From The Cheese Stealer’s Handbook. Published by Pretati Press in 2014.
I wake up in Montreal in the backseat of a car, my tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth, the sun blinding me.
The car belongs to a broken English beauty who was surprisingly polite when she woke me up. I follow my penis around town for a while, wandering aimlessly through all the women—why do I ever leave this city?
In front of the art gallery the police have set up a practice accident scene. There’s a guy measuring skid marks, and a morbidly realistic kid sprawled in front of the car. I’m not quite sure if it’s supposed to be art. Sucks to be curious when the only person around to ask questions of is a cop.
I try window shopping for a bit, to kill some time until I regain my equilibrium. But it gets boring real quick. The stores just alternate: sex shop, pizza by the slice, sex shop, pizza by the slice, sex shop, pizza by the slice, and then on every few corners a dépanneur. I eventually find my rhythm and start buying single beers at every second dépanneur. Is Montreal closer to the sun? Everybody has shades on, every store sells them—even tables on the sidewalk in between shops. On a cloudy day the economy must go to shit.
I walk past a girl in a window of a department store making a new display and stop to watch, pantomiming advice until we both feel uncomfortable.
I try to imagine living here. (I did live here for a while, but imagining is easier than remembering.) Eating nothing but pizza—walking around in new sunglasses every day. If they look cool you meet a girl and buy fifty sex toys. If not you go watch strippers for an hour and end up home alone laying on your couch wearing nothing but a new pair of shades to shield your eyes from the 100-watt bulb hanging from the ceiling while you jerk off thinking about hockey… Maybe I am remembering.
Eventually I make my way to the Biftec to wait until I find someone I know. I really should get an address book. After a couple drinks I always start forgetting what city I’m in. The Biftec, Dominion, Dunnright Inn, Ship Inn, Strathcona… They all run together—all of my cities are a dive bar with thick wooden tables, two draft taps, chilled mugs, and a sexy tattooed waitress. When I think about a city these are the places I visualize, as for other landmarks or the skyline, I’m happily clueless to all those buildings and their purposes, and not in the least bit curious. Anywhere that requires an elevator to get to is not nearly as important as people seem to think. Eventually I run into Pat and he says I can stay on his couch. I foolishly accept his offer, even though the last time we lived together ten more sleeps till Christmas started sometime in October.
“I’m going to bow down,” Pat says as he hands back the spliff and wanders to a bedroom. I figure I should do the same. There are still five or six fat lines cut on the table, I blow them off onto a girl who’s sleeping on the floor before I can change my mind.
This is day three or four without sleep. I eat a handful of stale pretzels from a bag on the table. This is getting old—if they don’t invent a new drug soon I’m going to have to do something with my life. Either way I’m going to have to leave Montreal. I’ve been at Pat’s a couple of weeks. So far I’ve been good and stuck to blow and pills, but I know it’s only a matter of time. I barely kicked last time, and that time I had five or six girls madly in love with me and I was still under the youthful delusion that somehow everything was going to turn out all right in the end. I know that if I ever start using again I’ll be a junkie till I die. Funny thing is, I never truly hated life until I kicked H. If I was rich I’d just spend all day every day smacked out in a dark room.
The next day we have $10.25 between us. We agree to spend it on food, but can’t agree on who should go to the store for provisions.
“I need a woman to cook for me,” Pat says.
“Well, I need help even shopping. I’m clueless in stores… And I steal cheese.”
“Make a list then.”
“I’m not making a rough draft of a receipt. And I’m trying to stop cheese thievery.”
I can spend $90 at a bar, but $16 on groceries makes me wince—it always seems like wasted money. I wander the aisles, feeling stupidly overly picky with my empty basket. I end up with Drano or something just to get the basket started—I’ll need it one day.
You should see the stupid shit I buy: one microwavable item for immediate consumption ’cause I’m not in the mood to cook—then convince myself that for the rest of the week I’ll be Wolfgang Puck. I buy a bunch of ingredients, none of which, I find out later, can be combined to form a meal. I’m always stuck making fucked up meta-fusion retard MacGyver cuisine. Every once in a while they turn out okay. Olives stuffed with gummy bears was a highlight. I don’t even get normal canned food, whenever I’m foraging in my cupboard the cans are a surprise, the labels are always Arabic or such. I get one of anything from any displays I crash into. If there are free samples I buy one of them—to avoid any freeloader looks from the beady-eyed sample ladies. I don’t use the coupon though. I’m obviously a poverty-stricken fucker, I don’t need to look cheap too. I usually buy a fancy condiment or a pound of anything I can’t comprehend, and any large, weird vegetable that I don’t recognize.
We finally settle it with a coin toss, which I lose. We smoke a joint, then I leave for the store.
“Bring back some cheese,” he calls out after me.
When I arrive at the store I glance in from the sidewalk. The produce is along the windows. I watch the people rooting through it—a lady in a sharply tailored suit picks up a red pepper: large, bright, red, shiny and symmetrical. If you needed a pepper for a television commercial this one would be perfect. Some others are rooting through, poking, squeezing and prodding, holding them up, inspecting them from every angle. The produce at this store seems to vary in quality quite a bit. Some people are in a rush—they grab the tattered and deformed fruit from the discount bin. Maybe whoever gets the best fruit has the best life. When you die they tell you the great secret to life: if you had chosen your produce with more care you wouldn’t have been so miserable. Fuck you God, and fuck you carrot. I take a deep breath and enter the store.
I’ve done pretty well getting $10 worth of groceries into the basket, and everything I picked up either only had one brand or one was significantly cheaper. I didn’t have to make any tough consumer decisions and I didn’t have to crunch any numbers. Usually grocery shopping is like Sophie’s Choice. In my basket there are calories, flavour, nutrients, and exactly nine items, so I can use the express checkout, which today has the cutest cashier, so there’s another decision made for me. I’m proud and happy that things are running so smoothly. At the cash the two girls behind me are adding up their money, arguing about whether to buy Häagen-Dazs from the impulse display freezer perched precariously over the candy bars, or whether it’s too expensive. I ask the cashier how much it is for the ice cream and she scans one. Those minuscule containers come to $4.98 each. I get the cashier not to ring in my basket, but two things of ice cream instead.
“Sir, you forgot your ice cream,” the cashier calls out after me.
“No I didn’t, it’s for the girls.”
There’s a horse at the end of the checkout with a bored kid on it, so I stick our last quarter in, set little Walter Mitty in motion, and leave the store broke.
It’s fun telling Pat. I didn’t even steal any cheese.
“Better be a big fucking tub of ice cream.”
“No, really tiny—Häagen-Dazs.”
“Maybe you didn’t do so bad after all. I love Häagen-Dazs.”
“…Well I don’t have it.”
I explain what happened. Going into much greater detail than I’ve bored you with here about how smoothly the shopping operation had been going up until the point I got caught in the middle between a cute cashier and pretty girls wanting ice cream, then of course I panicked.
“Well, you could have at least brought the girls back.”
I make him wait for a while before I tell him that we are going to their house for dinner.
Writing this I realize Pat and I could have gone to the store together. The dinner those girls made was incredible. Maybe proper shopping isn’t a one man job. I’m also realizing how hungry I am. Unfortunately I’m broke. Next time I have some money I’m going to try to assemble a grocery shopping/dinner cooking team. I’ll get a bakery specialist, a dairy guy, an inside guy that works at the butchers—an Ocean’s Eleven for your belly. We’ll all have our own basket, but we’ll also have someone pushing one of those huge family year-long supply carts, the ones on wheels. But I want the job done clean. No coupons.