* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where we like to celebrate next week's historic Fourth of July with a nostalgic look back at our nation's glorious history. And if none of that holds any water, well, then, try this one from Roger Taylor.

A Brief History Of Home Milk Delivery

By: Roger Taylor

The first home milk deliveries occurred in 1785 in rural Vermont. Most early customers were parents who had no means of giving breast milk to their infants — widowed fathers, mothers who could not lactate for medical or motivational reasons, and packs of wolves nursing abandoned babies. Cows of this time period briefly became known as “nature’s wet nurses,” a nickname whose spread corresponded, much to the distress of ranchers, to a drop in beef sales.

The premise of delivering milk door-to-door seems obvious enough in our enlightened times, but it took several decades to perfect. For instance, it wasn’t until 1810 that Decatur-based businessman Walter T. Shibley realized that more milk could be delivered per trip if some sort of container were used. A period of trial-and-error testing followed, with the glass bottle eventually winning out over the sheep’s stomach, the whittled wooden tube and the very-tightly-woven basket. In 1812, exhausted milkmen convinced Shibley to invest in multiple bottles so that customers could dispense the milk on their own schedule, saving milkmen the need to make a trip every time someone wanted a drink.

Other innovations followed, some adopted and some discarded.

For a period in the 1840s, John O’Sullivan of Utica delighted customers with his “Fresh From The Teat” campaign, wherein milkmen would bring the cow itself to customers’ doors and extract milk on the front lawn. People loved the service, but the cows became prone to performance anxiety, complained about unfair working conditions, unionized, and eventually drove O’Sullivan out of business.

Pre-refrigeration, many attempts were made to keep milk from spoiling on hot days, often by faster delivery or the addition of coolants like ice or, more typically, ammonia. Many ideas were patented, and nearly all were instant failures. The Milk Cannon of Jersey City was simple enough in concept, but the complex ballistic trajectories required the employment of several expensive mathematicians, and rounding errors were often fatal. Dr. Goodfriend’s Rot Buffer — a novel contraption that involved surrounding bottles of fresh milk with even more bottles of rotten milk, under the pretext that the poisonous miasma would be unable to penetrate the rot wall — was discontinued one day after it was put into use when it became clear that it didn’t work even a little. Its inventor was hanged for “flagrant and flamboyant quackery.” Sergeant Stephen’s Sturgeon Stirrer did enjoy some success, as the antimicrobial peptides of the dead fish really did help keep the milk fresher, but flavor concerns and religious objections kept it a niche product.

In the 1880s, a successful marketing campaign by the firm of Howard, Farmer and McGurk briefly convinced most Americans that sophisticated palates preferred spoiled milk, and the problem — at least for the milk producers, who didn’t have to worry about the diarrhea that came from drinking the stuff — was temporarily solved.

Home milk delivery declined throughout the early twentieth century owing to the public’s increasing distaste for convenience. Though meant as a metaphor, the political slogan of Marshall Ward’s Huddled Masses Party in the 1920s neatly captured the spirit of the times: “The milk of toil never spoils.” The rival Teeming Masses Party had less success with “The milk that’s self-fetched is never retched.”

The sector continued to suffer setbacks throughout the 1950s and 60s. First came the widespread availability of refrigerated station wagons, effectively turning every suburban housewife into her own delivery service. Later, a series of lurid sex scandals had the dual consequence of disquieting older customers and attracting to the industry’s recruitment centers all manner of scoundrel, hedonist and reprobate. The death knell, of course, came with a disastrous move in the 1970s to cut costs by centralizing all milk production and distribution to one large facility in Birmingham, Alabama. The move did lead to lower warehousing costs, but the milkmen on the California route found the daily round trip to be tiring, and speeding fines accumulated quickly.

Today, home milk delivery is extinct. However, its spirit lives on in the hearts of thousands of dedicated historical reenactors. At disused parking lots across the nation, they converge fortnightly to don crisp white uniforms, drive refurbished trucks, live out their filthiest sexual fantasies, and, one suspects, drink lots of milk.

* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where curbing our carbon emissions ranks just ahead of breathing. As usual, Michael Fowler has the straight dope. Again, we urge you to check out the links to his books, "A Happy Death" and "The Created Couple," in our blogroll.

Warming Is War

By: Michael Fowler

French President Francois Hollande said failure to address global warming may well lead to war. — News item

Ecoutez, members of the international press! I need hardly tell you what a terrible time this is for me, Francois Hollande, President of France, and for the planet. This global warming must be addressed! Listen to this: when I step off the plane yesterday in Brisbane, on the supposedly temperate seacoast of Australia, it is 83 degrees on the tarmac, like a rotisserie. It is all I can do not to take the loaded handgun from my carry-on bag and assassinate everyone in first class.

As I climb into a taxi and head straight to the G20 conference, with hardly a spare moment to apply perfume to my cheeks or run a comb through my oily hair, I see that the crazy driver has the windows down and the AC turned off. I feel as if the entire country of Sierra Leone is sharing the back seat with me, though I am the only passenger. I tell you, mes amis, I am so hot under the collar, and my shirt so scratchy, and my throat so parched, I want to declare war on Germany. The thought of clashing armies cools my boiling blood, but still I am aggrieved.

I call Chancellor Merkel on my cell phone and say, sacre blue, Madame Angela, why don’t you or someone else in the EU address this climate change? Do you know how close I am to launching a preemptive strike at you due to the heat and humidity? And the lady acts as if I must be insane. Can’t I at least give her time to unpack her bags at the Brisbane hotel before I declare martial law, she demands of me, all atwitter? I tell her, as I contemplate plunging my pocket corkscrew into the back of my cabbie’s neck, that if her undergarments are sticking to her as mine are to me, she’d be calling up her reserves and scrambling her jets just as I am.

In that precise Germanic way she has that soothes all tensions, Chancellor Merkel talks me out of an invasion. She suggests that if I wait and meet her later at the hotel, we can have wine coolers and then take a dip in the pool, where she plans to paddle about on a plastic inflatable koala bear and eat puff pastries as if it’s Oktoberfest. And if things still look bad after that, she says, then by all means I may attack Russia with cruise missiles, for all she cares. I tell you, that lady has the right idea, except for the wine cooler part, and after commanding my driver to stop so that I can pick up a few bottles of vintage Merlot, meanwhile rubbing my flushed temples with alcohol swabs, I order the French forces to stand down, preventing all-out war, at least for now.

You must also know this, dear reporters, that as I approach the hotel I am to share with other world leaders, I run smack into President Barack Obama of the US. It is all the poor man can do to stand motionlessly in the doorway and devour a sno-cone, a sad necessity since the pitiless thermometer still clings to the low eighties. The gentle Barack tries to put a happy face on things and calls out to me, “Don’t get between me and my sno-cone, Francois!” He then asks if it is hot enough for me. I tell him that this part of Australia ordinarily receives cool South Pacific Ocean breezes year-round, according to my idiot of a Foreign Minister, whom I will sack upon my return to France, with many humiliating slaps to his repulsive phiz.

I next inform the American President that my suit wilts on me like lettuce in a microwave, and on top of that I have sand in my collar from the infernal beach. Merde! I am ready to initiate a cyber-attack on China — they certainly deserve it — and follow with drone strikes on North Korea, just to show my seriousness. As the US President nods in understanding, I break down weeping and embrace him. I worry most, I sob in his arms, about the insensate patoots who claim that the warming evidence is hysterical and made-up.

Barack lets me know that he considers global warming to be the gravest threat to humanity, and that when he hears the rash prattle of the skeptics and deniers, it makes him want to take out his nuclear football and press all the launch codes at once. President Obama clearly accepts the hazard of global warming as the most serious matter, as I do, and I pledge to him that, in the event of the catastrophic war that now looks all but certain, French submarines will not sink American vessels. But we will boycott American cheeses and wines, since they are unpalatable.

