* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where we are celebrating the second half of a monumental literary event known as Michael Fowler Fortnight -- two weeks of one of our favorite humorists. This week Mr. Fowler takes on an amazing new development in senior care, or possibly a new form of elder abuse, depending on your view of England and those who love her. When you've finished perusing his latest laugh riot, be sure to check our blogroll on the right for a link to his book, God Made the Animals.

Visiting Anglophiles

By:
mfowl4916@gmail.com

You’re worried about your dad. He’s at home — your home until other arrangements can be made — and some days he seems lost and confused, often turning the stove on right before he locks himself out of the house. On top of that, when asked whether the English or the Germans have the superior music culture, your dad’s response is listless and not very pro-English. What to do?

We at Visiting Anglophiles will have a knowledgeable caregiver by your dad’s side within 48 hours to assess his health concerns, ensure his home is senior-proof, and impress upon him that, song-by-song, England’s Rolling Stones outperform Germany’s Scorpions even if Klaus Meine does rock.

Betty, age 87, can comb her hair, prepare lunch, and even bathe herself. But the native Kentuckian doesn’t always pay close attention to the doings of the British Royal Family. The fashion sense of Princess Kate is a muddle to her, and the climatological insights of Prince Charles go right over her head. This can be embarrassing when she has company over for high tea, and to make matters worse, she calls digestives “cookies.”

Our Visiting Anglophile will administer a dementia test to Betty, asking her to repeat three common words from memory, such as “loo,” “peckish” and “Brexit.” Then Betty will draw the face of a clock with the hands at 3. She receives extra points toward lucidity if she draws Big Ben, the clock tower built in London in 1859 and today a prominent symbol of the great nation of England.

Why a Visiting Anglophile?

You recognize that the English do everything best, and that a Visiting Anglophile is like a Supernanny for geriatrics. Under the tutelage of a Visiting Anglophile, your aging parent or relative will acquire the look and even sound of an English peer, while you stand in the background happy as a king. Please note that we are not that other elder care agency with a similar sounding name, Visiting Angels. We are Anglophiles, not angels. Angels may care about everybody, but we Anglophiles care about the English and enforcing a strictly English way of life — always in your elder’s best interests, of course.

Meet One of Our Anglophiles

Samantha, born in England 57 years ago and the proud possessor of an English peaches-and-cream complexion, is well up on both Medicare billing and English pub fare. Does your aged mother prefer a light breakfast? Not anymore, as Samantha will introduce her to the “fry-up,” a series of hearty meats that the English adore for their first meal of the day. Does your dear mother like a foaming glass of cold beer with dinner? She’ll soon prefer a nearly noncarbonated pint of rather warm bitter, which is Samantha’s favorite as well. Mom, in her unenlightened phase, may fear the bitter was drained from her goldfish aquarium, but will find that it tastes much better and is eventually habit-forming once she adjusts to that corrosive aftertaste.

A Word about Falling

What many elderly and their families fear most, not without reason, is a fall, after which the victim may lie helplessly in pain until discovered. Statistics show that fully half of American citizens over the age of 75 will suffer a painful fall in their lives. But if you’re concerned that something like that could happen to your elderly parent, you may be reassured to know that the wonderful BBC television series Downton Abbey, set in Edwardian England, is now shown throughout the United States on local stations. Actress Dame Maggie Smith takes a role in the show, and isn’t that a great title for a lady — Dame? It’s English, you know.

A Word about Solicitors and Scams

Here at Visiting Anglophiles we are ever on the alert to protect your elder from uninvited solicitors and phone scammers. These unscrupulous dealers may want to sell your mother or father a security system or an emergency call button that is quite unneeded. At Visiting Anglophiles, we believe in having an Anglophile on the scene before any emergency occurs, in particular an Anglophile who is licensed to offer your parent the complete box set of Downton Abbey DVDs — that’s eight full seasons — in case her local TV provider doesn’t subscribe to the broadcast. These beautifully packaged discs are ready to be shipped to America for the low price of $59.95 per season, shipping extra. Yes, we accept dollars!

A Word about Sex after 75

Visiting Anglophiles is pleased to sponsor a nine-day bus tour of England, beginning in England’s capital. From an open-top bus, your mum or dad will view all the famous sites in London, and then it’s off for golfing on the coast, a castle sleepover, a pub crawl, and those big stones at Stonehenge. Here at Visiting Anglophiles we can arrange for even the most enfeebled American tourist and her breathing apparatus to enjoy this exciting trip. The climax of the journey? Undoubtedly the night at Stratford-upon-Avon, where a naughty few will choose to see our special live production of Anne Hathaway’s Cottage: After Hours, for very adults only.

A Reminder about Dementia

Nothing is more tragic than your parent forgetting the names of those nearest and dearest to him or her, or that Henry the Fifth was also called Hal, or misplacing her passport and credit card when packing for our nine-day bus tour. A Visiting Anglophile will be present every step of the way to be sure that these oversights don’t throw a spanner into Mom or Dad’s well-deserved vacation.

A Final Word about Sex after 75

We don’t know what Anne Hathaway looked like, but as the wife of William Shakespeare, the world’s greatest playwright, she must have had a tidy pair of ankles and a pert bosom, at the very least. We can say with assurance that a man like Shakespeare, with his intimate knowledge of Cleopatra and Juliet, would have settled for nothing less. The mere thought of Anne Hathaway’s cottage and its contents, especially the “second best bed” mentioned in Shakespeare’s will, is arousing to many seniors. They love to speculate about what went on in that bed when the playwright was in town, and also when he wasn’t, until Anne died in 1623, likely from the plague.

Our special DVD, Anne Hathaway’s Cottage: After Hours, filmed on location right in Mrs. Shakespeare’s cottage by Visiting Anglophiles Productions, is now available for $49.95, shipping extra. Note: Be sure to specify the After Hours edition, or you may receive the scholastic version of Anne Hathaway’s Cottage that we send to libraries in Iowa. We want you to receive the titillating film we made with very adults in mind.

