Category Archives: Terrible Reviews

Terrible Reviews: (The Ending of) The Rise of Skywalker


I want to talk about the end of “The Rise of Skywalker”, so rest assured, there will be spoilers ahead in this post.

Not a lot of them, mind you, and certainly not wide-ranging. In fact, the spoilers are really limited to one, and that to a specific moment. Specifically, I want that specific moment to be the final moment of the final movie, itself the final moment of the most recent trilogy, itself the culmination of a trilogy of trilogies. The previous nine films (let’s leave Rogue One and Solo out for the time being — and perhaps for good) all build up to this particular moment.

It must be said first that I was a Disney Star Wars skeptic, but now I’m a convert. Taking on a new trilogy in and of itself was a tall order to say the least, but I think that Disney not only stuck the landing, but they did it in a way that somehow threads a wicked-tiny needle: the new series is awesome, it preserves and reinvents the magic of the original series, and it lays to rest the fear that the prequels gave us that new Star Wars movies were doomed to be crap. The new Star Wars are not crap. Probably not least of which is because the franchise was pried from the grasping clumsy fingers of George Lucas.

But enough preamble. Let’s get to the spoiler and that all-important culminating moment.

The war is over, the fighting done, the survivors gone home, the obligatory LGBT inclusion included and summarily fast-forwarded over. Rey returns to the scene of the crime, the iconic planet of Tattooine, specifically Luke’s hut on said dust mote, to entomb the light sabers belonging to Luke and Leia. She’s approached by an old crone who demands her name.

“Rey,” she says.

“Rey who?” the crone replies.

And after a brief but poignant gaze into the middle distance, she replies, “Rey Skywalker.”

And then we get a lovely bookending shot of Rey and BB-8 silhouetted against those bloody twin suns over the desert world.

And when I first saw it, I was mad. It felt like a whiff on a perfectly good opportunity, a lame attemt at fanservice, a copout to justify the movie title, a phone-in in lieu of something actually clever.

See, there’s this moment near the end of the first act of RoS where the story is actually starting to get some legs. Rey gets approached by this kid in a crowd who asks her for her name, and Rey’s all, “Rey,” and the kid goes “OK but Rey who” and Rey’s like “just Rey,” and it’s a sad moment for her but also a growing one, because Rey has spent the better part of the last two films sort of tied up in knots about her parents, and she seems to be coming to grips with it there, though she still has some feels. So having a parallel moment at the end of the film seemed a perfect time, to me, for her to answer back “Just Rey” again, but with a bit more sass and certainty. “Rey Skywalker” felt … well, just wrong, on first look.

But the more I thought about it, the more I liked it. And the more I continue to think about it, the more I think it’s the perfect ending to the movie, to the trilogy, and to the trilogy of trilogies. And it’s for much the same reason I didn’t like it at first.

See, by the end of episode IX, Rey has been through it. Faced certain death, become a jedi or whatever passes for a Jedi now that the order is gone, learned the truth of her bloodline, lost friends and mentors and … yeah. Wringer 800, Rey 0.

But the Galaxy has been through it, too. Planets wiped out. Spirits broken. Kids kidnapped and forced into service. A loss of hope. The spirits of the average sentient creature in the galaxy are broken. (This is a huge motif in the new trilogy.) And what rallies people together in hopeless times? A symbol. Something to believe in, something to throw their energy and, for lack of a better word, faith behind.

I mean, in the original trilogy, Darth Vader and the Emperor are out there scaring the hockeysticks out of everybody and it takes the arrival of a new Jedi, a nobody from nowhere named Luke Skywalker to pick up the mantle and a lightsaber, go get trained by a fuzzy little green guy in a swamp and give Vader what for.

Then, in the prequels, the Jedi Order is there, you know, being inept as they strive against the Sith but there’s all this babble, this prophecy, about the One who will bring Balance to the Force (randomly capitalizing words is fun). And they find this podunk kid, this nobody from nowhere, who’s force sensitive, and holy crap his MIDICHLORIANS (let us never speak of them again) are off the scale, and could he be the one?YES HE IS, and his name is Anakin Skywalker and he carries all our hopes and dreams until Ben’s all “YOU WERE THE CHOSEN ONE” and cuts him in half.

