* Welcome to The Big Jewel, the literary humor destination of choice for those who adore and those who deplore carnies. Which of those is Jason Rhode? Only you can decide.

From The Collected Edition Of The Carnie Letters — Vol IX: The Carnitelligentsia Strike Back

By: Jason Rhode

Burke’s Guide the Peerage:


The proper address to give to a carnie in polite society is not “Hey Rube.” “Mr. or Mrs.” will be fine; however, as carnival folk attempt to uphold the medieval guild system in all matters of social intercourse, the preferred title to a full member is “Master _____ of (Ride Name).” Quelle atroce invention que celle du bourgeois, n’est-ce pas?


Ol’ Blasphemin’ Joe


An Open Letter The New York Times:

We, the Carnies of America, wish to state publicly our dismay with your paper’s heartless and mean-spirited hucksterism in publishing a sensational expose — it has not a soupçon of truth to it. Also, glowy swords for the kids are $10 dollars by the funhouse gate this Tuesday.


Doctor Shudders


To the editors of The Atlantic, and James Fallows in particular:

As a carnie, I am licensed, and, quite frankly, expected to leer, and occasionally spit. Perhaps if you chain-smoked your nights away next to the nerve-destroying Tilt-A-Whirl, you’d develop what your reporter described only partially unfairly as a “nightmarish, phlegmy cackle echoing from the bowels of Hell with its chorus.” Purple prose aside, this was an unfair dig.

A carnie is not a Bernini or society belle; we will not simply stare and remain in silence forever, but must return sallies (but no refunds). We do not stomp to death those poor souls who have already shuffled off from this mortal coil of tears; we stomp those kindred spirits who can fight back. To be called a commensurate liar by the Atlantic is like being called accident-prone by Red “Fire Trap” Willie. And unlike the Atlantic and its neo-con pals, carnival folk have not helped start a war since the late Russo-Japanese unpleasantness.

Let your readers know this: carnival folk are god-fearing folk, just not yore god.


Big Sizzlin’ Mike


To Harper’s Weekly:

No, Madam, I assure you, Carnie Lent IS a holiday, let’s make no bones about it. It most certainly is not “a tax dodge for a gilded bracket of bovine loafers and maladjusted tricksters” (what then is journalism, one might ask?) nor is it “a postmodern reflection of American society’s blue-collar woes.” The Big Wheel took one of my fingers. Let me give you one more finger, if you know what I mean. I trust you will discover my meaning.


Sherry by the Dockhouse


To the Editors of The New York Review of Books:

Alas! My disappointment in you, combined with a recent detainment in an Alabama hoosegow, have made me a martyr in more ways than one. Is American scholarship now as compromised as the ancient canons of the backlot bottle-fight? It would seem so. You are entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts. I wonder what you mean when you cite Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase & Fable, c. 1898: “Car’ney: To wheedle, to keep caressing.”

Did you not look at the following entry in Brewer’s, which reads, “CARNIVAL: the season immediately preceding Lent; shrove-tide. Ducange gives the word carne-levale. (Modern Italian, carnovále; Spanish and French, carnaval.)”

That is the source of our name, not some spurious provenance drummed up by an author who, I doubt, has ever knocked down the milk bottle, or bested a dog in a fight for the very last clean steak.

Yours in Christ,

Stinks McArdle


To Nature:

To whom it may concern,

Jared Diamond has erred greatly. His analysis of our ills is, at best, creative. As far as our death rate goes, stabbing greatly exceeds rickets, although not by much (Please see Brussels: Academie Royale des Sciences des Lettres et des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, 1952, Vol. 2, pp. 38-56).

What Diamond calls “an unusual form of epilepsy” and we call “the hollers” was more common in the last century, especially in the fin de siecle years before the “State Fair Purges” of 1913.

The “hollers” were due less to what Diamond euphemistically calls “cousining” and more attributable, I think, to the carnie diet of the time, which included voles, mice, squirrels, chipmunks, shrews, dogs, cats, little brown bats, mouse, vole, rabbit, coyote, fox, muskrat, rat, woodchuck, wolf, bear, weasel, “the furry lizard,” various domestic animals, and drifters (rarely).

