Wednesday, April 30, 2008

McBone Presents: A Mayonnaise Tragedy

As loyal McBone readers already know, my friend Josh Shalek is the creator of official McBone comic, Welcome to Falling Rock National Park. Josh also has a beard, which is the envy of my life. He, not me, got to see Cat Power in concert this month, but that's neither here nor there.

What you may not know is that Josh, who coined the phrase "white menace," is also a founding member of the Anti-Mayonnaise Alliance (AMA), and he has a story he would like to share:

It was like a nightmare
, except it was so real. What I thought would be a simple exercise in food education turned into a one-way ticket to hell.

It began innocently. I had finished 3rd grade, soon to join the ranks of those able-bodied men and women of the 4th. It was summer, a season for spiritual growth and goofing off. My routine of doing nothing was to be suspended, however, because my mom insisted I take a summer class.

I suppose it was because I was still too young to work in the salt mines. My mom had had enough of me swimming in the pool and playing Super Mario Brothers. In short, she wanted me to learn that the world is a horrible place filled with sorrow. She wanted me to know the stench of mortality. It was a life lesson I've carried to this day; a scar on my psyche that can never be removed.

Of the choices offered that summer were a number of "fun" classes. The aim was to make you believe that, even though you were going to a school, sitting in a classroom, being lectured by a teacher, this was still the summer and therefore playtime. It was a thin disguise I saw right through. I chose, seemingly at random, a class on the science of food. I say random because I was not especially fond of food; at that age, I liked eating dessert but had no burning desire to find out how they were made. Maybe I thought I would at least get to try some new delights my parents wouldn't buy for me. I was wrong.

They say the devil can take many forms, but for me it was a nice-enough looking lady named Mrs. Sherman. There is no amount of penance she can do to erase the horrific crimes against children she committed in that classroom.

The worst part of the Mayonnaise Tragedy was that there was warning. Like prisoners being forced to dig the graves that they will soon lie in, we made the mayonnaise although we didn't know to what end it would be used. I should've known that something was amiss when we concocted something in large mason jars and, instead of putting them in the refrigerator, let them sit at room temperature for a week. I don't recall all the ingredients Mrs. Sherman had us throw into those cauldrons - honestly, to raise them in my memory would be simply too much, even now. I do remember there being dairy and eggs, and a few other evil-smelling additives.

At the time I allowed myself to think it fun. "Let's see how bad this will smell when we put it all together." I was right about the smell. What I hadn't counted on was what we were forced to do with it.

After the week had passed, Mrs. Sherman took one of the mason jars and set it on a desk in the center of the classroom. She opened the lid. Half of us gagged instantly at the putrid odor that arose from its depths. It was an ancient odor, a foul and terrifying one.

Then Mrs. Sherman did the unthinkable: she made us smell the mayonnaise.

"Come on over. Stick your nose in it," she said. I thought she was joking until I found myself peering into the jar, inhaling the mayonnaise.

It was like death. It was like torture. I wished vainly for it to end. Looking into the jar was somehow worse than seeing it from a distance. Moist, chunky white globs of mayonnaise. The bile of the earth. This was the stuff preachers speak of when they condemn science as anti-God. I nearly vomited.

That done, Mrs. Sherman produced a number of plastic spoons. She made each of us take one.

"Maybe she'll give us ice cream," I thought hopefully. I'm sure I was in shock.

"Let's all try some," Mrs. Sherman said. As the words left her lips, each of them raising the hair on the back of my neck, I realized adults really do hate children. My mother and father hated me. Mrs. Sherman certainly hated me. Every adult I would see on the street for the rest of my childhood, hated me.

Some braver souls had already begun dipping their spoons into the jar of mayonnaise. I watched them put the gelatinous white goo into their mouths. None seemed to perish. I felt so alone. Soon it would be my turn. I tried to hide, to pretend I'd already had a bite.

Mrs. Sherman noticed me cowering. "Come on Josh, you helped make this. You should try it. Everybody will try it." Was that a glint in her eye?

I crept toward the jar, spoon in hand. I dipped the spoon down into the mayonnaise.

"That's not enough," said Mrs. Sherman. "Get a good dollop." She forced my hand downward, so that when I raised the spoon there was a mass of mayonnaise quivering on it. The White Menace.

She watched me bring the spoon toward my lips. The mayonnaise was in my mouth. I closed my lips over the spoon. I pulled the spoon out of my mouth through my tight lips. I swallowed.

Blacking out would have been a relief. So would dying. Unfortunately my strong little body remained conscious for the horrifying moments after swallowing the mayonnaise. Mrs. Sherman let us go on our break. I ran to the nearest drinking fountain and drank the pure, sweet water. It did nothing to erase the taste of mayonnaise on my tongue. That taste remained for a long time afterward.

After that day I begged my mom not to make me go any longer. She was unmoved. I finished out the class.

It was a glorious day to begin 4th grade that fall, when I knew there would be no forced mayonnaise eatings. My friends asked about my summer vacation. I told them, "fine." It would have been too much to relive the pain so soon. I was also too young to understand the lasting scars that would ensue.

Today I am mostly functional. The Mayonnaise Tragedy still figures prominently in my dreams, but during the day I can push it back. I do the grocery shopping and don't scream when I pass the mayonnaise, sitting so innocuously on the shelf. Even my wife doesn't know the extent of my pain. I am a broken man, humbled and wary.

Josh Shalek
April, 2008

Stories like this are exactly why the AMA was formed. Josh courageously tells his tale because he knows the youth of today is at risk. Together let's stop the Mrs. Shermans of the world before another child is irreparably harmed. Remember, the white menace never rests.


PS: You can buy Josh's comic book here.

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