* Welcome to The Big Jewel, unofficially known as the voice of doom. After you've finished reading Michael Fowler's latest and greatest, be sure to check out the link below to purchase his humor collection, "Nathaniel Hawthorne is Dating my Girlfriend."

Everything You Need To Know About Doom And Are Afraid Enough To Ask

By:
mfowl4916@gmail.com
http://www.dpdotcom.com/hawthorne/

When you hear people talk about doom, you’re pretty sure you know what they mean. In fact almost everyone has an instinctive feeling about what doom is, and how to recognize it, and very often they are right. Unless they’re speaking figuratively and are only talking about the stock market or declining test scores or the fortunes of a sports team or having to care for elderly parents, you’ll hear the words warming, or starvation, or asteroid, or incoming. If they are hysterical types, you might also hear of some sort of virus or contagion, or that the birth rate is too high or too low, or that we’re running low on uranium. But you fairly well know what people think doom is: it’s that event, or one of those events, that, when it occurs, results in all of us dying, or in so many of us dying that the others will lose heart, or at a very minimum means that life will change for the worse, just as it has on other planets.

Now, the number of those who are going to die is an important factor in doom. There have to be at least some who aren’t going to make it for doom to be genuine. If you live in one of those areas of the Pacific west that catches on fire every year, or you live on one of those islands, again Pacifically located, where periodically your foursome is slowed by flows of lava and rains of ash, it isn’t appropriate to say you’re doomed if there’s a good chance you’re going to pull through. And frankly, almost everyone seems to survive those conflagrations, although many acres are consumed and many roadways dissolved. In fact it is usually only the firefighters who seem at risk in those flare-ups, along with the insurance companies. So it simply isn’t fair to say you’re doomed if the only price you pay is that you have to run away to safety, or if you merely lose a home you were stupid to build in that area to begin with, or if you have to dodge a few waterfowl flambé while teeing off.

If, on the other hand, you can’t escape, and you and your neighbors can only stand and watch helplessly as the flames or lava climb toward you, then yes, it is all right to say you are doomed. You needn’t feel foolish about saying it under those conditions, particularly if your clothes are on fire and your town is starting to resemble ancient Pompeii. At the same time, you should definitely try to save yourselves, especially if you are able to jump into a body of water or crawl into a deep, cool cave. In such circumstances you are entitled to say you were doomed even if you survive, provided you really had to haul butt to reach safety.

A question that the doomed often ask is this: what kind of doom are we experiencing? Right off, the time factor comes into play. There is an important distinction between eventual doom, which is scheduled to take place in the future, and imminent doom, which is happening to you right now. To know we are doomed because eventually there will be no drinkable water is all well and good. But who really cares that people will die of thirst in 150 years, with death rattles issuing from their dry throats, or that the sun will explode in three billion years, incinerating our world and all who live in it — all those, that is, who haven’t already died of thirst? That kind of doom is enough to put you to sleep. But to know that there is no drinking water starting today, or that the sun exploded eight minutes ago and we just haven’t felt it yet, but we will any second now, is quite different. That’s imminent doom. The other, much slower type of decimation, we may call come-as-it may doom, or as I have already called it, eventual doom, if we aren’t too bored to call it anything at all, it’s so remote.

That leaves us with two types of doom: eventual, which is laughably slow, and imminent, which is when it’s really time to panic. And we note here that it is completely inappropriate to react to eventual doom as if it were imminent doom. Unless you are a prophet or an oracle, you shouldn’t go around crying “We’re doomed! We’re doomed!” without any evidence. You only make yourself look foolish if you start hyperventilating and perspiring, and race around screaming at the top of your lungs, “O my god, the universe will reach final entropy, or heat death, in roughly 100 billion years, I’m not kidding!” You appear equally idiotic if you start chanting, “We must leave the planet now, robots are coming!” While this may be true, our mechanical overlords won’t actually begin to rule over us fleshy mortals for likely another century or two, so we can take a deep breath and relax. The various kinds of come-as-it-may doom, while truly inevitable and one hundred percent lethal, are so far off that it’s hard to take them seriously. You can, and should, laugh them off, an act that requires only the merest speck of bravery. Distant doom is always somewhat risible, even to complete cowards.

That may leave you wondering what actions are appropriate to take when you are aware that doom is upon you now, not coming in a preposterous number of years, but knocking on your door this instant. First off, realize that whatever activity someone in a position of authority has told you to perform in a case of imminent doom has no chance of saving you, but is only to occupy you so that the authoritarians look good and in control when the bodies are tabulated. For example, if the cabin is filling with smoke and the plane is clearly in a nosedive, don’t bother to grab that dangling oxygen mask or floatation cushion. You’re going down, and nothing else matters. Those trinkets the stewards are taunting you with have as much chance of saving you as hunching down under your desk has of protecting you from a thermonuclear bomb.

Secondly, screaming and panic are of no use whatever, and will only irritate those fatalists who wish to expire with a minimum of fuss. I am one of these, so please be considerate of my feelings.

The absolute best thing to do, when facing imminent doom, is to pretend that it’s only eventual doom. That is, react with cool sangfroid when your jetliner begins its final, sickening descent. Merely smile stoically when the lava begins to fill your shoes, or when your roller-coaster car leaps off the track at 80 mph; suppress a snicker when the lake rushes in your car window, and chortle ironically when you encounter that bear in the wilderness, the one with a taste for the meat that wears clothes. That shows dignity, and is the finest way to confront any kind of doom. Your children, if any survive, will be proud of you.

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* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where we are proud to be celebrating the second half of what we call Michael Fowler Half-Month. Please take note that the heart of rock and roll is still beating, thanks to a pacemaker. When you're done reading Michael Fowler's latest, do check out the link below to purchase his humor collection, "Nathaniel Hawthorne is Dating my Girlfriend."

The Museum Of Rock And Roll Marginalia

By:
mfowl4916@gmail.com
http://www.dpdotcom.com/hawthorne/

This year I took my family to visit the Museum of Rock and Roll Marginalia in the small New York town where it has been located since its founding in 1990. They had been clamoring to go, and at last, forgoing a more expensive and better-planned vacation, I gave them their wish. A posh hotel until the end of the jazz age in the fifties, then a gated community for retired horn players from disbanded units like the Bill Bromley Band and former second-tier comedians like Tony Bacon and Zip Downy, the museum is now a crumbling three-story building scheduled for demolition.

The first floor commands the most attention. Until the mid-eighties an impoverished Ramone and his girlfriend lived there, also a Raider from Paul Revere’s defunct outfit, a Pharaoh from Sam the Sham’s sixties-era group, one of the McCoys, a Bangle and her bipolar boyfriend, and an English Trogg on an expired visa. They are gone now, deceased or moved on, their former rooms and suites and the old dance floor turned into exhibit sites containing some of the signs of their musical success.