So in the new trilogy, we have … what? We have Luke but he’s in the wind, took his lightsaber and his fancy force powers and fargo’d off to a nowhere that wasn’t even on the map. He’s gone, the Resistance is in disarray because of it, everybody’s looking for Luke to save the day, but he’s off drinking green milk straight from the beached whatever-the-heck-that-thing-was and putzing around with porgs. He can’t be the symbol people rally around anymore; he’s old, he’s disillusioned, he’s SCARED maybe.

But then — but THEN we have the end of TLJ, where Luke becomes the legend again, where he single-handedly faces down an entire squadron of First Order walkers and Kylo Ren himself, and the Resistance has their minds blown in real time and the legend spreads and at the end of TLJ that kid force-pulls the broom over and you see that silhouette where he looks like a Jedi and HOLY CRAP the end of TLJ is so damn good.

Except now Luke’s gone again. Dead for realsies, or as dead as a Jedi ever is in this series, which is to say only as dead as he wants to be, but as far as being a symbol, he’s toast, because he can’t exactly go appearing to the galaxy in his little blue outline, can he? No. Ghosts can’t be symbols. The galaxy needs a new symbol.

The galaxy needs … a Skywalker.

Rey groks this. She knows how important Luke was, not just to her for her training, but also to the entire Resistance and to everybody who was too scared to stand up to the Empire. She feels the void left by Luke’s passing, probably more acutely than anybody who’s left alive, and she knows. There has to be a Skywalker.

And it has to be her. Who else is left?

“Rey who?”

“Rey Skywalker.”

God, it’s so poetic and awesome and simple. George Lucas said in that interview that Star Wars is like poetry; it rhymes. That quote is dumb and it pretends to be deep even though it isn’t, but there’s still truth in it, in that while the history of Star Wars doesn’t necessarily repeat, there are those elements that keep coming back. The galaxy needs a Skywalker, and Rey, like Luke before her and Anakin before that, sees the mantle there, abandoned by the one who came before, and says “guess I’ll put this on then.” Never mind she’s not a Skywalker by blood. Hell, Luke even tells Rey in RoS that some things are more important than blood.

But that only leads into the other reason that I love this as the last moment of the saga, which is that my wife read this moment in a completely different way than I did and she still loved it just as much. To wit: as I mentioned before, Rey spent the better part of the past two films in various stages of despair and disillusionment over her parents and not knowing her identity. And the more she learns about her parentage, the less she likes it. First it’s the gut punch that she got abandoned in the first place. Then it’s the big reveal that her parents were … nobodies. (We learn that in TLJ, even though we later learn that it’s only half-true.) And then there’s the haymaker of the truth that comes in RoS.

The parentage, or rather the lack of parentage, that has haunted Rey from the word go turns into the most catastrophic news Rey could hope to learn.

But.

Along the way, she has also gained a family that she never had. First there’s Finn, who “helps” her even though she doesn’t need it, then Han Solo, who recognizes her potential and takes her under his wing, and then Leia who does the same but also bonds with her over Han’s passing, and then Luke who becomes her mentor, and finally her … what, her romance? Weird sibling rivalry? … with Kylo Ren, nee Ben Solo. This is her family. In the strangest of ways, she has become the child of Han and Leia and Luke (that’s a fan-fiction I will not be writing) and so she *really is* a Skywalker.

Rey who?”

“Rey Skywalker.”

Again, it’s all so bloody poetic and beautiful that I could almost cry manly tears if my heart weren’t frozen and shriveled like a womp rat’s testicles on Hoth.

The fact that the new trilogy (and by extension the trilogy of trilogies) manages to end on a note that echoes and reverberates and boomerangs back on itself and on all the movies leading up to it is a master stroke, in my not-so-humble opinion.

