* Welcome to The Big Jewel, your New Yorker away from the New Yorker. This week please say a big friendly hello to Michael Wolman. This is his first piece for us.

Standup Comedy For New Yorker Subscribers

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Bonsoir! It’s great to be back in New York. I love it here. It’s always nice to be in a place where people don’t think Wittgenstein is a type of beer mug.

Not that I have anything against Middle America, mind you. Iowa, Nebraska, Ohio…Great places to live. But just to give you an example, last week I was in Omaha, and M was playing. You know, the Fritz Lang classic…And the woman next to me, she says, “Oh, I love Judi Dench!” She thought it was the newest James Bond flick! Yeah, right. And Z starred Antonio Banderas. Corncob…

Speaking of movies, how about that Anthony Lane? What a great critic. Brilliant. I love it when they give him an absolute cream puff and then let him just go to town on it. I mean, the dude has reviewed The Da Vinci Code and Sex and the City. Seriously? Sex and the City? For A-Train Lane? That would have been like assigning Valley of the Dolls to Frank Kermode. Come on, Remnick, challenge the guy!

But seriously. Like I say, it’s great to be back in New York. I visited MOMA today to check out the new Murakami exhibit. Anyone see that yet? It’s great. Very Oldenburg-meets-Miyazaki…My problem with Murakami is that whenever my friends discuss him at parties, it takes me a moment to divine whether they’re talking about Haruki Murakami or Takashi Murakami. Don’t you hate that? I hate that. I’ll overhear something about “fantastical post-modernism,” and then I’ll go over and join the discussion, and I’ll make a total ass of myself by explaining how I found Kafka on the Shore too accessible — only to discover they were discussing Takashi, not Haruki! So humiliating.

It’s easy to embarrass yourself these days…. Like, have you noticed how many people mispronounce “Roethke?” Last month I was in Cincinnati — might as well be the South, by the way — and my wife’s cousin is discussing mid-century prosody, and she mentions Roethke and pronounces it “Roath-key.” Can you believe that? Not even close. So I correct her, right? And she calls me an elitist!…Right. I’m an “elitist” for actually knowing the pronunciation of a Pulitzer winner’s name. The same thing happens to me in Texas when I correct people on “Nabokov” or “Barthelme.” They should be embarrassed, not me.

Anyway, those are the kinds of things that never happen in New York, am I right? People here know the things people should know. Even on the subway, which I love…One thing I’ve noticed on the trains is the difference between black people and white people. See, black people read books like Beloved and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, while white folks prefer books like Darkness at Noon and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Ever notice that? Seriously, you know why Ellison called it Invisible Man? I’ll tell you why: ’cause all the white kids who are forced to read it in school have never looked at a single word of the text. It might as well be invisible to them! They’re too busy reading Proust, I suppose. At least, my kids are.

Anyway, that’s all the time I have tonight. You folks have been great. Merci! Merci beaucoup. Vous pouvez me retrouver ici, toute la semaine.

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* Welcome to The Big Jewel, a world of wonderment and natural beauty that in a few short weeks will turn your ill-behaved brats into solid citizens. Or at least that's what Kathryn Higgins would have you believe.

Lake Wannaquonsett Child-Enrichment Summer Camp

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We Fix Your Kid So You Don’t Have To!

Your child will enjoy two weeks of improvement in our lovely lakeside camp. We use only scientific research-based behavior modification techniques to teach and domesticate your child.

Enrollment is limited, so book your child’s summer adventure now!

Make Your Bed Summer Camp — Your thirteen-year-old still doesn’t know how to make her bed, or so she says. The unmade bed in a child’s room is the first step on the road to unchecked squalor. Nip it in the bud now with our two-week session of Make Your Bed summer sleepaway camp. Kids learn to install fitted sheets, center flat sheets (colored side down, so your décor will be visible when the sheet is folded over the blanket), correctly insert a comforter into a duvet cover, tuck in hospital corners, and plump pillows. Don’t worry — your kid won’t see the lake until she gets the bed right.

