of Penn Station and buy an NJ Transit ticket on the Northeast Corridor line. Take care not to make eye contact with any leprechauns that might be aboard. Depart the train at Princeton Junction. Send up one green flare from the flare gun you will find attached underneath the third bench from the right. Make sure, however, before you fire the flare gun that there are no hot-air balloons overhead. We don’t want a repeat of what happened last time.

From Allentown: Take Interstate 78 east to the junction with Interstate 287. Take I-287 south to Route 202-206 south. Take Route 206 when it splits off at the Somerville Circle. About a mile after the circle, there should be a Stop-N-Shop on your right. Go inside and get two six-packs of Heineken, a pack of Hebrew National reduced-fat hot dogs, and a large bag of Cool Ranch Doritos. You will find additional directions printed on the back of your receipt, unless you’ve made the mistake of getting Nacho Cheese Doritos. If the receipt paper gets jammed in the register, ask Jeff in frozen foods, because he’s the only one who knows how to fix it.

From the IKEA in Elizabeth: Pick up a large container of Swedish meatballs, some lingonberry juice, and an Ingolf chair (black, no armrests). Take the Turnpike south to the Route 1 exit, keeping an eye out for harness racers. Follow Route 1 south until you hit the Delaware and Raritan Canal, where you’re looking for Skippy’s Kayak Rental. Do not sign any documents Skippy hands you, especially those related to kayak damage waivers or white-water travel insurance.

From Los Angeles: Take Interstate 5 north to Granada Hills, taking the Balboa Boulevard exit and heading west. Take the third right until you find the warehouse complex that reads “U.S. Department of Energy, Restricted Access Only.” Tell the guard, “I heard there was a fire at Topanga Canyon, but the radio says it’s under control.” When he waves you through the checkpoint, drive to Building F and wait for the automatic door to open. Once it does, you’ll see a good-sized discontinuity in the fabric of space-time. Accelerate to thirty miles an hour and drive straight through the discontinuity, which should transport you to the Princeton high-energy physics lab on Route 206. However, if you find yourself in an unfamiliar location — such as downtown Camden, the north end zone of Giants Stadium, or the Old West — honk your horn three times and wait for assistance.

From Dublin: Take the Airlink bus from Dun Laoghaire to the Dublin airport. Order a caramel macchiato at the Starbucks, making sure to ask for extra nutmeg. Your Aer Lingus boarding pass should be folded inside your napkin. On arrival, take the AirTrain from JFK, connecting to the LIRR, which should drop you off in Penn Station. Take the NJ Transit train to Princeton Junction. Do not make eye contact with other passengers. We don’t want a repeat of what happened last time.

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My High School Reunion? I Nailed It. Sort Of.

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“Don’t show your face at the reunion,” my landlady/mom barked as I was trying to nap on the basement couch. I’ve got it set up as a pretty sweet bachelor pad, but she comes down to do the laundry daily, which annoys me.

She said I’ve accomplished nothing and should skip my 15th high school reunion. Apparently, owning a level 80 Storm Giant in the Howling Fjord as a level 74 Warrior is “nothing.”

I went anyway. And I don’t mind saying, I rocked.

My parents get Internet, so I went to classmates.com for the 4-1-1 on my yoon. (I had taken to calling my reunion, my yoon.) I signed up and the emails started to literally trickle in. I heard through the grapevine (and by grapevine I mean obsessively Googling them) that these people are doctors, lawyers, mall kiosk managers, and other heavy-hitters. To hide the 15-year hiccup in my employment history, I fired off a fake automated message:

THIS IS AN IN-THE-OFFICE-BUT-TOO-BUSY-TO-RESPOND AUTO-REPLY FROM MR. FERRI’S PERSONAL ASSISTANT’S PERSONAL ASSISTANT’S INTERN.

As you know, Mr. Ferri is very busy. If this is an inquiry about Mr. Ferri’s potential yoon appearance, your question will be answered in the order it was received. We cannot guarantee everyone a response. Mr. Ferri leads a busy, successful life.

Now off to get a loan. I told the guy at the bank I needed a little dinero to open a Sharper Image store. You should have heard him, “Blah blah, de-listed from the NASDAQ. Blah blah, Chapter 11.” I didn’t care if this guy was on chapter 12 of some highfalutin James Patterson literary classic. I needed cash — and I got some. I settled for a lot less dough, but I got a killer interest rate. Well — WELL — into double digits.

