Bob’s Soul in a Jar
My name is Bruce. I was a teenager sometime between heavy metal and grunge
while metalheads still roamed the landscape in their long hair and tattered
black leather like the last of the dodos. I was an anomaly, the one of my social
group who had mastered esoteric skills like reading and writing. It was rumored
that I actually owned books, and that these books might even have been
opened and read. I knew things. So, like a tribal
shaman, strange things would happen to me as I was called upon to solve other
peoples’ problems. That’s why I wasn’t terribly shocked when my phone rang one
night at three AM.
I groped around on the night table like a mole, knocking things to the floor,
before I finally got the phone, pulled the handset under the warm covers and
croaked “Guh. Hello?” into the mouthpiece.
“Hello?” said a voice on the other end. “Are you sleeping?”
“No. I’m dancing the Can-Can.”
The voice on the other end belonged to Paul. Paul was one of my closest
friends and the person voted most likely to get killed by a car while picking up
a shiny object. Paul’s finer points were his kind soul and his caring. Less
well developed were his intelligence and common sense. He would often try to
help people whose bizarre problems were really signs that they should be thrown
out of the shallow end of the gene pool, then halfway through this attempted
assistance he would realize that he was out of his depth and needed some help
himself. He had a big heart, and I was the one who often paid for it. This was
going to be one of those times.
Me: It’s three AM, Paul, of course I’m sleeping. What is it this time?
Paul: Oh, sorry, man, I didn’t realize. Listen, can you come over now?
Paul: Something really weird is going on. I don’t know what to do.
Me: Is someone dying?
Paul: Not yet.
Me: That might change.
Paul: Please… I wouldn’t call if wasn’t important.
Me: If what wasn’t important? What’s going on?
Paul: It’s…Well I… It’s kind of… I can’t explain it. You just have to see it
I knew it would be useless to try to get anything more out of Paul. Paul had
a simple, linear thought process, and it went something like this: “I have a
weird problem I don’t understand. Bruce is a smart, weird guy I also don’t
understand. Therefore, call Bruce. He’ll know what to do.”
“This better be good,” I growled. “There better be food there when I
Paul readily agreed, so I gave up on continuing the kind of dreams that
plague a lad’s developing sense of sensuality, groped around in confusion and
befuddlement, and somehow managed to dress myself. It was about a mile to Paul’s
house and I had no car, so the walk gave me a little time to clear my head in
the cool night air.
Paul had a problem he couldn’t describe. That could be almost anything. What
do you bring with you when you’re awakened at three in the morning to solve a
problem Paul can’t describe? Do you bring tools? Do you bring a gun? If you
do bring a gun, do you load it with silver bullets? I had nothing but
some pocket lint and $1.98 in spare change.
When I got to Paul’s, instead of the half-dead person I figured must be
bleeding in his living room, Paul was alone and on the phone. “Here,” he said,
handing it to me, “talk to Bob.”
Paul: “Yeah, you know Bob.”
Me: “…No, I don’t know Bob?”
Paul: “Sure you do, you met him at the Mills”
Paul was talking about the Franklin Mills mall, a Philadelphia hypermall that
had everything you could possibly want, need or desired. In other words, it was
was like saying: Sure, he lives in New York.
Me: “Great, which one is he then?”
As usual, this was going nowhere, so I got on the phone and said, “Hello,
this is Bruce. What’s the problem, is somebody dead or pregnant?”
“No,” said Bob, “it’s nothing like that. I don’t know how to say this.”
Me: “Try English, it’s too early for me to try to translate you.”
Bob: “Well, my soul is stuck in a jar and I can’t get it out.”
Bob: “I need to get it back.”
Me: “Did you say your soul is in a jar?”
Me: “Hold on, please.”
Paul and I clearly needed to have a conference regarding what constitutes an
important or pressing problem: My sister Suzy lost her arm in shop
class, or Phil needs help hiding the body, versus, say, My
fairy godmother has left me to pursue other princesses or Does Blue go
with Black? But that would have to wait. Right now I had a lunatic on the
phone to deal with. Back on the Phone:
Me: “Have you tried one of those little rubber grippy things?”