On display in several refit corners are a fraying Beatles-esque wig and a pair of cracked drum sticks from the Ramone, some badly scuffed riding boots from the Raider, an unraveling keffiyeh and a dented headdress from the Pharaoh, a glittery change purse missing many spangles and an empty pill vial from the Bangle, and an old Danelectro guitar reportedly used on “Wild Thing” abandoned in the US by the Englishman. Also on the first floor is the souvenir shop, which is to be avoided like norovirus. All the same, I bought the two boys small plastic replicas of a Venture’s guitar and Go-Gos’ wigs for the two girls. The museum’s only working restroom is also on the first floor, so take advantage.

On the second floor, to which one ascends by a narrow wooden staircase since there is no elevator, the musical wattage is already grown dimmer, the connection to stardom more distant, and the mementos of lesser-knowns command the space. Here on a small dresser against a peeling rear wall is an Electric Prune’s electric razor, a plastic comb that once straightened the tresses of Terry Knight (of the Pack), one of the New York Dolls’ mascara mirrors, a shaving kit once belonging to a Playboy from Gary Lewis’ band, and, on the floor beside a scarred dresser, a pair of paisley moccasins that once shod a Lemon Piper. A nearby closet, marked by wall-mounted portraits of Gladys Knight and Smokey Robinson, holds one of the Pips’ tuxedos, a terrycloth robe that once adorned a Miracle, a cape that formerly swirled around a Fabulous Flame, and, from a different musical genre entirely, a fringed calfskin jacket that used to enfold a Blues Magoo. On the floor beside a bathroom entrance with its Out of Order sign rest a pair of shoe trees that also belonged to a Fabulous Flame — a different one. The tux and the shoe trees are pretty cool, I admit. Those are the highlights, I’m afraid.

In the rearmost room, under a makeshift banner that reads Where The Action Is, are several tables laden with such items as the shaving kit and toothbrush of Billy Joe Royal, a Mindbender’s sequined headband, the pointy boots of an Amboy Duke (which happened to be my size, of all things), and the spread miniskirt of one of the Jeff Kutash Dancers circa 1967. Near the stairwell, the Leslie Gore Room, said to be arranged the way the diva liked her hotel suites to be arranged when she was on the road, is kind of boss. We’d never seen so many pink pillows, and none so grimy as these.

On the third floor, to which the only path is again a narrow wooden stairwell, the pickings are of such diminished contact with greatness that the stardust is microscopic. Here, beneath another handmade banner that says Let’s Have a Hullabaloo, arranged on two long tables beneath flickering florescent lights and covered by flimsy plastic tablecloths, are such keepsakes as a strand of love beads donated by a friend of a Commodore, an aged and discolored tambourine donated by Connie Francis’s studio percussionist, a cupcake pan that once hung in the pantry of Bobbie Gentry’s personal chef, a bolo that once adorned the neck of one of the Shangri-las’ kid brothers, and a pair of oily gloves left in the lobby by Muddy Waters’ driver’s car mechanic nephew. As one examines them, the artifacts grow more and more recherché, their identification signs progressively more remote from rock music. A nondescript bit of porcelain is marked with the tag: “A waterproof tile on loan from the Cowsills’ beach architect’s pool designer.” The high point, or the low point if you want to look at it that way, is a mounted notice affixed to an otherwise bare wall that says “On this spot in July, 1966, after performing in the first floor ballroom, the Shantays jammed with the Marketts and the Stingers while B. Bumble looked on.” There is no memento of the grand jam, not a Champ Amp or a reverb unit or a single bee’s sting.

After reading that, the family and I could only retrace our steps and descend slowly back to the first floor, following the crudely drawn exit signs, for a second glance at the ballroom, or what was left of it. B. Bumble was here!

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* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where we are happy to announce the first week of a very special event called Michael Fowler Half-Month. We are also happy to note that this site is often considered a form of literary anesthesia. When you've finished perusing Michael Fowler's new offense against nature, please check out the link below to buy his humor collection, "Nathaniel Hawthorne is Dating My Girlfriend."

Things Go Better With Nitrous Oxide

By:
mfowl4916@gmail.com
http://www.dpdotcom.com/hawthorne/

No fan of the dentist, I put off my most recent appointment until I gathered a mouthful of cavities and felt the throbbing need for several root canals. I simply hate the dental chair and the attendant pain, even if the technician is a comely lass with a winsome personality. But after two weeks of agony, I found a young doctor who billed himself as a “sedative” dentist, meaning I could receive not only Novocain and Valium during treatment, but nitrous oxide gas for a truly otherworldly experience. I wouldn’t quite be unconscious as he hacked my jaw to pieces — I’d have to visit an oral surgeon if I wanted the full ride to dreamland — but I’d be in the ozone along with the swinging oldsters at colonoscopy spas and birthing moms riding their epidurals. As it turned out, I emerged from the cubicle of grief with a smile on my lips, a tune in my throat, and although unable to drive myself home, no recollection of anything except the bill, and even that was fuzzy.

That’s when it occurred to me that many more of life’s excruciating trials would improve if only one could be anesthetized to the point of oblivion beforehand, essentially skipping the event. Why is there not a “sedative” tax service, for instance? You lug your box of documents into the office in the mall near the food court, the one with the standup poster of the nerd in a bow tie out front, and green balloons signifying money festooned everywhere, sink into a chair, and pop the Valium. Just as the consultant reaches for your scribbled lists of itemized deductions and coffee-stained W2s, you take a quick hit off the cylinder of nitrous oxide conveniently placed beside his desk, and you begin to feel…well just fine, thank you very much. When you come to yourself, your taxes are finished, your credit card dinged for the fee, and you’re looking forward to a federal refund that puts you $24 ahead. Does life get any better, or at least any more sedate? Why, having your taxes done is now as pleasant as a trip to the dentist!

Anything that leads to one having to wait in line, particularly if shopping is also involved, would obviously be improved by a stupefying relaxant like nitrous oxide. A large communal container of the gas with many hoses extending from it parked by the bascart corral would transform the experience of going to the store from torment to bearable tedium or even near bliss. Valium alone would not be enough, I think, but consider the difference a few sucks on the nitrous hose would bring. It would be a true opiate of the people. Instead of banging your way down narrow aisles for a couple of bananas and a liter of fine wine, dodging elderly creepers and the portly disabled on beeping electric carts, only to wait 25 minutes in the laughably designated “express” line, you could instead careen along feeling only pleasure, or at the worst numbness, and the 25 minutes spent crammed in a queue with the unwashed masses would fly by. You might take to shopping just for the fun of it, if you could completely blot out where you were, and this way you could.

I’ve never flown first class, and perhaps that is a pleasure I should partake of one day, so that I can say I’ve completely lived. But I have flown coach, and it’s the same as taking a bus, except the bus drives through the sky. That’s the only difference I can detect, and a whiff of nitrous oxide from the mask dangling overhead would make the whole trip go much faster and be more relaxing. Buckle up for takeoff…now buckle up for landing, and that’s it. Trip done and enjoyed to the maximum that such an awful ordeal can be enjoyed by a sentient being.

