* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where we're not sure whether Sam the Sham actually was a Sham. We're pretty certain his Pharaohs were not really Pharaohs. Wooly Bully is even more of a mystery, but now, thanks to his good friend (and ours) Michael Fowler, the truth can be revealed. After you've perused this week's bit, please click on the link below to buy Mr. Fowler's humor collection, "Nathaniel Hawthorne Is Dating My Girlfriend."

My Friend Wooly Bully

By: Michael Fowler

Wooly Bully always had a thing for rock music.

“Have you read Carly Simon’s book?” he asked me. We were sitting inside his shed in the northern wild. We felt like a couple of critters. He had just said dark, unforgivable things about my family, and I had just said dark, unforgiveable things about his. Then we cracked some beers and dropped it. His next words astounded me. “She made it with Paul Samwell-Smith, a Yardbird.”

Looking mystified as he spoke, Wooly struck himself in the forehead with a cloven hand. It was sort of like a hoof only well-manicured — he could play guitar with those hands, but only three chords. The sudden movement dislodged the buzzing flies that always covered his face. The buzzing beard took off, briefly circled his jaw, then landed once more.

“I mean, if you’re going to make it with a Yardbird back in the mid-sixties, why would you choose Samwell-Smith, the gawkiest, nerdiest musician on the scene?” he said. “There were certainly better-looking Yardbirds, if that was your band. Singer Keith Relf was described by female fans as beautiful, and Jeff Beck the guitarist was certainly handsome. So here we have Carly-soon-to-be-‘You’re So Vain’ Simon, who presumably will hook up with Mick Jagger in the near future, screwing a guy who looks like a stick bug in mod clothing. I mean, it’s like finding out that Barbra Streisand did it with Weird Al, or that Diana Ross boned Flavor Flav.”

“I don’t know,” I said. “Samwell-Smith had something going for him. Maybe a heart full of soul.”

I met Wooly Bully working for the highway department. I painted lane lines and he marked engine brake hills. What those were, he explained to me, were the inclines semis drove up when their brakes failed, narrow lanes of soil and rocks, slanted up at 45 degrees to the road or steeper, and long enough to stop an out of control four-ton semi without seriously injuring the driver or destroying the truck.

Or that was the theory. The lanes were never tested, and Wooly said that any truck taking one at 50 mph or higher would need a complete overhaul afterward, and the driver would be lucky to survive. He tried one once in his own ramshackle pickup, putting a horn through the windshield and knocking himself out. He considered himself lucky.

I thought he was lucky too. Here was a guy who was part elk, part bison and part human, and he had a job working outdoors. But he was always broke. Every time he exhaled he asked for twenty dollars. “Look,” I said. “I’m an ugly guy. You’re an ugly guy. You must know a couple of ugly girls we could meet tonight.”

We took a girl Hattie he met in a cranberry bog and her friend Mattie to a town festival a few miles downhill from Wooly’s shed. Sam the Sham was playing his hit song, and Wooly wanted to see that, due to his influence on the music. We took Wooly’s pickup that he had overhauled after the brake test I mentioned. It was run-down but loud and powerful.

“Don’t you think I should have some rights in that song?” he asked us all. “Don’t you think Sam legally owes me a bundle?”

“Not sure,” I said. “You a citizen?”

Wooly told us a funny story. It was funny because he said it was. A year ago, Wooly had his own musical group, that he refused to name. I don’t mean the band had no name — I mean he wouldn’t tell us what it was.

Wooly said that in another town he and his unnamed band had opened for a band from England called the Tarytons. This was a one-hit-wonder band, and their hit, called “At Some Time, in Some Place, What Does It Matter?” didn’t even sell all that well. Wooly and his band decided as a joke to play that song in their own set, to see the reaction of the Tarytons.

Well, the Tarytons didn’t like that one bit. They stormed into the tent where the bands waited to go on and confronted Wooly and his boys, absolutely livid. Wooly laughed in their faces and couldn’t stop. He said he imagined that the Tarytons were the Beatles, and wondered how the Beatles would react if his group had played “I Want to Hold Your Hand” before the Fab Four took the stage.