I rented a suit, a Velcro tie, a collared shirt, and shoes with laces not Velcro. A tux would have seemed like I was trying too hard. I wanted to keep a low profile. So after renting a white Escalade limo featuring neon ground effects and giant soaring eagles and American flags, I hit the library. The library’s cool for when I need the bathroom or to get away from the bachelor pad when my mom starts hitting me with the rolled-up classifieds. Our library has a box for collecting old cell phones. It’s for some charity. I figured if this isn’t charity, then what is? I scored an old BlackBerry and two early-1990s flip phones. They weren’t the sleekest, but they’d do. Chargers weren’t necessary.

Now I had to find two people to go with me. Luckily, I have one friend, so I only needed another person. My buddy Gary has several friends and he called in a favor to this guy Chad. Gary and Chad would pose as my Personal Assistant’s Assistant and my Personal Assistant Assistant’s Intern. I’d tell people that I gave my Personal Assistant the night off — I’d seem important enough to require three full-time stooges, yet wouldn’t look like a jerk making all three work on a Saturday.

I decided to show up late because it means you’re fashionable — even though my lime green suit already screamed fashion. Besides, if I showed early, people would think I had nothing better to do. So we sat in a Wendy’s parking lot eating $.99 Double Stacks — my treat since I still had some cash from the loan. (The rest went to pay down gambling debt.) As we chilled, Gary came up with a great idea just in case anyone asked me about my excessive weight gain since my high school days. He suggested I tell people that I dabble in acting, that the Broadway adaptation of “Coming to America” just got the green light — and that I’ll be recreating the role of the McDowell’s employee played by Louie Anderson in the film version. The yoon started at 7 p.m. and we rolled in at the fashionable time of 7:05. Turns out we could have waited a bit longer. But we helped set up, moving chairs and tables and carrying chafing dishes. The staff was appreciative.

All night, my “assistants” followed me around shouting into the dead cell phones. “Buy! Sell! Return that and exchange it for those!” Later, I learned that the stock market is closed on Saturdays.

Chad owns a laptop. He carried it around — open — and complained loudly about no Why-Fye (sp?) connection. Nice touch.

All of this sent an important message: Life doesn’t stop for Frank Ferri. I think people got that message. Especially because Gary and Chad yelled, “Life doesn’t stop for Frank Ferri,” at anyone passing by the punch and crudités. People seemed puzzled. They were probably worried that I missed an important event in Tokyo or Hoboken for this thing.

I wandered over to this guy I hadn’t seen since the yearbook photoshoot. He was voted “Most Likely to Succeed,” “Best Looking,” “Best Dressed” and “Most Likely to Marry a Hot Wife, Pay for Her Breast Implants, Get a Divorce, Marry a Hotter, Younger Wife and Still Get Court-Mandated Visitation Rights to the Implants He Bought for His First Wife.” I was there to carry the tripod. Anyway, this guy was bragging about being the youngest tenured professor ever at MIT. I asked him, what’s an MIT? When he told me, I tried not to laugh. Was he seriously boasting about teaching vokey? I almost asked what tenure was, but I already felt bad for him. I also respected him. He won all those awards in high school, failed in life, yet showed up to the yoon. I told him I knew some higher-ups at DeVry and slipped him my biz card.

The card was actually Chad’s — he has a job. I scratched out his info and scribbled in mine: “Prez ‘n Chair Man of the Bored,” which is the highest title possible. I sketched a little throne above the word “Chair” for emphasis.

Everything was going well until someone asked me what I did for a living. We worried this would happen, so we made a plan earlier in the Wendy’s parking lot: “Operation Get Me the Heck Out of Here.” When this nosy S.O.B. started grilling me, I gave the signal (semaphore flags and a high-pitched scream). Gary and Chad instantly appeared. Gary pretended to whisper some severe news to me. Actually, it was important: we had to have the limo back by 10 p.m. or it would cost an extra 75 bucks.

I gave a look of concern mixed with annoyance, then Chad swept me away, yelling at people to get out of our path. I worried we looked silly because no one was remotely near. But Chad told me the giggling and pointing was a good thing — like when someone from a remote Taiwanese village sees a Westerner for the first time.

Gary hung back to explain that there was an emergency in Australia — he had swiped an old history book from his dad’s bookshelf. Gary’s always thinking. He said that I’d be flying to the West side of the Berlin Wall to meet with USSR officials about ending Apartheid in South America.

Overall, things went well. You hear that mom? Things went well.

I sent out another automated message:

THIS IS AN IN-A-GULFSTREAM-JET-DO-NOT-REPLY-MESSAGE FROM MR. FERRI’S PERSONAL ASSISTANT’S PERSONAL ASSISTANT’S INTERN.

