* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where we specialize in bringing the lovelorn together. No matter what's wrong with them and what kind of hat they're wearing. Thank you, Rhys Morgan!

Dating, Disability And Sombreros


For people afflicted with disability, dating can often be a daunting process. Whilst the afflicted person has, much like anyone else, an insistent longing to enter into a loving and fruitful relationship, they are inevitably anxious of the thought that, upon first encounter, their prospective significant other will be too closed-minded to look past their disability to observe the kind, sexual soul that inhabits them.

This is most certainly true in David’s case. David has been single now for what is approaching ten years, ever since developing a rare psycho-associative condition which causes him to compulsively wear a simply enormous novelty sombrero. The sombrero in question measures, in total, thirty-five inches in diameter, making it difficult for him to even walk through your average doorway, let alone consummate a newfound relationship. In fact, just attempting to figure out the mere logistics of sexual intercourse is, for David, a consistent source of anxiety. It is, to his mind, a strategic nightmare not worth thinking about, much like a game of chess, or sex-chess, if such a thing even exists. It probably doesn’t. Luckily for him, this is a bridge yet to be crossed.

But to his credit, David remains largely resolute in his search for love, even in the face of consistent and sometimes even severe rejection. Let us take his most recent first date with Helen as a case in point. Helen of course knew about David’s disability beforehand, but throughout the course of their date she became increasingly less and less tolerant of the manner in which it manifested itself. For David this was rather unfortunate, as upon entering the restaurant and seeing Helen for the first time in the flesh, he was mesmerised by her beauty and subtle mannerisms. To him, she appeared almost as a young Angela Bettis. However, before he could mentally deduce whether or not Angela Bettis was a real celebrity or merely somebody he’d just made up, the date was already well underway.

Right from the get-go, it was clear to David that Helen was yet another sexual prospect who was simply unwilling to look past his disability, or for that matter the jaunty tassels affixed to the rim of his novelty sombrero, which seemed to permanently conceal parts of his face during conversation. In fact, the ways in which these tassels swayed with the nervous shifts in David’s neck muscles made Helen feel physically sick, and far from jaunty. Due to Helen’s remarkably forthright character, she communicated this feeling almost immediately. Unperturbed, David explained that the tassels were as much a part of him as they were the sombrero, by means of a heart-warming oration which bordered on the poetic. Yet Helen simply didn’t buy this, expressing her harsh opinion on the matter by belching the word “bullshit” in between canapés.

Feeling Helen’s phone number quickly slipping from his grasp digit by precious digit, David decided to go all-out, thinking that an effort at self-deprecation would perhaps win her over. What’s more charming, he thought, than a disabled person, such as he was, who could laugh at himself, and be unsullied by his own illness as a result? He began to tell Helen about the predicament he found himself in a few days ago, in which he met his new next-door neighbor for the first time. He introduced himself, he explained, by way of a jovial hand-wave whilst mowing his front lawn.

However, seeing the giant sombrero perched exuberantly upon David’s head, and being a Mexican immigrant himself, the new neighbor took this friendly gesture as a racially motivated hate crime, and proceeded to deliver a long tirade in defense of his nation, which included many references to the Battle of the Alamo. At this point, Helen had had enough. She swiftly raised herself from her chair, before cruelly requesting that David not contact her again in the future, and left the restaurant altogether. His date with Helen was, on the whole, a veritable disaster.

And so, David’s quest for a meaningful and long-term relationship goes on, and we salute him, for he is a true underdog, or at the very least he is a fully-grown man who looks completely fucking ridiculous, almost like a cartoon character, and we all love those. It is therefore with the warmest of sincerity that we wish David luck in his search for womanly companionship. And who knows, he may even find something more, by which I mean: sexual intercourse.


* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where something very, very important is happening right now. Wait -- could it be? Really? Yes! It's Mitch Russell in his first piece for us!

I Am Going To Be Very Important


Here’s what I’m going to do: I’m going to buy a pontoon boat, and float it into the Atlantic, tossing my phone, my license, and my Social Security card into the ocean as the shoreline recedes in the distance. This will begin a long and transformative journey. Days will pass, then weeks. I will run through my provisions. My beard will grow long. In desperation I will attempt to catch fish in my teeth. The sun will crack my skin and warp my mind. I will forget my old life.

I will float about under the open sky, carried by the whims of the current, carrion birds circling my small craft until one morning it abruptly comes ashore an island not listed on any map. Starving and broken, I will claw my way up the beach towards a village of islanders who have never come into contact with a man such as me before. Upon reaching them I will collapse face-first in the sand. They will nurse me back to health with strange fruits and coconut milk. As I grow stronger they will gather around my straw mat, enamored and terrified with my tales of the civilized world.

When I am strong enough I will waste no time in challenging the chief in hand-to-hand combat for control of the island. He will accept, though because I am as ambitious as I am craven, I will sneak into his hut late at night and conk him on the head with a rock instead. Then I’ll drag his body to the pontoon boat and set him out to sea. In the morning I will explain that I saw him cravenly escaping in the dead of night, and because these are an isolated people unfamiliar with trickery or schemes, they will take me at my word, which is really too bad for them, because those are two things I am just brimming with.

As their new leader, I will command that we move from this old system of “peaceful fishing society” to a more piracy-based system. I will advise my followers to simply regard cargo ships full of electronic goods, ivory or high-value hostages the same way they would regard a big haul of tilapia — insofar as they should deliver them to my feet or face horrible and disproportionate consequences.

With the riches stolen from Caribbean cargo ships I will quickly build up my forces from a ragged crew of bandits to a uniformed militia of armed-to-the-teeth minions. I will burn down the hut and build a mansion. I will dynamite the holy caves and a build secret weapons lab. I will dig up sacred burial sites and construct missile silos. I will come to rule over my island peasant subjects with the gusto of a calculating warlord, and far from the view of Western eyes I will fashion a society that, while crude, is reflective of my every whim. The history of my ascent to power will be speckled with bloody coups, subterfuge, femmes fatales, missing journalists. Exotic jungle cats will be involved.

