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.


Friday, December 23, 2011

A Christmas Story

Two boys listen intently to Santa Claus telling them he is going to break into their house in the middle of the night, raid their refrigerator and leave stuff in their stockings or shoes. If some kids are excited with this concept others rightly question the morality of such a behaviour.

It was the first week of December many years ago, shortly after I was married, and I was sitting on the couch with the lady who would later become my ex-wife.

– I wonder where we should set up the Christmas tree, she said.

– A Chrismas tree? Nobody is putting a dead tree in my living room! I replied.

– We could get an artificial tree, you know...

– A fake dead tree in my living room? Out of the question!

“The will of Woman is the will of God” they say, so I eventually agreed under one condition: I would be the one putting the angel on the top of the tree.

This wish surprised my wife so I told her how the tradition was born to crown a fir tree with this small winged character:

It was a week before Christmas and Santa Claus woke up in a good mood. He went downstairs to make coffee and put two slices of bread in the toaster for his breakfast. Then he sat down at the table, picked up the newspaper and started to read the front page:

“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer arrested last night after failing breath test”

Not believing his eyes, Santa Claus kept reading and learned that the night before, the head of his reindeer team was taken to the police station with cuffs on his hooves after knocking off four chimneys, starting a fight and refusing to take a Breathalyzer test. He was to be jailed until he could be seen by a judge on December 28.

Santa Claus considered replacing his reindeer with goats following Rudolph’s imprisonment related to drinking issues. However, the goats’ lewd behaviour proved to be a more serious problem and Santa quickly dropped the idea.

Still in shock, Santa discovered on the second page that Legolas and Elrond, the leaders of his elfin crew, were announcing that they were going on strike and would cease to manufacture toys before Christmas. They were denouncing bad working conditions, protesting against unpaid overtime and demanding better benefits.

Santa Claus choked on his coffee and spilled the contents of his mug on the red suit that he was wearing. This was particularly annoying since he had just picked it up from the cleaner the day before.

Santa did not chafe easily but now he was simply furious.

To make matters worse, at that moment, the smoke detector went off: Santa’s toasts were burning!

Quickly he got up, opened the windows to clear the air, all the time fuming and swearing in such an uncivilized manner that I cannot repeat it here.

That is when a tiny angel entered the room with a fir tree under his arm and asked:

– Santa, what do you want me to do with this tree?

“... and that is how this beautiful tradition began,” I explained to my wife who looked at me, stunned, and beginning to regret the vows she had taken...

In my opinion, putting an angel on top of a tree is an efficient way to alleviate one’s Christmas frustrations and is preferable to putting up a Festivus pole (despite the latter “very high strength-to-weight ratio”). Many thanks to Mrs. Boudreault for the photo.

Merry Christmas to all the readers of Straight from the Bowels.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Tax Collector

That morning when Matthew got up to go to work, there was a gutted pig on his porch.

Disgusted at the sight of the carcass, Matthew called his servant and asked him to remove it and to clean the porch. Then he went to the stable to get his donkey.

In the alley leading to the livery, someone on the upper floor of a neighbouring house threw the contents of a chamber pot out the window. Matthew stepped away just in time to avoid being covered with excrement. When he looked up to see who did that there was, of course, nobody there.

He could hear his donkey braying in its stall: somebody had painted the donkey green during the night.

Passersby laughed at him as he headed to work on his green donkey.

The donkey is known for his laziness and stubbornness. However, it is a more economical way to travel than by camel or by horse.

How he hated his job as a tax collector! Even though the pay was good, it was a permanent position and there were benefits, the contempt and disapproval from his fellow citizens were hard to take.

Since the beginning of time taxation has never been popular. Nobody enjoys paying taxes and everybody believes, whether it is true or not, that state finances are badly managed and that taxes profit the government and the rulers of the country.

The Taxation Office had assigned Matthew to Capernaum, on the shore of Lake Tiberias. The Jews kept calling the lake “Sea of Galillee” not wanting to recognize the authority of Tiberius, the Emperor of the Roman invaders. However Matthew did not work for the Romans: he was a public servant for the Governor, Herod Antipas, a Jew who was raised and educated in Rome.

Herod was praised by some for the great infrastructure works he oversaw and paid for with tax money. Others hated him because they saw him as the Romans’ puppet and as a man of loose morals.

Matthew arrived at work and tied up the donkey behind the building in the shade, and checked that there was enough water in the trough so the animal could drink when the sun was high.

He then entered his office, mentally preparing himself to meet merchants and traders who would shamelessly lie about their income and sales, and then, as soon as he threatened them with a tax audit, would end up begging without dignity.

At lunch time, Matthew left to get his donkey and have lunch under a palm tree before taking a nap.

The animal was lying on its side, still tied up, dead. Somebody had poisoned the water.

Appalled, Matthew stared at the animal’s corpse. He could not believe how cruel people were. He was not looking forward to walking, from now on, once a week, the six miles between Capernaum and Tiberias, the region’s capital, where he had to submit his report to the head office.

In Hebrew, Capernaum means “town of comfort”. However Matthew saw no comfort when he looked around at the customs office, the market with its tables crumbling under the weight of goods and produce, the warehouses bursting at the seams with merchandise waiting to be delivered by caravan or by boat to other towns, other countries.

He looked at the barracks where lodged the Roman soldiers responsible for keeping the peace in town. He knew that they would laugh at him if he reported the death of his donkey and that he would never be compensated.

He saw the inn and decided to have a pitcher of wine.

