* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where nothing says "Merry Christmas!" like a look at the rape culture elements in beloved seasonal songs. Let Tallulah Marzipan be your Sabrina Rubin Erdely. Or your Lena Dunham. And if you don't know who they are, you are already well on your way to having a very Merry Christmas.

Baby It’s Cold On A Slow Boat To China

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There are standards out there that are about straight up MURDER, like “Mack the Knife” (multiple killings by knife in cold blood), “Miss Otis Regrets” (murder with a side of lynching!), and who can forget the Sammy Davis classic, “I Masturbated After Strangling You to Death in Your Sleep?”

But while I generally have to seek out those songs to listen to them, it is hard to escape the Christmas season without hearing “Baby It’s Cold Outside” at some point, thus sparking the annual debate in my mind: which is the more rape-y Frank Loesser standard, “Baby It’s Cold Outside” or “On a Slow Boat to China”?

Since many people today don’t even know “On a Slow Boat to China,” the obvious choice would be “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” right? The song is written as parts not for woman and man but “wolf” and “mouse,” and at one point the mouse literally says “the answer is no,” along with questioning whether a drink has been drugged (or, optimistically, if it just has way more booze than it should, if that particular drink is even meant to be alcoholic at all). It’s more widely known today than “On a Slow Boat to China” as it continues to be played on radio stations every Christmas, and it even won an Academy Award for Best Song.

Of course, there are plenty of things in other Christmas songs, and other songs in general, that take me out of the moment of the song. As a New Yorker, it’s hard to hear the lyric “down to the village” in “Frosty the Snowman” without the image of Frosty smoking a joint on Bleecker Street and then catching a flick at the IFC Center coming to mind. Whenever they sing “caroling out in the snow” in “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” I swear they are saying “Caroline out in the snow” and always yell at my iTunes “THEN WHY DON’T YOU GO GET HER?” until I realize, for the millionth time, that they obviously said “caroling.” And although Barbra Streisand has a beautiful voice, it’s hard not to get a chuckle out of one of the most famous Jewish people in America singing about remembering Christmas as a young child or opening presents by the fire on Christmas Eve. In the future I would like to hear a song about eating Chinese food and going to the movies on this particular holiday, written and performed by a gentile.

There are Christmas songs that aren’t even Christmas songs but have been re-appropriated as such, like “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music, because they fit into the ever-present spirit of commercialism. Why don’t Harry Connick Jr. and Michael Bublé do hokey jazzy covers of “The Lonely Goatherd” on their holiday albums instead?

But no matter how distracting these elements might be, “Frosty the Snowman” or Barbra Streisand or The Sound of Music are never distracting me with, well, rape. Not that I’ve noticed, anyway.

While “Baby It’s Cold Outside” is almost exclusively a duet, “On a Slow Boat to China” is not. When done solo, it is romantic at best, and John Hinckley-esque at worst. Its lyrics are less overt:

I’d love to get you
On a slow boat to China
All to myself alone
Get you and keep you
In my arms ever more

And so interpretation relies heavily on delivery. The slower, the better. If you assume that the singer is alone when singing it, then he or she becomes a stalker plotting to be “melting your heart of stone” and thus knows full well that the person in question has no interest in them, at least not yet.

If you imagine that the singer is singing to another party present, then they’re uncomfortably forward about their intentions. The wolf in “Baby It’s Cold Outside” is persistent, sure, but at least uses the weather as an excuse, and one can assume that the mouse is free to leave when the weather clears up. The subject of “On a Slow Boat to China,” on the other hand, is not only taken against will, but will remain there for an extended period of time, essentially turning the song into, “I’d like to rape you repeatedly and hope that you eventually develop Stockholm Syndrome, and I have no problem telling you this point blank, in fact, I expect it to turn you on, so whaddya say?” (as this is my personal dating strategy, “On a Slow Boat to China” is unsurprisingly one of my favorite songs).

The Jimmy Buffett and Dean Martin arrangements are great examples, especially since Dean Martin usually appears to be drunk while singing, and so it’s that much easier to picture some inebriated fool hitting on some poor schmuck in this fashion. The Jimmy Buffett version is deliberately made to sound like it takes place in a sleazy bar; the song features the host slurring his words while introducing Buffett (and mispronouncing his name), followed by the pop of a cork, glass clinking noises, and various people calling for their waiters. You can just picture Bill Murray singing it to Sigourney Weaver or Andie McDowell or Karen Allen in some cut scene from Ghostbusters or Groundhog Day or Scrooged or, I guess, most other Bill Murray movies, too. This version is just that delightfully cringe-worthy.