I will call my kingdom Isle Paradiso, for reasons that have mainly to do with years of poorly remembered high school Spanish. On Paradiso I will rule over a cult of personality. I will be highly decorated in medals I myself commissioned, honoring great feats of valor which are as courageous as they are unverifiable. I will parade through sparsely paved streets wearing tiger striped fatigues, as will my all-female cadre of highly trained bodyguards/assassins. They will call me “El Tigre Pequeno” and my every utterance will spark both fear and admiration in the hearts of the island’s commoners. Mostly fear though.

Executions will be carried out atop the volcano jutting up from the thick jungle growth that otherwise covers the island. At the crack of dawn, a conch horn will sound and the announcement will be made through a series of speakers strung up throughout the villages. State media will be gathered and the accused brought, hands bound, to the rim of the volcano, where my jackboot thugs will have installed some sort of ramshackle diving board. Meanwhile, I’ll preside over the assembly in a tiger-striped judge’s robe and an askew powdered wig. Also a crown for good measure. As the hot lava bubbles and spits from within the volcano’s mouth, I will be fanned with the plumage of the island’s most beautiful birds.

“CITIZEN OF PARADISO,” I’ll announce into a big stupid megaphone, “YOU STAND HERE TODAY ACCUSED OF DISSENT, DISRUPTION, DELINQUENCY, DESTRUCTION, GENERAL DEPLORABILITY, AND A LITANY OF OTHER CHARGES RIDICULOUS AND FARCICAL. HOW DO YOU PLEAD???” (It doesn’t really matter how they plead.) Under my rule punishment will come swiftly and often, frequently in the form of a volcano high-dive, but other times by laser beam, sometimes shark tank, and sometimes dissidents will be tied to one of the many Soviet-era missiles in our highly illegal weapons program and just fired off into the ocean.

But it won’t be enough.

What no one on the island seems to understand is the sheer immensity of my vision. Peasants will be peasants, but I am a man born of greatness! Do they think I am writing all these self-serving polemics because it is fun for me? Do they think my captive scientist have been developing a giant death-ray in the secret lab for my own benefit? Do they suppose I am staging countless military exercises for any purpose other than the exaltation of our glorious Motherland? Of course I am! And who’s to say I shouldn’t enjoy a little light revenge on civilization? Certainly no one who has not yet been thrown into the volcano! Also I am completely drunk on power at this point.

So as any terrifying despot would, I’ll mobilize the fleet, launch the stolen missiles into orbit, start shooting the giant laser beam at random, just go absolutely bananas. And when I tune into the Western media, I’ll see maps, graphs, charts of missile trajectories. CNN will be super upset. And it’s funny because they will have all sorts of “experts” come in and say that this is all because of “increased tensions with so-and-so” or “destabilization of the whatever-region,” but not one of those idiots will be able to guess that all of this is because of a terrible, unshakable feeling of smallness.

And yes, my reign will come to a messy end. And no, I don’t think that that comes as a surprise to anyone, least of all the deep-cover CIA operative embedded in muggy jungle hideouts. It’s amazing what a couple hundred disgruntled peasants and a few Spec Ops teams can accomplish when they put their wits and also assault rifles together. The capital will be stormed, the mansion looted, my tiger-skin rug all scuffed up by covert hit squads, and I — unceremoniously shot in the face or something. That’s fine. Everyone’s free and there’s no danger now so, you know…yippee.

But as decades pass, and the sovereign nation transforms from a kingdom of brutal civil conflict to yet another tropical façade for cruise ships to float past, will history remember it for its diverse foliage? Its tropical birds? Its beaches lined with expensive cafés serving bland approximations of the feasts that once adorned the tables of my dining halls? No. Not a chance. I will have left an indelible scar upon history’s face, and when the island’s name is spoken my name will never be more than a whispered breath away, my legacy secured as the Tiger King of the Island! Scourge of humanity! The Tyrant Lord who brought Western civilization to its knees in the blink of an eye!

Anyway, that is my plan. I mean that or grad school.


* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where what you eat and how you cook it says a lot about your disturbed state of mind. Just ask Travis Rave.

Messy Sandwich #4 (aka Cooking In Your Twenties And Maybe Your Thirties If You Had Your Heart Torn Out On Tuesday)


Ingredients: bread, mozzarella cheese, sadness, tomato, olive oil, pan, brick, kitchen with stove, penchant for danger and neglect.

  1. Get bread.

Preferably good wide, thick bread, but this is only essential if you’re particularly picky about burns.

  1. Thoroughly oil a wide pan and set the burner to medium heat.

Use a paper towel to spread olive oil evenly. If you are out of paper towels, just dump some in and swirl it about. I like to put in a little more than is necessary, so that if you spill a little water in there, it will spit out a dangerous amount of hot oil. This keeps things exciting and your mind from wandering too far down into “The Hole of Deepening Despair,” a Lifetime movie that seems to be on repeat this week.

  1. Sit down to watch something (not “The Hole of Deepening Despair”) that will undoubtedly make you forget that you’re cooking and alone.
  2. Panic as the smoke alarm goes off. Run to the oven and turn on the oven fan to clear any gathering smoke. Turn burner off to cool pan and then add more oil. At this point, screw the paper towel; just dump that shit in there.
  3. Return to your show, but set a timer because you’ve learned something. As you watch, slice the cheese.

Serrated knife or not, the cheese should cut. If the slices are uneven, that’s okay — it’s only cheese; don’t be bullied.

  1. Place cheese between two pieces of bread and put it into the pan.

Veteran cooks may want to risk a Frisbee-style toss, but this is not recommended due to the excessive amount of oil you put in the pan and your tendency to cause eruptions of flame.

  1. Swirl the sandwich around in the pan to soak up a bunch of the oil. Beware the heat. As it starts to sizzle, put the brick on top.

Quickly remove the brick because you forgot to wrap it in aluminum foil, which means you just put a dirty brick on your sandwich. Consider throwing out the sandwich, but then shrug and quickly wrap the brick and replace it on top of the sandwich.