Close Your Drawers And Doors Summer Camp — Think it’s impossible? Your child will learn to close drawers and doors in the context of our scientific techniques: both intermittent positive and consistent negative reinforcement. Leave a drawer open once, and your son will get squirted in the nose with our power squirt gun. Second time: a loud rap of the newspaper on the desk should jolt him out of his indolence. Third offenders will be placed in a partially submerged bamboo cage on the slimy end of Lake Wannaquonsett. Campers who shut their drawers and doors successfully will get the occasional lollipop. (Note: be sure to keep a store of lollipops at home for your reformed return camper).

Laundry Summer Camp — Campers will learn to actually put their dirty socks and underwear into the laundry basket conveniently placed right next to their beds. We’ll examine how to manage mud, grass, lake tar, blood and crap stains before they become permanent. Kids will analyze sorting and cleaning of dirty laundry in chemical experiments. (What happens when Teddy’s new red Volcom tee-shirt is washed in hot water with his white Billabong hoodie? If Teddy doesn’t guess pink, he will soon learn.) In the second week we introduce the task of folding and hanging clothes. Challenging, yes, but we promise your child will be unable to resist our behavioral modification techniques that include electrical stimuli, exposure to unappealing animals, and scrubbing cockroach turds with a toothbrush.

Pick Up Your Garbage Summer Camp — Some youngsters have trouble grasping the concept of garbage: what constitutes refuse and how to manage it. You’ll know if your kid will benefit from Pick Up Your Garbage Summer Camp if he’s the type that leaves candy wrappers, used tissues, toy packaging and nail clippings scattered around his room or in front of the TV. Campers will learn to get up and put refuse into appropriate containers, whenever such refuse is created. Don’t believe this is possible? We guarantee that when your child gets home he will be eager, almost desperate, to pick up any garbage in sight.

Daily Chores Summer Camp — Remember daily chores? We resurrect this quaint notion at Lake Wannaquonsett. Campers learn to do the dishes, sweep and mop, separate recyclables, take out the garbage, dust and vacuum, all in the context of our scientific research-based techniques. In the second week we tackle things like correct glove usage and drying (turn them inside out!), changing vacuum bags, cleaning toilets, advanced chemical reactions (bleach, ammonia, baking soda, and Pine Sol®), removing old asbestos attic insulation and installing new attic insulation.

So You Have An Owie Summer Camp — In this group kids learn to cope with their own blisters, scrapes, bruises, bumps and abrasions. Band-Aids and antiseptic ointments are placed in easily-accessed areas along with sun block, bug repellent, ice, hot packs, splints, thermometers, pain medication and our state-of-the-art AED defibrillator. Children are expected to dress their own wounds up to and including the loss of a toenail or a bite from one of our famous Lake Wannaquonsett snapping turtles. In this group we step back and let nature take its course to positively or negatively reinforce camper behavior. Blistering sunburns and infected mosquito bites send a message that mommy’s nagging never will.

Teen Explorer Summer Camp — The coddling is over in this group (for advanced campers). Each year we pick a different desolate spot for kids to hone their survival skills. Last year, surprise! — it was Afghanistan. Campers are dropped off for three weeks without cell phones, zit cream or candy bars. As a group they develop endurance and cooperation skills that last a lifetime.*

* Lifetime varies from one day to eighty years.

Shut The Hell Up Summer Camp — Your whining brat will arrive at camp feeling entitled and outraged, and will leave humbled, quiet and appreciative of the smaller things in life. Like food.

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* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where the milk of human kindness is only 1%, or sometimes skim. It has been quite a while since we heard from Mark Peters (check out his "Words of Wisdom" from Novermber 26, 2008, in our Archives). But now he's back, and this time it's personal.

Compassion And Empathy

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People are frustrating. Bad waiters, crazy drivers, and ruthless dictators who frighteningly resemble Bob Dylan are everywhere. Some neighbors don’t even return a “Hi” or a salad bowl. No wonder so many people spend their days alternating between road rage and ‘roid rage and beyond.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Instead of drowning in a vat of anger and frustration, every single day, wouldn’t you rather soak in a hot tub of compassion for your fellow beings, forever? I know I would, and that’s just what I do.

