* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where we believe working out is what you do when your love life doesn't work out.

Thanks For Joining Aloha Fitness


Hey, thanks again for joining Aloha Fitness, the first and only gym designed to help people get in shape post-breakup. We’ve already been over to the Instagram Photo Center, which is open twenty-four-seven, links to your account, and can take as many as 100 rapid-fire shots of your newly rockin’ bod so that your ex can see what they missed out on. I showed you the Cuddle Training Corner, where you can be consoled by professionals with dual certificates in advanced cuddling and diet science. Now, I’d like to show you our pride and joy, The Aloha Equalizer.

Our fitness and research team meticulously studied the regimen of the Royal Canadian Air Force to understand how they get so swole every year. Eventually, our lead scientist, Sarah, figured out how to combine every exercise the brave men and women of the RCAF do into one machine for maximum shred potential.

You’ll notice there are two dozen pulleys and leg presses, a needle wall, and a little spigot that gently shoots out a steady amount of fire. Anyone can take a shot at this, but there’s only one way to use it in a way that tones your body and doesn’t rip out your spinal column.

If you had signed up for our premium package, I’d be happy to show you that exact, very precise way right now, but since you opted not to pay $500 a month for the option to have a weekly massage in our Break-Up Spa, bi-weekly life coach consultations and daily fitness classes held between 3:00 and 3:30 a.m., you’ll just have to trust your instincts.

You’ll notice that the Equalizer has a series of multicolored lights running top to bottom, which we thought would lend a sense of fun pizzazz to a machine that otherwise pushes you to your breaking point every time you use it. If you can ever figure out how to use it, you’ll notice that the lights get higher the more calories you burn.

At Aloha Fitness, we like machines with extra stuff that indicate you’re crushing it. On the AbFucker 9, confetti shoots out every time a muscle gets stronger. Likewise, the Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson Officially Sponsored Leg Day Quad Press plays the song from the Mos Eisley Cantina in Star Wars. The better you do, the less it plays.

As our magenta walls say, our motto is “Loyalty. Respect. Loyalty.” Like all good mottos, it consists of three easy words chosen at random, but it’s meaningless unless we live up to it. So, for every 500 calories you burn, on any of our machines or in any class, you get a ticket that can be redeemed in our Ripped Rewards area. Most of the selections are standard gym prize counter fare, like stuffed dumbbells and googley eyes, but if you can get 20, 100 or 500 tickets, you’ll see why Aloha Fitness has become the preferred regional gym chain for more than 10,000 people in the tri-state area.

If you get 20 tickets, we’ll interview you about what you look for in a partner, and then quietly set up a first date with someone, which will go neither badly nor great. Since you’ve been killing it at our gym, we’ll even pay for half your meal, because you deserve it. To clarify, we’ll pay for half of what you, as an individual, are eating. So, we’ll cover half of half of the whole meal. Again, you deserve it.

For 100 tickets, we’ll arrange for a teacup pig, puggle or Labrador puppy to be dropped off at your house or apartment. From there, it’s up to you to meet someone at a dog park or teacup pig-friendly bar. You’ll get a full week with the animal, so hopefully you’ll meet someone who likes you for you, not just because you have a cute pet. Also, please be aware that if you get the pig, you may get some stalkers. The pig is very adorable, and therefore has some adorable restraining orders against certain people. If you get stalked, you have to handle it. Aloha Fitness only handles the pig.

For 500 tickets, we’ll arrange for you to meet with Bryce and Courtney in our Muscle Mates Love Center. Bryce is just the guy we get our weed from, but Courtney is a certified dating coach and professional matchmaker. If you get invited into the Muscle Mates Love Center — and I can’t stress this enough — Courtney will set you up with your soulmate. If you get to this level, not only will we pay half of half the bill on your first date, but we’ll even pay a fifth of a fifth of your wedding expenses, should you stay with us up to and through that time. If you’re still with us when you have a baby, and are willing to name your baby Aloha Fitness, or at least have it tattooed on your baby’s face, we’ll give you a free month for you, your baby or your partner, provided they’re still a member.