The duets of the song are mostly harmless; they usually feature the singers singing the chorus together numerous times and gazing seductively at each other, so the feeling is seen as mutual.

But then there’s the Rosemary Clooney and Bing Crosby duet. Bette Midler and Barry Manilow follow a revised rendition of this arrangement, but it is as hokey as you would expect a Bette Midler/Barry Manilow duet to be, and thus has an entirely different tone from the original. My favorite exchange from the Clooney/Crosby follows as such:

Bing: Get you and I’ll keep you in my arms ever more…Leave all your lovers on the shore…
Rosemary: For me they’d swim to China, to China and back…
Bing: Tell ’em to bring me an anvil.

Tell them to bring me an anvil. The best line.

There are two ways of looking at this statement, one being that Bing intends to drown Rosemary’s other suitors, adding this song to the list of other murder-y standards, though slightly more understated in its approach. However, as I mentioned earlier, the delivery is key here, compared with the more obvious lyrics in “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” which are creepy no matter who is singing them (though the ridiculous Tom Jones/Cerys Matthews version is among the creepiest and most hilarious; he is the devil who has pointy white fingernails and she is literally in a cage at the beginning of the performance — he’s in the cage by the end). Bing Crosby says “Tell them to bring me an anvil” almost as an aside rather than directly to Rosemary Clooney, as if speaking to a third party. In this context, while the wolf in “Baby It’s Cold Outside” might be drugging the mouse, the aggressor in this arrangement of “On a Slow Boat to China,” if not a murderer, knocks out the object of his affection with an anvil, rendering her unconscious so he can get her on the boat in the first place, unlike the mouse in “Baby It’s Cold Outside” who, even if drugged or blackout drunk, is already at the wolf’s house by will.

And with each listen of “Baby It’s Cold Outside” this time of year, I shake my head and wonder exactly what happened in these fictional rape-y universes penned before my parents were born. I wasn’t there. I’ll never know for sure and neither will anyone else, except for Frank Loesser, who died over 45 years ago.

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* Welcome to The Big Jewel, a hearty advocate of staying in touch with one's high school English teacher, regardless of what hideous life-threatening disease he or she may or may not be suffering from. We think. Anyway, that's Tallulah Marzipan's take on it, and who are we to argue with her? She's a mean one!

A Letter To My High School English Teacher

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Dear Mrs. Riley,

I’m not sure if you are still teaching, and if not, what is occupying your time. I know you had cancer, which is quite time consuming and really sucks. As much as I hope you don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it, and I regret to bring it up at the risk of reminding you about what was (or still is) the worst thing that has ever happened to you, I can’t not ask about it since it’s a super major important thing, and so the really ridiculous result is that this e-mail now reads, “Hey person I haven’t spoken to in a year or two, I’m excited about achieving the first signs of success and wanted to share it with you, by the way how’s your cancer?” and that is way worse. I wish I could come up with something less lame to say than “it sucks,” as no doubt you have heard more profound descriptions of it, like “worst experience that could ever happen to a person” and “worse than getting fisted by someone holding a sea urchin covered in hydrochloric acid for the rest of your life,” which are all probably totally accurate and saying it “sucks” might downgrade it to phrasing you would use to describe a new Jennifer Aniston movie, but it really does suck a lot and I wouldn’t wish it on Hitler or that person on the subway sitting next to me who has a cold but won’t blow his nose and just keeps sniffing every five seconds for the entire train ride. Basically I hope the cancer business isn’t still happening. I know that with cancer it’s always still happening in the sense of “is it going to come back?” and it’s a fear that probably penetrates your day-to-day life and always will, but I hope that at least maybe it’s not ACTIVELY still happening. That is, I hope that you are only plagued with a crippling lifelong fear and not actual pain and awfulness. Isn’t it nice when you get an e-mail from someone you haven’t seen in a long time and they tell you they hope you are plagued with a crippling lifelong fear? I always look forward to those e-mails, too. You are very brave and I’m sorry that such a shitty thing happened to you, and is hopefully not still happening to you. I mean, I hope you are not dying anymore, or at least, that you are no longer dying at a really scary and painful accelerated pace, but rather are dying more slowly and at a relatively similar pace to everyone else.