  1. (Optional) Push down on the brick if you like the sound of sizzling and the invigorating sting of seeing your girlfriend writhing gleefully beneath someone with a hairy back. I mean of hot oil; the sting of hot oil.
  2. After a few minutes, remove the brick and flip the sandwich.

A spatula works well for this. If you don’t have one because you left your old one in the sink after Messy Sandwich #1 and it grew friends, then use a fork. If your forks, too, have begun to socialize, then just use your fucking fingers, okay?

  1. Put the brick back on top and press on it lightly because sizzling and burning now help you to focus on the pain of the present. Ignore that some of the cheese oozes out and will cause you to not want to wash the pan because burned-on cheese is hard to remove and pans are lonely.
  2. After a few minutes (probably one longer than is ideal because you’ve ill-advisedly returned to the couch to nurse your scorched hand), turn off the burner, remove the brick, and slide the oozing mess onto a plate.
  3. Consider eating it, but then curse because you realize you’ve forgotten about the tomato. Quickly slice the tomato, nicking your finger because of the hurry and then curse again (recommendation: “Fuck you, Gina!”). Shake your hand vigorously, but then return to cutting because your stupid sandwich is getting cold. The acidic tomato juice will likely sting when it enters your now numerous wounds.
  4. Cut the sandwich in half, carefully pull the pieces of bread apart, and place two slices of tomato on each side.
  5. Return to the couch and eat with gusto.
  6. Realize you’re still hungry. Curse [Gina] again.
  7. Do your best to wake up tomorrow.


* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where your unborn child is almost our entire focus! Heed the clarion call of R.T. Sehgal.

Let Our Prenatal Analysts Reveal All About Your Future Baby!


In today’s fast-paced Internet-driven age, it seems like we have instant access to all the information important to making life’s big decisions. Unfortunately, as expectant parents, you’re still almost entirely in the dark about the little Joey or Joanna you’ll be taking home to raise for eighteen (or more!) years. Besides the baby’s gender, what do you really know? Will he be an artist or an athlete? Will she like sushi or burritos? We know that these are the questions that keep you up at night. But science has failed you…

Until now! Here at Ultrasoundz Plus, our goal is to get future parents the nitty-gritty details of their future Michael or Michaela. With our customizable Process-guided Reveal Plans, you can choose how much you want to know about your upcoming bundle. To help you figure out if our services are right for you, we’ve put together a list of frequently asked questions (FAQ):

Q: What information can you reveal about our baby?

A: We can currently evaluate your baby in over five hundred domains, including:

—       Political affiliation

—       Likely college major

—       Favorite sports team

—       Spotify playlist preference

—       Estimated lifetime number of tattoos and piercings

—       Estimated lifetime number of sexual partners

—       Eye color

Q: A lot of these seem oddly specific. How do you do it?

A: We’re able to estimate the likelihood of particular traits through a combination of advanced ultrasound imaging, blood sample testing and pseudoscience.

Q: Wait…pseudoscience?

A: Did we say pseudoscience? Must have been a typo. We meant real, hardcore, actual “science.” With beakers and lab coats. The whole nine yards. And don’t let the fact that we put “science” in quotes make you question our “scientific” integrity. Just one of those weird regulatory quirks that the Trump administration will hopefully be doing away with.

Q: Well, how accurate are your findings?

A: It varies, of course, depending on which trait we’re analyzing.  For biological sex, we hit the nail on the head a solid 55% of the time. Everything else is a bit more hit-or-miss. But that’s “science” for you!

Q: So, what do you mean by “advanced ultrasound imaging”?

A: Well, while your neighborhood fly-by-night ultrasound clinic just looks at the basics like fetal size and penis presence, our Processors go the extra mile by examining fetal response to stimuli ranging from various musical genres to TED talks to excerpts of Russian literature.

Q: That sounds in-depth. How long does this exam take?

A: Roughly sixteen hours.

Q: What?

A: It flies by! We offer a wide variety of second-tier Hollywood titles and quasi-religious Process infomercials for the mom-to-be to watch while we subject her little hombre (or hombrette!) to a variety of noxious stimuli.

Q: Wow. So, how does this actually work?

A: We’ll give you an example. Like most expectant parents, you’ve probably wondered, “Which side will my little angel take in the ongoing feud between Taylor Swift and Katy Perry?” This is exactly the kind of question our Process is set up to answer. Through headphones placed strategically over the pregnant belly, we’ll play selections from the catalog of each pop princess and monitor fetal movements. We’ll also examine fetal blood cells cultivated from a maternal blood sample. Did you know there’s a gene associated with the phenotype of preferring Taylor Swift to Katy Perry?

Q: Really?

A: Are you a geneticist, a family member of a geneticist or otherwise a member of the “scientific” community?

Q: No.

A: Then, really!

Q: You keep mentioning the “Process.” What is that?

A: Oh, the details aren’t important. Suffice it to say that Processors are the reincarnated soldiers of the Western Song dynasty, now training under the guidance of Master Tyler in preparation for the Third Intergalactic War.

Q: So…you’re a cult?

A: Wow! Slow down there with your trigger words! You sound just like the IRS. Are you from the IRS?

Q: Umm…no.

A: Great! We should leave the details of what’s a “cult” vs. what’s a legitimate ultrasound business to the results of several ongoing lawsuits. The only two things that you need to know are:

  1. We would like access to your human baby’s blood, and
  2. We would like to play that baby some messages in utero while you watch a series of increasingly brain-cleansing videos.

And, in return, you’ll get a seventy-five-page personality profile! Ready to sign up???

Q: [  ]

A: Think it over, but don’t take too long! Our current Groupon is only available through the end of the week. And once the Third Intergalactic War begins, our staffing will be pretty bare-bones.




* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where sometimes reality overtakes us but we run and run and do try to keep up as best we can. Words fail us, but fortunately they do not fail our good friend Dan Fiorella.

