* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where it is always Lent, never Easter. Except for this week. We are having Easter this week, courtesy of our own associate editor Frank Ferri.

Concerning This Weekend’s Easter Egg Hunt

By: Frank Ferri

From: Sylvialovesherchildthemostmorethananyofyouloveyourkids_1959@netzero.com
To: Moms of Blessed Epiphany Church
Date: Friday, April 2, 2010 at 3:38 a.m.
Subject: This Sunday’s Easter Egg Hunt!

Hello fellow moms! Spring is upon us. (Finally! Ugh, I am soooo ready for the cold to be gone for good.) April is here. And for us Catholics that means Easter. And Easter means one thing: that my child will destroy yours at the church’s Easter egg hunt.

Jake and I started training hard for this event beginning in November of last year. I hid everything from him: clothes, food, uncontaminated water. He had to find these items to survive. And it wasn’t long before he became a master at anticipating where the best hiding spots were. The only thing he couldn’t find was his father. But in all fairness, the deadbeat left us three years ago. His parole officer can’t even find him.

Point is, Jake was ready for the main stage. So we took our training to the church courtyard, where the hunt will be held this Easter Sunday. While training in that courtyard, I hid my pills — the pills I need to control things like high blood pressure, cholesterol, and distorted thoughts. Do you know how dangerous it is to go without these medications? Do you know how small a pill is? A lot smaller than an Easter egg.

Thanks to my encouragement (“Jake, I’m going to die if you don’t find my pills.” “Jake, mommy feels sick, I don’t have a lot of time, not without my pills. I’m not long for this world. Jake, I love you. Even though it’s you who’s killing me.”), Jake found my pills time and again. In fact, on only one occasion did he take too long, and I found myself in a minor battle with one of my voices — the one that’s kind of a know-it-all. Other than that, smooth sailing. Which means anything but smooth sailing for your kids. LOL!

But all LOLing aside, your kids are toast.

Do your kids have the ability to camouflage themselves? To blend in seamlessly with the rhododendrons that border the church courtyard? Then just as quickly disguise themselves as the Japanese maple, which beautifully punctuates the center of the yard? Can your kids slink up to the Easter Bunny without him hearing (despite his huge ears), then kill that bunny with one swift, forceful twist of the neck and then sniff out and confiscate the bunny’s cache of backup eggs? Jakey can. And Jakey will — if it comes down to it.

I have this feeling. Maybe it’s just the uplifting time of year signaling new beginnings, but this feeling tells me that Jake is going to fill his basket with more eggs than all of your kids combined. I imagine Jake’s basket overflowing with eggs — plastic eggs filled with candy, dyed eggs of lavenders and pinks, and blood-stained eggs captured from your kids on the field of battle.

Oh, and by the way, I’m calling it now: No complaints about Jake’s age. The four-year-old group was the only one with space still available. But if your kids need help with organic chemistry homework or parallel parking advice, Jake has volunteered his services. That’s the kind of boy Jakey is.

See you Sunday, when we celebrate the Resurrection — and Jake’s victory!



P.S. Coffee Saturday afternoon? Can’t do it in the p.m. — Jake needs to get to sleep EARLY that night. Let me know if any of you are up for it! Otherwise, see you in war!

* Welcome to The Big Jewel, the home improvement site that also deals in self-improvement...if it so happens that your self is our good friend Frank Ferri.

Answers From Ask This Old House If The Show Were Based In Reality And Featured The Kind Of Contractors With Whom I Always Seem To Deal

By: Frank Ferri

Dear Ask This Old House,

My toilet is brand-new, but it’s already leaching some liquid at the base. The caulk is turning from white to brownish and the toilet itself is a touch loose. Is there an easy fix?

Easy fix? You wish. What you have there is a problem. A big problem. I can probably get out there to take a look in say a week, maybe two. But I won’t be able to fix it on the spot. Probably going to have to order some parts. Of course, I won’t know which parts until I see the disaster in person. I can tell you this, between parts and labor, you’re looking at a minimum of $575. Do not use the toilet. If it’s your only one, go to a neighbor’s when you need to do your business. I’ll be in touch at my convenience.

* * * * * * *

Dear Ask This Old House,

I love the look of crown molding. It really adds that extra touch of elegance to a house. I’d like to put it in my home. Can you give me some pointers?

Is this Bob Vila writing? No? Then no friggin’ way are you installing your own crown molding. Spend the money and have a professional do it. When I needed to lose 170 pounds, did I perform Gastric Bypass on myself? Learn to respect other people’s skills. Now, even though you’ve insulted me and my profession, I’m willing to take on this project. I happen to do crown molding. I’ll be out there tomorrow sometime between 5:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. or maybe the day after. Not sure. I’ll give you a free estimate, but the final cost will be much more. Always seems to happen that way. Just the nature of the business.

* * * * * * *

Dear Ask This Old House,

The crank handle on one of my bay windows is loose. How do you fix that little bugger?

You don’t. It doesn’t make any sense to just “fix” that piece as you so cluelessly put it. I’ll tell you what we’re going to do. We’re going to take your place down to the studs and start again. The handle for a window is broken, what’s next? The mailbox gets rusty? Your house’s foundation sinks in? Do you hate your family that much that you’d put them in harm’s way like that? My God, you’re a monster. Listen, you’ll move in with your in-laws while we work for the next 18 months or so. You’re going to love your beautiful new house, but it’s going to take a commitment from you. Oh, and my friend is an architect, he’ll be in touch to discuss your custom home. He’s pricey, but when you see his portfolio, you’ll be blown away.

* * * * * * *

Dear Ask This Old House,

Someone just told me that power washing your house may void the warranty on your home’s siding? Is this true? My siding is only a 18 months old and I’ve power washed it three times already. I thought it was good for the siding!?