The last time I attended a first run film, Love, Simon, I saw within minutes that the whole trial would be much more tolerable with a little more of the good ol’ butter on my popcorn, and a snort or three of the good ol’ nitrous through a tube and mask connected to my seat. That way I could get from the opening scene to the closing credits with scarcely an awareness of the stupefying plot or unrealistic characters. I could focus instead on the truly delicious popcorn, or just take a revivifying nap.

And what an improvement on the trip you have to make to Disney World in order to appease the irritable brats or flighty teens in your care. A well-regarded French philosopher has called Disney World a “ghetto.” Well, it was actually the parking lot Jean Baudrillard bestowed that term upon, due to its crowdedness and distance from the feature attractions, but we’ll skip the Gallic niceties and come to the point. If at the entrance to this phantasmagoria of kitsch and juvenilia, Goofy or Minnie were to totter over and offer up a portable canister of nitrous oxide to pull about and apply your lungs to, you might achieve a euphoria equal to the tots’ at the sight of those Troll things. Or at least you could forget where you where, and the enormous sum it was costing you, until you trudged back to the “ghetto” and climbed exhausted into your sunbaked car.

They call nitrous oxide laughing gas, but let’s be real here. It’s grin-and-bear-it gas, and it’s essential.

 

 

 

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* Welcome to The Big Jewel, which which has always been a friend to nature, though nature seldom seems to return the favor. When you are done with Michael Fowler's latest and greatest, do check out the link below to purchase his most recent humor collection, "Nathaniel Hawthorne is Dating my Girlfriend."

One Touch Of Nature

By:
mfowl4916@gmail.com
http://www.dpdotcom.com/hawthorne/

I didn’t mean to do it. Nature and I have long had an understanding that, although in some technical and biological way I am part of Her, I nonetheless prefer to remain indoors and the hell out of Her way. All that ended recently when my car skidded off the road in a rainstorm (and really, what is the idea of all that water falling out of the sky so suddenly, hmm, Ms. Nature?) and I had to exit my sidetracked vehicle near some thick population of plant things — bushes and vines and what have you.

The downpour had stopped, fortunately, and airborne aqua, containing who knows what world-altering ingredients, did not spatter my skin and clothing. Instead, water only seeped into my shoes, which I have since burned. But as I climbed from the damp ditch where I had come to rest upon spotting the tow truck come to my rescue, I felt a leaf graze my wrist. A leaf! Yes, one of those greenish, slimy and unclean natural protuberances of raw planthood that spends its entire life outdoors. I was aghast.

My relationship to herbaceous vegetation, in case you haven’t gathered by now, is one of revulsion. As an adult I allow myself to make contact with shrub- or root-like entities only to eat buttered lima beans, and that’s rarely, and the hideous beans have got to be cooked and seasoned just right. I won’t dwell on the horrible viscosity of peas or the unbearable density of carrots. Of salads I say, Why? You might as well pour some vinegar and oil on your yard and graze there like a goat. Yum, that’s tasty clover!

I felt the brief contact of that leaf against my wrist as if some cold-blooded alien creature had swiped me with its outstretched tongue or curled-up hand as thin as a blade of grass. I was aware of the plant’s ill intent and wondered about the consequences. For hours after the accident, as I waited in a garage for my car’s tires to be realigned and listened to my insurance agent explain over the phone the difficulty of suing the owner of the puddle I hydroplaned over, I kept examining the contact spot on my wrist, expecting a red welt to rise up and begin oozing terrible toxins.

All right, so the sticky, moist leaf most likely wasn’t an alien, but who knew what brand of poison ivy or oak or sumac it was? I recalled from childhood the terrifying expectation I felt each summer that my limbs and throat would swell up to huge proportions due to plant life, which fortunately they never did, and the streaming half-closed eyes that I also dreaded but luckily never experienced. These feelings closed in on me again, and I knew that even if the leaf bore no deadly toxin, still it might have coated me with piney resin or scraped my tender flesh with scabrous vegetable follicles. I might stop breathing and my throat and lungs fill with suffocating fluid at a moment’s notice, if I were susceptible.

And I was always susceptible, or so I believed. As a child I was keenly aware of the deadly misnomers “fresh air” and “healthy exercise.” Growing up I always preferred the safety of my home with its indoor toys and TV to the dirt-lined playing fields and filthy streets. Evil flowers in bloom and dangerous budding trees terrified me. Shuddering, I recalled visiting a petting zoo with my elementary school class and becoming exposed to the pathogens of a live chicken. Worse was the day my high school senior class took a communal walk in a park and I trampled a mushroom. I was so upset I almost didn’t graduate.

At home with my rescued and repaired car in the drive, I took a good long hot shower, and then another, to thoroughly cleanse the leaf contact area. True, no skin eruption presented itself, but to be sure I also daubed the affected epidermis with soothing unguents, including a good soaking in both hydrocortisone and anti-fungal creams. Doctors have told me that these creams can be counterproductive when used together, since fungus loves nothing better than hydrocortisone, but I was desperate. I thought of driving to the ER too, or at least making an appointment with my physician, but the absence of an immediate tumor or even irritation on my wrist calmed me to the point of adopting a wait-and-see approach.

That may be my fatal mistake, like waiting to see if the mosquito squatting on my wrist, no doubt bursting with West Nile virus, will bite me or not. Or walking through my tree-lined back yard during tick season, and not running right back inside to examine every inch of my flesh under a flashlight.

That’s the awful thing about Nature: you don’t just touch Her. She touches you.

 

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* Welcome to The Big Jewel, which would be sort of like a second home to Michael Fowler, if he had a first home. Anyway, we are always glad to hear from Mike, even if that usually happens through the intervention of a hostage negotiator. When you finish his latest bit of whimsy, check out the link below to purchase his new humor collection, "Nathaniel Hawthorne is Dating my Girlfriend."

Bad Head Days

By:
myfowl4916@gmail.com
http://www.dpdotcom.com/hawthorne/

It’s a heartbreaker for an old codger like me, who for years had looked forward to baldness to bring an end to his bad hair days, only to find that with baldness come bad head days.

The last few bad hair years were bad enough. During that dreary time my head began to resemble a moldy basketball or a rugged moon surrounded by wispy white clouds. I was the man who grew a crop of anthrax atop his scalp. From the front or rear I formed a Clarabelle the Clown silhouette, or that of a volleyball wearing earmuffs, since most of my remaining hair was on the sides. The few hairs that clung to the top of my crinkled pate often stood straight up as if electrified, having lost their natural resilience and flexibility when in my forties and fifties my essential oils dried up. Nature has a good reason for covering body parts such as my head with hair, I decided, and that is because without concealment the part is hideous. And my covering thinned out and then vanished a while ago, like a herd of mastodon.

