* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where our good friend Michael Fowler confesses to his literary crimes but with his typical bravado, offers no apologies. How like certain presidential candidates! After you've read his latest nonsense, find out what other authors he's been plagiarizing by clicking on the link below to buy his highly derivative yet annoyingly addicting humor collection, "Nathaniel Hawthorne Is Dating My Girlfriend."

Damn Right I’m A Plagiarist!

By: Michael Fowler

You can bet I have been called out on my plagiarism, not once but many, many times. But I have prospered nonetheless and never considered giving it up. I’ll tell you why.

As early as elementary school I freely appropriated the words of others to bolster my insipid attempts at original essays and theme papers. In the fifth grade, penning a report on my favorite book at the time, Winnie the Pooh, I lifted lines from Jacqueline Susann, whose novel Valley of the Dolls I found on my mother’s bedside stand, and from Vladimir Nabokov, whose Lolita I found on my father’s. My teacher was stunned and thought I had misunderstood the Milne classic. Still I passed, and a light went on in my head.

In grade six, in a theme describing my activities over the summer, this time for a different teacher, I quoted liberally and without attribution Henry Miller, Ernest Hemingway, and Caitlyn Jenner. My teacher, old Mrs. Slayheath, may have suspected some exaggeration and even fabrication on my part, but she was far too old to penalize me. She merely reminded me, in red pencil, to credit my sources in future. I did not.

In junior high my thievery ran rampant. By that point I was convinced, and I think rightly so, that my plagiarism offered new insights into the real authors’ words and ideas. My pilfered words were actually an improvement on the originals! It was all due to place and timing. In a clever story by author Jorge Luis Borges, a modern writer replicates, through his own inspiration, the exact book Don Quixote. But because he lives in a different place and writes in a different era than Cervantes, it is a completely original work! So this isn’t as stupid as it sounds.

I won’t go so far as to say that my stolen words are pithier or more coherent than the exactly identical originals. After all, they differ from these by not so much as a comma. But in their new place within the dull word salad produced by the floundering and harebrained essayist that is yours truly, these appropriated gems gleam with a fiercer light than perhaps they ever shed before. So how can this still be plagiarism?

Tell me that. Tell Borges that.

Okay, it’s still plagiarism. But plagiarism never sounded so good.

I really came into my own as a word thief in high school. In an essay for American History class, I took a deep breath and passed off as my own a passage beginning “I hold these truths to be self-evident…” Of course I didn’t get away with it, not at first. But before my obviously bogus work dragged my final grade down to a humiliating C, that teacher died. Let me say at once that I had nothing to do with her demise, though I can’t say I grieved much.

For the substitute teacher who took her place, I wrote a putative biographical paper on the young Abe Lincoln, drawing equally from the Bible’s Book of Jonah, Jack London’s Yukon story White Fang, and a speech of Mussolini’s. She recognized the biblical part! The old lady wasn’t as dumb as I thought. But all she did was write a note on my paper that I must acknowlege any quotations. And I got a B+!

On to college, where I determined that the secret to not getting caught was to plunder works far afield from the subject I was writing about. Thus in psych class, my so-called original papers didn’t crib from famous experts like Freud or Jung, but instead I inserted whole paragraphs of Ann Landers, J. Edgar Hoover, and Bishop Fulton J. Sheen. For my philosophy essay, I avoided Nietzsche and Marx and inserted a disguised essay by Woody Allen, and once, in a paper called “The Humorous Side of Solipsism,” an entire routine of Rodney Dangerfield’s. For my journalism class, I had the inspired notion of submitting an already plagiarized piece by the recognized plagiarist Jayson Blair. I was really proud of that one. I had other tricks as well. For my creative writing course, I handed in Gogol’s “The Nose”, with this subtle difference: wherever Gogol used the word “nose,” I substituted “elbow.” Consequently my story was called “The Elbow,” but was otherwise the same as his, practically speaking. I also submitted Kafka’s Metamorphosis with Gregor Samsa turning into a deer.

Some of my instructors had their suspicions, of course, but hardly any called me out. Probably they assumed that, like everybody else, I bought my papers for $50 from an essay mill. And why interfere with tradition? Those that did question my authenticity only received another plagiarized effort in exchange for the first, and in the end I always got by, sometimes with praise.

In my current occupation as speechwriter for the mayor of a small Midwestern city, I continue to plagiarize with both hands in the cookie jar. No one cares what a small-town mayor says, not enough to reconstruct its provenance anyway, and so my sticky fingers sift freely. It’s a fun job. Only last week, while the mayor spoke before TV cameras on the need for more diversity at city hall, he had no idea he was quoting Jefferson Davis, Muammar Gaddafi, and the Unabomber. I agree with the positions of none of those folks, let me add, but remember: it’s all about time and place. My time and place.

* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where we continue our survey of modern Japanese literature with this new story from Haruki Murakami, as translated by Michael Fowler, who does not speak Japanese. Management assumes no responsibility. Once you've absorbed this bit of Far Eastern hilarity, we recommend that you follow the link below to purchase Mr. Fowler's riveting humor collection, "Nathaniel Hawthorne Is Dating My Girlfriend."