Best,

Christina Bebeau

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* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where 'tis the season to worry about shopping. And nothing is more worrisome than shopping at Ikea, even if it isn't Christmas shopping.

Notes From Ikea

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April 14, 2012
It’s been more than two years now since I started working in Art Department in Film and TV and they started sending me to Ikea. I am the one who does the dirty work, the things nobody else wants to do. They can’t handle the long lines, the arguing couples, the ever-obvious decline of society, or they just can’t be bothered to drive to Red Hook. I know this store better than myself. I am alone in a wasteland of pseudo-Swedish-named reasonably-priced furniture. It’s the Old West out there, an unregulated battleground. There will be many casualties, but I will not be one of them. This is my turf.

May 2, 2012
The air is laced with laughing gas, as at the Key Food in Greenpoint. The weak fall. That pillow has a picture of a lady drinking out of a pineapple — isn’t that droll? No. I am here for two tall plants and two tall plants only.

June 20, 2012
The security guard remembers me. We embrace with our eyes as he marks my receipt with a Sharpie.

July 18, 2012
My boss eats a pack of Ikea cookies in line and then throws them away without paying for them, as always when she shops with me. She follows this immediately with a slice of elementary school-style pizza, then lifelong regret and self-loathing.

August 1, 2012
I was in and out of Ikea today in half an hour. My speed is rivaled only by my resistance to their demon meatballs. For every meatball I have eaten, I have killed a man.

September 22, 2012
Entered Ikea at 3:16. Entered the checkout line at 3:19. This must qualify me for the Ikea Olympics. Stockholm 2016! I shall decimate all opposition to my reign of death. Also, today is my birthday.

October 16, 2013
In a barren wasteland of apathy and hair weaves, Lerou shines as Ikea’s best employee. He has worked there for two days. He asked me if I needed any help, then proceeded to search for my items, take my cart to go get them while I continued to look for other items on the computer, refused to let me help him lift the items off the shelves and into my cart, and escorted me to the shortest checkout line. If you want to look for him next time you are there, he is tall and slim and was probably a hallucination. Last week I saw a plate of meatballs and a machete floating in the middle of the highway. I didn’t have time to eat them, however, because I needed to buy a few things at Ikea before they closed that evening.

November 30, 2012
Today was the third day out of four that I have spent in Ikea. I never want to hear the word “Melltorp” again. Where I once had dignity, I now have recycled blue bags.

December 8, 2012
I was too cheap to buy a menorah for Hanukkah last year but found some Ikea tea lights under my bed. Knowing Ikea quality, it will be a genuine Hanukkah miracle if they last one night, never mind all of them. I shall pick up a bag of frozen latkes tomorrow in Ikea’s frozen food section ($2.99).

December 23, 2012
It is nearly Christmas and I am, of course, at work, at Ikea. Merry Christmas, Ikea! I got you three full carts of returns on five separate receipts, return wait time an estimated 37 minutes. I’m sorry, I guess I got you that last year.

December 28, 2012
Tonight was my high school reunion. One classmate asked, “What do you do?” Four classmates replied in unison, “She goes to Ikea.” I shot them all, drove home, and warmed up a plate of frozen meatballs.

January 12, 2013
I was in the middle of a long return with my boss when a manager cut in and asked if someone with one item could go in front of us because of some error the store had made. Bored and desperate for human contact, I struck up a conversation with him.

Me: Hey man, why did you have to cut us? You’re making me late for lunch.

Guy: You just reminded me I haven’t had lunch yet. I’m hungry.

Me: I have some yogurt in the car. Do you want some of my yogurt?

Guy: How long has it been in your car?

Me: Two days.

February 10, 2013
I walked into Ikea today with two carts piled high with returns. A cashier shouted at me “No! Not you! Leave this place, you foul creature! Death is upon us!” I shrugged and took a number.

February 12, 2013
The cashier asked for my ID to process the return. I handed her my parole card. She needed a manager’s approval. I need approval from no one.

