* Welcome to The Big Jewel, your holiday safe space. This is the second week of our end-of-the-year Michael Fowler two-for-one sale. And if you buy that, you might as well buy his book too. Click on the link below to purchase his humor collection, "Nathaniel Hawthorne is Dating my Girlfriend." The Big Jewel will return with a new piece to begin the New Year on Wednesday, January 2.

Caution: Holiday Meats

By:
mfowl4916@gmail.com
http://www.dpdotcom.com/hawthorne/

As a man of a certain age, I’ve made an observation or two about holiday meats. I’ve noticed how they’ve changed a lot during my already long lifespan, always remaining scarcely edible. Never in my childhood or youth would I have believed that people would line up outdoors for an hour, even in foul or freezing weather, to buy an outrageously expensive precooked ham coated in candy. How did this happen? In my day, by which I mean the Age of Aquarius, give or take a decade, there was no such thing as a ham covered in sweet sticky syrup as though it were a pancake or a lollipop. Who would want a hog lollipop? Or a pig pancake? The very idea is nauseating, and yet today no one wants anything else. The only people who have other tastes are those who would be cast into hellfire if they ate pork.

Am I alone in remembering the way my mother and her mother prepared the holiday ham, those cooks from the Great Generation and before? When my mom made a ham, she baked it herself, for half a day in her tiny, smoking oven, and the only sweet thing that touched it were rings of pineapple, about half a dozen of them, out of a can. The ham itself sometimes came out of a can too, an import from some Scandinavian country that is now socialist. The pineapple rings she nailed onto the ham’s hide-like exterior with tiny spikes of clove, pressing them into place with her steely fingers. She would then bake the fruited thing until the rings turned brown and the cloves were scorched, and that was dinner. You can’t come by that kind of festive eats anymore, not even at a lunch counter.

Holiday turkeys are also different now. I remember my dad, who was in charge of roasting our turkey back in the 50s and 60s, saying that sometimes you got a bad turkey from the store. He said that once every two or three years, perhaps as an excuse for his subpar cooking. There was nothing you could do about it, he implied, but make the best of it. These were the days when frozen turkeys began to be all the rage, but they weren’t all of uniform quality, according to my dad. So on off years we ended up with what he called a rubber turkey, one that would not become tender no matter how long it was cooked. It was rubber at any temperature. And these rubber birds never got completely done, but retained some pinkish hue all through the meat. Also, the skin of the bird would refuse to turn golden brown or any other shade of brown, but remain a gray or even bluish color, no matter how often you basted it. But all you could do was celebrate the holiday as best you could with it, because that’s how turkeys were: some of them were rubber.

Back then there was another difference in your turkey too: there really was dark meat on the bird. A modern turkey is all white meat, though here and there it might appear grayish-white to the discerning eye. You can’t tell a thigh from a breast without a microscope, if you’re looking at a slice. But when I was a boy, dark thigh meat was really dark, and gamey and greasy too, or so I remember. Everyone served himself a little of it to be polite, but you felt like you were eating a squirrel or a cat or something. Maybe the leftover dark meat was used to make mincemeat pie, whatever that awful stuff was. I don’t know, because I never tasted it as a child. It looked like a quart of used motor oil in a crust, and I never laid a taste bud anywhere near it. And now nobody serves the muck except at nursing homes.

Rubber turkeys and birds with dark meat have all but vanished from the holiday platter, due to new standards in avian uniformity, but have been replaced by the SBBED, or self-basting buttery explosive device. My struggles with this hazardous firebird began in the 80s, when I had my own household to run and my own turkey to buy and roast. Injected with enough butter to make Paula Dean blush, these 25- to 30-pound pustules of grease would sizzle in the oven at 325 and, when you tried to collect the buttery rivulets that ran over the sides to make gravy or baste the thing despite its not needing it, the unstoppable fat would drip down onto the hot oven coils. An arc of flame would then shoot out the oven door like a solar flare and singe off all or part of your mustache and sideburns, if you had any, and your arm hair too, if you had neglected to put on an oven mitt. I had as much hair and side-hair as anyone back in the 80s, with the sole exception of David Lee Roth, and usually emerged from a turkey-basting session as closely shorn as John Candy in Stripes. There was no way to avoid this, because after all, basting was part of the tradition.

The family has since switched to leaner birds that have not been inoculated. Voila, no more grease rivers and explosions! But my daughter insists our turkey be roasted in a bonnet of cheesecloth drenched in liquid butter and white wine. That this headdress doesn’t burst into flame almost at once confounds me. But it doesn’t, though I can’t help but check on it every fifteen minutes, to make sure. You throw the cheesecloth out after it turns brown and crispy, and by then the bird has a golden sheen and something like a taste.