“Double Buds,” A New Haruki Murakami Story

By: Michael Fowler

She walked in front of him out of deference. But if it was deference, he thought, shouldn’t she walk to his rear? Show that she was his follower? After all, she was the producer of his cooking show, not the star herself. No one would tune in to watch Nikko gut a trout or wrestle an anemone or lick squid ink from her fingers. She remained in the background on his set at all times unless, in an emergency, he needed someone to pound his nori. His seaweed wrap was famous for its texture, and she had the touch.

And yet, as they walked to the studio past the gardens on Main Street, for assuredly there was a Main Street in Tokyo as there is in every city, and one lined with flowers at that, her lead position still somehow showed deference, even subservience. There is a saying: The upkeep of the blossoms at Mount Myogi will be added to your water bill. One thing was certain, her hoop earrings carried a lot of whoa babe. He had once heard an American use this term to describe an attractive woman in Kyoto, and although Americans were blunt you could say this about them: they also had other qualities. The term seemed to fit Nikko to a T. And her stylish earrings were the merest fraction of her appeal. She had whoa babe to spare, just dripped the stuff all over the street.

Two years ago they had been lovers, but no longer whispered to each other the tender words cameltoe and creampie. She, a native of the Kansai district, spoke with a Liverpool accent, a sign of her devotion to the Beatles throughout her youth. He, born and raised in Ashiya, sounded like a native New Yorker, due to his lifelong devotion to the Ramones. But he thought the Beatles were cool too, as long as Paul wasn’t singing. Though they no longer entangled themselves in knots of damp armpits and heaving thighs, they sometimes left together work together in the evening, hopped aboard the bullet train to a remote suburb, and cut a rug at a festive club. But they only did that after first gorging themselves on his culinary creations back at the studio.

And oh those tasty creations! Who but he could concoct a pickled rose that tasted like a McD’s cheeseburger? A sea urchin that conjured up a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? Or tuna sushi that was finger licking good, like KFC? This was his success and the theme of his show: how to take rarified, costly ingredients and make them taste like junk or fast food. For mysterious reasons, it was a huge hit throughout Japan and in some former Soviet Bloc countries.

As always, her body segued seamlessly from watusi to masked potato as the music in the club washed over her. Was it his habit of losing the tempo and crushing her foot beneath his own that had led to their end of their romance? Very likely that was a contributing factor. But there was also professional jealousy, stemming from the fact that he possessed double the usual number of taste buds. This fortuitous birth defect, or perhaps birth advantage was the truer term, was the result of his being born with a forked tongue. No, not quite rattle-snake forked, and not a cleft palate either, but a split tongue that gave him double buds for tasting, and even provided the name of his hit show: Double Buds. How could she, a serious chef herself and his classmate in culinary arts at Waseda University, compete with Mister Double Buds? Life was so unfair when you had to compete with gifted genetic freaks like that banjo player in Deliverance who had like, what, 20 fingers?

She wanted to scrape those double buds off his tongue with a Ginsu knife and slather them in cheap tomato sauce.

After a single date with her when they both still attended culinary school, he felt her unease and competitive edge. Further meetings with her were disappointments, like opening the door to an empty room when you expected to find your drunken uncle inside. He liked Uncle Kato, no matter what the rest of the family said. Kato always had a snack of dried eel for him. And he wore Blue Cheer Hearing Aids, the loudest made, and could tell what song a rock band was playing 60 miles away. There is a saying: When a man is lazy enough, his spine will grow a chair.

And so she had changed her major from culinary arts to TV production. There double buds would not best her, there double buds would offer no advantage. No longer needing those damned double buds with her new major, she could come out first in her class, as she did. The downside to her success in TV was, they were split apart. Even working together on Double Budscould not reunite them, not wholly. It was all so sad, so infinitely sad. Sad, it was. He carried that sadness all the way to the bank, singing “All You Need is Love,” his favorite Beatles song even if Paul sang on it.

There is a saying: Love is a wonderful thing, but nothing beats double buds.


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

My Friend Wooly Bully

By: Michael Fowler

Wooly Bully always had a thing for rock music.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Not sure,” I said. “You a citizen?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where it's always Michael Fowler's world. The rest of us just get to live in it. This time Mr. Fowler brags, justifiably, about his abilities as an elderly rageaholic. When you've finished his sordid tale, do click on the link below to buy his humor collection, "Nathaniel Hawthorne Is Dating My Girlfriend."

My Best Senior Brawls

By: Michael Fowler

Thanks to the updated self-checkout stations at my local market, I can bypass age verification when I buy alcohol just by scanning my hairline. That way I save a lot of time making my daily purchase of red wine (two bottles), tuna salad, tomato soup (one can), calcium supplements and fungal toenail medication (one tube). The minutes I saved the other day I spent standing in line for my shingles shot. The clinic is right there at the market too, and so is everything else I need except tattoo removal and knee replacement.