Then again, here I stand, having an opinion about Star Wars on the internet, so rest assured I must be wrong.

But you know what? Wrong or not, I don’t care. I got new Star Wars in my lifetime, and I got to re-capture some of that joy that the original movies brought me, and the new movies are good, dammit. Yes, all of them. And yeah, Disney is a horror conglomerate that’s assimilating all of our entertainment like the Blob with Mickey Mouse ears and that’s, you know, that’s a thing that might be a problem that we’ll have to deal with one day. But for now, for today, we have Star Wars, and it is good. Perfect? No – but I promise you, the original trilogy is far from perfect itself. These movies are good. And that’s enough.

The Force will be with us. Always.


Terrible Reviews: Everything is F*cked


I picked up Mark Manson’s latest offering, Everything is F*cked, at my local library on the New Releases rack. Readers of the blarg will know that I love profanity, especially when it pops up in places it doesn’t belong (like a book title!). So I was intrigued. Of course, I also quickly realized that this is the same Mark Manson who wrote The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, a book whose title also pleased me mightily but which I never bothered reading because I figured — I’ve kinda got that covered. I’m notorious — and it drives my wife nuts — for not caring about what other people think, for giving the metaphorical finger to social niceties, for just putting my head down and minding my own business. But after reading Everything is F*cked, I’m rethinking my decision not to read The Subtle Art, if for no other reason than that I want to hear more of what Mark Manson has to say, on virtually any topic.

Anyway, I got the book and immediately began my campaign of defacement of public property, i.e. dog-earing the hell out of this book. Almost every page featured a passage or two that made me sit bolt-upright, the gremlin in my brain shouting “YES” at the top of its lungs, so this book took a beating. A loving, well-meaning beating (Dog-earing books shows them you care!), but a beating nonetheless.

Because I loved this book. I loved it so much that I had to read it slowly, digesting its insights and offerings over time, like the Sarlacc devouring its victims over thousands of years.

The thrust of the book is that Life is Pain, and the better we can understand and embrace that fact, the better off we will be.

Image result for life is pain gif

While this isn’t particularly surprising news for an atheist at least passingly acquainted with cosmology and the physics of the universe, it does rather put things into perspective.

Rather than try to review the entire book, I’m just going to provide some quotes from its pages, for your own edification and mine.

The Feeling Brain drives our Consciousness Car because, ultimately, we are moved to action only by emotion. That’s because action is emotion. (33)

Much of the first part of the book is given over to the dichotomy of Thinking Brain / Feeling Brain, and how we think that we live our lives with the Thinking Brain behind the wheel, but we really don’t — the Feeling Brain is always driving. Anyway — this quote in particular is relevant to me because this is a concept I’ve attempted to communicate to my Acting students, if never in such succinct language. So I’m gonna be assimilating this quote for future use.

… silencing the Thinking Brain will feel extremely good for a short period. And people are always mistaking what feels good for what is good. (37)

I don’t have a whole lot to add here, except to say that this phenomenon is probably responsible for a lot of the tribal behavior we see these days. You know. Politically. And so on. Ahem.

The pain may get better, it may change shape, it may be less catastrophic each time. But it will always be there. It’s part of us.

It is us. (106)

If the first half of the book is an examination of how our brain deceives us, the second half of the book is an exploration of the thing that drives us — which is pain, and more to the point, an avoidance of pain. We’ve sort of become slaves to the idea that we’re supposed to be happy all the time, that pain is this thing that crops up from time to time, but with the right outlooks and attitudes, we can avoid it or fend it off completely. Nonsense. We are defined and created by our pain, in the same way that the application of fire and heavy blows from a steel hammer create a sword.

Children are the kings and queens of antifragility, the masters of pain. It is we who are afraid. (230)

Antifragility is this concept Manson deals with a bunch in the final quarter of the book: in a nutshell, stress makes an antifragile thing (person, structure, idea) stronger. And because most of us try to hide from pain, our bodies and minds lose this quality. But kids, who haven’t yet been beaten down by the world, don’t know enough to hide from pain, so they run towards it — and this has the paradoxical effect of making them stronger.

