>>> Bang for Your Buck
By staff writer David Nelson

March 18, 2007

Essential New Word of the Week: bagsmokes (definition hint: cheaper by the gross)

Just for a moment, I want you to imagine you’re a hardened criminal. It’s not really that hard. In fact, I just got through kicking a policeman’s corpse for 45 straight minutes in Grand Theft Auto to put myself in the right mood. Now, pretend that you’ve been caught, and sentenced to death. That’s probably a little tougher to imagine, especially if you’re not from Texas.

No, it’s downright impossible. Being on Death Row must be the Ultimate MindfuckTM. How can anyone get through the day knowing that he’s not going to be around to vote for the next American Idol? Or that he’ll never again experience bumper cars, or slot machines, or blowjobs? I’m surprised more cons don’t appeal their death sentences on the grounds that they’ll never find out what happens to Harry Potter.

If you’ve got an unwanted date with the Reaper, there’s really only one thing left to look forward to: the last meal. It’s a tradition that’s been around as long as capital punishment itself. In fact, the Aztecs fed human sacrifices for a year before tossing them into volcanoes and whatnot. Say what you want about Mexicans, at least they’ll never let you go hungry.

“In all likelihood, Gacy probably wasn’t too worried about his cholesterol, but I still need to be.”

In pre-modern Europe, the last meal was a highly symbolic social act. In accepting the food, the condemned tacitly took an oath of truce and disavowed all vengeance. In other words, gimme some good eats, and I won’t haunt you when I become a spooky ghost or unkillable zombie. And by that logic, the better the grub, the safer you’ll all be. Better not skimp on the Parmesan cheese.

So, last meals have always been extravagant. These days, it’s less about superstition and more about keeping the convict placid until he’s a harmless pile of crispy remains. But there’s something about the whole concept that remains morbidly fascinating. If you knew you could experience the sense of taste one last time, what would you choose?

In order to better understand the mindset of the condemned, I decided to make myself a last meal. Well, hopefully not a last meal, but a duplicate of what an actual convict once chose. I like food and all, but I want to appreciate it as only a death row inmate can. Also, I’ve been living on meta-food for a week now, and I think it’s time for something other than soy sauce and lemon wedges.

The first step was to do some research. Whose last meal should I recreate? Fortunately for me, the sum total of human knowledge can now be found on Wikipedia, so ideas were only a click away. And with another click, I could have all the ingredients delivered right to my door! But for a 10 dollar delivery charge, those fuckers at Grocery Gateway better pray I don’t get a stay of execution.

If I collected those controversial trading cards depicting serial killers, John Wayne Gacy would be the pride of my collection. Not only did he rape and murder 33 boys, he also made a generation of kids grow up with a crippling fear of clowns. Luckily, America’s most progressive pornographers are working hard to undo that damage.

His death sentence was a media sensation that featured execution parties, and an awesomely-named “Gacy’s Day Parade.” But what of his last meal? Gacy chose fried chicken, fried shrimp, French fries, and fresh strawberries. Not a bad feedin’, but perhaps a little mundane. In all likelihood, Gacy probably wasn’t too worried about his cholesterol, but I still need to be. So, I’ll take a pass on Gacy’s Gastronomic Gala.

Victor Feguer was the last person put to death in the state of Iowa. Meanwhile, lawful citizens of Iowa continue to die a little each day. Feguer was sentenced for luring a doctor to his death in order to gain access to any drugs he was carrying. I sure hope he scored some kickass Tylenol, because he was hanged soon after.

For his last meal, Victor ate… get this… a single olive. I realize that sounds kind of fruity, but I suppose the mechanics of the gallows make one want to eat light. That said, olives taste like horrible little snot bombs and are enjoyed only by gay Greek sailors. Thanks, but no thanks, Victor Feguer.

Timothy McVeigh, domestic terrorist and frequent argument against the merit of racial profiling, was put to death in 2001. For his last meal, McVeigh indulged in two pints of Ben & Jerry’s mint chocolate chip ice cream. For what it’s worth, I’m sure Ben and Jerry, the gentle hippies of the ice cream world, disapproved strongly.

No matter where you stand on capital punishment, you have to agree this was a pretty lame choice. It’s not a last meal, it’s a guilt-ridden evening snack for two fat chicks who want to gossip about their friends and watch Sex and the City. I admit, I like ice cream too, but the last thing I’d want before a lethal injection is a lethal case of brainfreeze.

Ted Bundy, not to be confused with any fictional shoe salesmen or hyper-obese wrestling stars, was one of the most notorious figures in U.S. history. Often described as an educated and charming young man, Bundy was a true rapist’s rapist. Much the same way Nick Gaudio is a writer’s writer. But all that personal magnetism was no match for the electricity they zapped the miserable bastard with. Bundy, that is, not Gaudio.

As a last meal, Bundy was offered steak, eggs over easy, hash browns, and coffee. Amazingly, he turned it down! That’s just the kind of greasy, manly repast I’d enjoy, before I spent the next four hours on the toilet. So perhaps Bundy was saving his dignity from a messy, electro-fecal explosion. And if this last meal wasn’t good enough for a sociopathic killer, it’s not good enough for me. I have my dignity too.