Hi there! I’ll tell you what’s good for the siding: new siding. I’ll have a crew out there to rip the old stuff down. Eighteen months is like a year-and-a-half in siding years. And that’s ancient. Do you have a specific color in mind for the new siding we just agreed to install? If not, I can pick one for you? How about iridescent teal? Why not, right? Push the barriers. Iridescent teal it is! You’ve got great taste. I wish my wife would have let me put the iridescent teal siding on our house. But you know women. Am I right? Anyway, since she put the kibosh on my dream, I’ve got a ton of teal siding in my garage. I’ll pass the savings on to you by giving you the better, higher price than what I paid for it!

* * * * * * *

From the Law Offices of Sanders, Harrison & Marshall

Dear Ask This Old House,

Recently you sent a team of workers to my client’s home to do some minor repairs on a loose banister. The home, as you are well aware, no longer exists due to your ill-advised demolition. My client was under the impression that the fix for the banister would be quick and easy. Not traumatizing and life-ruining. Furthermore, pre-demolition protocol requires, among other things, the demolition crew to make sure all living things are out of the building — especially children, It’s also necessary that you get the building owner’s approval before imploding the structure. Your team showed willful negligence in failing to address these and a multitude of other safety issues listed herein. Enclosed is a complaint seeking compensatory damages in the amount of $412,782 for property damage and $10,000,000 for negligent infliction of emotional distress. Your prompt response is appreciated as we want to avoid a costly trial.

* * * * * * *

Dear Law Offices of Sanders, Harrison & Marshall,

Thank you for your well-written complaint. The letter may have been typed, but the signature was gorgeous. What penmanship! And I love the letterhead. It’s gorgeous. In fact I’d like to feature your letterhead on our next show by wallpapering an entire home with it.

In response to your complaint, please accept our sincerest apologies. I never intended to demolish any children. The good news is that the house is gone and we can build a brand-new one. One that’s not an eyesore. We’ll even pick up the tab (including lunch and gas, but excluding labor and materials). I’d also like to gauge your interest in a new law office building. If it’s in a state of disrepair or if you’re simply tired of how it looks, we can build you a new one for free. Just convince your client to make this little complaint go away and you’ve got a deal. Between you and me, that complaint is a little frivolous. Am I right?

* Welcome to The Big Jewel, your online Christmas shopping superstore. We promise not to let any of our employees send you emails like those some nut from Barnes & Noble sent to our good friend Frank Ferri.

The Status Of Your Order

By: Frank Ferri

From: service@barnesandnoble.com
To: fferri@gmail.com
Date: May 25, 2009 12:58 PM
Subject: Your Barnes & Noble.com Order #BN87208685

Dear Frank Ferri,

Thank you for shopping with us. You’ll receive a follow-up email shortly regarding the status of this order. You can always log into your account at www.bn.com to check on this order and your previous orders.

Once again, thanks for choosing Barnes & Noble!


The BN.com Team

* * * * * * *

From: service@barnesandnoble.com
To: fferri@gmail.com
Date: May 25, 2009 1:01 PM
Subject: Your Barnes & Noble.com Order #BN87208685

Dear Frank,

You said you wanted the paperback right? Oops, forget it. I found your order; looking at it now. Yep, paperback. Sorry. Ignore me. Been one of those days.


Phil Grantlier
Barnes & Noble
Customer Service

* * * * * * *

From: service@barnesandnoble.com
To: fferri@gmail.com
Date: May 25, 2009 2:12 PM
Subject: Bad News About BN Order #BN87208685


Guess what? We can’t find the book you ordered. I know we said we had it, but this is a big-ass warehouse and sometimes it’s hard to keep track of everything. Still, it’s embarrassing. Will write back ASAP when I have more details.


Phil Grantlier

* * * * * * *

From: service@barnesandnoble.com
To: fferri@gmail.com
Date: May 25, 2009 2:20 PM
Subject: Great News About BN Order #BN87208685

Hey FF,

Me again.

We found the book! Whew! It wasn’t where it was supposed to be. I’ll have a talk with Randy about being more mindful when he stocks the fiction shelves. Sorry about the scare.

— Phil

P.S. Can I borrow the book when you’re done? Just kidding! I have access to a book or two here. Just one of the perks.

* * * * * * *

From: philandphilsmom@gmail.com
To: fferri@gmail.com
Date: May 25, 2009 2:28 PM
Subject: Pssst…it’s me, Phil


Randy totally snapped at me. I don’t know why I’m putting this on you, but I guess I needed to talk to someone and you’ve been such a good listener lately. Anyway, all I said was, “Randy can you please try to keep the books organized by the author’s last name? It will make everyone’s job a lot easier when trying to locate books.” Then he completely freaked saying I always single him out. He filed a complaint with HR. Any advice?

By the way, I’m sending this from my personal email account. Add me to your contacts! (FYI: keep anything you send me “clean”…I share this address with my mom.)

— PG

* * * * * * *

From: service@barnesandnoble.com
To: fferri@gmail.com
Date: May 25, 2009 2:32 PM
Subject: Your Barnes & Noble.com Order #BN87208685

Frankie Baby,

Sorry. I was so busy ranting in the last email that I forgot to tell you that your order is packed and ready to ship from our warehouse. I’ll shoot you a tracking number as soon as I get it. Or I can call you with it. Let me know what works for you.

— P

* * * * * * *

From: service@barnesandnoble.com
To: fferri@gmail.com
Date: May 26, 2009 1:08 AM
Subject: Your Barnes & Noble.com Order #BN87208685


I never heard back from you about how you wanted to receive the tracking number. No worries. I was able to access your account and pull up your phone number. You have a 609 area code! That’s New Jersey. We’re in Jersey too! I’ll give you a ring, maybe we can meet up. Talk books???