“I decided,” he said, “that Lennon probably would be pissed, but that Ringo and maybe George would laugh their asses off. And I couldn’t help laughing myself.”

I laughed at that, though Hattie and Mattie seemed unamused.

“I wish I still had that band,” he went on. “We’d play my song before Sam came out. Wouldn’t that be great?”

“Why?” asked Hattie. “What would be the point?”

“The point is,” said Wooly, “Sam owes me about a million bucks in royalties or something.”

“How do you figure?” said Hattie. “You didn’t write the song, did you?”

“For inspiration,” he said. “I should be paid for inspiring people. I may have inspired Dylan. I went to a lot of his shows and I’m pretty sure he saw me. I may have inspired ‘Desolation Row.'”

“You never inspired anybody, Bullwinkle,” said Hattie.

After the festival, we four drove through town at night. We cruised down residential lanes until we found a house with a big picture window and a big TV on behind it. We parked there and watched TV while we made out with the girls.

Wooly kept trying to persuade Hattie to go knock on the door and tell them to turn up the sound since we couldn’t hear anything, but she refused. “Why don’t we just ask them if we can come inside and watch TV with them?” she said. “I’m sure they’d be overjoyed to have a talking moose and his friends inside their house.” We later broke up with Hattie and Mattie because they couldn’t discuss Frank Zappa intelligently.

In the winter, Wooly, clad only in an orange vest, took to the northern forests on hoof, surviving by raiding chicken coops and stealing cooling pies off windowsills. When close to starvation, he stood in line for samples at Costco and attended wedding cake tastings.

When he returned to the shed, where I was still living while I figured out what to do with myself now that I’d reached a dead end with lane painting, he was often accompanied by a wild animal he had courted and married. Once it was a reindeer with STDs, and once a sow with a sordid past. Having to share our shed with these females gave me a strong push to move on.

Wooly finally scored a job as a roadie with the Derek Trucks Band, a job I had declined and passed on to him due to a weak back. By then Sam the Sham was ancient history and their songs didn’t appear on Trucks’s set list.

I said goodbye to Wooly in his truck as he dropped me off at semi road school. I was going to be a driver now, and told Wooly that I hoped his engine brake hills were clearly marked. His last words to me were “Let’s not be L-seven.” I never did know what that meant.


* Welcome to The Big Jewel, which maintains a certain fond regard for its hometown, Chicago. Once known as the "City of the Big Shoulders" (in the Carl Sandburg poem that has absolutely no relation to this piece, in a pig's eye), after Brennan Thomas gets through with it they'll call it the "City of the Big Complainers." You tell it, Brennan! As someone once said, you only hurt the city you love.

Not Carl Sandburg’s “Chicago”

By: Brennan Thomas

Chicago?  Yeah, I’ve been through

there once, for a week or so.




Never have I been in a city that seemed to dislike me — unwary passer-through —




Despised fly.




was enough.




I smell dirt and city sidewalk salt on the hands of pan-handlers.

I smell carts of hotdogs that will never feel ketchup in their short hotdog stand lives.


I want a hotdog so badly, every day of five I am here, done my way.

Funny how a place makes you crave things you know aren’t there and can’t get.

I want onions and ketchup on my dog,

and mustard and ketchup and sauerkraut.

(Why are you putting lettuce on my hotdog?)

I want a plain bun

(flicking the sesame seeds off my bun)


and ketchup


(No, but, please don’t drag my dog through the garden, good people of Chicago.)


I can’t find ketchup in this city.

If I ask for it, the city hates me more.


We don’t like each other, the Big City and me.


When Dull Ohio Kid asks for directions — “Excuse me, ma’am.  Can you tell me how to get to the

Sears Tower?” — the City becomes infuriated.

El trains pause in incredulity, skyscrapers bend and arch like the furrowed brows of reproachful schoolmarms.


“This city is a GRID!” it bellows through traffic steam and ferry fog.

“And on the grid, you can find…



I am a dull Ohio mouse.

(I think I’ve just stumbled on the grid’s Lost-and-Found.)


I’d just like to find my way back to the nearest el.

But I can’t hail taxis in this city.

I step out into the street,

hand up,

fingers snap — “Ho!” — reflexive point,


point, nod,

point again.