For 1,000 tickets, we’ll rename a room of the gym in your honor for twenty-four hours. During that time, you’ll be provided with a key to that room, and will be free to use it as you see fit. Most people tend to use it either as a reveal room, where they invite an ex or two to the gym in order to show off their new bod and get closure, or as a space for an ice cream social. If you go the reveal-and-confront route, we’ll cover any legal fees you may incur. However, if you want to use the room to hold dairy, which Aloha Fitness frowns on, then you’ll need to pay for everything yourself.

Most gyms wouldn’t risk legal trouble by getting involved in the love lives of their members, but that’s what we like to call the Aloha Difference. Yes, you might sue us if we set you up with someone who becomes a casual stalker, or if a pre-school won’t accept a baby named Aloha Fitness, or if your soulmate falls for Bryce, which has happened more than we care to admit. However, we also understand that after using the Aloha Equalizer and spending some time in the Cuddle Training Corner, you’ll find that you’re ready to love harder and more confidently than you ever loved before. Now, go out there and start working out, because the Ripped Rewards area closes at 4 p.m. on Saturdays.

* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where every day is New Year's Eve, at least when Michael Fowler is writing about it. If you feel sorry for the old guy, don't put a penny in his hat, buy his book. Follow the link below to purchase his humor collection, "Nathaniel Hawthorne Is Dating My Girlfriend."

New Year’s Eve At Bob Evans


This year my wife and I went to Bob Evans restaurant to ring in the new year, or to come as close to ringing it in as we care to get. We chose Bob Evans not only because it serves our favorite kind of down-home comfort food with breakfast at any hour, but has no alcohol, an elderly, quiet clientele, no TVs mounted on the walls, and no celebratory atmosphere at all. It doesn’t stay open late, requires no reservation, and is hardly ever crowded. At five p.m. on New Year’s Eve the place was almost deserted. We found a parking spot right by the front door and followed a young man and his wheelchair-bound father right on in to the sober greeter.

We once stayed out past ten on New Year’s Eve and tasted alcohol too. The experience threw off our sleep cycles and circadian rhythms to the equivalent of twelve hours of jet lag. My wife, who suffers from moist palms and anxiety, swears it also gave her a calcium deficiency, and I’ll never forget the ringing in my ears that lasted until mid-February from that drum kit across the floor. Add to that being jostled by perspiring, red-faced celebrants, and we vowed never to repeat the experience, and never have. We haven’t even felt the temptation. We’re not kids anymore after all, with both of us pushing 38. Some things are better left to the hardened, besotted, carefree young.

With seven hours to go before the big calendar change and that gaudy ball dropped off the tower in that frozen, overcrowded city synonymous with filth and high blood pressure, my excitement started to build; that of my wife too, I assume. I decided to start off with a piece of pumpkin bread from the famous Bob Evans bakery, while my wife, scarcely able to restrain her enthusiasm, went with banana bread. Both are delicious, and our waitress, whom we have known for months and is a business student at a nearby college, smiled in understanding.

She was cheerful despite having to work the holiday. But then, she’d be out the door by closing time at nine, when the night was still young, and who knew what shenanigans this twenty-something had in mind? We didn’t ask, and she didn’t tell, likely because she thought we would disapprove. For her discretion alone I knew I’d be leaving a sizable tip, somewhere between ten and fifteen percent of our unusual $20 tab. But then, if we shared a piece of cheesecake at the end, in honor of the special night, the gratuity might set me back as much as $3.75, a daunting thought. I hoped my wife had brought along a discount coupon, but at her age she’s forgetful about such niceties. If you’re thinking dementia, so am I.