— Phat Phil

* * * * * * *

From: philandphilsmom@gmail.com
To: fferri@gmail.com
Date: May 27, 2009 3:37 AM
Subject: FW: hilarious

You have to see the attached!!! This list of blonde jokes is hysterical. The one about Wite-Out on the computer screen is funnier than ever now that no one actually uses that stuff.

Hey Frank, do me a solid and forward this on to ten people?

— Phillip (not flathead screwdriver) Grantlier

* * * * * * *

From: service@barnesandnoble.com
To: fferri@gmail.com
Date: May 28, 2009 10:29 AM
Subject: Last Day

Hi Frank.

Got a bombshell this morning when I came into work! Just letting my closest friends — well, my only friend — know that I’ve been let go by Barnes & Noble. Apparently a customer filed a complaint alleging that my customer service methods “crossed the line from friendly and helpful into the overzealous.” Based on the printed email correspondence provided by this customer, HR said they found my behavior “abnormal and creepy and illustrative of several DSM-IV diagnoses.” Whatever that means. I wish they would just tell me who complained, you know? They’re keeping it all secrety and stuff.

Anyhoo, hit me up on philandphilsmom@gmail.com, since I won’t be at the B&N email address anymore. Oh, I almost forgot! As I was cleaning out my desk and burning a disc of our entire database of customers, I had some extra time, so I looked into your order history. “How to Seek Out Crowds: A Frotteur’s Guide to 24/7 Fun,” “Tax Evasion For Dummies,” “Hanson’s Greatest Hits: Volumes I and II”? Weird stuff. Let me know if you want me to post these and some of your freakier orders on Facebook. I’d love to hear back from you! And for some reason, I think I will this time.


— Phil

* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where Halloween is our second favorite holiday (after Guy Fawkes Day). And we can think of no better way to scare off the little monsters than with Frank Ferri's latest.

Please Take One

By: Frank Ferri

Happy Halloween!

Please read the following carefully, then tick the box next to your name using the pen that’s attached to a chain — and an alarm system. Checking that box confirms that you accept and agree to my Trick or Treating terms and conditions. If you don’t tick the box, chaos could ensue.

Sorry I can’t personally hand you your one piece of candy, but I’m hiding in the house. Why do today’s costumes have to be so scary? Especially those High School Musical characters!

Anyway, I’m trusting in the honor system by leaving this cauldron of goodies on my porch. It goes against my better judgment after last year’s fiasco when I woke up on November 1 to find my name (and a not very nice word preceding it) spelled out in unsalted peanuts on my driveway. I know you spearheaded that roguery, Jimmy Fulton!

This year, I’ve caved. I’ll be giving out candy instead of peanuts. When I was a kid, I was glad to get any nut — salted or otherwise — for free. But “Generation Y Can’t I Have Candy?” made it abundantly clear that only junk food is acceptable.

Here’s a quick guide to the Trick or Treating fun at my house:

— Anyone inside the parameters of Marshall Avenue down to Amherst Way and Cardiff Drive to Granville Lane is welcome to celebrate Halloween with my candy. (It sounds overly restrictive, but if I open the markers of delineation beyond these streets, chaos will ensue.)

— Odd-numbered houses from 3 p.m. – 4 p.m.

— Even-numbered houses from 4:01 p.m. – 5 p.m.

— Houses that are prime numbers, please don’t step foot on my property. I’m sorry, it’s just this thing I have.

— The impish troika of Jimmy Fulton, Keith Starr and Lawrence Morris: don’t even think of taking my candy. I have strategically placed cameras and people watching you — and attack dogs trained to recognize your scent.

Just a few things to note before you take your one piece of candy:

Each week for the past two months, I’ve taken out an ad in the weekly paper announcing my official Halloween Website: frankferri.com/halloween2009. So it should come as no surprise that you needed to register online before visiting my home today. I also let people know not to come near my property on Mischief Night because I don’t suffer pranksters. If you were shot with a BB last night, I can only say that you were forewarned.

If you haven’t registered on the site, you can do so now by running home and logging onto frankferri.com/halloween2009. If you’re spoiled and have your own portable Web-capable device (and a portable scanner and a notary public with you), you can register right now on my porch. Just step aside and let those who followed the rules get their one piece of candy without delay.

Knowing the dullards in my neighborhood — no offense, neighbors — I probably have to repeat this: To register, you needed to enter your phone number, house number and your name exactly as it appears on your parents’ tax return. You also needed to scan and upload your Social Security Card as well as a piece of mail as proof of address. Everything should be notarized.

If you registered, you would have seen the dancing Candy Corn (animated by yours truly), prompting you to choose your one piece of candy from the drop-down menu in the upper-right corner of the screen. You were to have made a selection and so it could be added to your virtual Trick or Treat bag. The candy you actually take must correspond with the selection you made on the Website. Otherwise, chaos will ensue. (If you visited the TIPS & TREATS section on the Website, you’d have seen a tip telling you to print out your virtual Trick or Treat bag so you remember which piece of candy you selected.) I listed the candy in alphabetical order along with nutrition information for the Type 1 diabetic in our neighborhood, little Danny Cardiff. God bless him. But there’s no need to call attention to his incurable illness. Diabetic Danny is just like anyone else. He just can’t have as much fun on Halloween. Or Easter. Or any other sugar-focused holiday.

As you know, I keep things fun each year with a theme. Last year was “Peanuts: An Unsalted Love Story.” This year’s theme is “Ex Ovo Omnia.” So the candy is all different eggs. You’d be surprised how many creme-, caramel- and peanut butter-filled eggs are available even though it’s not Easter.

Kids get all sugared-up and have the potential to turn this fun holiday into an opera bouffe, so I bought a biometric device to keep things running smoothly. The optical fingerprint scanner was going to ensure that everyone got the right egg. But someone (Fulton!) broke into my shed and smashed it beyond repair. The DNA collection drive — which was also going to help avert chaos — was a failure. Turnout was embarrassingly low. (Thank you, Mark Olsen, for being the only one to show up. I wish I could have let you take two pieces of candy, but my Website is pretty basic and I didn’t have time to include some sort of coupon code functionality that would let you override the one candy limit.)

