* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where we would never rank the identity of a typeface as being of greater importance than the content it embodies. But Ronald Dario would. He's peculiar that way.

A Note About The Type

By:
ronalddario@gmail.com

The text of this book is set in Gunta Liebe, which is a type family developed in 1957 by German typeface designer Stefan Wagner. Gunta Liebe was initially designed in an attempt to streamline visibility and to impress Austrian architect Gunta Miedinger (née Muller), who worked at the Bauhaus school at the same time as Wagner. The two met for the first time at an office Christmas party and shared an enthusiastic conversation about their mutual fondness of the shape, construction and handling of the beetle. The interaction left the type designer quite smitten with the young architect. Miedinger (née Muller) later said that she “thought we were talking about the popular car at first,” but soon “realized that [Wagner] was actually referring to those really gross bugs. I told him that I had to use the toilet and left the party altogether. He was way too excited about bugs.”

Inspired, Wagner decided to change the font’s name from Abssichwalz — named after the late grandmother who raised him — to Gunta Liebe. Wagner believed that dedicating a completed typeface to his new crush would be the grandest romantic gesture possible. In a journal entry from 1958, Wagner wrote he had “told Mother and Father about sweet Gunta, but frustratingly, they only feigned interest.” Mother and Father were the names of Wagner’s two favorite cats, whose faces he would later have tattooed onto his inner thighs.

In February of 1959, Miedinger (née Muller) met and fell in love with Swiss typeface designer Max Miedinger, developer of what is now known as Helvetica. When the news of their relationship reached Wagner, he reportedly felt a “betrayal that quickly escalated into madness” and “basically stopped interacting with his friends and colleagues.” Wagner’s family never heard from him again, which he would later blame on his decision to put Johnny America — his other cat — in charge of his day-to-day correspondence.

Wagner spent the next 18 years obsessively focused on the completion of Gunta Liebe, going through 402 iterations of the typeface. One colleague remembered him as “a very focused man,” recalling the sheer will that Wagner displayed as he “traveled around the city, collecting any printed material that used Helvetica,” which Wagner then “ate for sustenance and also in the hopes that it would ‘take away some of Helvetica’s evil power.’ Sometimes it was hundreds of pamphlets, or an entire shelf of books, or even the awning from a butcher’s shop! But he never complained or hesitated — he just consumed.” Wagner’s desire to perfect Gunta Liebe and win back Miedinger’s (née Muller) affection prevented him from working on or delivering any other project for the Bauhaus. Stefan Wagner was officially terminated from his position in 1966, after taking an extended medical leave caused by an almost lethal number of paper cuts in his mouth, esophagus and stomach.

For nine years, Wagner lived in a constant state of fatigue — likely due to his subpar living conditions (abandoned beef rendering plant) and poor diet (expired tins of meat seasoned with rolling tobacco). In the long effort to finish Gunta Liebe, Wagner tried many strange experimental techniques. He would lock himself in a cold cellar for weeks, depriving his body of food, clean water and sunlight in a ritual that he believed would give him the motivation to finally complete the type family. Instead it gave the designer a severe case of toxic shock syndrome, which caused a series of hallucinations that he called “visions.”

Wagner wrote about his most inspiring vision, recalling “a giant cat coming to me with Miedinger in her mouth.” The giant cat then proceeded to “throw that villain into the air, catching him and swallowing him in one gulp,” and the vision ends with the giant cat “[pulling] out Max’s skeleton whole, still connected, and presenting it to me as a gift.” In the subsequent journal entries, Wagner mostly writes about visions in which he is making “glorious” music by “playing on [Miedinger’s] skeleton ribcage like a xylophone” and “creating beautiful piano pieces by pressing down on Max’s huge, crooked teeth like piano keys.”

Wagner contracted pneumonia in 1974 and lived with the condition for 11 months before finally succumbing to being hit by a small furniture truck and then immediately having his head run over by a slightly larger furniture truck. His body was cremated and — as instructed in his will — his ashes were scattered across a thick paste, mixed thoroughly, and smeared across the Bauhaus campus.

The Miedingers were married for 52 years, passing away from natural causes at the exact same time, peacefully and in each other’s arms after more than five decades of a loving and entirely conflict-free marriage. The financial success of Helvetica afforded the couple the luxury of building a guard tower and moat around their home after a series of mysterious events that resulted in Miedinger (née Muller) waking up with her toenails clipped and several inches of hair missing.

