Gluten for punishment

There have been rumours for years. This time they’re true. People said it would never happen, but it’s already in the works.

Stanstead is to be the home of an industrial gluten repository.

But let’s not beat around the bushel here: it’s a gluten dump.

If you’re not sure what a gluten dump is or why anyone would need one, think about all the gluten-free foods that have been flooding the market like yesterday’s oat bran: gluten-free cereal, gluten-free cake, gluten-free pasta, gluten-free goulash, gluten-free gruel, gluten-free gluten.

They’ve gotten rid of the gluten all right, but where do you suppose all that gluten goes? Gluten doesn’t just disappear like your hopes of ever again fitting into your high school band uniform. Gluten has a half-life of 142 years, which is also, not coincidentally, the shelf life of a loaf of Wonderbread.

This is the problem with humanity. We’re so fixated on short-term gratification and avoiding cramps after binging on a box of honey-glazed that we just don’t see the big picture. Take electric cars, for example. On the one hand, we’re going to reduce our reliance on gasoline, but on the other we’re going to tangle up the planet in really super-long extension cords.

The same with gluten. We wanted it out, but now the food industry has a super-sized portion of unwanted, highly demonized gluten on its hands. Have you ever had gluten on your hands? Disgusting!

And faced with this gluten glut, what does industry do? They pass the bucket. The buckets of gluten.

Not an actual gluten dump.

Not an actual gluten dump.

Very big buckets, it turns out. Enough to fill the abandoned Druid Granite quarry in Stanstead, which will soon become the holding site for Glutenous Maximus Inc.

Many people are saying this is the turning point for Stanstead, that gluten is exactly what the town needs to rise again. It’s true that it will create jobs – gluten must be constantly stirred, obviously. And somebody has to guard the gluten, it goes without saying. So, sure, these may be the jobs we want, but are they the jobs we knead?

First of all, what do we really know about gluten? Not much, really, but that doesn’t stop us from blaming our stomach ailments on it. It is a proven fact we heard somewhere that gluten is bad for us. All of us? Probably. It’s hard to say. Better safe than sorry.

And yet we’re planning to flood our town with gluten? All that exposed gluten, the gluten spores floating through the air, the gluten runoff contaminating our water supply – isn’t that putting our children at risk? This is gluten! Won’t it give them tummy aches? And if they get tummy aches, won’t they miss school? And if they miss school, won’t they drop out? And if they drop out, where will they work? The gluten dump probably, lured by the half-baked promise of making a little dough. It’s a vicious, pun-filled circle.

What about safety? It has been documented in some place I can’t remember (no doubt because of gluten-related memory loss) that these gluten pits attract packs of pastry chefs, among the most savage of culinary industry professionals, second only to the roaming gangs of napkins-into-swans transformers.

Also, will Stanstead be accepting only domestic gluten? Or, being so close to the border, will we be flooded by the more volatile variety from the Home of the Brave and Land of the Gluten-Free? I think I speak on behalf of all Canadians when I say we do not want Gwyneth Paltrow’s cast-off gluten!

Town officials are saying that there will be economic spinoffs for the community, that secondary industries could be established to transform the gluten into building materials, McDonald’s shakes, buttock implants; that tourists will flock to our Gluten Moulding Festival; that Stanstead could hold an annual Gluten Ball. But quite frankly I find these ideas hard to swallow.

The Gluten Ball

The Gluten Ball

Turning Stanstead into Glutenamo Bay may seem like the greatest thing since sliced bread (which is poison, by the way), but what’s next? Trans-fat holding facilities? MSG pits? Carbs behind bars?

Call me gluten sensitive, but there’s a reason everyone in the world is saying no to gluten. I’m not quite sure what that reason is but I bet it’s a good one.

Please share your opposition to the Stanstead gluten dump on my Facebook page, Keep gluten out of Stanstead; let Ayer’s Cliff have it.


To non-local readers: Stanstead is my home on the Quebec-Vermont border. Ayer’s Cliff is a nearby town; I mean them no harm. This is all funnier if you live here. Come visit. We’re getting a Tim Horton’s.

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It ain’t $*@!!&! me, babe

I don’t recall ever swearing loudly at a large group of people. I’ve sworn loudly around a large group of people, usually in traffic, but never when they can actually hear me. I’m not the type of person who can swagger into a room and shout, “What’s up, mugglefuggles!” And if I were that type of person, I would hate myself, so it’s all for the best.