The book is a fascinating read, and for a guy who has been sort of wracked by anxiety over the past year or so, it was an empowering and enlightening read.

It also gave me the best summation of my feelings as a writer that I have ever read:


Terrible Reviews: Endgame (Or, Why Fat Thor is All Of Us)


I always see myself in movies. I can’t help it — I’m always comparing myself to the characters, having the internal monologues of “I’d never do that” or “if it were me I’d…” which is part of the fun of the movies, and literature generally, innit? We get to live vicariously through the figures on the screen.

Which is why instead of doing a full-on review of Avengers: Endgame, I instead want to look at two things I absolutely loved about the movie.

Here’s your obligatory *MILD SPOILERS AHEAD* warning, but y’know, the movie has been out for two weeks, so avoiding spoilers is your lookout at this point.

Let’s start with the big one (pun intended): Fat Thor.

For my money, Thor has been the best thing about the MCU since the first Avengers movie. The best thing, by like, a lot. And since Ragnarok, the gap is only getting wider. Chris Hemsworth’s take on the character is so charming, so goofy, and so heartfelt that it’s hard not to love him. Also, he’s, y’know, the freaking god of thunder, so there’s that.

chris hemsworth GIF

And … actually, I need a detour here. Because what I really love about the Marvel universe — and what is giving its films such staying power, and what’s making its films resonate even with people (like me!) who not only aren’t comic book fans, but who might actually turn up their noses at the notion of being comic book fans — is that they really work hard at fleshing out their characters. Making sure that the movies are more than just beat-’em-up formulaic tripe of hero is the best at everything, hero gets his butt kicked by baddie, hero goes off to train and recruit buddies, hero kicks baddie’s butt, hero is the best at everything again but even better now. No, for a Marvel movie, if a hero wants to be successful in the end, they’re going to have to grow for it, learn for it, change for it.

The example springing to mind right now is in Spiderman: Homecoming where young Peter, just laid low by a failure to save the day, gets chastised by mentor-figure-doubling-as-surrogate-dad Tony Stark. Stark is taking his high-tech Spiderman kit back from Peter because he’s not ready for it. Peter protests that he’s nothing without the suit. Then, this from Tony: “If you’re nothing without the suit, you don’t deserve it.” Peter has to return to his un-souped-up heroing, takes a step back to work on his personal life, ends up saving the day by the skin of his teeth without the suit. He learns. He grows. And he becomes what we knew he was all along.

So — back to Thor. Thor has been laid low by the most recent slate of movies. Ragnarok saw the destruction of his home world and the loss of his hammer. Infinity War began with the death of his brother (and most of the rest of Asgard) and sent him on a quest to retrieve a weapon mighty enough to defeat Thanos — and he still fails. Loss after loss after loss. Thor, by the end of Infinity War, is way past due for a win.

Luckily, the Marvel gods know a good story arc when they see one, and in the opening of Endgame, Thor gets to make good on what he failed to do at the end of Infinity War: he lops Thanos’s head off with his fancy new thunderstick. (Mid-sentence, if I remember properly, for extra effect.)

But when the Marvel gods giveth, the Marvel gods also taketh away. Decapitating the biggest of bads feels good — damned good — for about five seconds, but it’s not actually a win. The stones are lost, Thanos’s evil 50% population downsizing can’t be reversed, everything is awful. Thor’s friends are still ashes, and Thanos wasn’t a threat to anybody anymore. The victory is entirely hollow. Still, it’s early in the film — lots of time for that character arc to swing upward. And that’s what we expect — the hero gets laid low, and he pops back up onto his feet and keeps fighting.