In 1988, the final iteration of Gunta Liebe was discovered inside a chest full of preserved beetles that were dressed in miniature women’s clothes and wearing crude wigs made out of human hair. The book containing the completed version of Gunta Liebe was found wrapped neatly in a parcel addressed to Miedinger (née Muller), never mailed. The other 401 iterations of Gunta Liebe and the majority of Stefan Wagner’s journals were reportedly incinerated by accident shortly after the director of the Bauhaus found a sandy paste in his coffee.

Wagner was survived by his three cats, whose inbred descendants are the sole beneficiaries of any and all proceeds made from Gunta Liebe.

The secondary type is Futura Bold.

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* Welcome to The Big Jewel, your source for pickup lines that are absolutely, positively guaranteed to work every time. Michael Fowler knows, because they worked for him. As always, we invite you to check out the links to his books, "A Happy Death" and "The Created Couple," in our blogroll.

Surefire Lines

By:
mmfowler@fuse.net

She was the kind of girl you meet at the planetarium. Soft-spoken, creased jeans, killer dimples. I told her that the asteroid that came by this year, the one the size of two football fields, had missed us by 359,000 miles, not even close. Sure, when it would come back around in 2059 it’d pass a lot closer, 135,000 miles, but that was still a football field or two of leeway so there was nothing to fear. I left her smiling and combing my mustache with her tongue.

She was the sort of woman you run into at the energy company payment window. Tight shorts, clean sneakers, heart-shaped calves. I told her I wasn’t afraid of high heating costs this winter, and that was because I heat my home with radon. This naturally occurring and cost-free radioactive emission provides the evenly distributed and comfortable energy of a hundred x-ray machines without even the need of a thermostat. I left her joyfully adding up the money saved and savoring the BTUs in my lips.

She was the type of tomato one bumps into at a chess tournament. Braless, homeschooled, atmospheric. I told her I was one of the fastest players in the world, not because of the quickness of my thought, but on account of the velocity I imparted to the pieces. In the opening, my king’s pawn had been clocked at 50 miles per hour, and in one game I moved my bishop along a diagonal so quickly my opponent briefly lost sight of it. Bowled over, she replied that she’d rather be knocked down and kicked by me than given expensive gifts by a lesser man.

She was the kind of babe you run into at the optician’s. Striped, bilingual, ambidextrous. She urged me to try contacts, and I said I would, provided that the optometrist put them in tiny frames that went over my ears and connected them with a curved piece that fit over my nose. A minute or two later she “got it” and laughed, then played footsie with me in the waiting area, and at the same time offered to clean my apartment for only $29.95 a month — a deal!

She was the kind of gal you spot at a shoe store. Palsied, breathless, street-smart. My last boyfriend made shoes, she said. Was he an elf? I asked. She slapped my back in instant camaraderie and promised me action.

She was the sort of bird you encounter in the Honey Baked ham line during the holidays. Cold, starving, dressed in rags. As two strangers, we entered the line at the front of the store, and by the time we spied hams in the distance, we were in a relationship. Later on in the day, when we arrived at the condiments, I saw it wouldn’t work, but I couldn’t just leave her. Try the honey-mustard sauce, I advised; it seemed the least I could do. She offered to lick the stuff out of my navel and drink my saliva through a straw. Coolio!

She was the sort of lady one sits beside at the library. Fishnets, sandalwood scent, hair in a bun. I told her I gave library books as holiday gifts, enclosing a note that said, I think you might appreciate this, and by the way, it’s due back in two weeks. At her place she “read” my testicles, saying they were as deep as Dostoevsky.

She was the sort of chick you find on the tour of Elvis’s home in Memphis, Petticoat Junction or whatever it’s called. Pallid, free-wheeling, altruistic. I told her Elvis had the same kitchen that my mother in Cincinnati had, built in the same year, 1957. I would have felt at home toasting cheese sandwiches with Elvis on his Hotpoint Range, stacking 45’s on his Magnavox hi-fi, or watching TV with the King on his 24-foot vanilla shag sofa. The chick asked me if my mom really had a 24-foot vanilla shag sofa, but not before inviting me over to her place for an afternoon of choke-play and twerking.