I picked up my paid-for bag of groceries and, while waiting for the nurse to call my number, took a seat by the restroom. I figured I’d have a twenty-minute wait, and in that time I’d need to urinate maybe seven times, so it paid to be close. I made a mental note that on my next visit I should get my shot before I bought my groceries, so I didn’t have to wait with the bag, but this time I had to slide it under my chair and hope my tuna salad didn’t spoil.

All went according to plan until I returned from my first trip to the men’s room. Have I mentioned that I have difficulty using the bathroom at home? Sometimes I forget what I’m talking about or if I’ve put on my clothes. And I’m liable to return home to find I’ve left all the stove burners on and the garbage disposal running.

I haven’t used my own bathroom since 2010, and I’m not talking about constipation. I get a dandy of a bowel movement every six months like clockwork, and it cleanses me thoroughly. What I’m saying is that my wife went to the bathroom back in 2010, right in the middle of Dancing with the Stars, and hasn’t come out.

I know she’s still in there because I hear the fan on and I can see the light under the door. I’m tempted to knock to see if she’s all right or needs something, maybe toilet tissue, but after 45 years of sleeping together in a 6′ by 8′ bedroom I hate to intrude. Meanwhile there’s a large shrub in the backyard that gives me plenty of privacy when nature calls.

When I came out of the men’s room that first time, there was an elderly gent in my seat. He wore a knit cap with a lot of Alpine scenery stitched on it, showing questionable taste in summertime. Since all the other chairs were occupied, I told him I had got there first, and would he please move. Well, he acted like he didn’t hear me. But I knew he did, since I could see huge hearing aids below the cap jammed in his ear-holes like wads of old discolored gum.

With those monsters he could likely hear birds twittering six miles off. Seeing his pigheadedness, I indicated my sack of goodies under the chair. Now he acted like he didn’t see me, or my plastic bag either. But I knew he did, because he hadn’t found his way to the clinic and located my empty seat by his sense of smell, had he? He was just being an entitled jerk.

Now all my life I have been a pacifist. I never harmed a person or an animal unless I thought I could get away with it, and sometimes I was kind to inanimate objects just for practice.

But when I became a senior all that changed. My personality switched without warning from mild-mannered conciliator to seething malcontent in a split second. I could bring on this change in myself at will and I often did, leading to a number of brutal physical confrontations. Fifty-four times I’d seen combat since turning seventy, and my record defied belief. I’d lost all but twice, making me as good as undefeated, if you look at it that way.

So once I understood that gramps was not moving from my chair, I swelled with murderous rage. I nudged him with my arm, and when that failed to dislodge him I began using my aluminum walker to batter him a bit. Well, you would have thought I had insulted him or brought up the way he ogled minors. He swiftly removed a collapsible white-tipped cane from his jacket pocket, extended it, and began jousting with me, knocking over the display of fish oil caps behind me.

I began charging him bull-style with my trusty walker until I slipped and fell, and he added to the pandemonium by swinging his cane in my direction even after he toppled off my chair. Though I sensed both of us bordered on unconsciousness at this point, I managed to administer a rejuvenating insulin shot to myself, while my opponent took the opportunity to suck a few life-giving breaths from his portable oxygen tank.

Refreshed, we joined battle anew, and rolled as one into the anti-itch aisle. There his seeing-eye dog pulled me off him just as I was sawing into his jugular with my disability badge, and we lay collapsed side by side on the floor, drooling saliva and gasping like spent marathoners. It was one for the books, all right, and I couldn’t wait to get to my writing desk and jot it all down.

When store security got done talking to me, I lit out for home. I was still at risk for shingles, having neglected to get my shot, but I no longer cared. Let shingles descend upon me, I thought: I have words to set down. Madly I stamped over the lot in search of my car, my sack of stuff tied around the handle of my walker. It would kill my wife if I had lost the car, but then what wouldn’t kill her?

I encountered my next challenger, an ice cream vendor, out by the bus stop. The little salesman had parked his truck at the curb, turned off his racket, and sat inside, napping. His tiny physique, miniature white suit with yellow custard stains and pinch of white hair assaulted my senses. He resembled a child manikin or a voice-thrower’s effigy. His mouth, puckering like a goldfish’s as he slept, silently assailed me with the vilest epithets he or I could think of.

Of all the impudence, I thought. As if I could be intimidated by this doll-like, barely breathing popsicle pusher the size of a third-grader. Oh, I was itching for a fight. Two in one day would make for a thrilling new chapter in my memoir, titled Thunder in My Fists. I lurched into the truck…(To be continued.)


* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where we like to say that there is no Michael Fowler but Michael Fowler, and thou shalt have no other Michael Fowlers before him. If you wish to obey his divine will, click on the link below to purchase his humor collection, "Nathaniel Hawthorne Is Dating My Girlfriend."

My Vision

By: Michael Fowler

Inquisitive people sometimes ask me what my vision is. I might be flattered by the question, but I attach no meaning to it. Those who ask it no doubt sense something in me. A deep insight into human affairs and profound humanitarianism might be one way to describe it. The grace of a perfect physical specimen with chiseled features and lightning fast hands might be another. Simply put, I give the impression to some that I have a way with me. But the truth is, those who detect any such qualities in me are deceived. There’s less to me than meets the eye, and of visions I have none.

