* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where we don't even know what a Herschel backpack is, but we know a funny piece of writing when we see it. Enjoy the latest from trend-keeper-upper-wither Charles Stayton.

A Herschel Backpack Changed My Life

By: Charles Stayton

I bought a Herschel backpack the other day and it changed my life. I was pretty sure that good things were going to happen (I’d been seeing the chambray-clad Herschel type crushing it in reclaimed wood coffee shops all over my television), but I had no idea how dramatic the change would be.

As soon as I put the backpack on, I got this feeling that I should go to my kitchen. Somehow my body (or the bag) took over and I was frothing milk on the stove and drawing a perfect portrait of Albert Camus in my coffee. I didn’t figure out who I had drawn until I posted a picture on Instagram and my followers shot up to 1.3 million, all gushing about what quickly became known as the “Cam-Moo.” Soon the “Whitney” people messaged me to offer an independent study based on my portrait.

Slightly confused about why Whitney Houston, or Whitney Houston’s people (is she still alive?) would be offering me an art gig, I happened to glance back over my shoulder. Something weird had happened in the kitchen. All the dishes were clean and back in the cabinets like I had never been there. My linoleum had turned to granite, my pantry had been replaced by cool industrial racks with glass containers, I counted six different varieties of kale chips, the wall was now exposed brick, and my coffeemaker had been replaced by something called a Chemex that I’d only ever seen dangling from the waist of a “drunken fist” character on Mortal Kombat. “Neat!” I thought.

I decided to go for a walk because a) I now had solid storage on my back in case I came across anything I wanted, and b) cool shit was happening to me in my apartment, so I could only imagine what would happen out in the world. Right outside my apartment, a hip group of ethnically ambiguous and ethnically diverse kids around my age waved me over to their stoop. It was the kind of group that normally would have intimidated me as a white kid with no friends, but I had my Herschel, so I went for it. Plus, I felt safe because a few of the girls were wearing those hats that look like Kung Lao’s from Mortal Kombat. Only theirs were semi-floppy and sweet-looking, like Kung Lao’s hat took a few Valium and a juice cleanse.

They invited me to join, so I sat down on the lowest step. For the next hour or so, we didn’t really talk, but we sure did laugh and point a lot. I had this one hilarious gesture where I would point at my boy with one hand, while touching my chest with the other — like one hand was Southern and kept saying, “Oh goodness, me” and the other (the pointing one) was like, “You know you’re my boy.” I think it was the juxtaposition that got them. We also laughed just because the McDonald’s sandwiches we were eating were really delicious and they made us so happy.

At some point a brand new Subaru Forester power slid to a halt in the street in front of us, causing a pile of fall leaves to cascade up through the dusk sunlight and trickle down in slow motion. I knew I was supposed to get in, and also that I wasn’t supposed to worry about my McDonald’s trash (“Herschel people don’t produce waste,” the bag whispered to me). My new friends followed with accessories that materialized for our journey through the empty city streets.

My man Long Shirt/Little Glasses had a ukulele; Jordans/Mumu tossed a surfboard up on the roof rack; the Sensible Tats Twins threw a few $10,000 fixed gear bikes on the back; and Beardie hooked up a parasail to the bumper and slapped the hatchback like it was a stallion. As we rode off toward a well-lived life full of EXPERIENCES, Beardie guffawing away above us, I thought to myself, “Don’t you even start to question this. You deserve to be happy. You had the good taste to pick that backpack after all.”

I am happy to say that I took my advice and haven’t looked back. My little troop from the stoop is still together. We’re on break from our group teaching post at Swarthmore where we guide pop-up, experiential learning experiences where students experience different learning material – like really experience and learn. The emphasis is definitely on experience, but there is plenty of learning that happens as well. Usually the learning happens much later on after students have more life experience and can look back on the learning experience and say: “Huh! That’s what I learned. Neat!”

I have also pitched a class for the fall on gender performance in Mortal Kombat. That will mostly be experiential as well.

* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where inner peace sometimes looks more like the outer reaches of madness. Just ask our good friend Eric Farwell.

We Need Your Help Paying For Our Festival’s Mandala

By: Eric Farwell

Welcome to SirenSong, the premiere French Canadian yoga festival for people from New York! Here, you’ll enjoy lectures on the meditative quality of white noise, the healing properties of bird feathers, our giant mandala, and the best bulletproof restaurants in Brooklyn. Take in workshops on how to paint your own mandala, how to stay mindful at your advertising or creative merchandising job, how to paint someone else’s mandala, how to avoid falling for your reiki practitioner in Queens (long distance rarely works), and what medical treatment to seek in the event of a “mandala-related dispute.”

Have we mentioned our mandala? Situated on the lush cobblestones of the main walking area, and made from the most humanely-treated dandelions and violets, it’s a rather lovely grouping of things you could literally pick up off the ground. Truth be told, dear visitor, we kind of blew our budget on it and really need you to help us break even.