But last weekend I had the experience – dare I say pleasure – of dropping the F-bomb in front of a couple hundred people, and yes, I am the type of person who says “F-bomb,” because there is no polite alternative to the real word that doesn’t make you sound like your mother. It gets worse; in a couple of paragraphs, I’m going to refer to it as “salty language.”

I’m in a comedy at the Haskell Opera House, Rumors by Neil Simon, and if curses were food, the play would offer a well-balanced diet. Nothing gluttonous; merely a sampling of the four major swear groups.

This is a QNEK production, which is not known for doing blue. In fact, the posters for Rumors go out of their way to warn about the salty language (there it is!). There’s a notice at the box office repeating the warning. And just to be safe, the house manager announces before the show that there is “SC” – some cussin’. It’s considerate, but I wonder whether Shakespeare cautioned his audience that they’d be hearing “odsbodkins”?

Still, it’s all for laughs, and the audiences so far have taken up the challenge with gusto and guffaws. No one has stormed out, no audible gasps, no rotten tomatoes, no swearing back at us. Nothing they haven’t heard before; this is Stanstead, after all. And, again, let’s be clear: there’s some cussin’, not Scorsese-level cussin’.

I, for example, toss off only two words, one scatological and the other a variation on the fornicalogical, a word I have just made up and intend to use with regularity. The only person to mention my swearing so far is daughter Abby who wondered if it felt weird saying those words in front of everybody.

Well, no, because it wasn’t me losing my cool in front of that audience, it was Ernie Cusack, Manhattan analyst. As far as I’m concerned, my not-swearing-in-front-of-strangers record remains intact.

This is the beauty of acting: getting to be someone else. This is my third play with QNEK, and so far I’ve been a psycho killer, a comedic psycho killer and a psychoanalyst. I’m sensing a trend. I’ve tied people up, gone after them with knives, lied to the police and looked dashing in a tuxedo – which sounds very much like your typical prom night, but in my case are just the perks of pretending.

If I do it right, I actually forget myself. In fact, the worst thing I can do on stage is remember it’s me. “Hey. Wait a sec: I’m acting. I’m speaking words. Now someone is speaking words back at me. This is weird. My hands are gigantic. What am I supposed to do with these gigantic hands? Stop thinking about your hands. Hands! Hands! Hands!”

I’ve heard people refer to acting as a drug, which makes sense, and not just because of its addictive qualities or the pre-occupation with your hands. Drugs and alcohol are ways to escape yourself, to change personalities, to leave everything behind for a while. I don’t do drugs or alcohol anymore, so I’m stuck with me all the time. What a nightmare. Now I know how my wife feels.

What a psychic cleanse it is, then, to be able to hang myself up on a dressing room hook for a couple of hours and forget work, money, home repairs, haircuts, snoring cats, Donald Trump, people talking about Donald Trump and all the messiness that involves being me. I’m not home right now, I’m acting. Tragedy tomorrow, comedy tonight!

And this escape is passed on to the audience, who set aside their own lives to be entertained, giving the stressed out parts of their brains a rest while exercising the part that loves storytelling and feeds on the primal joy of laughing together. There’s nothing quite so communal as live performing arts, for both the giver and the receiver.

So if you want to witness me and my fellow actors pretend to lose our minds while entertaining yours, come see Rumors at the Haskell Opera House this Friday and Saturday evening at 7:30 or Sunday at 2:00. You’ll like it; I swear.

That's me with my play wife. That sounds wrong...

That’s me with my play wife. That sounds wrong…

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Steal this nap

I'm keeping the clip art description as presented: "Young Asian man in a deep exhausted sleep after studying from his book." Some book...

I’m keeping the clip art description as presented: “Young Asian man in a deep exhausted sleep after studying from his book.” Some book…

What happened to naps? One minute you’re snoozing at daycare, and the next they’re pumping you full of coffee in grade school. Or least that’s how things worked where I went, at Sacred Palpitating Heart Elementary.

Science has demonstrated that naps are good for you. And I believe science. Science has never steered me wrong. I’m a little nervous about how science is developing artificial intelligence, but until the computers rise up and vanquish mankind, science is A-OK with me.

Despite this seal of approval, naps remain unappreciated and frowned upon at department meetings. One of the reasons for the nap’s bad rap is because people don’t know how to properly have one. That’s why I’m here, your nap-master, to help you score some zee’s with ease. Oh, wait: I’m Canadian; some… zeds… in beds.

