Best Before

I had food poisoning a day ago.

Been there, done that a couple of times before. But this time it was a whole new level of bad. Sure I felt like I was dying on those previous occasions, but I’d never been reduced to slapping myself in the face—hard—to maintain consciousness. I might have called 911, but the phone was an impossible distance away from the cooling surface of the bathtub side, where I was resting my flop-sweating head and waiting for my body to make its coin-flip choice of which end was going to handle the evacuation.

I was alone and far from assistance. Well, almost alone. One cat—the smart one—figured out something was wrong, and tried to comfort me with meows and face rubs, ignoring the danger she was putting herself in, crossing one potential line of fire repeatedly. I made a note to leave the tap running for the felines in case I didn’t make it. That would take care of their water supply until my body was found. As for food, I’ve always made it clear that my pets are free to help themselves to my mortal remains in order to survive until rescue arrives. What do I care if I’m dead? I’m not using the old meat-sack anymore, I’m not into open-coffin funerals, and the crematorium ovens don’t care how pretty your corpse is.


Well, I did write Necropolis. And the sequel, Epitaph, coming soon.

After you go through this sort of experience and you realize you’re not going to die after all, your thoughts go to figuring out why this horrible thing happened. I pointed a few fingers, and I did my research about the gestation periods of different types of food poisoning. In the end, I had to admit it was my own damn fault. The exact thing I’d been joking about with friends for the last year had come to pass. I’d poisoned myself.

I’m moving soon. And I’ve known this for many months. Among all the books and DVDs and collections in my house was a long-standing horde of emergency food. I’m in Montreal. I lived through the great ice storm of 1998. Disasters happen. Supply lines can get cut off. I like to have enough canned food on hand to see me through at least a month or two of interrupted services. If the shit hits the fan and store shelves empty out, I’d prefer to avoid the bread lines.

And, you know, if there’s a zombie apocalypse, you really don’t want to have to go outside for anything.

It was only once I started going through stuff that I realized how long my long-standing horde had been stashed away in those basement cupboards. Every single can down there was several years past its expiry date.

Which, of course, was no big deal. Expiry dates on cans of food are mostly bullshit, unless the can got dented or corroded in some way. Otherwise, it’s an airtight seal that will allow you to enjoy the tin-encased contents well beyond any end of the world you’ve happened to survive.

Right? Right.

Admittedly, I composted all the canned peas and carrots and corn and beans. Canned vegetables taste like crap compared to their fresh counterparts. I’d bought them for an emergency, and there was no emergency unfolding that was dire enough for me to subject myself to that bland crap, much as I hate waste.

But the canned fish… Ah, the canned fish. Again, fresh is better, but cans of tuna and salmon can make for a fine sandwich. So, over the past year, I’ve been eating two or three of those cans per week, always subjecting them to a thorough sniff test first. Always cautious about what I was about to put in my body.

And it worked out fine right up until it didn’t.

I think it was the can of salmon I had for breakfast that morning that did me in. I can’t be sure. But it’s a prime suspect and, just in case, I threw the rest out. Then I threw out more stuff that was probably fine but had crossed the expiry date. Then I threw out stuff that should be completely inert and incapable of going bad, just because it had committed the unpardonable sin of getting old.

It all had to go, and it all went, without pity. Waste be damned.

I now have a very modest pantry. There’s nothing I want to stock up on until after this move happens and I have new cupboards to fill.

I dodged a bullet this time. I’ve mended my ways. And now I’ll have to come up with a new way to neglect myself to death.

Strip Club Recessions

“Wanna go to a strip club?”

This is a question that will usually inspire a resounding “No!” from me. I’m not offended by strip clubs as a concept, nor morally outraged by the various branches of the sex industry. I remain academically interested in all things sleazy and perverse. But, as I’ve said here before, I don’t like my porn looking back at me. It’s creepy.

My past experiences with strip clubs have not been positive ones. Aside from the usual variety of ill-advised bachelor parties, and the one drunken crawl along the Montreal stripper strip that ended with a body count (the less said the better), there was the television shoot for Strip Club Confessions I was recruited for several years ago. I did that one as a favour for a friend (although the C-note helped grease my wheels) and thereafter swore off crossing the threshold of one of those dives ever again (bachelor party attendance out of sheer politeness aside, of course). They simply do nothing for me. Frankly, I’ve felt more blood flow to my cock swimming in a bone-chilling Canadian lake than I’ve ever felt in a strip club.

What was unusual about this particular “Wanna go to a strip club?” query was that I was the one asking the question. To my wife.

To understand why I would ever ask such a thing, you have to know the history of Picasso. Not the painter, the legendary 24-hour feed bag along Rue Saint-Jacques in the sleaziest stretch of the Montreal-West/N.D.G. area. For thirty years, if you wanted a good breakfast at 3:00 am, there was no better (or other) place to go than Picasso – a hybrid restaurant/diner/truck stop of a place within easy walking distance of any number of drug dealers, prostitutes and no-tell motels. St. Jacques was, once upon a time, the main artery into downtown Montreal from the west island. But then they built highway 20, and the artery turned into a varicose vein of dodgy economic blight. The legit businesses withered and died, the fast-food franchises got obscurer and greasier, and the motels started charging hourly rates as they shut their doors to family road-trip vacationers and opened them to solicitors of various rentable orifices.

Picasso had stood as a friendly oasis in this post-highway era from 1979 to 2009, but then abruptly closed overnight following a labour dispute with its staff. Attempts have been made to renovate and reopen, but they all fizzled out and the place has stood there rotting ever since.

At this point, Picasso looks like a post-apocalyptic prop. The elements, particularly Montreal’s harsh winters, have taken their toll, eating away at anything wooden. The windows and walls are covered in tags and graffiti, some of the windows are boarded up, the interior looks like it’s been frozen in time for centuries and covered in the expected amount of dust and debris, and the numerous plants and trees inside what was once a verdant greenhouse of a dining area have turned a pale brown and formed a petrified forest.