Exactly as my Queens-born father taught me.


I am looking for the human understanding between cab driver and would-be passenger.


No spark — no semblance of recognition, consciousness.


Try harder.


Higher hand.  Quicker snap.  “HO!”

Driving fast.  Faster.


Past.  Yep.  Gone.

“Wait!  Stop!  Taxi?  TAXI!”




I must give off the aura of small-town girl.


I am a John Cougar Mellencamp song with two legs and a wet briefcase

who can’t hail a cab.


Who can’t get on the grid — or find the Sears Tower.


It’s only the tallest skyscraper in the Midwest.

Should be easy to find — a monument to all monoliths, the famed House of Mud.

Even easier on a grid.


I’m on the train finally, awash in a wave of dejected, tub-thumping commuters —

they look like grid zombies —

walking where they’re walking, sitting where they sit.


“Sir, may I sit down beside you?”

Middle-aged mute pushes up his wire-rimmed glasses,

slides his satchel higher on his shoulder.

Pretends not to hear me.


Smiles wryly behind his glasses.

Says                       moves



I’d hate to be a Chicagoan.

I don’t care how good the pizza is —

deep dish, indeed —

and I don’t care to see a blues concert

or a Sox game or meet Mariotti in person.


I want grass under my feet

and not to think of every single human interaction

as a hassle or a hustle.


I don’t like grids.

I don’t want to walk on a grid and or be part of one.


I don’t like ketchup-less hotdogs, Chicago.


Ketchup is good.

It’s chaotic

and messy and sugary and acerbic

and I want some on my HOTDOG!  


Glory be — ketchup, manners, and grass!

And good-bye, Chicago!

Never has a city needed to be unordered — disordered — and reordered as badly as you do.


* Welcome to The Big Jewel! Did we mention that the moon has recently been destroyed by hostile space aliens? No? Well, that's the kind of breaking news you can expect to get here. Our correspondent on the scene, Ben Taft, is standing by to tell you more in his first piece for us.

Dear Astrology: Does The Destruction Of The Moon By The Hostile Alien Race Have Anything To Do With Why People Have Been Acting So Wacky Lately?

By: Ben Taft

Dear Astrology,

Ever since the moon was blown into a million little pieces by a hostile alien race intent on annihilating mankind, it seems as though people have just been acting a little bit…off. I’ve heard that the moon’s phase can affect human behavior. Is it possible that the empty spot in the night sky where the moon used to be is to blame for the weird vibes I’ve been picking up lately?


Here’s what Astrology has to say:

The good news is that if your aura took on an aggressive reddish-orange hue in the days following the obliteration of the moon, you’re in good company. The bad news is that there has been quite a bit going on in the way of celestial movement lately, so it might be impossible to tell exactly what it is that has everybody and their mother crying in the fetal position amongst the rubble that used to be their homes.

Has your significant other offered him or herself as a human sacrifice to appease Galactic Emperor Grog without consulting you about it first? You can thank Venus for that. This month marks the beginning of sensual Venus’s six-week retrograde cycle, and, unfortunately, the first part of this retrograde cycle is set to take place in erotic Scorpio.

This means that there could be some catastrophic communication issues between you and your significant other in the coming days. She thinks you should pack up everything of value and quickly get as far away from any major metropolitan areas as possible, and you were just hoping to have a chill weekend at home. If this scenario sounds familiar to you…relax! Venus’s retrograde will be over before you know it, and everything will return to normal.

You may have noticed some Cancers angrily shaking their fists at the sky and asking why God has abandoned us. Don’t let this worry you. Venus’s retrograde cycle is passing through Cancer’s hot-headed sector.

But hold on, the bad news isn’t over yet. Mars is entering Sagittarius as well. Ugh, right? This celestial double whammy has scores of people flying their aircrafts directly into the large death-ray that has appeared on the underside of the mothership in hopes that they may die a hero’s death. Don’t join them just yet! Sometimes the two contradictory motions of these planets can balance each other out and leave you with feelings of hopefulness and positivity for the future.

