* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where we will frankly admit to a lingering fear of ghosts, which is exceeded only by our fear of amateur ghost hunters. You know -- people like Tim Cushing.

My Amateur Paranormal Investigations

By: Tim Cushing

As the somewhat proud owner of the home voted “Most Haunted in the Tri-State Area” for three years running, I have developed an interest in spirituality, as well as a slightly greater interest in the rules and regulations governing disclosure statements, “as-is” home sales and arbitration hearings. The home gives no outward indication of paranormal presence, but the interior mishmash of odd angles, creaky floorboards and “barely there” bloodstains indicate otherwise. There was also some talk of it having a “colorful” history, most of it being various shades of red. It also mysteriously contains a full-stocked library, which any amateur ghost-hunter knows draws vengeful spirits like moths to a flame, or frat boys to a kegger.

It’s an ongoing struggle, filled with open cupboard doors, eerie noises and multiple visits to small claims court. With the invaluable aid of sketchy local spiritualists (in conjunction with an intricate array of candles and incense), I have been able to make contact with five (5) of the many restless souls that wander this house, moping about and generally behaving badly.

Harold Myers
Harold Myers lived a long, full life if his overly long, overly full obituary is anything to go by. He lived to age 88 and was survived by several relatives, none of whom seem interested in visiting. His inability to join the afterlife (already in progress) seems to be based on the irritation that someone is living in his house, leading me to believe that concepts of ownership and personal property are largely unrecognized in the hereafter.

He has made his presence known by rearranging my guest bedroom (which used to be his), moving furniture around (mostly at night) and misplacing the DVD remote (mostly at night, as well). There are also eerie moments of dislocated bitter sobbing after which I usually find that my DVD collection has been alphabetized/sorted by date.

Performed a séance tracing the history of the house’s ownership back to the point when his soul vacated the premises by dying, followed nearly four days later by his body. This information was greeted with weak orders to “get out” and “pick up some batteries for the DVD remote — AAs, I think.”

I have tentatively agreed to allow him to rearrange his former bedroom once a week, during daylight hours. The remote is to remain in the nightstand drawer. On the plus side, the constant reshuffling of my DVD collection has led me to rediscover films I had forgotten I owned.

Glen Overton
Glen seems to feel that his death was not accidental (despite much evidence to the contrary), but that he was the victim of foul play. Attempts to convince him that drunkenly whipping up recipes from The Anarchist’s Cookbook tends to lead to injuries at best and an “incredible amount of close-range shrapnel wounds*” at worst have fallen on deaf ears. (And a blinded right eye, if the coroner’s report is to be believed.)

*County Coroner’s Report. Also listed: high level of blood toxicity, high level of blood loss and a look of “drunken surprise” on Overton’s face.

Opening cupboard doors and cereal boxes, often removing key place-setting elements and toy prizes. Occasional chandelier rattling. Unlacing shoes. Impressively crafting a single three-foot high stack utilizing every bowl in the house. Inexplicable chess moves. Night terrors.

I have promised Glen that I will tirelessly pursue his tiresome request to have his “killer” exposed. In practice this means that I head down to the library a few times a week to do some research, which is usually 20 minutes or so of microfiche spinning followed by an hour and a half of checking email, playing solitaire and miscellaneous Facebookery.

While the trips to the library are relaxing and unproductive, the replacement of dishes and re-lacing of shoes tends to get a bit annoying. Plus, every time I go golfing I start to feel a bit like O.J. Simpson.

Markus Koloczek
Markus has several issues that are keeping him from heading off into the afterlife, none of which are aided by his inability to communicate in anything but a mixture of his native language and the repeated opening/closing of doors.

Doors opening/closing. Some light switch abuse. Cyrillic bloodlike text scrawled on walls/mirrors. Presets on stereo changed randomly. A/C in the winter/heater in the summer. Installation of staircases/doors leading to nowhere.

Despite a séance involving a translator, it’s still unclear as to what Markus wants, thanks to his illiteracy and impenetrable peasant accent. We’re assuming it involves mental trauma stemming from formative experiences with the pack of wolfhounds that raised him. All available evidence suggests Markus should be haunting a cottage in the Balkans but his inability to read a map (or anything else) has led him here. We are currently in talks with various Eastern European families as to the possibility of a foreign exchange student-esque swap.

