* 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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* Welcome to The Big Jewel, your source for pickup lines that are absolutely, positively guaranteed to work every time. Michael Fowler knows, because they worked for him. As always, we invite you to check out the links to his books, "A Happy Death" and "The Created Couple," in our blogroll.

Surefire Lines

By:
mmfowler@fuse.net

She was the kind of girl you meet at the planetarium. Soft-spoken, creased jeans, killer dimples. I told her that the asteroid that came by this year, the one the size of two football fields, had missed us by 359,000 miles, not even close. Sure, when it would come back around in 2059 it’d pass a lot closer, 135,000 miles, but that was still a football field or two of leeway so there was nothing to fear. I left her smiling and combing my mustache with her tongue.

She was the sort of woman you run into at the energy company payment window. Tight shorts, clean sneakers, heart-shaped calves. I told her I wasn’t afraid of high heating costs this winter, and that was because I heat my home with radon. This naturally occurring and cost-free radioactive emission provides the evenly distributed and comfortable energy of a hundred x-ray machines without even the need of a thermostat. I left her joyfully adding up the money saved and savoring the BTUs in my lips.

She was the type of tomato one bumps into at a chess tournament. Braless, homeschooled, atmospheric. I told her I was one of the fastest players in the world, not because of the quickness of my thought, but on account of the velocity I imparted to the pieces. In the opening, my king’s pawn had been clocked at 50 miles per hour, and in one game I moved my bishop along a diagonal so quickly my opponent briefly lost sight of it. Bowled over, she replied that she’d rather be knocked down and kicked by me than given expensive gifts by a lesser man.

She was the kind of babe you run into at the optician’s. Striped, bilingual, ambidextrous. She urged me to try contacts, and I said I would, provided that the optometrist put them in tiny frames that went over my ears and connected them with a curved piece that fit over my nose. A minute or two later she “got it” and laughed, then played footsie with me in the waiting area, and at the same time offered to clean my apartment for only $29.95 a month — a deal!

She was the kind of gal you spot at a shoe store. Palsied, breathless, street-smart. My last boyfriend made shoes, she said. Was he an elf? I asked. She slapped my back in instant camaraderie and promised me action.

She was the sort of bird you encounter in the Honey Baked ham line during the holidays. Cold, starving, dressed in rags. As two strangers, we entered the line at the front of the store, and by the time we spied hams in the distance, we were in a relationship. Later on in the day, when we arrived at the condiments, I saw it wouldn’t work, but I couldn’t just leave her. Try the honey-mustard sauce, I advised; it seemed the least I could do. She offered to lick the stuff out of my navel and drink my saliva through a straw. Coolio!

She was the sort of lady one sits beside at the library. Fishnets, sandalwood scent, hair in a bun. I told her I gave library books as holiday gifts, enclosing a note that said, I think you might appreciate this, and by the way, it’s due back in two weeks. At her place she “read” my testicles, saying they were as deep as Dostoevsky.

She was the sort of chick you find on the tour of Elvis’s home in Memphis, Petticoat Junction or whatever it’s called. Pallid, free-wheeling, altruistic. I told her Elvis had the same kitchen that my mother in Cincinnati had, built in the same year, 1957. I would have felt at home toasting cheese sandwiches with Elvis on his Hotpoint Range, stacking 45’s on his Magnavox hi-fi, or watching TV with the King on his 24-foot vanilla shag sofa. The chick asked me if my mom really had a 24-foot vanilla shag sofa, but not before inviting me over to her place for an afternoon of choke-play and twerking.

She was the kind of colleen you meet in the front seat of a Ford. Cornfed, shoeless, monotheistic. She got upset that I dozed off while driving, though she dozed off too. Once I was driving by a farm, and when I woke up, there were chicken feathers and bloody carcasses all over the windshield. I managed to pull into a rest stop before she woke up, and I was just removing the last feathers when I saw her looking at me with suspicion. I said, A flock of low-flying geese flew right into me, and I’m the sort of savvy navigator who steers away from hazardous fowl, protecting his lady’s sweetly put-together package. At that she tore open my shirt, said I love the stuffing out of you too, handsome, and sprayed my chest with soda, just to watch the lazy liquid crawl down my bod.