Still, people stop me and say, sirrah, you have lived many years. Yes, they can tell at a glance I’m pushing 25, since there’s something mature in my wariness. What follows is that since I have lived so many years I must be learned as a judge. That is a requirement for one so advanced in years as I. But who says it is? Why can’t I have learned nothing, felt nothing, reflected on nothing, and remained as senseless as the day I was born? Well, I believe I can, and have, but a few others will simply not believe it.

The typical interlocutor wants me to be specific about my vision. I should lay out, for his or her inspection, my personal philosophy and political persuasion. But I am careful to reveal none of these, for one simple reason: of philosophy and political awareness I have none. Of age-old wisdom and of world-historical truths I know a perfect nullity, nor have I heard of any. If I ever did hear of any such thing, I have long ago forgotten what it was all about.

To hear of my innocence only enrages my inquisitor, who now pleads with me to speak freely and off the cuff, as if I have a great secret to impart. And while I should speak openly and with perfect candor to him, I must at the same time be specific and employ sharp, incisively worded descriptions of my inner state.

But of sharp, incisive descriptions I have not a one, and I will tell you about my inner state: it is the hollow interior of a gas-filled balloon. I tell my tormentor, if it is clever phrases and penetrating insights that you want, go and read a novel issued by a small university press. The public library contains many such. There you’ll find golden phrases and clever coinages and hidden meanings aplenty, enough to gag a shark.

Now my witness is beside himself with disbelief. He objects that I cannot have lived through my life without at least once reflecting on its nature and its meaning, and on my proper place in society. He takes it for granted that, at the very least, I have had a fine meal or two and made love to a beautiful or in any case a healthy woman. And these deeds do not go unremarked. He insists that despite the obvious fact that I am man of from zero to three words, I must have something to say about these far from humdrum experiences.

I reply, in a lifeless tone, that of reminiscence and deep reflection I do not partake. In comparisons and metaphors I place no trust, nor do I dally with them. With allusions and tropes and participles and other odd verb forms I have no truck.

What happens is this: when I am involved in even the most volcanic incident, I tell myself what is happening in plain English and note its importance to me, and then let it go.

Let’s say I attempt to beat a man senseless after a few drinks in a bar, and what with his overbite my ear ends up in his breast pocket. I tell myself, there is a sharp pain where my ear used to be, and a tremendous loss of blood, but enough already, the situation is adequately felt and described.

I might, while reciting those words, move my head up and down as I speak to myself. But that’s it. That fully describes my interior life at that moment. The only other thing that might occur to me is to scream at passers-by to for god’s sake call an ambulance.

I work folding men’s trousers in a warehouse eight hours a day, and my boss there once tasked me to describe my point of view. He perhaps mistook me for Jean Paul Sartre or John Maynard Keynes, although I carry with me no books.

He pressed me obdurately about it, you wouldn’t believe. We were having lunch together and sections of his sandwich began falling out of his mouth — horrible, half-masticated vegetables and crusts. I said, bro, life in my opinion is like folding trousers. Some trousers are cotton, some are khaki…but here words failed me. I knew there were other kinds of trousers, corduroy and woolen for instance, and some have buttons and others zippers, but I couldn’t go on, and I told the boss I had finished.

It’s strange, said my boss. The plan you presented to me yesterday, for restricting overtime and shortening the work week with no decrease in productivity, is what I’d call a vision.

I don’t know, I replied tonelessly. That’s going a bit far.

You know, the boss told me then, your coworker Sal has a vision.

Sal, a vision? I said. How can that be? I have folded trousers with Sal for two and a half years, and did not know this. What is his vision? I asked.

It’s the same plan as yours for cutting down hours, came the answer, but Sal combines that with a modern system of inventory. Also, he says that one day soon he will be the boss of you.

That night after work Sal’s body was found folded up like a pair of trousers in a city trash receptacle, quite separated from his vision, which was nowhere to be found. A vision can be a dangerous thing, and I have naught to do with them.



* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where every day is We Love Michael Fowler Day. Do you love him too? Prove it by clicking on the link below to buy his humor collection, "Nathaniel Hawthorne Is Dating My Girlfriend."

Good And Teed Off

By: Michael Fowler

One of the mysteries of the human mind is why we become angrier as we age, frequently going from high-spirited youth to mellow middle age to peed-off senior in an arc of only five or six decades.

You’d think oldsters would be happy. They bought everything they wanted or needed ages ago. The house is paid for, or cashed in for a long-desired smelly condo or rusty RV. Their kids are gone or in any case don’t call them, their parents are dead, their friends are dead, even their pets are dead — what’s not to enjoy? With so many of life’s problems solved and nuisances done away with, why aren’t these oldsters radiating happiness like wrinkled little nuclear reactors?

I think I know the answer. The conundrum that ticks off most bags and geezers is that they’re not dead yet.

That they still have to go through death aggravates them. They’ve already gone through everything life can throw at them — marriage, divorce, rising gas prices, overpriced cruises, quantitative easing, preemptive war, purchasing an unnecessary home security system, loss of hair and bone mass and memory, a traitor in the White House again — and still it isn’t over. They still have to die, and they can’t get over that.