I sat trying to decide between an evening breakfast of a small egg-white omelet with a tiny bowl of fruit and the gargantuan roast turkey dinner with six sides, a sumptuous meal I hadn’t ingested since Christmas a week ago, and my wife faced her usual dilemma of how many pancakes she felt up to. We both looked up as a pair of immortals took a booth near ours. My wife and I smiled at each other, since this duo certainly didn’t look liable to put the kibosh on our evening with any untoward jubilant behavior or celebratory noisemaking, unless gramps had some noisemakers in his pockets or granny began belting out “Auld Lang Syne.”

In fact, they ignored us completely and looked about ready to fall asleep before they ordered. The first thing gramps did, after the waitress arrived, was spill ice water all down his Rick Santorum vest. I listened in amusement as he finally ordered the pot roast, and she a Cobb salad, both with hot tea. I was amused because my wife and I had ordered the identical meals for ourselves not two weeks ago, almost identical, except I got steamed broccoli and this old bird wanted green beans. Wasn’t that amusing? I thought so, and it seemed to be getting the new year off to a good start, though technically the new year didn’t start for another, what was it now, still more than six hours. I couldn’t wait to get home and sleep through them, burping turkey.

All was thrown into jeopardy, however, when a family of five came in, including three children. I saw the tension in my wife right away, her fixed stare and then the involuntary tightening of her pale, thin but very damp hands around her utensils. I myself was not immune, and feared some childish disturbance from the three-year-old or infantile outburst from the baby that would turn the peaceful eatery into Times Square. My wife and I had not been blessed with children, and had never desired any. We had her cat when we were first married, but by agreement had it put down because it mewed, sometimes at night. What a pest that creature had been. It had also required food and grooming, can you believe.

Twenty minutes later my wife and I were beaming and content. Our meal hadn’t been disturbed, and the children of that other couple had been of the seen but not heard variety, increasingly a rarity in today’s society where a single howling brat often disrupts the serenity of an entire Walmart store. Nor, at this early hour, had there appeared a single patron in a party hat or trumpeting on a paper horn. I decided on a full 15 percent tip, and I drove us home sated with gravy and maple syrup.

All was well until we reached our neighborhood. Cars now lined the street near those homes that were party zones, making navigation difficult. Once at this time of year, when we were new to the neighborhood, my wife and I unwisely accepted an invitation from the people next door. We had already become bitter enemies back on Arbor Day, when their child planted a tree near the fence that separates our properties. It was the merest sapling, yes, but a ticking time bomb that after twenty or thirty years would grow to hang over our property and one day probably fall, killing us. We weren’t about to forget this pending threat to our safety over some silly holiday, and after graciously eating one or two of their slimy and rancid hors d’oeuvres, we departed very early, even for us, and were in bed by eight.

My wife couldn’t help throwing a glance at their place as we mounted our front steps, and I felt her body grow tense and clammy from her hands to, well, everything. I knew what she was thinking. It wasn’t the tree, which may have died in a stunted state during the last frost, but she knew that at midnight they’d be setting off fireworks and ruining our sleep, as they did last year. Right on the stroke of midnight had come this noise, not terribly explosive but like a bag of popcorn in a microwave in a distant room down a long hall, that woke us up and left us trembling with rage in bed.

She had denied my request for intimacy then, and continued to do so for the entire year. This year, I saw, would be just as chilly. All because of that popping sound. Darn noisy neighbors.

But there’s one thing my wife and I agree on any time of year: that fresh bakery bread at Bob Evans is delicious.



* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where we support everyone's need for emotional support animals -- from a safe distance. Just don't ever seat us next to Rob Gregory on a plane!

Nobody Panic, But My Emotional Support Snakes Seem To Be Loose On This Plane


Okay, nobody panic. I’m sure it’s nothing, but every one of my emotional support snakes seems to have escaped their enclosure, and they’re now loose somewhere on this plane. Now I’m only telling you this so that nobody freaks out in the unlikely event anyone happens upon one of them.

