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

My Band

By: David Jaggard

Hi! My name’s Phil.

I’m Linda.

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

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

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

At O’Connell’s?

No, the Midnight Oil.

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

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

It’s a pretty big group.

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

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

I’m the rhythm guitarist.

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

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

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

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

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

Well, you have to have a strong base…

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

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

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

That must be a hard job.

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

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

Not us — we write most of our own songs.

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

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

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

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

Sorry to hear that.

We’re probably going to play at the funeral.

That’s nice…

Maybe you’d like to come!

That might not be appropriate.

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

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

Come on — it’ll be fun!

Bye now!

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

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

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

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

Well that explains it!

Explains what?

Why she’s so full of herself.

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

The Google Truck Diaries

By: Ioanna Mavrou

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

School Bullies And How To Be One

By: Michael Fowler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where it is our privilege and also our duty to defend every American's constitutional right to keep and bear anvils. While we support tighter background checks for those buying anvils, we would hate to see honest citizens so hamstrung by technicalities that they are unable to use anvils for self-defense. Or even for hunting road runners. Anvil advocate Daniel Falk has the story.

Anvils Don’t Kill People

By: Daniel Falk

A handful of recent gruesome deaths has brought the issue of anvil control legislation back into the spotlight of our national discourse. I would like, once again, to dispel the misinformation being blown out of proportion by the sensationalist media. Study after study has disproved any link between childhood exposure to violent cartoons and the adult use of blacksmithing equipment as violent murder weapons. The danger isn’t with people who have been exposed to these cartoons, but the animals involved in their production.

Mandatory waiting periods, anvil registration, and criminal background checks will not create any meaningful reduction in anvil-related crime. Mandatory waiting periods would fail as no anvil related assault is a crime of passion — any rodent patient enough to spend weeks planning and rigging an elaborate anvil-dropping contraption would have no difficulty waiting an extra week for his anvil. Anvil registration would fail as most anvils used in violent crimes are purchased illegally through the ACME black market. Criminal background checks would be equally useless as those most at risk to commit anvil-related assaults (coyotes, wise-cracking rabbits and sociopathic mice) are not currently tracked by our criminal justice system.

Limitations on anvil size and weight are equally nonsensical. Within the blacksmithing trade there is no distinction between a standard anvil and an assault anvil. No anvil was ever built for the express purpose of hurting anyone, save for the anvil used in the recently declassified “Operation Road Runner” — which, you may recall, not only failed to kill Hitler, but also backfired when the agent involved accidentally sawed off the end of the tree branch he was standing on, resulting in a tragic, though hilarious, comically delayed plummet to the ground.

The fact is that if violent cartoons prove anything, it’s how ineffective anvils actually are as a murder weapon. That isn’t to say that anvils are never used as such. But did you know that a knife is twice as likely to be used as a murder weapon than an anvil? A firearm is ten times as likely. Of the 14,000 murders in the United States in 2010, only 840 involved an anvil.

But that number was greatly reduced in states with easy access to firearms. States with the loosest gun control laws, like Arizona, saw the fewest anvil related deaths per capita. And I disagree with those that argue that most of Arizona’s anvil related crimes go unrecorded as they occur in deserted areas populated only by coyotes and road runners. I believe that the best way to prevent someone from killing with an anvil is to put a gun in their hands.

What few people realize is that the vast majority of anvil-related deaths aren’t murders at all. Did you know that you are ten times as likely to be killed in an anvil-related accident?

Anvils should always be stored as close to the ground as possible. Many people make the mistake of tucking them up on higher shelves, which is just asking for trouble. Rooms where anvils are stored should be securely locked and regularly checked for mouse holes. If you ever hear a high-pitched whistle above your head, it is imperative that you immediately step out of the gradually growing shadow directly beneath you. Additionally, you should never, ever play a Warner Brothers sound effect sample mp3 collection anywhere near where anvils are stored.

American parents who practice blacksmithing, either as a profession or a hobby, need to talk to their children about responsible anvil ownership. An anvil is not a toy. It is a 300-pound block of steel upon which other objects are struck in forging.

If you ever find yourself crushed by an anvil and develop cartoonishly large head bumps, flattened hands and feet, or experience hallucinations of little birds flying around your head, seek immediate medical attention. These injuries can prove fatal if not treated. Many anvil attacks can be survived if immediately treated, as is proven in the recently-released memoir of avid rabbit hunter, and anvil survivor, Elmer Fudd.

Our founding fathers’ sacrifice will have been for nothing if we allow ourselves to be stripped of the right to anvil ownership, just because of the actions of a few irresponsible cartoon animals. It would mean the end of artisanal blacksmithing as we know it. And besides, we would not be the only species negatively affected by such legislation. Just think of the ecological disaster that would result from coyote overpopulation.