I’ve seen this ravaging of the brain first hand. When I was a child, I had a lovely shriveled grandfather of about 70 who seemed to adore his retirement outside the mines. Aside from of a nagging, chronic cough and an addiction to coal dust, his life appeared idyllic. He had a large vegetable garden, and whenever I visited he’d take me out in the yard to show me where a mole was digging underneath and eating his produce’s roots.

“See his hole?” he’d say as he pointed out the animal’s tiny tunnel. The two of us were delighted in nature’s way. After thirty minutes of finding the hole here and there in the garden and Grandpa saying “see his hole?” each time (obsessive compulsion was part of his pleasure), we’d go inside where he’d sit before his potbelly stove chewing tobacco and spitting most of it into a tin can, and the rest down the front of his wooly vest. I’d sit beside him on a slack sofa that smelled of Mail Pouch and read a Classics Comic from the 1950s. Sometimes, when he moved his head the right way, I’d stare with affection deep inside his hairy nose.

Maybe grandma would sit beside us, and what a friendly old woman she was. She liked nothing better than to send me down to her dank, cobwebby root cellar for a jar of pickle relish, then throw a fit and whip me when I returned with beets instead, as I usually did since I couldn’t tell the difference in the dark.

Caught up in her game, if that’s what it was, she would grow red in the face and order me outside to fetch a “hickory-t,” a hickory branch off the tree in the front yard that she would lash me with for punishment, though I never received a single blow due to her poor aim and hysterical laughter.

What a cheerful, carefree couple! What fun we had when I visited them, though I’m glad Granny never got me with that “hickory-t.” I was a delicate child, and a whipping with such an unsanitary implement might have given me eczema.

Press ahead ten years. I’m a teen now, and my grandfather throws his mail-order teeth on the dinner table and growls at everyone, drooling. He smells more and more like a spittoon and won’t bathe. Has the mole’s hole, still visible in the garden, caused his mind to snap?

And Grandma is so irritated by having to cook for her grandchildren, even though she jarred all the greasy beans and acidic jam she could ever need 50 years ago and the glass containers line her root cellar, she can’t stop grousing. Every time she catches sight of me, a tender youth showcasing dental braces and his first pimples, she brands me a draft resister and a socialist agitator. Whoa, Grandma and Grandpa! What the hell happened to your easy demeanor?

The worst part is, both my grandparents received Medicare and excellent medical treatment, and at age 80 had ten or more years of constant anger to look forward to before they could finally croak and relocate to the family gravesite down by the creek. My grandfather’s mood in his last decade varied from rage to sullenness, and not once did he crack a smile to reveal his crooked Sears & Roebuck teeth. My grandmother got to the point where she could scarcely bear another day of perfect health and uninterrupted leisure and died a joyless, broken woman at 96.

And it isn’t just my grandparents. My wife recently put her mother in a retirement center (read: pre-graveyard) so that Myrtle could receive the around-the-clock watering and pruning that she requires. There she sits on the second of four floors of similar bags and geezers who are either boiling over with rage or comatose on medications. There’s no in-between state.

On an early visit I tried to embrace the old babe in a heartfelt hug, and she raked the lengths of my uncovered forearms with untrimmed, yellow fingernails (how did they grow so long in a week?), requiring me to apply antiseptic. And that was on a good day, when she was relatively calm and not fastened to the sides of her bed in a straitjacket.

Ah, peaceful old age. And don’t think for a moment the oldsters enjoy all those medications they’re forced to take. It’s only young people who like drugs. In fact, they love them. But your typical home resident is just doddering out on them. Nor is their zest for life enlivened by any activity no matter how festive. From a Sunday enema to balloon volleyball, it’s all a drag. More than a drag, it infuriates them.

I think I know how this transformation takes place. At around age 75, the riddle of death takes hold of a person’s mind. The sheer insolubility of the enigma affects you like sticking your hand in a running blender, realizing you’ve lost all your fingertips, but for a split second there’s no pain, only dumb wonder.

That split second is the time you have to figure out death. It grows into years without any increase in your understanding and with the same sense of dread. You keep waiting for the answer like you wait for the pain in your fingers.

As the moment expands, it dawns on you that there is no answer, not a hint, not ever, for you or anyone. At last you’re going to have to pay for those lost fingertips. The pain is coming, and there’s nothing you can do.

That’s when you get good and teed off, and you stay that way for a decade or so.

Then it hits you.


* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where every day is New Year's Eve, at least when Michael Fowler is writing about it. If you feel sorry for the old guy, don't put a penny in his hat, buy his book. Follow the link below to purchase his humor collection, "Nathaniel Hawthorne Is Dating My Girlfriend."

New Year’s Eve At Bob Evans

By: Michael Fowler

This year my wife and I went to Bob Evans restaurant to ring in the new year, or to come as close to ringing it in as we care to get. We chose Bob Evans not only because it serves our favorite kind of down-home comfort food with breakfast at any hour, but has no alcohol, an elderly, quiet clientele, no TVs mounted on the walls, and no celebratory atmosphere at all. It doesn’t stay open late, requires no reservation, and is hardly ever crowded. At five p.m. on New Year’s Eve the place was almost deserted. We found a parking spot right by the front door and followed a young man and his wheelchair-bound father right on in to the sober greeter.