Picasso’s east-side entry.

Picasso’s east-side entry.

What used to be Picasso’s roadside sign, now communicating nothing.

What used to be Picasso’s roadside sign, now communicating nothing.

Graffiti, rotting wood, and stripped wiring.

Graffiti, rotting wood, and stripped wiring.

Some of the dead jungle inside.

Some of the dead jungle inside.

Abandoned interior with evidence of past non-starter attempts to renovate.

Abandoned interior with evidence of past non-starter attempts to renovate.

Lens flare as the sun sets on Picasso.

Lens flare as the sun sets on Picasso.

Graffiti on one boarded up window suggests one former employee’s take on the restaurant-ending labour dispute.

Graffiti on one boarded up window suggests a former employee’s take on the restaurant-ending labour dispute.

Graffiti on another board eulogises what someone once liked best about Picasso.

Graffiti on another board eulogizes what someone once liked best about Picasso.

Even a parting sentiment painted on the window fades under the constant assault of time and the elements.

Even a parting sentiment painted on the window fades under the constant assault of time and the elements.

Any other building in such a condition would have been a prime candidate for the wrecking ball. But Picasso persists. Not because there’s any hope for a revival, but because there’s a business in the basement. And you can’t destroy one without levelling the other.

Cabaret Les Amazones is the lone strip club on the street. Montreal has no shortage of strip clubs and has been a target destination for many a south-of-the-border youth looking for a titty-bar smorgasbord and a lower legal drinking age for decades. The fact that Amazones is the only business of its kind the area can support goes to show what an economic dead zone St. Jacques has become. Its weather-beaten and decayed sign towers at the side the road, beckoning commuters with promises of nudity and contact. The single uninviting entry point leads directly downstairs, into whatever debauched dungeon lies beneath the skeletal remains of Picasso.

East-bound traffic is solicited with this sad, sun-washed and weather-beaten sign.

East-bound traffic is solicited with this sad, sun-washed and weather-beaten sign.

West-bound traffic is apparently not even worth advertising to. The glass on this side of the sign has been shattered and missing for years.

West-bound traffic is apparently not even worth advertising to. The glass on this side of the sign has been shattered and missing for years.

Picasso’s boarded-up west-side entry and the door to the debauchery below.

Picasso’s boarded-up west-side entry and the door to the debauchery below.

I would wonder, sometimes to myself, often aloud, what sort of shithole must that place be to exist under the derelict remains of a decomposing restaurant in one of the ugliest corners of the city. I’ve long been curious to see, but reluctant to go. Not without a bodyguard.

“Wanna go to a strip club?” I asked my wife as we drove past one day. I don’t know how functional she’d be as a bodyguard, but she’d be certain to scare the shit out of any ne’er-do-wells if I made sure she was tired and hungry when we went. Tired plus hungry equals cranky, you see. You discover these sorts of things after years of marriage.

“No,” she answered, although she shared my curiosity. “But I have a writing assignment for you.”

The assignment was simple: Recruit two of my writer friends, arrange an expedition into the bowels of the Picasso/Amazones hybrid beast, and then, should we survive, each write something about the experience. This is me holding up my end of the bargain.

A posse was formed and, after the usual wrangling about an appropriate time and date, we piled into a car and headed out one evening, hoping for a truly vile, horrible night on the town that would fuel some future piece of writing.

We pulled into the nearly vacant parking lot after nightfall. It was still early as bar-hopping/clubbing goes, but the giant grid of empty paved spaces, shared with a neighbouring supermarket, seemed particularly barren after hours on a Saturday night. Stopping for a quick look through the dark windows of the Picasso ruins, we noted a light on in the kitchen that suggested it was still being used to serve up food to the club customers below.

We opened the door and descended to the basement. A sign on the wall dictated a dress code, more detailed and specific than your typical “No shirt, no shoes, no service” decree. Among the more interesting forbidden items of clothing were do-rags, because apparently the establishment was still having a lot of problems with time-travelling gangstas from the 1990s. This was borne out by our requirement to pass through a metal detector on our way inside after coughing up a cover charge. The metal detector was probably just for show and likely not even plugged in. We all noted we got inside without our pocket change and house keys provoking so much as a blip.

These reasonably ominous signs were promising, but then we sat down. It was with crushing disappointment that we realized we hadn’t entered a dive. The place was spacious and clean and glitzy and looked like the sort of higher end titty-bar you might see depicted on any random TV cop show. They even had a decent beer on tap for a reasonable price which, in my limited experience, is unheard of in the stripper-industrial-complex. This was all wrong.

Being early, we could have grabbed a stage-side table of our choice, but opted to sit back a distance. I may not like my porn looking back at me, but I really detest having my porn look back at me from only inches away. That takes a step beyond creepy and goes straight into spine-chilling territory.

The place was dead and the number of strippers taking to the stage sparse throughout our first pitcher of beer. But around 9:30, the place suddenly came alive and started filling up. The dancers and songs went into a steady cycle as the booth-bound announcer picked up the pace. An hour later, the club went from looking like another one of Montreal’s dead businesses that are used solely to launder mob drug money, to a thriving gold mine of vibrant economic viability.

Even the audience was animated, which is something I’ve never seen in a strip club before. Usually such places are full of guys quietly drinking, embarrassed to even be there, but compelled to stay until they’ve had an eye-full to their satisfaction. This place, however, had more of a party atmosphere, with the sorts of hoots and hollers you’d expect to hear in a strip club if your only experience with them is how they’re depicted in the aforementioned TV cop shows. The stage-side seats we had so cavalierly passed over were quickly topped up by “reserved” signs, and then promptly filled by groups (sometimes a mix of men AND women) who apparently needed to slip the doorman a fat tip in order to secure one.

Although there were large television screens placed strategically all over the club running sports, nobody was watching. It made for a very Canadian dilemma – naked girls and hockey competing for attention. Shockingly, the girls were winning out.

