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The Straight Dope



Thanks for quoting me twice in More of the Straight Dope. I notice you discuss the alleged practice of gerbil stuffing. [The gerbil is supposedly inserted into the keester for purposes of sexual stimulation.] Have you found any evidence yet that this has ever actually occurred? I ask because the compilers of News of the Weird include a list of "items recovered from the rectums of patients" (page 157 of their book) that includes "a live, shaved, declawed gerbil." I included this in a list of ten urban-legend-related items I found in their book in a column I wrote about NOTW, which elicited two nasty, defensive, insecure letters from Chuck Shepherd, its originator. He says the list was summarized from a 1987 issue of the journal Surgery so it cannot be a legend. You and I and everybody else know that the story has circulated since 1982 at least. It doesn't stop being a legend if somebody tries it, as witnessed by the recent attribution in vicious rumors of gerbil stuffing to Richard Gere.

If there's a firsthand medical report of gerbilling, I'm surprised that some doctor hasn't sent me a copy by now; ye gods, they send me copies of articles on exploding patients, relatives' cadavers, bugs in the ear, hairballs, and virtually everything else of medical interest I've ever mentioned. If you know anything more than what's in your book, I'd appreciate your sharing it. --Jan Brunvand, University of Utah, Salt Lake City

Sorry if this seems like writers kaffee-klatsching around the water cooler, folks, but we world-famous columnists must keep in touch. Mr. Brunvand, of course, is the legendary investigator of "urban legends," whose books include The Vanishing Hitchhiker, The Choking Doberman, and more recently Curses! Broiled Again!

As for Chuck Shepherd, he's either pulling our leg or someone's pulling his. The Surgery article he's apparently referring to appeared not in 1987 but in 1986. Entitled "Rectal foreign bodies: Case reports and a comprehensive review of the world's literature," it describes "approximately 700 identified objects recovered from approximately 200 patients." The list includes everything from turnips to ice picks--but no gerbils or any other critter.

I have also gone through the biological abstracts and the Medline computer database. There is an abundant literature on the topic in general, but nothing on gerbils. It is inconceivable to me that a doctor with firsthand knowledge of this bizarre practice would fail to write it up, if only because of the public-health implications.

The indication in News of the Weird that the gerbil was recovered alive strongly suggests the report is bogus; by the time the victim got to the emergency room the gerbil would surely have been asphyxiated. The one solid lead I thought I had on a case of gerbil stuffing back in 1986 evaporated on further inquiry. I won't say it's never happened in this nutty world, but I have yet to see proof. I doubt Chuck Shepherd has either.


Tell Dave O. [August 3] he's collecting money fraudulently. [Dave had offered this trivia question: In 1963, the most valuable players in the American League, National League, National Football League, and American Football League all wore the same number. Name the players and their number.] The players didn't wear the same number. See the enclosed Newsweek clip. He doesn't even have all the right MVPs! --John Merrill, Chicago

That does it. I will never trust another human being again. It turns out that three of the four MVPs wore number 32--Elston Howard of the Yankees; Sandy Koufax, Dodgers; and Jim Brown, Browns. But the fourth MVP was not Cookie Gilchrist of the Bills, as the egregious Dave O. had it, but Clem Daniels of the Raiders, who was number 36. You made any money with this sorry dodge, Cecil says give it back.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Slug Signorino.

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