She was the kind of mama you might sidle up to while skydiving. Alert, shadowy, iron-deficient. As we steered our silk toward the ground, I told her the history of skywriting. It started by accident, I said. A man’s biplane caught on fire, he bailed out in the smoke and flames, and after he hit the ground he looked up and saw: Eat at Bob’s. Later on, as we folded up our chutes, she “got it” and started laughing. She came to my place that evening and hand-rubbed my brisket, then greased my griddle. As a finale she tweaked my circuits and rotated my distributor, for reals!

She was the kind of miss you approach at an animal rights meeting. Sensitive, long-fingered, fringed with cat hair. I told her my dog was a very perceptive and intelligent animal, able to tell my mood in a second, and if he had any doubts a few whacks across his spine with a broom handle clarified the matter. I also liked to run out my front door with my BB gun shouting Geronimo! and shooting squirrels and robins in the chest. You might think this would diminish me in her eyes, but after I broke down in tears and said I needed her guidance, I soon lay face down on the bed in her apartment as she whipped me to attention with pine nettles.

She was the kind of doll you greet in a shark cage. Bleached top, tattooed shanks, bleeding gums. I told her I was called, in that gracious Southern tradition, Beer Breath. Since we were underwater, I had to repeat myself several times before she understood. Later on deck our captain, a sailor from Croatia, said he could defend us from any shark, no matter how large. She and I soon spotted a great white sixty feet long, and I whispered to her, we’re going to need a bigger Croat. After sundown she “got it,” then took me below deck while tittering and scalped my kelp.

She was the sort of dame you see holding up a bank. Masked, borrowed clothes, armed. She wanted reassurance that the pocket umbrella sticking out of my jacket pocket wasn’t a gun. It looked a lot like a gun. It was metallic and had that tooled look and handle-like grip, so when I roll it up tight and stick it in my pocket, it could be a gun. What with all the violence going on these days, you couldn’t be sure. Smiling broadly, I replied, softly, It’s a 38-caliber London Fog. That’s all I said, just: It’s a 38-caliber London Fog automatic with a hair trigger, softly and distinctly. With that she ordered me into a corner and fed me a kiss that I felt down to my arches, then back up to my molars. She whispered that she admired my insouciance, and if she didn’t get caught or shot she was a lead-pipe cinch.

She was the kind of cookie you stumble across in an ancient civilization. Riddled with parasites, toned from plowing, mummified. I met her on Extinct.com, the interactive website for girls from Mesopotamia and other defunct spots. Did you know you were the last of your kind? I asked her. And if you did, why didn’t you have kids? She mumbled something about how her dad didn’t like her going out with the Etruscans or Phoenicians in her neighborhood; they didn’t mine enough silver and seldom bathed. Liking what I heard, I said maybe we two could get us a little house in the Fertile Crescent, revive the Mesopotamians. She said, I’m 4500 years old and dead; it would be a long shot. I told her not to put herself down like that, but then I logged off. Usually I chased anything in pantyhose, but maybe a Mesopotamian chick was too much of a stretch. How far could pantyhose stretch, anyway? Still, the next day I checked out some futuristic babes on Roommates@Mooncolony.org and found one who said she’d live in the Mare Tranquillitatis with me in 2050, if she liked the way I sounded. I’m still trying to come up with a line that long.

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* Welcome to The Big Jewel, your online life coach. This week we teach you the gentle art of bullying, courtesy of a man who understands it better than the average schoolyard punk, Michael Fowler. As always, we invite you to check out the links to his books, "A Happy Death" and "The Created Couple," in our blogroll.

School Bullies And How To Be One

By:
mmfowler@fuse.net

It was in Miss Ankemon’s fourth grade class that I first decided to bully my classmates, mainly the weaker and weirder ones. How satisfying it would be to make them cringe in fear and burst into tears, of course without Miss Ankemon noticing. But how to go about it? To begin with I was physically preposterous. A shy, undersized boy with an undescended testicle and what my doctors called a “lazy spine,” I resembled a slender reed bent over by the wind, even when no wind was blowing. Then there was my hard stutter. As a fourth grader, I was still struggling to answer a question my first grade teacher had asked me. Top me off with a clunky pair of glasses the size of bicycle handlebars, and my intimidation factor shrank to zero.

And then did I even know what bullies did, what moves to attempt? Having never met an actual bully, I could only guess. For these reasons the imagined torments of my classmates, by which I hoped to gain their respect and admiration, remained abstractions in my mind, goals seemingly out of reach.