Here’s my secret: Anytime I get annoyed, offended, outraged, miffed, or consumed by white-hot vengeance — because of anyone at all — I imagine they just killed a guy. That one mental leap prevents a lifetime of stumbles.

Let’s take the world of dating. A first date is stressful and full of questions like “Do I look OK?” and “Holy crap, is that hair coming out of his ear really four inches long?” Instead of wasting your time on questions no one can answer, you should focus on an answer you can embrace: this potential soulmate isn’t just a young professional who enjoys road trips and live music, but a young murderer who enjoys killing guys, then destroying the bodies with sulfuric acid while cackling. That thought alone can turn a dismal date around.

You can use this method with your dearest family members too. Do you have “daddy issues,” like every single person who has ever lived? Maybe you can’t understand why your father never calls, or drinks like a fish, or thinks he can command fish when he puts on his Aquaman costume. While you’re trying to get the old rascal to leave the aquarium peacefully, consider this: what if your dad has not only been drinking daily since he was 12, but killing guys daily for the same period? This puts your father in a whole new light, allowing you to be more patient and understanding.

Can you imagine committing homicide — and getting away with it — when you were twelve? Then getting addicted to snuffing out life, continuing to kill and kill and kill, all the way through your teens, twenties, thirties, forties, fifties, and sixties, never missing a beat, cruising your way to the status of greatest serial killer of all time, not just in terms of numbers but because of your incredible secrecy and effectiveness? No wonder your dad drinks. He has a lot on his plate.

My philosophy of maybe-they-killed-a-guy-ism applies to more than relationships and family — it helps us understand the complicated world of politics. Like a lot of folks, I’m frustrated with the President. But what if Obama has more on his mind than budgets and terrorism and jobs and polls and kinetic military actions? What if he started killing guys with his bare hands and teeth, just for kicks, and the secret service has been covering it up? What if he’s out-killing our forces in Afghanistan singlehandedly? That could distract a fella.

It’s about empathy — putting yourself in the other person’s blood-stained shoes. I mean, after I kill a guy I’m very preoccupied. I worry about how much DNA evidence I left behind, and if anyone will check the Winnebago. I wonder if a hand grenade would’ve been more effective. I wonder if a stern warning would’ve been more prudent. I’m a mess.

But if I constantly dwell on the guys I’ve garroted, shot, drowned, stabbed with bayonets, dropped off buildings, starved in my dungeon, and smooshed with a zamboni, then I’m guilty of something worse than being a merciless psychokiller: I’m being a self-centered boob. Who wants to be that? I’d rather open my mind than harden my heart.

Wouldn’t you?

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* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where we are the first to admit we should not ever help staff a suicide hot line. Our first reaction to any caller would no doubt be to yell "Go for it!" And when you read this week's piece from first-time contributor Christopher Haygood, that is what you will be tempted to yell at Mr. Edgar Lamont.

The Suicidal Tendencies Of Edgar J. Lamont

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Date: Saturday, May 3
To: Susan Lamont; Steven Lamont; Greg Dreyfuss; Ted Thompson;…
Subject: My Demise

Dearest family and friends,

Things have become unbearable. Every night is a hell worse than the last, and every day is a sandstorm of apathy and deflation. Food no longer tastes good; air no longer smells sweet; laughter no longer sounds like an ode to life. It is with a heavy heart that I write this: I have decided to leave this world. By the time you finish this sentence I shall have drowned myself in the bathtub.

I would like to thank everyone who supported me over the years. This is my choice, and nothing could have been done for me. Goodbye. If there is another life, I hope to see you all in it.

Don’t Blame Yourselves,

Edgar Lamont

* * * * * * *

Date: Saturday, May 10
To: Susan Lamont; Steven Lamont; Greg Dreyfuss; Ted Thompson;…
Subject: The End

Dear family and friends,

Things are worse than ever. I don’t remember even my fondest childhood memories, and all worldly pleasures are fleeting, like the clouds drifting across the night sky. Sometimes I look to those clouds and wonder what it would be like to live up there…freely…without pain. By the time you finish reading this, I too will lead a pain-free existence, having hanged myself from the rafters of my neighbor’s barn.