A Few Testimonials to our Services

“Your DVD Anne Hathaway’s Cottage: After Hours really steamed my cataracts.”

“What I liked best were the accents. And the buns on Shakespeare’s daughter.”

“We love that big Irish nurse you guys sent over who makes Mom take her pills with hardly any screaming.”

“Juanita is fluent in both English and the Spanish my dad pretends he learned in college. And he loves her bangers and mash.”

 

 

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* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where solving little family squabbles is sort of a sideline for us. And for Michael Fowler. Incidentally, this week marks the first half of what we like to call Michael Fowler Fortnight. Come back next week for another dose of Mr. Fowler. When you've finished reading his latest piece, do check our blogroll on the right for a link to his book, God Made the Animals.

Hey Brother And Sister, Mom’s Will Is Grossly Unfair To Me

By:
mfowl4916@gmail.com

Listen Up Sibs,

The cruel document I received in the mail that supposedly is Mom’s final will has my head in a spin, and I’m sending this note to the two of you to let you know how cheated I feel. I’d phone or come around in person, except as you know my jail time for expectorating in a government building after repeated warnings lasts another two weeks. I do thank you and your pals at probate court for keeping me in the loop Momwise, but hear me out.

I understand Mark is the executor. Mom always doted on her legitimate son much more than on me, and on Mark more than Tina, and the dad you guys shared was the one stud our old slut of a mother had a financially rewarding relationship with. Brendon had a job and a bank account, unlike my dad, who simply joined Mom for a margarita or two and then a wild night at the Green Roof Inn, Hour Rates, 59 years ago, back when she had a pulse.

Blood is thicker than margaritas, I get that, but don’t forget I’ve got as much of our mother’s DNA in my genome as either of you. And dealing me out of any appreciable inheritance is about as fair as the way Mom treated my dad Al at the end. I mean his end. You may recall she wouldn’t let him pitch his tent on her lawn when he turned up out of the blue a while back and then refused to tide him over during his extended battle with demon rum, forcing him to live under a bridge on I-75 South near Cincinnati. When they found him late in the summer, he was indistinguishable from road kill.

So now everyone wants to deny me all sustenance too? Are the sins of the father to be visited upon the son? Well, based on my impression of your dad, the aforementioned Brendon, our mother probably had more fun on the night she made me than in all the 20 years she had to put up with that insufferable stuffed shirt before his cancer made him even grimmer, and then dead. You know what he said to me once, at that grill-out I came to on their 19th anniversary or whenever the last time I saw you two together was? The one where I had to put up with those kids of Tina’s whose names I didn’t know and who obviously needed medication for behavioral issues, since they treated my Ford convertible like a latrine? Brendon-Boy handed me a beer, and then told me he’d once hired Al to paint his fence for 20 dollars, and to show his gratitude Dad stole his wristwatch. Then he got upset when I laughed and told him Dad never overlooked life’s freebies. What did he expect me to do, pay for the watch? It was one of those periods I wasn’t even working.

Well it looks like I’m paying for it now. Mark and Tina get the entire house and property and all Mom’s possessions per stirpes and in equal shares, as the will states in plain English, and if there’s any money left over after Mom’s bills and debts are satisfied, I get all of $100 cash and the lawnmower I sometimes used to mow Mom’s yard. I guess the idea is, I can go on mowing Mark’s grass while he continues to live there, as he has rent-free for the last five decades. Mark also gets my stepdad’s shotguns and cars, never mind that I don’t have a lethal weapon to my name, and my car is that same old convertible Tina’s kids threw up and peed in after eating and drinking too much crap all those years ago.

The final insult, of course, is that if and when Mark does sell the place, you two, my fine and fair-minded sibs, split the proceeds equally, and I’m left out in the cold. And I suppose you think that’s fair. True, Mark took care of Mom till the ugly end with adult diapers and awkward sponge baths and whatnot, never being man enough to move out and let the hospice care tend to the maternal relic. And Mom and I had always fought. She never forgave me the time I heaved a pound of frozen hamburger at her when she refused me a loan, and hit that precious porcelain bird she kept in her living room. Or the time I filled the house with thick smoke trying to burn that dead raccoon out of her chimney and sent her to the ER with coughing. After those fiascos, I pretty much left her alone.

But Tina ignored her as much as I did. You have to admit, Sister dear, you didn’t come within a mile of her if you could help it. You never took her shopping, never went out with her for a meal, because you were afraid she’d start fondling total strangers, the way she did in her final years, and smile too broadly at minorities. Yeah, Mark told me all. His gossip was the only payment I got for cutting the yard. And when you did show up, Sis, it was to borrow money from the old broad that you never paid back. At least she gave you a few bucks now and then, which she never did me, not without raking me over the coals first.

I know how you all felt about me, of course. If I had a dollar for every time I heard you guys repeat after Mom “Like father like son,” or for every time I blew a job interview because my breath caught on fire, I wouldn’t need the Roth IRA I don’t own. But come on. I’m still your brother, your half-brother, anyway. And I’m not asking for you to split the sale of the property with me when Mark unloads it. Likely it’ll fetch a cool hundred and fifty too, it’s a nice location, and that figure is wonderfully divisible by three. But never mind, it’s all yours.

Here’s the deal. On the day I’m discharged from the justice center, greet me with a hundred bucks each on top of my hundred from the estate, and we’ll call it square. With three hundred my heap and I can make it down to Florida, where I can fish and live in a thong. And if that plan seems sketchy for a man pushing 60, and my bleached bones wash up on the shore in about a month, you don’t need to move a muscle to identify me, the way I had to go and identify my dad’s tanned, trim and lifeless corpse. Like him, I’ll be too dead to care. One way or the other you’ll never hear from me again.

Does that seem too much to ask?