“The worse the economy, the hotter the girls.” So says the adage, if that is indeed an adage. I don’t know if there are all that many adages concerning stripping, but I’ve certainly heard this one before. It’s something to do with the fact that poverty allows this sort of skin market to be more choosy about who it serves up to the public. Certainly the ladies on offer landed firmly in the “attractive” category. Degree of hotness is something for the individual to decide.

Despite the sorry state of the economy, the ladies didn’t seem too motivated to solicit private dances, allowing the customers to come to them with money and requests. Tellingly, the one I considered least attractive of the crop was the only one actively working the room, going from table to table, trying to interest individual observers in her wares and a session of touchy-feely in a private booth. And she didn’t mind getting a tad grabby herself in order to scare up business.

“Get your fucking hand off my knee and go the fuck away,” were my only thoughts on the matter when it was our table’s turn to get the hard sell. I was too polite to articulate this in her presence. I knew she was just doing her job, grotesque as that job may be. But must we all make each other feel like a piece of meat in this transaction? I guess that’s the appeal for some. Me, I just wanted to return to my beer. My beer doesn’t objectify me. It just makes me fat. And we don’t judge each other.

“This is the best strip club I’ve ever been to in Montreal!” declared one of my accomplices.

I could see his point, though “best” is a relative term, and even the best of something I dislike still kinda sucks. It still wasn’t my thing, as confirmed when my focus briefly flittered back to the stage in time to see The Eye of Sauron yawning at me from between a pair of widely spread legs.

“Meanwhile, back at the gynecologist’s…” I commented, averting my gaze again.

By far the most interesting stage act, from my jaded point of view at least, was The Pole Sanitizer. This wasn’t a stripper, or even one of the girls. It was some poor schmuck whose job it was to mount the stage amidst sarcastic catcalls from the audience and spritz the stripper pool during a between-song interlude. He’d then wipe off the spray-bottle antiseptic with a rag, top to bottom, take his bows, and depart.

There was a brief intermission while we waited for the cleanser to evaporate from the stage before the next girl began her dance. It wasn’t long before she was grinding all over the pole, with only the flimsiest of thongs to protect the chrome plating from the assault of her nethers.

“That pole needs to be cleansed again,” I commented only minutes after it had been washed off, and hours away from when it would be wiped down again. Indeed, I spent much of the evening calculating how much fecal bacteria was being transferred to the pole by all these women wiping their ass crack all over it, one after the other and the other. The math was nauseating.

One custom of this particular strip club was something I’ll refer to as “the stage flop.” It’s sort of like stage diving, but in reverse. Apparently it was acceptable protocol for the clients to approach the stage during an act and, gripping a rolled-up twenty-dollar bill in their teeth, flop onto the stage. There they would lie, on their backs with the twenty standing erect, awaiting special attention from the stripper of the moment. Eventually, she would come over to retrieve her twenty-buck tip and reward the donor by battering his face with her boobs, or poising her groin over his nose at an olfactory distance I found unnerving even seated fifteen feet away.

Exactly what sort of close-encounter exhibitionist thrill you got for your twenty dollars seemed to vary depending on the girl. One of the strippers seemed to have made a reputation for herself by going the extra distance. When it was her turn on stage, she had two clients do the stage flop at once. I have to say, forty bucks for a three-minute dance is good money, but what she did to earn it would haunt my nightmares for weeks to come. She was, you see, a spitter.

Spitting disgusts me. The deep-routed psychological reasons for this will be explored in a future blog post, but suffice to say, “Ew!” Keep your expectorate to yourself, please.

The first stage-flopper received what I can only interpret as a contemptuous wad of spit hocked onto his t-shirt, which was then rubbed in by the stripper before she went through additional boob-and-crotch related moves to retrieve her twenty dollars. The second stage-flopper, however, got the deluxe treatment. To the audience’s delight and my horror, she crawled over to him, removed his belt, rolled him over onto his stomach, and yanked his pants down. She then – pardon me, I have to step back a moment, I’m suffering a bout of PTSD dredging up this memory – spat on his meaty ass, rubbed it in with her bare hand, and then proceeded to flog the wet spot with his coiled belt until he couldn’t take any more and started blocking the blows with his open palm.

He, too, paid twenty dollars for this privilege.

“There’s no amount of soap in the world that would ever make me feel clean again,” I confided to my less enthusiastic friend. I’d have shared this thought with my more enthusiastic friend as well, but he missed this disturbing spectacle. He was off in a booth somewhere, getting a private dance. What exact services or visuals he had selected from the long and confusing menu of options posted at various points on the wall remained mysterious. I didn’t ask.

Suffice to say, our plans to go and check the place out for an hour, and then retreat back to my screening room to watch a movie once we’d been thoroughly horrified, did not pan out. Instead we spent a few hours experiencing a spectrum of reactions that ranged from delight to disgust, and then called it a night far too late to begin a movie.

I don’t know if anything was really learned from this experience, but at least one mystery was solved. We now know why the eyesore that used to be Picasso is still standing, safe and sound from the wrecking ball. The property is still raking in far too much money to quit now, even as the above-ground portion of the building slowly collapses under the weight of time and neglect.

Sex sells, even when the economy is shit.

The twin businesses, fused together forever.

The twin businesses, fused together forever.

Pie In the Sky

I was fooling myself when I thought I could simply post a story about the anniversary of my aged apple pie and move on to the next bit of grim, gallow-humoured business here at Eyestrain Productions. It seems that at least one follow-up will be necessary to address some of the comments, backlash and statistics that have come out of this global unveiling. Questions have been posed, figures have been requested, and answers must be forthcoming.

I’ve never really seen anything go viral first hand – except maybe my tonsils when I had mononucleosis. I have to say, it’s an unnerving, frightening sight. What started as a simple Facebook update at nine in the morning last Thursday exploded into an all-time high of visitors and views by the end of the day. The numbers didn’t just beat out the time I mentioned Rob Ford on the blog (people can’t get enough of him, and there’s so much to go around), they shattered the record. This is what a disgusting story about fast food will get you in the blogosphere. It almost makes holding onto a McDonald’s apple pie for twenty-five years seems like a worthwhile endeavour. And not crazy.