To the left of the candy, you’ll notice a copper samovar. It’s filled with warm homemade cider. If you’ve brought your own drinking vessel (this was mentioned under the TIPS & TREATS section), you’re more than welcome to have one cup. Just make sure it’s no more than a six-ounce serving. Otherwise, chaos will ensue.

As you can tell, I am very worried that chaos will ensue. You’d worry too if someone filled your gas tank with Peanut M&Ms (Halloween 2006). Or if one day, you found that someone left a colorful chair on your porch, ostensibly as a gift. But when you sat in it, you realized (too late) that it was a bunch of gummi worms woven together in the shape of a chair, and you crashed to the ground injuring your tailbone (Halloween 2007). Or when you go to get your morning paper and find unsalted peanuts mocking you in your driveway — well, I already went into that one. The point is that sadly, chaos does too often ensue.

Happy Halloween!

SPECIAL NOTE: You may have noticed our site suddenly looks different. That's because it IS different. Webmaster Seth Gow-Jarrett has brought us kicking and screaming into the 21st century, adding all sorts of bells and whistles we've never had before. The most important is the ability to email an article to your friends, family and enemies, thus enabling you to join the ranks of spammers worldwide, a proud and august assemblage. You can now subscribe to The Big Jewel via email, RSS feed or Twitter (other methods will be added as they are outlawed by the Chinese). You can browse the archives by month and year, or by Author Cloud. To see more work by this week's author, simply click on their byline. Our blogroll of affiliated links is easily accessible on our home page and features other humor sites we endorse, including those by our authors. Enjoy! And now, welcome to The Big Jewel, where "Frank Ferri Month" is drawing to a glorious close with week four. This week Mr. Ferri applies his gift of salesmanship to the cereal aisle. Be sure to visit the author's web site: http://www.FrankFerri.com

Moving Product

By: Frank Ferri

Hi! Are you buying or browsing? Great. Name’s Frank. You picked the perfect day to shop for cereal. End of month, deep discounts, movin’ units. You’re looking at Crispy Rice, generic Kellogg’s Rice Krispies. Affordable. But…I shouldn’t. Ah, what the hell. Between you and me, the generic doesn’t stay crispy as long in milk. I could lose my job steering you away from our store brand, but once you drive off the lot with a box, it loses half its value. And if I’m not upfront with you, you’re at the breakfast table with a bowl of mush cursing old Frank Ferri from Aisle 4.

Got kids? Four! And another on the way! No? Well, four’s plenty. I’ve got two. This is Ralph and Victor. That’s at Vic’s fourth birthday. Bronx Zoo. Had a blast. The cereal you’re looking at comes standard with eight vitamins and minerals. Tasty, not overly sweet. I add sliced banana to sneak in a fruit serving. Gotta say, it’s a pleasure dealing with you. We get a lot of guys in their late-40s buying Froot Loops, Count Chocula, kid stuff. Recently divorced, trying to look young again. Sad. Mel over in men’s hair coloring has stories! By the by, you have great taste — love your stylish maternity clothes. Really? Well, nice outfit. Flattering. Have you considered Kellogg’s? Bit pricier, but boasts 217 vitamins and minerals — but don’t quote me on that. Offers the Snap, Crackle and Pop sound system — kids love those guys. Hopefully there’s some units left in the back. Must-have cereal of the season. Oprah featured it.

Yes, there are a lot on the shelf. But I think “hundreds” is an exaggeration. Come back tomorrow? Gone. End of month. Movin’ units. Okay, okay, you want generic. But let me ask you, have you considered anything by General Mills or Post? We carry their entire lines. Golden Grahams and Honeycomb? Incredible incentives. Think Quaker and you think oatmeal, right? Well, they make Life cereal, too — with a Cinnamon option. You can’t go wrong with anything by Kellogg’s, General Mills, or Post. It was just a suggestion; you’re focused on generic. Let me go in the back, talk to my manager, run some numbers. Meanwhile, if you’ll start filling this out.

Okay, so I worked up the figures for the 24-ounce Kellogg’s. Four kids — and what looks like twins coming soon — you’ll want the big box. Oh? Good thing! Four kids are a handful! Here’s the discount I’m giving you on the entire package. This shows you’re upgrading to Kellogg’s because you love your kids. Really? Thought you didn’t want generic. Listen, no one’s beating this price for brand name, family-size Rice Krispies. Kellogg’s won’t let us go below the $5.99 MSRP, so my hands are tied there. I did cut the Destination Charge down. Had to fight for that. Probably gonna come out of my pay, but whatever it takes to put you in some cereal. I’m throwing in Nutrition Information and a Disney DVD offer. See back for details. Proof of purchase required. I could get fired for this, but I’ll honor this expired coupon. Boom! Saved you another 40 cents. That’s the warranty fee — the Kellogg’s customer service number on the side panel. Don’t want the warranty? I’ll black out the number, save you some dough. No pressure on the warranty. But if something happens, we can’t do anything. Gotta go to the manufacturer. That’s the luxury tax. Don’t shoot the messenger! You demanded brand name! And this is for the floor mats. Okay, lose the floor mats. Fair question. The Destination Charge is for getting your cereal to the checkout line. I’m not making anything on this cereal. I’m actually losing money. The generic? You’re an indecisive one! Sticker shock? Brand name’s an investment. With kids, gotta save dinero — even if it comes at the price of their health. Got two kids myself. Alex and Johnny. That’s from Johnny’s third birthday at Queens Zoo. Had a blast. I’ll talk to my manager. But I won’t be able to maneuver the numbers as much with generic.