It probably didn’t help that for years I washed my hair with harsh hand soap and then combed it with a toothbrush handle. The best thing was to shave off those upright stragglers, but that still left a pockmarked, spotty skull that no cream could restore to a youthful bloom, or even the luster of a cheap wallet. That’s what I face today: a chafed, dented-looking protuberance that nudity has not improved one iota. Perhaps only applications of wood-filler from the home remodeling store would improve its appearance, and so far I’ve refused to try those.

Not being able to enhance my head’s looks, and in despair over having to carry the unsightly orb into public on a daily basis, I do what I call “sweetening the head,” and improve its fragrance. Though it does little to fill in the cracks and fissures, I rub in a couple of drops of my wife’s vanilla bean-scented after-shower lotion when I feel particularly stippled and craggy, so that those who came in close proximity to the head at least don’t need to hold their breath.

My family members, but especially my wife, who must repeatedly spend time in close proximity to the head, sometimes remaining stuck in the car or living room with it for hours on end, have never once had cause to complain about its odor. Others who must approach the head and share a confined space with the nude, flaky entity, such as my dentist, my oral hygienist, my audiologist, my primary care physician, my optometrist, my podiatrist and my sleep apnea specialist, have none of them recoiled from the head, as they might well do if it was odorless or gave off a rank smell in addition to being unsightly. I like to think, though none has commented on the fact, that some of them even enjoy my fragrant knob, and of course I mean the fragrance alone, not the knob itself, which will always be hideous.

Perhaps some of my medical care providers in their closet-size workspaces wonder where the nice aroma is coming from. They may decide it’s me, because no one else happens to be around, but I’m not saying, and certainly I’m not pointing to my head. I’m not much given to such dandified behavior. I haven’t even told my wife that I sweeten myself with her vanilla concoction, fearing she might take it as a sign that next I’ll start wearing her dresses before changing my name to Vanessa.

Since I’m the only one in the know, my health providers would have to guess that it’s my head that smells so good. My dental hygienist, for instance, who practically rubs foreheads with me as she closes in during her probing and scraping chores, perhaps has figured out that it’s my head she has to thank for the whiff of freshness in her workspace. But she hasn’t said anything, and none of my medical attendants, all of them women, has said anything. Perhaps none wants to say, “Egad, your head smells good,” because it would sound odd, or forward.

Or perhaps they are distracted by my strange behavior: being older and subject to confusion, I tend to open wide for the optometrist and look straight ahead for the hygienist. I sometimes announce that my goal in life is to keep food over my head and a roof on my table. But how refreshing it would be if one of my caretakers were to blurt out, “Damn but your noggin smells nice. The last chrome dome we had in here stank so bad we had to throw open a window.”

Whether anyone sniffing around the head ever comments on it doesn’t really matter, though. By sweetening the head, I’ve done what I can to improve the environment, and anyone is free to enjoy or suffer my knob in silence. If there are people who want to disdain a man who goes about with the top of his head smelling like an elderly woman who has just stepped out of the shower, they are free to do so.

I only hope that no one is so disgusted as to lash out at the head, physically or verbally, perhaps in alarm that a mass grave for desiccated hair follicles as unsightly as mine is symptomatic for some awful disease. If anyone calls the first responders or curses me over the head, I’ll pull on a knit cap, tugging it down tight over my ears, and leave it on. I won’t even take it off for my medical appointments.

I end with a heads-up to those young men who can’t wait to experience this disaster, and bald themselves with a razor to be fashionable: for the sake of sufferers like me, don’t.

 

 

 

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* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where we pride ourselves on being students of mankind. Sheepskin Mankind and Piney Mankind. But let Michael Fowler explain it all to you. When you're done with his latest humor piece, check out our blogroll on the right or the link directly below to buy Michael's book, "Nathaniel Hawthorne is Dating my Girlfriend."

Sheepskin Man Vs. Piney Man

By:
mfowl4916@gmail.com
http://www.dpdotcom.com/hawthorne/

She thinks of you as Sheepskin Man. Or perhaps Sasquatch Man, but we’ll give you a break and say Sheepskin Man. That’s in acknowledgement of your four-year degree, your newish Honda, your taste for craft beer and Thai food, and the job you hold down in an office or classroom that pays better than some machine shops.

Hi there, Sheepskin Man! She certainly has taken note of your elite education and hoity-toity manners and discretionary income, especially since she lacks all these attributes herself. Yes, she’s quite a different deal from you, maybe didn’t finish high school, and confesses to drinking a bit.

Whoa, quite a bit! And has she ever visited an orthodontist? Whatever, she was attracted to you when she waited your table the other night, and now you’re suddenly on the town with her and negotiating for her to clean your apartment, since she’s underemployed. And you, Sheepskin Man, are attracted to her, too, even if the attraction is sort of inexplicable. True, she’s kind of cute, and her drinking promises an interesting night, but what of that? Can she really be your type? Your usual date is Sheepskin Woman, who owns fifty pairs of shoes and a master’s degree, but this evening you’re off on a hazardous tangent.

Your night takes a decided turn inside the bar she directs you to. It isn’t her favorite, she explains, but an out-of-the-way place you’ll likely be left alone. If you went to one of her favorite spots, where there was a nice crowd, some he-man would be liable to beat you to a pulp, she says. You don’t argue.

You enter a dark, forsaken hellhole whose blackened interior makes it clear that it almost burned to the ground in a recent fire. “Charming!” you think. At first the place seems deserted, but when you step up to the bar a kindly middle-aged fella with a tube gut flicks on a tiny TV on the shelf behind him and takes your orders. Draft beer for you, six Jell-O shots for her. This is only your second date, but she got bombed on your first also, so you’re concerned, but not much.

After her third shot, she wants to dance. You give her change for the jukebox, since she hasn’t a dime to her name, and then you’re on the barroom floor, trying to find the tempo to “Wonderful Tonight,” a song she picked and the beat to which, although you played snare drum in your high school marching band, you can’t lock onto. Why couldn’t she choose one that goes and-a one, and-a two, and-a three, so you don’t stumble around like a lame donkey? Bad luck!

Now a guy steps out of the dark woodwork and cuts in. Meet Piney Man. You haven’t named him that yet, but you will in about a minute. Piney Man doesn’t seek your permission or acknowledge you in any way. He simply asks your girl to dance, and she, without knowing him, accepts. In retaliation, you give the dude exactly one glance as you retreat to a bar stool. He’s about your age, mid-twenties, and damn it all he’s good-looking, even well-dressed in a country-and-western sort of way. He would fit in well in the fifth or sixth row on a televised Lyle Lovett concert.