First and foremost, the snakes are completely harmless. Unless they bite you. If that happens, you’d better administer anti-venom sooner rather than later, as every species aboard is lethal. I did pack my own supply, but the whole three ounce liquid rule really limited me. TSA, am I right?

I suppose though, if it’s absolutely necessary, I’m willing to part with some. That said, the snakes will only attack if they feel threatened by you. Or sometimes if they just feel like it. They are, after all, cantankerous creatures — but can’t we all be sometimes? And remember, except for the ones aboard that hunt you, snakes are more afraid of us than we are of them.

As for where they might be, well, your guess is as good as mine. They’re sneaky rascals. They usually prefer to be higher up, so I could easily see them in overhead compartments, but I wouldn’t rule out the floor or them nestling comfortably in between seat cushions. Oh — along those lines, please restrain your children from touching them. While they might appear to be “cute” or “neat” animals to pet, they are at work performing their jobs. That and, if given the chance, they can and will consume children.

If anyone has any emotional support mice they wouldn’t mind parting with, I’m sure that’ll help lure one, maybe two of them out. Also, if we have any trained snake handlers, now would definitely be the time to come forward, since I don’t really like handling them myself. And if you have snake tongs to wrangle them, great, but we could probably make do with a golf club under the circumstances. King Cobra perhaps? Sorry, had to.

Now, I bet some of you heard me say emotional support snakes, and you’re probably thinking “I didn’t even know poisonous snakes could be therapy pets!” Well, they sure can — notwithstanding the outright and explicit rejection from the Nation Service Animal Registry and every other animal governing board. These little guys, and not-so-little guys, have given me more affection than I could ever ask for.

That said, I was kind of hoping, in this day and age, that bringing therapy snakes on a flight would be a non-issue. Sadly, however, I can tell from the look on some of your faces that we still have a ways to go. I think we can all, however, collectively be upset with the TSA here — clearly they’re prejudiced against therapy pets in general, and specifically in this case against venomous snakes.

Despite the fact that I didn’t alert TSA to their presence and am technically on a no-fly list, can we all agree their accommodations were woefully inadequate? I mean, I practically had to sneak them aboard. And I know that my asking you to help wrangle poisonous therapy snakes is a bit of an inconvenience, but sometimes we’re asked to go above and beyond the call of duty. It’s really no different than sitting in an emergency exit row, if you ask me.

Also, if we could nip this in the bud before the flight attendants come around I’d be very appreciative. If stowing animals aboard a flight goes awry again, it’s probably my last strike with the airline. That, and I could really go for a ginger ale right now, and that’s not happening if we have a snake mess on our hands. Well, back to my episode of The Big Bang Theory. Let me know how everything goes!


* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where our good friend David Martin proves that he hates phishers almost as much as he hates Phish. After you've finished his latest and greatest, click on the link below to check out his humor blog.

Dear iram267


Dear iram267@bell.net masking as Bell Mail,

I hesitate to reply to your latest e-mail given your obvious predilection for phishing. However, since you seem completely dedicated to corresponding with me, I thought it only fair that I critique your latest work.

I have mixed feelings about replying. On the one hand, any improvement in your e-mails may increase the chances that some poor soul will fall for your ploy. On the other hand, I simply can no longer tolerate the surfeit of grammatical, spelling and syntactical errors, not to mention your complete and total ignorance of my e-mail account.

I recommend that you give top priority to any spelling errors. These are dead giveaways that you are not my legitimate Internet service provider. For example, “you e-mail” should presumably read “your e-mail,” and when you use “you will disconnect,” I assume you mean “you will be disconnected.”

I don’t want to be too picky, but when you say I will “loose access” to my account, I think you want to say “lose access,” unless you are commenting on my admittedly tenuous Internet connection.

I sympathize with you, as “it apparent” that English “not be” your first or even second language. However, I suspect that you are doing fairly well financially with this latest endeavor and therefore can afford to hire an English-speaking editor. That simple measure alone will likely increase your success rate tenfold (that means ten times as much).