Rob-Ford day is the blip on the left, dwarfed by the outing of The Pie a couple of weeks later.

Rob-Ford day is the blip on the left, dwarfed by the outing of The Pie a couple of weeks later.

After the first couple of days of Facebook mania, there was a bit of a drop off. The post, McApple Pie of My Eye, was earmarked for mention on WordPress’ Freshly Pressed, but there was a delay when a timely bit of news was held static at the top of the page for a day, blocking the cycle of new inclusions. Despite Nelson Mandela’s attempt to steal my thunder, my apple pie finally usurped him and the hits kept coming. Yeah yeah, I know. You ended apartheid and ushered South Africa into a new era of democratic reform without resorting to violence or retribution, thereby becoming a shining beacon of peaceful transition from tyranny to freedom and all. But do you have a twenty-five-year-old McDonald’s apple pie? No, you DO NOT! Checkmate, sir.

As of this writing, the post has had 6888 views since it first went up, with some of the visitors actually bothering to read other content on the site as well. Thanks to the stat features on WordPress, I’ve been better able to track the numbers and where the visitors are coming from. It was with some measure of geographically geeky delight that I got to watch much of the world map fill in, and witness some strange anomalies. I can’t even guess why I have more views from Singapore than the entire U.K. combined, but I’m at least pleased to be able to exclaim: Welcome single Negara Brunei Darussalam visitor! I’m glad you stopped by because, honestly, I don’t see your neck of the woods coming up in my vacation roster any time soon.

Greenland has provoked my ire by being the largest piece of unfilled real estate. Surely somebody there has Wi-Fi and a Facebook account.

Greenland has provoked my ire by being the largest piece of unfilled real estate. Surely somebody there has Wi-Fi and a Facebook account.

The reaction to the contents of the article were pretty universally a horrified, “Gah!” Such was the sentiment from the hosts of a Radio Canada show that picked up the story, showing my blog and mentioning my mispronounced name on air. Some skepticism was expressed by people who wisely don’t take everything they read on the internet at face value. I was only outright accused of perpetrating a hoax once. I’m all for healthy skepticism, but it’s not the Kennedy assassination. It’s a pie. All I can offer you is my personal assurance of the factuality of the post. If that’s not good enough for you…oh, well. I guess we’ll both just have to deal with it.

Speaking of the facts, “maplesuger” was good enough to point out the true meaning of the ballpoint-pen “12” on the packaging based on a personal McDonald’s slave-wage experience. My speculation was wrong, it does in fact mean “12 o’clock.” It’s interesting that the pie turnover rate was so quick, given its now-obvious epic shelf life. Ah, the illusion of freshness.

Links to the current McDonald’s pie list of ingredients were offered, and swiftly countered by others who pointed out that fast food recipes get changed all the time. This is certainly true. Even Coca-Cola has altered their formula several times over the years, despite the perception that their recipe is written in stone. The New Coke debacle of 1985 illustrates that clearly enough, although other tweaks have been made at various points in the company’s history, like the ones that happened in 1935 designed to make Coke kosher. No, seriously, they did that. Then, of course, there was the earlier bold decision to drop cocaine from the recipe in favour of the less-robust jump-starter, caffeine. I have no doubt McDonald’s has similarly fiddled with all their menu items in the last quarter century. Some may have been made more food-esque, others less so. We may never know the precise details.

Whether it’s cola or burgers or simulated apple pies, my attitude is the same as when it comes to smoking. If you’re still consuming that shit after all the “Don’t touch it, it’s poison!” warnings, anything I write here is unlikely to change your habits. Witness one friend who wrote back to inform me that even after my post made the rounds and circulated all through her office, two of her colleagues still had McDonald’s for lunch. I shudder to think my little essay may have even inspired the craving.

My favourite bit of criticism came from the guy I call the You-Don’t-Know-Science dude. I suppose that accusation is fair. If I get up in the morning and gravity still works, I assume there’s a qualified Ph.D. doing their job correctly at some high-tech gravity factory somewhere. I don’t really think about it much, although my techie friends sure do. I should note that none of the coders and programmers, biologists and geneticists, robotics engineers and theoretical physicists I know (okay, I don’t actually know any qualified theoretical physicists, but I’m slated to have brunch with one this weekend) took issue with what I had to say. Some of them were even in the restaurant with me when the pie was first purchased in 1988 and can vouch for the entire story.

As someone who has been known to occasionally eat food, I have plenty of anecdotal evidence that this is not how food behaves. This is more how something like, say, a brick, or a lug nut, or a novelty coffee cup behaves over the course of a quarter century when left unattended. Nothing much happens. My narrow understanding of science extends far enough to dictate that a warm, moist, fresh apple pie should have turned into a Petri dish, swimming with bacteria, within a reasonable amount of time, provided there were actual nutrients present to interest them. There weren’t.

I’ll let the post mortem rest there. Unless further media attention surfaces (and well it may, the off-line media are notoriously slow on the uptake), the apple pie will return to its place of dishonour in my stationery closet until the next major anniversary. A blog post about pie of another kind will be forthcoming shortly. It can’t possibly hope to get the same number of hits, but with luck it will turn the stomachs of what readers it draws in just as timely and nauseating a fashion.

McApple Pie of My Eye

If you know me personally at all, chances are you’ve heard about The Pie. Maybe I’ve even taken it out to show you, let you touch it, encouraged you to sniff it. The Pie is legend, and has been for a great many years now. And if you know about The Pie, then you know we’ve just passed a significant milestone on its journey through the ages and into immortality.

The rest of you I’m going to have to bring up to speed.

I mentioned an important anniversary several weeks ago in this blog. Not the one related to the blog itself, nor my comic book work. I’m talking about that other, mysterious anniversary, I was so specifically vague about. The twenty-five year anniversary.