He also has a GED, works on roofs or construction sites, drives a domestic pickup with actual tools on board, drinks domestic beer and hunts domestic animals for food. Yes, you take in all that at a glance. And one more thing: he smells of pine trees or some other outdoorsy, labor-intensive thing. So you think of him now as Piney Man, though his aroma may actually come from cologne or motor oil or, as is common to all Piney Men, cigarettes. The one thing he won’t smell of is peach and strawberry blend shampoo, like you.

Piney Man knows how to move to the funereal song oozing over the ether, and you suspect that he’s well-versed in sashaying, probably having memorized the entire jukebox at Joe’s, which is the name of this place, where he may be the only regular who didn’t die in the fire.

While you can’t help but admire the graceful pair, you try not to stare directly at Piney Man for fear of proving conclusively that he’s got you in the looks department. A sneak glance, however, confirms that he does. That doesn’t leave much room for you to compete, but there’s still income and brains to be considered. These are not ordinarily your strong suits, but tonight they’ll have to be. How else will you impress your date, who of course is none other than Piney Woman, Piney Man’s natural soul mate? You suddenly feel you’re wearing a back brace and a sweater with a kitten embroidered across the chest.

As the entwined couple continue to dance to the mournful guitar licks, you’re idiotically counting the beats from your bar stool, still trying to see how they can move together as one column of swaying liquid. When you think you’ve got the tempo at last, there’s still no other female in the joint for you to dance with. You’re stuck with kindly barkeep, no doubt Joe himself, who keeps you company from behind the bar.

You follow his gaze to miniature TV behind him. Jeopardy is on, and Alex grills a contestant in the category of Legendary Smart People: “This Old Testament King, renowned for his wisdom, once proposed to cut a baby into halves.” You know the answer but say nothing, not wanting to look like an intellectual show-off in front of average Joe. But Joe pipes right up with “Who is King Solomon?” And since the bartender, in your mind, is another Piney Man, he stands in for the good-looking dancer, and you realize you’re now losing in the brains department, right when it counts.

You again glance over at Piney Man. That was quick thinking, sir, you tell yourself. But you say nothing to him, since it’s already crystal clear that you two won’t be exchanging any words. Neither of you came to the bar tonight to talk to another guy, and most likely, if he notices you at all, he’s come up with some derogatory name for you, something as bad as Piney Man for city slickers.

What might it be? You think you know it: Shaft. But in that case you’d need to be like the vibrant man of machismo from the song and movie, wouldn’t you? You’d also need to be black, most likely. You’re flattering yourself; he isn’t thinking of you as Shaft. More like Mr. Peepers, on account of your glasses.

“Wonderful Tonight” ends at last, and you place your next drink orders with Joe: another draft for you, and a second half-dozen Jell-O shots for the lady. Piney Man buys himself a bottle of lager. Joe gets busy, and Piney Man, behind your back, puts in a quarter to hear “Rough Boy.” Of course, it’s another arrhythmic ballad that only contortionists can enjoy. Briefly you get up to examine the jukebox song list, looking for “Sweet Home Alabama.” You’re certain you can boogie to that. Amazingly, you don’t find that dive song in this dive. You sit back down.

Once again you’re locked out of the dance floor, and watch as Joe turns up the little TV for tonight’s final Jeopardy question. Alex reads from the category of Legendary Rich People: “The first gold coins were minted during the reign of this ancient King of Asia Minor.” “Who is Midas?” you blurt out, but Joe looks skeptical, and sure enough, it’s not Midas but Croesus. Joe smirks. Maybe he thought it was Midas too, but you blew it and that makes him, and by extension Piney Man, the winner. Piney Woman is his.

Except you’re the one who drives her home later, and it’s your car she pukes in.

 

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* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where we enjoy beginning the New Year with yet more sordid details about a revolting topic, thanks to our sordid, revolting friend Michael Fowler. When you're done with his latest bit of hilarity, see our blogroll on the right for a link to buy Michael's book, God Made the Animals.

Am I The Next TV News Person To Be Sidelined For Sexual Misconduct?

By:
mfowl4916@gmail.com

I won’t identify myself, since I don’t want to start speculation, but I’m an attractive, not to say amazingly attractive, thirtyish male who just got hired to co-anchor at WNOX, News of the Tristate Coming to You from Wapakoneta, Ohio, and already I feel that my days are numbered. My first 15 minutes on the job, and who do I meet down the hall from my office but the weather lady Cassandra Mintloe? There she was, inches from me, the local and thoroughly professional celebrity. I stammered out a “Hello, Ms. Mintloe,” and her friendly “Hi there” warmed my Midwestern heart. As soon as I turned on my work computer, I composed a “Let’s get to know each other” note to her, complete with descriptions of my prowess in bed, my athletic trophies, and an attached GIF of my genitals. I was about to send it off when I thought, “Steady on, Jose,” (not my real name). “You might end up in hot water.” It was Cassandra, after all, who forced the anchor I was hired to replace into early retirement when she complained about his unwanted advances. How could I have forgotten that critical point, when it was all the scuttlebutt when I came here to interview? In my excitement at beholding Cassandra’s modest form, it jumped clean out of my head. So I saved myself a headache and didn’t contact her, and still haven’t. Instead I clenched my fists, pressed my manly thighs together, and determined to hang tough.

But I was hardly out of trouble. There’s something about the prospect of appearing on live TV that gets me all tingly. When I stepped out for lunch, I ran smack into co-anchor Cathleen Cartwright at the soda machine. She, well-groomed and presentable as always, is the undisputed star of the morning soybean and corn forecasts, and her well-bred professionalism is a hallmark. She’s as wholesome as barley, and my first thought on seeing her was, “Can we take alternate swigs on your bottle of water, and then let our tongues really cut loose at my apartment in Bellefontaine?” Back at my desk I composed a memo to her, under my new alias Jose the Impulsive, but with my real email address, informing her of how I take a shower and which Victoria’s Secret garments I favor, along with an attached GIF of my member bearing a ring of red lipstick. She couldn’t resist that, I figured, any more than I could resist her prim demeanor. I was about to hit the send button when it struck me: “Hey, Jose, are you trying to be one of those lusty boys at FOX News who’s had to ‘go on sabbatical’ over sexual harassment charges?” That kind of FOX-y behavior, I should have recalled, had emasculated the network, to the point where it seemed to be approaching an all-female lineup, not counting a smattering of asexual esthetes and a handful of eunuchs. That realization brought me quickly to my senses, and again I didn’t send what might have proved to be a fateful email.

“Whew,” I thought. “Saved once more.” But for how long? That very evening, and bear in mind I’m still talking about my first day at WNOX, I encountered Judge Jenny, our senior news correspondent and roving reporter, in the garage. After I greeted the dignified judge with a star-struck hello, and she responded with a gracious smile, I thought, “What a cougar. I mean, do they come any more provocative than this hottie?” The previous evening I had watched a taped segment on WNOX of the regal, sexagenarian judge on horseback at the local county fair, and let me tell you, I could hardly stand how reserved she looked in her proper equestrienne outfit. I was inflamed to the hilt. After greeting her in the garage, my next idea was to take her on a thrill ride in my new sports convertible parked nearby, that I had bought the very day WNOX hired me. We’d see whose bedroom or what discreet hotel I could drive to in twenty minutes flat. Sure, I was thirty years younger than the judge, but I was as fired up as she was matronly and mature.