Your Prisoner Bastard of a Half-Brother,

Toddikins

 

 

 

 

 

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* Welcome to The Big Jewel, your number one source for information on the tough and gritty noirish world of genetic research. It takes a talented gumshoe to track the semi-human genome back to its lair -- a gumshoe like Michael Fowler. When you're done reading his latest case, be sure to check our blogroll on the right for a link to his book, God Made the Animals.

The Double Helix, Hardboiled

By:
mfowl4916@gmail.com

I reported straight to the Cavendish lab to powwow with my new bosses. The two eggheads wore white lab coats like the soda jerks at Woolworth’s back in Chicago, and introduced themselves with friendly but strained grins. Crick, English and crisp as a fried kipper, and the soft-spoken yank Watson, nicknamed Birdman due to his liking for birds, the winged type, and I’d have bet the kind that sashayed on pretty gams too. I came on like a jolly and brash young chemist, but I sensed a fog of gloom in the lab that the off-kilter grins only made heavier. The fog lay on everyone’s sprit, even mine, and I’d just arrived. “What is it, chums?” I said. “Spill it.”

They spilled it. Crick did most of the talking while the American, obviously a worrier, probed his thatch of hair with a long forefinger. What it boiled down to was, a dame called Dr. Rosalind Franklin, a knockout dish with a brain like Aristotle’s, was sitting on some critical crystallographic X-ray images of amino acids, as I twigged the lingo. She had them stashed in her lab down the hall, refusing to share them with my bosses, like a spoiled little vixen too special to be nice to fellow humans, especially male humans. My lads needed a peek at the snapshots to confirm a theory about the structure of the DNA molecule, and were dead frantic someone would chime to it first and beat them to a sure Nobel Prize. As I listened to these details, a light bulb clicked on in my skull.

Minutes later I crept down the hallway to Dr. Franklin’s lab. I silently pushed the door open, and was greeted by a reedy runt in the trim, spotless white coat that everyone wore around this place. “Are you enquiring after Dr. Franklin?” he twittered in an upper-class accent. “I’m afraid she’s not in. Come back tomorrow.”

I could see a long-legged knockout with raven tresses moving among the flasks and test tubes in the background, so I was having none of it. “Nerts to you, Clive,” I said, and dealt him a hand sandwich to the mandible, all lean knuckles and no mayo. His Fruit of the Looms kissed the floor. He was out like a defective flashlight.

“Who is it, Gosling?” the dark beauty said, gracefully moving my way to see what the commotion was. She did a double take on seeing the little shrimp napping on the floor, then turned to me.

“Your name Rosie?” I asked while she gathered her wits, taking in the lush curves swelling her lab coat in all the right places. Her lustrous, shoulder-length hair and full lips reminded me of midnight out back of my mother’s garage with the gardener’s daughter. I tried not to let her delishful exterior get to me and to concentrate on business, but hey, I’m as human as the next bodink.

“My friends call me Dr. Franklin,” she said breathily. “What have you done to my assistant?” As I set my mouth to reply, she fed me a kiss that plummeted to my arches and then rebounded up to my brainpan, where it ricocheted around for a country mile.

Before I succumbed to her wiles, I laid my cards on the table. I told her I’d come from the lab down the hall, where the inmates were desperate for a gander at her latest crystallographic snapshots of amino acid groups or whaddya call ’em, my lips stumbling over the odd syllables.

“Those hot dogs,” she scoffed, urging me toward a long sofa she kept parked in a back corner near the Bunsen burners and titration vessels. “I imagine they’ve got some shaky theory about the structure of DNA they want to confirm. Don’t those boys get that science is a gradual process, like a long, luxurious bath, and not a lucky shot in the dark?”

All the same, she pulled open a file drawer and handed me some glossy images. I couldn’t make heads or tails of them, but I knew Watson and Crick could. “Call me a sucker for your chiseled features and tapering waist,” the lady purred in my ear. “Just have them back to me tonight, shall we say at seven? I’ll be waiting for you.”

Suddenly a gat thumped “Hullo!” A speeding slug slammed into the file cabinet, neatly bisecting the space between us.

“Linus, no!” she screamed, as a highly recognizable figure scuttled out the rear window of her lab and dropped onto the surrounding yard before I could bring up my own heater.

“Was that–?” I began.

“You know it, handsome,” she said. “Linus Pauling, the father of modern chemistry. He was after my pictures too. Arrived here yesterday from California all in a lather. Soon as he spied my work he started cackling that he’d cracked the code, and spent the night here writing up a thesis to submit to Modern Molecule. Says when he garners the Nobel Prize, he and me are taking a little cruise to Miami. But if you ask me, he’s just another shot across the bow.”

“Who wants like hell to keep matters under his hat,” I said, fingering the bullet hole in her cabinet. At the same time I pictured Rosie in a bathing suit, one of those newfangled numbers with detachable straps and wire inserts. That Pauling had the right idea. I sussed that the two of them had done a lot more during the night than talk chemistry. “What’s his theory, sweetie?” I asked her, trying to sound casual. A lot depended on her answer, and to ease my nerves I flicked my thumbnail across my grizzled jaw. Flick flick. Flick flick flick.

When she said a triple helix, I didn’t show any emotion. I knew Watson and Crick were banking on a deuce, not a trey. And if the pictures I’d stuffed in my lab coat pocket bore them out, we would beat Linus, the lion of chemistry, to the Nobel punch.

Hours later my lab partners were still celebrating with beakers of hooch. They had built a toy model of the helical tidbit that coiled like an Erector Set, and almost finished typing up their report for Modern Molecule. Franklin’s pictures had done the trick, and I tried to feel their joy. I reflected that a Nobel Prize, even a third of one, was a fair day’s pay. But there was something big I still had to get off my chest.