How can you assist us, blessed selves? Why, you could sign up for one of our foraging classes, with tiered pricing so affordable, you’ll be saying “Om”! For a humble hundred dollars, our master mandala maker, Griffin, will let the men trek off in search of wi-fi while holding the women back to explain what mandalas are. For a casual two hundred bucks, Griffin promises not to try and ply you with dandelion wine and invite you to an EDM showcase at his sister’s apartment. For a throwaway three hundred, he won’t DM you on Instagram or CouchSurfers with some weird sex quote from Rumi. No matter the price you choose, rest assured you’ll walk away with a bunch of sticks and leaves that represent your inner self, or something like potpourri.

If casual mansplaining or smug entitlement isn’t your thing, wandering spirits, we invite you to be a Chakra Speaker, and lead others wondering if their pr jobs are crushing their dreams to beauty. What is a Chakra Speaker, you ask? Let’s start with what it isn’t: a callow, desperate attempt to make up for the money we lost investing in someone who coined the phrase “up in dem ayewhaska guts.” Simply put, in exchange for a hundred dollars and three hours of your time, all Chakra Speakers will be comped a free meal at our Clean Barbecue. All one has to do is loudly discuss how beautiful the mandala is, and how much you love your job and the perks (mention the meal comp, not the hundred dollar down payment). You’re encouraged to say things like, “Wow, this is one quality mandala,” and, “With a mandala like this, you just know this festival was a great idea, and definitely isn’t in financial trouble!”

We understand that none of these options might work for you, silver unicorns. Perhaps you’d rather be at our roundtable, discussing the merits of the hemp milk at the Spanish grocery in Alphabet City, and comparing the sourness to that of the hemp milk at the bodega in Park Slope (you know the one). If that’s the case, we invite you to simply throw money into the mandala. Now, understand, we would never ask you to just toss money into some nature vomit so that we can explain to our parents that it was not a mistake to drop out of law school and mount this festival. However, if you felt that your spirit was in harmony with the universe, and you felt compelled to leave an offering of gratitude in the form of bills, one of our employees would sweep your gift into our nondescript donations box.

This is a big thing we’re asking you, reiki warriors, but after watching our financial advisor look over our spending in horror and saying “oh boy” in an exasperated, nasal voice, we’ve come to see it as necessary. If it helps to look at it from a different angle, assisting us will give you humblebragging rights at your next vegan potluck, doula workshop, or ungendered amateur tattoo party. If you missed out on donating to the McSweeney’s kickstarter in 2015, or failed to help that one kid make potato salad, this can be your chance to have a cool talking point on your next Bumble date at The Blind Tiger. All we’re saying is that we’d appreciate the help of yourself, a rich spouse, or any dad, uncle, or grandfather that owns a yacht. Who knows, if we make enough money this weekend, maybe we can get an even larger mandala next year 😉


Callie and Marshall/The SirenSong Team


* Welcome to The Big Jewel, a site so warm and comfortable it will put you to sleep instantly! But when you awaken it will be from this nightmare brought to you by our good friend Luke Roloff.

Does My Tempur-Pedic Bed Know Too Much?

By: Luke Roloff

My Tempur-Pedic bed knows every single inch of my body. From the small of my back to the girth of my buns. My upper traps. My inner thighs. Even my inner thoughts.

And boy, did I used to have a tough time sleeping. I’d wake up for work feeling all groggy — now I don’t wake up for work at all. This bed has changed my life. I’m so happy!

Soon as my head hits the pillow, my stress and ability to perceive reality just shed away!

This euphoric cradle is so intuitive, it knows the curvature of my spine like the arc of my depression. When I toss and turn and weep, it rebounds like only cellular-engineered sleeping equipment can. I wake up so refreshed I feel like leaving the house for the first time in three months!

I can’t begin to tell you how much I love this bed, because it’s been over a year since I’ve spoken to another human being, leaving me speechless when I come into contact with one. That’s probably when you know you’ve selected the right bed for your unique sleep habits — when nothing gets between you and your remote control adjustable base or the notion that you no longer have a need for the outside world.

This bed knows me so well it molds to my body like the mold growing around my headboard. No one knows me like this omniscient rectangle. Certainly not the homeless people I invited in after I lost my family. Those hobos will never comprehend the way I sleep on my stomach or why I’ve let my townhouse become a breeding ground for vampires.

It stimulates my reticular activating system for achieving the deep, deep sleep that’s so deep I experience night terrors in which I don’t know if I’m awake or asleep. Which is really the only way to elicit the supine position I need to snooze through the noise of the wildlife nesting in my kitchen.

It’s hard to fathom that I ever slept a wink without a symmetrical posturing mattress or a moat of lit candles keeping the ghost of El Diablo at bay.

Best of all, I’ve noticed a dramatic improvement in my posture and archery skills. Fending off the crusade of Medusa and her coterie of serpents has become a breeze!