Sadly, English grammar also does not appear to be one of your strong suits. “As part of our effort to improve your experience across our consumer services” is not a complete sentence. Moreover, while “Protecting your account is a matter taking seriously” expresses a lovely sentiment, grammatically it is just plain wrong.

I don’t profess to have more than minimal computer skills, but even I was mystified by your statement that my “Mail Box” is “running at 99.8 gigabytes.” That seems like an awfully huge storage number particularly given that my daily data usage barely registers in the realm of megabytes.

Far be it from me to advise expert phishers like you as to what is a more credible storage target, but you might want to consider investing in a random number generator to come up with a variety of numbers. That way you would have at least an outside chance of fooling someone even less tech-savvy than me.

I appreciate the fact that you have not carried through with your threats of cancelled service notwithstanding that I have yet to click on any link you have provided me. That demonstrates a measure of sympathy and respect that sadly I have not received from the alphabetically-challenged neusyetraiaoack@wuaylaiouayn.ru masking as PayPal Canada, who has repeatedly suspended my PayPal account. The latest suspension was because “an error was detected in your informations.” Although I was “currently made disabled of” all aspects of my registration, it seems that the matter was quickly rectified since I had no problem accessing my PayPal account later that same day.

I hope you will heed my advice. Although it would be preferable if you gave up phishing entirely for a healthier hobby like pistol shooting or self-tattooing, it would give me some small comfort to know that you will be fleecing my compatriots by maintaining the highest standards of English language usage.

By the way, if you have found my advice to be at all helpful, you might want to click on the link below to access my website “Dave’s tips for non-English-speaking phishers.” I assure you that it will be, as you might say, “worth you wile.”

Your cyberbuddy,

Dave Martin

* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where we are only too happy to escape from the grubbiness of politics. Except that, as Jon Sindell has found, there is no escape.

The Gardening Hiring Committee I Faced Were All Retired Senate Judiciary Committee Members


I’d lost the bid to install the Chelsea Center Elementary School butterfly garden, so with sunhat in hand I faced the Gardening Hiring Committee of the Senatorial Gardens Retirement Villa for the associate gardener job.

The meeting was chaired by old Senator Gaseous. He raised his gavel, dropped it, and called a five-minute recess to retrieve it. He called the meeting to order, but was immediately interrupted by Senator Jaundiste.

“I object to the Chairperson’s patriarchal assertion of authority,” she wheezed.

“You are out of order,” the Chair wheezed back, peering mole-like down the conference table with an educated guess as to who had spoken. Senator Gaseous had already promised the Senatorial Gardens Federalist Tea Time Book Club that he would vote for me, and read aloud from a prepared statement. “Mr. Raichu, you are a gardener of unimpeachable reputation. We have before us website testimonials from dozens of satisfied customers who have lauded you for your green thumb, your artistic eye, and your professionalism. To quote from three: ‘The passion flowers are so pretty!’…’He finished on time.’…’He brought donuts once!’ These testimonials speak volumes, Mr. Raichu.”

“Thank you, Senator.”

“It is I who should thank you. Senatorial Gardens would be honored to employ a gardener of your outstanding qualifications — qualifications which should be obvious to any non-senile member of this committee. In that regard, I yield the floor to Senator DeMagog.”

“Mr. Raichu,” said the acerbic ex-senator, knitting his brow like my high school principal when I was caught taking geranium cuttings from the botany lab, “allow me to read a statement attributed to you in the Best Buds Garden Center customer newsletter of July 15, 2018, and I quote: ‘Invasive plants are a real problem in this neighborhood.'” The senator removed his glasses with the triumphant air of a prosecutor poised to destroy a witness. “Is it fair to say that you consider native plants more desirable than the hardy species that you so derisively dismiss as ‘invasive?'”

I turned to my partner, Gina, for a whispered conference.