As I was about to issue the invitation, along with many a wink and leer to put my point across, a car pulled up beside us and its horn blasted. The driver was, I don’t know who, maybe the guy who produces the show. I don’t know who everyone is around the station yet, so I can’t say. Anyway I was once again saved from the inclinations of Jose the Impulsive, which I suddenly saw could only land me butt-first in the grinder, if the judge took things too personally. That’s right: a minute’s research online proved she wasn’t called Judge Jenny for nothing. She was a former trial judge and a dominatrix for women’s rights. Thanks to that car horn, I clammed up just in time.

Still, Jose is always on the alert, always looking for — dare I say it? — danger. Can he last a single year, or even one more day at WNOX News, surrounded by dozens of females who, no matter how demure, all strike him as irresistible, down to the clerical and custodial help? I’m beginning to doubt it.

 

 

 

 

 

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* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where our main goal is to distract you enough so that you can forget your past boy- or girlfriends. But for some reason all Michael Fowler wants to do is to remember his. When you're done perusing this piece, see our blogroll on the right for a link to buy Michael's book, God Made the Animals.

My Past Girlfriends Looked Like Rock Stars

By:
mfowl4916@gmail.com

I was never part of the music scene, but the women I got into relationships with starting back in the 60s shared a certain trait: they resembled well-known rock stars. Perhaps unfortunately, it was male rock stars they looked like, and not the prettiest ones either. I never dated a girl as drop-dead gorgeous as Jim Morrison, or as cuddly-cute as Beatle Paul, as gorgeously tressed as David Coverdale, as perfectly lipped and eye-lidded as the King, or as glitzy as David Lee Roth. Instead my girlfriends resembled some of the plainer, even grotesque male rock stars. But I’m not complaining. This detracted not a bit from their femininity, and never compromised my gender identity. These young ladies may have looked like plain-to-ugly male rockers to a startling degree, but each and every one overcame that with cherry lips, Bambi eyes, a tidy rack, sometimes a Marilyn mole, and other wow features.

My first girlfriend, a desperate score I made in time for senior prom in 1965, having gone dateless up to that time, looked like Sam the Sham, right after he and the Pharaohs scored big with “Wooly Bully.” Carla didn’t have a beard, not yet anyway, but she did have the Sham’s thick mat of curly, dark hair, jutting jaw and monstrous overbite, and an identical reluctance to pay a dentist to rein in those buck teeth, despite the hit single royalties that must have been accruing in his, if not her, pocket. As for her more womanly attributes, Carla added to Sam’s overt maleness some seriously cute female dimples and a sassy, womanly pout. Carla and I experimented with pot and a bunch of new dance steps together. The jerk comes to mind. But the highlight of our relationship was attending a costume party the summer of our graduation. She went as the Sham, no surprise there, wearing a false beard and a paper pharaoh hat. Lacking a costume, and wanting Carla to take center stage, I came in a flannel shirt and blue jeans as the pharaoh’s food-taster, and I still remember how great those finger sandwiches were. Carla and I lasted a few months of doing wild coming-of-age things together, but somehow we managed to go off in different directions to college.

In 1966 I met Sherry in my freshman psych class. She resembled bandleader Paul of Paul Revere and the Raiders, right down to his short blonde hair, his come-on smirk, and the roguish twinkle in his eye. Sherry could prance to “Kicks” the way Paul and the band did, too, flaunting her solid tush and round thighs in skin-tight pants just the way that stocky Paul shook his own generous bum in snug cavalry britches and riding boots. Sherry and Paul were two prancing fools. The difference was, Sherry shook her bouncy little rack and added a hip roll as she worked her go-go boots, and this turned my head much more than Revere’s manlier motions. And talk about a kisser: I still remember her breath warmed by 3.2 beer and tongue skilled from licking cigarette papers. She was such a good smoocher that I could hardly take my eyes off those cherry lips crinkled in a smile. And in case you’re wondering what it was like to kiss Paul Revere, or his copy, it was great, and it never occurred to me that I was kissing a guy, because I wasn’t.

In 1967, when student radicals moved in on campus and began to plot against the administration, I shacked up with Sandra, who was an exact lookalike for Smokey Robinson, only with pillowy lips, Bambi eyes, a rack so tidy as to be pointy, a magnificent collection of earrings, a Marilyn mole, and her process beginning to explode into naturalness. We only lasted a month or two before conflicting views on the role of police in society sundered our relationship, but meanwhile we stoked each other in the bedroom with talk of justice and equality between heated sheets. I like to think that in some way we liberated each other’s souls, and man, could she nibble an ear.

Right after I dropped out of the higher education racket in 1969, I met Barb at a laser show in an art museum. This foxy lady looked so much like Question Mark of Question Mark and the Mysterians, a band I often saw on TV, that I was floored. In case you don’t remember what Question Mark looked like, he resembled a worm with shoulder-length dark hair, always wore dark glasses, and had very bad skin, as if he had been badly burned in an accident. That was Barb all over, and her little sister Babs too. Barb and Babs both had that wormlike quality with really bad, my-house-burned-down-with-me-in-it skin. Barb and I loved to frug to “96 Tears,” “Magic Carpet Ride,” and my then favorite, “Draft Resister.”  For a while I was eyeing Barb and Babs at the same time, getting off on their fantastic Question Mark looks. But eventually Barb’s cherry lips, sparkling Bambi eyes, and roly-poly hips put her over the top in my little red address book. She told me I could use her VW Beetle if I needed to hightail to Canada until peace broke out, and maybe she’d come with me. We never tried to sneak over the border, though, since I drew a winningly huge number in the draft lottery.

After graduation in the early ’70s from a junior college with lax admission policies, I went with the spitting image of Ginger Baker, drummer from Cream. Cherie wasn’t as tall as the over-six-foot Baker, but still towered over me by a couple of inches, and sported Baker’s gangly build, red hair, enormous feet, and unfortunately those not-great British teeth, though her fangs were American. But she also had flashing blue eyes like Ginger’s, legs that went to heaven, and a rack that, though small, was definitely not minor league. Like the drummer, she had great energy and endurance. She could play hacky sack and ride bikes with me all morning, and had strength left over to chase a Frisbee and rip my clothes off in the afternoon. Aware of her resemblance to the great musician, Cherie didn’t mind in the least that my nickname for her was Ginger, and she flashed a gray-toothed smile, and opened up those baby blues, when I teasingly said such things as, “Hey, Ginger, come over here, and bring your tidy rack.”