Jacob Wiessman
Jacob’s haunting is centered around a former tenant’s eviction for non-payment of rent. He seems to feel that harassing current occupants will help him recover enough of the back rent to offset his losses. It has been pointed out that he “can’t take it with him,” but this worn-out cliché has been ignored. Experts are chalking up his recalcitrance to his lifetime in the collections industry.

Full manifestations are infrequent but tend to give the house the look of a recent break-in, with drawers dumped out and closets emptied, presumably in a search of the safe I don’t have. There are also attempts to post eviction notices and change the locks, both actions that an incorporeal being is woefully under-equipped for.

None. Large checks have been written out to Jacob and left in plain sight. The lack of transportation or a viable checking account continues to hamper Wiessman’s collection efforts. Contact with his next of kin has indicated that they have no interest in pursuing this debt. The spiritualist (now on retainer) has recommended Wiessman haunt the nearest small claims court instead.

This singularly-named apparition first appeared after a disturbing late-night phone call informing me that I would be dead within a week. I was confused at first as I was unaware that the Country Planning Commission kept such late hours. Apparently my refusal to vacate the premises was holding up construction of a new stadium/themed strip mall and a loophole in their eminent domain policy had allowed them to remove me from legal existence (in 5 to 7 business days). Obviously, my earlier threat of “over my dead body” had been all the permission they needed.

Over the following week, I noticed a tremendous amount of interference on my TV. (The cable company blamed it on “a high amount of sunspot activity.” Perhaps, but they also used this excuse to explain away their technician’s late arrival and six hour nap on my couch.) During a crucial moment of Top Chef, I was alarmed to see a soaking wet waif crawling out of my 46-inch plasma, accompanied by malevolent guttural noises which I took to be signs of gastrointestinal distress.

This was confirmed moments later as the ghastly tween hurried past me, leaving a trail of wet footprints leading to my bathroom. After the disturbing “growling” had finally died down, I opened the bathroom door to find nothing more than a puddle of static-y water and some overwhelming odors.

Toshiyo seems to only appear during critical moments of Pay-Per-View events and series premieres, rarely interrupting commercial breaks or C-SPAN. I would assume that my revamped TiVo recording schedule, which has mistaken me for a 21-year-old basement-dwelling otaku, is her attempt to communicate with me. Either that or the periodic static bursts/bathroom runs are simply a matter of lousy sanitation logistics in the afterlife. I have also noticed that turning off the set during a manifestation causes her to hastily re-enter my TV and try for an open restroom elsewhere.

At this point, I have held off on ordering any PPV events, which has led me to miss several MMA tournaments and an even larger number of girls going wild. I have also wedged series premieres into my new anime-heavy recording schedule, time-shifting them away from their debut dates in order to avoid ghastly (and odorous) interruption, and switched to double-roll paper. Also purchased: new Stiffer, new bathroom fan.

While most of this seems hardly conclusive and often gives the appearance that I am scatterbrained and lazy, I feel that this will not be the end of my unwanted visitors. Within the past few days I have been accosted by writing in the condensation on the bathroom mirror (“Out of Mentadent”), felt strange drops in temperature in the uninsulated mudroom and had several videotapes eaten by the suddenly malevolent and ancient VCR.

I would like to continue my studies but have been informed that the county is now the proud owner of the “Most Haunted Stadium/Boutiquery in the Tri-State Area.” As such, I will join my new compatriots (albeit from the other, less pale, side of the pale) in haunting this new complex (construction beginning shortly). With their help, we should be able to cause several disruptions and delays, most of which will be chalked up to “union harassment.”

* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where we are proud to admit that Mad Men is one of our favorite TV shows and Ozzy Osborne is one of our favorite...er...whatever he is. But it took the talents of first-time contributor Scott Oglesby to bring them together.

Ozzy Osborne’s Diary Of A Mad Man

By: Scott Oglesby

Sunday May 2
It’s a new week and 1967 is shaping up to be a brilliant year. I’m hoping this will be a huge week for me at the firm. It’s time to show these blokes that I’m hungry, that I’m willing to go further than anybody else in the advertising community.

I took the new girl, Sharon, out last night. I suspect her family has a bit of scratch; the bird seems a little spoiled. She’s bloody gorgeous but is still a little cool towards me so far. I do fancy her quite a bit though. The thrill of the hunt!