Bob: “I can’t.”
Me: “Maybe try running it under some tap water.”
Bob: “I don’t have the jar.”
Me: “Uh, Bob, why do you think your soul is in a jar?”
The story was confused but essentially it went like this: there was a kid
named Stiggy in Bob’s school who fancied himself a warlock, the next Alastair
Crowley. Stiggy had a little cult of teenage demento followers, of which Bob was
one. Apparently, Bob thought Stiggy was cool. After becoming buds, Stiggy had
asked Bob if he could borrow Bob’s tap-shoes, which Bob handed over without
asking for a reason. No one, including Bob, was ever able to explain Bob’s
passive compliance. Two days later, Stiggy handed Bob’s shoes back and told him:
“I have used this personal object of yours to steal your soul. Your soul is no
longer yours and now resides in a Mason jar that I will not ever give back to
you. You must do as I say.” Bob just said okay and did whatever Stiggy said.
But he began to panic a few weeks later as the cult activities got progressively
weirder. Bob didn’t want to participate anymore, but Stiggy had his soul.
Somehow, Bob had found Paul, who just happened to know someone who knew
something about these things: me.
What Paul didn’t know, is that what I knew, was that these people were
idiots. First I told Bob that a soul was not like a shoe and you could not
simply take it off and give it to someone. He didn’t believe me. I tried logic,
which was like trying to explain to a fish the benefits of riding a bike. I
gently pointed out that if his soul were in a jar, he would not be in his body,
would not be able to move, or in fact do any of the strange things that had
culminated in Paul ripping me out of my nice warm bed at such an ungodly hour.
No dice. Stiggy had powers. I couldn’t convince Bob the only power Stiggy had
was the power to make me want to put a fork in his eye.
When logic fails, it is time to turn to religion. “Bob,” I said, “what
religion are you?” He was a Catholic, but was nonpracticing. That made sense,
he certainly wasn’t any good at it. I couldn’t help myself, logic interceded
again: “If you’re not big on Catholicism, why the hell do you believe in
“Stiggy says he knows everything,” Bob replied.
Thank you, logic. I suggested Bob confess to his local parish priest and
seek forgiveness. That wouldn’t work, Bob said, the power of Stiggy is too
great, he would know. Well, had Bob considered visiting a shrink? No, Bob did
not believe in psychology.
I told Bob I now knew exactly what his problem is. “Bob,” I said, “you are an
idiot. I mean, really stupid. You know that, right? It takes a certain kind of
moron to have someone tell him his soul is stuck in and jar, and have him
actually believe it. Not only that, but you have no spine or sense of self, and
probably no real personality. But I can help you.”
I bellowed into the phone, waking several of Paul’s neighbors: “Did Paul not
tell you who I am? I am Bruce! I whisper into the ear of the Archangel
Michael! I walk between the raindrops! I have lived more lives that you have
had years on this earth!” (Not bad for next to no sleep at four in the morning).
“I too have powers, and it is by my Grace that you are now free from your
confinement. The next time you see Stiggy; tell him that Bruce has commanded
that you are to be left alone. Bruce has given you his word of protection and
you are one of my chosen. I will be displeased if Stiggy does not leave you be.
There will be no end to my wrath if Stiggy tries to continue his claim on you. I
further command that you go back to church. You will not question this. Your
soul is once again yours, never to be parted from you. Now go to sleep and wake
up less of a worm.”
I whiled away what was left of the night by forcing Paul to bake me cookies,
and watching music videos. Thus was the mighty Bruce pacified.