Then one afternoon I got a valuable and unforgettable lesson in bullying. School had let out and I had begun my half-mile walk home, companionless as usual, when I found that I had become an actual bully’s victim. You can bet I paid close attention to my tormentor, to see what I could learn. He, a lanky dullard who never shut his mouth and as a result drooled constantly, and who wore a long belt cinched so that one end draped down his leg (the belt must have been his father’s at one time), did not particularly impress me. My keen interest in his bullying technique outweighed any intimidation I felt. He demanded a nickel to refrain from unleashing all his powers against me in a wrestling match, a threat that struck me as comical since it seemed an admission that he couldn’t generate more than five cents’ worth of fear. However, I was prepared to pay this ransom, not because I was afraid to fight him, but I didn’t want to get his saliva all over me.

I was spared from forking over the coin when a girl from my class, Lawanda, came to my rescue. In the fourth grade any number of the girls were as big or bigger than the boys, and now all five feet eight inches and 165 pounds of the plus-sized Lawanda, who fancied me that year, weighed in and tossed my bully into a nearby bush, almost dislocating his arm in the process. I believe she was prepared to remove his belt and whip him with it if he persisted in his antisocial behavior.

Not only was I saved, but I learned my first important lesson in bullying: be a big girl in love. It’s formidable.

In high school my desires to bully, still unrealized, overpowered me. Unfortunately there weren’t many bullies around for me to emulate, since the kids at my school put academics above lowly physical pursuits. The most awesome guys had 4.0 grade point averages and college scholarships in the bag. Our feeble and uncoordinated football and basketball teams weren’t even in the running for coolness. Shut out year after year, our so-called athletes left the awards to our marching band and debate team. Anyone who tried to throw his weight around would simply be ignored, unless he had high SAT scores. Yes, there were a few bullies anyway, but they were academically inclined. I rode the bus with one of the most fearsome, an upperclassman named Calvin. One day Calvin told me, “I heard you said some things about Calculus Club. Bad move.” And he grabbed my copy of Julius Caesar’s Gallic Wars and tore out several chapters. “Now what will you tell your Latin teacher when you’re called on to translate?” he taunted me. I was speechless.

Another time on the bus this same Calvin, an academic rock star who took four advanced placement courses and who had been accepted early admission to Duke, came up to me and put his books in the empty seat beside me. I’ll never forget his words as I sat there looking up expectantly at him. This is what he said: “Watch my books, pal, and don’t mess with the protective plastic covers. I spent a lot of time getting them on straight.” When the bus arrived at school and I stood up to get off, Calvin tried to push me back down in my seat, but he lacked the upper body strength. I disembarked unharmed, but impressed.

Thanks largely to Calvin’s example, and that five-cent guy in the fourth grade, I was inspired anew to be a bully before I graduated or lost interest. Nothing could stop me, I decided, from pushing around most of the kids in my class. We were a diverse lot, but I detected a common thread of weakness for me to exploit: puny Asians with the biceps of Jack Soo, Jewish kids built like Woody Allen, beanpole blacks with the physique of Dave Chappelle, and I didn’t overlook the frail, super-pale whites like me who might have been first cousins to Johnny Winter. Regardless of race or creed, I’d have them all running scared, as soon as I figured out exactly how.

I learned the key move from a master bully in my gym class. A steadfast animal rights and vegan activist, this physically unprepossessing but slovenly and unwashed individual had taught himself to instill fear and even disgust in every male student, as well as to advance his causes, with a simple trick. By doing a barefoot handstand in gym class so that his rank feet went up by his victim’s nose, he gave a stark reminder of what a barnyard animal smelled like. One whiff brought to mind pigs and cows and their plight, and the need for a meat-free diet, as well as instilling disgust and fear. That was my second important lesson in bullying: don’t be afraid to be offensive, in fact go for it! And it didn’t hurt to have a gimmick, either.

As luck had it, I caught the measles soon after I was first treated to this miscreant’s foot odor. When I returned to school after two weeks, still spotted head to toe, I inflicted nude bear hugs on the guys in the gym shower. Asian, Jewish, black or white, I embraced their smooth, steaming bodies under the spray and cried, “You’ve got the measles now, Chang,” and “A pox on you, Schwarz,” and “Try some measles on for size, Odom,” and “Be glad I’m not giving you an STD, O’Malley.” Best of all, after all my spots faded, I discovered that bouncing my slick, sunken chest off dudes in the shower was revolting and terrifying all by itself.