First, you need to fit the nap into your day, so instead of spending your work break or lunch hour looking for cat-themed tea cozies on Pinterest, take that time to recharge with a quick siesta. Either way, you’re avoiding contact with other human beings, and rightfully so.

But where to nap? Most workplaces don’t come equipped with beds. Except furniture stores. Unfortunately, we can’t all be lucky enough to work in furniture stores. That’s the dream but what can you do?

Instead, seek out a local park or somewhere in your workplace where no one ever wants to go, say Acounting. You might even consult management to ask whether there’s any wiggle-room in their No Blanket-Forts Policy. Hey, maybe they have an under-utilized Wiggle Room!

Once you’ve established your Dozing Zone, the key to the successful snooze is napping just the right amount of time, not too little, not too much. It’s like the line between not enough Sweet Chilli Heat Doritos and far too many Sweet Chilli Heat Doritos. By the way, do not eat Sweet Chilli Heat Doritos before you nap. The dreams you’ll have! Plus the crumbs are a nuisance.

A 10-to-20-minute nap is an ideal length. You’ll wake up feeling alert and refreshed. Unfortunately, you’ll also look unnervingly like Bob Newhart, but that’s a worthwhile trade-off.

But how are you supposed to know how long you’re sleeping? You’re asleep! You can set an alarm, but how do you know when to start the timer if it takes you a few minutes to fall asleep, and by then you can’t set off the timer because, again, you’re asleep! This is why it’s important to have a napping buddy, someone to watch you as your sleeping. It sounds weird but is perfectly natural, no matter what my old college roommate tells you.

Different lengths of naps have different results. A 30-minute nap will make you groggy and lethargic. A 60-minute nap will help improve memory. Alternatively, an 18-minute nap will help erase memories of being picked last for softball. A 22-minute nap will remind you to purge all those expired Kraft salad dressings from your fridge. A one-minute nap may be a sign of narcolepsy; you should probably see a doctor.

Ninety minutes is a full sleep cycle, including deep REM sleep where every dream is accompanied by the song “Losing My Religion” and filled with other fairly obvious jokes. You’ll wake up revitalized and alert, your cognitive powers will be restored, and you’re also probably fired. 90 minutes? Should have had a nap buddy…

A nap of 34.5 minutes will allow you to wake up deeply contented but speaking with an Australian accent. A 42-minute nap will result in more drooling than seems humanly possible. And a nap of 7 minutes and 21 seconds will trigger the revelation that the only regret worth having in life is that you should have moisturized more.

I hope that this little primer has helped you achieve a successful nap. In fact, you’ve probably already nodded off. Sweet chilli dreams!


A version of this piece originally aired on CBC Radio’s “Breakaway.”

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Let’s go crazy

purple rainI’m 18 years old, and I’m at university, living away from home for the first time. Dances are popular at my school, except they’re not called “dances’; they’re “beer gardens.” Why the Oktoberfest sensibility in this Canadian Maritime school I have no idea.

But I’m there, surrounded by new people, peers, knowledge-seekers, the hormonally maddened, just like me. I’m thrilled by the opportunity to remake myself here. In fact, I’ve already begun the thought process of dumping my old girlfriend back home for this new girl, this girl who I began dancing with, yes, at a beer garden. Don’t feel bad for the girl back home; she was a lesbian but didn’t know it yet.

We were ready to dance, ready to scream, youth of 1984, Cold War kids, Frankie says Relax.

“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life…”

It’s a terrible opening to a dance song: the organ, the spoken word. It’s a hymn, for God’s sake! But we rush the floor, screaming, cheering. We are the beloved, heeding Prince’s call. We’re pulled in. Because we know what’s coming: the beat is going to kick in. The beat, the driving synth drum, the riff — oh, that riff! — irresistible.

And we dance. Honestly, we don’t listen to the lyrics after that, except to shout, “Oh no let’s go!” It’s the music that is the passion, the drive, the compulsion, to go crazy, no precious conceit or hint of cynicism in this music, just pure sound and joy, putting a stupid grin on my face dancing with a new girl, who amazingly is into me. I think, “Wow. My life right now.”

And then the final guitar, stopping the beat. How can you end a dance song like this, with such virtuoso, face-melting, screaming electricity? But what can we do? We keep dancing, slowing down, writhing, grinding, the joyful noise ending in something almost dirty. Of course! That’s rock and roll! Sex! That’s why we’re here, right? What else did we think this was all leading up to?

