* 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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* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where we are still a little unclear about what happened last night. Or was it last week, at the New Year's Eve party? Anyway, please close the curtains and stop making so much noise. Our head hurts. Honestly, we feel as if we'd rather die. Perhaps this is the right time to bring in our old friend Michael Fowler to tell us how. Happy New Year!

How To Die

By:
mmfowler@fuse.net

Most of us, not giving it much thought, would prefer to die with our boots on. That means dying with a sense of purpose and actively engaged in life — impossible for the millions of us who are fated to die by choking on a chicken fajita or contracting Ebola at summer camp. But if you decide to die with your boots on, it’s best to be embarked on a noble or at least not a laughable endeavor when your moment comes. For example, if you are a gardener, you may wish to pass on while lovingly pruning your rose bushes. But if this is your choice, make sure that irritable bees don’t align on your face in the shape of a beard, so that a passing state trooper mistakes you for an escaped convict and shoots you dead on the spot, or that you don’t do a home lobotomy trying to reshape your eyebrows with a hedge-trimmer. Dignity counts, and your relatives want to be able to hold their heads up at your funeral, especially if they’re paying to have it catered. Remember: if you can’t die with your boots on, then die with them off, since that completely removes dignity from the equation. No one expects your barefoot cadaver to show dignity, and to underscore casualness, arrange to have the toenails painted green.

Given the ever-worsening prospects of earning enough to retire on, many of us will opt to die at work. While this is a worthy goal, be sure your occupation warrants this choice. Bus drivers and jet pilots and brain surgeons who opt to die while on duty may risk the safety and even lives of others by doing so, and should have backups standing by to fill in. Waitresses and car mechanics and bank tellers may also seriously inconvenience others by an on-the-job demise. But if you’re a pollster or a tax collector or an artist, go on and break out your rigor mortis.

Most people, after thinking the matter through, decide they want a gradual death rather than a sudden one. Better, they think, to sign off as the result of a long illness than to abruptly cash in their chips while speeding through a red light or sunbathing in the path of a hurricane. This reflects two widely held beliefs: that a long life beats a short one, and that even intense pain is preferable to no sensation at all. People would rather lie around for years in a soiled hospital gown talking to their spouse’s family and receiving hourly injections than have the Reaper sneak up on them and surprise their pants off.

The fact is that most of us want all the life we can get, up to a point. Where that point occurs varies from person to person. For some, no longer being able to play five sets of tennis or climb K2 without oxygen support may bring on a death wish, unlikely as that may sound to the more sedentary among us. For others, life continues to hold meaning even when they must be tied down to a chair to keep them from boarding a bus wearing only pajama tops and they can’t remember to eat unless someone shouts “food!” in their ear and hands them a fork.

What’s key here is setting a “decent interval” for your life. None of us wants to hang onto a meaningless, unfulfilling life. To do so is deemed “indecent” by society, whoever they are. But what makes for a decent interval will naturally vary among individuals. If you invented Facebook and became a billionaire in your mid-twenties, you are unlikely to think that 25 years was a decent enough interval in which to be you, but it’s time to push off and not be you beginning year 26. We can probably all agree that a decent interval has ended when your shrunken spine curves like a question mark and you walk around helplessly staring at your feet. The cost of medical treatment is also a clue. When it turns out you need the equivalent of the Kennedy Space Center to monitor your breathing and your insurance premiums rise to 25 percent of GDP, it may be indecent to draw another breath. That your insurer refuses to cover your third donated heart is another sign that the miracle of life has lasted long enough.

When you have determined that your decent interval is over, naturally you are faced with the problem of dying. Few of us are so fortunate as to be carried off at the last decent second, and so you may need to facilitate the process. Since Dr. Kevorkian is no longer listed in the Yellow Pages, here’s a tip: have a glass or two of soothing wine. My preference would be Merlot, but I’m a red fancier. Any wine will do. Then take your medications, all of them, equal to a six months’ dose. Wait 15 minutes, then crawl into a warm tub and shave with a straight razor.

Alternatively, if you want to go out on a high note, plug in a Marshall amplifier and play “Purple Haze” on an electric guitar while soaking.

If you’re still alive after that, you really are indecent.

 

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* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where we prefer to view the history of science through imaginary dialogues between some of its greatest practitioners. This week Michael Fowler conjures up a conversation between Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr about cars. Add in a few asides from Werner Heisenberg and suddenly there are too many variables to keep track of with any certainty. And that, dear friends, is the story of quantum physics!

Einstein v. Bohr

By:
mmfowler@fuse.net

Lights come up on: the living room of Albert Einstein’s small clapboard house near the Princeton Institute of Advanced Study. It is the winter of 1937. For the last three hours Einstein and Niels Bohr have been sitting together in uncomfortable chairs and continuing their debate, begun at the 1927 Solvay Conference in even worse chairs, about whether objects exist when no one is around to observe them. Einstein, now and then giggling as he draws on an unlit pipe and sips from an empty coffee mug, has been maintaining that of course they do, or why pay to insure them? Meanwhile Bohr has grown increasingly exasperated, to the point of wishing he had bypassed Einstein’s and were frolicking in the indoor pool at the Holiday Inn Express down the road. Why wouldn’t the father of relativity admit that without an observer, there were no objects to speak of at all? Einstein, sensing his guest’s rising irritation, decides to change tacks.