True, I wasn’t advancing an agenda like the foot odor guy, and no fair maidens like Lawanda were smitten with me. But I was the scariest bully my school ever saw.

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* Welcome to The Big Jewel's second and final week of Two Much Of Michael Fowler, a double dose of one of our favorite contributors. This time he shares his detailed knowledge of the afterlife. Just never ask us how he acquired it. Again, we urge you to check out links to his books, "A Happy Death" and "The Created Couple," in our blogroll.

Advice For The Dead

By:
mmfowler@fuse.net

Dear Gabriel,

I died two years ago and I’m still inside my damned coffin. The only thing I have to make death bearable, aside from the silk lining and plush interior of my container (okay, it’s a nice coffin) is The Beyond Times, which appears daily beside my satin pillow as if by magic. I particularly enjoy your advice column and the fashion news from the “other side,” i.e., the land of the living. Other than that, all I have is a small hand-held mirror, and that brings me to my question. To my horror, my skin looks more cracked and decomposed every day. Do you know of any skin care products I can have delivered to me along with my paper? Maybe my “breakout” moment will never arrive and I’ll be stuck inside this box forever, but it will help me to pass eternity if I can eliminate any signs of decay, especially facial ones.

Rotten in Denmark

Dear Rotten,

I can’t be certain, since our computer system is down for retooling and I’d be hard pressed to put my finger on your Permanent Record in our hopelessly out-of-date card catalog, but it sounds to me like you’re being punished. Were you a bit of a narcissist when alive? If so, that might explain the nature of your penance. I know what you’re thinking: since when is looking one’s best a sin? But the rulebook lists personal vanity as a form of pride, and as such, definitely a transgression. So I hope you’ll understand when I tell you that skincare products are out of the question for you right now. But don’t despair: your situation will likely be reviewed in the next several millennia, and then everything could change. You might even get that “breakout” moment you desire and ascend from your tomb to the Isle of the Hot. Meanwhile keep your chin up, chafed and unattractive though it may be.

Dear Gabriel,

What can I do about noisy neighbors? I know the Beyond includes the damned and the saved alike, all jumbled together. I get that. But I just found out the hard way that the people in the apartment next to mine are damned. They dress up in black and blast death metal music all night, stuff like Styx and Megadeath. I’m blessed and have to get up at six each morning for work, and nothing I say to these souls makes any difference. I’ve spoken to the landlord, but he says the rental agreement I signed prohibits me from complaining about noise. Don’t the good have any rights here?

Sleepless Down Under

Dear Sleepless,

Sorry, but none of your rights override the sacred contract between landlord and tenant. But why not drop a hint your tormented neighbors will notice? Next time they’re asleep, crank up Heavenly Harp Hits, a truly mystical and soul-satisfying CD. That’ll grab their attention, and good things may result. Who knows, they may bring you some homemade cookies and place a memorial wreath on your mailbox, and even start meditating.

Dear Gabriel,

I’m traveling dead with my mother, who was ninety-three when she passed away, and we’re supposed to take a ferry next week from our house, where I left the oven on with my head in it, to some otherworldly destination. What I’d like to know is, is this like a cruise? Can we get special non-smoking accommodations, and how much will I need to tip?

Not-So-Accidental Tourist

Dear Not-So-Accidental,

It is just like a cruise, except that you and Mama may be asked to row a few miles and be whipped a little. That’s a joke, but seriously, there are cruise lines almost that bad. I recall one I took off the Ivory Coast in 550 BC that was attacked by pirates and there wasn’t even a masseuse on board. That said, if you and your mother are redeemed, you get to sit in lounge chairs the entire time and can visit the buffet and bar as often as you like. You can gamble, too. Do remember that the sprites and imps waiting on you count on your tips to support their families.

Dear Gabe,

I just got here after my car crash on prom night, in which I died while my date Jennie was miraculously spared. Yeah, I know, almost like in that driver’s ed flick. Anyway, I was wondering, where can I go to meet cool dead chicks? I need to get things moving up here.

