I was giving Montgomery Starling-Byrd, international president of the Order of Logogustation, and Grace Sherman, a noteworthy member from Mobile, Alabama, a tour around the Canadian National Exhibition. We had just entered the centre of deep-fried gravity, the Food Building, and I was pointing out some of the traditions and some of the splashy newcomers.
Montgomery read off the sign on one establishment that had a long line in front of it. “Epic Burgers and Waffles.” He smirked. “I’m sure there’s a long story behind that one.” (An epic being, originally, a long verse form recounting heroic exploits – The Iliad and The Odyssey are two. From Greek ἔπος epos “word, story, poem”.)
“Ah’m not cehtain ah can discern any rhyme or reason to it,” Grace said, “although Ah must admit it looks vaguely familiah. We have burgers, and we have Krispy Kreme doughnuts, though Ah don’t think Ah’ve seen anyone put them togethah befoah.”
“Nor waffles and hamburgers, I think,” Montgomery said. “Is this really an epic, or is it a comedy?”
“A farce, I think,” I said, “since after eating it you will be, as the French say, farci” (stuffed). I did not mention that I had already eaten one of their donut burgers with egg and bacon. “I don’t know whether this place has an official affiliation with Epic Meal Time, but they’re certainly trading on the idea.”
Montgomery arched an eyebrow. “Epic Meal Time? Is this a program whereon one watches heroes dine? Perhaps Odysseus’s men making pigs of themselves at the table of Circe, or being eaten in turn by Polyphemus? Or Grendel crashing Hrothgar’s feast?”
“It’s a YouTube series wherein a band of antiheroes from Montreal make massive masculine meals of meat replete with endless quantities of bacon strips and large doses of Jack Daniels,” I said. “The calorie count never fails to reach five digits.”
“Ah wondah whethah Bertolt Brecht would have seen that as a worthy subject,” Grace said. Brecht was a creator of what he called epic theatre, which aimed to focus more on actions and ideas and less on provoking the audience’s emotional response. Massive overeating might have been a social reality worthy of his study, I mused.
Just then I saw something that made me flinch involuntarily.
Coming away from the counter at Epic Burgers was Marcus Brattle, my mentee, a stroppy 15-year-old of British extraction.
Not by himself. He was accompanied by a friend who appeared to have lately lost fights with a nail gun and a lawnmower. The friend was carrying a portable stereo and a video camera.
Marcus was carrying, under one arm, a skateboard, and in the other hand, an épée. The épée had, skewered on it, what appeared to be one of every deep-fried thing sold in the building – peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich, mac and cheese, Oreos, Mars bar, fudge, and a variety of other things you didn’t even think anyone could deep-fry – along with a donut burger, a Behemoth burger, and an American smashburger freshly bought.
I hesitated for a moment, caught between wanting to keep him from meeting Montgomery and Grace and a morbid fascination with what youthful idiocy he was embarked upon. The latter held sway long enough for him to see me. “Oh, hullo, Mentor!” he shouted.
“Well,” said Montgomery to me, “it seems that you, too, are a character from an epic. And this must be your Telemachus.”
I glanced at the video camera. “Tele-masochist, perhaps,” I said. I turned to Marcus. “Marcus, this is Montgomery Starling-Byrd and Grace Sherman.”
Marcus waggled the épée towards his accomplice. “This is Jason.”
“Anothah epic hero,” Grace observed.
“This will totally be epic!” Jason proclaimed.
“Well,” Montgomery observed drily, “at least today’s youth are focused on enterprises of great pith and moment. So much better than those who wanted to be ‘radical,’ or ‘wicked,’ or merely ‘sick.’”
“If he’s planning to eat all that,” Grace said, “Ah do believe he will be sick.”
“I am not only going to eat this,” Marcus said, “I am going to do so while riding my skateboard. I am going to start right there –” he gestured at the nearby east door of the building – “and go down the steps and then career my way through the midway, not stopping until all is consumed.”
Montgomery, Grace, and I all looked at each other. None of us could resist watching what was bound to become a crashing feast of its own. We followed him to the door.
“Cue epic music!” Marcus shouted. Jason pressed a button on the portable stereo and the opening of Orff’s Carmina Burana, that archetypal music to declare the occurrence of an event for the ages, poured forth: “O! For! tu! naaa!.” Marcus started off.
To our amazement, he cleared the steps on his skateboard without crashing, Jason running after him. He then proceeded off the sidewalk and started eating the donut burger while attempting to weave between the people. I ran after, while Grace and Montgomery maintained a more stately pace.
After about 20 metres, an execution flaw made itself evident: the bottom half of the donut burger fell off. Marcus, in trying to reach for it as it went, batted it down under the wheels of his skateboard. This resulted in abrupt loss of control, which sent him careering not down the midway but into a carnival game featuring bowling balls and more Smurfs than you have ever seen. The momentum carried Marcus through the players and into the Smurfs, and he flailed to a rest with a small Smurf stuffed in his mouth, his épée piercing a large Smurf, and nearly a hundred dollars’ worth of fat and starch redecorating the surrounding Smurfs.
I am happy to report that Jason caught it all on video.
Quite the accomplishment, as he was laughing his head off.
“Epic fail, sir!” Jason shouted between howls of laughter.
“Épée flail,” I countered.
Marcus spat out the small Smurf. “Epic? It’s a tragedy!”
Grace and Montgomery had arrived at a trot. “Now, that,” Grace declared, “is not a tragedy. He may have hubris and hamartia, but that is a farce!” She gestured at the stuffed creatures.
“But how the mighty have fallen,” Montgomery said, his smirk displaying an unseemly schadenfreude. “If in something of a shorter time than it took Beowulf.”
“O fortuna,” I said.
“Tuna,” Jason gasped between laughs, “may be the only thing that Grandpa Smurf is not wearing now.”
Marcus grabbed the remains of a burger and took a bite. “Mentor,” he said, eyeing the game operator, who was finally beginning to stop laughing, “I spent all my money on the food. I think I may need to borrow some.”