“I’m not sure that’s a fair characterization of my views, Senator. I was talking about the harm invasive plants cause to — ”

“I’ve heard enough!” gasped the senator, his nurse immediately cupping an oxygen mask over his mouth and nose. “I’m voting no on this monster!”

“Hardly a surprise,” interposed Senator Longtuthe with a bitter laugh, “considering that the Senatorial Gardens newsletter quoted you just yesterday as saying ‘Appointing an avowed social conservative to this post would endanger the values our community holds dear.'”

“Senator,” I interjected, “that’s ‘soil conservationist,’ not ‘social conservative.'” With a smile I thought winning, I added, “I live for good soil.”

“The witness is out of order!” screamed Senator Selfreiteous.

I checked my phone. A load of fairy-tale lavender had arrived at Home Depot. Sweet.

“The Chair recognizes Senator Bloviateur.”

Senator Bloviateur plumped a 400-page tome in front of me. “Be so kind, Mr. Raichu, as to open the Bylaws Of The Senatorial Gardens Retirement Villa to page 214 and read into the record Section 87(A)(2)(c)(iv).”

“‘In selecting landscape designs,'” I read, “‘careful consideration shall be given to the ability of new landscape elements to harmonize with existing physical structures.'”

The senator removed his glasses — they all had that riff — and leaned forward as if to kill a newly trapped gopher. “And what is your interpretation of the word ‘harmonize,’ Mr. Raichu? Do you give it a strict construction, or are you a good person?”

I’d been warned this was coming. “I suppose it refers to the idea that plants should look good with the buildings. The colors and shapes and sizes and so on.”

The senator harrumphed with self-satisfaction. “I see. And if residents were to propose a planting scheme that you, in your wisdom, considered inharmonious in terms of ‘the colors and shapes and sizes’ of the plants, would you be willing to install such a scheme?”

I looked helplessly at Gina. “I’d rather not comment on hypothetical planting schemes, Senator.”

“I’m sure you wouldn’t,” the senator sneered. “But the people of this villa have a right to know how marginalized plants would fare if you were appointed associate gardener.”

“Senator, I’m really trying to understand, but by ‘marginalized plants,’ do you mean border gardens?”

“Enough! You are making a mockery of these proceedings! And I cannot, in good conscience, risk appointing a man like you as assistant gardener. My vote is no. A thousand times, no!”

I peeked at my phone. Tomato starts were on sale at Lowe’s.

Senator Gaseous tapped the gavel with all the strength of Montgomery Burns. “It’s obvious that there’s nothing more to do here,” he wheezed. “We all announced our decisions before the hearing anyway, so let’s just vote, and maybe we can make last call for dinner at four.”

I passed by one vote. But when Senator Gaseous offered congratulations, I replied, “Thank you all for the honor, but I’ve just received a text offering a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to become the head of leafblowing operations for We Blow, Inc. So as we gardeners say, I’m just gonna make like a tree and leaf.”

“A joke that corny shows contempt for this body!” shrieked Senator Selfreiteous.

And with both of her points, I had to agree.


* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where we take great pride in being able to tell big emergencies from little emergencies. We learned from the best: Time Barrow (and no, he does not have a brother named Wheel).

It’s Time We Prioritize Your Emergencies


Dear Ashwood Tenants,

Due to the unusually high number of recent maintenance requests and unexpected events, we’ve been unable to address them all in a timely manner. We apologize.

Remember, we’re still short a technician, since Wesley is hospitalized (and healing well) following the fiasco trying to retrieve Mr. Martin’s Professional Phantom III drone off Ms. Pritchard’s third-floor bedroom window overhang. (Know that we’re currently updating our policy on the use of video-enabled R/C devices near the building.)