Except, no, that’s not what we get. Instead, our favorite thunder god goes into hiding like a spooked turtle retreating into its shell. Five years pass, and when we next see Thor, not only is he not bouncing back like a good superhero should (Cap is heading up support groups, Black Widow is running a global security system, Iron Man has embraced his family side and moved on), he’s wallowing in his despair. He’s put on weight, he’s stopped shaving, he’s wasting his days sucking down brewskis and playing video games with online trolls.

Man of the Year, right here. Pass the beer.

Now, here’s where the controversy comes in (because for goodness’s sake we can’t have a thing without spinning up a jolly good controversy about it) because apparently a lot of people are upset about Fat Thor. It’s fat-shaming, they cry, it’s an overweight character played for laughs, they moan, it’s cheap and hurtful, they warble.

Bollocks, I say. Yes, Fat Thor is played for laughs, but everything in the MCU is up for becoming a punchline — why should one of the most beloved butts of the brickiest brick jokes suddenly be immune? Just because he put on some pounds? Nonsense. Fat Thor is funny because Chris Hemsworth is a funny guy, and because we expect Thor to be chiseled and slinging lightning and hammers around, not pudgy and parked in a Barcalounger shouting at noobs on Call of Duty.

In my not-so-humble opinion as a somewhat overweight guy myself, I’m going to say that Fat Thor’s portrayal is absolutely not fat-shaming — in fact it’s just the opposite. For one thing, there’s no training montage, no blast of lightning that burns the fat away and gives us Chiseled Thor anew. No, Fat Thor goes through the entire movie as Fat Thor, squeezes into the jumpsuit as Fat Thor, saves the world as Fat Thor. Sure, we laugh at him along the way, but we also love him for who he is, as we always have.

Also — I’m gonna go ahead and say the controversial thing — when people get upset, sad, depressed even — sometimes? They let themselves go. It happens. And again, I’m saying this to you as a guy who has packed on a solid twenty-five pounds over the past several months myself. For some people, that’s a natural response to stress. It’s not shaming to point that out — it’s also not shaming, I’d argue, for that guy’s buddies to rib him a little bit about it. But (and here’s the heroic thing) Thor lets himself be talked out of his funk … sort of. He suits up and goes to work even though he’s not really feeling it, because he knows his buddies need him.

And that brings me to the second thing I love about the movie — really an offshoot of the first. Which is that Thor — Fat Thor, by this point, but still God-of-Thunder-Thor — struggles not against a foe, but against doubt. Because of his recent spate of failures, Thor — literally capable of almost anything Thor — falls into inaction, packs on the pounds and hides from the world, because of his own feelings of inadequacy.

Thor suffers from Impostor Syndrome. And a healthy dose of anxiety and probably depression to boot.

He has a panic attack, for goodness’s sake. The God of Thunder is literally struck helpless by the imagined gremlins running amok inside his brain.

thor i cant GIF

So while I absolutely adored Thor before, I double-dang-diggity-love him now, because, like I was saying way back at the beginning of this post that’s quickly getting away from me (WordPress for some reason removed the word count from the editor and it leaves me absolutely rudderless), in Endgame, Thor’s suffering is my suffering. And — as I always tell my students — the world is large. If you’re feeling it (or thinking it or wondering it), other people are feeling it, too.

Luckily Marvel has an answer for us — for the problem of one of the most powerful beings in the universe struck helpless by the feeling that he isn’t as much of a superhero as he thought. (And, by extension, for that existential doubt worrying away in all our hearts that we aren’t gonna be able to do the things we want to do, or that we need to do. Cuz, y’know. Thor is us.) And the answer is delivered by, who else, but his mother.

Frigga (Norse mythology has the best friggin’ names, I don’t care what anybody says): Everyone fails at who they’re supposed to be, Thor. The measure of a person — of a hero — is how well they succeed at being what they are.

And I can’t get over that. I’ve been hearing it in my head ever since. It’s the perfectest advice you could give to somebody suffering the way Thor is suffering.

Thor goes on from there to help save the universe. He’s still fat, of course. He saves the universe as he is, not as the idealized version of what he’s supposed to be.

