La version française de ces histoires se trouve sur En direct de l'intestin grêle

Wouldn't it be great if these stories were true? Unfortunately (or fortunately) they're not; they are just the product of my overworked mind. All characters and events are fictitious and if you think you recognize yourself or somebody you know in these stories, it was not my purpose and it is purely unintentional. In the meantime, I hope you will enjoy reading this blog. Feel free to link this blog wherever else you hang out on the Internet and to post comments below. I enjoy hearing from you.


Sunday, September 25, 2011

The mess dinner

I was managing a versatile quartet: two girls, two guys playing mainly cello, violin, guitar and keyboards but also a slew of other instruments. All members had formal classical training. They were not virtuosos but they were young and they played accurately, on time, with feeling. I knew that after a few years on the road, meeting the right people, they could be up there with the stars.

I booked them a casual gig for a single malt scotch whisky tasting club. The clients would be real gentlemen and ladies having dinner at a naval officer’s mess hall after their annual fall golf tournament. Eighty people in their 30s and 40s, all professionals, doctors, lawyers, reporters, well educated and refined yet not stuck up: the ideal audience willing to pay more than the usual union rates.

As a plus, the venue was fantastic: high ceilings, oak-lined walls and pillars, just enough reverberation. The acoustics were perfect; it was a sound technician’s and a musician’s dream.

As I was helping my musicians set up in the afternoon I observed that the caterers were wearing the usual white uniforms but that the waiter and waitresses were wearing kilts, waist-high tunics, and knee-high socks.

One of the cooks told me that the evening was to have a Scottish theme and that they were serving Scotland’s traditional dish, haggis, for dinner.

Haggis is the minced heart, liver and lungs of a sheep mixed with onions, oatmeal, spices and fat, simmered in an inside-out sheep’s stomach. I know, it sounds disgusting but it’s not. It’s quite tasty, just think of it as Scottish sausage.

I am always amazed to see successful people not satisfied with their professional accomplishments to the point that they have to live a fantasy and pretend to be Scots.

At least they were not acting out being gangsters or bikers.

Tables, all dressed in thick white linen and fine dinnerware, were set up in a “U” shape around the room, the middle section would be used for people to mingle while having cocktails before the meal. The band was in a corner on a low stage.

When one of the caterer’s employees returned from a cigarette break saying: “The guests are arriving,” the band began playing Johann Pachelbel’s “Canon in D”.

The golfers entered, some wearing golf trousers with argyle socks, others were sporting kilts and everybody seemed to be in a good mood. All the ladies were wearing plaid of some kind and most of them wore dresses.

“These people sure take their Scotland seriously,” I thought as the band ended the German baroque number. I went to Jason, the band leader, and suggested they move to music more appropriate for the occasion, so they started to play the theme song of the movie Braveheart.

I like smart literate musicians who can adapt quickly to a situation.

As the guests were having cocktails reminiscing about their day on the golf links, the club’s president recalled: “I was so proud, on the front nine I only lost three balls! But on the back nine, I lost 22!” which made everybody laugh.

Men were talking golf equipment and business, sipping their whisky while women were busy chatting and drinking mostly gin tonics and Bloody Marys.

I noticed a striking redhead in a kilt and silk blouse who, because of an ill-adjusted pin on her kilt, was showing quite a bit of leg when she moved. She was talking and laughing with a handsome man who seemed to be in real estate. A bit further away, another man – who looked like a doctor – was glancing at her worriedly.

From my years working in less commendable establishments I have learned how to read a crowd. If trouble was to happen tonight, it would be from these three.

In the meantime, waiters and waitresses were walking amongst the guests holding large platters of amuse-bouche which are nothing but fancy and politically correct amuse-gueule. It is a delicacy any aspiring bourgeois or nouveau riche can look forward to.

Some of the guests were admiring photographs on the wall of prize-winning sheep and Shetland ponys. Apparently quite a few military officers who usually attended the mess hall had Scottish roots and enjoyed displaying the pride of their ancestors’ homeland.

However, today’s guests were not as classy as the gentlemen and ladies who normally frequented the hall and were making lewd comments about the attractiveness of the sheep and ponys, one going so far as to parody the Rolling Stones’ Get off of my cloud by singing: “Hey McLoud! Get off of my ewe!” as everybody laughed.

It takes many generations for the coarseness of peasantry to leave the genes of would-be aristocrats.

Scotsman, kilt, Shetland pony
Stereotypes are oversimplified conceptions or opinions that bear no factual relation to reality. However it is easy to make them and use them and that is why we love Monty Python so much. Nonetheless, when an artist decides to draw a picture of a grown Scotsman wearing a skirt and holding a pet pony, it is very hard not to think of stereotypes.

The band was now playing a version of Matty Groves, a most unfortunate choice as I watched the real estate salesman making obvious moves towards the delighted stunning redhead while her frankly annoyed doctor husband was looking at them.

Soon dinner was about to be served and the guests were taking their assigned places around the tables. It was quite a sight to see the waiters and waitresses in Scottish livery bringing the first haggis for the whisky tasting club’s president to cut as he started to recite solemnly Robert Burns’ Address to a haggis.

A proud Scotsman gives a perfect rendition of Robert Burns’ poem.

After the poetic performance, waiters and waitresses started rolling in more haggis on stainless steel carts to serve guests. At that moment, I noticed that the redhead’s husband had gotten up and was now having an animated discussion with the real estate salesman while his wife looked on with increasing uneasiness.

The real estate salesman tried to get up, the doctor pushed him back down on his chair, grabbed a steaming haggis nearby and smashed it on his face.

All hell broke loose. People got up trying to stop the two men who were now wrestling on the floor, pulling a tablecloth in the process, sending cutlery, china, mashed potatoes and turnip flying. The redhead was crying, the waiters and waitresses were looking at the caterer for advice while the band played on, which I thought was very professional of them.