Okay, manager thinks your best bet is going pre-opened —

That’s strange. Excuse me, sir, did you see a pregnant woman near the Rice Krispies? Never mind. I see you’re looking at Froot Loops. My kinda guy! Who says you have to grow up, right? I only buy Froot Loops and Count Chocula. Any kids? Me neither. Too busy selling cereal — and charming the ladies. Yeah, you know what I’m talking about.


Some Say I’m Taking The Fun Out Of This Competition

By: Frank Ferri

I know it’s August. Anyone else want to point that out? Then let’s get started.

We’re the official judging panel for Margate’s Holiday Lights Competition. It’s our job to award points, pick a winner, and most importantly, make this the best darn competition our small town’s ever had. We’re meeting in summer because unlike my predecessor, who didn’t begin organizing until December, I actually give a flying fir tree.

Gwendolyn, use your leverage at Borough Hall to pull records. Dig up anything on every resident. Anyone tries stonewalling you, mention the Freedom of Information Act — no idea if it applies, but sell it. If we see a household that made an honest, if underwhelming, effort to decorate, we’ll cross-reference that address with those records. If it’s an elderly couple, we’ll take that into consideration. If it’s a family with children and the house isn’t decorated, we’ll call child services — because kids deserve a house that’s festooned with love. And a crapload of lights.

Sean, as security guard at the hospital you’ll access the records department. Find charts of people on Gwen’s list, and note ailments that could affect decorating abilities. Not everyone will be in the hospital’s system. We’ll need the charts of their family doctors. Dang HIPAA makes this challenging.

Not sure if it’s laziness or faux eco-friendliness, but data show that holiday lights go off at an average time of 10:47 p.m. Look at these slides, mid-December, nothing glowing! I’ve revised the rules. Actually, I created them. The only “rule” was an absurdly vague: “Just lighten up and have fun!” That’s the kind of ambiguous bullcrap we don’t need. A new rule is mandatory exterior holiday illumination in darkness/near-darkness. We’ll take shifts doing 3 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. checks.

Schmitty, call in a favor to Public Works. We’ll need to go through residents’ trash for receipts to compare the amount spent on holiday stuff with household income. An underpaid teacher creates a festive wonderland? Extra points. People shred out of unwarranted paranoia. Just hope there aren’t any crosscutters. Otherwise, you better be good at jigsaw puzzles.

This aerial map shows Margate’s three entry points. We’ll have volunteers stationed at each, 24/7. They’ll record the license plate number, make and model of any vehicle with a wreath or bow fastened to the grill. We’ll send a list to my brother-in-law, a cop, to get their addresses. If they’re residents, we’ll tuck that info in our back pockets. Extra points for vehicle-decoration, but that’s classified — it’s only supposed to be about the outside of the home. That’s where Tony comes in.

Tony, I don’t care about your history of violence, drugs or your stint as a prostitute. I admire your burglary skills. You’ll perform interior checks of well-decorated houses (Veronica will learn residents’ diurnal patterns) to see if the inside matches the outside. Count the holiday knickknacks, then get the hell out. Don’t steal anything — it’s a Holiday competition!

Nativity scenes. No denying their importance. But this competition is secular. A nice nativity scene gets points — but no more than an attractive wreath. Unless the nativity scene is an intricate tallow carving. Live nativity scenes? Definitely an effort to coordinate something like that, but I’m not convinced living things are decorations.

Point structure. Animated items score more than, say, stationary plastic snowmen. We’ll debate blinking, solid, white and colored lights. I say weigh them equally. Novelty lights, like those icicle ones, get extra.

Demerits. Sun’s down and lights are off? Deduction. Pumpkins, scarecrows, any leftover Thanksgiving or Halloween decorations? Disqualification. Also, call me whenever you see a house with outdated decorations so I can vandalize the heck out of the place.

Exterior music. I despise it. Which brings me to the Collins family, winners eight years running. Ken Collins, engineer, software developer, smug S.O.B. Spends thousands on equipment and synchronizes lights to Trans-Siberian Orchestra. I don’t care if Kenny digs up George Handel, brings him to life, and has him conduct the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain in a performance of “Messiah” with lights blinking in rhythm. The Collins family is disqualified. That’s classified. Let Ken show off in a national competition. I’ve seen stuff on YouTube; he’ll get his butt handed to him. My brother-in-law is digging up dirt on Collins. Clean so far, but I have a feeling a felony amount of heroin might appear in Ken’s BMW. Darlene, contact your fellow bean counters and get the Collins’ tax returns. Tony, I know I said don’t steal, but snag some of Donna Collins’ lingerie. Don’t worry about why.

I’m passing out your Yahoo! emails — username is your codename. It’s not Gmail, Lester, because I don’t trust Google’s privacy policy. You’ll all need to ask for December off. I do too have a job, Lester. To make this the best damn Holiday Lights Competition ever. Now prick your index fingers and repeat after me.

That’s the spirit!


The Story Pitch That Got Me Fired From The Writing Staff Of House M.D.

By: Frank Ferri

Sit down. Okay? You need to be sitting down for this.

So, House is being his surly self, belittling staff, annoying Wilson, snipping at Cuddy. You’re with me? Pretty standard stuff so far. Okay, so a patient is rushed in by his parents. House doesn’t even look at the kid. It’s just a kid. House just keeps his head down. He’s doing something more incongruous with the serious situation. He’s whittling wood. Maybe fashioning a boat out of a block of Honduras mahogany. No. A stethoscope. He’s carving a stethoscope. He never whittled on the show before, but that doesn’t mean he can’t, right? Anyway, he’s still at it with his chisel or knife or whatever. Wait. Scalpel! He’s whittling with a scalpel. Genius. He keeps his head down and just says: “Pituitary microadenoma.” Long pause. Close up on House. Then he adds “Releasing way too many hormones.” He just knows where and what the problem is without even looking up. We sorta give House superhuman powers, but we do it subtly.

Anyway, this kid’s pituitary gland is messed up or whatever. Our physician consultants can add detail.