We once stayed out past ten on New Year’s Eve and tasted alcohol too. The experience threw off our sleep cycles and circadian rhythms to the equivalent of twelve hours of jet lag. My wife, who suffers from moist palms and anxiety, swears it also gave her a calcium deficiency, and I’ll never forget the ringing in my ears that lasted until mid-February from that drum kit across the floor. Add to that being jostled by perspiring, red-faced celebrants, and we vowed never to repeat the experience, and never have. We haven’t even felt the temptation. We’re not kids anymore after all, with both of us pushing 38. Some things are better left to the hardened, besotted, carefree young.

With seven hours to go before the big calendar change and that gaudy ball dropped off the tower in that frozen, overcrowded city synonymous with filth and high blood pressure, my excitement started to build; that of my wife too, I assume. I decided to start off with a piece of pumpkin bread from the famous Bob Evans bakery, while my wife, scarcely able to restrain her enthusiasm, went with banana bread. Both are delicious, and our waitress, whom we have known for months and is a business student at a nearby college, smiled in understanding.

She was cheerful despite having to work the holiday. But then, she’d be out the door by closing time at nine, when the night was still young, and who knew what shenanigans this twenty-something had in mind? We didn’t ask, and she didn’t tell, likely because she thought we would disapprove. For her discretion alone I knew I’d be leaving a sizable tip, somewhere between ten and fifteen percent of our unusual $20 tab. But then, if we shared a piece of cheesecake at the end, in honor of the special night, the gratuity might set me back as much as $3.75, a daunting thought. I hoped my wife had brought along a discount coupon, but at her age she’s forgetful about such niceties. If you’re thinking dementia, so am I.

I sat trying to decide between an evening breakfast of a small egg-white omelet with a tiny bowl of fruit and the gargantuan roast turkey dinner with six sides, a sumptuous meal I hadn’t ingested since Christmas a week ago, and my wife faced her usual dilemma of how many pancakes she felt up to. We both looked up as a pair of immortals took a booth near ours. My wife and I smiled at each other, since this duo certainly didn’t look liable to put the kibosh on our evening with any untoward jubilant behavior or celebratory noisemaking, unless gramps had some noisemakers in his pockets or granny began belting out “Auld Lang Syne.”

In fact, they ignored us completely and looked about ready to fall asleep before they ordered. The first thing gramps did, after the waitress arrived, was spill ice water all down his Rick Santorum vest. I listened in amusement as he finally ordered the pot roast, and she a Cobb salad, both with hot tea. I was amused because my wife and I had ordered the identical meals for ourselves not two weeks ago, almost identical, except I got steamed broccoli and this old bird wanted green beans. Wasn’t that amusing? I thought so, and it seemed to be getting the new year off to a good start, though technically the new year didn’t start for another, what was it now, still more than six hours. I couldn’t wait to get home and sleep through them, burping turkey.

All was thrown into jeopardy, however, when a family of five came in, including three children. I saw the tension in my wife right away, her fixed stare and then the involuntary tightening of her pale, thin but very damp hands around her utensils. I myself was not immune, and feared some childish disturbance from the three-year-old or infantile outburst from the baby that would turn the peaceful eatery into Times Square. My wife and I had not been blessed with children, and had never desired any. We had her cat when we were first married, but by agreement had it put down because it mewed, sometimes at night. What a pest that creature had been. It had also required food and grooming, can you believe.

Twenty minutes later my wife and I were beaming and content. Our meal hadn’t been disturbed, and the children of that other couple had been of the seen but not heard variety, increasingly a rarity in today’s society where a single howling brat often disrupts the serenity of an entire Walmart store. Nor, at this early hour, had there appeared a single patron in a party hat or trumpeting on a paper horn. I decided on a full 15 percent tip, and I drove us home sated with gravy and maple syrup.

All was well until we reached our neighborhood. Cars now lined the street near those homes that were party zones, making navigation difficult. Once at this time of year, when we were new to the neighborhood, my wife and I unwisely accepted an invitation from the people next door. We had already become bitter enemies back on Arbor Day, when their child planted a tree near the fence that separates our properties. It was the merest sapling, yes, but a ticking time bomb that after twenty or thirty years would grow to hang over our property and one day probably fall, killing us. We weren’t about to forget this pending threat to our safety over some silly holiday, and after graciously eating one or two of their slimy and rancid hors d’oeuvres, we departed very early, even for us, and were in bed by eight.

My wife couldn’t help throwing a glance at their place as we mounted our front steps, and I felt her body grow tense and clammy from her hands to, well, everything. I knew what she was thinking. It wasn’t the tree, which may have died in a stunted state during the last frost, but she knew that at midnight they’d be setting off fireworks and ruining our sleep, as they did last year. Right on the stroke of midnight had come this noise, not terribly explosive but like a bag of popcorn in a microwave in a distant room down a long hall, that woke us up and left us trembling with rage in bed.