Some people air-guitar, and that’s okay. They’ve gone crazy. They fall on the floor. One song, for a few moments, and we’re young. Even now, I hear it, and I’m young. And life is good.

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How to make a superhero movie

Take your pick.

Take your pick.

You start with an Exposition: It’s a dark time. It’s a dangerous time. It’s lunch time. There’s a global food crisis, and by “global” we mean the United States, which is the same thing. The government and military have teamed up in an implicitly sinister way with a mega-corporation to manage the crisis using robo-soldiers powered by the world’s stockpile of personal deodorants. It’s a smelly time.

We cut to the dingy apartment of unemployed chef Lance Meadows. We know he’s basically a good person because, even though he was arrested for dumpster diving, he did so only to feed the children at the orphanage where he grew up and learned to make a breathtaking bouillabaisse.

We also meet the attractive girl across the hall, who is a nurse or a reporter or maybe a nuclear physicist. No, wait: a food inspector! Let’s call her Linda Luffinterest. Banter, banter, banter. Will Lance and Linda get together in the end? Don’t rush me!

Hopefully, something has exploded at this point, otherwise we’re 15 minutes into the movie and we haven’t deployed a single CGI effect.

Meanwhile, the the robo-soldier program’s ambitious Number 2, Dax Villion, has conspired to introduce an element of mind control into the initiative by powering the robo-soldiers with fermented cabbage.

“That’s crazy!” Someone declares.

“That’s kimchi,” Dax leers. Always leering, this guy.

After we see what kind of horror the Kimchi Protocol can inflict (CGI!), we have The Metamorphosis. It could be a Mentor, an Alien Force or Technology Gone Horribly Wrong. In this case it’s Weird Chemistry. Lance is cooking aloo gobi using black-market cauliflower when suddenly a robo-soldier bursts through the door, smelling like Axe Grubby Boy Deodorant.

To make a long set piece short, through the combination of radioactive deodorant, a blast and spilled potato-cauliflower, Lance Meadows discovers he has the power to absorb all cooking smells into his clothes. He becomes Curry Man.

Malcolm Gladwell postulates that you need to practice something 10,000 hours to perfect it, but this is a superhero movie, so we just need a two-minute Training Montage in which Lance learns to expertly control his stink-absorbing abilities. Through this lighthearted montage (“What’s that smell?” says Linda to an embarrassed Lance in a series of gags, and I do mean “gags”), Lance learns that by exuding cooking smells, he has the power to render bad guys helpless with hunger and/or nausea.

Curry Man’s Weakness, however, is that if anyone discovers the stink is coming from him, he will die of embarrassment.

After a series of Interventions in which we see Curry Man defeat robo-soldiers bent on seizing citizens’ privately grown cabbages, Lance and Dax meet up, maybe at the Food Inspector’s Ball, where Lance is catering, arranged by Linda, who once dated Dax but doesn’t know that Lance is Curry Man. (Whew!) Banter, banter, banter. “You should work for me,” Dax says, leeringly. “I’ll stink about it,” says Lance.

And Linda needs to be hot on the trail of Curry Man, whose malodorous interventions in the city’s few remaining restaurants (where he must go to recharge his permeating powers) has rendered them unfit for public dining, even the Mexican ones.

At some point, there should be a question of Ambiguity/Self-Doubt: is Curry Man really a hero or just kind of gross? But enough angst; more CGI!

Linda uncovers Dax’s plot, there’s peril, Lance dons his Curry Cape, and everything leads to a climactic battle. CGI, CGI, CGI! Dax, of course, has developed an even stinkier power of his own, so now it’s an epic stink-off.

If possible, during the Climax, have one of the robo-soldiers dissolve so that Curry Man can quip, “He who smelt it, melted.” You can probably do better than that.

Finally, there must be some kind of Sacrifice. In this case, the only way for Curry Man to defeat stinko-Dax is to absorb all the city’s cooking smells. “It’s suicide!” warns Linda. “That’s what they said about vindaloo Jamaican-jerk burritos,” says Curry Man.

Did I mention that a character from a more successful franchise should make a cameo? But not that damn Stan Lee!

Back to the climax: it turns out Curry Man absorbs only the smells from the cities Cinnabon franchises, making him irresistible to Dax who in his blind lust stumbles into a vat of kimchi. “I thought he liked me,” quips Curry Man, “but I guess It wasn’t ferment to be.”

Yeah, yeah, Lance and Linda get together. After they discuss how she still doesn’t know who Curry Man is, they embrace. “Mmmm,” says Linda. “Have you been cooking?” Wink! Credits roll over Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “That Smell.”