What A Dump


We know that President Trump isn’t shy with his opinions, no matter how misinformed, so it should come as no surprise that a recent article in Sports Illustrated (that well-known political publication of record) reports that the President told some fellow golfers he prefers his own housing because “that White House is a real dump.” So in the spirit of full transparency, we’ve obtained the President’s reviews of other American historical sites:


The U.S. Mint

“Is that the only flavor?”


Fort McHenry

“You call that a fort? I’ve built better forts with my pillows.”


Dinosaur National Monument

“It’s no Jurassic Park, believe me.”


Mount Rushmore

“Are they going to finish it or what?”


Governors Island, NY

“Well, I was never governor, so I don’t know about that one.”


Washington Monument

“Mine’s bigger.”


The Gateway Arch in St. Louis

“I looked all over, I couldn’t find that McDonalds! What a gyp!”


The Library of Congress

“Meh. Are my books in there?”


Independence Hall

“This was the place in American Treasure, right? I love that movie. Very historical.”


The Brooklyn Bridge

“I think I owned that for a while.”


Ellis Island

“How is there not a wall around this???”


The Statue of Liberty

“Maybe a four. Five, tops.”


The Liberty Bell

“Seriously? They can’t get that fixed?”


Grand Canyon

“What a waste of space! Do you know how many golf courses this thing could hold?”


National Mall, Washington D.C.

“How are there no stores here? It’s the worse mall I’ve ever been to! I would never let that happen. Whose fault is this, Obama’s?”


Sequoia, the former Presidential yacht.

“This is a yacht? I have tub toys bigger than this!”


The Supreme Court Building

“So plain. Where’s the gold plating?”


USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor

“I like memorials that weren’t sneak-attacked.”


The Capitol Building

“Can you imagine the casino this thing would make?”


Trail of Tears National Historic Trail

“What a bunch of crybabies!”


The Lincoln Memorial

“Have you seen this? It’s so out of proportion! I know Lincoln was tall, but this is ridiculous!”


The Alamo



The Jefferson Memorial

“Thomas Jefferson is amazing. He’s living a very interesting life, if you know what I mean. I think you do.”


The 9/11 Memorial

“9/11 is a very important date for me, so I totally get this place. You know, after 9/11, my buildings became some of the tallest buildings in New York City!”


Ford’s Theatre

“And this is why I only watch home video!”


Arlington National Cemetery

“Not bad. I could be buried there if I wanted to be, but I have this much better place picked out on my golf course in New Jersey.”


Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

“Well, he couldn’t have been that good if nobody knew him.”


Yellowstone National Park

“I love this place…wait, ‘Yellowstone?’ I thought you said ‘Orangestone.’ This place sucks.”


The Constitution

“So outdated!”


* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where we often celebrate Mother's Day in November. This time it really is a special occasion, as our co-founder and editor Kurt Luchs is celebrating the release of his first humor collection, "It's Funny Until Someone Loses an Eye (Then It's Really Funny)," from Sagging Meniscus Press. This harrowing autobiographical piece is only one of 50 stories, bits and parodies contained in the book. Copies of the paperback and Kindle ebook editions can be ordered at Amazon using the link below or the one to the right in our blogroll. May we humbly suggest this would make an ideal Christmas gift for the readers in your life? Well, we just did suggest it. Now it is up to you to act. America is counting on you!

The Imperturbable Mrs. Luchs


Do not judge my mother.

You don’t get to do that unless you go and have seven children, one right after the other, in just ten years. Pretty much everything strange and mystifying about her mothering could be ascribed to a never-ending case of postpartum depression. And that’s before you take a closer look at those children. If you want to know what kind of feral society we siblings formed in the absence of real adult supervision, reread The Lord of the Flies.

Even if you do happen to have popped out seven unruly mini-monsters in one decade, you still don’t get to judge her because you were not married to my father, a maxi-monster if ever there was one — and there was. Dad was an ex-Marine, which is like being an ex-Catholic: i.e., there is no such thing, because once they have you, they have you for life, run where you will. He taught us the words to “The Halls of Montezuma” (aka “The Marine Corps Hymn”) before any other song, even Christmas carols, though for reasons best known to himself he often made us sing it while goose-stepping and delivering the Nazi salute. Come to think of it, he had us sing Christmas carols the same way. Under his command, we didn’t merely clean the yard, we policed the yard. Yes, yard maintenance was a police action like the Korean War, in which he had served as a sharpshooter, and about which he never uttered one syllable to me or, to my knowledge, to any of my siblings. He made the Great Santini look like Gomer Pyle.

But I am getting away from the subject, which is supposed to be my mother. Perhaps partly in reaction to my father’s short fuse, hot temper and lethal military training, she cultivated a persona resembling that of Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire. She lived in a world of her own. It was a world more like Rivendell than planet Earth, populated by fairies and elves and myths and mythters, not by Stanley Kowalski’s understudy and seven hell-spawn. Inhabiting this mystic mental fog may have been what preserved any sanity she had left. She could retreat into it at will, and did so constantly. It made her unflappable and imperturbable, and as we shall see at certain crucial moments, utterly unreachable.

She read poetry. Worse, she wrote it. Some of my earliest and most persistent childhood memories are of her drifting through the house iambically reciting Yeats, Frost, Eliot and Dylan Thomas aloud. That kind of thing gets into a boy’s head. It would be many years before I understood that other mothers, normal mothers, did not carry on so. She also knew by heart many songs by the Irish folk sensations The Clancy Brothers, such as “The Wild Colonial Boy,” “Whiskey You’re the Devil,” and “The Men of the West.” Her renditions were seldom on key, but gained in power when our two dogs and half dozen cats caught the spirit of it and added their own howls to the choruses.

Speaking of animals, her big heart for them was the reason our house and yard on the outskirts of pristine, suburban Wheaton, Illinois, looked more like a Dust Bowl farm. In addition to the dogs and an unending supply of cats and kittens, we had four chickens and four geese, along with an occasional hamster or mouse and any number of woodland creatures that we rescued (usually from our own cats) and kept temporarily until we could turn them over to the Willowbrook Wildlife Center. These included everything from bats and raccoons to pheasants and opossums. We had a pet crow named Edgar Allan Crow, whom we taught to say, among other things, “Nevermore” and “Brookwillow” (his charmingly dyslexic attempt at “Willowbrook”). Imitating our mother with cruel accuracy, he could also scream, “Shut the door!” and do a very moving impersonation of a baby crying, one of the few ways to get her attention.