There was much yelling and shouting but no need to call the police; after all these sophisticated people were used to settling their issues through their lawyers. When the belligerents left the building, the caterers started to clean up the mess hoping to be able to resume their service but the magic was gone. One by one guests silently left while the scotch whisky tasting club’s president sat alone at a table, sipping at a glass of Talisker with a bitter look on his face.

Monday, September 5, 2011


For Dick
Special thanks to Matthew and his Facebook friends for bringing back the memories

Kids should never disobey their parents even though in the end it becomes unavoidable if only for the sake of emancipation. It is part of growing up and finding our own identity.

We start life as little beings completely dependent on our parents or caretakers. They provide a warm and safe shelter, they feed us, they keep us dry through seasons and despite the whims of our digestive and urinary systems.

And they teach us basic skills. When and what to eat and drink; when, where and how to move around while controlling those pesky sphincters; how to get dressed for warm and cold weather.

Eventually we grow up, until we’re old enough to eventually wear out from too much living.

In the process of growing up as kids we conveniently forget that somebody taught us the basics and we only remember the practice time we spent on our own or with our peers perfecting our life skills. We ignore that we become the sum of the knowledge, the wisdom, the habits, good and bad, of our parents and their ancestors.

They say parents only die when their children die and even then, not really: they just become part of a more or less anonymous data bank from which their grandchildren, great-grandchildren and so on thoughtlessly draw information.

But I digress, let’s go back to emancipation.

At some point when we grow up, we develop desires and needs our parents forgot they once had. One of the needs my older brother and I discovered in our early teens took a very specific form that we knew our mother would not agree with: Barbarella, Queen of the Galaxy.

In the 60’s and early 70’s, we were raised on French comic books and magazines, at a time where the genre was swiftly acquiring its status as a valid form of literature. We were aware of Jean-Claude Forest’s Barbarella original serial comics and had seen some of the strips. When Roger Vadim turned the comics into a movie in 1968, casting a very pretty pretty Jane Fonda, his third wife, as the galactic heroine, my brother and I knew we had to see it.

Barbarella, naked shoulders, blond woman, torn dress, Jean-Claude Forest, Le terrain vague, 1964, cleavage
Jean-Claude Forest (1930-1998) was a French illustrator and writer who created the Barbarella character in the early 1960s. Published originally as serials in V-Magazine in 1962, Barbarella became a runaway best-seller translated in dozens of languages.

Unfortunately, the movie had not been a commercial success and did not linger in cinemas. This was many years before VCRs, DVDs or BitTorrent and it would take a long time before whomever picked movies to play on Canadian TV could see enough artistic value in such a film to broadcast it.

Yet, the movie had everything to appeal to 14 and 15 year-old boys: a Catchman who hunted children; flesh-eating dolls; Leathermen guards shooting laser rays; a bushy-eyebrow villain named Durand Durand who invented the Excessive Machine, a kind of organ designed to kill through orgasm; a blind angel who lived in a nest and re-discovered how to fly after being introduced to carnal pleasure by Barbarella; and a lesbian one-eyed unicorn tyrant (played by Anita Pallenberg, then Keith Richards’ companion).

And of course, there was Barbarella, wearing tight-fitting revealing clothing that kept being torn off so that she could change more often.

The sets and props were typical 60s pop-art. Andy Warhol’s influence was everywhere. Barbarella’s spaceship was made of plywood, rubber and plastic, materials that didn’t burn out plunging through the atmosphere in 1968. The floor, ceiling and walls of the cockpit were covered with shaggy carpeting since back then allergies did not exist and mildew did not cause respiratory problems.

Times certainly have changed.

You can picture our excitement when my brother found out in an underground newspaper that a small theatre would be showing the movie one time only on a Friday at 11 PM.

But there was a problem: this was past our curfew and our mother would never allow us to go out at night to the shady part of town where the cinema showing the erotic movie was located.

We decided to sneak out of the house when my mother was sleeping.

So there we were, lying in bed with our clothes on, listening to my mother’s breathing in her room, impatiently waiting for her to fall asleep, fearing her reaction if she caught us leaving the house or worse if she got up in the middle of the night to find we were not in bed.

When you’re 14, disobedience is quite exciting.

Finally my brother whispered “let’s go!”. Carrying our shoes in our hands, we tiptoed our way to the door, careful not to cause the floor to creak and hoping that the door lock would give way quietly, that the door would open silently.

Outside we sat on the steps of the porch to put our shoes on and walked away without a word. My brother and I had become Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn on our way to spend an evening with the Queen of the Galaxy before she became an anti-war activist, a feminist, a fitness video guru and a born-again Christian.

Barbarella, DVD, Queen of the Galaxy, Roger Vadim, Jane Fonda, Anita Pallenberg
Before the advent of VCRs in the 1980s, a movie could be headlined at the same theatre for months. When video cassettes appeared on the market, there was an outcry from the industry saying that it would be the death of movie theatres. Thirty years later, video cassettes are gone after being replaced by DVDs which are in the process of being supplanted by films in the Cloud. Movie theatres are still around.

Once on the bus, my brother and I discussed nervously how we could explain our absence to our mother if she ever found out. So it was with a sense of impending doom that we entered the near-empty movie theatre.

Then the lights went out, the curtains parted, the opening credits started floating around, Barbarella removed her spacesuit at 24 frames per second in zero gravity... and I forgot that I even had a mother.

When the movie was over, my brother and I realized it was too late for buses to run and we ended up walking the five miles home in the cool spring night.

If my mother ever noticed our little escapade, she never mentioned anything. Maybe because after all she knew about the importance of emancipation.