Fast Lane Eddie

Dear Fast Lane,

There are regular mixers for deceased teens in the innermost circle of most major cities. Consult the high-speed rail schedule in your town if you don’t have wheels. Be aware that the music, disco from the 1970s, shuts off at midnight, since the city managers have determined that it’s just too nerve-wracking to the damned and blessed alike to have it blaring all night. And please, dude, it’s Gabriel, not Gabe.

Dear Gabriel,

I’d like to register a complaint about your paper, The Beyond Times. Every morning for the first ten years after my death, I would stroll out my front door, waft over the sparkling, gently rolling silvery plain where I have come to reside, walk past the smiling, two-headed dogs and luminous cats to my mailbox, and there find my Daily Heaven. Now I find The Beyond Times instead, and I prefer the Heaven. Somehow Heaven seemed written just for me and my angelic friends, whereas the Times could have been written for anyone, even devils. Is there any chance my favorite paper will return? I know you’ll put this down to the lunatic ravings of a corpse, but I want my Heaven back.

Goodie Two Shoes

Dear Goodie,

As I hope everyone knows by now, The Daily Heaven, and its sister publication Hell’s Beat, were recently merged into one newspaper, The Beyond Times. This change, made after much soul-searching, enables us to conserve much-needed resources and best utilize our reporting staff. It also allows us to avoid using terms like Heaven and Hell, which many find insensitive and objectionable, and simply refer to the Beyond, which indicates either or both of those afterworld alternatives. I know it can be confusing, but in general the Arts and Entertainment and Society sections of the Times continue to feature your favorite writers and photographers from the late Heaven, and for our less blessed readers who enjoyed Hell’s Beat, the Business and Politics and Sports sections retain the talented crew from that publication. With that as your guide, I know you’ll come to love the Times as much as you formerly did the Daily Heaven, which, alas, will not return until the start of our Apocalyptic Promotional Days.

Dear Gabriel,

Man, I’m having the time of my life here, or I guess I mean the time of my afterlife. I never thought the Beyond was a real place, but now I’m a believer since there are fireworks every night and the discount stores are open 24/7. My only complaint is, where are all the neat people I thought I’d find here? Where’re Christ and Gandhi and Einstein and Socrates and people like that? Most everyone I meet is someone I used to work with on the electrical grid in Chicago.

Missing Persons

Dear Missing,

All those great people are here, and having the time of their immortalities. The thing is, they’re super-busy on special projects, and so you’re not liable to run into them. But, for our faithful readers of The Beyond Times, this column will showcase a new format beginning next week. I, Gabriel, formerly your humble advice columnist, will be going one-on-one with some of Heaven’s most desirable citizens, asking them the question: are you in the right place? Their answers will astound you! First up: Whitney Houston! The following week: Andy Griffith!!

And for you residents of the place formerly known as Hell, don’t worry, I won’t neglect you. On alternate weeks I’ll be asking some of the best-known denizens of the lower realm the same question: are you in the right place? You won’t believe their responses! First up: Colonel Gaddafi! And the following week: Uday and Qusay Hussein in an exclusive double interview!!

Till next time,

Gabriel

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* Welcome to The Big Jewel and the first week of what we like to call Two Much Of Michael Fowler, a double helping from our good friend. We believe there is much we can learn from the wise elders in our midst. And then there is Eddie Sharp. He doesn't have much to teach us, but in the hands of Mr. Fowler he can still entertain. Warning: this week's piece may be unsuitable for younger or more sensitive readers. Or anyone who doesn't enjoy hearing about the sexcapades of the ancient. We remind you that links to Mr. Fowler's two books, "A Happy Death" and "The Created Couple," can be found in our blogroll.

Eddie Sharp, Alert Nursing Home Resident

By:
mmfowler@fuse.net

Name’s Eddie Sharp. Thank you for visiting with me today. Sit down and I’ll talk about my sex life for a couple of hours.

The first woman I made love to was a stage performer. Her name was Betsy and she had more sex appeal than you’ve had childhood diseases. It was 1934 or 35, I was all of thirteen. I met her in Chicago, where she was a contortionist on the Orpheum Circuit and I was an usher. I was supposed to be in school that day but none were built yet. This was before condoms were invented, and Betsy showed me how to protect her with a cornhusk. That’s how she did it back in Ohio, where she had a happy childhood with few abortions. I still remember how the corn silk felt cool inside my shorts, and the sweet taste of the kernels in butter that Betsy and I lunched on that day. Her table manners were exquisite. She did things with her toes and vegetables that I thought only arboreal apes could do. But that was her act.

