* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where we are still hiding in the closet because our dad let us watch The Birds when we were nine. Apparently Jeff Dutre's dad did the same thing.


By: Jeff Dutre

Our house is dark. More than ten thousand households are without electricity, according to the announcer on my portable hand-cranked radio. He sounds like he’s been crying.

Our cat is running from room to room, searching for something to hide under. I’ve chopped up all the furniture and nailed it to the windows. Nothing can get in — I hope.

My wife has pushed our heavy dining room table against our front door. Good for her. She’s not ready to give up. Not yet.

We hear noises outside: wings flapping and a hideous pecking and scratching against our vinyl siding. And of course the squawking.

My only flashlight went out an hour ago. All we’ve got left are some lavender-scented dollar store candles. They don’t provide much light — perfect for a romantic dinner but useless for this crisis. They don’t even smell good. They smell like cheap lavender underarm deodorant. Already I’ve got a headache from them.

My wife runs to me, and we hold each other close. The pecking and scratching is louder now. The cat cowers at our feet. The squawking rises to an insane pitch: “Hello! Hello! Who wants a cracker? I love you! I love you!” Taunting us. They’re taunting us.

The cat’s fur is standing straight up. She appears twice her normal size. A neat trick, but I don’t think it’ll do her much good in this situation. I envy her, though. If I could puff myself up to twice my normal size maybe I’d find the courage to make a run to the car. But then I remember I drive a subcompact. If I were all puffed up like the cat, I’d never fit behind the wheel. Maybe I could spread out in the back seat and let my wife drive. Nah, if I was puffed up twice my normal size we couldn’t even get the doors closed. We’d be sitting ducks. I told you, it’s a subcompact.

I crank up the radio and raise the volume so we can hear it over the pecking and squawking outside. The announcer is talking fast. Little by little we make sense of what he is telling us.

Not long ago, to the surprise of ornithologists, a colony of tropical parrots made itself at home near the old Albany Steam Station. These “monk parakeets” as they are called, built a heavy nest on a switchyard tower, causing this power outage.

Fifteen birds make up this colony. Police suspect they are escaped pets, or the offspring of escaped pets. Their ringleader is a large myiopsitta monachus believed to have arrived in this country illegally by cargo ship. Whether he falsified documents, or merely hid under a shipment of bananas, is unknown to us. But he is here, and he is stirring up trouble.

A man walking down the street enjoying a Ritz cracker was pecked to within an inch of his life. A local Cracker Barrel restaurant was burglarized. The Nabisco factory is in flames. A truck delivering a shipment of saltines to an Italian restaurant was commandeered and diverted to the switchyard nest. It’s our crackers. It’s our crackers they’re after.

For years they watched with envious eyes as we nibbled our hors d’oeuvres, made mindless small talk over our canapés, feasted on our sesame, our multigrain, our whole wheat crackers, the crumbs sticking to our chins in tempting little beak-sized bites. They watched us. And waited. All they needed was a charismatic leader to inspire them into action. And he is here.

The announcer stops talking. For a moment there is dead air. Then comes a muffled scream. This is followed by several sickening thuds (the poor man being beaten over the head with his own microphone, evidently) then more dead air. Finally we hear a different voice over the airwaves, a high-pitched singsong cry: “Can you say your name? My name is Polly!”

My wife grabs the radio from my hand and hurls it to the floor. It explodes into a million pieces. The stinky, flickering candles throw weird patterns against the dark walls and boarded-up windows.

Suddenly there is a flutter of wings from behind our mantel. “Oh my God!” I shout. “The chimney!”

Something has emerged from the fireplace. Something fat and beaky and feathery, with a pointy head and a proud, mad glint in its eyes. Somehow I understand that this is the alpha male monk parakeet, the ringleader, the top bird. A pungent smell hits my nostrils. The cat has voided its bowels. Or was it me?

Finally the thing speaks. Despite its limited vocabulary, the malevolence it radiates is palpable. “Pretty boy! Hello! Hello!”

With the strength of a superman, I lift the dining room table and toss it away from our front door. I scoop up the cat and grab my wife’s hand and we run outside to the car. I whisper thanks to the Creator when the ignition sparks immediately. The parakeets hadn’t thought to tamper with the engine. Maybe they’re not as smart as we’d feared.

I shift to reverse. Tires squeal as I lurch out of our driveway. There is a squawk from under the car, then a spray of feathers. “I think I got one of them!” I yell.