It’s like this bed hugs me. And cuddles with me, too. Basically it strokes my hair and says it’ll be okay when the monsters come. I know how I must sound. I’m only whispering so I don’t wake them.

Some people say I don’t know what I’m talking about. That the elaborate fire dancing and ceremonial offerings are “inhumane.” The envious ones say that. The police. They don’t have a clue. They can’t get it through their thick skulls how crucial a well-rested lifestyle is for your health.

The moment I decided against my will to try the Tempur-Pedic padded white walls, that’s when it finally hit me — I’m Hypnos, the royal guardian of celestial slumber, sent to slay insomnia and shield the somnolent whom dwell in kingdoms near and far!

Yet to this day, when I melt into the proprietary spring-coil padding and my own empty toil, I can’t help but feel the flawless suspension and a sinking suspicion that maybe this clairvoyant comfort has gone too far. Perhaps I’ve flirted with too much mattress ingenuity? Am I in over my head, too far under the sheets or possibly behind on my payments?

Back and forth I sway in this emotional tug-o-war, rocking side to side in pure comfort.

* Welcome to The Big Jewel, which is dedicated to the proposition that there is a sucker born every minute. And who was born one minute ago? Our good friend Matthew David Brozik. When you finish reading his latest bit of hilarity, click on the link below, or on the one in our blog roll, to buy a copy of his hard-boiled noir parody, "Danger With a Hard G."

Thanks To Predatory Tactics, Some Legal Malpractice, And Mild Dyslexia, I Am Now A Franchisee Of 1-800-FOWLERS

By: Matthew David Brozik

Not very long ago, I was underemployed and considering starting my own business. It was around then that I went out for an afternoon walk and ended up at a “franchise fair” being held in a convention center in my town. Fate brought me here, I figured. Maybe it’s my destiny to be a franchisee. And it does seem like every other business in the central business district of this town is a franchise, and they’re all still in business, unlike the mom & pop shops, which just can’t seem to compete in the new capitalist marketplace, I thought, already imagining myself at the helm of a local Subway, H&R Block, or Pittsburgh Pirates.

As if guided by a higher power, I gravitated toward a booth where I was greeted at once by both the friendliest man I’ve ever met and the most impressive floral creation. He was tall, lean, and sincere; it was white, soft, and the perfect semblance of a chicken. Even while the man was asking me questions about my education, financial liquidity, and threshold for risk absent any guarantee of success, most of my attention was being held by the magnificent “creature” on the folding table between us. “Carnations?” I asked the other man. “Cornish cross,” he corrected me. Clearly there was much I didn’t know about flower arranging, but I was eager to learn. “Made by hand?” I asked. “The hand of God, I suppose,” he said. Indeed! The craftsmanship was awe-inspiring, the attention to detail divine.

Now, I’m not too much of a man to admit that I find flowers as attractive as the next man who finds flowers attractive. And I’m not too proud to admit that I prefer making money to not making any. That night, still marveling at my memory of the flower “bird,” I fell asleep surrounded by the mandatory disclosure documents I’d brought into bed with me. I dreamt of inventing and selling at a great markup my own floral arrangements that looked like animals: dogs, cats, bears, bees, and maybe even a pig or a dragon. I’d have to hire someone who actually knew how to make those things, but I knew that those people were out there.

My stepbrother is a lawyer, so I asked him to look over the contract. We don’t really get along much of the time, owing to an unresolved childhood feud over a rare, anatomically explicit “Buck Rogers” Col. Wilma Deering action figure, but Charlie agreed to give me an hour’s worth of free document review. By the end of the week, I had the paperwork back with “Sign Here” tape flags on every third page. When I’d finished putting my autograph everywhere I had to ice my wrist. I also had to get a cashier’s check for upward of $30,000, but I had that, and more, since I’d sold certain action figures I’d been quietly holding on to for decades. I sent the contract and the check off to corporate headquarters in East Lansing, Michigan — certified mail, return receipt requested.

Even before the return receipt came back to me, my check was cashed and I got my first shipment of wholesale merchandise. It was delivered to my home, being that I hadn’t yet found a storefront to lease, but I accepted the crate and opened it enthusiastically. When I saw the contents, I got the feeling that maybe mistakes had been made. There were no flowers in the box. Not even plants that might produce flowers. No vases, either. What I found instead were cheap plastic duck decoys, cheap wooden duck calls, cheap camouflage pants, and shotgun shells of various calibers, all of which I believe I am now expected to sell, presumably to others who live in my town, which is at least 300 miles from the nearest body of water where one might find the sort of birds — fowl, I guess you’d call them — that you hunt, trap, or shoot. If that’s the sort of thing that you do. It is not the sort of thing that I do, or that I know anything about, unfortunately.

I’ve asked Charlie if there’s any way I can get out of the contract, but his hourly rate is pretty steep and I’m not entirely sure I can trust him, anyway. Really, I’m not sure I trust anybody anymore. Not even that carnation chicken. Come to think of it, he did try to peck me. More than once.