This is why I am loving Marvel movies, still, so many years down the line, and even though there are, admittedly, way too many of them. Because their heroes are us — just, y’know, with better abs and magic hammers and stuff.

Until now. Now they’re just us.

thor GIF

All images are obviously the property of Marvel, except for the fact that Thor belongs to all of us.


I Am Not The Target Audience


We were watching The Little Mermaid today with my youngest (she’s four, now, and has a serious thing for mermenaids, as she calls them — which is, actually, maybe, the best possible version of a non-gendered title for the things?).

Watching it as an adult is not at all like watching it as a kid. It’s hard to imagine a less sympathetic protagonist — literally all she does is run around behind her (single) father’s back and disobey his orders and requests (all of which are not only reasonable, but pretty darn sensible at that).

  • She spends her days stalking and obsessing over humans — amassing a room full of their junk. This is creepy.
  • She blows off a major family (and community!) event — “the pinnacle of [Sebastian’s] career” — because she “forgot”. (By the way, and this is particularly irksoe as a guy who knows a thing or two about performances myself, how in the hockeysticks did that performance even begin when they didn’t know where Ariel was? It ain’t like she told somebody “brb, gotta fix my seashells, I’ll make my cue” — they just straight started the show and then were SHOCKED when she wasn’t there. Nonsense!)
  • She runs away from home to make a deal with basically a drug dealer, essentially signing her life over in exchange for a chance at love. Crikey.
  • She busts up a wedding with the help of her band of ragamuffins. (Okay, it was a sham wedding but still.)
  • She leaves her father and family behind to marry a guy who was basically ready to propose after just two or three days (Disney seems to have a fixation with this happening actually)

The only way she works as a protag for me these days is if you accept that the entire plot of the piece is about her naivete — but then that doesn’t work either because she doesn’t learn to not be naive in the end. Quite the contrary — daddy swoops in at the end and fixes everything, giving her exactly what she wanted without for a moment suggesting she, I dunno, maybe think about her actions and their consequences for half a second?

Frustrating. I guess I shouldn’t be watching kids’ movies so closely.

Meanwhile, Sprout the first was in and out of the room, too. Since questions literally come out of his mouth ten-to-one with actual statements, I take great pleasure in messing with him when I can, and watching him mull over whether I’m telling the truth.

“Daddy, what’s that mermaid’s name?”

Fishbooty.

“Daddy, what’s the crab’s name?”

Dippin’ Sauce.

“Daddy, are mermaids real?”

Probably not.

“Are they just rare?”

Very rare.

“How rare?”

Rarer than unicorns.

“Are unicorns real?”

Probably not.

“Dad, what does ‘probably’ mean?”

Just watch the movie.

Problem is, the more he thinks, the more questions he asks. Which, I’ll grant, is a good thing. But an exhausting one.


An American’s Guide to Canadian Food: (or, Don’t)


So we’re back from a week-long vacation in Canada.

I could write about how different the culture is there (spoiler alert: not very, actually, outside of the average person being slightly more friendly than I’m used to. I could write about the absolutely beautiful country. (SO MUCH GREEN.)

But at the moment — maybe because I’m returning to home, and by extension to normality — I’m a little preoccupied with food. Partly because we had to visit the grocery store and buy food that we’d be preparing ourselves for the first time in a week. Partly because, since we hadn’t been preparing our own food for a week, that meant we’d been eating exclusively in restaurants — i.e. eating like garbage. But mostly because — to put it bluntly — food in Canada is weird.

To loosely quote John Travolta in Pulp Fiction, they have the same stuff over there that they have here, but it’s just there it’s a little different.

And look, I’m not a foodie or anything; even typing that word makes me feel like a pretentious tool. I have no doubt there are intricacies at play here that I am oblivious to. That’s okay. Like any good American, that won’t stop me from voicing my displeasure.

That’s right, displeasure, because just one week was enough for me to get sick of some of this stuff, so I can only imagine what it must be like living there full-time.