House wants to try a new procedure. No. The procedure doesn’t even exist. There’s not a research study in the country — in the world — testing what House has in mind. He just invents it on the spot.

You guys are dying to hear what it is. Look at your faces. Okay, hold on to your lattes.

House wants to use a high-powered vacuum to suck the patient’s pituitary gland out through the ear. He builds it himself out of stuff lying around the hospital — you know, a little nod to MacGyver, but not so overt.

House makes a bon mot about getting frisky in the janitor’s closet with Cuddy and got the idea when he saw a Hoover canister vac.

Like I said, there’s no precedent for this, so House gets one of his doctors on the case. Maybe the hot chick with Huntington’s. She calls the patient’s health insurance company. And here is where we make television history: A full 38 minutes of the show is dedicated to the staff fighting, pleading and begging the insurance rep, whom we never hear on the other end of the line. The docs take turns on the phone. They’re asking to speak with a manager, but no dice. We have the most talented and respected doctors explaining to someone who possibly has a high school diploma why the insurance company needs to cover this.

It’s excruciating to watch. That’s the point. We juxtapose House’s seemingly unlimited capabilities that we established earlier, with the frustrating experience of dealing with an insurance company. This will resonate with anyone who’s ever had to go through that phone call of hell with a miserable insurance rep who makes the experience as unpleasant as humanly possible.

Finally, House takes the phone, and everyone is looking at him. But he doesn’t speak. You think he’s gonna speak, right? Nope. He just unscrews the bottom part of the receiver, and puts the phone down. It’s one of those older phones with the round ear and mouthpieces that have lots of holes in them. Yeah, you know the ones — usually a creamy light beige color? Anyway, he uses it to finish the vacuum.

Now the intensity is ridiculous. There’s no time. The insurance company is gonna have blood on its hands. Viewers are thinking, “who is gonna pay for this? Is this some to-be-continued crap?”

Cut to the O.R. House delivers another witticism. Maybe, “I’m a doctor not David Oreck. Let’s hope this works.” Then he raises the vacuum to the patient’s ear.

Success! Our physician consultants can invent some remotely realistic way in which a doctor can suck a pituitary gland out of an ear. We pay them plenty. So, surgery’s done and the kid comes to — instantly. The anesthesia wore off at the exact moment the pituitary came out because House administered the anesthesia himself — he anesthetized the kid and he’s not even an anesthesiologist! House did it perfectly of course. So the kid gets out of bed and skips over to the windowsill where House’s unfinished wooden stethoscope is. He turns it over in his hands and looks at House and says: “I want to be a doctor like you.” House rolls his eyes and says something like, “Well, enjoy the several hundred thousand dollars of student loan debt, kid.”

Cut to a month later. House is at his desk, looking pensive. Wilson walks in and says, “I never mentioned it, but I respect what you did with that vacuum procedure. That took guts — and suction, lots of suction. Hopkins, Lahey, Mayo, all the clinics are clamoring to perfect it.” House doesn’t seem happy. He says good night in his rude way, flicks the lights off with his cane and snaps, “Lock up my office when you’re done.”

House leaves. Wilson stays. He turns on the light and looks on House’s desk. We see a bill from the insurance company — they rejected coverage for the vacuum procedure. We also see a check — and wait for it — it’s from House’s personal checking account. Made out to the insurance company. He’s paying for it with his own money. The check is for thousands — no, hundreds of thousands of dollars.

You know how we do that a lot? Give glimpses into the soft side he rarely shows?

Episode name? “Cleaning House.” Because of his name and the fact that he uses a vacuum cleaner.

Look at you. You’re all speechless. You love it, don’t you?


The New 9-1-1

By: Frank Ferri

Thank you for calling 1-866-742-8794 extension 895 — the new 9-1-1™! Make sure your children commit it to memory — it’s an important one!

1-866-742-8794 extension 895 — the new 9-1-™ is made possible by the Altria Group (formerly Philip Morris Companies Inc.) and other corporate sponsors dedicated to keeping this emergency service free.

Please listen to the following menu in its entirety as it changes hourly.

For fire-related issues and emergencies, press 1.

For situations requiring police assistance, press 2.

For situations involving the ingestion of a potentially dangerous substance, press 3.

For all other questions, comments and concerns, press 4 for our automated additional help menu, featuring a voice-guided tour to help you maximize your 1-866-742-8794 extension 895 — the new 9-1-1™ experience.

To hear this menu again, press 5.

You pressed 1. If this is correct, press 1 or say “Yes” after the beep. If this is incorrect, press 2 to return to the previous menu or say “Previous menu.” I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that. Please wait for the beep and try again.

Okay, so you’re having a fire-related issue or emergency. If you just have a question about fire safety or would like your local fire company to make a presentation at your child’s school, press pound to return to the main menu, then press 4 for the additional help menu.

If this is a fire emergency, please remain calm and tell us how urgent you think the situation is by using your keypad. Enter your number based on a Likert scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being something equivalent to a small grease fire and 10 being along the lines of a full-fledged conflagration or a regretted act of self-immolation. When you enter the number, it must be two digits followed by the pound sign. For example, if your toaster caught fire and you have wooden countertops, you might press “05#”. If you have granite countertops, you might press “02#”.

Sorry, I didn’t recognize that command. Try again, and remember to press pound —

You entered 9. If this is correct, press 1 or —

Okay, 9 is a serious emergency and time is of the essence. Enter your five-digit ZIP code, then press pound.

We’ve done away with the need to enter your four-digit ZIP code extension. But if you know it and want to enter it, do so now, then press pound. Entering your four-digit ZIP code extension could expedite the response time. But 1-866-742-8794 extension 895 — the new 9-1-1™ makes no guarantees as to response times.