Rather than recap the whole sordid story from the beginning, let us instead begin at the end – or at least the end as it stood before I started writing this blog post for public consumption. Allow me to share with you a letter I recently composed to a rather famous corporate entity. Yes, a proper letter, on paper, and sent through actual government postal systems to head offices in the United States and Canada. Here, without further ado, are the precise contents of those pages, followed by the pair of photographs mentioned as being enclosed in each copy.

Customer Relations
McDonald’s Corporation
2111 McDonald’s Dr.
Oak Brook, IL

Customer Relations
1 McDonald’s Place
Toronto, Ontario
M3C 3L4

September 17, 2013

In late 1988, while at a McDonald’s franchise in Montreal’s west island, a friend purchased a McDonald’s apple pie for me. Although there were burgers and fries consumed that evening, the apple pie went untouched and survived to see the next morning as leftovers. However, it didn’t get eaten the next day either. Nor the next. In fact, it went largely forgotten for several weeks, at which point it was rediscovered, sitting in its cardboard packaging, looking just as fresh and scrumptious as the day it was bought. Amazingly, it hadn’t gone bad, didn’t smell, and appeared to be absolutely unchanged. It could have easily been reheated and served with no discernible loss in quality.

But rather than do just that, I held onto it. Perhaps I had already developed a sentimental attachment to the pie, or maybe I was simply curious as to just how long it could last. That was twenty-five years ago now, and I still have it. Lesser food would have rotted away to nothing, but not your resilient apple pie. It never developed so much as a spot of mould, never changed colour, never went bad, and never stank. Quite the contrary, it smelled strongly of delicious fresh apples for the first five years. Since then, the smell has faded but remains faintly detectible. The only sign that it’s any the worse for wear is that it has dried out with age. It still rests, as it has for a quarter century, in its original box, exposed to the open air through the windowed holes of the packaging. No attempts have ever been made to freeze it, refrigerate it, or even keep it in a properly burped Tupperware container. It just sits, day after day, in my office closet, stoic and unchanging. As a matter of fact, the cardboard box it came is has aged far less gracefully. That, at least, has yellowed.

I don’t know how thoroughly you test your own products, but I expect twenty-five years is considerably longer than the usual quality control checks and balances your food is put through. I am, obviously, astounded and amazed by the calibre of a mere dessert that can survive this long, immune to decay, bugs, and even bacteria. Apparently, McDonald’s makes food so good, it never goes bad.

To celebrate this silver anniversary, I’m planning a media blitz with my connections in local and national news outlets. This will include interviews, public appearances by the pie, and perhaps even a ceremonial tasting – all to be recorded and uploaded to the major social media sites. This story has all the human interest and instantly recognizable corporate-branding elements that journalists love. The copy practically writes itself. Fingers crossed, the story will go viral and draw the attention of international media. I fully expect your pie to be the world’s most famous pastry in 2014.

My reason for sharing all of this with you, is to give you the opportunity to comment on the miraculous product your chefs have concocted. If you’d like to weigh in with a few quotes, or dispatch a PR person to accept the accolades during the inevitable broadcast interviews, by all means let us coordinate our efforts. You may contact me at your convenience.

And, obviously, if you’d care to seize the moment to boost sales through word of mouth, now would be the time to start planning. I can see the advertisements now. “The McDonald’s apple pie: timeless;” or perhaps “McDonald’s: spoil yourself with the food that never spoils.” I’m not an advertising executive, but I’m sure you have people who would be proficient at whipping up a campaign to take full advantage of this exceptional publicity opportunity.

Enclosed you’ll find a couple of recent photos of your quarter-century pie I printed out for you. I’m sure we’ll be able to get some much nicer, tastier, glamour shots of it once the professional photographers start turning their lights and cameras on this remarkable pastry. I can’t wait for this story to break. Everyone I’ve spoken to is intensely interested in this story and anticipates overwhelming public reaction.

Thanks again for making such a splendid product.


Shane Simmons

applepie1applepie2Corporate baiting aside, this is all true. Well, mostly. Obviously, I’m not the naive media-rube I make myself out to be in the letter. I tried to play innocent, hoping that might provoke a response from McDonald’s better than a directly confrontational accusation of misdeeds at best, poisoning the public at worst. To date, there has been no reply at all from McDonald’s, U.S. or Canada, and their opportunity to weight in (or buy my silence) has expired. Now, at last, the whole truth must be told.

Here’s the real backstory of The Pie, purposely glossed over in the letter. On October 14, 1988, several friends and I stopped for a late-night bite to eat at a west-island Montreal McDonald’s franchise. We’d probably been out at a movie, but I don’t remember the exact context.

I wasn’t having anything to eat. Not that I was necessarily above a McDonald’s burger – I enjoyed eating there as a kid, I would eat there again a few times as an adult to recreate a specific mood for nostalgia purposes – but the food really is cheap crap. It always was. I also don’t care to have a bunch of minimum-wage teenagers prepare my food. I’ve heard stories.

While I was chatting at a table, one of my friends returned with his order and handed me a cardboard carton.

“I got you something,” he said.

It was The Pie – a McDonald’s apple pie, or “chausson aux pommes” as the bilingual packaging told me.

“You know I’m not eating this shit!” I declared, ungratefully.

And he well-knew why. Everybody at the table did.

Recently, we’d learned of a friend-of-a-friend who had enrolled in a course called Chemistry of the Environment at John Abbott College, the Quebec CEGEP we all attended. In this course, they performed studies on common chemical and organic materials we all encounter in our daily lives. One such study involved purchasing the major items on the McDonald’s menu and observing how they rotted over the course of several weeks. Food, of course, spoils, rots, and eventually decomposes. Different foods do this at different rates of speed and in different ways. The McDonald’s take-out was no different.