EINSTEIN: I propose a little thought experiment, Niels, to clarify the situation.

BOHR: I smell a trap, Albert. I know your thought experiments can be very subtle. I will need to keep my wits about me so as not to be deceived. But I agree to listen.

EINSTEIN: Excellent. Then imagine my closed garage, right outside at the end of my drive. Now imagine it full of light. Now imagine a single photon escaping through the garage window and striking you in the eye. Now picture what you then see: a brand new Squire Drophead Coupe, yellow, with chromium wire wheels.

BOHR: Are you referring to the 1600 model that has a supercharged engine, a live rear axle, four-wheel hydraulic brakes, and reaches a top speed of 115 mph?

EINSTEIN: Nothing else. It’s out there in my garage. And you forgot to mention the custom dual-pipe exhaust. It’s a gas.

BOHR: A gas? You mean it obeys Boyle’s law of pressure and volume? But look here, Albert, are you licensed to drive in New Jersey?

EINSTEIN: I had my papers airmailed from Berlin. But Niels, you miss the point. The car actually exists in my garage, unobserved.

BOHR: Then let’s go for a spin!

EINSTEIN: Alas, I am too tired at the moment. Let’s share a couple of bowls of ice cream and then have a little nap. I’ll feel more rested then.

BOHR: Ice cream! We don’t serve that in Denmark anymore due to the cone shortage. Do you have sprinkles?

EINSTEIN: No, and no cones either. I have bowls and spoons only.

BOHR: In that unfortunate situation, let’s go on talking a while. I have a thought experiment for you to consider too, my dear Albert, while I continue to ponder your coupe.

EINSTEIN (helping himself to tobacco though his doctor has forbidden it): Shoot.

BOHR: Imagine this time there are two cars. One is your magnificent yellow roadster, sitting at rest in your garage, just as you propose. It really is there, of course?

EINSTEIN: Of course. I said it was, didn’t I?

BOHR: Fine. Now imagine that a second car, a sassy red Bugatti Type 57, approaches your car at half the speed of light.

EINSTEIN: Wait a moment. This Bugatti…does it have a horseshoe grille, thermostatically-controlled engine shutters, a twin-cam engine, and a five-year power-train warranty?

BOHR: It is loaded. It’s got all the bells and whistles and an excellent warranty. And now the astonishing thing…it is mine. I parked it not twenty yards from your door when I arrived this morning to visit you. I bought it as soon as I stepped off the boat today in New York, and drove it here in under an hour, tires smoking.

EINSTEIN: I never thought to inquire how you got here. To think there is a car finer than mine in Princeton, and you are its owner! How the hell much does the Institute pay visiting Danish lecturers, anyway?

BOHR: Easy, my friend. Did you really not anticipate my rejoinder?

EINSTEIN: I demand to see this automobile at once!

BOHR (withdraws a folded magazine from his jacket pocket and tosses it Einstein’s way): That’s the latest issue of American Auto, dated January 1937. You’ll find the car on page 31 just as I described it, except the part about its belonging to me and being parked outside. You’ll agree that in the abstract it’s just as much…a gas, as you say?

EINSTEIN (uses the magazine to swat a large fly that has alit on the wall beside him, then tosses it back to Bohr): Very clever, Niels. You had me going there for a moment. I should have realized that a thought experiment is only a thought experiment.

BOHR: I now claim a ride in that yellow coupe of yours. And if you are too tired to drive, I will take the wheel. (Produces a pair of aviator goggles.) I even brought some goggles with me so I can roll the window down. I always bring a pair when I travel in case I have a chance to fly in a biplane.

EINSTEIN: Um, about the coupe. I confess my garage is empty of all matter, even of light. You see, my friend, I actually did purchase that splendid coupe two days ago, but yesterday decided I couldn’t meet the monthly payments and returned it to the dealership, well within the three-day grace period following purchase. I’m sorry if this news comes as a disappointment. (Glances at his watch.) But if you’ll be patient another few seconds…until three o’clock to be precise…I should have a favorable update for you.

(At three precisely there comes a loud knock on the door. Einstein opens it to reveal Heisenberg, a young red-headed man who speaks in a heavy German accent.)

HEISENBERG (standing in the door):  Dr Einstein? I’m Heisenberg from the car dealership. We spoke the other day about finding you a preowned car after you returned the yellow coupe. Well, professor, I tried to compare the price of the car to the mileage on the odometer, as you requested, and I made an amazing discovery. I can’t specify the mileage without knowing the price you’ll pay, and I can’t specify the price without knowing the car’s mileage. In other words, I can’t give you both the price and the mileage at the same time.