Clearly, I wasn’t getting anywhere researching the last meals of these A-list criminals. It was time to take a trip into the minor leagues of serial murder. Surely one of America’s lesser-known criminals died so that I might know what to cook for dinner.

William Bonin, a.k.a. “The Freeway Killer” chose to end his life with two pepperoni and sausage pizzas, three servings of coffee ice cream, and fifteen cans of Coca-Cola. Tempting, but I’m pretty sure he was trying to pre-emptively kill himself via a caffeine overdose. Either that, or give himself the super-strength needed to punch through his cell walls and escape.

Edward Hartmann, a North Carolina inmate, ordered Greek salad, linguini with white clam sauce, garlic bread, and cheesecake with cherry topping. This is a classy choice; one I’d be proud to make my last meal. On the other hand, the N.C. prison system isn’t exactly footing the bill for my dinner. I’ll just give Hartmann a nod of approval and look for something cheaper.

Harold Lloyd McElmurry of Oklahoma made the puzzling choice of a pint of chicken livers, cottage cheese, and one raw white onion. What a retard. This guy must have gone out with the worst breath imaginable. I heard the Listerine people held a candlelight vigil for his release, but to no avail.

I was getting discouraged. For every 10 cons I researched, 9 of them had similar last meals: fried chicken, gravy, chocolate cake… America’s criminals may be geniuses at body disposal and/or blaming society, but they’re pretty uninspiring when it comes to last meal selection. I was about to give up entirely, when one last name caught my eye.

David Larry Nelson. Executed October 9, 2003 in the state of Alabama. Surely, this had to be a sign from above. You’d think God would be more concerned with the AIDS crisis than with telling third-rate humor columnists what to have for dinner. Nevertheless, I made up my mind on the spot, whatever my namesake chose for his last meal, I would have the very same.

Moments later, I knew: My dinner that night would consist of a fried bologna sandwich with lettuce and tomato, fries, and a Sprite. Pretty ghetto for a last meal, but I made myself a promise. I popped out to the store to pick up the cheapest possible selection of everything I needed.

Fried bologna is something I’ve not had the pleasure of trying before. Bologna is kind of like the Batman of lunchmeats. It’s very mysterious, you can’t quite get a fix on its true identity, and somehow, you know it’s capable of doing you harm. I was somewhat leery of frying it; who knows how the application of heat might change its molecular structure?

Turns out I was right to be nervous; after about 2 minutes in the pan, my smoke alarm started screaming. Since I was preparing to imagine myself on Death Row, this wasn’t exactly a welcome development. Doing my best to ignore the siren of impending doom, I prepped the lettuce and tomato as the fries were cooking.

The tears falling out of my eyes told me something: Either my compassion for victims of capital punishment had moved me to cry, or else frying nitrate-laden cold cuts is a good way to release toxic chemicals into my apartment. I removed the fries from the oil, assembled the sandwich, and plated everything with impeccable detail.

I approached each bite as if it was the last thing that would ever cross my lips. As it turns out, this was an entirely reasonable precaution. Just like some poisonous insects/frogs are courteous enough to warn predators with vibrant color patterns, the seared lunchmeat was polite enough to tip me off with a pungent chemical taste and a numbing effect on my tongue.

It might be my inferior, non-criminal palate talking, but eating this meal was an exercise in pure willpower. And after I battled my way through this salty torture, I still had a pile of undercooked, oily fries to look forward to. Of course it’s my own fault, but if this were my actual last meal, I’d feel seriously ripped off.

But there was a light at the end of the tunnel. The Sprite sat nearby, ready to quench my thirst and send me into the great beyond with a lemony-lime kick to the taste buds. It twinkled in the sunlight, like a diamond forged by angels. And after one sip, both my sins and the taste of Z-grade meat were washed away. At that moment, I knew I could die a happy man.

So, my last meal was largely a flop, but at least I learned a very valuable lesson about food, if not life itself: To truly appreciate the good, you have to experience the very worst. It’s a lesson that I hope isn’t lost on any current Death Row inmates. When the world is your oyster, don’t trade it away for fried bologna.

Essential New Word of the Week:

bagsmokes [‘bægsmoks] pl. n

I’ve got some friends who enjoy the fine taste and aroma of tobacco. Actually, calling them heavy smokers would be like saying Meat Loaf has put on a few pounds. I’ll bum one if and when the mood strikes me, which is to say, all the time. They never seem to mind. Yes, they’re very generous, but it also helps that they buy cigarettes by the metric ton. It’s the natives that make this possible, thanks to a product we call “bagsmokes.”

Indians are often known for selling cheap poor-quality smokes, but in Ontario, there’s no packaging, no Surgeon General’s warning, and no cardboard. Just a huge Ziploc bag stuffed to the brim with cigarettes. The sight of it never fails to elicit a laugh. Of course, that laughter turns into a persistent, hacking cough more often than not.