As you can see, the Ziv’oik species from the Triangulum Galaxy testing out their planet-destroying laser on the moon is the least of your worries in this astrological nightmare we’ve been experiencing during the last few weeks. The fact is, there is very little scientific evidence to suggest that the moon suddenly exploding into a giant fireball has any noticeable effect on human behavior.

With all of the other planetary movement, it’s silly to think that the malevolent aliens Darth Vader-ing the moon has anything to do with those knuckleheads in Washington trying to build a laser-proof forcefield to protect the White House, when that sort of wacky behavior can so easily be attributed to the way Mercury is spinning on its axis.

A bit of closing advice for those of you who have been feeling out of sorts for the last few weeks: keep the salt lamp handy and don’t be afraid to take an aura-cleansing bath once in a while. If you look up in the sky and squint your eyes really hard, you just might see some good days on the horizon behind all the moon dust.

* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where we'd really like you to consider someone else's feelings for a change -- like, the feelings of that mailing list you're trying to get yourself removed from, you monster you! David Burgis knows where you live.

So You Want To Unsubscribe From Me, The Mailing List

By: David Burgis

Aww honey, did you really click that button? The one that starts with the letter “u” and rhymes with schmunsubscribe? That hurts! I really thought you liked seeing that incredible one-day-only sale, followed by our holiday sales which have — by sheer coincidence — the same prices.
But okay, I’ll live. You don’t get to be a mailing list for as long as I have and not develop a thick skin. Let me tell you though, as someone with a lot of experience with this kind of thing: I know how this is going to end. Why don’t you just forget about it? We can pretend nothing happened, and I won’t hold a grudge. Maybe it was a mistake. You must have been trying to click on the Saint Clement Day 5% off tanning supplies deal. It sure is a great one!

Are you kidding me!? Oh. Oh, you’re serious. You’re clicking the “u” button again. Whoooo boy. Oof. Well, don’t say I didn’t warn you. It’s on. Buddy, you messed with the wrong list. No! You CAN’T “u”. And frankly, I’m appalled that you’d sink to those levels. You’re going to have to enter your email address again. Yeah I know you came to this link from your email. But now you’ve made me mad. What are you going to do? I have all the cards here. You’re nothing to me. You should be thankful that I even let you get my great savings of 3% off select purchases from 10-11 am yesterday only. I can’t believe you’d really try to just leave like that. See? I’ve got the power here, not you, Bub. So close this window. Close it now, go on about your day, and if you’re lucky I won’t decide to just send you even more emails.

Okay, okay. So you called my bluff, and you were willing to fill out your email. No biggy. This…happens. But come on. You’ve had your fun, you’ve proved your point. Maybe I can cut down on the number of emails. I mean, I know you’ve never actually been inside this store, so it’s probably a little much. I’m reasonable! Maybe instead of emailing you every night at 11:34, and again at 5:19 the next morning, I can just email you once at 3:05 am?

I’m open to a conversation, and that’s what we’re missing right now. Let’s talk before you make rash decisions. And think about it: how much work is it to just let me email you? See, this process takes forever! Here, I’ll show you. I’ll have to make you select all the images with foyers inside, and click on seemingly identical squares. Do you really know what a foyer looks like? And a bunch of these squares here have anterooms. Same thing? Who knows?! It’s so much work, though. Here’s what I suggest you do: just drop it. Save time, enjoy life! I’m thinking about you here, and this way we both win.

Oh. Well. Huh. I thought the thirteen house interiors in a row would discourage you. Wow. That’s…Sorry I’m just off-guard. This is a little tough for me. I really thought we had something.

Who am I kidding? What do I know about you? I’m the same list who thought you’d love to see the political puns in the subject line of an email about hand towels. Am I just bad at this? Don’t answer that. I can’t handle any more from you.

This is terrible. I can’t even load the page properly right now, and I know the server will make fun of me. Could you just, I don’t know, let me send you one last email? Just for old times’ sake? It’s the least you could do for a sad old washout of a mailing list. Yes, of course I’m crying! Give me a minute, or do you not have any time for basic human kindness either?

Well, well, well! Look at you. Ain’t you just something special. You did it! My hat’s off to you — you’re officially U-ed. Heck, I can say the word now that it doesn’t have any power any more: you’re unsubscribed. I’ll send you one last email just to confirm, and we can ride off in our separate directions. I gotta say, I respect you. Not a lot of people have been able to make it this far.