My heart is pounding as I turn onto Main Street. In my rear view mirror I see the cat staring out the window at the horror we’ve left behind. My wife snaps on her seat belt and curses under her breath. I shift into high gear and aim for the Interstate. There is no traffic, no sign of life anywhere.

I punch the radio on, hoping for some news, some sanity, anything at all to make sense of what we’ve endured. I hear static. I search until I hear a bright, high-pitched voice boom from the car speakers: “Squawk! Hello! Squawk! Hello!”

My wife turns off the radio. I check the fuel gauge. We’ve got a full tank. My plan is to drive north as far as I can, where the weather is too cold for tropical parakeets. I can almost feel my body relax.

Until I hear a flutter of wings from the back seat, and a shriek from the cat.

* Welcome to The Big Jewel, America's last tiny death rattle of authenticity. Not to go all movie trailer on you, but in a world where people who haven't written books are interviewed by people who haven't read them, Charlie Nadler stands alone. Mostly because he hasn't actually published his autobiography, so no news anchors could read it even if they wanted to...

Regarding My Upcoming Autobiography

By: Charlie Nadler

While I am loath to disappoint my beloved fans, I must be forthright regarding the plan for my upcoming autobiography. In light of the reported sales figures from last year’s Autobiography of Mark Twain, it has become apparent that the clear and obvious choice is to go ahead and hold off for at least a century before Charlie’s Autobiography goes to print.

To my potential publisher: There’s little doubt that adhering to this tested and proven marketing strategy will yield staggering results, financially speaking. That said, there are just a few matters that should probably be discussed before we move forward.

Firstly, I have not written an autobiography.

This, I’m sure, is but a small obstacle in the process of publishing my autobiography. Consider: Will future people still be reading long, tedious books that go on for hundreds and hundreds of pages? I contend that the answer is “probably not.” Given the ever-rising popularity of Twitter, perhaps it would be best if my autobiography contained no more than 140 characters? (To be clear: on this point, I do not bend — 140 is my max.)

Now, as I was interviewing my mother for information on my childhood, she made an interesting point: Mark Twain is considered by many to be one of the greatest writers in American history, and I have achieved virtually nothing with my life. Why do I not see this as a problem? Because we have one hundred years — plenty of time! — for me to achieve Mark Twain-level celebrity. Any and all ideas regarding this undertaking are welcome. (Just thought of an idea as I was writing this: what if I started a blog?)

Beyond Mark Twain’s status as a literary and cultural icon, it’s worth noting that he had the incredible foresight to change his name to one that would sound contemporary by the time of his memoir’s printing. Can you imagine, in 2011, Amazon selling out of a book written by someone named “Samuel Clemens”? Ain’t gonna happen. Similarly, the thought of reading the autobiography of someone named “Charlie Nadler” may sound just as absurd and offensive to someone living in 2111. But what if “Charlie Nadler” had changed his name to “Halatrix Omegacron”? Bam! Problem solved.

Just as Twain surely did 100 years ago before sitting down to write his book, we need to ask ourselves: what will people in 100 years be like? Will there still be people, or is it more likely that, following the inevitable onset of technological singularity, endlessly multiplying armies of cybernetic organisms will have seized control of the planet and eradicated all traces of organic life by this time? In order to tap into our future demographic, the story of my life needs to speak to the passions, interests and dreams of those still alive in 2111 — otherwise this puppy’s not gonna sell. To this end, I’m thinking that there should be at least some mention of my struggles as a cyborg assassin who’s repeatedly sent back in time to murder and/or protect future resistance leaders. Indeed, I would not be opposed to changing the title of the book from Charlie’s Autobiography to Halatrix Omegacron: The Life and Times of a Cyborg Assassin in the Post-Apocalyptic Future, or maybe Terminator 4. Should it become apparent that the fate of our planet will fall not into the hands of cyborgs but of conniving molemen, zombies, or genetically engineered alien-dinosaur hybrids, I’m sure that a quick “find-and-replace” can correct this miscalculation.

Speaking of editing, we all saw what happened with Huckleberry Finn (awkward!). You may want to consider preemptively removing any instances of the words “human” and “people” and substituting a likely derogatory slur for us that may be used in the future — something like “goonbags” or “cramblers.” Just trying to think ahead.

Finally, a note to my marketing department. While I can be somewhat flexible on the exact year of publication, I will insist that we aim to publish the book just before Father’s Day. Every dad loves a good autobiography.