While every situation and tenant is important to us, it’s time we prioritize your emergencies based on urgency and impact. Moving forward, we’ll address issues in the following order:

  1. Floods and time-sensitive emergencies
    Now that marijuana is legal here in Washington, if you hear an unexpected knock on the door, there’s no need to flush your stash. More to the point, our toilets cannot handle plastic bags, particularly those filled with large amounts of organic material. Young Jimmy Brophy in 1703, and the McEwan family in 1603, can attest to the resulting water damage.
  2. Anything of a fecal nature
    Many of you were witness to, or casualties of, Mrs. Esterhouse’s exploding colostomy bag in elevator #2 last week. The elevator has since been cleaned/sterilized and the hall carpets replaced on level 3. We’ve also removed the Jackson Pollock reproduction from that area, as it was a visual reminder.
    Remember: If you use similar devices, please change them, frequently.
  3. Electrical sparks, smoke, and gas leaks
    Rest assured that the simultaneous calls we received regarding these issues last Tuesday were unrelated and purely coincidental.

    1. Thanks to Mr. Steinberg on 7, we’ll remind you that your lease stipulates you not conduct auto bodywork (even just power-sanding a Ducati gas tank) on your terrace, as the sparks do shower down on those below.
    2. The smoke and resulting alarm were due to young Jimmy Brophy and friends under the conference room table (remember, you must reserve that space).
    3. The clubhouse gas odor was no leak at all, but rather just Mr. Vitanza’s IBS acting up in an unprecedented manner.
  4. Locked out situations
    We’ll address these requests based on situation:

    1. Is there a child or dog locked inside? We’ll be right there.
    2. No endangered child/dog:
      1. Clear-headed? The first time’s free (it happens). After that, it’s a $35 charge for each occurrence.
      2. Inebriated? There’s a $127 charge to let you in; $373 if we find the key is actually in your possession.
    3. Locked out of your car? Call AAA, your insurance company, or a locksmith. We’ll no longer assist in opening car doors with a slim jim, given the recent events (and impending lawsuit) after we assisted young Jimmy Brophy in entering and starting what we now know to be Mr. Scott’s classic Porsche.
  5. Legally dubious issues
    During the service call to fix Mr. Manz’s ice maker last month, our technicians were quite surprised to find numerous bags that look suspiciously like severed body parts. We’re cooperating fully in the investigation, and Apartment 1521 will likely soon be vacant.
  6. Bugs, rodents and critters (in order of likelihood)
    1. Bugs. We bring in exterminators upon new move-ins and as needed. If you contact us about cockroaches, as Ms. Brewner on 11 did, it can take a few days to schedule the exterminator. Assuredly, baking a “pecan pie” for the maintenance team is unnecessary and does not speed up the exterminator’s visit.
    2. Rodents. For years we’ve placed traps around the building without issue. This month was the first time we found one occupied. To the Goethe girls on 9, sorry Lauren & Olivia, we found Hail and Sleet, but you’ll need to secure that cage if you get any replacement pets.
    3. Critters. Occasional skunk/raccoon sightings have occurred. They’re occasional!
  7. Fires
    While this should seemingly rank higher on the list, fires aren’t really our thing. We’re maintenance technicians, for chrissake. If you have a fire and go to call us, hang up and dial 911. On that note, here are some tips to allay the need for the fire department:

    1. You should have learned, at a very young age, NOT to throw water on a grease fire. Ms. Hwang on 14 did not know this. Apparently, we also need to share that you should not spit on a grease fire, throw beer cans at it, or try to flash-fry sandwich meat over it.
    2. Your lease bans the use of barbeque grills on personal terraces. Accordingly, we maintain two grills in the common pool area. Your desire to BBQ nude at home, to respectfully avoid exposing your fellow tenants to such activity in the common area, is not justification (though somehow appreciated). As Mr. Kim on 9 recently learned:
      1. Grilling nude can be quite painful
      2. Balcony plants catch fire quickly
      3. Our security cameras broadcast a public 24/7 live stream
      4. One cannot remove such recorded streams from YouTube or LiveLeaks
    3. Thanks again to young Jimmy Brophy, we must mention that setting alight a quarter ounce of any substance in a bathtub–particularly with seven other people packed in the closed bathroom–is very much a fire hazard and can ignite the shower curtain.
    4. God forbid, if you’re experiencing a fire and booting up your laptop to alert us via email, just hang up and dial 911. (Just dial 911 from the get-go, Mrs. Parkin.)
  8. Broken appliances, doors and utilities
    Yep, we fix this stuff. In fact, it’d be our #1 concern, if not for this list’s other scenarios. Just put in a request and we’ll come… unless we’re tending to more pressing issues.