You entered 0-8-4-0-2. If —

Before we connect you to the Margate, New Jersey Fire Department, enter your address. Press pound after each part of your address. For spaces, use the star key. For example, for 510 Main Street, press 5-1-0-#-*. Then press the numbers that correspond to your street name, and press pound. In this case, Main Street would be 6-2-4-6-*-78-7-3-3-8-#.

You entered 1-1-4-8-*6-6-7-8-4*-4-8-6-7-8-4-6-4-8-6-6-*2-8-3-6-8-3-#, indicating your address is 1148 North Huntington Avenue. If this is corr–

Now tell us whether it’s a “business,” “apartment complex,” “single family home” or “multiple family home” after the beep.

I heard “single fam–

On which floor of your single family home is the fire? Use two digits followed by pound. For example, if the fire is on the second floor, press 0-2-#. If it is in the attic or basement, press the numbers that correspond to the letters, then press pound. To save you time, the number for attic is 2-2-8-4-2-#. For basement, press 2-2-7-3-6-3-6-8-#. If the fire is in a crawlspace, press those corresponding numbers. Due to the small number of calls for crawlspace fires we’ll skip telling you the number. If you would like to hear the number for crawlspace, press 1 or enter it on your own.

You said the fire is on the second fl–

You’re likely not a professional firefighter, but in your best estimation, tell us how fast the fire is spreading. Use a Likert scale, with 1 being “at a testudinate pace” and 10 being “with the utmost celerity.” We’ve received numerous requests for the definitions of these words, so we’re excited to announce the launch of our dictionary feature. To hear the definitions of these words press 1. The dictionary feature is made possible by the National Education Association. Use two digits followed by pound. So if your fire is spreading at the pace of, say, an overweight cat that doesn’t scare easily, you might enter 0-5-#.

You know your vocab! You said the fire on the second floor of the single family home at 1148 North Huntington Avenue is spreading fast. You’re being routed to your local fire department. After you speak to them, would you be interested in participating in a short survey? We value your feedback and your participation will help us improve our services and save more lives. To participate, stay on the line after speaking with your fire department, then press *-6-#.

If possible, we recommend exiting the site of the fire. If you choose to participate in the survey, please bring a cordless phone with you.

Thank you for calling 1-866-742-8794 extension 895 — the new 9-1-1™ brought to you in part by McDonald’s, where for a limited time you can get two Egg McMuffins for just $3.99.

Good luck with your fast-spreading fire at 1148 North Huntington Avenue in Margate, New Jersey.


Overheard On The Pool Table

By: Frank Ferri

13: Look at him. By himself in the corner, thinking he’s so much better than us.

5: I hate to say it, being a solid and all, but 13 is right. 8 is kind of stuck-up–talking only when you ask him a question.

13: And responding like some all-knowing God.

10: Totally. Watch this. “Hey 8, umm, I still have a couple of eggs left in the fridge, but the carton has a sell-by date of two weeks ago. Do you think it’s okay to eat them?”

8: All signs point to yes.

10: See?

14: I’m just playing devil’s advocate here. Believe me, I’m a stripe and I have no soft spot for any solid. But of course he’s a bit self-satisfied–people call him the Magic 8-Ball. Name me one ball in all of cue sports that wouldn’t get a big head with a name like that.

13: Fine, but why does he need to say things like “It is decidedly so” and “My sources say no.” What sources? The cue stick chalk?

1: I’m with 13 on this. Last week I was just rolling by 8, and I said, “Nice weather we’re having, huh?” And you know what the bastard said to me? He said, “Better not tell you now.” Like his opinion on the weather is some big government secret.

11: I hear you. We were ordering pizza the other day, so I asked him if he wanted pepperoni. Simple, right? He just looked at me and said, “Concentrate and ask again.” I swear to God I almost knocked him off the table.

14: It’s true, he could show some tact. But what if it’s some weird neurological disease. I asked him what he did over the holidays, and he just said, “Yes, definitely.” I asked him again, slower, but still he just said something like, “Don’t count on it.” It made absolutely no sense.

13: I’m gonna feel like a real jerk if 8 does have a medical issue. I’ve been kinda cold to him.

11: Well I don’t think he has any “issue” other than being passive-aggressive. I asked him if he thinks my stripe makes me look fat, and he said, “Better not tell you now.” Might as well have called me a cow.

6: So I’m at Cue Ball’s birthday…

12: What? There was a party for a ball that knocks us around all day? Oh, and thanks for the invite.

6: We kept it small. Anyway, I asked 8 if he wanted cake. He says, “Cannot predict now.” I’m thinking, “Jackass, I’m not asking you to ‘predict’ anything. I’m asking if you want a piece of vanilla cake with chocolate frosting.”

2: Drugs. I think it’s drugs.

14: Whoa. That’s a heck of a thing to say. Better have proof.

2: Proof? Don’t you see the white powder on him 24/7?

14: That’s the hand talc, you idiot. All of us get it on us.

2: I’m just saying. I asked him a really easy question, something like “Did you like High School Musical 3?” He just kind of stared at me for what seemed like a full minute. Then he said, “Reply hazy, try again.”

1: Definitely drugs.

15: Oh please. It’s not drugs and it’s not a brain issue. He’s just a conceited jerk. And I’m waiting for the day he asks me a question. I’ll knock his ass into the corner pocket and say “Outlook not so good, bitch.”


My High School Reunion? I Nailed It. Sort Of.

By: Frank Ferri

“Don’t show your face at the reunion,” my landlady/mom barked as I was trying to nap on the basement couch. I’ve got it set up as a pretty sweet bachelor pad, but she comes down to do the laundry daily, which annoys me.

She said I’ve accomplished nothing and should skip my 15th high school reunion. Apparently, owning a level 80 Storm Giant in the Howling Fjord as a level 74 Warrior is “nothing.”

I went anyway. And I don’t mind saying, I rocked.