When the smoke cleared, my intellectual pals agreed to leave my name off their script. It would only embarrass them when it came out that I was no chemist, in fact not even a college graduate. I was a lowly gumshoe from Chicago, stateside, who barely finished high school. I was there to track down one James D. Watson who had back-pedaled on a university instructor, an auburn wren with the sheaves to sky me across the Atlantic puddle to pin him. Watson went all red-faced on hearing this, but smug Crick seemed to enjoy the joke. Even geniuses have a funny bone.

The duo told me that they’d use the name Maurice Wilkins in their write-up, and leave me out completely. I knew this Wilkins character was another white coat who haunted a lab, but other than that, his involvement in the big-deal helix was over my head. Just another superbrain they owed a favor to, I guessed.

That night I made arrangements to fly home to Chicago and report to Watson’s oriole that he was still unattached and in winning form. That should cover her questions. But first I had a rendezvous at seven in Rosie Franklin’s lab. My nose told me the doctor was waiting.

 

 

 

 

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* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where we want your corpse to be coiffed as stylishly as possible, and Michael Fowler is just the man for the job. As always, we encourage you to click on the links to his book, "God Made The Animals," in our blogroll.

Hairdresser To The Stiffs

By:
mmfowler@fuse.net

I’m a barber running my own hole-in-the wall shop. On one side of me is a deli, on the other a Laundromat. Down the street are a bar and a new funeral home. I do the old hairstyles: the Caligula, the Sal Mineo, the “Kookie” Burns. I don’t get many customers anymore. Never did, and I mainly live off a war wound. If I were smarter I’d think of a way out. But I’m not very smart. I made it to sixth grade. I have a low IQ. Turn left at the peak in the bell curve and go down a standard deviation or so, and there you’ll find me: 85 on the Wechsler scale and 83 on the Stanford-Binet. I’m the imbecile behind the waxed mustache, hoping his sartorial signature is not irremissibly louche.

When a customer comes in, he’s usually a drunk from the bar down the block. I tip him back in my worn leather chair and let him relax. If he wants to start a conversation, I let him do the talking. If I talk at all, I steer clear of the unholy duo of divisiveness: sports and weather. I prefer the safer topics: Darwinism and religion, affirmative action as it affects race relations, and the threat pluralism poses to moral universalism. When my customer is good and relaxed, I open its case and break out my billion-dollar Stradivarius. That’s what I call my old set of electric clippers. It’s a standing joke in my establishment and often draws a laugh, at least if the customer hasn’t heard it too often. Most of my customers have heard the joke too many times and now pretend to be deaf.

Sometimes a customer will ask me why I don’t update my place. They like the new hairstyling spot down the block. This establishment just opened, and would take all my business if I had any. It’s run by a family of foreigners, probably Asians or Mexicans. They may not even be legal, but they get no trouble from the town, so they maybe paid somebody off. What kills me is their son. He’s the same age as mine, 13, but he does women’s pedicures in their shop. That slays me. A 13-year-old boy in a blue smock and earrings kneeling before middle-aged women to scrape their heels and paint their toes. Does a good job too. My wife got a pedicure from him that took 20 years off her feet. I understand this may be part of their family tradition, but it’s just wrong. What will that do to the boy’s manhood? He should be giving himself tattoos with a charred needle and buzzing gang names in his scalp like my boy. My boy’s on thin ice at school, but his manhood isn’t in doubt. He’s gender-normative for a kid born with testicles. Meanwhile my wife left me. I guess she wanted a man with young feet like hers.

She’ll be sorry she left. What I mean is, my career may finally be taking off. Out of curiosity one day I dropped in at the new funeral home they built near my shop, Bottom-Rate Burials. They had an ad in their window for a mortician’s cosmetologist. I went in and applied, told two men about my hair and skin expertise. They asked how I’d feel about tidying up men who were covered with blood and powder burns after testing explosives back in the woods. I said I didn’t see a problem, I did drunks in my shop who came in bloody with knife wounds and with liquor and puke all over them all the time. By the time I was done with them, they were presentable enough to be burned or buried easy, especially if you put a shroud over them. The men laughed and clapped me on the back. They told me they’d call if they decided to detonate the explosives.

They didn’t call, so I called them. Joe, one of the guys I’d talked to before, told me the explosions were on hold, and they’d decided to go on fronting as a cost-cutting cremation and burying service. If I was interested, I could do the sprucing up of the stiffs until they hired a mortician. I said I had no experience with embalming or makeup, but Joe said if I did haircuts and shaves and maybe manicures if the nails were grimy, they’d provide cheap new suits, and that would be sufficient. Did he take me for a fool? I said look, my wife used to do nails at my joint, but she was long gone. Shaves and haircuts I could manage, but no one would mistake my manicures for the real thing. Joe disagreed and after listening to him, I saw he was right. My fear of change now looked regressive and any objection quite nugatory.

I start Thursday. If this works out, I’ll be bridging to an elite economic status and joining the vanguard of upward mobility. Eleanor, do you hear me? And one more thing, sugar: any idiot can do nails, so long as the customers grow rigid in the chair and can’t open their stupid yaps.

 

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* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where the only thing we are practical about is practical jokes. Hearken to the expert advice of our good friend Michael Fowler. Again, we urge you to click on the links to his books, "A Happy Death" and "The Created Couple," in our blogroll.

The Golden Age Of Practical Jokes

By:
mmfowler@fuse.net

Me and some guys working highway construction were having our lunch in a field one time. Bob hawked a loogie into his thermos, like he always did, so no one would drink out of it when he wasn’t looking. What he didn’t realize was that, while he unwrapped his sandwich, I put a blackbird in his car. When he drove off at the end of the day he had to fight this crazed bird that kept flapping against the inside of his windshield and pecking at his eyes. This was back in the day when people weren’t sensitive about every single one of their rights and didn’t haul you into court over any little infraction of the law. I call it the golden age of practical jokes. Bob would call it that too except this past year he lost his power of speech in a terrible medical tragedy.