* Welcome to The Big Jewel, which we happen to regard as a shrine to great 19th century American literature...and to those in academia who haven't a clue as to what it's all about. In his first piece for us Nicolas Sansone shows just how wrong one doctoral candidate can be.

Dinghy Romance

By: Nicolas Sansone

Dear Herman Melville,

Maybe you’ve felt your ears burning recently. This is because I am composing my dissertation on your emblematic American novel, Moby-Dick. After close-reading your sensual descriptions of nautical apparatus and such interesting seafaring phenomena as ambergris and latent homosexuality, I feel like I understand you better than I understand myself.

In my dissertation, “Melville’s Surging Blowhole,” I discuss the gender politics of your novel. It is my theory that your phallocentrism can be chalked up to your socio-historical context, which includes your experience as a seaman on an all-male whaling boat, the hetero-patriarchal norms of your era, and your sexually ambiguous “friendship” with your contemporary, Nathanial Hawthorne. (You are the better writer, by the way, and Hawthorne didn’t appreciate what he was passing up, but that is simply my opinion, which is informed by my own socio-historical context, which includes my experience of reading Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter with an English teacher, Mrs. Wexler, whose socio-historical context didn’t include a commitment to personal hygiene.)

In short, I argue that the absence of women in your book is due not to underlying misogyny but to your deep yearning to explore the supple contours of virile masculinity with the able hands of a mariner.

This is obvious to anybody with a brain, but, unfortunately, certain professors, whose socio-historical contexts have transformed them into insufferable assholes, are not convinced. Last week, I received initial feedback on my dissertation. I was told that “Melville’s Surging Blowhole” is “a lurid and incoherent misapplication of Queer Theory’s most basic tools” that “reads more like the gushing insinuations of a slobbering fanboy than actual scholarship.” My dissertation advisor wrote, “I can’t help thinking that the cautionary tale of Ahab’s self-destructive pursuit of his white whale might prove instructive to you as you enter your twelfth year in this program. Perhaps it is time to admit defeat. And, on a personal level, I am beginning to worry about your mental and physical health. When have you slept last?”

Ha! Though I can see the laughableness of these comments now, Mr. Melville, when I first received this feedback, I was distraught. So, I left a note for my wife and drove immediately to the only place that could give me solace: your home in Pittsfield, MA, which has today been furnished by the Massachusetts Historical Society with era-appropriate antiques. The leaves were yellow-red and gold-orange, Mount Greylock was a breaching whale on the horizon, and I was transported, Mr. Melville. I was a first mate. I reached out to touch your dining room table, in spite of various placards that warned against such an action, and imagined you there with me. I could feel your ancient breath on my cheek and the pressure of your mizzenmast against my thigh.

O, Mr. Melville! I will not deny that this was extremely moving and that feeling your presence just off my port bow has given me the strength to pursue my goals. I sometimes think about you as I drift to sleep in the evening — and sometimes, when I wake, I know that you have swabbed my decks in the night.

This is my discursive way of saying thank you. When the entire world is against me, I know that I can rely on you. In fact, one might even say I love you. Not in the way I love my wife, of course (don’t get any ideas, mister!), but in a deeper and more transcendent way that only you could possibly comprehend. Thank you for guiding my harpoon, Mr. Melville. Thank you for being my north star.

Deeply yours,

Nicolas A. Sansone, Ph.D. candidate in American Romanticism at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst

* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where it's all for one and one for all. No, actually, it's just all for one, as our good friend David Martin explains...

There Is A “Me” In “Team”

By: David Martin

TO: All staff
FROM: Bill Bidikoff
Senior VP Operations, Northwest Central Region

My purpose in writing today is to outline how each of you can help me to better carry out our regional and company-wide mandates.

I think it goes without saying that there is no “I” in “team.” On the other hand, it should be apparent to all of you that there is a “me” in “team,” albeit backwards and separated by the letter “a.” Furthermore, as far as you’re concerned, that “me” is me.

In short, when I succeed, you succeed. Well, actually I succeed and you probably get to keep your job. But in today’s economy, that should count for success.

Now you’re probably asking yourself, “How can I help our company in general and Bill Bidikoff in particular succeed?” Some of our more senior employees may simply be asking, “How can I get Bill promoted and out of my hair?”