Monday May 3
We’re still struggling with the Hamleys’ account. The team, led by Iommi, is leaning towards “The finest toys in the world” slogan with just as pedestrian of a campaign. I absolutely hate it, doesn’t feel right. Toys are exciting and dangerous and we need to incorporate that edge into our advertising. I prefer “Hamleys’ Hystericals” or “Hamleys’ toys: the anti red wagon” or even “The age of Apollyon is upon us, indulge yourself with some toys.” I fear a boardroom showdown if we can’t come to some kind of a consensus.

I’m sick of the way that Iommi, Ward and Butler stick together. They think they’re so “with it” just because they have that silly little band. It’s a bloody herd mentality. I need to get them to accept my individuality.

Tuesday May 4
Ran into a school mate at lunch today. Good old David Wallace. He’s now a partner with Saatchi and Saatchi and was practically begging me to interview for creative director over there. Seems they lost the last one to a bad bit of tail. Bloody gonorrhea! Wound up going nutters. I’m sure that they wouldn’t mind my accounts coming along for the ride, if I jumped ship.

I know one thing; if Iommi keeps being such a nob to me in front of the office, I’ll make that call. It’s nice to have options. Oh Lord of Darkness I hate him sometimes.

I finished my second book of poetry, War Pigs: A Study of Human Nature today. Not like anybody will read it, but it was a rewarding project.

Wednesday May 5
I finished reading Do What Thou Wilt during the tube ride this morning. Aleister Crowley was an interesting bloke. Curious to learn more about him. I started playing around with a poem about his life. I have to admit that since I moved to London, I’m beginning to see the dark side of human nature. It seems to me that we’re all just one bad LSD trip away from utter chaos and savagery.

On the plus side I landed the Tesco account! This should help speed up my request for an increased expense account. Being able to wine and dine potential clients at the London Savoy should help my sales figures considerably.

Thursday May 6
I took Sharon to the pub last night to watch my colleagues make fools of themselves on jam night. I hate to admit it but they weren’t half bad. Sharon seemed to dig the bad boy musician act they put on. Her eyes went all gaga. I have to find a way to get her to look at me like that. (Maybe if I bought her a fancy little dog?) We had a bit of a smoke, and while it seemed to loosen Sharon up, it just made me paranoid. I’ll stick to the booze from now on — that doesn’t seem to do me any harm.

I spent this afternoon roaming Hamleys and allowing my mind to absorb the vibe. Bought a few gag gifts for laughs. On the tube ride back I saw a tramp stab a drunk with a broken tennis racket. Gave me an idea for a poem: “Crazy Train.” Something metaphorical about going off the rails of life.

Big pitch meeting tomorrow with the Hamleys’ people. The bad news is that they’re sending Brighton and Engle, a notoriously tough duo. The worse news is that we still can’t find any common ground on this thing. Might be a rough one.

Friday May 7
I killed it today! Absolutely killed it! Picture the scene; Iommi, and his pet sycophant, Ward, are trying to sell their boring, vanilla slogan to Brighton, who is not buying, when, out of nowhere, I chew a Hamleys’ blood capsule, pull a plastic but realistic looking vampire bat out of my suit pocket and proceed to bite off its head then spit the head and a healthy pool of blood onto the polished, mahogany boardroom table. I even began gagging to really sell it. Blew their doors off. The Hamleys’ boys, Iommi, Ward, our art people, the stenographer, everyone, was simply aghast. You could’ve heard a pin drop. As they were struggling to regain their composure, I adeptly sprang into a quick spiel about how “THIS was MY Hamleys.” Three seconds later and Brighton and Engle were laughing maniacally over it. They kindly but firmly shot Iommi down and asked what Ozzy had in mind. I easily sold them on Hamleys’ Hystericals.

There is a new star exploding into supernova status in the advertising stratosphere and its name is Osborne!

Saturday May 8
Iommi invited Sharon and me out for a drink last night and we all got along famously. It was quite an eventful night. I ended up drunkenly reading/singing my poetry and they were both impressed with the content and floored (Sharon’s word!) by my voice as well. Who knew I could sing? He actually wants me to go with him to Birmingham to play a paid gig next weekend.

Sharon was appropriately turned on and spent the night.

Now I’m a mad man, a poet, a musician and a lover. I am iron man!