As unlikely as it sounds, my ploy worked. The next day, Bob called Stiggy to
inform him that he, Bob, was now free of Stiggy’s insidious clutches, and that
by the will of Bruce he would never fall under his sway again. Then Bob hung up
the phone with the warm and fuzzy feeling that being under the protection of
Bruce gives you. Stiggy, on the other hand, was not feeling either warm or
fuzzy, and did what any self-respecting Satanist worthy of his King Diamond
record collection would do: he swore my death, and by all that was evil, he
would make it so. I think I might have been eating a bowl of Cheerios at the
So it was, that for the next month the battle was joined. Not by me, mind
you, I was completely unaware that there was a cult of Satanists huddling up
under the trees in Pennypack Park, chanting dark curses at my name under the
harvest moon. I was too busy taping Warner Brothers cartoons on my VCR. For
weeks, they pleaded for the Dark Horde to slay me. Would Beelzebub, in all his
malevolence, strike me down? I did develop a case of the
sniffles…Coincidence? Can one ever be sure?
My blissful ignorance was finally shattered when Paul, in his normal mode of
panic, ran to my house to tell me my life was in danger. He did this in the
kitchen, while my mom was making meat loaf. This was fortuitous for Paul; he
liked meat loaf. In his normal tactful way, Paul stormed in and shouted, in
front of my mother: “Stiggy is trying to kill you!”
Mom: “Who’s Stiggy?”
Me: “Some idiot”
Paul: “He trapped Bob’s soul in a jar.”
Mom: “Who’s Bob?”
Me: “Some idiot”
Paul: “Its okay, Bruce got it out.”
Mom: “Let me get this straight. Stiggy put Bob’s soul in a jar and you had to
get it out?”
Me (trying not to look at her): “Uh, yeah, something like that.”
Mom: “Well good, if you can get Bob’s soul out of a jar, you can open the
Mom was always practical and didn’t see any reason why such a special skill
such as mine should go to waste. She was not too concerned about a cult of
15-year-old wannabe wizards and witches, she was cool like that. She was sure it
would resolve itself in a way that would leave no one permanently scarred. She
Appropriately, the story ended in a strange and random way, with little
actual input from me. Just like it started The event that flipped the situation
did not even seem like an event at the time, but the ramifications were
so great that it warranted the use of the word “ramifications.” My great and
awesome powers had put the fear of Bruce into Stiggy, and he saw where the true
power of the Walking Man lay.
Here’s how it happened: Paul wanted to hang out at Washington High School, so
he took me along to meet his friends. But instead of making introductions, Paul
left me alone in a huge sea of people I did not know. In those days I wasn’t
comfortable in large crowds of strangers, so I was standing there, staring off
in Paul’s general direction, looking for a familiar face. Maybe I looked a
little intense, but that was just because I was trying so hard to hide my
discomfort. That’s all I did. Really. No, wait, I think some girl gave me a
hamburger for some reason, I don’t remember it tasting that good.
Little did I know, while I was wrestling with mystery mastication, Stiggy was
in the crowd. While I was trying to figure out both where Paul had gone and
where my hamburger had come from, he saw me. I never noticed him, and he had
never seen me before, but that didn’t matter. I heard later that this
is what Stiggy, through his hysterical imagination, saw: me staring through him,
magic power radiating out through my eyes and burning holes in his paper-thin
soul. Stiggy was scared. He realized his error. Some nameless wrath had been
visited upon him, and he knew he was doomed.
Stiggy ran away, and after asking around, learned that the being who had
faced him down was the great and terrible Bruce. He contacted Bob and begged him
to ask me to be merciful. Stiggy would disappear, he promised, he would pray in
my name. All he asked was not to be tormented. Stiggy would turn out to be as
good as his word.
Bob continued his dancing and eventually went on to open a chain of dance
studios. Paul decided he was not happy being the butt of everyone’s jokes and
decided he would try to become smarter, and amazingly enough, he did. Paul now
builds and calibrates Lasik equipment, so the next time you are staring down the
barrel of a laser scalpel pointed at your right cornea, know that you are under
Paul’s meticulous care. Last we heard of Stiggy, he was still performing rituals
in my name. And as for me, I learned to not answer my phone after midnight.