The burger of the study, it was noted, went rotten when left in the open air, much as you would expect normal food to. The fries, however, appeared unchanged after a couple of weeks. This was due to the exterior being coated in grease, which acted to preserve the surface. When broken open, it was revealed that the interior of each fry had gone bad and hollowed out. An interesting result, but not shocking. The fate of the other foodstuff also went largely as expected. But the apple pie… That was another matter entirely.

Over the course of the weeks of study, there was no change to the pie. None whatsoever. No indication of discolouration or spoilage or mould or rot of any kind. It appeared to be entirely inert. Further study and experimentation was warranted.

The apple pie was dissected and examined under a microscope. The results were astonishing. The McDonald’s apple pie proved to have no nutritional value whatsoever. It simply wasn’t food. It looked like food, it tasted like food, it smelled like food. But it was all a lie. There was no food in it. Not a hint. Not even enough to interest single-celled bacteria with the munchies. Wood and cardboard shavings were discovered in the crust under magnification. That was about as organic as it got. There were certainly no apples to be found.

This anecdote made the rounds with the expected level of interest and good humour. And then it was largely forgotten, until my friend presented me with an actual McDonald’s apple pie of my own he’d purchased with spare change. I expected he wanted me to eat it on a dare.

“No,” he assured me, “I want you to hold onto it.”

Even then I was known as something of a hoarder. “Collector” is a nicer way to put it, although I’d taken to facetiously calling myself “The National Archives” due to my pathological need to accumulate, catalogue, and file all the things that fit into my eclectic fields of interests. I knew immediately what he meant. He wanted me to file this purported food item away – for years in all likelihood – in order to definitively prove that it would never spoil, rot or otherwise go bad. And so I have.

“You still have that thing?” I’ve been asked from time to time over the years.

“How long has it been?” came the question at regular intervals.

New friends and acquaintances would have to be briefed on the entire backstory when it came up in conversation. I was never the one to bring it up. I’m sure entire years went by where I completely forgot I owned this thing that continued to rest, openly exposed to the time and the air in its original ventilated packaging, somewhere in a closet with my boxes of office supplies. When reminded, I would have to do the math to remember how many years had passed. I once threatened to heat it up and serve it to somebody I didn’t like (I had no one specific in mind) for its tenth anniversary. But that never happened, and another fifteen years have piled on since.

So what does one do with a vintage piece of fast food – so vintage now, it qualifies as an outright antique? Other than take it out and admire it occasionally? Well, I suppose one shares it — with the whole world (many of whom will read this and realize they’re younger than The Pie) via the internet (which The Pie also predates).

And how much longer do I plan to hold onto this thing? Will a thirtieth anniversary be celebrated? A fiftieth? After twenty-five years, I feel the point has been made. But it seems unlikely I can bring myself to part with it now. We are linked, The Pie and I. I can only hope McDonald’s itself contacts me with an offer to buy it for their files, where it will be suppressed, never to be seen or discussed again. Or perhaps a curator will want it as the only permanent display in a museum of twentieth-century foods. I know I don’t want to have to will it to someone.

My expectations for The Pie are modest, but my hopes are high, and I wish it well as it persists into an unknown future and an uncertain fate. Where it concerns The Pie, we can only be sure of one fact moving forward.

Nobody’s going to eat the damn thing.

I’m guessing the number “12” written in an allocated white space in ballpoint pen for shelf-life purposes refers to October 12th rather than 12 o’clock. The pie was purchased on the 14th. I speculate that it was two days old when bought – hardly a significant age given an infinite lifespan.

I’m guessing the number “12” written in an allocated white space in ballpoint pen for shelf-life purposes refers to October 12th rather than 12 o’clock. The pie was purchased on the 14th. I speculate that it was two days old when bought – hardly a significant age given an infinite lifespan.

“Caution: Filling Is Hot” warns the flap. Caution: Filling Is Not Food may have been more apropos.

“Caution: Filling Is Hot” warns the flap. Caution: Filling Is Not Food may have been more apropos.

A Long-Winded Evening

November blew in with gale force winds. We had a major blow on the first, with all sorts of branches and trees down, usually on somebody’s car. By early evening, I was surprised the power was still on. I was a little wary leaving the house. Much as I enjoy bad weather and high winds, I don’t enjoy having my skull caved in by flying debris. But I had an appointment to make. A summit had been called. And the commute was only a block away.

Despite being only a stone’s throw from my destination, I took a side trip to a local SAQ to buy some wine for the occasion. What’s the point of a meeting of the minds on a stormy day unless we’re braced with a booze-up? Rubble from all the wind was strewn down the aisles of our government-sanctioned-and-run liquor outlet that day. Every time the door opened, more twigs and leaves blew in, making the place look even shabbier than the regulars.

Having secured an old reliable bottle of Californian cab, I walked back down to the street to the house where we were all to meet. I rang the bell while chatting with the other early arrivals. It took a while to realize no one was answering. The power had finally gone out, and with it the doorbell.

Once we finally made it in and all the other invitees had gathered, we settled down to our drink and dinner by copious candle light. I felt like I was in a scene from Barry Lyndon. With no lights or television or computers or other electric-powered gizmos to distract us, it was just a bunch of people talking and connecting. I later compared notes with other people who had the same experience that night in other locations, and we all had a similar reaction. This is what a proper evening of dinner, conversation and interaction should be like.

The meeting, in case you were wondering, was an informal conference for various connected people who work in the film industry in various capacities. We were summoned to offer advice and counsel for someone about to embark on a first short film project. I don’t know how helpful our input was, but I did come away from this meeting with a piece of cautionary advice – not for prospect filmmakers, but for celebrities.

Yes, celebrities, movie stars, big-name actors, take heed. When film industry professionals gather – the lowly people on the totem pole like crew members and writers and handlers – we talk about you. We share stories. Especially horror stories about what a bunch of assholes you can be. You know all that self-centred, star-fit, bullshit you get up to on sets? Well it’s all being mentally recorded by the people around you. And it all becomes stories and tales and anecdotes to be shared over dinner, when the lights are out, the wine is flowing, and we’re left with nothing but the spoken word to amuse each other.