EINSTEIN: I’m willing to pay up to eight hundred dollars for a car with less than a hundred thousand miles on it. What’s so hard about that, Heisenberg?

HEISENBERG: It depends on what’s on the lot, is all I’m saying. But I should have something for you in a day or two.

BOHR (to Einstein): The sole difficulty I detect would be if you insisted on paying only eight hundred dollars for a Drophead Coupe. Think what sorry shape the tranny would be in!

HEISENBERG (taking in the two men): What about a couple of mopeds for four hundred? I can bring them around tomorrow morning.

EINSTEIN and BOHR (together): Deal!

EINSTEIN: As long as they’re flex-fuel.

HEISENBERG: Flex-fuel? Was ist das?

EINSTEIN: Just a little proposal of mine to be published in next month’s Physics Today.

BOHR: It’ll never work.

(As the scientists move on to other topics and Heisenberg exits: blackout.) 

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* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where winners rule. Michael Fowler is a winner. Not a big-time winner, but a small-time winner. Which can be complicated. But let him explain...

Mr. Eight Thousand

By:
mmfowler@fuse.net

After I hit the Powerball jackpot for eight thousand, the change in my life is swift and profound. I get up in the morning, and it’s not merely me rising. It’s me and the upward buoyancy of eight thousand dollars. Oh, I know it isn’t all that much, eight thousand. Not even enough for a good used car, or to send my kid to college for more than a single semester, if I could afford to get married and have a kid. But it’s eight thousand I didn’t have before, and the difference is so great that I can hardly express it in hundreds, for example. Eight thousand is eighty hundred, a number so vast and cumbersome that no one says it. It is quite simply an enormous sum of money, especially looked at in the light of how many hundred dollar bills add up to it. Eighty of them! My mind boggles when I consider how many ten-spots that is. My wallet wouldn’t hold them all. It could be a number in the Medicare shortfall.

As I walk along the street, I sense that people notice the change in my bearing. There’s a new assurance to my stride, and an openness that admits life’s pleasures, costly as some of them are. Do I feel like breakfast at that corner bistro? I can afford it, even at $6.95 for a stinking couple of eggs and a glass of watery juice. A morning paper? Sure, I’ll treat myself instead of waiting for one to turn up in the men’s room at work. That beggar who I usually begrudge giving fifty cents to in the morning? Here you are my man, have a dollar! Life is good, is it not, and we fat cats like to keep the largess coming.

At work, as I leak the tale of my winnings, I begin to feel like Mr. Darcy or some entitled nobleman out of a Jane Austen book. “Do you hear he has a hundred thousand pounds a year and an estate in Cheshire?” I think I overhear the HR women whisper as I confront one of them about a form to increase my tax withholding. Of course her real words are, if she actually is talking about me, “Do you hear he has eight thousand and an apartment near the bus station?” Not quite so grand, but with eight thou, or eight large as some say, I can move anytime I want. With my kind of money, what can stop me? The answer is, nothing can.

At noon I walk over to City Hall and pay off all nineteen of my parking tickets. I also decide to have that oil leak in my car fixed, since I’m tired of taking the bus. The sum total of all this is fifteen hundred dollars — fifteen hundred! — but I realize that even so great and unwieldy a sum as that hardly dents my vast fortune. So it’s fifteen hundred! I snap my fingers and snort dismissively. That still leaves me thousands, and quite a few of them. I can still go on vacation this summer and drop another fifteen hundred on the beach. And after that, I’ll still have thousands. There is seemingly no end to my fortune.

At the end of the day I am insulted by a high school youth at the bus stop. Normally such a psychopath-in-the-making makes me defensive, and someday I will brain one of these scholars with my briefcase or sock him with my fist wrapped around the nickels and quarters of my bus fare. But now I only smirk. Does he think he can wound me now, the lout? Does he not realize that my thick personal finances shield me from slight? I look away, not even wondering why my clothing and hairstyle so excite his crude comments. What does he mean, I look like SpongeBob SquarePants? I ignore this, comfortable in the knowledge that I can buy and sell this high school kid many times over. What is he worth, lunch money? I try not to laugh in his face, especially since he might pull a knife.

At home I go online at once and ogle my bank balance. Yes, there it is, shrunken but still massive! Oh, I know that riches are fleeting. I know the bills are coming that will finally set me back to poverty level. With a sad smile, I recall how it was last year when, for a change, I was awarded a performance bonus at work, a sum of three hundred dollars. That made a difference in my life for a brief while, a week perhaps. I walked on air then, only to discover later that I had spent it all in such magnificent ways that I couldn’t account for a dime of it. This eight thousand, though a far grander sum, will likewise dissipate too quickly and leave barely a trace.

But why get depressed? Once a lotto winner, always a winner, that’s how it works. Now that the universe has lined up to pay me out, it will stay lined up. The stars are on my side. And my next winning ticket will be for more than eight thousand. Maybe eight million — I can feel it! The store clerk is waiting to sell it to me.

Seven Eleven, here I come.

 

 

 

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