And repeat.

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Steal This Look

Fashion by Dad. Clutter by Abby.

Fashion by Dad. Clutter by Abby.

Sweater: Woolrich, neutral, bumpy

The sweater, of course, anchors the ensemble. Woolly, bland and shapeless, like its owner, the sweater’s neutral tones cry out, “This once belonged to my father-in-law, and the fact that it was free is its finest quality.” Preferably, the sweater should have no discerning patterns that would allow one to stand out against the wall of your average hospital corridor. No insignias or brands on the front, because you aren’t some corporate stooge. The only message you send with this nondescript pullover is, “It’s not quite time for sweatpants.” This is a sweater that asks, “What decade is it?” and can’t come up with a solid answer. Though this casual, all-purpose sweater is worn too frequently, it nonetheless cloaks a mystery: are there muscles under there or just blobby bits of torso?

The sweater is worn over a T-shirt that is, of course, tucked in.

Jeans: blue, Levi’s 501, button-fly, buttless fit
A timeless classic, and by “timeless” we mean “blue jeans all the time since the age of 12.” But not all blue jeans are created equal. There are dressy blue jeans, casual blue jeans, working around the house blue jeans, mystery stain blue jeans, and, of course, duct tape blue jeans. The possibilities are endless! As long as they’re blue jeans.

(A note about duct tape blue jeans: The duct tape in question is wrapped around the top of the zipper where several teeth have fallen out due to age – zipper teeth; I want to be clear on that. The duct tape prevents the zipper’s slidey part (note to self: research zipper terminology) from slipping out of its track and causing the fly to fly open – though what would be wrong with that? Why the big deal over one’s fly being down? It’s not like something’s going to spring out of there – unless you’re not wearing underwear. And if so, you have more to fear from zipper teeth than your fly being open.)

Slippers: moccasin style, filthy-ish
Remember as a kid when you walked around in bare feet all the time, oblivious to the cold, just you and your skin, as nature intended? Yeah, you can’t do that anymore. It’s slippers for you now. Pad around in these moccasin-style slippers that combine old-world charm with old-man comfort. With their useless leather ties, you’ll feel like the coziest of cowboys in your own home. Note: you want your slippers to be fuzzy, but not too fuzzy. Keep the fur on the inside. Otherwise, when you eventually change your fuzzy slippers for these stylish dirt-magnets, your mother-in-law will say, “Oh, I see you got rid of your girly slippers!” If this should happen, your only response should be, “Does your husband have any more sweaters?”

Glasses: outdated, chipped
Is there electrical tape holding the frames together? Carry on.

Beard: patchy, haphazard
Warning: time saved on not shaving will be negated by daily trimming of straggly and increasingly white hairs using tiny manicure scissors, plus weekly maintenance provided by a hair-clogged industrial trimmer (sideburn adapter) because that’s the best you’ve got. A beard means hours and hours spent in front of the mirror. But it’s totally worth it, because this beard sets you apart from the crowd… except for that crowd with all the beards. This beard isn’t so much a look as a project. It’s the rec-room of personal grooming where anything can happen and everything’s covered with crumbs. Never heard of beard dandruff? You will!

Hair: undefined, ???
If variety is the spice of life, this hairstyle is cumin, oregano and lovage. What the hell is lovage? Exactly. To get this look, you’ll need incredible patience, like 50 years’ worth of shampooing with whatever’s within arm’s reach and the conviction that conditioner is a racket. See your hair stylist, ask for the “Number 3,” then wait five to six months until the hair has lost all definition but not its sense of humour. Occasionally think about getting a haircut, but then think about all the money you’re saving by not getting a haircut. Eventually, you’ll require product to keep your hair out of your face. Whatever’s on sale will do. Product is likewise a racket. Finally, after showering, go for a walk wearing a cap on your wet, product-ed hair. Upon your return, put the finishing touches on the asymmetrical swooshes and cowlicks by taking a long nap. Now you are unkempt. You are complete.

Next time: How to pull off a long nap.

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The return of Garland Faunt-Lubberly

Our (my) favourite gardening/drinking expert answers your pre-spring questions.

David from Quebec City writes: “Last year, I had Gene Hackman in my flowerbeds. What can I do to prevent that this year?”

Click below for the audio answer and other tipsy gems.

Originally appeared on CBC Radio’s “Breakaway.”

Posted in Turn that radio on! | Tagged , , , , | 28 Comments