President Barack seems gratified, and as he pushes me through the hotel door into what we both hope is supercharged air conditioning, he promises to eat grilled kangaroo and share a wine cooler with me at the G20 lunch. He also urges me not to declare war on anybody, at least not just yet. For the sake of US-French relations, I agree to bide my time, but again, what’s with the wine cooler? A big Non to that. I’d as soon lap water from the bidet like a Rottweiler.

After the above-described lunch, which I pretend to enjoy while smacking my lips loudly, the first meeting is called to order. The hall is stifling, as if we have gathered together inside an ironworks, since evidently the AC is not functioning properly. It is the last straw, and I approach Mr. Putin of Russia and Mr. Jinping of China and tell them we have probably seen our last winter Olympics, since from now on there will be no ice or snow anywhere on the planet. I add that if both their countries don’t immediately shut down coal plants that belch forth CO2 emissions, I will invade New Zealand, to ease my combativeness. I will also fly military choppers nonstop over Italy and Spain, just to stir up a bit of breeze that hopefully will spread to the rest of Europe.

Both leaders regard me as if I have taken leave of my senses. They urge me to hold off, but I tell them that if the world doesn’t reach an agreement at this meeting I’m going to explode. To prove it, I toss a wine glass onto the parquet floor, shattering it. Voila! I cry. There you have my resolve! And I threaten to roll my tanks into Lapland, which by now is probably a desert. Believe you me, Vladimir and Xi let me pass without offering to straighten my cravat, nor do they offer me an after-lunch mint.

Before dinner it starts snowing so hard that all the G20 events are canceled. Today I return home, but just wait until the global warming summit in Paris in 2015, my own back yard! Zut alors! I’ll read these world leaders the riot act for sure — that is, if the planet isn’t already plunged into Armageddon due to everybody being chafed and irritable, like moi.

* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where our good friend Matthew David Brozik has something wonderful for you. After reading his latest piece, click on the ad for his book "Whimsy & Soda" on the right-hand side of this page, and lovely nude ladies will come and dance with you, as Peter Cook used to say.

I’m Afraid This Fourth Wall Needs To Come Down

By: Matthew David Brozik

I’m no playwright, of course — that’s your job, and I have no reason to think you’re not good at it — but I am an engineer, and although you might not be happy to hear this, after giving your latest work a thorough inspection, I’m convinced that the fourth wall needs to come down. Not necessarily right away, but at some point for sure. (I’ll leave it to you to figure out when would be best. Maybe Act Two?)

Now, before you write me off as some kind of crackpot (with professional membership in the American Society of Safety Architects): I know that the fourth wall is not a real wall. I understand that “fourth wall” is rather a term of art referring to the imaginary barrier at the front of the stage in a traditional three-walled box set in a proscenium theater (such as you are employing for your production) through which the audience sees the action in the world of the play. But that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be a hazard to life and limb if it were to topple unexpectedly. Even an imaginary wall needs to be structurally sound.

Your fourth wall, unfortunately, seems to have been the target of some significant thespian mastication, if you get my meaning. Has one of your actors been chewing the scenery (and putting everyone in danger)? I’m no theater critic, of course, but if I had to point a finger I might point it at that young actor playing the man who wakes up one morning as a huge termite, then makes numerous attempts to explain his transformation to the others by way of interpretive dances, extemporaneous haiku and very loud soliloquies. (Being that this actor is likely responsible, it might make sense for his character to be the one to break the fourth wall, but that could, on the other hand, prove too metafictional for comfort. So maybe the telephone lineman can do it — when he appears “outside” the window? He could say, “Well, this rings a bell!” — referring to the arrival of the hunchbacked milkman — then wink at the audience?)

Again, you’re the dramatist, but keep in mind that however you choose to have the fourth wall broken, it will need to be broken completely — so that when it comes back up, nothing of the old, compromised wall remains. You want a brand new wall to go up, for the well-being of all involved. When the itinerant meteorologist remarks “Looks like…hail” and then gives a Nazi salute, maybe he could high-five someone in the front row? Or when the lazy-eyed cobbler is hissing “Shoo! Shoo!” at the giant man-termite, could he actually take off one of his shoes and throw it at the audience? That would decisively break the fourth wall, don’t you think? But you might have your own ideas about how to do it.