The morning after the bird joke Bob told us guys that somehow this insane blackbird had got into his Fairlane, causing him to drive into a ravine. Now he had a motorcycle. I never confessed I was the one who put the bird in his car, but maybe he figured it out from my laughing so hard. Anyway a few days later I looked down to light a cigarette and just then someone slipped a young coyote down my shirt. This was back in the day when a lot of us guys smoked. I owned a blue butane lighter that I was fond of and hated the day I lost it. I had a strong suspicion Bob handled the coyote, to get even, but if so he never let on, and I didn’t really see him do it. My wife, after she heard about a coyote, wouldn’t even put that shirt in the laundry. She just threw it out.

Another time on a bridge project I was leaning off the top of the bridge and dangling a plumb bob, when someone in a small boat on the river reached out and cut off the bob. I never did see who did it, but I could put two and two together. It was Bob. It made me laugh harder than the time Bob and I were relaxing in a storm drain and he pushed me into a rushing torrent. My shoes didn’t get all the way dry until the next day. I got even by putting a hornet’s nest in Bob’s motorcycle helmet. This was back in the day you didn’t have to wear a helmet, but I was glad Bob wore one. I watched him put on his helmet at the end of the day and roar off, only to swerve to the side of the road, pull off his helmet, and start slapping himself all over the face and neck. The next day his face was red and swollen, but he hadn’t gone to the doctor even though he was allergic to insect venom and fell into a coma that lasted through the night. Back in those days you didn’t go to the doctor for every little ache and pain. Bob once set his own broken leg using a shovel for a splint, and passed a kidney stone while operating a jackhammer. I once sweated out Lyme disease while operating a Bobcat. It was a manlier age.

Bob must have figured out that I had something to do with the hornets in his helmet, because a few days later I drove off after work and discovered two raccoons in my car, one injured and bleeding and the other rabid. There was quite a tussle in the front seat of my Monte Carlo, but I finally got shut of those animals without too much damage to me or the car. My jacket was shredded and I had some deep scratches on my arms, but nothing serious enough to complain about, let alone see a doctor over. And I didn’t want to lose face in front of the guys, especially Bob, by acting delicate. We were tough back then. Anyway I scored again when I spread half a pound of deer feces on the door handle of our portable toilet right before Bob had to go real bad. Watching him react was great. He got me back by heating up the doorknob of our work trailer with a blowtorch when I wasn’t looking, then asking me to get the door for him. That really blistered me, but it was great too.

One time I tricked Bob into feeding a doughnut to a wild horse. The horse bit him on the chest and wouldn’t let go until Bob punched it in the nose half a dozen times. The skin wasn’t broken, but Bob got a bruise as wide as his ribcage. But he didn’t go to the doctor, since he wasn’t delicate. We joked that it would have been worse if he’d been a woman, and he just laughed at that comment. Women are more delicate and exposed to danger in the chest area than men, you have to admit.

I confess Bob did a good number on me soon after the horse joke. I was eating my lunch in a meadow, enjoying my sandwich and the view while sitting against the biggest cow carcass I’d ever seen. Well, Bob came rushing up and kicked that carcass a good one with his work boot, and didn’t a dozen angry possums come running out of that hollow belly, just fussing and hissing at me for ruining their peaceful meal. The expression on my face must have been something when I saw those angry devils surrounding me, because Bob spit the bite of egg salad sandwich in his mouth about fifty feet. After seeing how far that egg salad traveled, we both let out a hoot.

After work me and Bob used to sit out on the grass by an elementary school and shoot pennies out of each other’s fingers with our .22 rifles. This was back in the day when gun laws weren’t as strict as they are now. We got good enough that we could hit the penny, held steady between thumb and forefinger, at fifty yards. One time Bob decided to have some fun. He shot off the tip of my right forefinger, missing the penny completely. Of course I didn’t go to the doctor. Back in those days a missing finger or toe wasn’t even considered disfigurement. It certainly was nothing to get upset about. Bob said I required less nourishment now, being not so substantial, and from then on helped himself to my lunch Twinkie. That was pretty funny, and made a certain sense. To even the score I shot him in the buttocks with my rifle. He carried the slug on his right hip to remind us of the laughs we had until the day a stroke silenced him. If you think he went to the doctor over a thing like that, you’re wrong. I mean the bullet, not the stroke. He’s in a nursing home because of the stroke, and I don’t see him coming out.

 

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* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where we like to channel James Brown every now and then, with the manly help of Michael Fowler. As always, we encourage you to check out the links to his books, "A Happy Death" and "The Created Couple," in our blogroll.

A Man’s World

By:
mmfowler@fuse.net

Training class over, I hit the floor with the rest of the new service reps. I have one goal: to make myself stand out at Red Bone Financing like a supernova. Shouldn’t be difficult, since the others are mostly females, soft, dim and troublesome by nature, along with a few chestless guys built to stand still for 30 years. There’s even one pre-corpse toting a cane and portable breathing apparatus. I mean, what is this dead end even doing here? Are times so hard even this schlub has to work? Someone needs to drag him out in the hall and shoot him. To make things worse, the class is assigned to a female supervisor named Bippi or something that cute, with a torpedo-shaped hairdo and her face rouged up like a barn. I need to make her understand right away that I am not afraid of any woman and if it comes to a fight, I will prevail.

Score my first coup right off the bat by commandeering the best office-space in our area, the only one with a full window view. I achieve this feat by scouting out the floor before we’re supposed to and leaving a crapload of my stuff behind, my empty briefcase on the desk, and my jacket draped over the chair, to hold my spot. Some high-strung, spindly female deprived of both muscle and good sense tries to move in on me when I return, pretending she doesn’t see my things, but I defend my turf with tenacity. She leaves in tears, boo hoo boo hoo.

