When I was in college, I spent a semester studying in Ireland, because I am absurdly lucky. The purpose of my trip was to "find myself," which is what college kids say when they want to get really drunk without feeling like irresponsible assholes. But, surprisingly, I actually did find myself over there -- but not in the way you'd think. I'd like to say that the valuable experience was a class I took, or a castle I explored, or one of the many beautiful women who told me my accent was cute but I was clearly too drunk and possibly suffering from some kind of allergic reaction and badly needed to go home, seriously, can they call me a cab -- but the real moment that defined my journey from adolescence to adulthood was a fart. A fart that, eventually, would teach me lessons about myself, about fate, about justice, and -- most importantly -- about friendship.
They say that the fates have a sense of storytelling unmatched by even the finest writer who isn't on some seriously obscure drugs, which is why it's important to point out that, at this point in my life, I was mainly just a weed and booze guy. What I'm saying is that in this story, even the most impossible parts are true. Probably. I mean, memory is a sketchbook, right?
Join me, dear reader, as I recount for you something ... special.
Chapter 1: The Purchasing of the Pie
Cork, Ireland, is where my story begins. We were several months into our journey at the time, and a friendly rivalry arose among my travel buddies (Larry and Glorfindel -- not their real names) and myself to see who could survive the most frugally: finding a clever way to eat an enjoyable meal for less than a single euro was seen as a great accomplishment, while giving in to the temptation of a restaurant was mocked as an abject moral failure. So it was with great delight that, while shopping for groceries, I happened upon a St. Bernard's shepherd's pie for sale for naught but a single fucking euro. And if that sounds like a good deal to you, then brother, you don't know St. Bernard's.
St. Bernard's (pronounced "BURR-nerds") is, in my not-even-slightly-humble opinion, Ireland's best-kept and darkest secret. It's a brand of ... everything. St. Bernard's makes a cheap version of everything. Toilet paper? Yup. Beer? It sure said beer on the can! Clothes? Probably. Butter? Of course. Hand soap? Yes, and it had formaldehyde in it. Every product that bears the prestigious St. Bernard's label is precisely three tiers cheaper and five tiers shittier than the worst available version of that product. (Note: research for this column revealed that St. Bernard's has since been rebranded as "My Family Favorites." Ireland, it's like I don't even know you anymore.)
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"Girl, what happened to us? We really had something."
These days, I understand how cheap, "budget" grocery products work: some are no-frills versions of the more familiar brand-name products, while others are elaborate practical jokes that huge corporations play on poor people, because making the less-fortunate suffer is the only way they know how to get off. St. Bernard's is the latter. But my travel companions and I didn't understand that distinction yet. We were just a bunch of kids. So there I was, as eager as I was ignorant, snatching that frozen meat pastry and joyously flaunting it in Larry and Glorfindel's stupid faces to celebrate my circumstantial victory.
"Ahhhhhh! I win, motherfuckers!" I chanted, even though that was insanely tasteless, considering the fact that I was paying for my groceries with money I borrowed from Glorfindel. But he was a pretty good sport about it, since if memory serves (which it probably doesn't, as I already pointed out) I even indulged in a commemorative dance, kicking my legs out wildly and flapping my arms, as is the customary celebration ritual of the socially awkward. I was as happy as the protagonist of an adventure serial, right as his perilous exploits have been set in motion by a seemingly innocuous event.
This raises the question: had I known what the future held, would I still have danced? Perhaps, but if so, it would have been less a delighted jig and more a slow, sorrowful robot of regret.
Chapter 2: The Clamoring of the Machinations of Fate
Have you ever eaten a pie that was only 1 euro (about $1.40 at the time, if memory serves, which I am compelled to remind you it doesn't at all)? Let's talk about flavor, for a second. Not the flavor of the pie, but the concept of flavor itself.
We evolved the ability to perceive flavors as a gate-keeper to protect ourselves from eating the wrong thing, probably (I didn't look this up). As you know, our frail bodies can't metabolize just any old thing -- the human body needs a complex and specific concoction of different vitamins and nutrients. If any of those ingredients are eschewed, or an incorrect ingredient ingested in its stead, the meaty spaceship that temporarily imprisons our immortal souls would founder and we would die gloriously like something out of the end of Serenity; man, what a great scene. That is why, with comparatively few exceptions, most things taste bad because they do bad things to us. And this is why it's so important to note that the shepherd's pie I bought in Cork in 2008 did not simply taste bad. It tasted like ...
You know in a war movie when a soldier shows a picture of his kids to his buddy? That's what it tasted like. The pie had the unmistakable flavor of a cop mentioning how many days he has left until retirement. It tasted like a swelling string section, or the phrase "nothing can go wrong now!" or Kevin Spacey's face.
"This tastes great," I told Larry, grinning while my innards wept. Little did they know that what was to come was so, so much worse.
Chapter 3: Like Yankee Stadium
After my friends had enjoyed their dinner and I had likewise "enjoyed" my "dinner," we decided the best way to spend our evening was at a "football" (soccer) "match" (game). And it was there, among those outdoor seats, that the St. Bernard's shepherd's pie began to take its revenge. I had the worst fucking gas of my life.
You know when you're farting, but you don't want anyone else around you to know you're farting, so you kinda twist your hips to one side to let out a fart while pretending you're just adjusting yourself in your seat or, if you're really skilled, not moving at all? I don't mean to brag, and I hate to make assumptions, but I'm better at that than you are, and you should be impressed. If side-farting was the type of thing people recognized as an accomplishment, I would have some kind of prize -- a "Farty" in the category of "Surreptitious Leans," perhaps. And it's a good thing, because I employed those skills to great effect during that soc- er, football game. But there is no technique for hiding odor. So throughout the game, I would periodically bend my pelvic bone, release the gaseous horde of demons inside me, and pray that no one noticed the hate crime I was committing against food and professional sport.
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"Least of all you, my sweet."
"Good game," my fellow traveler Glorfindel mused as he, Larry, and I shuffled out of the stadium, jostled merrily by a rambunctious crowd of perpetually [other adjective that means happy] Irish people. "But did you notice a funny smell?"
"Yeah," Larry replied, "It smelled like Yankee Stadium in there."
"But only occasionally," Glorfindel added.
"Yeah, just ... every once in a while," Larry said, nodding. "Like everything would be going along fine, smelling all Irish and stuff, and then suddenly, bam. Yankee Stadium all up in my nose."
I kept silent, wary that should I try to join this conversation, an incriminating secret would escape my mouth the same way the incriminating odors had escaped my ass. I hoped that now that we had left the stadium and would be wandering a city, perhaps my odor would be lost in the cacophony of scents that are ubiquitous in any urban environment in the late night and early morning. Surely the smell of exhaust, spilled beer, and dead homeless people would mask the odors that my digestive tract insisted on belching forth, as if from the bowels of hell itself instead of just my normal, totally-non-supernatural bowels. Right?