For some reason it was the men of the family who brought home the amphibians and reptiles. I kept a newt and a small tortoise, and usually an aquarium stocked with painted turtles and crayfish. One winter I housed twenty-seven baby snapping turtles in an aluminum tub under the kitchen sink. Why? I don’t know. Maybe I was taken with their hypnotic little six-pointed starry eyes and the fact that at that tender age, their vicious bites couldn’t even break the skin. It is a testament of sorts to my mother’s culinary skills that the smell of those turtles and whatever she was cooking could not easily be distinguished. It is a testament to her imperturbability that she allowed them to remain in the kitchen all winter with the windows shut tight against the Northern Illinois cold.

My father topped us all when he and a Marine Corps buddy returned from a fossil hunting trip in the western part of the state with a live timber rattlesnake. Not many women would have retained their composure under the circumstances. My mother was delighted, almost giddy. She promptly named the snake Gertrude and put her in a Plexiglas cage in the crawlspace. Gertrude proved very useful while we had her. When we caught some of the neighbor kids trying to steal our bicycles, we showed them Gertrude. We urged them to make sudden movements in front of her cage, causing her to strike at the Plexiglas. The venom from her fangs dripped down the inside of her cage quite convincingly. We never had to lock up our bikes again. Eventually we donated Gertrude to the Brookfield Zoo. Six months later she was killed by a falling rock under suspicious circumstances, and I believe the Chicago Police Department may still have a cold case file on her. My mother wore a black armband for a year.

I’ve told you about the good times, the times when mom’s imperturbability was an asset to a household full of wild creatures, human and otherwise. But there were other times, too. Times when her ability to retreat into those golden mental mists almost amounted to neglect. Again, I ask you not to judge. You weren’t there. You can’t know what it was like. You probably think I’m exaggerating or inventing for comic effect, but you have no idea how wrong you are, or how much I’m actually leaving out because you would never believe it.

Take the time when I nearly bled out on the living room couch while she sat there reading the paper. The evening had started normally enough. I always had a copious supply of fireworks around, which I needed for my ongoing scientific and philanthropic work. That night I was working with bottle rockets. I had become jaded with the pedestrian experience of setting them off one at a time. Inspired by the twin ideas of a Roman candle and a Gatling gun, I used corrugated cardboard to construct a multiple bottle rocket launcher. It was fiendishly simple. Roll the cardboard into a tube, and stick a bottle rocket into each of the many holes at the end. Then twist all of the fuses together, light them simultaneously, aim the tube at your target, and voila! Instant hellfire.

In this case my target was a Wheaton Police cruiser. There was an intersection nearby with a small hill overlooking it. Perched behind the crest of that hill, I waited until the cruiser stopped at the empty intersection and then set off my launcher. Seconds later, dozens of bottle rockets zipped and whistled and exploded over the cruiser’s windshield. I’m sure the two patrolmen, who had probably never handled anything more menacing than a kitten in a tree, thought they had somehow found themselves in the middle of a gang war in sedate, lily-white Wheaton. Within moments, though, they figured it out. Their siren and cherries went on, and they began flashing their searchlight around the car, looking for a criminal mastermind.

I ducked and quickly rolled back down the hill. On the way down, my right calf encountered one of those beer cans from the days before pop tops, the type you had to open with a can opener, leaving a protruding jagged metallic triangle that could do real damage. It ripped through my jeans and opened a gash several inches long in my leg, which began bleeding profusely. A sizable, grisly-looking piece of flesh dangled by a thread. Not having the time or the means to apply a field dressing, I hightailed it home through empty lots overgrown with weeds, keeping as close to the ground as possible.

I burst through the front door out of breath, and haltingly told Mom that I had been injured and would require medical attention. I also mentioned that we needed to turn off the lights and draw the curtains, and if the police came to the door, we should pretend not to be home. “Oh no you don’t,” she said, without even looking up from her newspaper. “I’m not going to fall for that again.”

Perhaps I should explain here that only the previous day I had conducted a different experiment, wherein I combined ashes, candle wax and ketchup into a fair imitation of a horrific burn wound on my left arm. That had got her to take notice, however briefly. But actions have consequences.

Not knowing what else to do, I sat down and let my cut bleed onto the floor. I began to get dizzy, whether from shock and adrenaline or loss of blood, I don’t know. The cop car slowly pulled down our cul-de-sac and back out again without stopping, gumballs still on but siren off. A few minutes later my mom finally put down the paper, looked up, saw the growing pool of blood at my feet, and smiled. “Well, are you going to clean that up, or what?” she asked. I managed to whisper that I needed to see a doctor, the sooner the better. Then I fainted.

When at last she understood that I was indeed hurt, she calmly and coolly snapped into action. She had the neighbors drive me to the emergency room. Dad was not home, you see, and she would not learn to drive until many years later. In fact, most pedestrians and light poles unlucky enough to find themselves in her path would say she never did. But that’s another story.

The wound took thirty-three stitches to close. The scar is still visible today. As usual, though, there were compensations. The respect of my peers, for one thing. Drugs, for another. That was back when they handed out opiates like Veteran’s Day poppies, even to children. It would be several more years before I would test mom’s patience to the limit by starting a hydroponic marijuana farm in the basement and using my augmented chemistry set to synthesize mescaline in honor of Aldous Huxley, another author to whom she introduced me. For now, I was satisfied to have gotten a rise out of two imperturbable entities, the Wheaton Police and mom, with mom being by far the tougher nut to crack.

* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where our main goal is to distract you enough so that you can forget your past boy- or girlfriends. But for some reason all Michael Fowler wants to do is to remember his. When you're done perusing this piece, see our blogroll on the right for a link to buy Michael's book, God Made the Animals.