Bippi stops by, catching me finishing a pick-me-up candy bar, and I turn to face her, flossing. She smiles and asks how I’m settling in, but her casual act doesn’t fool me. Ron, our male trainer, has doubtless marked me with a bullet, as a rising star to be watched, and she wants to check out the phenom. But then who trusts Ron, that spermless filament? The doofus thinks he’s the Great Motivator, serving up soulless bon mots like “straight from the shoulder” and “shot in the arm” that went out with Nehru shirts. I let my floss dangle from an incisor and spell it out for Bippi. I’m giving the company six months tops to make me a manager, I tell her, or I’m out the door to greener pastures. I emphasize my right to success with some fist pumping, along with some ritualistic not to say mandatory pecker flexing. I come close to touching the actual equipment, and hear Bippi gasp, so I cover by playing air guitar at pelvis level. I make twangy sounds with my lips and tongue to make it look more real. I think she gets the message. When you hire me, babe, you hire me and my penis both.

Bippi departs, and the mousy female in the cage next door asks me some inane question about starting up her computer. I don’t remember her name after only six weeks in class with her — it wasn’t near enough time — but I think, here we go. Day one on the floor and already the also-rans are trying to drag me down to basement level with them. Maybe this pulseless chick thinks that just because she’s on her monthlies or has typhoid, or whatever her problem is, that I’m going to be her handler. Time to fix that perception. I stare into her baby browns and tell her, straight from the shoulder as Ron would say, that in the business world it’s dog-eat-dog, sink-or-swim, spoils-to-the-victor, devil-take-the-hindmost, once more unto the breach, theirs not to reason why and a throatful of other clichés that are good reasons not to be bothered with her. Her look conveys the impression that she should ask someone else. And why doesn’t she know that by now?

Meanwhile I need stats, I need to be on the board! Always be closing! I get my chance that very morning when Bippi opens the front door and a stream of actual clients walk in, most of them hideously repulsive, but still, at Red Bone the consumers are the job. I am all over them, grabbing one and sitting him or her down, and filling their ears with whatever comes to mind, then jumping up and grabbing a new one, faster than anyone else. Along with the live scum I’m handling phone calls, dozens of them from gibbering idiots, averaging less than 30 seconds a call, no doubt a company record. Still, by the time lunch rolls around an unhappy-looking Bippi is occupying my personal space. She tells me my clients are phoning the complaint department and her, saying they don’t understand a word I tell them, and sometimes I’m rude and even obscene.

That really ticks me off. A town without pity situation is going down, with this bitch standing in for the town, and I feel the hostility. My superiority is actually questioned. Instinctively I do some additional pecker flexing, not bothering to disguise it as air guitar. I tell Bippi I’m not afraid of her or any woman, that as a man I am stronger than she is, that she doesn’t intimidate me, and that the world is better off run by males. And before she accuses me of touching myself, I tell her I’m trying to pass a kidney stone. To make that sound more believable, I tell her my health benefits haven’t kicked in yet, and that’s true. I won’t have job-related coverage for 60 days.

I think I’ve won, but within 10 minutes two beefy security guards stand at my side. Smirking, they tell me to get a grip on myself. They add that I have five minutes to clean out my desk, and then they will escort me out the door. They do, too, over my loud protests, and soon I’m on the street holding my briefcase and jacket, canned.

These oh-so-sensitive women! My next job I’m working for The Man, and I mean that literally.

 

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

Warming Is War

By:
mmfowler@fuse.net

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where there is no subject we are unable to make titillating. Please say hello to our favorite titillator Michael Fowler. As always, we urge you to check out the links to his books, "A Happy Death" and "The Created Couple," in our blogroll.

Famous Wagers

By:
mmfolwer@fuse.net

In 1975, cosmologist Stephen Hawking bet fellow cosmologist Kip Thorne a subscription to Penthouse magazine for Thorne against four years of Private Eye for Hawking that Cygnus-1 would turn out not to be a black hole. (It was, so Hawking lost.) — Wikipedia

In 300 BC, Greek mathematician and engineer Archimedes bet some olive merchant that, by use of a simple machine called a catapult, he could hurl 500 pounds of olives all at once half a mile into the sea. The stakes were a Grecian urn depicting a buxom shepherdess for the olive merchant against a ticket to a comedy by Hegemon of Thasos that featured highly amusing hexameters for Archimedes. (The mathematician did it, so the merchant lost.)

In 1670, physicist Isaac Newton bet fellow scientist Robert Hooke that white light was composed of colors. The stakes were a collection of 500 handwritten satirical Irish limericks for Newton against a packet of 100 suggestive French silhouettes scissored from black paper for Hooke. (Newton got his limericks, so light must be composed of colors.)

In 1965, playwright Samuel Beckett bet fellow playwright Harold Pinter that the next winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature would be the American Terry Southern for his novel Candy. The stakes were a subscription to Juggs magazine for Beckett against a subscription to Cracked magazine for Pinter. (Southern didn’t receive the prize, so Beckett must have lost.)

In 1969, Dr. Michael DeBakey told fellow cardiac surgeon Dr. Denton Cooley that he, DeBakey, would perform the first artificial heart implant. He offered Cooley a subscription to Screw magazine if anyone beat him, provided that Cooley buy him a subscription to National Lampoon magazine if he, DeBakey, performed the surgery first. Cooley, in a coup still talked about in medical circles, scheduled DeBakey to perform a routine appendectomy while he, Cooley, stepped in and performed the groundbreaking procedure. Thus began a feud between the two physicians that lasted 40 years. So outraged was DeBakey that he cancelled Cooley’s subscription to Screw, and substituted twelve issues of Big ‘Uns magazine, thinking Cooley wouldn’t enjoy it as much. (Cooley got really upset, so he probably didn’t.)