Keep that in mind the next time you want to call a production assistant at home at four in the morning to rant about stupid shit, or the next time you want to have a meltdown because your trailer is one foot shorter in length than that of your co-star, or the next time you insist on being moved to a whole different mansion during a shoot because your wife decided, for no particular reason, that the luxury mansion you’re staying in now is haunted.

Do you really want to be one of those jerk celebrities people tell horrible stories about for years after your feats of petty assholery? You don’t have to be. Be nice, be kind, be considerate, and you can join the ranks of the great celebrities who have nice stories told about them that confirm that not everybody of the super-famous sect are self-absorbed fuckwits.

Because I learned something else that evening during our summit of the lowly. I learned that Ben Kingsley is a fucking awesome dude who’s great to get drunk with. It’s a shame he wasn’t there to tip a glass with us. He would have been welcomed, unlike so many other celebrities of equal stature and lesser class.

Five Pounds

I went to see the latest Will Smith Oscar-bait opus, Seven Pounds, on cheapo Tuesday. I only saw five pounds worth.

To go with cheapo Tuesday, my friends and I also went out to the nearby cheapo buffet. I’d been there four or five times before because there aren’t too many places on the east coast where you can get all-you-can-eat sashimi. Sure, I’d been warned off eating dodgy raw fish before, and a buffet isn’t the most likely place to find top-of-the-line salmon, but if it’s raw fish and it doesn’t already have flies on it, it’s probably going to make my mouth water.

Flash forward half an hour and we’re in the theatre. The tone of the film is morose, because morose is how you win Oscars. And I start wondering idly to myself, “Why do I feel like I’m dying?” I mean, the movie isn’t all that depressing. I’ve seen harsher stuff. I’ve seen harsher stuff this week. Eventually, I realize it isn’t the mood of the movie, it’s the mood of the sashimi. The salmon wants to return to the sea. Now.

While I was in the bathroom, having an experience not entirely unlike what John Hurt had in Alien, I got to wondering what key plot points I was missing in the theatre. It was easy enough to piece it together after I returned and assured my friends that I was just fine, thank you. Still, I never consider I’ve seen a movie until I’ve seen the whole thing.The salmon was off.

Luckily, we live in an age of rampant piracy. Another friend had told me a few days earlier that he had already seen every single film conceivably up for an Oscar this year thanks to the miracle of bittorrent and Academy screeners. Screeners get sent to Academy members around this time of year, and it was only last week I had to physically restrain myself from snatching one member’s DVD copy of Gran Torino I saw just lying around unopened on a coffee table, its “Call If Broken” security tape still intact. Despite draconian security measures like…well…a bit of sticky tape, Academy screeners always get leaked to the online pirate sites, giving the whole world access to pristine widescreen copies of movies currently in cinemas, marred only by an occasional “For Your Consideration” blurb at the bottom of the screen.

By the time I got up the next morning with a newly settled stomach, I had a fresh copy of Seven Pounds waiting for me on my hard drive. It was quick, it was easy, and it was even cheaper than a five-dollar ticket price and sixteen bucks’ worth of bad fish. One day, somebody smart in Hollywood is going to figure out the correct business model for video on demand and then we can all stay home and order in films and food poisoning whenever we want.


Surfing the web, I stumbled upon this way-cool trailer for Kid vs Kat. There are plenty of shots from my episodes in the mix. I remain eager to see the completed cartoons. Somehow I think it’s unlikely the actual show will feature the great but overused trailer music that accompanies Coop and Kat’s warfare here, but it sets a nice mood for two minutes and thirty-five seconds.

Fat American Children

Work continues on more episodes of both Ricky Sprocket and Pucca. Comparing and contrasting the two projects, it becomes clear how often the geographic location of the broadcasters has an effect on the content of the shows they run. Both offer plenty of notes at each stage of production, but there can be a distinct difference between American notes and British notes. Even when it comes to something as basic as food.

On the one hand we have Nickelodeon, a broadcaster so preoccupied with not being culpable in the fat assening of America’s youth, they’ve asked that any reference to unhealthy food be removed from scripts. In one instance, for example, they requested that characters visiting an ice-cream shop go to a juice bar instead. Since Americans seem hell bent of doubling their size every generation, all venues of children’s entertainment have become worried about a theoretical class action suit on the horizon that might focus blame on them for childhood obesity. It’s therefore become passé to suggest chocolate tastes good, popsicles are refreshing on a summer afternoon, or that toast really begs to be buttered.

Then we have Pucca being broadcast all over Europe and shilling for McDonalds at the same time. “Be full of energy just like me and run around for an hour a day,” Pucca tells us via word balloon on the back of her very own Happy Meal box. Forget for a moment that Pucca doesn’t actually have shit to say in her cartoons. I’m still trying to figure out if the message is burgers and fries give you energy to run around, or that you need to run around to burn off those burgers and fries. As long as no one is shown receiving a head butt or some similar culturally taboo injury, the Brits will stand by and let their cartoon characters endorse greasy gluttony. I suppose with all the mangled, crooked teeth English DNA has imposed on generations of kids, the parents are grateful if their children can successfully chew and swallow anything to keep them alive.

Rest assured, by the way, that I’m not one of those superior North American pricks who likes taking cheap shots at bad British teeth. Being the product of too much English DNA myself, I felt the genetic curse of dental deformity throughout my childhood. Only thousands of dollars of oral engineering and years of excruciating tooth-torture made my mouth presentable enough for me to leave the house without a sack over my head.

Not that I ever leave the house these days. I’m too busy writing cartoons – with or without officially sanctioned foodstuff contained therein.

Solid Or Liquid


Don’t worry. Everything’s cool. They caught me in time.

As I went through the final airport check on my way to catch AC195, our brave boys in security blue turned their eagle eyes on my x-rayed belongings and instantly spotted the most dreadful threat to liberty and democracy ever to infiltrate a piece of carry-on baggage.