Also, our ticks are Ixodes angustus, not Ixodes scapularis. A common, but careless, error. Diamond makes a good case for Rhipicephalus sanguineus as the species behind “the carnie’s curse” — so what? A blind pig can find an acorn — although he cannot, apparently, find a revolver on command.

I assure you there is empirical truth behind both of these sayings.

Regrettably yours,

Barry “Bigcoat” Fitzpatrick






* Welcome to The Big Jewel. If you know the novel The Comforters by Muriel Spark, or The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold by Evelyn Waugh -- or for that matter the Will Ferrell film Stranger Than Fiction -- then the premise of this piece will seem slightly less strange than fiction. Whatever you make of it, we think Jack Peacock deserves a round of applause for managing to be both creepy and clever.

The Narrator

By: Jack Peacock

Sarah slipped off her dressing gown and stepped into the bath. She slid down, immersing herself in the warm soapy water. Just then her eyes widened and darted around the room. She jumped up and grabbed her dressing gown, threw it over herself and held it tight shut.

“What was that? I’m not hearing things, am I?” she said, almost in a whisper.

She opened the bathroom door and checked around the hall outside, but all was empty.

“Is someone there?” she said.

“Who is that? Show yourself!” she said, “I KEEP HEARING ‘SHE SAID’ AFTER EVERYTHING I SAY,” she yelled down the dark hallway…Oh, you can hear me?

“Yes, I can bloody well hear you! I’m going to call the police! Where are you? Have you planted some camera in my house?”

Erm…no. I’m the narrator of the story.

“The narrator? The story? What the hell! Get out of my house! How can you see me? Where are you?”

Erm…I don’t actually know. I’m watching from a sound booth reading from a script. I think you’re supposed to have a glass of wine and read a book after the bath.

“Don’t tell me what I should be doing. This is completely insane. Where did I put my phone?”

Ah, I can help you there. It says here that you frantically search the house like a demented foxhound before finding the phone on the kitchen table. The place where you first looked, obviously.

Sarah walked across the hallway towards the kitchen, all the time scanning the room for signs of a…

“I don’t need a running commentary on my actions!”


“Said the pervert of a narrator.”

Well if you are going to be like that, then fine. I will stay quiet. We could have made a good team as well. Now you will have to go and find out that your husband is having an affair with his secretary on your own.

“Ah, my phone is here…Damn, the battery’s gone. I’m going to my neighbor’s. She has a gun, you know. This is just too creepy and…Wait a minute, what was that you said about my husband?”

Oh, so you want my help now?

“Just tell me what that ‘script’ says and maybe I won’t report you to the police!”

Hey look, I’m just doing my job. I’ve got a wife and two kids at home to support.


OK, OK, calm yourself…erm…Let’s see…she yelled at the top of her shrill voice (that’s already done), drank half a bottle of wine (far, far less than usual), read a cheap supermarket novel, and…Ah! Here it is. She found her husband’s mobile phone, which he’d left in his coat pocket, and used it to make a call.

In the process of making the call you should find a message about tonight’s “meeting.”

As Sarah fumbled through her husband’s coat pockets, she could be heard tutting at the phrase ‘shrill voice’ and mumbling that she doesn’t drink that much, and that one glass a day is her absolute limit. Of course, anyone could see that that was clearly nonsense. She had already drunk two glasses over lunch that day, and a casual glance could reveal at least a dozen empty wine bottles lying scattered about the…

“ENOUGH ALREADY! I’m sure if you had a lying, cheating, waste of space for a husband like I do, you would be drinking more! Ah, here’s his phone! Now let’s see what messages…A pass code! He’s obviously trying to hide something.”

The rage on Sarah’s face was now so intense that she could scare away a ravenous tiger. She began trying different number combinations on the phone. She started trying memorable dates, and years — birthdays, anniversaries… — but found nothing that unlocked the phone. It never occurred to her that in his laziness, her husband had never intended to secure his phone with a code, and had simply never bothered to change the default “1111” that locked the SIM card.

