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The International Writers Magazine: Modern Life in Canada

Lactose Intolerance
Ross Merriam

Mitch is always going on about how much he hates his job and how much he wants to leave.  The last time I visited, about four months ago, he wanted to start a company, a rock climbing gym, or a dog walking business, he couldn't figure out which.  This time he wants to go to Emily Carr, an art school here in Van and study art.
"Artists are just stupid.  Selling art is a business.  They don't know how to make money.  You just have to know how to market yourself. Artists don't know how to do that," he tells me as we walk through the supermarket.
"But if you're only making art that is sellable it sort of cheapens it, doesn't it?" I ask.
"Well, yeah, I guess."

So far we have two bags of chips (black pepper and lime, to go with the beer), Four cans of soup, and a token bag of apples that will probably not be eaten in the week that I have before I leave.  For the last two years, Vancouver and Mitch's place has served as a good limbo between my apartment in Edmonton where I used to live with my now ex-girlfriend, and my hometown of Fredericton.  But this past summer things changed, and I'm looking at Vancouver with different eyes. "Could I live here?" I wonder.  

The last time I visited we didn't even get groceries.  I was fat off the spoils of my job in the oil fields and we ate out every single meal and spent money on expensive food and alcohol as if the world was going to end in a week and we were the only ones who knew it.  But this trip, I'm broke, and we're stocking up for the week before I get called north to build ice roads for oil again.
"I'll run and get some juice."
"Jeewwice!" he says to me in a high-pitched gay tone, the way we used to say back in our University days.

I smile at his attempt at humor, and head for the creamsicles.  The grocery store speakers are pumping in Backstreet boys' falsetto, in treble frequencies that the cheap sound equipment can't match.

I'm still looking for the right quantity and desired flavor combinations in the creamsicles selection when Mitch is behind me, "Umm, can you not whistle along to the backstreet boys while in public."  I wasn't even aware that that had been what I was doing, so I laugh, and a cute girl, roughly our age, nearly falls over with a snort at the same statement, and for a second I'm in love.  I'm checking her out as she walks away, thinking it's the type of snort that I would find temporarily endearing and then completely annoying if I was ever to date her.  We move on.

"We need milk," I say, because for the past two mornings I've been eating the cereal he doesn't eat anymore and using his roommate's milk to do it.  "Why don't you drink milk any more?"
"I'm lactose intolerant."
"Yeah, I think I became that way when it comes to ice cream.  I get sort of queasy."
"Oh, no, this is bad.  I feel like I have the flu, I want to puke, and I get explosive diarrhea."
"That doesn't sound good."
"Get a two liter." I put back the one-liter carton of two percent I had grabbed.
"No get plastic, you can't recycle cartons."
"You can recycle cartons."
"No you can't."
"Yes you can.  I do it all the time back home."
"Not here asshat."
I sigh and put back the two-liter carton and grab the plastic jug.
"That one's got a leak," he says.
And it does, and I sigh, and I put it back, and reach for another jug.
"Now I think I'm lactose intolerant," I say, turning, and he punches me in the shoulder, and we laugh our asses off to the cash register,
© Ross Merriam December 15th 2007

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