* Welcome to The Big Jewel. Just because we are leading lives of quiet desperation is no reason that you should do so as well. Be of good cheer. And you can start by reading the latest from Marianne Hess. NOTE: There is a swell new literary humor magazine called Kugelmass, edited by Big Jewel contributor David Holub and featuring our own editor Kurt Luchs. It is print-only so you can't see it unless you get the hard copy. Order by clicking on the link at the right-hand side of this page under our Blogroll.

Henry David Thoreau On Mars

By: Marianne Hess

I have lived most of my life in the Martian colony of Concord, having come from Earth as a lad when my surrogate parents sent me away for what they claimed would be two weeks at space camp. It is my home. However, I have been feeling restless of late. I believe it is time I left the colony and became more intimate with Martian nature.

Many factors figure in my decision. Chiefly, the mindsets of my fellow colonists. Every day, they grow increasingly fixated on material possessions, as if owning one more spacesuit or oxygen tank will somehow make them happy. I envision a Mars devoid of life-sustaining paraphernalia, and even shuttles and rockets and water-processing plants. All these things merely prevent us from living simple and thus happy lives close to the rocky, barren terrain and scarily bottomless pits that Mother Mars has so willingly provided.

Besides the usual accusations of feeble-mindedness, many colonists have taken to accusing me of laziness. I do not consider myself lazy, but lacking a desire to work for what I do not believe. Growing beans? Yes, but not for an entire colony. My fellow citizens of Concord, especially the traumatized orphan children left here after World War III obliterated much of Earth, should have to feed themselves. Instead, I seek to trek across some bone-dry crater or desiccated flood plain and grow my own damn beans. Mother Mars has provided .03 percent water vapor in our beautiful vomit-pink sky for this very purpose.

Other colonists have accused me of outright negligence. Sure, the overseers have assigned me the job of mending our roofs. And sure, I could finally fix that hole in Sector 9E, thus preventing us all from slowly suffocating to death and/or succumbing to severe frostbite. But would I be content? I daresay my quiet desperation would still haunt me, if not in a more clear-headed and warm-bodied way.

Solitude is my only cure. How I long to stand alone and unsuited on some infertile mountaintop, staring up into the thin, carbon-dioxide-based atmosphere, the 150-mile-per-hour high-altitude wind gusts pressing gently against my cheek, pointy rocks whizzing by me like nature’s bullets. Up there with the ethereal dust — its rusty ambrosia filling my lungs and exfoliating my skin like acid — I believe I will ultimately come to appreciate life.

Therefore, I must leave, despite pleas from every citizen that I stay lest I somehow kill us all. Worthless gossip, all of it! Whether I open the airlock and let in a squall of toxic air and dust that will clog the filtration system is my own business. It is a vainly idle mind that finds fault in another, especially when all those idle minds should be concentrating on fixing that hole in Sector 9E, because it doesn’t look good.

The colonists have expressed their disdain in other ways as well. A dozen or so have followed up my assertion that I wish to live simply with a scoff and the retort that I will be lucky to simply live. Then they have either smacked me in the head, claiming to knock sense into me, or threatened to toss me in the grain thresher. Colonists of the gentler variety have said, “But it is folly to venture so far from our advanced medical facility.” They would be right. Due to such fears, these colonists would never dare leave Concord without a spacesuit, citing instant asphyxiation. However, I say the greatest folly is to allow fear to control your life. I do not even mind traveling out of range of the Medivac Rovers, not just because I have confidence that Mother Mars will provide, but because those rovers look eerily human and will probably turn against their creators someday.

Despite the closed-mindedness that surrounds me, I refuse to sacrifice my individualism. And so, on some sunny, -80 degree sol, I will leave this fickle, man-made place and stroll across the miles and miles of sand dunes outside. After that, I will find some placid dried-up lake bed in which to bathe and drink. By it, I shall build myself a cabin out of rock, and grow my own rock garden. I see in this God’s plan. He says to me, “Here is a rock. Use it as you will. And there is a…rock. Also use it as you will. And that one over there. A billion rocks. See? I provide rocks. And strange hematite blueberry things.” God is great.

Every day, I will hike and engage in silent contemplation. As I scrutinize the interminably tedious vistas and contemplate the miracle embodied in the possible traces of ancient microbial life, I will come to understand many truths unknowable to the simple-minded bio-engineers and astrophysicists who populate the colony. Eventually, I will realize that humanity is one with Martian nature. For instance, we expire into dust, just as the dust here causes us to expire. Surely, there will be more realizations, but I cannot think of any now, while still confined inside this terribly artificial micro-Earth.