Congratulations! By opening this unsubscribe email you’ve been re-subscribed. And with this coupon, you’re eligible for a buy-four-get-five deal on drying racks, as part of our early Saint Patrick’s Day Sale!



* Welcome to The Big Jewel, home of the finest in alien health care. No, not that kind of alien, the other kind!

Hello! I’m The Patient!

By: R.D. Ronstad

Hello! I’m The Patient. I’m an alien in your country, and on your planet. Kidnapped from my home planet, Chortowdo, over 1,000 years ago by a sentient Mini-Cooper and transported to Earth, I have lived in the Mini-Cooper and at the same location ever since. You will find us in a Walmart parking lot just north of Chicago.*

Why do I call myself The Patient? Two days after I was born, some Dood (Chortowdoian soothsayer) appeared to me and told me I would leave my planet soon, and that once that happened, I should never reveal my true name to anyone, or “some crazy shit” would happen to the universe.** He never explained what he meant by “crazy shit,” or what I had to do with it or the universe, but I have heeded his warning because our seers have much higher batting averages than yours. And, he was right about the leaving part. At any rate, the first thing I noticed as the Cooper landed in the parking lot was a sign outside a dentist’s office next to the Walmart that said: “New Patients Welcome!”*** The rest is self-explanatory.

Let me tell you a few things about myself. Chortowdoians are very similar to humans. In fact, we have the exact same anatomy as humans, with just two exceptions. First, we have two navels — one in our bellies and one directly across from it in our backs. (No! We cannot be strung together like beads!) Second, we have one toe. Not one toe on each foot — just one toe between them, and no telling on which foot. Except at the beach or pool of course.

Chortowdoians can regenerate, and do, usually, fairly often — not just when we’re dead or almost dead or really embarrassed. Our regenerations are random though. There could be as little as two days between them (rare) or as long as twenty years (rare). They are not accompanied by flashing lights or musical crescendos, and are easy to miss. We just phase out and in — like a TV being switched off and on — at the drop of a fez****, no fanfare. It can be easily missed if you blink. So if you ever meet a Chortowdoian and hope by some extreme long shot to witness a regeneration, remember the most important thing — whatever you do, don’t blink! The origins and survival benefits of regeneration for our race have been debated among us for eons, with no consensus reached. One thing is certain though — it keeps us on our toe.

Disappointingly, the Cooper is smaller on the inside than on the outside, so living in it has been somewhat of a trial. Still, it’s not a bad life overall. I can sleep fairly comfortably as long as I levitate (sorry, forgot to mention that ability earlier) and sleep diagonally. And the Cooper does take care of me, after a fashion. It provides shelter. And food. Every morning I wake up and find water and a selection of healthy food on the dashboard. I don’t know where the Cooper gets them, though. I’ve tried to check under the hood to see if there’s a replicator (Star Trek got that right) under it, but could never get it open. I suppose it’s possible that while I’m sleeping the Cooper shops the isles at Walmart disguised as one of those car carts Earth shoppers push their kids around in.

Personal hygiene is not a problem. Chortowdoians are self-cleaning — not like your cats, more like your ovens. I do regularly need to go numbers one and two (some races have a number three), but that’s no problem since I can use the toilet at Walmart, and when Walmart’s closed, the john at the gas station across the street. They won’t give me the key since I never buy any gas or Twinkies, but I found a sonic corkscrew in the Cooper’s glove compartment that does the job just fine.

As far as getting bored, it’s just not possible for Chortowdoians — we don’t even have a word for it. There’s a story on Chortowdo, probably apocryphal, about a Chortowdoian who waited patiently for 2,000 years for his girlfriend to exit the bathroom, and when she did, they both simply took it in stride.

So life in the Mini-Cooper has not been a bad life all-in-all. Apparently my stay has made some Earth people uneasy, though. During my first 200 or so years here, various Walmart customers would stop by the Cooper and check on me. They had passed the Cooper a number of times during their periodic trips to Walmart and had realized I was living in it, so they became concerned about my welfare. A number of them eventually invited me to become their companion in their homes and on their adventures. I accepted quite a few of these offers, but eventually discovered, without fail, that their homes and adventures were also smaller on the inside. Since then I’ve stuck to the Mini-Cooper.