She was the kind of colleen you meet in the front seat of a Ford. Cornfed, shoeless, monotheistic. She got upset that I dozed off while driving, though she dozed off too. Once I was driving by a farm, and when I woke up, there were chicken feathers and bloody carcasses all over the windshield. I managed to pull into a rest stop before she woke up, and I was just removing the last feathers when I saw her looking at me with suspicion. I said, A flock of low-flying geese flew right into me, and I’m the sort of savvy navigator who steers away from hazardous fowl, protecting his lady’s sweetly put-together package. At that she tore open my shirt, said I love the stuffing out of you too, handsome, and sprayed my chest with soda, just to watch the lazy liquid crawl down my bod.

She was the kind of mama you might sidle up to while skydiving. Alert, shadowy, iron-deficient. As we steered our silk toward the ground, I told her the history of skywriting. It started by accident, I said. A man’s biplane caught on fire, he bailed out in the smoke and flames, and after he hit the ground he looked up and saw: Eat at Bob’s. Later on, as we folded up our chutes, she “got it” and started laughing. She came to my place that evening and hand-rubbed my brisket, then greased my griddle. As a finale she tweaked my circuits and rotated my distributor, for reals!

She was the kind of miss you approach at an animal rights meeting. Sensitive, long-fingered, fringed with cat hair. I told her my dog was a very perceptive and intelligent animal, able to tell my mood in a second, and if he had any doubts a few whacks across his spine with a broom handle clarified the matter. I also liked to run out my front door with my BB gun shouting Geronimo! and shooting squirrels and robins in the chest. You might think this would diminish me in her eyes, but after I broke down in tears and said I needed her guidance, I soon lay face down on the bed in her apartment as she whipped me to attention with pine nettles.

She was the kind of doll you greet in a shark cage. Bleached top, tattooed shanks, bleeding gums. I told her I was called, in that gracious Southern tradition, Beer Breath. Since we were underwater, I had to repeat myself several times before she understood. Later on deck our captain, a sailor from Croatia, said he could defend us from any shark, no matter how large. She and I soon spotted a great white sixty feet long, and I whispered to her, we’re going to need a bigger Croat. After sundown she “got it,” then took me below deck while tittering and scalped my kelp.

She was the sort of dame you see holding up a bank. Masked, borrowed clothes, armed. She wanted reassurance that the pocket umbrella sticking out of my jacket pocket wasn’t a gun. It looked a lot like a gun. It was metallic and had that tooled look and handle-like grip, so when I roll it up tight and stick it in my pocket, it could be a gun. What with all the violence going on these days, you couldn’t be sure. Smiling broadly, I replied, softly, It’s a 38-caliber London Fog. That’s all I said, just: It’s a 38-caliber London Fog automatic with a hair trigger, softly and distinctly. With that she ordered me into a corner and fed me a kiss that I felt down to my arches, then back up to my molars. She whispered that she admired my insouciance, and if she didn’t get caught or shot she was a lead-pipe cinch.

She was the kind of cookie you stumble across in an ancient civilization. Riddled with parasites, toned from plowing, mummified. I met her on Extinct.com, the interactive website for girls from Mesopotamia and other defunct spots. Did you know you were the last of your kind? I asked her. And if you did, why didn’t you have kids? She mumbled something about how her dad didn’t like her going out with the Etruscans or Phoenicians in her neighborhood; they didn’t mine enough silver and seldom bathed. Liking what I heard, I said maybe we two could get us a little house in the Fertile Crescent, revive the Mesopotamians. She said, I’m 4500 years old and dead; it would be a long shot. I told her not to put herself down like that, but then I logged off. Usually I chased anything in pantyhose, but maybe a Mesopotamian chick was too much of a stretch. How far could pantyhose stretch, anyway? Still, the next day I checked out some futuristic babes on Roommates@Mooncolony.org and found one who said she’d live in the Mare Tranquillitatis with me in 2050, if she liked the way I sounded. I’m still trying to come up with a line that long.

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* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where romantic dreams meet cold hard reality in a savage head-on collision that is nonetheless heartwarming and amusing. This week, first time contributor Linda DeMers Hummel wants someone to adjust so much more than her pipes.

Pipe Dreams

By:
lindadhummel@gmail.com

Let’s say it’s been a while between dates. Let’s say seven months. Let’s admit that the produce aisle at Whole Foods isn’t the bastion of solvent men it’s cracked up to be. My kickball league was useless. And I had to drink so much while Speed Dating that every potential love of my life ended up looking like he had an identical twin coming out of his shoulder.