Of course if you prefer, you can get a candy-coated turkey at the same place you get those hams. It saves you a lot of trouble.

 

 

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* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where from our vantage point, there's no one funnier than Michael Fowler. That's why we're finishing the year with two of his pieces, one this week and one next. When you're done reading his new bit of hilarity, click on the link below to buy his humor collection, "Nathaniel Hawthorne is Dating my Girlfriend."

Vantage Point

By:
mfowl4916@gmail.com
http://www.dpdotcom.com/hawthorne/

If you’re like me, then you must cringe on hearing some famous and pompous airhead, carried away by a magnificent natural setting or site of historical importance, such as the Atlantic Ocean or the Lincoln Memorial, sound off as if they were at least partly responsible for the view or site, that they somehow are one with it or have the keenest eye to appreciate it, or that they have been chosen, of all humanity, to comprehend its true meaning. For example, here is an internationally renowned, culturally imbued blowhard on a visit to Rome explaining the ancient Roman Senate to us plebeians:

“I reflect on the follies of the ancients, whose foibles and weaknesses we replicate in our own political foolishness. The pseudo-Roman columns in Washington are the sign of the ruins we shall become if we continue down our present path of…” etc., etc. I hesitate to name the actual windbag who said this, primarily since after many years I can’t find the actual quote and am only guessing at the correct words. But what the hell, it was the late, somewhat lamented Gore Vidal, essayist and novelist and pundit, sometime back in the 1960s, if memory serves, well before he became a 9-11 truther and wrote the impenetrable brick of a novel Creation.

And here’s another self-important buffoon as he gazes down thoughtfully on a world made small by his location, i.e., onboard a transcontinental flight. “Here in my window seat, 30,000 feet over the blue Atlantic (where I approach being in my natural Olympian element), I ponder our infinitesimal size and the insignificance of our lives and actions. Can a creature so small as Man yet achieve work of moral and spiritual importance? As a creative artist I endeavor…” etc., etc. Again, I know the man who inspired me to write the above precis, but I can’t find his original words now that years have gone by since I read them, and I hesitate to attribute to him my own in case I fail to do him justice. But why quibble, it was film producer Spike Lee, in the introduction to some piece of his writing or other. The original version by Mr. Lee dates from around 1990, I believe, years before the filmmaker began leaking the home addresses of his political adversaries and complaining about the authenticity of other filmmakers. But I bet he was always pretty much that way.

I bring up Vidal and Lee not because I have some grudge against artists, curmudgeons though some of them were and are, but because they are prime examples of how an inspiring setting can bring out the tendency in us to become godlike and all-knowing and so above the rest of the world’s all-too-ordinary and much lesser mortals. I surmise, in fact, that it’s part of everyday life that we citizens, no matter how humble, feel exalted when confronted with a pleasant view or some manmade structure a bit out of the ordinary, and that’s all it takes for us to sound off on our personal greatness. The following examples will show a common train of thought even in us non-intellectuals.

Some blowhard bascart collector on the parking lot of a supermarket: “Here on the acre-wide lot I ponder the countless bascarts, symbols of Humanity’s Great Hunger. Is it not folly to presume that even 10% off coupons on bread and milk issued daily will stave off eventual privation of the teeming masses? True, there are gallons of Coke products on the shelves, enough to fill Lake Erie. But does that provide nutriment? With humility and I hope grace I perform my small part, gathering and lining up the shopping carts…” etc., etc.

A monomaniacal waste removal driver, on seeing the landfill around the bend: “Here in the driver’s seat of my mighty collection truck, an engineer’s marvel of conveyance and crushing capacity (suitable to a Herculean stable-cleaner like myself), I contemplate the mountain of refuse up ahead, bigger this year than last, destined to grow bigger still. Does it portend progress, the throwing off of the old and outmoded for the new and improved? Or does it signify wastefulness and overabundance? With a fetid breeze in my nose, I surmise…” etc., etc.

A self-important above-ground swimming pool salesman: “I stand awestruck by the crystalline 10-foot depth and 60-foot circumference of our most popular pool this summer, The Great Cooler, on display now at Bob’s Pools, off First Street downtown. Can there be a better symbol of the Pursuit of Happiness than this bright, placid surface, this personal reservoir of fun? I despair for those who bypass this bargain and go down the street to our competitor, Jake’s Pools, which hardly represent the American Dream…” etc., etc.

A grandiose dental technician: “With a bank of modern drilling and rinsing and imaging devices before me, I disdain the bright white smiles that mask the carious mouth and belie the need for serious root canal work and filling replacement. Altogether that’s thousands upon thousands of whitened teeth, even millions of them, at risk. I abjure facile mouthwashes when fluoride treatment is indicated, nor do I neglect sensitive gums. My client may only be interested in appearance, but I say, periodontal procedures are essential if we are to…” etc., etc.