In 1972, US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger bet Chinese Premier Chou En-Lai that Nixon knew enough Chinese to order duck in a Peking restaurant. At risk were 12 copies of Mao’s Little Red Book for Kissinger, and a subscription to Perky Bits magazine for Chou. Chou, who said he valued Perky Bits for its farming advice, perhaps misunderstood the stakes. Moreover, as Nixon ordered duck in flawless Mandarin, Chou got a glimpse of Perky Bits in Kissinger’s briefcase and a crisis unfolded. On the grounds that he, Chou, had really wanted General Tso’s Chicken, and that Nixon’s duck order was a setup, Chou refused to receive the magazine, calling the periodical “mean-spirited and exploitative” and the models “too flat-chested.” Even though he had won the original bet, a quick-thinking Kissinger instead air-expressed twelve issues of Heavy Hangers to Chou. (No arms race resulted, so the Premier must have been pleased.)

In 2014, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia bet fellow Justice Stephen Breyer that before 2016 the court would hold a hearing on the constitutionality of surveillance by the National Security Agency. At stake is a subscription to Spicy Detective magazine for Scalia against a subscription to High Times magazine for Breyer. The bet has not yet been settled, so no reward has been paid out. The wager is further complicated by Spicy Detective, a periodical Scalia that enjoyed in his college days, having gone out of print. Breyer has said that if Nino, as he calls Justice Scalia, eventually wins, he will instead buy him a subscription to Eager Teasers. Breyer says that any fan of Spicy Detective, no matter how conservative, should enjoy Eager Teasers, providing only that it, too, is still in print. With a wink, Breyer adds that if Eager Teasers magazine is no longer in publication, Nino will have to settle for a subscription to Cellulite Bottoms magazine. (Breyer isn’t positive that Cellulite Bottoms is still published, but he browsed through an issue at the barbershop only last Thursday, so maybe it is.)

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* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where we hope to keep you up-to-date on the homicidal tendencies of the elderly. Michael Fowler is our resident expert on the subject, being extremely old and close to death himself. Once again, we urge you to check out the links to his books, "A Happy Death" and "The Created Couple," in our blogroll.

Seniors Who Kill

By:
mmfowler@fuse.net

What drives me to kill? It is the damnable lack of fresh grapefruit in this prison of a home. Pick any tray — breakfast, lunch or dinner — and there is no fresh grapefruit to be found on it. I mean, whose Achilles tendons do I have to lick to get a few segments of fresh, sweet grapefruit in this inferno? What I and everyone else get instead is stuff out of cans, and that is unacceptable. And if a lack of fresh grapefruit doesn’t strike you as grounds for murder, that can only mean you are gobbling down all the fresh grapefruit you can hold and can never understand the anger I feel. So screw you.

For my victim I have chosen Carly Wingate, not that she has anything to do with grapefruit, although her tiny, yellowish head resembles one. She’s a fellow resident. But enough about Carly, and now for my foolproof plan. I am very proud of it. I will act on Thursday. Thursday is Fleet enema day, and I am particularly energetic that day. And bright-eyed and tingly. The murder weapon will be the laundry chute in the nurses’ station on the third floor. The third floor is the floor I live on at Pine Woods Manor, Carly too, and I know it well. I also know the laundry chute well, and that’s why it’s my weapon of choice. Do you begin to see? If not, you must be dense.

The nurses’ aides are constantly throwing armfuls of hideously soiled sheets and pads and gowns down the hatch of this chute, so why shouldn’t Carly go along for the ride? That’s my can’t-miss plan. Through this enormous metal pipe Carly and the rank linen will fall three floors into a large canvas tub in the basement, and from there be wheeled to the laundry. How do I know what goes on three floors below? I haven’t been sitting around here since 1910 whittling wood, buddy. I mean 2010. And how do I know the drop will kill Carly? The smell alone will kill her, or she isn’t human.

Carly is the perfect victim for a number of reasons, but one stands out: she will present me with the opportunity. How so? Because she frequently drifts into the nurses’ station to pester the RN or the aides about this and that. I’m shocked one of them hasn’t already tossed the little bag into the tube and battened the hatch down tight, to tell you the truth, it would be so easy to do. Oh, and one more thing: her death will be unbreakably linked to the lack of fresh grapefruit. I have already composed a suicide note for Carly that I will toss it in after her. It reads:

To all staff,

I am committing suicide because of the lack of fresh grapefruit here, and you should all be ashamed. May you rot in Hell.

* * * * * *
After my enema I am focused, pulsing, feeling like a million yuan. The aides disappear to take a smoke, and Carly wanders near the open chute, pacing until they return. Hovering nearby and pretending for the last 20 minutes to be trying to get a cup of ice from the icemaker, I am on her like a bolt of lightning. Only this bolt misses his mark after slipping on an ice cube and flies headfirst down the gaping tunnel. So quickly did I react that I’m not sure Carly even saw me go by, so there are no witnesses.

No one calls down to ask how I’m doing, anyway, and so I settle in for what looks like a long afternoon and evening. If you want to know why I don’t call out or make a fuss, I just don’t. I feel comfortable and safe. The bedding and clothes in here are indisputably foul, and the air barely breathable, but then I’ve been in hotels that were just as unkempt and nasty. In fact I grow drowsy almost at once. I only have to remember to cry out in the morning before someone loads me into a washing machine. Then I should be all right. Just before I drift off I remember Carly’s suicide note, still in my hand. I can’t decide if I signed her name or mine to it, or if that matters, so I swallow it.

When I come to I’m on three, cleaned up and sitting before my breakfast tray. There is no goddamn fresh grapefruit. I feel like screaming. But the oatmeal is decent, and the strawberry jam is amazing.

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* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where we consider it an honor and a privilege to make you comfortable with your inevitable physical decline and decay. Let Michael Fowler be your guide to senescence. As always, we invite you to check out the links to his books, "A Happy Death" and "The Created Couple," in our blogroll.