Please forgive Mr. Ferri for his sudden departure from last weekend’s yoon. He is, after all, very busy and regrets that this sort of occurrence isn’t rare. But it comes with his job (which is hard, but not too hard because he has the intelligence to handle anything). Oh, and he didn’t have a date because he’s juggling a lot of ladies and couldn’t decide who to take.

I can’t believe I forgot to get an escort! Even the MIT guy remembered to rent a hot chick.

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Let Us All Gather To Discusse The Plague

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My fellowe citizens of London, as ye may knowe, the greate Pestilence hath spread through our faire City. Mine selfe and many noble men of limited education propose that the only waye to vanquish this unholy Plague is to gather every citizene on the mouldering banks of the Fleet River at noontide on the morrow, with the purpose of discussing quarantine procedures. It was first advised, by the late Venerable John Dimme, that such an endeavor mighte enlighten the masses of the need for avoiding those stricken ill. Thus, at the conclusione of the gathering, it is hoped that all shall fully realize the dangers posed whilst gathering for such a gathering, and that such a gathering will prevente such gatherings in the future.

In the houre of Dimme’s death, due to erupting pustules and hellish fever, I leaned close to his pocked face, and he thus spake these delirious words: “My dear friend, gather the people ’round ye, by the stinking river. Gather all the people. Let them come from every dank alley and turreted castle. Let them come from the theatre and the church steeple, the inn and the plague house. Gather them together and preache to them the dangers of such a gathering. It is the only waye.”

Though I be stricken ill todaye, the swelling splotches in my groine and armpits feare me not. Indeede, I have a Physician of the greatest understanding. In additione to smoking much tobacco in my presence and pouring many fine leeches upon my foreheade, he hath buttered up my buboes, doused my skin in arsenic and filled my belly with the urine of a man-childe. I have also been informed, from the unlicensed apothecaries who roam the streets, that the Humours are to blame for my anguishe. Therefore, I have ordered all my maid-servants of a wet constitution to spit into my drye mouth. This will even things oute.

I doubt not that on the morrow, I shall be welle enough to wander the filthy crowds and make my waye to yonder wharf amongst the rats, straye dogs and putrefying bodies, where I shalle give this most crucial of dialogues. As such, I present to you the schedule, of which ye should take careful heed:

1. At noontide, the gathering will commence with a communal bathing in the river, in order to purge our souls of sin. It being filled to the brim with sewage, our faire citizens are certain not to drown.

2. Once we are cleansed and yet shivering, we shall line up to receive clothing donations from those who have lost loved ones to the Death. In this waye, the garments of the deceased mighte warm the living.

3. The many children presente shall find entertainment in the demonstrations of a rat catcher. He will take volunteers from amongst their innocent ranks, so that they mighte hold the vermin for him to catch in his basket.

4. This will be followed by my speech, and much shaking of hands and kissing of cheeks, as is the foreign fashione.

5. We will stare at the clouds in order to interpret their meaning. If it be fluffy kittens we see, the plague shall spare us. If wrathful angels, the end is nigh. Those who claim to see nothing but clouds shall be lined up and hanged on suspicion of being atheist.

6. Though it be supper time, all Londoners shall abstaine from beer and pottage, in order that we mighte grow quite faint and frail. The clergy, before they fled to the country, preached the importance of fasting to cleanse the soul, hence this will prepare us to meet our maker.

7. To purge the air of its dreaded effluvia, we will light fires all ’round us, and then burn pillars of gunpowder. During this, if any person be found to sweat, that person will be assumed to harbor the Pestilence and will be swiftly buried in the nearest churchyard.

8. Once concluded, all citizens shall return to their drafty, overcrowded huts. The only persons excluded from quarantine are those with enough capital to bribe the watchmen. Note: if that be ye, the watchmen prefer to receive their inducements in the form of fine curly periwigs, made from the copious hair of plague victims.

9. Bodies shall be placed in the death-carts.

It is to be observed that our esteemed majestie, the King — before retreating to the country with his Court — commanded that all Londoners attend this gathering, at risk of death in the Tower. Thus I have ordered the assistance of many waifs and men of the basest variety to drag forth from their homes any who so refuse. Most of these waifs and men are dying of the Pestilence. They are encrusted with a lifetime’s worth of stink, have had countless wayward chamber pots emptied upon their heads and are teeming with fleas. I tell you this not to frightene ye, nor do I send them to steale, rape and murder — as they undoubtedly will do. I do it for the welfare of every citizene, so that all shall attende this most important of sermons. We must showe God that we in London have giveth up our sins, so that this terrible French Pestilence might visite the Irish insteade.

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