There are three primary offenders: Poutine, Donair (or donairs? I’m not even sure) and Dulse (which looks and sounds like it should be spelled with a “c” but it isn’t because this is Canada and they don’t care about such things — they can’t even decide on a national language for goodness’ sake).

Let’s start with the least offensive: Poutine.

Image result for poutine

Poutine is actually delicious, even if it doesn’t sound like it would be at first: you take standard-issue French Fries, smother them with gravy, and melt a bunch of cheese over the top of the whole thing. Why this little treat hasn’t caught fire in America is beyond me. It’s salty and satisfying and indulgent and sits in your stomach like a brick after you’ve eaten it: comfort food of the highest order.

But it’s still annoying, because like anything good, it’s saturating the culture. Poutine is everywhere, from burger joints to fancy restaurants to food trucks and everything in between. Well, you might say, french fries are everywhere in America, isn’t that the same thing? Yeah, sure, if chihuahuas and Great Danes are the same thing. But you can’t compare poutine to french fries like that, because french fries are adaptable: you can put them on a plate, toss them in a cup, funnel them into a newspaper fan, whatever. Poutine comes exactly one way: on a plate, and anything else is a catastrophe.

Which means that the poutine you get at, say, McDonald’s, comes served pretty much the same way as it might at a classier joint, which has the effect of making you feel like a schlub for ordering it in a classier joint. Let’s also point out that having a runny, slimy food like this available at a fast food place totally defeats the purpose of eating at a fast food place, because poutine is not a food that can be eaten quickly or cleanly or when time is any sort of factor. Try and eat poutine with your lunch combo when you’re running late and you will arrive back to work doused in gravy (which, I dunno, maybe that’s your thing, in which case, Canada may be for you).

Also, nobody knows how to pronounce it, which may be an issue in your reading at this point. I’ve heard it as poo-TEEN, poo-TAN, poo-TEN, and that was all by family members living in the same household. (Again, to Canadians I say — get on one page when it comes to language.)

In short, delicious, but so ubiquitous you’ll be tired of it after a day.

Then, there’s donair, or donairs.

Image result for donair

Donair seems to be a concept as much as it is a thing. (By the way, it’s pronounced like “donut” except instead of a donut, you have donair — and that’s where the similarity ends.) Because you can go to places (usually sandwich shops, but often, strangely, pizza places) and order donairs, but you can also find “donair sauce” on store shelves and in recipe books, and in the same way, “donair meat”. “Donair meat”, by the way, is not the meat of a donair (some rare Canadian beast) but rather meat for a donair. What type of meat is it, then? This is the question that, when you ask it (and well, I think, you should ask it) a Canadian will look at you oddly and reiterate, “it’s meat that goes in a donair”. This happens to be a thing Canadians just do, on a lot of subjects, not just donairs. You ask them a question and get a circular answer. (“Where is the cave?” “It’s in Saint Martin.” “Where’s Saint Martin?” “It’s down by the caves.” When you look at them oddly, they just look at you oddly right back until one of you apologizes (usually the Canadian, because if there’s one thing they do well and fast, it’s say “sorry”).

Anyway, the meat is tangy and salty as meat should be, but the sauce that they pair with it is creamy and sweetish — almost like a tzatziki sauce, but way sweeter and not at all herby. Actually, it feels like it would go really well with a donut, so maybe I was wrong about donuts and donairs having nothing in common but the letters. (Canadians will insist that this clash of sweet-n’-salty is delightful, I will counterargue that it is confusing, but then I don’t understand “trendy” or “daring” food combinations like “jalapeno peppers with chocolate sauce” or “half-cooked mice with a spritz of maraschino cherry”, so I dunno, maybe I’m not hip enough to play this game.)

You slap the “meat” and the “sauce” together with some tomatoes or peppers into a toasted pita, and bam, that’s a donair. In other words, it’s basically a weird gyro sandwich. Except I didn’t know this, so the first donair I had was in pizza form, which might be adding to my overall confusion about the whole thing.