At any rate, I’ve left my full written report in the theater manager’s office. I wanted to tell you in person, though, because I didn’t want you to think I was just making work for you without considering the consequences or offering some suggestions, such as having the cross-dressing conjuror reach into his hat and pull out the wallet of a member of the audience — in this case maybe someone not near the stage — read the name on the driver’s license, remove the cash, put the wallet back into his hat, and finally have it reappear in the audience member’s pocket. I’d pay to see that at least twice.

Oh, and one more thing: I couldn’t help also noticing during my inspection a pistol hanging on the back wall. That isn’t loaded, is it? You really shouldn’t keep a loaded pistol hanging around. Sometimes those things just go off. But now that I’m thinking about it…you could have someone use the gun to shoot out the fourth wall. I’d do that in Act Three.

* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where our one clear goal is to end the age-old war between men and women, and our secret weapon is Samantha Rodman.

My Interpretations Of Obviously Meaningful Remarks My Husband Makes

By: Samantha Rodman

1. I like that red shirt.

Translation: Throw out all the shirts that don’t look like that one. Although I may not often express preferences, when I do, they are subtle and only someone as attuned to me as you are truly understands what I mean. And red is the color of passion, which I associate with only you.

2. Sure, let’s just stay home.

Translation: If we cancel this sitter, we will really be sinking the last nail into our coffin as middle-aged parents who do nothing fun ever. I could obviously suck up being tired and rally, why can’t you?

3. The sitter is so great with the kids.

Translation: Did you notice her breasts? I did. Did you notice me noticing them? Are you ever going to make any effort with your appearance again? When I travel for work, women hit on me nonstop. Sometimes they give me their panties.

4. Where did your blue shirt go?

Translation: I am just making sure you got rid of that piece of detritus that I previously implied looked like a Swiffer cloth on you and highlighted that your breasts are not as appealing as the babysitter’s.

5. No, for real, where did all your other shirts go?

Translation: I appreciate that you recalled my admittedly coy remark that I liked your red shirt, which obviously indicated that I am repelled by the rest of your wardrobe. You get me, girl.

6. What the hell is this credit card bill about?

Translation: Sweetheart, I know you bought all of these clothes to look good for me, and I value your commitment to the marriage. I have stopped visualizing the babysitter’s breasts when we have intercourse.

7. I wish we didn’t end up going out last night. I’m beat.

Translation: Not as beat as I’d feel if you had taken me at my word and cancelled the well-endowed sitter who allowed us to feel, for a fleeting evening, like the couple we were before kids. I felt we had a magical connection, especially when we were discussing if Madison has more of your mom’s stubbornness or your dad’s temper, and when you asked to share dessert and then ate the whole thing yourself.

8. Why do you keep mentioning the sitter’s boobs? She’s like 17.

Translation: Just a test. We both know she’s 19 and a sophomore and having issues with figuring out her major and dealing with her pothead boyfriend. I listen when she talks to you, although I pretend to play Xbox.

9. I don’t know, what are YOU thinking about?

Translation: I’m too shy to take the reins of this conversation. Please help me by steering the topic toward my insecurity about growing apart at this critical juncture of our marriage, when we are parenting two small children and seem to have not much to say to one another. I must somehow show you that I am both in this to win it and also completely open to anything you think might improve our romantic connection. But tragically, I am unable to verbally express my own feelings without your gentle guidance, likely because my mother was unemotional and self-absorbed and unable to teach me how to truly connect with an intimate partner.

10. What the hell are you talking about?

Translation: An open ended question! Conclusive proof that, all along, I’ve been reading those relationship self-help books that you left on my night table. Let’s settle in for a long, romantic talk. I know how much you’re yearning to connect to me on an emotional, vulnerable level, and I want to meet you where you’re at. God, I love you.