I will never forget you all. Until I die, of course, but that goes without saying.

It Had To Be Like This,

Ed Lamont

* * * * * * *

Date: Saturday, May 17
To: Susan Lamont; Steven Lamont; Greg Dreyfuss; Ted Thompson;…
Subject: Final Sunset

Dear all,

I mean it this time. Honestly, I thought I was doing better, but I got such a lackluster response to the last note that I thought I might as well end it already. No sense in living if my only acquaintances aren’t going to make me feel good about it. Sigh. I guess the universe truly is a bleak and desolate place.

By the time you finish this I will have done myself in like the warriors of ancient Japan, through the glorious art of seppuku, or, for the unworldly among you (Steve), stabbing myself in the friggin’ stomach.

I wonder: What could life have been, were my existence not so wretched?

Life Sucks,

Ed

P.S. I don’t believe I need to remind you that you are all in my will, and I can take you out at any time.

* * * * * * *

Date: Sunday, May 18
To: Susan Lamont; Steven Lamont; Greg Dreyfuss; Ted Thompson;…
Subject: (none)

Dear people who are supposed to be there for me but aren’t,

Susan: I am going to do it, and whenever you say I’m not, oh, it just brings me that much closer. And what do you mean it “doesn’t matter” if I take you out of my will because I “don’t have anything anyway”? If a collection of over 200 multi-brand Frisbees — some of them quite rare — is nothing, then sure, I guess I have nothing. You know what? You’re out of the will.

Greg: I am not being a drama queen. And you’re the one who is immature. Who disregards a friend in need? You are no friend, indeed. And you’re out of the will.

Dr. Thompson: You’ve been my psychiatrist for three years, I just thought you’d want to know if a patient were going to end his own life. Fine, you’re off the list. I hope you don’t mind having a guilty conscience! And although you weren’t in the will, I’m putting you in, just so I can take you out. Feel the burn, Dr. Douche.

Steve: I called you unworldly because you are. You’re also smelly and fat, and your band sucks so much I think it might have caused my hopeless depression. You’re like the worst brother ever, seriously. Out of the will.

Time to go shoot myself, like Hemingway. Oh, the plight of the artist…Not that you Philistines would know.

Burn in Hell,

EL

* * * * * * *

Date: Friday, May 23
To: Susan Lamont; Steven Lamont; Greg Dreyfuss;…
Subject: Guess what?

Hey morons,

For your cold-hearted responses, I’m not going to kill myself — I’m going to live to old age just to spite you! And I’m gonna live each day to the fullest! How’s that? I bet you’re feeling pretty sorry now! Ha ha!

By the time you’ve finished reading this letter, I will be out fulfilling all the dreams I’ve had since childhood (remember when I said I forgot all my childhood memories? I lied!). Oh, the places I’ll go, the food I’ll eat, the fun I’ll have — it’s a rebirth! And all because you wicked bastards tried to convince me that suicide was the answer! Sorry to foil your plans, “family” and “friends”: I’m alive!

And it feels great!

Very Sincerely,

Edgar J. Lamont
Optimist

* * * * * * *

Date: Saturday, May 24
To: Steven Lamont; Greg Dreyfuss; Ted Thompson;…
Subject: *Important*

To the friends and family of Edgar Lamont,

The worst has happened: Our dear Ed has passed away.

Certain details are sketchy, but it has been concluded that, immediately after sending his final email, Edgar charged out of the house with what his neighbors described as “an off-putting look of childish joy,” at which time he tripped over a garden hose and impaled himself on a very sharp rake. He was twenty-six.

We will all miss poor Ed, but if there is one thought that can help us find solace in his absence, it’s that he died doing what he loved: dying.

Regretfully,

Susan Lamont

P.S. Although Edgar repeatedly referenced a will in his many suicide notes, it couldn’t be located even after an extensive search of his home, leading us to believe that he never had one in the first place. Therefore, his monetary savings ($115.89), magazines, and collection of 200 multi-brand Frisbees will be parceled and distributed equally amongst everyone on this “Weekly Suicide Update” mailing list. The funeral is next Saturday, and God bless.