Sidenote: I think I can be forgiven, though, because the conversation went something like “hey you should try some donairs” and I was all like “what’s a donair” and they were like “Pizza Delight has good ones” and I said “okay but I still dunno what a donair is” and they said “let’s go.” (I’m not sure if that’s an all Canadians thing or just a my wife’s Canadian family thing.) When we got to the restaurant I ordered the first thing I saw that said “donair” which happened to be a donair pizza. I ate it. It was weird. Not bad, and not something I’d order again. Just weird. So when I asked them if donair is just a pizza topping they said “well no, that’s just a pizza with donair toppings,” and when I asked well what’s a donair they said “they don’t just serve donair here.”

Then, later in the week, one of our hosts brought home some donair fixings and made up basically a sauceless pizza topped with donair meat to dunk in donair sauce. This I ate, and it was slightly better than a “donair pizza”, but it did nothing to aid my confusion about donairs. I didn’t fully understand what a donair was supposed to be until I got back to America and googled it.

In short, when a Canadian tries to tell you about an exciting food they want you to try, do your research first.

Third, and most offensive, is Dulse. Do not make the mistake, as I did, of associating “dulse” with “dulce”, as they are not the same thing, and the fact that they seem to have the same root is a bug, not a feature, of language.

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Dulse is seaweed.

That’s all. It’s seaweed. They dry it out and salt it, and then they eat it. Like potato chips, but horrible. It’s somehow simultaneously crispy and chewy, tough and brittle, all at once. You put it in your mouth (your first mistake) and the edges of it immediately flake off and melt to the inside of your cheeks and gums, while you have to keep working the main “leaf” like a piece of jerky. It tastes like fermented fish urine, which it basically is, because it’s seaweed.

I pointed out to the Canadian who tricked me into eating dulse that it tasted, in fact, exactly as you would expect dried-out seaweed to taste, and she responded, “no, it tastes like dulse.” My inclination was to argue the point by asking her what, exactly, dulse was, but the donair incident was fresh in my mind so I just smiled and refused another piece.

To fully explain how bad it tastes, here’s a little anecdote:

My wife’s grandmother picked up a bag of it in Market Square in Saint John. Very excited about it, too, she was. As it turns out, Saint John is a tourism stop for cruise lines sailing in the Northeastern U.S. and Canada, and a cruise ship happened to be in port that day — so the square was flooded with tourists. Mostly Americans, so I didn’t feel quite the fish out of water that I usually did.

Anyway, she was offering me a bit of dulse and I, not wanting to appear rude, was (tentatively) accepting it, when a pair of nearby Americans asked her, “what’s that?” (They looked sixty or so, with matching visors. Sweet little old ladies.) “Dulse,” my grandmother-in-law replied cheerily, around a mouthful of the stuff. “A Canadian delicacy. Want to try some?”

I was just working my way through my first (and only) piece, the fish-pee taste slowly spreading across my tongue. Apparently, the expression creeping across my face didn’t deter them, so they said “sure” and took a piece. Two seconds later, one of them said, and I quote, “nope, that’s coming out,” and spit it RIGHT ON THE FLOOR, while the other rushed to the nearest stall to purchase an overpriced Pepsi to wash the flavor out.

My grandmother-in-law watched this with a chuckle like she’d played some great prank on all of us, all the while stuffing the horrible purple stringy stuff into her mouth.

You can buy this stuff by the bag, if you want, but I also saw it in spice form: a tiny, roll-of-quarters-sized tube which you could sprinkle over your steak or your breakfast eggs. You know, for when your food has that “fine, but not enough fish-pee” quality about it.

To sum up: avoid.

At any rate, these are only three of the most visible food faux-pas on display during my week in Canada. I’m sure there are others, and possibly worse ones (though if there’s something out there worse than dulse, I want it caught and shot).

I will reiterate: if you’re going to try a new and exciting food while on vacation in Canada, do your research first.

Thank goodness I’m back in the states, where we have NORMAL food.

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