My Past Girlfriends Looked Like Rock Stars


I was never part of the music scene, but the women I got into relationships with starting back in the 60s shared a certain trait: they resembled well-known rock stars. Perhaps unfortunately, it was male rock stars they looked like, and not the prettiest ones either. I never dated a girl as drop-dead gorgeous as Jim Morrison, or as cuddly-cute as Beatle Paul, as gorgeously tressed as David Coverdale, as perfectly lipped and eye-lidded as the King, or as glitzy as David Lee Roth. Instead my girlfriends resembled some of the plainer, even grotesque male rock stars. But I’m not complaining. This detracted not a bit from their femininity, and never compromised my gender identity. These young ladies may have looked like plain-to-ugly male rockers to a startling degree, but each and every one overcame that with cherry lips, Bambi eyes, a tidy rack, sometimes a Marilyn mole, and other wow features.

My first girlfriend, a desperate score I made in time for senior prom in 1965, having gone dateless up to that time, looked like Sam the Sham, right after he and the Pharaohs scored big with “Wooly Bully.” Carla didn’t have a beard, not yet anyway, but she did have the Sham’s thick mat of curly, dark hair, jutting jaw and monstrous overbite, and an identical reluctance to pay a dentist to rein in those buck teeth, despite the hit single royalties that must have been accruing in his, if not her, pocket. As for her more womanly attributes, Carla added to Sam’s overt maleness some seriously cute female dimples and a sassy, womanly pout. Carla and I experimented with pot and a bunch of new dance steps together. The jerk comes to mind. But the highlight of our relationship was attending a costume party the summer of our graduation. She went as the Sham, no surprise there, wearing a false beard and a paper pharaoh hat. Lacking a costume, and wanting Carla to take center stage, I came in a flannel shirt and blue jeans as the pharaoh’s food-taster, and I still remember how great those finger sandwiches were. Carla and I lasted a few months of doing wild coming-of-age things together, but somehow we managed to go off in different directions to college.

In 1966 I met Sherry in my freshman psych class. She resembled bandleader Paul of Paul Revere and the Raiders, right down to his short blonde hair, his come-on smirk, and the roguish twinkle in his eye. Sherry could prance to “Kicks” the way Paul and the band did, too, flaunting her solid tush and round thighs in skin-tight pants just the way that stocky Paul shook his own generous bum in snug cavalry britches and riding boots. Sherry and Paul were two prancing fools. The difference was, Sherry shook her bouncy little rack and added a hip roll as she worked her go-go boots, and this turned my head much more than Revere’s manlier motions. And talk about a kisser: I still remember her breath warmed by 3.2 beer and tongue skilled from licking cigarette papers. She was such a good smoocher that I could hardly take my eyes off those cherry lips crinkled in a smile. And in case you’re wondering what it was like to kiss Paul Revere, or his copy, it was great, and it never occurred to me that I was kissing a guy, because I wasn’t.

In 1967, when student radicals moved in on campus and began to plot against the administration, I shacked up with Sandra, who was an exact lookalike for Smokey Robinson, only with pillowy lips, Bambi eyes, a rack so tidy as to be pointy, a magnificent collection of earrings, a Marilyn mole, and her process beginning to explode into naturalness. We only lasted a month or two before conflicting views on the role of police in society sundered our relationship, but meanwhile we stoked each other in the bedroom with talk of justice and equality between heated sheets. I like to think that in some way we liberated each other’s souls, and man, could she nibble an ear.

Right after I dropped out of the higher education racket in 1969, I met Barb at a laser show in an art museum. This foxy lady looked so much like Question Mark of Question Mark and the Mysterians, a band I often saw on TV, that I was floored. In case you don’t remember what Question Mark looked like, he resembled a worm with shoulder-length dark hair, always wore dark glasses, and had very bad skin, as if he had been badly burned in an accident. That was Barb all over, and her little sister Babs too. Barb and Babs both had that wormlike quality with really bad, my-house-burned-down-with-me-in-it skin. Barb and I loved to frug to “96 Tears,” “Magic Carpet Ride,” and my then favorite, “Draft Resister.”  For a while I was eyeing Barb and Babs at the same time, getting off on their fantastic Question Mark looks. But eventually Barb’s cherry lips, sparkling Bambi eyes, and roly-poly hips put her over the top in my little red address book. She told me I could use her VW Beetle if I needed to hightail to Canada until peace broke out, and maybe she’d come with me. We never tried to sneak over the border, though, since I drew a winningly huge number in the draft lottery.

After graduation in the early ’70s from a junior college with lax admission policies, I went with the spitting image of Ginger Baker, drummer from Cream. Cherie wasn’t as tall as the over-six-foot Baker, but still towered over me by a couple of inches, and sported Baker’s gangly build, red hair, enormous feet, and unfortunately those not-great British teeth, though her fangs were American. But she also had flashing blue eyes like Ginger’s, legs that went to heaven, and a rack that, though small, was definitely not minor league. Like the drummer, she had great energy and endurance. She could play hacky sack and ride bikes with me all morning, and had strength left over to chase a Frisbee and rip my clothes off in the afternoon. Aware of her resemblance to the great musician, Cherie didn’t mind in the least that my nickname for her was Ginger, and she flashed a gray-toothed smile, and opened up those baby blues, when I teasingly said such things as, “Hey, Ginger, come over here, and bring your tidy rack.”

The great blonde in my life circa the ’80s was Julie, who was the duplicate of that blowzy blond singer, What’s-his-name, in Flock of Seagulls. In a blur of acid after a rock concert, we went back to my place, where her hair twisted and curved all over the pillows like a sculpture of fine wires. Our first night together, I dreamt her hair took flight and soared out my apartment window like a bird. Then I awoke and, after ascertaining she didn’t need a shave or have an erection, made love to her. She explained afterward that her hair was the result of many less than successful dye jobs and home permanents, these having caused lasting damage. I loved Julie hair damage and all, but we disagreed about Bill Clinton’s talent on the saxophone, I insisting it was an impeachable offense, and we soon split up.