Tearing it free from its packaging and exposing it to dozens of watchful security cameras, the bag checker fingered his sidearm and gravely asked:

“What is this?”

Quite a poser. I knew liquids were banned from carry-ons, but surely this was a solid. I hesitate to call it food. I was pretty sure it was benign. Nasty but benign.

The jar of Vegemite began its journey in Australia where they’re still savage and backwards enough to eat this sort of thing. It was muled to Montreal by way of Hawaii. I was to take it the last step of the way, to answer the craving of a Vancouver-based Vegemite addict.

But it was not to be. The ban didn’t draw the line at liquids, but extended to pastes, oils, and any otherwise goopy substances that could be employed in a midair terrorist attack or, God forbid, a damn messy food fight that might spoil the finery of the valued executive-class passengers.

Alas, the long Vegemite journey was at an end, confiscated by our front line of defense in the war on terror that has cost so many of us our breakfast spreads, and left our toasts, our bagels, our English muffins barren, alone, and without hope.

When will the madness end, Osama, you bastard? When!?

The Vegemite was carefully disposed of in a bin, not unlike a trashcan. I can only assume it was properly dealt with later, escorted onto the tarmac, and summarily executed by firing squad.

At least that’s what I hope happened. I admit to a strong sense of relief as we took to the air and I watched the isle of Montreal fade into the distance. Who knows? That jar of Vegemite may be reaching critical mass as I write this.

Pray I don’t return to a smouldering crater that was once my home town.

Bagel, Bagel, Meat

Such was the progress of my giant serrated knife as I tried to saw through a particularly stale bagel a couple of weeks ago. I like to maintain my steady diet of bagels to help keep up the illusion that I’m Jewish for the teeming masses who would be so disillusioned to learn that I’m nothing of the sort, despite looking like a Rabbinical school dropout. Sometimes this necessitates a middle-of-the-night excursion to my local 24-hour bagel emporium (run, appropriately enough, by Hindus) to snatch up whatever they still have in stock before the 6:00 am batch starts to roll hot off the presses. And if all they have are day-old leftovers, well, at least it beats matzo balls and gefilte fish.

I knew I’d made a tragic mistake when, two or three hard-earned strokes through the bagel, I started cutting something that wasn’t quite so doughy. I withdrew the knife from my finger, shortly before hitting bone, but long after doing what would have been only superficial damage. And then the blood came.

It’s been awhile since I wounded myself badly enough to have one of those cuts that just won’t stop gushing. Water, hot or cold, and applied pressure did nothing. Indeed, days later, I would continue to tear the wound open all over again if I looked at it wrong. As I gazed at the fresh, deep cut, I had one of those “stitch or no-stitch” moments before deciding to go with “no-stitch” and, more importantly “no-three-in-the-morning-emergency-room-wait.” I would just deal with it myself.

I am stuck on Band-Aid brand, cuz Band-Aids stick on meDealing with it myself involved the application of ancient leftover Band-Aids that dated back to the genesis of self-adhesive technology. You know the ones I’m talking about. The kind that leave a sticky residue that would suggest, to an experienced criminologist, that you had been kidnapped and bound with duct tape for the last three weeks. The kind that will stay with you through your next dozen showers, despite your best efforts to remove all traces of it with soap and water and a belt sander.

After going through a few of those tar-like bandages, I finally concocted something more suitable with a paper towel and scotch tape. It was so large, however, that typing at my keyboard proved impractical (and painful), and therefore gave me a valid excuse to slack off from both work and blogging. Miraculously, my video gaming was not adversely affected. Funny that.

Unfortunately, time heals all wounds. And now that my finger has safely grown back into one whole piece, I have to get back into the swing of things. Plans are in motion for the next time I need a break though. Call it a premonition, but I think I might be accidentally crushing my thumb in a car door sometime in the future when I need a breather.

Thank You For Not Choking Me To Death

Long after so many other civilized corners of the world clued in, Quebec has finally decided to join the party and ban smoking in all restaurants and bars. Despite this trend becoming more and more popular across the globe, it’s a major breakthrough I thought I’d never see happen here. Quebecers are hopelessly addicted to tobacco, and asking them to lay off the ciggies over a beer or a coffee is a pill about a thousand times harder to swallow than gay marriage, a prime minister from out west, or the fact that Celine Dion is an insufferable shrill skeleton. They just love to smoke as no other culture on Earth.

Witness one woman I saw only hours before the smoking ban was due to take effect. She was sitting on a bus-stop bench, an arm adorned by a huge hepatitis-chic tattoo, a smouldering cigarette hanging out of her mouth, and a belly full of nine-month-old fetus. Just try suggesting she should quit. She’d claw your eyeballs out. When I, with no particular affinity for children, see someone like that, I still think, “Hi. Could I adopt your child once it’s born so you don’t get to fuck it up?” If I actually said it out loud as often as it occurs to me, though, I’d probably end up with more adopted kids than Angelina Jolie and Mia Farrow combined.

It’s not like you can warn the typical Quebecer off the stuff, either. They laugh in the face of mortal peril. Then they start coughing and hack up half a cup of tar, but they’re still giggling once they’re done. Even the particularly vile Surgeon General labels they started covering cigarette packaging with failed to put anyone off. Pornographic pictures of gum disease, heart disease and lung disease didn’t slow down sales, it boosted them.

Last month my local corner store guy complained to me at length about one interminable transaction he had to go through before it was my turn at the cash. The guy in front of me wasn’t just buying cigarettes, he was filling out a collection. He made the cashier rifle through every single pack of his favourite brand of smokes looking for the one particular tumor he was still missing. No luck that time, but I’m sure he was happy to smoke a few more crates of coffin nails looking for it.

Bar and restaurant owners have launched an appeal of the new law, convinced it’s going to drive customers away. I, on the other hand, know a few establishments I’ll be frequenting much more often now that I can enjoy a meal or a drink without tasting someone else’s fumes. Taking a walk on the sidewalk outside, however, will be like strolling through the smoking lounge of a tobacconist convention.