A full-of-it Highway Department rest stop custodian: “Here in a park-like setting in central Ohio, I ponder the infinite ribbon of highway as it rolls east and west. And what of the millions of cars upon said ribbon that require timely oil changes? Does a man need to travel from sea to shining sea just to extend his carbon footprint? You cannot, the Greek said, step into the same river twice. But you can flush all my toilets twice so long as you don’t dump garbage in them, and that means…” etc., etc.

Anyway you see the picture. Give anyone at all a place to stand and he’ll move the earth, or at least think he can.

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* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where we take almost nothing seriously, except for the history of cinema and its greatest innovators. Our man Dan Fiorella is here with the story!

The Films Of The Lumière Brothers, Rebooted

By:
daf118@aol.com
danfiorella.com

Renewed interest in early movie history was generated this year when the first-ever film poster went up for auction at Sotheby’s. This was the poster used to promote the first public screening of the Lumière brothers’ short films back in 1895! What we didn’t expect out of this attention was the recent announcement by cinematic enfant terrible, director Wes Ravenspool, about his latest project: to reboot those Lumière brothers’ movies.

“Look, it’s a very different Hollywood today,” Mr. Ravenspool said at a press conference at Mercury Picture Studios, where he lamented, “I can’t just pitch a two-hander based on a dream I had anymore. It’s all about Intellectual Property, using pre-existing material to make ‘new’ movies. Studios only want to produce content based on previous content. That’s why we see all these remakes, sequels and sequels to remakes that were originally a single-panel New Yorker cartoon.”

“Amazingly, we have overlooked a vast source of IP: these earliest movies can be remade! It’s both a celebration of cinema’s past and an exploitation of it!”

“Look at Le Repas de Bébé from 1895. It’s a masterpiece!” The 30-second film is called Baby’s Breakfast in America but sounds classier in French. A husband and wife (uncle and grandmother? Some cousins? It’s really not made clear) feed their toddler porridge and then give him a biscuit.

“It’s all there! Suspense! Comedy! Nutrition!” Mr. Ravenspool said. “Will the baby eat? Why does he try to give the biscuit away? Why is mom futzing with the tea set?” Mr. Ravenspool admits that, at 30 seconds, the black & white silent movie will have to be expanded and updated for today’s audiences. “Yes, we will have to work on the next two acts, which is why I have terrorists come in and kidnap the baby! After that, the father, who is a former Navy Seal, is forced to hunt them down. Talk about your great inciting incidents! Also, the baby will now be a CGI character.”

When asked if he has any plans for a remake of La Sortie de l’Usine Lumière à Lyon, Mr. Ravenspool replied, “Absolutely! This delightful 30-second film of workers leaving the Lumière factory is going to be a rousing tale of workers vs. the corporation, as the employees leave the factory to strike. Naturally, the owners of the factory bring in thugs, who gun all the workers down. One surviving worker, who called in sick that day, is driven by guilt to avenge his co-workers! The Lumière brothers would have totally made this film if they had invented the technology back then.”

We continued down the list of films shown and Mr. Ravenspool’s pitches:

La Pêche aux Poissons-Rouges: an infant attempts to fish in a fish bowl. “The child gets pulled in and finds himself in a magical animated world, where he must team up with the goldfish to battle an evil diver and find the lost treasure chest! It would be like a wet Jumanji. The infant will also be CGI.”

Le Saut à la Couverture or Jumping the Blanket: a man does a forward roll over a blanket held by four friends. “Ah, but it’s not an ordinary blanket!” Mr. Ravenspool began. “No, but a flying carpet that will carry the group to a small country being invaded by space aliens. It writes itself!”

And of course, the most famous of the Lumière shorts from 1895 is L’Arroseur Arrosé (Tables Turned on the Gardener), which is regarded as the first film comedy, if not the world’s first fiction film: while the gardener waters the plants, a boy steps on the hose. The water stops and the gardener confusedly looks into the hose to see what the problem is. The boy takes his foot off and the gardener gets doused. The film finishes with the gardener chasing the boy and giving him a spanking. “Actually, I see the chase being the film, as the gardener uses all his resources to track down and capture the boy, who is a master of disguise. And a cannibal. This is what the people are clamoring for!”

After that, a Mercury Studio security guard called the police, saying we weren’t supposed to be on the lot. Yet, the press announcement confirmed that everything old is new again and Hollywood wouldn’t have it any other way. Now excuse me while I finish up my spec of Fred Ott’s Sneeze.

 

 

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