The great blonde in my life circa the ’80s was Julie, who was the duplicate of that blowzy blond singer, What’s-his-name, in Flock of Seagulls. In a blur of acid after a rock concert, we went back to my place, where her hair twisted and curved all over the pillows like a sculpture of fine wires. Our first night together, I dreamt her hair took flight and soared out my apartment window like a bird. Then I awoke and, after ascertaining she didn’t need a shave or have an erection, made love to her. She explained afterward that her hair was the result of many less than successful dye jobs and home permanents, these having caused lasting damage. I loved Julie hair damage and all, but we disagreed about Bill Clinton’s talent on the saxophone, I insisting it was an impeachable offense, and we soon split up.

Neanderthal-thick and sporting a sloping forehead that looked atavistic back to the chimp level, my future wife Claire was a dead ringer for Meat Loaf. In 1990, tired of frequenting fleshpots and panicked to find myself still a bachelor, I noticed that my librarian’s pelvis was every inch as wide as Meat Loaf’s sprawling pant-load. This presaged easy childbirth if we went the family route, and why wouldn’t we, after I checked out a few books and made advances? I also found bewitching Claire’s cute-as-a-button Marilyn mole, and her sparkling Bambi eyes beneath an adorable jutting brow. And oh those sweet cherry lips, though compared to Meat Loaf she probably wore too much makeup. On our first date, she told me I was a dead ringer for Rudyard Kipling. I said, Whoa, but figured I shouldn’t argue with obsession. I only wondered if Kipling was handsome or at least a five. I later saw from his picture that he was about a three, and that I did look like him.

My son, I’m proud to say, takes after the old man. Over the holidays he brought home the body double of Adam Levine of Maroon 5. She had Levine’s tattoos all up and down her arms, his cherry lips and short brown hair, his slim hips and flashing eyes, even his tidy rack, but still she was all female. “Can she sing?” I asked my son. I don’t know why I asked him that, since none of my old girlfriends despite their rocker looks had shown one bit of musical talent.

“What do you mean, can she sing?” my son shot back. “She’s in medical school. What are you thinking?”

Yeah, what the hell was I thinking?

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* Welcome to The Big Jewel, your number one source for excrutiating detail about the current state of bluegrass music. After you've finished reading this week's bit of hilarity from Michael Fowler, see our blogroll on the right for a link to buy Michael's book, God Made the Animals.

Come To Bluegrass This Year

By:
mfowl4916@gmail.com

Everyone agrees that pop music is horrible, but no one does anything about it. There is no way to guarantee that Lady Gaga or Adam Levine will not offend our tympanums again, not with their contracts. But there is a simple solution. Drop all your preconceptions about hillbilly music, lose your pretentious rock sensibilities, and come on over to bluegrass.

It’s still summer, or warm enough that there are no blizzards or nor’easters on the horizon, and there are outdoor bluegrass festivals going on in every state, and have been since spring. There’s probably one not more than an hour or two from you, down a peaceful country lane lined with outhouses on skids that you’ll need your GPS to locate, if not a savvy mule. There you’ll find the sun is shining, the river is sweet, the grass is green if not blue, and the beat flat out rocks. Really, it does. Maybe not like AC/DC, but at least harder than Maroon 5 and “Bad Romance.”

Learning to enjoy bluegrass is easy, because there are essentially only two adjustments the listener must make. The first is to the instrumentation, particularly the banjo. Bluegrass novices, rockers and folk music lovers alike, have told me that they could listen to this music, in theory, but there’s something about the banjo they can’t go. They fear the pure twang of the instrument. I understand their apprehension.

There’s something about the cold, metallic notes that spring out of a banjo, amplified by a drumhead-like skin, that makes the uninitiated listener cringe as if the short hairs on his neck were being plucked out with ice-cold tweezers. Plus, those icy notes invariably conjure up the inbred mute in Deliverance, or the Clampetts gathered around the cement pond. They’re embarrassing, for heaven’s sake.

If it turns out you can’t do the banjo, you may comfort yourself with the fact that lots of bluegrass doesn’t contain a note of it. Keep telling yourself that and you won’t despair at the very outset.

By comparison to the banjo, the other bluegrass instruments are a piece of cake. These are usually a six-string acoustic guitar, a warm and roomy stand-up bass, also a fiddle, which is what mountain folk call a violin, and a mandolin. Nothing odd or offensive there, except one does wonder how a delicate medieval instrument like the Neapolitan mandolin can sound so good in the hands of rural Kentuckians and Virginians. You’d have thought they’d be handier with a jaw harp or a tin whistle. Who knew?

The other challenge for bluegrass novitiates is the singing. The best and most famous bluegrass singers have voices that are unlikely to front any other vocal format, even country. They are simply too downhome and honest, too evocative of coal mining and moonshining and backwater rapids. But they can be got used to.

The trick is to start with a band whose singer doesn’t sound like he or she is one big nose stuffed with coal dust. The angel-voiced Alison Krauss comes to mind, and her bandmate Dan Tyminski, who did the singing for George Clooney in the popular bluegrass-infused film O Brother Where Art Thou.

Tyminski has a fine, accurate baritone that makes a virtue of his southern inflections, while Alison has all but lost any regional accent (she’s from North Carolina) and easily performs mainstream stuff, sometimes with the British subject Robert Plant, who can also be got used to with patience. Start with these folks and then progress to the more rarified artists. Or stay and listen only to Alison Krauss and her topnotch band Union Station. It doesn’t get any better.

If you move on, though, take it in easy stages. Just because you can listen to Alison Krauss and George Clooney (Dan Tyminski), doesn’t mean you are ready for bluegrass stalwarts Ralph Stanley and Jimmy Martin, let alone those unique stylists who define the bluegrass sound for many, such as Screamin’ Del McCoury and Hazel Dickens. No, don’t ever think that after hearing angelic Alison warble “Down to the River to Pray” you can just run off and enjoy Screamin’ Del’s rendition of “High on a Mountaintop,” which parts the very clouds with sonic intensity, or the mournful Hazel Dickens wheezing out “Black Lung,” a tune that fills the air with carcinogenic dust. That’s not going to happen.

To be honest, I myself can’t listen to Jimmy Martin or Ms. Dickens for a note. Jimmy sounds like the irate cook at Jimmy’s Truck Stop in Corbin, Kentucky, who has been told his food must pass a health board inspection every year and starts keening like a wounded coyote. And Dickens is simply too authentic, having so much homespun veracity that I can’t stand the idea of her breathing. She sounds like a scorned woman in Chesapeake, West Virginia, standing on top of a hill dressed in black rags and wailing down into the Kanawha River Valley despite her advanced tuberculosis.

The late Ralph Stanley, though, is the great harmonizer in folk and country music. He can, or could, sing with anyone, and achieved fame back in the 1950s harmonizing with his brother Carter. After Carter passed on he performed duets with everyone from Patty Loveless, Dwight Yoakum, the aforementioned Alison Krauss, to even Bob Dylan. He was that well regarded, and that good. He really was, even though solo he sounded like a coal-mining foreman whose voice can still puncture your eardrums after traveling through miles of twisting anthracite tunnels.