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* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where we are neither the devil you know nor the devil you don't know, but rather the devil that your cousin's real estate agent used to date. While we're on the subject of devils, please heed the counsel of Dan Rozier in his first piece for us. He seems to be intimately acquainted with many devils.

The Devil You Know & The Devil You Don’t

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THE DEVIL YOU KNOW has an elaborate orchestra with instruments made entirely out of the bones of sinners. Skull organ, fibula flutes, ribcage xylophone are commonplace as the music of the immoral echoes throughout Hell’s caverns.

THE DEVIL YOU DON’T plays in a Damn Yankees cover band (Dammed Yankees) with Mark Twain, Ulysses S. Grant, and George Steinbrenner. They play every Thursday night at the Gristle Pit and are opening for Jackyl this upcoming Saturday. Five dollar cover, ladies drink for free. And as always, don’t forget to stop by and see Jim Morrison, who will be to the left of the bar running the merch stand.

THE DEVIL YOU KNOW catches sinner’s souls in a jar upon their final breath in the mortal world and laughs all the way back to the depths of hell, where he releases them to be tortured for all eternity.

THE DEVIL YOU DON’T is the one stealing your wireless Internet. But it’s not like he wants to do it, your connection just happens to reach him and it’s not feasible to have wireless set up in Hell. He’s probably sorry and I bet the only time he used it during peak hours was to MapQuest directions to Burbank so he could warn Michael Eisner that he set his alarm for PM instead of AM.

THE DEVIL YOU KNOW is red, and I mean everything, is red. His skin, his eyes, the floor and the ceiling are all an identical, piercing color. Everything is covered in fire and miscreant blood, and all of the residents are sunburned beyond recognition.

THE DEVIL YOU DON’T loves color. In fact, in his spare time he’s a freelance crayon creation specialist. His big break was the precise dye combination that became what we now know as “Burnt Sienna.” He was inspired by the brownish matter caked on the inside of his unbaptized baby oven. He read that Crayola was holding their annual “Create a New Color” contest and he just went for it. Now, thanks to Crayola, a portion of the profits from every Burnt Sienna crayon you purchase is put towards funding your spouse’s infidelity – because unlike your husband’s secretary, trips to the surface to control your life aren’t cheap.

THE DEVIL YOU KNOW creates natural disasters when the mood strikes him. He loves nothing more than to watch man squirm as humanity is convinced the end of the world is near. Such natural disasters include but are not limited to: earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, tornados, flash floods, and regular-speed floods.

THE DEVIL YOU DON’T accidently created the Bubonic Plague during a botched attempt to make banana nut bread (one cup of vanilla, not two). The Banana Bread page got stuck to the Black Death recipe page. On the bright side, he learned vanilla is great for swelling one-third of Europe’s lymph nodes.

THE DEVIL YOU KNOW patiently sits and watches as we destroy our own lives without his interference, thrilled that the day we die is the day we will join him in eternal damnation. The advent of meth and Internet pornography addiction has made his job infinitely easier.

THE DEVIL YOU DON’T is anxiously waiting for the Wonder Years to be released on DVD. He understands the problem with the music rights, but it’s getting ridiculous. Shouldn’t there be an exclusion clause if you used literally every song written between 1968 and 1973? He hopes the delay has nothing to do with the fact that he occasionally went up to the surface to whisper “butthead” in Fred Savage’s ear while he was sleeping, which allegedly “contributed” to his “involuntary commitment.”

THE DEVIL YOU KNOW is 12′ 6″, 400 lbs. Give or take.

THE DEVIL YOU DON’T has submitted his Bowflex video testimony dozens of times to no avail. Even though he did everything right and completely transformed his chest, arms, abs, and back. He just wants to say thanks and show people that Bowflex really does work. He’s four and a half billion years old and he is in the best shape of his life. The only problem was finding a good spot to film. So there were a few frames that had people being spoon-fed their own kidneys while getting their fingernails pulled off and listening to the Eagles’ greatest hits. It was in the background and you could barely even see it. Lighten up, Bowflex.

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