I remember the first time I had sex it was with a silent screen actress. She wasn’t a major star but she had “it” all right. Crabs. This was back before there was radiation treatment, so the way you cured crabs was to jump off the roof of a three-story barn into a creek. It worked, but it didn’t lower your cholesterol one bit. One of the little-known facts about Mary Pickford is that she invented the telescope. She was also the first woman to see Io on a cloudy night. The actress I’m talking about predicted there was a tenth planet beyond Pluto, but I still think Galileo had it right when he said the Pope was biased.

I lost my virginity to a little bank teller in Cleveland. She had more charm than Wall Street had fifties. She was a big movie fan and I took her to see all the greats: Bow, Pickford, Chaplin, Chaney. I wasn’t the best-looking guy in the sea but I could do tricks with my face. Often the crowd wondered if there was more, but hopefully not until tomorrow. Sad to say this girl gave me the clap, and this was well before fluoride. We had to stand in a thunderstorm wearing copper bracelets and brush our teeth three times. I guess that worked because to this day I haven’t had irrepressible gas.

The first girl I ever made love to was a young nurse. She had just shaved me for an appendectomy. I stayed aroused all the time I was under the knife, the first time she’d seen that. Do you think you’d like to see that? Oh, to be young and a sanitation expert again! It was too bad she contracted paranoid schizophrenia before there was saltpeter to restore the roses in her cheeks. The good news? The hallucinations were all in her head. She was a commoner but I never held prehistoric goodness against her lowlife family or the rest of that clan. I can still see her bare feet and her head shaved from lice and the towel she shared with twelve others. She had more charisma than you’ve had dumb ideas. I’ve often thought that if she’d been a bit older, and me a bit wiser, it would have made no difference.

You may not think so to look at me but I was quite the ladies’ man in my day. I could do things then I can’t do now, like skin a mule and pilot a steamboat. I used to screw, forty, fifty, a hundred times a week. Sometimes ten women a day didn’t satisfy me, and I mean all kinds of women without number and in every position. This was before and after my hemorrhoid bypass surgery. The ladies used to call me Luscious. Ha, can you believe that? It was because in my running shorts I looked like breakfast. I wasn’t the handsomest guy in the gene pool but I had a trick knee. My rear end looked like two solid grapefruit, and my front like two boiled eggs with a side sausage link. That was but one of my winning ways! I still wear those shorts because they make a lot of mouths water after they’re washed.

Sitting beside me in the solarium today are Reverend Williams and the Widow Peyton. The rev’s working on a volume of his collected sermons but really he’s only thinking about mad sex. In a minute he’ll stagger off to that piano in the corner and play the first song he made love to, which is the first I ever made love to, “Love Potion Number Nine,” the original version by Walt Whitman. I have designs on the widow here, but don’t worry — she can’t hear a thing I say. She last had sex so long ago that she’s a virgin again. She grew a new maidenhead last night and blushes like anything. If I say nookie loudly she giggles and downplays her breasts that are leading her on into young womanhood. I have a lot of options here, since women outnumber men five to one, so I hit on whoever reminds me of Scarlett Johansson. I chose the widow for her fashion sense and her joy of living that I can only describe as orthopedic. Regrettably she has a bad heart and that was before there was aromatherapy for that. So nose drops and penicillin aren’t any help at all.

I have a reputation as a debonair ladies’ man, which may explain my cravat and smoking jacket. Like all real men I brush my teeth and shave in the toilet bowl. I never wear shorts since they constrict my tricky spine. Baby dolls come to me for a good time, in some cases their last before they croak of natural causes or malpractice. The head nurse — I call her The Great Unwashed but that’s not her real name — pulled the bed sheet up over the head of my last conquest just as I was making my entrance. I was too late by a minute. Still I don’t know why the nurse didn’t let me go in. The lights may have been out but the door was wide open. And I did knock.

I think that nurse has it in for me, sneaking up on me like that. I almost needed a defibrillator.

Name’s Eddie Sharp. Who did you say you are? I’m sure I never heard of you. Now talk about your sex life, and make it throb.

 

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