We appreciate your understanding and adherence to this updated policy on maintenance request prioritization.

Thank you,

The Ashwood Management and Maintenance Team


* Welcome to The Big Jewel, and to 2019! We hope this will be a most rewarding year for you. And if you heed the wisdom of Graham Techler, it just might be!

Patreon Rewards For Being My Friend


Hello! Thanks to Patreons like you, I am well on my way to the robust social life I feel I have been promised. For those who have yet to join me on Patreon, I am excited to offer you exclusive rewards for buying into our friendship on a monthly basis. Here are some of our tiered sponsorship options.

Text Me on My Birthday

Unlocks me texting you on your half-birthday, and also texting you on your ex-girlfriend’s birthday to make sure you’re doing okay.

Come to a Concert with Me if I Buy the Ticket

Unlocks me sending you the band’s top sixteen songs, which we can put into a seeded bracket before the show to gamify the experience and make this fun for you. Also unlocks an “Is this fun for you??” shouted over the music every three songs.

Need an Even Number for Water Bumper Cars, Only Have Five People, Consider Adding Me as the Sixth

Unlocks ponchos for this whole dream team you’re assembling, just in case I make the cut, but if I don’t: keep the ponchos, it’s an honor just to be nominated.

Give Me Your Thoughts on Marvel Movies

Unlocks my thoughts on Marvel movies and so much more. Some contrarian, some gushing, all largely unsolicited.

Post Up for High Five

Unlocks bonus fist bump.

Return Fist Bump

Unlocks bonus hug.

Pick Me Up from the Airport

Unlocks me offering to buy you a beer sometime to say thanks, you telling me it’s really no big deal, and me vehemently insisting that I thank you by making you hang out with me more.

Get In Argument with Guy Outside Bar during Thank-You-Airport Drinks

Unlocks me staying out of it, but filming it in case you end up looking cool as shit, but also deleting the video in case you don’t end up looking cool as shit. Either way I’ll give you space to do your thing.

Borrow a Book

Unlocks me leaving a lot of post-it notes in that book like little treasures for you to find that will remind you I exist. “This part’s great!” “Did you cry here? I did!” You will still be surprised when, years later, you learn that I left you all my books in my will.

Plant Shopping! 

Unlocks me also leaving you the plants in my will.

Stick Up for Me after I Post Something Misguided about a Hot-Button Issue, Risking the Ire of Our Peers in the Process

Unlocks my unwarranted assumption that you will agree with me on all further misguided opinions on hot-button issues, my confidence in posting said views more often in the future, and almost certainly the ire of our peers.

Co-Host New Year’s Eve Party with Me

Unlocks the fact that if you do that, I will literally hold back the waves of time to keep that party going and to keep you young. To keep you as young as you desire.

Slight Me in Some Unknowably Small Way

Unlocks me holding it against you for a long, long time, and yet massively overcompensating around you due to the guilt I feel from holding a grudge that I wish I could erase but is out of my control.

Meet My Parents when They’re in Town

Unlocks me telling thinly veiled stories that hint at rambunctious adventures amongst my friend group, suggesting to you that I am a confident, transparent straight-shooter with my parents, suggesting to my parents that I am a real adult with a slight edge to me, but in reality probably just making everyone a little uncomfortable, plus all previous rewards.

Are My Parents

Sorry. Super busy day at work. Will call later!



* 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


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.



* 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


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.

* 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


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.