Neanderthal-thick and sporting a sloping forehead that looked atavistic back to the chimp level, my future wife Claire was a dead ringer for Meat Loaf. In 1990, tired of frequenting fleshpots and panicked to find myself still a bachelor, I noticed that my librarian’s pelvis was every inch as wide as Meat Loaf’s sprawling pant-load. This presaged easy childbirth if we went the family route, and why wouldn’t we, after I checked out a few books and made advances? I also found bewitching Claire’s cute-as-a-button Marilyn mole, and her sparkling Bambi eyes beneath an adorable jutting brow. And oh those sweet cherry lips, though compared to Meat Loaf she probably wore too much makeup. On our first date, she told me I was a dead ringer for Rudyard Kipling. I said, Whoa, but figured I shouldn’t argue with obsession. I only wondered if Kipling was handsome or at least a five. I later saw from his picture that he was about a three, and that I did look like him.

My son, I’m proud to say, takes after the old man. Over the holidays he brought home the body double of Adam Levine of Maroon 5. She had Levine’s tattoos all up and down her arms, his cherry lips and short brown hair, his slim hips and flashing eyes, even his tidy rack, but still she was all female. “Can she sing?” I asked my son. I don’t know why I asked him that, since none of my old girlfriends despite their rocker looks had shown one bit of musical talent.

“What do you mean, can she sing?” my son shot back. “She’s in medical school. What are you thinking?”

Yeah, what the hell was I thinking?

* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where we don't even know what a Herschel backpack is, but we know a funny piece of writing when we see it. Enjoy the latest from trend-keeper-upper-wither Charles Stayton.

A Herschel Backpack Changed My Life


I bought a Herschel backpack the other day and it changed my life. I was pretty sure that good things were going to happen (I’d been seeing the chambray-clad Herschel type crushing it in reclaimed wood coffee shops all over my television), but I had no idea how dramatic the change would be.

As soon as I put the backpack on, I got this feeling that I should go to my kitchen. Somehow my body (or the bag) took over and I was frothing milk on the stove and drawing a perfect portrait of Albert Camus in my coffee. I didn’t figure out who I had drawn until I posted a picture on Instagram and my followers shot up to 1.3 million, all gushing about what quickly became known as the “Cam-Moo.” Soon the “Whitney” people messaged me to offer an independent study based on my portrait.

Slightly confused about why Whitney Houston, or Whitney Houston’s people (is she still alive?) would be offering me an art gig, I happened to glance back over my shoulder. Something weird had happened in the kitchen. All the dishes were clean and back in the cabinets like I had never been there. My linoleum had turned to granite, my pantry had been replaced by cool industrial racks with glass containers, I counted six different varieties of kale chips, the wall was now exposed brick, and my coffeemaker had been replaced by something called a Chemex that I’d only ever seen dangling from the waist of a “drunken fist” character on Mortal Kombat. “Neat!” I thought.

I decided to go for a walk because a) I now had solid storage on my back in case I came across anything I wanted, and b) cool shit was happening to me in my apartment, so I could only imagine what would happen out in the world. Right outside my apartment, a hip group of ethnically ambiguous and ethnically diverse kids around my age waved me over to their stoop. It was the kind of group that normally would have intimidated me as a white kid with no friends, but I had my Herschel, so I went for it. Plus, I felt safe because a few of the girls were wearing those hats that look like Kung Lao’s from Mortal Kombat. Only theirs were semi-floppy and sweet-looking, like Kung Lao’s hat took a few Valium and a juice cleanse.

They invited me to join, so I sat down on the lowest step. For the next hour or so, we didn’t really talk, but we sure did laugh and point a lot. I had this one hilarious gesture where I would point at my boy with one hand, while touching my chest with the other — like one hand was Southern and kept saying, “Oh goodness, me” and the other (the pointing one) was like, “You know you’re my boy.” I think it was the juxtaposition that got them. We also laughed just because the McDonald’s sandwiches we were eating were really delicious and they made us so happy.

At some point a brand new Subaru Forester power slid to a halt in the street in front of us, causing a pile of fall leaves to cascade up through the dusk sunlight and trickle down in slow motion. I knew I was supposed to get in, and also that I wasn’t supposed to worry about my McDonald’s trash (“Herschel people don’t produce waste,” the bag whispered to me). My new friends followed with accessories that materialized for our journey through the empty city streets.

My man Long Shirt/Little Glasses had a ukulele; Jordans/Mumu tossed a surfboard up on the roof rack; the Sensible Tats Twins threw a few $10,000 fixed gear bikes on the back; and Beardie hooked up a parasail to the bumper and slapped the hatchback like it was a stallion. As we rode off toward a well-lived life full of EXPERIENCES, Beardie guffawing away above us, I thought to myself, “Don’t you even start to question this. You deserve to be happy. You had the good taste to pick that backpack after all.”

I am happy to say that I took my advice and haven’t looked back. My little troop from the stoop is still together. We’re on break from our group teaching post at Swarthmore where we guide pop-up, experiential learning experiences where students experience different learning material – like really experience and learn. The emphasis is definitely on experience, but there is plenty of learning that happens as well. Usually the learning happens much later on after students have more life experience and can look back on the learning experience and say: “Huh! That’s what I learned. Neat!”

I have also pitched a class for the fall on gender performance in Mortal Kombat. That will mostly be experiential as well.

* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where inner peace sometimes looks more like the outer reaches of madness. Just ask our good friend Eric Farwell.

We Need Your Help Paying For Our Festival’s Mandala


Welcome to SirenSong, the premiere French Canadian yoga festival for people from New York! Here, you’ll enjoy lectures on the meditative quality of white noise, the healing properties of bird feathers, our giant mandala, and the best bulletproof restaurants in Brooklyn. Take in workshops on how to paint your own mandala, how to stay mindful at your advertising or creative merchandising job, how to paint someone else’s mandala, how to avoid falling for your reiki practitioner in Queens (long distance rarely works), and what medical treatment to seek in the event of a “mandala-related dispute.”