Smoke from hookah pipes filled the room. The patrons gave Matthew dirty looks as he came in. There was a free spot in a corner near a table where Simon, Andrew, James and John, local fishermen, were talking with a stranger.

The hookah pipe is a water pipe that was invented in India. It is very popular in the Middle East. It is mainly used to smoke flavoured tobacco but also other substances.

The innkeeper slammed the wine pitcher on the table where Matthew was sitting, his face in his hands, crying silently. Matthew poured a glass and, as he was about to drink, he noticed the stranger sitting with the fishermen looking kindly at him.

The way the man was looking at him troubled him and when the stranger asked “Tough day at work?” he could not hold back and started to cry again. The stranger rose and came and sat at Matthew’s table.

The stranger said his name was Yeshua. For whatever reason, Matthew felt safe and told him about the string of bad luck that had befallen him that day.

Yeshua quietly listened to him then said:

– We all have our cross to bear, myself maybe a little more than others. Follow me. Together we will wander on the dusty roads of Galillee. We will eat whatever food people give us and we will sleep in the fields to wake up in the morning drenched with dew. Some day after I am dead, you will write about all that you saw and heard. Then, you will go to Ethiopia where you will be stoned to death by the King’s soldiers for exposing his debauchery. I am sorry; there is nothing more I can do to help. Are you interested?

The Gospel of Saint Matthew recalls the years Matthew, patron saint of tax collectors, accountants and tax lawyers, spent with Jesus. However the account does not say much about how he became an apostle, that’s why Straight from the Bowels is gladly filling the blanks.

Was it the wine? Was it despair? Whatever it was, Matthew thought that the idea of becoming a vagrant and living a life of adventure was better than remaining a taxman.

In a second, his mind was made up.

When Matthew and Yeshua left the inn, Simon whispered to Andrew:

– I told you it would work! We still have some green paint left over. Let’s try again with someone else’s donkey tonight!

Andrew replied:

– All right! Let’s try with Judas, the moron working at the currency exchange who always complains that he is 30 silver coins short!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The mighty bison

Over half a century has already gone by since I was born... So many things can change in only 50 years.

For example 50 years was all it took to reduce the over 100 million American bison (bison bison) that once roamed North America’s plains to only a handful.

The mighty bison: Manitoba’s provincial emblem, the fierce bovine that adorns Wyoming’s State flag and the livelihood of “Buffalo” Bill Cody and generations of Native Americans was indeed the ruler of American prairies. Having few predators, apart from the grizzly bear and the wolf, they were quite happy grazing, resting, and chewing their cud before moving on to other pastures.

Their sheer size – a male Plains bison (bison bison bison – whoever comes up with Latin names for species obviously lacks imagination from time to time) is typically 2,000 pounds – their bad temper when annoyed, their speed and agility (a bison runs at 40 mph and can jump six feet high) and their tendency to stampede when incommoded by insects make them animals you do not want to cross.

A Plains bison can be recognized from a Wood bison (bison bison athabascae) by its size (the Plains bison is smaller) and the shape of its hump, which is rounded while the Wood bison’s hump is squared. Both are irritable.

For the American bison, gestation is 285 days and a bull is able to mate at three years of age. However, in a herd, the more mature bulls will exercise their authority to prevent the younger ones from mating. Therefore, until he is old and big enough, a male bison will be relegated to lustily watch the cows for his elders while practicing his reproductive technique on dismayed smaller bulls.

The 19th century was not a good time for the American bison. European settlers were moving west, encountering Natives who were reluctant to give up their space to accommodate the newcomers’ hunger for land. Reservations were created to confine the Aboriginals but for those who still insisted on living in their homeland, it was decided to starve them by killing the bison on which they heavily depended for food and trade.

To make matters worse for the emblematic ungulate, the new Americans were laying down hundreds of miles of railroad tracks wherever they went, often taking advantage of bison trails left bare between migrations.

As any migratory animal, the American bison liked their trails and wanted to re-use them, railroad tracks or not. Do you know how hard it is to keep a reliable train schedule when bison herds keep crossing the tracks according to their whim? Thus, there was another excellent reason for hunting them.

Finally, the industrial revolution gave the American bison the coup de grâce.

The new steam and combustion engines needed sturdy drive belts for connecting their spinning gears. The best belts were made with thick bison hides. Also, as the manufacturing sector’s productivity was improved by motorized factories, many new goods that required assembly were put on the market. Submitted to hydrolysis, bison bones produced collagen which made excellent glue to join parts together. Those were the days before duct tape, Velcro and tie-wraps, when securing parts was somewhat troublesome.

Buffalo bones are being loaded in a Canadian Pacific railway car to be shipped to a glue factory. Credit: Library and Archives Canada / PA-066544

For those reasons the hunting continued until the entire American bison population was worn down to a mere few specimen.

Fortunately, as the legend goes, in 1881 a South Dakota farmer purchased the last five remaining bison calves and thus preserved the species. Within 30 years there was a herd of about 1,000 bisons grazing the great American plains again.

However this led to a new controversy. Following DNA testing it was found that some bison genes had been polluted by regular cattle genes. I mean, if you are a 600 pounds Jersey cow grazing and you suddenly realize there is a one-ton lonely bison bull, who is tired of humping his male counterparts in the mud and who is giving you sweet looks from the other side of a fence that he can easily jump over, what are you supposed to do?

The Jersey cow is popular because of the quality of its dairy output, small size and high fertility rate. Offsprings of ordinary cattle and bison are sometimes called beefallo.