Not that today is a date — or at least not yet — but I am branching out. Sure, some might call it settling, but mostly they would be the assholes on my kickball team. This morning, three carpet layers and a plumber are coming to my house. I’m hoping just one of them won’t be a dolt. Does that sound condescending? I hope not because I’m already fast-forwarding to a party next year, where he and I can share our story with the seven people in the tri-state area who still haven’t heard it. “You won’t believe how we met,” I’ll say, gazing into his insanely chiseled face, “Honey, you tell them. You tell it so well!”

Okay, suddenly I’m having a lucid moment. Odds are good that the carpet guys haven’t changed much since their high school days of getting buzzed under the bleachers while cutting second period Algebra. Good chance they’re birthers, and they say “dude” every fifth word. All right, the carpet guys are officially off the table. Maybe.

Which leaves (okay, judgy kickball people) my imaginary plumber. He’s all tall and rugged. White teeth and healthy gums. And his backstory! There’s a really good reason why he’s a plumber instead of a Stanford grad and I, for one, can’t wait to hear it.

“Ma’am?” The carpet layers are the first to arrive, and one look confirms why I broke up with them. Right out of the gate, they have no control of their past participles and make absolutely no eye contact as they carry the big bolt past me. Perhaps their breakfast of barbecued potato chips and orange soda hasn’t given them the stamina they were hoping for. That’s just a guess though. Maybe I’m just not their type.

Two rooms away, I can hear their every word, courtesy of (just speculating here) too many AC/DC concerts. They speak with all the stealth of my 92-year-old Uncle Mike, who’s been known to give an entire room a rundown on his latest bowel movement when he thought he was whispering to Aunt Sarah.

Their conversation starts with a mystery: “I know my grandfather was in a war, but I’m not sure which one.”

“Well, we could figure it out by the year he was born,” says the mathematical carpet layer.

“1931.”

“That’s easy then,” says the historian carpet layer and Jeopardy contender. “Had to be World War Two.”

“Wherever it was, he told me it was cold as fuck. Where’d they fight World War Two anyway?”

“In Vietnam.”

I wonder if the plumber will be on time. I love him more now than I did an hour ago, and that was a lot.

Isn’t it cute that I know so much about him? He’ll carry a dog-eared little notebook everywhere he goes. He’ll stop intermittently to jot down his thoughts, and I won’t even care that I’m paying him $800 an hour. And once my disposal is running again, we’ll meander out to the patio. How does he manage to smell like a sprig of lavender after a day of unclogging people’s pipes?

“This?” I’ll say, “Oh it’s nothing!” Just the last Merlot from my 2006 Napa trip, breathing for 35 minutes, just as the sommelier recommended. And, surprise! Bruschetta I’ve made with basil harvested an hour ago from my herb garden, and olive oil directly from Umbria. Somehow I know it won’t attract flies on the back patio, which will leave us ample time to gaze into each other’s souls. Maybe you’ll read aloud your latest poetry that came to you as you were installing a showerhead across town.

Finally, a knock at the door! Am I reading too much into this, or was that knock the perfect balance between vulnerability and strength?

His brown uniform is emblazoned with an embroidered patch: CHUCK. That’s quite a mustache you’ve got going there, Chuck. Had a quick beer and a cigarette on your way over, did you? No need to smile. Really. Enough with the teeth.

“This way to the kitchen,” I say, remembering the perky steps I’d been practicing. Perky no more, I just point to the sink.

His first words as he climbs underneath are: “Jesus Christ!” This is not as alarming as it might sound. I hear this kind of comment often because I tend to let things go until a crisis may be looming. So I’m not worried. That, plus love is dead.

“See this?” he asks, pointing with his flashlight. “You’re lucky you didn’t get electrocuted. Who the hell put this in?”

“My ex-husband.”

Did Chuck just stick his head out from under the sink and look me up and down? Did a warm breeze just blow through my hair, and did my lips form a perfect sensuous rosebud? Chuck has just taken a deep breath.

“Can you fix it today?” I’m trying so hard to look serious that I may instead look like a woman who’s just finished a ventriloquism class.

He goes to his truck to get the part he needs. While he’s gone, the carpet guys have a spirited discussion about the California Gold Rush or the rule of the Habsburgs — it’s hard to tell.

Chuck is back, but uh oh, he has combed his hair. I want to blurt out, “CHUCK, it’s me, not you. The bruschetta isn’t happening, okay? I don’t even have an herb garden!”

I sit at the kitchen table to pay some bills. Chuck is under the sink, humming, his legs splayed out on my kitchen floor. I wonder what pathogens are living in those rubber soles of his.

“So how long were you married?” he asks.