She had denied my request for intimacy then, and continued to do so for the entire year. This year, I saw, would be just as chilly. All because of that popping sound. Darn noisy neighbors.

But there’s one thing my wife and I agree on any time of year: that fresh bakery bread at Bob Evans is delicious.



* Welcome to The Big Jewel, your holiday safe space. This is the second week of our end-of-the-year Michael Fowler two-for-one sale. And if you buy that, you might as well buy his book too. Click on the link below to purchase his humor collection, "Nathaniel Hawthorne is Dating my Girlfriend." The Big Jewel will return with a new piece to begin the New Year on Wednesday, January 2.

Caution: Holiday Meats

By: Michael Fowler

As a man of a certain age, I’ve made an observation or two about holiday meats. I’ve noticed how they’ve changed a lot during my already long lifespan, always remaining scarcely edible. Never in my childhood or youth would I have believed that people would line up outdoors for an hour, even in foul or freezing weather, to buy an outrageously expensive precooked ham coated in candy. How did this happen? In my day, by which I mean the Age of Aquarius, give or take a decade, there was no such thing as a ham covered in sweet sticky syrup as though it were a pancake or a lollipop. Who would want a hog lollipop? Or a pig pancake? The very idea is nauseating, and yet today no one wants anything else. The only people who have other tastes are those who would be cast into hellfire if they ate pork.

Am I alone in remembering the way my mother and her mother prepared the holiday ham, those cooks from the Great Generation and before? When my mom made a ham, she baked it herself, for half a day in her tiny, smoking oven, and the only sweet thing that touched it were rings of pineapple, about half a dozen of them, out of a can. The ham itself sometimes came out of a can too, an import from some Scandinavian country that is now socialist. The pineapple rings she nailed onto the ham’s hide-like exterior with tiny spikes of clove, pressing them into place with her steely fingers. She would then bake the fruited thing until the rings turned brown and the cloves were scorched, and that was dinner. You can’t come by that kind of festive eats anymore, not even at a lunch counter.

Holiday turkeys are also different now. I remember my dad, who was in charge of roasting our turkey back in the 50s and 60s, saying that sometimes you got a bad turkey from the store. He said that once every two or three years, perhaps as an excuse for his subpar cooking. There was nothing you could do about it, he implied, but make the best of it. These were the days when frozen turkeys began to be all the rage, but they weren’t all of uniform quality, according to my dad. So on off years we ended up with what he called a rubber turkey, one that would not become tender no matter how long it was cooked. It was rubber at any temperature. And these rubber birds never got completely done, but retained some pinkish hue all through the meat. Also, the skin of the bird would refuse to turn golden brown or any other shade of brown, but remain a gray or even bluish color, no matter how often you basted it. But all you could do was celebrate the holiday as best you could with it, because that’s how turkeys were: some of them were rubber.

Back then there was another difference in your turkey too: there really was dark meat on the bird. A modern turkey is all white meat, though here and there it might appear grayish-white to the discerning eye. You can’t tell a thigh from a breast without a microscope, if you’re looking at a slice. But when I was a boy, dark thigh meat was really dark, and gamey and greasy too, or so I remember. Everyone served himself a little of it to be polite, but you felt like you were eating a squirrel or a cat or something. Maybe the leftover dark meat was used to make mincemeat pie, whatever that awful stuff was. I don’t know, because I never tasted it as a child. It looked like a quart of used motor oil in a crust, and I never laid a taste bud anywhere near it. And now nobody serves the muck except at nursing homes.

Rubber turkeys and birds with dark meat have all but vanished from the holiday platter, due to new standards in avian uniformity, but have been replaced by the SBBED, or self-basting buttery explosive device. My struggles with this hazardous firebird began in the 80s, when I had my own household to run and my own turkey to buy and roast. Injected with enough butter to make Paula Dean blush, these 25- to 30-pound pustules of grease would sizzle in the oven at 325 and, when you tried to collect the buttery rivulets that ran over the sides to make gravy or baste the thing despite its not needing it, the unstoppable fat would drip down onto the hot oven coils. An arc of flame would then shoot out the oven door like a solar flare and singe off all or part of your mustache and sideburns, if you had any, and your arm hair too, if you had neglected to put on an oven mitt. I had as much hair and side-hair as anyone back in the 80s, with the sole exception of David Lee Roth, and usually emerged from a turkey-basting session as closely shorn as John Candy in Stripes. There was no way to avoid this, because after all, basting was part of the tradition.

The family has since switched to leaner birds that have not been inoculated. Voila, no more grease rivers and explosions! But my daughter insists our turkey be roasted in a bonnet of cheesecloth drenched in liquid butter and white wine. That this headdress doesn’t burst into flame almost at once confounds me. But it doesn’t, though I can’t help but check on it every fifteen minutes, to make sure. You throw the cheesecloth out after it turns brown and crispy, and by then the bird has a golden sheen and something like a taste.

Of course if you prefer, you can get a candy-coated turkey at the same place you get those hams. It saves you a lot of trouble.



* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where from our vantage point, there's no one funnier than Michael Fowler. That's why we're finishing the year with two of his pieces, one this week and one next. When you're done reading his new bit of hilarity, click on the link below to buy his humor collection, "Nathaniel Hawthorne is Dating my Girlfriend."

Vantage Point

By: Michael Fowler

If you’re like me, then you must cringe on hearing some famous and pompous airhead, carried away by a magnificent natural setting or site of historical importance, such as the Atlantic Ocean or the Lincoln Memorial, sound off as if they were at least partly responsible for the view or site, that they somehow are one with it or have the keenest eye to appreciate it, or that they have been chosen, of all humanity, to comprehend its true meaning. For example, here is an internationally renowned, culturally imbued blowhard on a visit to Rome explaining the ancient Roman Senate to us plebeians:

“I reflect on the follies of the ancients, whose foibles and weaknesses we replicate in our own political foolishness. The pseudo-Roman columns in Washington are the sign of the ruins we shall become if we continue down our present path of…” etc., etc. I hesitate to name the actual windbag who said this, primarily since after many years I can’t find the actual quote and am only guessing at the correct words. But what the hell, it was the late, somewhat lamented Gore Vidal, essayist and novelist and pundit, sometime back in the 1960s, if memory serves, well before he became a 9-11 truther and wrote the impenetrable brick of a novel Creation.

And here’s another self-important buffoon as he gazes down thoughtfully on a world made small by his location, i.e., onboard a transcontinental flight. “Here in my window seat, 30,000 feet over the blue Atlantic (where I approach being in my natural Olympian element), I ponder our infinitesimal size and the insignificance of our lives and actions. Can a creature so small as Man yet achieve work of moral and spiritual importance? As a creative artist I endeavor…” etc., etc. Again, I know the man who inspired me to write the above precis, but I can’t find his original words now that years have gone by since I read them, and I hesitate to attribute to him my own in case I fail to do him justice. But why quibble, it was film producer Spike Lee, in the introduction to some piece of his writing or other. The original version by Mr. Lee dates from around 1990, I believe, years before the filmmaker began leaking the home addresses of his political adversaries and complaining about the authenticity of other filmmakers. But I bet he was always pretty much that way.

I bring up Vidal and Lee not because I have some grudge against artists, curmudgeons though some of them were and are, but because they are prime examples of how an inspiring setting can bring out the tendency in us to become godlike and all-knowing and so above the rest of the world’s all-too-ordinary and much lesser mortals. I surmise, in fact, that it’s part of everyday life that we citizens, no matter how humble, feel exalted when confronted with a pleasant view or some manmade structure a bit out of the ordinary, and that’s all it takes for us to sound off on our personal greatness. The following examples will show a common train of thought even in us non-intellectuals.

Some blowhard bascart collector on the parking lot of a supermarket: “Here on the acre-wide lot I ponder the countless bascarts, symbols of Humanity’s Great Hunger. Is it not folly to presume that even 10% off coupons on bread and milk issued daily will stave off eventual privation of the teeming masses? True, there are gallons of Coke products on the shelves, enough to fill Lake Erie. But does that provide nutriment? With humility and I hope grace I perform my small part, gathering and lining up the shopping carts…” etc., etc.

A monomaniacal waste removal driver, on seeing the landfill around the bend: “Here in the driver’s seat of my mighty collection truck, an engineer’s marvel of conveyance and crushing capacity (suitable to a Herculean stable-cleaner like myself), I contemplate the mountain of refuse up ahead, bigger this year than last, destined to grow bigger still. Does it portend progress, the throwing off of the old and outmoded for the new and improved? Or does it signify wastefulness and overabundance? With a fetid breeze in my nose, I surmise…” etc., etc.

A self-important above-ground swimming pool salesman: “I stand awestruck by the crystalline 10-foot depth and 60-foot circumference of our most popular pool this summer, The Great Cooler, on display now at Bob’s Pools, off First Street downtown. Can there be a better symbol of the Pursuit of Happiness than this bright, placid surface, this personal reservoir of fun? I despair for those who bypass this bargain and go down the street to our competitor, Jake’s Pools, which hardly represent the American Dream…” etc., etc.

A grandiose dental technician: “With a bank of modern drilling and rinsing and imaging devices before me, I disdain the bright white smiles that mask the carious mouth and belie the need for serious root canal work and filling replacement. Altogether that’s thousands upon thousands of whitened teeth, even millions of them, at risk. I abjure facile mouthwashes when fluoride treatment is indicated, nor do I neglect sensitive gums. My client may only be interested in appearance, but I say, periodontal procedures are essential if we are to…” etc., etc.

A full-of-it Highway Department rest stop custodian: “Here in a park-like setting in central Ohio, I ponder the infinite ribbon of highway as it rolls east and west. And what of the millions of cars upon said ribbon that require timely oil changes? Does a man need to travel from sea to shining sea just to extend his carbon footprint? You cannot, the Greek said, step into the same river twice. But you can flush all my toilets twice so long as you don’t dump garbage in them, and that means…” etc., etc.

Anyway you see the picture. Give anyone at all a place to stand and he’ll move the earth, or at least think he can.

* 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: Michael Fowler

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.