Accidental Activist

Only in Hamilton: Green Thai Curry and Disputed Gouda

Ben somehow manages to use the "s" word in a family magazine, dragging Raise the Hammer to new journalistic lows.

By Ben Bull
Published November 28, 2005

Ever since I landed in Hamilton five years ago, strange things have happened.

One minute you're watching the pigeons in Gore Park, and the next there's a freakish looking monkey hanging off the wing of your airoplane.

"Where did that monkey come from?" you ask yourself.

"Where did that plane come from?" replies the pigeon.

And then the music starts, 'do-be-do-do' and you realize you've entered the realm of...the Twighlight Zone.

I recall a memorable episode back in December, 2002. I was trudging around The Barn at Center Mall, carefully selecting the ingredients for a scrumptious Green Thai Curry, or maybe a Pad Thai Curry - I couldn't remember, I'd lost the list - when I decided to give up and go home.

I wheeled my little cart of wrong ingredients into line and began perusing the stupid little gossip rags, deciding which one to buy.

"Hmm, this one has pictures of Brittany on the beach. That's nice, but hey! This one has 'Shocking News' about Bennifer! What could that be, I wonder? Now look at those, those are definitely not real-"

"Sir?" said a little voice in front of me, checkout girl.

I looked up and reeled back.

Checkout Girl was clearly full of cold. I knew that because most of it was running down her nose, two slow soldiers of snot, marching steadily toward her top lip.

I was frozen on the spot.

My mind spiraled - I had not seen anything like this before. I felt like that supercomputer from Deep Space Nine - or was it 2001: A Space Odyssey? - trying desperately to process the data - the image - before me:

"Sorry Ben - that does not compute."

I recalled a face from my past, a very snotty face belonging to Grade four classmate, Brian Marsden. Brian always seemed to have a cold but at least he had the decency to wipe it on his sleeve (a habit that left him with a permanent crust on his coat and no friends).

At last the guy behind me offered the poor girl a tissue, and it was all over, but I have never been the same again.

As for the Green Thai Curry, well, we saved that for another night.

About a year later I was back at The Barn. This time I managed to make it outside before entering The Twighlight Zone again.

I was pushing a cart full of the usual crap, with some extra treats like Presidents Choice cookies and Gouda Cheese thrown in for good measure.

As I wheeled around the door heading for the car, I came face to face with a large lady on a scooter. She was blocking my path, and I hers. For a few seconds we squared off, staring at each other Clint Eastwood style, wondering who would flinch first.

I tried to think through the situation. "She's on a scooter" said my left brain. "Get out of her way."

"But she has a ramp right there," argued the right. "It's easier for her to back up."

"Scooters have the right of way," insisted the left.

"Says who?" replied the right.

All of a sudden I saw Scooter lady reach for her horn. She was too quick: "Beeep!"

She got me. I clutched my ears, and watched my trolley wobble over the curb, and onto its side. Great.

I dashed into the road and threw my shopping back into the cart. A minute later I was back on four wheels, reversing out of Scooter Lady's way.

As she inched forward I spied a small package emerging from under her wheels.

I reached toward it but was too late: Scooter Lady saw it first. In one swift movement she hopped off the cart, whipped the cheese off the floor and jumped back onto her seat.

"Wow," I thought. "She's pretty mobile for-"

"Now what's this?" interrupted the Scooter phony, staring at the package.

"Mine, probably," I replied, stating the obvious.

"Not necessarily. It looks like cheese."

"Cheese?" I repeated.

"Yes, cheese."

She said it as if it were a forbidden substance - cocaine or uranium. As we stared at the package I became confused. It couldn't be mine. I never bought posh cheese like the one being squeezed and sniffed in front of me now.

But then I remembered: "Gouda!"


"Yes! I bought some Gouda. That's my cheese. Thank you!"

I snatched it away and backed up quickly.

"Hold on!" growled the Scooter lady, inching menacingly towards me.

"Now what?"

She charged - well, lurched - toward me, eyeing me suspiciously.

I felt like a cornered criminal. Clearly something was on her mind.

I soon learned what.

"That's not your cheese!" she snarled at last.

"Wh-what?" was all I could say, as I tried not to get run over.

"It's not yours, is it?"

At this point the ground started to shift beneath me. This was all getting too weird.

My left brain interjected, trying to reclaim my sanity. "OK, Ben - you're in a mall parking lot, arguing with a Scooter Lady about a piece of cheese. I think you should go home."

My brain was right! I tried to think of something to say, a parting shot to end the cheesy car park standoff.

"It's my cheese!" was all I could muster, before wheeling around and running to the car.

A barrage of beeps hit me from behind, but I did not look back. I was well away now, and I wasn't going back.

On the way home I half expected to hear sirens and get pulled over for Grand Theft Fromage.

I wondered why it was these things always seem to happen to me, and why they only ever happened in Hamilton.

Ben Bull lives in downtown Toronto. He's been working on a book of short stories for about 10 years now and hopes to be finished tomorrow. He also has a movie blog.

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By Devon (anonymous) | Posted June 14, 2006 at 10:48:01

I am relatively new to 'Raise the Hammer' and have stumbled across this article. Although I am currently resident in Scotland, I was born and raised in Hamilton and almost fell off my chair laughing as I read this. To Mr. Bull, I can only smile and shake my head in quiet agreement about his experience in our great city. There's an expression I learned long ago - "Only in Hamilton..." and how true it is. Many Hamiltonians will tell you that living here is to experience the unique culture of this city which is founded on the raw character of many of its inhabitants. My Wife, who spent three years in Hamilton, looks back on her time affectionately and recalls how you just never knew who would meet or what would happen from one day to the next. Although I'm sure that many ex-GTA incomers might find this disconcerting, I have always loved the unpredictable nature of living in our fine city and miss the days that I would return home to say "You'll never believe what just happened to me on King St." - I hope Mr. Bull is still a resident, and in future, confrontations with vicious scooter drivers can usually be settled quickly by barking at them like a Doberman. If you show them that you can be as crazy as they are - they usually back off...Have Fun!!!

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