Something Wonderful Happens When You Turn 95

By:
mmfowler@fuse.net

Mom and Dad both turned 95 this month, and let me tell you, they’ve reached a peace of mind and contentment that didn’t seem possible only a year ago, when I excitedly predicted both of them would die. What I mean is, Dad at 94 was an emaciated, bleached-out skeleton with sunken pink eyes, no hair anywhere, lips that stretched tight around his face like two thick rubber bands, and a temper like a wet stick of dynamite set on permanent fizzle. A typical 94-year-old in other words, although there aren’t that many of them around, maybe one in a hundred million Americans, or so I assumed. I fully expected him to kick off any minute, because how much older and more decrepit could he get? He turned grumpy as all get-out if he missed his morning Perry Mason rerun on the Senile Network, and a puddle kept forming under his chair, neither a sign of immortality. Mom was no better at that age, physically or mentally — in fact, the two were indistinguishable. Mom complained even when I took the trouble to wheel her to a sunny spot by the window like the overgrown potted plant I thought of her as, and checked her for aphids.

I didn’t blame them for being upset, either. Since the age of 85 or so, they’d both collapsed into a funk of bad health, confusion, foul smells and even fouler moods. Welcome to retirement, we’d told each other joyously years earlier, not suspecting their life of leisure would last anywhere near this long. A combination of luck, good genes, and my dutiful ministrations have managed to keep them going no matter how much they wanted to die, or how much I wanted them to.

They hung on to 95, and that’s when the change happened.

I noticed it the day of the communal 95th birthday party I had for them at home. I got a cake colored bright red from the grocer and put the numeric candles “95” on it. Though technically Dad is a few weeks younger than Mom, I only do one party a year for the two of them. That’s trouble enough, and I doubt they know the difference anyway. Before the cake I served them their standard evening meal of pork and beans and creamed corn straight from the can, when suddenly I thought I heard Mom say something. Bending down to her shrunken level, I thought she said she felt like using a knife and fork, and might even be up to some chewing. Dad concurred, saying he wanted to try the paleo diet, meat and no grains, but plenty of Okinawan vegetables and ginkgo biloba supplements with the protein. Well, you might say I was stunned. Neither had spoken at dinner for a dozen years, unless it was to call me a fat, sadistic lummox. And before I could fry them some chops or dice the Okinawan veggies the way they wanted, Mom said she and Dad had talked it over while I was at work, and maybe they’d try watching some of those modern TV shows that night, the ones in color with actors who were still alive, instead of those archaic black-and-white programs on the Dementia Channel featuring stars dead and buried.

I studied their shining faces. Was it really they who had spoken? I saw tight grins and eyes almost gleaming. Was there still a spirit in those shrunken, desiccated husks of old skin? The facial flesh was so old and brittle, the smiles might have been only frozen grimaces. I had fallen for that once before, thinking there was life when there was only a mask. Ten or so years earlier I thought I heard Al, my dad, ask if I had any porn. He hadn’t said a word. And once after that I thought I heard Marge, my mom, ask for a double vodka with a lime twist. She hadn’t breathed a syllable. Surely the sparks in those dead, discolored eye sockets were only reflections of the birthday candles.

Then Dad said, “I will start life over again as a mover. Using secret ancient Egyptian pyramid-building techniques, I will lift heavy objects and put them down in new places, for a nice price. I will rapidly construct whole cities this way. I will connect them with railroads that I alone will build with a big spike hammer. I will then employ a method, long-forgotten until now, to host biweekly keg parties and car burnings.”

And Mom said, “I will have many babies, favoring those of men who are destined to greatness. An entire generation of magnificent humans will spring from my womb, without my once being unfaithful to your father.”

You could have knocked me down with one of their pocket-sized catheters. Now that they were 95, my parents really did believe they could do those things. And then, as I tossed some lamb chops in a frying pan and unwrapped some Japanese berries, they both apologized for their uncouthness over the last few decades. They told me that coincidentally with turning 95, an age they referred to as a magical milestone, they felt much livelier, and their anger and confusion, which they felt largely stemmed from a diet of talk radio and gluten, had vanished. Furthermore, Marge had found a website dedicated to 90-year-olds on my laptop that afternoon, and proudly announced that there was a whole group of super-oldies undergoing mental rejuvenation at that age that she and Dad jibed with. There were dozens of them out there hot to trot, she said.

I sat down beside them and we joined hands. It seemed like only yesterday we were all sitting around the table looking over nursing home literature and fearing global warming together, but no longer. My parents had decided to forgo death, and along with that made a commitment to clean air and biomass fuel. We all smiled, thinking what the future held. Mom wrote in her pad, “It’s about the planet, not about us, but we’re doing what we want,” and passed the tablet around the table. Dad signed on, and to make them happy, so did I.

Mom continued the new tone by apologizing for all the racist comments she had made in the past. “I don’t know what I was thinking,” she said. “I’m not a racist.”

“That goes for me too, for all those homophobic remarks I used to come out with,” said Dad. He paused a moment, chewing his paleo chop. “But just who are cisgenders, and what do they want?”

It was true. All that hate seemed behind them now. There were those smiles again, and they looked pretty genuine.

“We’re not perfect,” Mom acknowledged. “I can’t sleep at night sometimes, for fear of what dark matter may do to our world.”

“And I still cling to Jesus,” said Dad. “I can’t get with modern atheism, but give me time. I’m working on it.”

The two seem so happy that no one mentions the obvious, that there’s no turning back the clock for them even now, not physically. Marge proved that yesterday by fracturing her thumb, so disfigured with arthritis, trying to open a can of ancestral Vienna sausages, and Al by shaking so badly with hypoglycemia this morning that I could hardly force a candy bar down his throat. They have another year or two tops, I’d say, of blissful happiness inside those horrible, decayed bodies.

That thought must occur to them too, of course, but they don’t show it. Instead they want to know if I’m looking forward to 95.

“I’ll take it if I can get it,” I answer cagily, but is it worth it? Sure, there’s a rejuvenated sense of purpose and rekindled mental vigor, but then there are those little yellow claws they wave at me when I put them in their highchairs.

Who am I kidding? Damn straight I’ll take it.

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