“Fifteen years. A long time!” I give those last three words the punch of a lifetime, and might, at any second, add, “Darn tootin’!”

“My wife and I just had our tenth anniversary,” he says loudly, so I can hear him over the carpet layers, who have moved on to stories about hookers, though they may be talking about hookahs — not sure.

“That’s great!” I say.

Chuck pulls his upper body out from under the sink.

“Not so great,” he says.

“The disposal?” I ask, hoping to God we’re talking about the disposal.

“We live like brother and sister.” He pauses. Is that a meaningful look? Oh dear, it is.

I look down as if I didn’t hear him, or maybe that adding 9 + 7 needs my full attention. We go a few minutes in silence.

“It’s cold for June,” he says.

Tell me about it, Chuck.

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* Welcome to The Big Jewel, otherwise known as the cutting edge of education reform, led by that most sagacious and perspicacious of reformers, Gardner Mounce. If it weren't for him, we wouldn't even know how to spell sagacious and perspicacious. And as soon as we close the achievement gap, we might even know what they mean.

How To Close The Achievement Gap

By:
gmounce611@gmail.com

Dear teachers, administrators and faculty of Tennessee public schools,

I am your new Secretary of Education, Mark Jessler, and I was elected to accomplish one thing: to close the achievement gap between the underprivileged and the privileged schools. As you know, every time the underprivileged schools raise their test scores, the privileged schools raise theirs even more, so that year after year the achievement gap is wider. How are we to fix this?

Easy. We unteach the privileged students.

Unteaching the privileged students will be easy. The state is working hard on rewriting the textbooks incorrectly, but until those are ready, the teachers at the privileged schools should stop using the current “correct” textbooks and start utilizing a little technique I like to call Uplifting Misinformation (UM). UM is the process of transforming the hard facts of life into fun-filled lies. From now on, the Holocaust was a summer camp and the Trail of Tears was a prog band. UM achieves two purposes: it makes our privileged children happy to believe that history is as pleasant as a puppy’s yawn and it ensures that they fail all of their state history tests.

But UM is not enough. That’s why there’s stage two: Evasive Reinforcement by Motivation (ERM). ERM is the technique of praising a student instead of providing them an education. If a student asks who the president of the United States is, tell them that they are if they choose to believe! If a student asks what’s two plus two, tell them nice shoes! If a student says of their shoes, “Thanks,” you say, “George Washington! 5! Your eyes are baby stars!”

Pretty soon our dumb kids will be as smart as our smart kids, and our smart kids will be as dumb as our dumb kids, and then who’s the smarter? Me, Secretary of Education Mark Jessler, that’s who. Or is it whom? Who cares? Now for both cases it’s “whum.”

There are some of you whum may be wondering: “Mr. Jessler, are UM and ERM enough? What should we do about our privileged students whum are about to graduate? Those whum have spent ten or eleven years in our state’s finest, most privileged schools?” In that case we move to the most extreme stage, stage three: Willful Utilization of Ze Actual Truth (WUZAT). It was created by an Austrian colleague of mine. WUZAT may come as a surprise to you, because it is the undoing of everything we have taught our students in public schools. WUZAT means to reverse the traditional teachings of the public schools and divert our students through honesty. If we tell high caliber students the dismal truths about public school and its curriculum, they will inevitably question everything they have ever been taught in our school system, and their fragile psyches will crumble. It is our final stand when UM and ERM have failed. You will all receive the WUZAT pdf that contains the WUZAT truths, but it should only be used in extreme cases. Some sample WUZAT truths:

• Truth #5: We made up Sine, Cosine, and Tangent to mess with you.
• Truth #9: If you suspect that your teacher hates you, you’re right. In fact, all of your teachers hate you.
• Truth #102: Years ago we were supposed to revise the mandatory sixth grade reading list you all received (which includes Lolita, American Psycho (Illustrated), and just the baby-on-a-spit scene from The Road). That’s on us.
• Truth #20: Diagram this sentence: The unemployment rate for young high school graduates is 29.9%.
• Truth #58: You think you choose the prom king and queen? Grow up. This is bigger than you and me.

By using UM, ERM and, in extreme cases, WUZAT, we can save Tennessee. Just think, if the underprivileged schools increase their pass rate by 10% and the privileged schools decrease theirs by 15%, then we can eliminate the achievement gap in two or six or some number of years — I don’t know. Don’t ask me to do math. I was homeschooled.

Mark Jessler

Secretary of Education

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