March 23, 2013
After a return, I got back money on a gift card. I walked up to the food court and found a woman with two small children. I asked her if she wanted my gift card. She said she couldn’t afford it. I said I wasn’t selling it. She asked how much money was on it. I checked the receipt. About $536, I said. I handed it to her and walked away. She can buy fifty Lack Tables or one sofa that won’t fit up her staircase.

April 15, 2013
Ikea Brooklyn, my usual Ikea, didn’t have the stove hood I needed for the set, so I headed to the Elizabeth Ikea. One day, two Ikeas. And let me tell you, for once in its existence, something in New Jersey is better than something in New York. There’s reasonable cell reception despite being in the middle of nowhere. There isn’t that godforsaken mysterious high-pitched beeping noise, which I can only assume is to deter dogs looking to buy low-quality furniture. At Ikea Elizabeth, the smell of pepperoni permeates the air. Music played instead of an endless loop of HGTV. The lines were short and they even had a self-checkout section. The cashiers were friendly, including in the returns section, and did not shout ominous threats at me like usual.

July 2, 2013
I was in and out of Ikea in less than two minutes today. I was the only person in the returns line. I know I will never have a greater day in my life than today, and so, after returning today’s purchase to my boss, I will shoot myself so that I might die happy.

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* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where we are ready at any time to tell you the time. We'll even do it in a way that's got a good beat and you can dance to it. And we owe it all to Tallulah Marzipan, whose first piece for us this is.

What Time Is It In Music?

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5:46 a.m.: Who the fuck would page Biggie Smalls at this hour?

7:00 a.m.: Seymour’s alarm goes off in Little Shop of Horrors, Incubus listens to the garbage truck beeping.

8:15 a.m.: Randy Bachman’s train departs for the city so he can take care of business.

9:00 a.m.: Dolly Parton starts work.

11:00 a.m.: Despite waking up four hours early, you would think Incubus would be out of bed by now.

12:00 p.m.: The Wonder Years wakes up and eats Sour Patch Watermelons.

12:30 p.m.: It is always this time according to the clock near where the Mamas and the Papas lived in New York City. Elsewhere, presumably on an island other than Manhattan, someone is pouring a Hurricane for Alan Jackson and Jimmy Buffett.

1:00 p.m.: Yo La Tengo is ready to begin.

2:30 p.m.: Leo Bloom, one of The Producers, wakes up.

3:00 p.m.: B.B. King and Eric Clapton have the blues.

3:56 p.m.: One of the Johns of They Might Be Giants meets a date at 5th Ave. and 22nd Street.

5:00 p.m.: Dolly Parton gets off work.

5:50 p.m.: The band begins playing at a show for the benefit of Mr. Kite.

6:00 p.m. This is TV Hour according to REM.

7:00 p.m. (possibly 8:00 p.m.): Will Smith arrives at his new home in Bel-Air.

8:00 p.m.: Lola and Tony start work at The Copacabana.

9:00 p.m. (Saturdays only): The regular crowd shuffles into the bar where Billy Joel plays.

9:30 p.m. (Tuesdays only): The dude from Barenaked Ladies drives downtown in the rain to look at records.

11:30 p.m.: The club is jumpin’ jumpin’. This is the ideal to leave your man at home or your girl with her friends.

11:59ish p.m.: Something evil is lurking in the dark under the moonlight…it’s the thriller!

12:00 a.m.: You can hear Mick Jagger scream at around this time. Meanwhile, Taylor Swift is eating breakfast while dressed like a hipster.

12:01 a.m. (and after): Patsy Cline goes out walking in the moonlight searching for you.

1:00 a.m. (approx.): Ice Cube wakes up some girl he had sex with and she tells him he’s the top gun.

2:00 a.m.: Ice Cube eats at Fatburger.

3:00 a.m.: B.B. King and/or Eric Clapton can’t sleep.

3:00 a.m. (Wednesdays only): Paul Simon thinks about how he’ll be leaving some girl’s bed soon.

3:01 a.m.: Henry Higgins’ servants comment that Eliza Doolittle should go to sleep.

3:35 or 3:36 a.m.: Robert Lamm is waiting for the break of day and searching for something to say in his song and also probably doing a lot of drugs.

4:00 a.m.: Elton John decides he is sleeping by himself tonight and not getting married. Lola and Tony get off work at the Copacabana.

5:00 a.m.: John Denver is sorry to be leaving you.

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