In either case, I think you’ll agree that the primary objective is to help me (and by extension the company) get ahead. And a simple rule of thumb to apply regarding any new initiative is: “Will this help me, and by ‘me’ I mean Bill Bidikoff?”

Say, for example, you have just completed a sales report that highlights increased revenues for the past quarter. Before signing off on the report, review it one final time and consider any ways that you can fit my name into it to ensure that I receive any credit due from senior management.

Likewise, if you’re about to give a presentation to the executive committee about failings in our region’s organizational structure, take a few minutes and make damn sure that my name is mentioned nowhere in the materials. At the same time, feel free to add a few words assigning blame to Joe Conlan, Mary Westin or any of the other regional marketing managers who are competing with me for the VP Sales position.

I’d also like to take this opportunity to stress once again the importance of working together to help me obtain my goals. If you are communicating with my office, I expect you to not only do your job, I also expect you to do mine as well.

Let me give you a helpful example. Ted Nolanson, Director of IT for our region, recently sent me a detailed memo outlining the current problems with our computer security program. Ted described the problem, listed several possible solutions and left the final decision to me.

While Ted’s effort was detailed and workmanlike, it failed on that most basic of criteria, namely how much work will this create for me? What I would have preferred to see from Ted was a single recommendation for action with a plan for giving me the credit for any success and him the blame for any shortcomings.

I think we can all agree that our ultimate objective regarding any corporate policy, objective or decision is to create a win-win situation. And by win-win, I mean a situation where I not only win by not having to expend undue energy but where I also win by looking good to those above me. Remember, let’s all pull together for me.

* Welcome to The Big Jewel. Just to clarify things, we are NOT your local Chrysler-Plymouth-Kia dealer. And based on what Curtis Edmonds says about them, we don't want to be...

Admit It, Central Jersey Chrysler-Plymouth-Kia, It’s Over

By: Curtis Edmonds

If we’re being honest with each other, we’ve both known it for a long time. The unanswered phone calls. The missed service appointments. The growing distance between us. We might as well just say we’ve broken up and move on with our lives.

Really, it’s best for both of us.

I am not saying we didn’t have some good times. I remember the first time we met, on the used car lot, when I was in grad school and needed a used Spectra for basic transportation. I thought it was just a one-time fling, but then I got a job and moved to Bridgewater and passed you every day going to work there on Route 22. I thought we could make things work if we kept at it, and if you kept offering free tire rotation every ten thousand miles.

Then I got that bonus, and it was like destiny. You had a like-new Sebring with wire wheels. I had the money for the down payment. That night we spent going over the finances –- you poring over my credit report, me trying to lower your interest rate –- well, I don’t mind saying that I think about it from time to time. I drove off the lot that night, but I kept coming back for oil changes and tune-ups and that thing with the spare-tire sensor that never did get fixed.

Those were happier times.

It’s easy to blame the accident for what happened. I know you wanted to give me that Pacifica as a loaner car. And I shouldn’t have been so upset that you got me the Sedona instead. But when you couldn’t find the replacement bumper, I saw it as a betrayal of trust. It hurt me, deep down, and I don’t think our relationship ever recovered from that.

I said then that I’d never go back, and I meant it, but when you offered me full trade-in value to get that new Charger, I couldn’t resist. I couldn’t stay mad at you, not then.

I thought we were going to be able to patch things up when the recall notice came. That was just the start of it. Then there was the check-engine light, and the passenger seat that came off the rails and made my cousin spill that milkshake everywhere, and it never smelled right after that. I know you did what you could, but it just didn’t feel like enough. You let me down, and I just can’t be with a car dealership that keeps letting me down.

I have a new life now. I moved to Princeton. I bought a new Audi. I’m happy with my choices in life for once. But you keep calling, telling me about your service department specials. About how Kia is offering cash-back on select Optima models. I got three e-mails from you yesterday telling me that I was overdue for a radiator flush.

I know that maintaining our relationship is important to you. And I know you will be there if I ever need a Town and Country, or even if I just want to hang out for a while over a cup of cold waiting-room coffee. But it’s time to admit it. It’s over.

I am not talking to your supervisor. That’s why we had so many problems in the first place. I would come to you with my concerns, and you would have me talk to your supervisor, and he wouldn’t resolve them, either. Do you know how that made me feel? Do you?

A big full-service dealership like you should have no problems finding another customer.

No, I don’t care what kind of satellite navigation package you have in the 300. And I’m not taking a test drive.

Let’s be mature about this. It’s over. Goodbye.