If you happen to become a fan of Ralph’s recordings, and again I recommend the ones where he harmonizes with all sorts of swell people on great and familiar songs, not all of them religious, you should take it as a sign. You may now move on to Screamin’ Del McCoury, whose followers are often hard-core in their devotion.

McCoury, who plays guitar and sings with a crack band largely composed of his sons, as did Ralph Stanley (that is, each played with his own sons, not the other man’s), has dozens of recordings out, and can still be found at many of those summer bluegrass festivals I mentioned. Known for his “high lonesome” tenor that can shear sheep, bake biscuits and dig coal all by itself, Screamin’ Del’s not my cup of grits, but I can listen to him now and then without shuddering. Not too much shuddering, anyway, and I always recover.

Let’s say that by some miracle you don’t shudder at Screamin’ Del, and you actually become a fan of the bluegrass genre, that you’re so fortunate. Next you’ll want this music served up live and outdoors, where the ambience of lawn chairs, portable toilets, and amateur pickers is so relaxed that even the bandana-sporting motorcycle gangs and their tattooed mamas are friendly. Plus, you can test your survival skills by lasting an entire weekend on soup beans and well water that you pump yourself, with an actual handle.

You may well become like the one-armed girl in a bikini I saw at a festival in Ohio, standing in a grassy field and smiling in the warm sunshine as she waved her sole arm to the beat. She had exited the rock arena and come to where the music is still good. She was having a blast.

 

 

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* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where the only dot we've had any personal experience with was Purple Microdot. That has absolutely nothing to do with this week's piece by Michael Fowler, except that dropping some Purple Microdot right before reading might make it better. Purple Microdot makes everything better. After reading, see our blogroll on the right for a link to buy Michael's book, God Made the Animals.

I Can’t Connect Dots

By:
mfowl4916@gmail.com

My problem with dots was bad all through high school. At prom my date asked me, in a gentle tone and batting her eyes, if I minded if she went and sat with friends. I said, diggety, she sure is polite, and told her to go ahead. She wanted to see her friends, nothing wrong with that. It didn’t dawn on me, not until 12 years had passed and I was a deteriorated 30, that she had ditched me because I was a farm boy with no conversation who wore overalls to prom and smelled like chicken feed and russet potatoes. On top of that, I talked out loud to myself and used words like “diggety” as rural equivalents for urban curse words. After all those years the truth of the situation bore down on me like a crushing weight. I went from thinking highly of my date, for her good manners and consideration for me, to the overwhelming feeling that she had cut out my beating heart with her nail file and stomped it flat in her low heels. I said, doggety, I am such a sack of it.

Another time in high school when I failed to connect the dots was at graduation. My guidance counselor asked me if I’d enjoy working in a hardware store for a career. I said, daggety, I sure want to be a research scientist, but my counselor appreciates my entrepreneurial abilities and skill with tools, so maybe I should take his advice. And I beamed with eagerness. Only years later, when I actually was working in a hardware store and hating it, did I realize that my counselor had encouraged many of my classmates to go on to medical and law school, and written glowing letters of recommendation for them, but clearly thought I was a dunce destined to walk around with nails and screws bulging my pockets and a pen stuck behind one ear. I did manage to get into a community college later on and study organic chemistry and quantum mechanics, but what a cheap shot from a small-time school board employee who probably made less than 20 dollars an hour and didn’t even ask me about my interest in science. And I hadn’t called him out! I said, who has chaff for brains? Dumbhead me, that’s who.

Working my way through college, I took a position in a large bank—take that, guidance counselor! More specifically, one morning at the start of business I was applying Windex to the glass door of the bank building I worked in, thinking how nice it would be to be on the bank’s payroll instead of a cleaning company’s. A great-looking woman came walking in the door and I stared fixedly at her through the glass. She let out a weary sigh as she passed me by, and I said, the poor babe has to get up early in the morning and work as a capitalist in a bank. It wasn’t until 15 years later, when I had my doctorate in chemistry and had quit the bank job and was already bald and diabetic, that I understood that maybe, in fact certainly, her sigh had been because of my lecherous leer and not the earliness of the hour. Despite the great passage of time, shame overcame me and I blushed furiously. What an insensitive creep I was to have looked at her like that, with boneration distending my pelvic region and all! I said, if only she had slapped me hard in the face, even a simple chem student and cleaning staff member who still spread manure and dug carrots by hand on occasion would have gotten the message. I am such a crud, I said.

Maybe this has happened to you. One time at a company where I determined safe bacteria levels for frozen pizza someone committed murder, and the police detective assigned to the case called it a “locked room” mystery. I said, whoa horsie, this is like Murder, She Wrote. And I tried to think the plot through. Here’s what I knew for sure: it could only have been me or four other people, since no one else was on the scene. Well, I knew I hadn’t done it. My memory is bad, but not so bad that I’d forget if I committed a murder on the day in question, and I recalled clearly that all I’d done was handle a couple hundred pounds of toxic cheese. And I knew it couldn’t have been Jack, since I’d had my eye on him all that day, giving him an alibi. And it couldn’t have been Ted, because he had the roast beef sandwich with mustard for lunch, and used the blue cream dispenser, and got a phone call right at 2 p.m. And it couldn’t have been Sally, since she had the chicken salad and only used barbecue sauce, and her car was in the shop, and she never added cream to her tea. That left Allan, and if I’d realized at the time that he was the killer, I could have spared the police six months of intensive interviews and searching for evidence and DNA testing. But the dots didn’t line up for me until the police had already proved Allan guilty, even though I suspected him all along because of what he said about me at the holiday party.

A final example of how dots continue to bewilderate the holy goo out of me. My current job is with a company that produces genetically modified vegetables for households and school cafeterias. One day I took my vegetable processor, which is essentially a gene splicer that emits radiation, to the house shop for repair, since it was leaking hazardous material everywhere and giving me terrible electric shocks. When he handed it back in an hour, I asked the tech what the problem had been. He told me it was a fault in the circuits. I walked out of the shop, my processor under my arm, fully satisfied. I felt I’d gotten specificity, and that the tech had taken me to the root of the issue. But then something odd happened. Amazingly, for once in my life I could see the dots connect, and it hadn’t taken me years upon years. The whole vegetable processor was nothing but circuits, plus some unsafe nuclear material, and the tech was cracking wise. His diagnosis of a fault in the circuits was like my plumber telling me I had a fault in my water pipes, or my doctor saying there was a snafu in my organs. There was no specificity at all. And I had fallen for it, letting the tech have his joke.

I said, scorch my biscuits, I’ll always be a doofus with dots…if again you’ll pardon my rusticacious fill-ins for trendy big-time invective.

 

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