My parents get Internet, so I went to classmates.com for the 4-1-1 on my yoon. (I had taken to calling my reunion, my yoon.) I signed up and the emails started to literally trickle in. I heard through the grapevine (and by grapevine I mean obsessively Googling them) that these people are doctors, lawyers, mall kiosk managers, and other heavy-hitters. To hide the 15-year hiccup in my employment history, I fired off a fake automated message:


As you know, Mr. Ferri is very busy. If this is an inquiry about Mr. Ferri’s potential yoon appearance, your question will be answered in the order it was received. We cannot guarantee everyone a response. Mr. Ferri leads a busy, successful life.

Now off to get a loan. I told the guy at the bank I needed a little dinero to open a Sharper Image store. You should have heard him, “Blah blah, de-listed from the NASDAQ. Blah blah, Chapter 11.” I didn’t care if this guy was on chapter 12 of some highfalutin James Patterson literary classic. I needed cash — and I got some. I settled for a lot less dough, but I got a killer interest rate. Well — WELL — into double digits.

I rented a suit, a Velcro tie, a collared shirt, and shoes with laces not Velcro. A tux would have seemed like I was trying too hard. I wanted to keep a low profile. So after renting a white Escalade limo featuring neon ground effects and giant soaring eagles and American flags, I hit the library. The library’s cool for when I need the bathroom or to get away from the bachelor pad when my mom starts hitting me with the rolled-up classifieds. Our library has a box for collecting old cell phones. It’s for some charity. I figured if this isn’t charity, then what is? I scored an old BlackBerry and two early-1990s flip phones. They weren’t the sleekest, but they’d do. Chargers weren’t necessary.

Now I had to find two people to go with me. Luckily, I have one friend, so I only needed another person. My buddy Gary has several friends and he called in a favor to this guy Chad. Gary and Chad would pose as my Personal Assistant’s Assistant and my Personal Assistant Assistant’s Intern. I’d tell people that I gave my Personal Assistant the night off — I’d seem important enough to require three full-time stooges, yet wouldn’t look like a jerk making all three work on a Saturday.

I decided to show up late because it means you’re fashionable — even though my lime green suit already screamed fashion. Besides, if I showed early, people would think I had nothing better to do. So we sat in a Wendy’s parking lot eating $.99 Double Stacks — my treat since I still had some cash from the loan. (The rest went to pay down gambling debt.) As we chilled, Gary came up with a great idea just in case anyone asked me about my excessive weight gain since my high school days. He suggested I tell people that I dabble in acting, that the Broadway adaptation of “Coming to America” just got the green light — and that I’ll be recreating the role of the McDowell’s employee played by Louie Anderson in the film version. The yoon started at 7 p.m. and we rolled in at the fashionable time of 7:05. Turns out we could have waited a bit longer. But we helped set up, moving chairs and tables and carrying chafing dishes. The staff was appreciative.

All night, my “assistants” followed me around shouting into the dead cell phones. “Buy! Sell! Return that and exchange it for those!” Later, I learned that the stock market is closed on Saturdays.

Chad owns a laptop. He carried it around — open — and complained loudly about no Why-Fye (sp?) connection. Nice touch.

All of this sent an important message: Life doesn’t stop for Frank Ferri. I think people got that message. Especially because Gary and Chad yelled, “Life doesn’t stop for Frank Ferri,” at anyone passing by the punch and crudités. People seemed puzzled. They were probably worried that I missed an important event in Tokyo or Hoboken for this thing.

I wandered over to this guy I hadn’t seen since the yearbook photoshoot. He was voted “Most Likely to Succeed,” “Best Looking,” “Best Dressed” and “Most Likely to Marry a Hot Wife, Pay for Her Breast Implants, Get a Divorce, Marry a Hotter, Younger Wife and Still Get Court-Mandated Visitation Rights to the Implants He Bought for His First Wife.” I was there to carry the tripod. Anyway, this guy was bragging about being the youngest tenured professor ever at MIT. I asked him, what’s an MIT? When he told me, I tried not to laugh. Was he seriously boasting about teaching vokey? I almost asked what tenure was, but I already felt bad for him. I also respected him. He won all those awards in high school, failed in life, yet showed up to the yoon. I told him I knew some higher-ups at DeVry and slipped him my biz card.

The card was actually Chad’s — he has a job. I scratched out his info and scribbled in mine: “Prez ‘n Chair Man of the Bored,” which is the highest title possible. I sketched a little throne above the word “Chair” for emphasis.

Everything was going well until someone asked me what I did for a living. We worried this would happen, so we made a plan earlier in the Wendy’s parking lot: “Operation Get Me the Heck Out of Here.” When this nosy S.O.B. started grilling me, I gave the signal (semaphore flags and a high-pitched scream). Gary and Chad instantly appeared. Gary pretended to whisper some severe news to me. Actually, it was important: we had to have the limo back by 10 p.m. or it would cost an extra 75 bucks.

I gave a look of concern mixed with annoyance, then Chad swept me away, yelling at people to get out of our path. I worried we looked silly because no one was remotely near. But Chad told me the giggling and pointing was a good thing — like when someone from a remote Taiwanese village sees a Westerner for the first time.

Gary hung back to explain that there was an emergency in Australia — he had swiped an old history book from his dad’s bookshelf. Gary’s always thinking. He said that I’d be flying to the West side of the Berlin Wall to meet with USSR officials about ending Apartheid in South America.

Overall, things went well. You hear that mom? Things went well.

I sent out another automated message:


Please forgive Mr. Ferri for his sudden departure from last weekend’s yoon. He is, after all, very busy and regrets that this sort of occurrence isn’t rare. But it comes with his job (which is hard, but not too hard because he has the intelligence to handle anything). Oh, and he didn’t have a date because he’s juggling a lot of ladies and couldn’t decide who to take.

I can’t believe I forgot to get an escort! Even the MIT guy remembered to rent a hot chick.