“Thank you very much!”

You are very welco…Oh damn, you weren’t supposed to hear that. Well, that ruins three pages of script. And it’s good script too. I would like to have seen you smash that mirror with the phone, and seeing you slip on the wet floor would probably have been hilarious.

“So he’s at her house, is he? Well I know the address! I think I might just pay them a surprise visit.”

As Sarah paced the room, fumbling with her husband’s phone, a thought suddenly popped into her head.

“Wait a minute, you mentioned earlier that I had two glasses of wine over lunch. How do you know that? How long have you been watching me?”

I err…I can’t remember…I…

“And how far ahead is this ‘scripted?’ If I go to this woman’s address, what will happen?”

I err…my script doesn’t go that far. The writers must still be working on it.

“The writers? When I get back from killing my husband I’m going to have a few words with your writers. I won’t have my life scripted like this. I mean: ‘demented foxhound?’ ‘Ravenous tiger?’ Honestly, where do they get this rubbish?”

Sarah flung open her wardrobe and threw on the first set of clothes she laid her hands on. She marched down the hallway to the front door, her footsteps resonating sharply around the house. Her eyes were fixated on her husband’s mobile phone as she marched to her car. She did not look up, and so walked straight into her waste bins outside. The sound of empty wine bottles crashing together could be heard halfway down the stre…

“I CAN STILL HEAR YOU!” came a shrill voice from outside the front door.


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

The Double Helix, Hardboiled

By: Michael Fowler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Was that–?” I began.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where we don't know much about history, but we know what we like. We like funny pieces by Jon Sindell.

Historical Outtakes

By: Jon Sindell

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to miss the jokes. ~ George Santayana

You et too, Brute? So what’s with the steak knife? ~ Julius Caesar

Give me liberty, or give me a favorable capital gains tax rate. ~ Patrick Henry

Seven-and-one-quarter-dozen years ago, our Fathers brought forth a new nation conceived in liberty and stuff — here! Right here, on this very continent! ~ Abraham Lincoln

You can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but you can’t fool — wait, it’s America in 2016? Never mind. ~ Abraham Lincoln

“A house divided against itself” is my second favorite koan, right after “The sound of one hand clapping.” ~ Abraham Lincoln

A Spectre is haunting Europe, but fear not — that dashing British chap, Bond, is on it. ~ Karl Marx

Religion is the opium of the masses, whereas the Gothic novel is the sedative of the elite. ~ Karl Marx

Buena suerte, Zapata. ~ Zapatistas

Those who cannot remember the password are condemned to retrieve it from a drawer full of clutter. ~ George Santayana

We have nothing to fear but a continued erosion of public confidence in the banking system, labor-management violence, class warfare, widespread hunger due to unwise soil management practices, race riots in our cities, a Bolshevik style revolution as in Russia, or the rise of fascism as in Germany and Italy. And fear itself, duh. ~ Franklin D. Roosevelt

I return from Germany bringing peace for hours at a time. ~ Neville Chamberlain

I have nothing to offer in the way of pecuniary contributions to the war effort due to a temporary illiquidity of assets resulting from wartime conditions, but I’ll gladly contribute all of the blood, toil, tears and sweat I can. ~ Winston Churchill

Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, roughly four-fifths of the way to the end of the beginning, more or less. ~ Winston Churchill

Never have so many owed so much to so few as a result of the rapacious Labour Party’s confiscatory tax policies ~ Winston Churchill

BRB ~ General Douglas MacArthur

An iron curtain has descended across the continent, calling Slavic taste in design squarely into question. ~ Winston Churchill

We must never negotiate out of fear, but we must never fear to negotiate out of doors in good weather. ~ John Fitzgerald Kennedy

¿Es posible, no? ~ United Farm Workers

Those who cannot remember the past are likely products of the American educational system. ~ George Santayana