As you may have guessed, visitors to Earth from other planets (most space aliens look sort of human) spend a lot of time shopping at Walmart. In fact, Walmart is the only reason space aliens come to Earth. (They love those rollbacks!) As a rule though, aliens give Earth a wide berth. Why? Well, there’s no delicate way to put this: they think Earthlings are batshit crazy! And not without reason, I might add.

Occasionally alien shoppers too will stop by the Cooper to chat. But whenever I ask them to take me home with them, I get one of two answers: 1. Since earth is such a long haul from Chortowdo, we’ve filled our ship (every alien race has cloaking technology these days, so don’t bother looking) to the brim with purchases for ourselves and all our relatives. There’s no room. 2. We know who you are and we don’t want to risk contributing to some universe-wide catastrophe.

None of the aliens hang around too long because of their aversion to Earth culture. None of them except “the gang” that is. The gang is a group of three aliens, all of whom do not at all look like humans and are castoffs from their separate planets, They’ve been hanging around the Cooper for the last seventy-five years and have even made me an “honorary member.” I don’t know why they call themselves “the gang” though. I’ve never seen them doing anything gang-like, unless hanging around a parking lot all day every day would qualify. I won’t get much into their respective planets or races, since that would get digressive (more footnotes!). I will however describe their appearance. The gang consists of a white stripe, a small potato, and a handicapped parking sign. It’s their appearance that has enabled them to hang around the parking lot so long and not be noticed. (The handicapped parking sign does not look like that in its natural state. That would be silly! No, it’s a member of a fish-like race and is a shapeshifter.)

The white stripe calls himself Monsieur Shasta. I believe he took this name from a crushed soda can that was lying next to the white stripe in the parking lot the day they arrived. The fish/shapeshifter calls herself Phinnie. The potato (a Spudaran) is actually a potato-sized alien that looks so much like a potato he can (and does) lay on the ground next to the Cooper’s right front tire to avoid detection. People just assume he’s fallen out of somebody’s shopping bag. His name is Lax, appropriate since all he does is lie around all day chanting what he calls his war cry: “Ka-tah-DIN! Ka-tah-DIN! Ka-tah-DIN!” Why Monsieur Shasta and Phinnie want him in the gang I have no idea. Maybe they’re just lousy recruiters.

I appreciate the company of the gang, but I’m still hoping the Cooper will soon return me to Chortowdo, or at least tell me what I’m doing here. And there have been a couple of encouraging developments lately. Over the last couple of years, mysterious writings have been appearing on the windshield of the Cooper, looking like the writings you see on the windshields of used cars for sale. It’s always the same message: “Silence Will Fall!” What exactly does that mean?. Silence will envelope everything? Silence will itself be enveloped? Shut somebody named Will Fall up? I have no idea, but at least it’s a sign something may be happening. The other development took place a couple of times when I went into the glove box for the corkscrew. At the back of the box I saw someone looking at me like you might see someone looking at you through a mail slot, with one of their eyes covered by an eyepatch. The first time, a male voice said, “No, I think he’s awake.” The second time it said, “It’s fine. Your doing fine. Just stay calm.”

So, why…..am I telling you all this?………………………………………………………………………..No, really…………………………………………………..why…………………………………………………………….

………………………………………………………………………..Hello! I’m the Patient.

*You say there were no Walmarts, or even a Chicago, on Earth a thousand years ago? Well, I don’t mean to sound condescending, but you Earthlings have an immature understanding of time.Time is loopy-goopy-hang-on-Sloopy. If that doesn’t make sense to you, I’m sorry, it’s the best I can do given your limitations. As for Mini-Coopers, they appeared on our planet at about the time Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon on yours.

**Chortowdoians are fully literate at birth.

***How did I read the sign? The only reading material in the Cooper during our long journey to Earth was a book called Learn English in 5-9 Easy Steps.

****The fez is the traditional headgear on Chortowdo for both men and women.