I can only hope that my feelings have been laid bare in this essay. If not, perhaps they can best be described with an anecdote: Once, a long time ago, there was a wise man on the moon. His fellow astronauts said, “We have such a great view of the Heavens.” But the wise man was sorrowful. “I see no Heavens,” he said, “just the translation of them in this pesky helmet.” So he removed the helmet and saw clearly. There is still a monument to him on the moon today.

If any truth is extracted from this essay, let it be this: It is okay to march to the beat of a different drummer. But there are no drummers on Mars, and I find that very perplexing.

* Welcome to The Big Jewel, which we like to think of as being based on a true story, or at least a story with a certain amount of truthiness. And here is Whitney Collins to make all of our fondest cinematic wishes come true. NOTE: There is a swell new literary humor magazine called Kugelmass, edited by Big Jewel contributor David Holub and featuring our own editor Kurt Luchs. It is print-only so you can't see it unless you get the hard copy. Order by clicking on the link at the right-hand side of this page.

Movies Based On True Stories

By: Whitney Collins

The Runway’s End
A traveling salesman gets snowed in at the Kansas City airport. He does not meet his soul mate at the Terminal D bar. He does not overcome years of crippling self-hatred by loudly berating the ticket agent. And he does not encounter a gay politician in the men’s room. He does, however, end up staying at the airport’s Courtyard by Marriott, where he eats an old bagel for dinner and watches the last half of Law & Order before finding a pubic hair in the ice bucket. The next morning, he wakes up with a crick in his neck, then flies back to his flat-chested wife in Greensboro.

Ollie and Friskers
Ollie the French bulldog and Friskers the tabby cat get accidently left behind when their owners move. The pets begin a long journey home by navigating forests, torrential downpours, and junkyards. Friskers loses a leg to a coyote. Ollie gets Lyme disease. And even though they end up dying slowly and sadly from exposure, when people see them trotting along in the Interstate’s median, they do imagine Friskers being voiced by Dakota Fanning and Ollie by Tim Allen.

Here Come the Zombies
At 5:05 a.m. on a Sunday, after lots of red wine the night before, a disheveled mother makes waffles for her toddler, while her husband eats a handful of Rolaids before passing out, face down, in the sports section.

My Crazy Bridesmaid
A nutjob bridesmaid ruins a wedding by making a pass at the groom and wearing shoes that are decidedly fuchsia and NOT salmon. It would be nice if a heartfelt toast made up for everything in the end, or if a dazzling wedding gift was given as a peace offering. But the whole time she’s on her honeymoon, the bride just ends up yammering on and on about how much she totally hates the bridesmaid, forcing the groom to pretty much drink his way through St. Croix and wonder what the hell he’s just done with the rest of his life.

Greasy Days
This documentary follows several dozen people and their fast food eating habits over the course of a few months. None of them gets heart disease or food poisoning, and most of them don’t eat out all that often, but when they do, 51 percent prefer chicken to beef even if the chicken is fried because it just sort of seems healthier. Also, a few people sometimes eat in their cars so they can listen to The Clark Howard Show.

My Reliable Love
At a 25th high school reunion, a divorced woman marches straight past her sophomore year boyfriend, straight past the nerd who ended up cute, and straight past the former quarterback, and directly to the veggie tray where she sees, with much delight, that the ranch dip is Hidden Valley brand.

Into the Danger Zone
A young man goes off to war and his girlfriend pines for him daily. That is, until she starts working at the Tat Shack and falls for a guy named Rico. The soldier doesn’t have any battle scenes, but he does take up dipping Skoal. After about 6 months, he realizes that his love-hate relationship with the desert is actually more hate.

Something’s Going On
In a regular suburban house — a house that looks just like any other — a family is besieged by terror when they start hearing strange sounds and misplacing small valuables. Then they find out their iguana has a cold and that the Molly Maids are common thieves.

Search for the Milky Way
A kid dressed as an astronaut raids his sister’s Halloween candy.

Wall Street III
A banker gets laid off but it’s okay because he really likes cupcakes and is pretty decent at baking and there’s kind of a cupcake craze going on these days anyway.

One of God’s Children
Deep in the slums of Bombay, there’s a boy who knows nothing about game show trivia. But he will bite off your ear for a teaspoon of couscous.