“I have a dream that one day all of God’s children — and, yes, of course, all children of atheists — and children who are atheists themselves — a dream that all of God’s children — and all atheist children — and, of course, all children of any sexual orientation whatsoever, including ones I haven’t heard of yet…and, naturally, all differently abled children…and all abled children, to be sure — Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, black men and white men — and, yes, absolutely, black women and white women too — and red men and women, and brown men and women, and yellow men and women — I have a dream that all of God’s children — and all atheist children, and all… ~ Martin Luther King

Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall and plant a rose garden. Yes, of course red. A water feature and statuary would be nice too. ~ Ronald Reagan

Those who cannot remember the past are the majority of modern voters. And I’m pissed. ~ George Santayana


* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where we like to celebrate all of life's little accomplishments. Or even the ones that aren't so little. Give a big fat round of applause to Luke Roloff, here with his first piece for us.

My Little Fat Has Grown Up So Fast!

By: Luke Roloff

Seems like only yesterday my baby fat was born. Good god, how calories fly! It’s funny, my willpower and I had talked about having fat for some time. But we kept putting it off, putting it off, putting it off. Until one day, my willpower says to me, “Screw it. Let’s do this.” I can’t tell you how exciting it was! Yes I can. It was like a bloomin’ onion thrill-ride! The miracle of human fat hits you and your midsection like a ton of snack-sized Snickers! I mean, when you bring new life into your torso area, you can’t help but look down at your fat and think — I made this…it’s a part of me!

I still remember when we brought it home from the Chinese buffet that first night. I was full of joy and MSG, just cradling my newborn flab. And now, gee whiz. It’s like I turn my belly for one second, and my fat has grown up faster than America’s serving size! It wasn’t by accident, though. Haha! No, sir. I put a lot into it. Raising your own flesh and blood is not a job to take lightly. You have to nurture it. Constantly watch it. Sometimes hide it. I don’t want to take all the credit, but I’m absolutely going to — because I’m the sole reason my corpulent offspring has grown so rotund. Some like to call it genetic disposition. I call it “you better finish that.”

Ever since the birth of my fat, it’s been all about fostering growth. Some people don’t know this, but my little butterball was actually shy at first. In hindsight (and hind leg), all it needed was a morsel of momentum. Once my chicken fat spread its buffalo wings — hot dog, it soared to new rolls! Now, the older I get, the more it comes out of its shell and my shirts. I may have a slowing metabolism, but keeping up with fast food is a piece of cake!

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been pretty strict on my fat. No excess cardio of any kind. We lay off the fresh fruits and veggies. We set limits on lean meats. We don’t get carried away with water drinking. We establish barriers to prevent self-control. And we gave up moderation altogether. But know this: on special occasions, and holidays, and many of the normal days also, we eat like kings — ravenous, gluttonous kings.

Not to get all preachy on you, but it’s imperative in the development stage to let your fat be itself. Call it what you want – chubby, pudgy, tubby, chunky, husky — but you must give it ample space to be its fatso self. Or in other words, the autonomy to pig-out. It’s also critical that your fat is constantly stimulated. In order to mature, it needs those late night pasta feeds with endless breadsticks that truly never end.

Remember, fat simply craves your attention and replenishing omega-3 fatty acids. If you want to see your fat flourish, treat it with respect and high-fructose goodies. And if you really want to cultivate new blubber, role model how to persevere. My little bugger’s biggest achievements have come on account of not giving up. We always say, you’re never full unless it’s of excuses! And, no carb unturned! We say that, too.

The day my bulge really rounded the corner, I mean noticeably so, with a sweatshirt on even, was when we stopped keeping track. When we quit consuming “nutritious” food. It’s this world of “take care of yourself” and “live longer.” What. Ever. I say enough is enough (except in the case of food portions)! I say, fat is the future! Am I worried about my diabetes? A little. Am I going to do anything about it? Fat chance!

Having fat is simply breathtaking. You feel it in your gut. That it’s there, sticking out. I wouldn’t know what to do without my flaccid paunch. Like, what would I be doing right now? Would I not be polishing off a medium-sized bag of Doritos that I had no intention of opening? Would I not feel constantly fatigued and short of breath? I’ll never know. But neither will the people who don’t have fat in their life. My advice to someone without fat? Maybe it’s time you start investing in something bigger than yourself.