Have we mentioned our mandala? Situated on the lush cobblestones of the main walking area, and made from the most humanely-treated dandelions and violets, it’s a rather lovely grouping of things you could literally pick up off the ground. Truth be told, dear visitor, we kind of blew our budget on it and really need you to help us break even.

How can you assist us, blessed selves? Why, you could sign up for one of our foraging classes, with tiered pricing so affordable, you’ll be saying “Om”! For a humble hundred dollars, our master mandala maker, Griffin, will let the men trek off in search of wi-fi while holding the women back to explain what mandalas are. For a casual two hundred bucks, Griffin promises not to try and ply you with dandelion wine and invite you to an EDM showcase at his sister’s apartment. For a throwaway three hundred, he won’t DM you on Instagram or CouchSurfers with some weird sex quote from Rumi. No matter the price you choose, rest assured you’ll walk away with a bunch of sticks and leaves that represent your inner self, or something like potpourri.

If casual mansplaining or smug entitlement isn’t your thing, wandering spirits, we invite you to be a Chakra Speaker, and lead others wondering if their pr jobs are crushing their dreams to beauty. What is a Chakra Speaker, you ask? Let’s start with what it isn’t: a callow, desperate attempt to make up for the money we lost investing in someone who coined the phrase “up in dem ayewhaska guts.” Simply put, in exchange for a hundred dollars and three hours of your time, all Chakra Speakers will be comped a free meal at our Clean Barbecue. All one has to do is loudly discuss how beautiful the mandala is, and how much you love your job and the perks (mention the meal comp, not the hundred dollar down payment). You’re encouraged to say things like, “Wow, this is one quality mandala,” and, “With a mandala like this, you just know this festival was a great idea, and definitely isn’t in financial trouble!”

We understand that none of these options might work for you, silver unicorns. Perhaps you’d rather be at our roundtable, discussing the merits of the hemp milk at the Spanish grocery in Alphabet City, and comparing the sourness to that of the hemp milk at the bodega in Park Slope (you know the one). If that’s the case, we invite you to simply throw money into the mandala. Now, understand, we would never ask you to just toss money into some nature vomit so that we can explain to our parents that it was not a mistake to drop out of law school and mount this festival. However, if you felt that your spirit was in harmony with the universe, and you felt compelled to leave an offering of gratitude in the form of bills, one of our employees would sweep your gift into our nondescript donations box.

This is a big thing we’re asking you, reiki warriors, but after watching our financial advisor look over our spending in horror and saying “oh boy” in an exasperated, nasal voice, we’ve come to see it as necessary. If it helps to look at it from a different angle, assisting us will give you humblebragging rights at your next vegan potluck, doula workshop, or ungendered amateur tattoo party. If you missed out on donating to the McSweeney’s kickstarter in 2015, or failed to help that one kid make potato salad, this can be your chance to have a cool talking point on your next Bumble date at The Blind Tiger. All we’re saying is that we’d appreciate the help of yourself, a rich spouse, or any dad, uncle, or grandfather that owns a yacht. Who knows, if we make enough money this weekend, maybe we can get an even larger mandala next year 😉


Callie and Marshall/The SirenSong Team


* Welcome to The Big Jewel, a site so warm and comfortable it will put you to sleep instantly! But when you awaken it will be from this nightmare brought to you by our good friend Luke Roloff.

Does My Tempur-Pedic Bed Know Too Much?


My Tempur-Pedic bed knows every single inch of my body. From the small of my back to the girth of my buns. My upper traps. My inner thighs. Even my inner thoughts.

And boy, did I used to have a tough time sleeping. I’d wake up for work feeling all groggy — now I don’t wake up for work at all. This bed has changed my life. I’m so happy!

Soon as my head hits the pillow, my stress and ability to perceive reality just shed away!

This euphoric cradle is so intuitive, it knows the curvature of my spine like the arc of my depression. When I toss and turn and weep, it rebounds like only cellular-engineered sleeping equipment can. I wake up so refreshed I feel like leaving the house for the first time in three months!

I can’t begin to tell you how much I love this bed, because it’s been over a year since I’ve spoken to another human being, leaving me speechless when I come into contact with one. That’s probably when you know you’ve selected the right bed for your unique sleep habits — when nothing gets between you and your remote control adjustable base or the notion that you no longer have a need for the outside world.

This bed knows me so well it molds to my body like the mold growing around my headboard. No one knows me like this omniscient rectangle. Certainly not the homeless people I invited in after I lost my family. Those hobos will never comprehend the way I sleep on my stomach or why I’ve let my townhouse become a breeding ground for vampires.

It stimulates my reticular activating system for achieving the deep, deep sleep that’s so deep I experience night terrors in which I don’t know if I’m awake or asleep. Which is really the only way to elicit the supine position I need to snooze through the noise of the wildlife nesting in my kitchen.

It’s hard to fathom that I ever slept a wink without a symmetrical posturing mattress or a moat of lit candles keeping the ghost of El Diablo at bay.

Best of all, I’ve noticed a dramatic improvement in my posture and archery skills. Fending off the crusade of Medusa and her coterie of serpents has become a breeze!

It’s like this bed hugs me. And cuddles with me, too. Basically it strokes my hair and says it’ll be okay when the monsters come. I know how I must sound. I’m only whispering so I don’t wake them.

Some people say I don’t know what I’m talking about. That the elaborate fire dancing and ceremonial offerings are “inhumane.” The envious ones say that. The police. They don’t have a clue. They can’t get it through their thick skulls how crucial a well-rested lifestyle is for your health.

The moment I decided against my will to try the Tempur-Pedic padded white walls, that’s when it finally hit me — I’m Hypnos, the royal guardian of celestial slumber, sent to slay insomnia and shield the somnolent whom dwell in kingdoms near and far!

Yet to this day, when I melt into the proprietary spring-coil padding and my own empty toil, I can’t help but feel the flawless suspension and a sinking suspicion that maybe this clairvoyant comfort has gone too far. Perhaps I’ve flirted with too much mattress ingenuity? Am I in over my head, too far under the sheets or possibly behind on my payments?

Back and forth I sway in this emotional tug-o-war, rocking side to side in pure comfort.