Jeffrey Lambert from Toronto had not heard about the powerful laxative effects of Haribo’s sugar-free Gummy Bears. Nor had the nice folks in airport security who decided to do an intimate search just as Jeffrey was wishing he had paid more attention!
I would consider myself a prudent man.
I’m not given to bouts of outspokenness or craving attention, and certainly not one to rock the boat. On any given day, I can be found reading a crime novel on a park bench in the middle of the city, soaking in the opulence of nature while nibbling on my tuna fish sandwiches and fending off the voracious gulls and squirrels that threaten to spoil my repose.
This is me. Law-abiding and introspective.
Which is why it came as a shock to me to find myself incarcerated because of the Devil’s Confectionery.
The horror that is known as Haribo Sugar Free Gummy Bears.
I’ll set the scene: It was late winter/early spring in Toronto and the city had just been digging itself out from a late season snow-storm. I was heading to Pearson International Airport for a red-eye flight to Amsterdam in order to give the Dutch arm of our company some training on the new software that had been installed (I’m deliberately being vague to prevent my place of work from being linked in any way to the incident that occurred). I had just finished packing, checked the time and found I was running late, my flight was at 7:10 PM and it was now almost 5:00 PM.
Cursing softly, I ran out to the car and threw my bags in the trunk, hitting the gas a little harder than usual in my haste to make it to the Long Term Parking Lot as soon as possible. Luckily, traffic was light on the 401 and I made it to the airport in record time – but I knew that my chances of making the flight were still at risk if I didn’t use my time wisely.
I hadn’t eaten since lunch, and I was feeling a bit hungry – my stomach rumbling loudly in protestation, which caused me to look around at the other travellers rushing past me in the busy terminal, mortified that my bodily noises might be heard by others. I briskly checked my watch and decided that I had enough time to grab a quick snack before going through the baggage check and security, and would get something more substantial once I was air-side.
I spotted a vending machine nestled in a relatively low-traffic corner of the terminal and rushed over, already pulling out my credit-card and mentally assessing what I had a craving for so as to save time interacting with the machine. My eyes scanned the colourful array of confection quickly, coming to rest on a tantalizing, rainbow-coloured bag of gummy bears with the simple white and red logo “Haribo” emblazoned across the bag in what appeared to be a slightly tweaked Helvetica Rounded font.
Now I’d like to pause here in the story for a moment to underscore the importance of making proper choices. I was hungry. When you’re hungry, you should eat FOOD. FOOD is defined as “a nutritious substance that people consume to maintain life”, this is what food is. These days, the definition of the word ‘food’ has been bastardized and the meaning has been broadened to include veritably any material that can be ingested, or rather, chewed and swallowed without causing death or severe illness.
Haribo Sugar Free Gummy Bears are NOT food.
They aren’t even from this planet. I imagine their origins being conceived in a boardroom in hell by a top team of Creative Pain Administers, with senior level Demons rubbing their hands together in ghoulish delight as Hell’s Chief Chemist slowly lifts the veil on their new creation.
The point here being, I made a very, very, very poor choice.
I pushed the button and the vending machine ejected the brightly coloured bag into my waiting hands. I had always liked gummy bears – they were bright but rather innocuous, they weren’t overly sweet so as to become cloying and – of course – each candy came in the visage of a rather happy, docile bear reminiscent of the picture one’s mind’s eye holds of all anthropomorphic bears from Yogi to Winnie.
The way I figured it, I was taking a bit of a holiday from life, so I could relax my fastidiously regimented daily schedule a little to allow for some frivolity. After all, I was going to be in Amsterdam come morning with 16 hours to kill before I had to be training the Dutch employees Maybe I would take a trip down to one of the Coffee Shops in the Red-Light District and really let my hair down! No, I wouldn’t do that. I would see that area of the city from the bus as I went to the hotel where I would eat at the hotel restaurant and drink sparkling water. So I’d better enjoy the gummy bears, my one extravagance, to commemorate my break from routine.
I joined the queue in the KLM line, which was mercifully short, most likely because all of the passengers for my flight had already been checked through as it was scheduled to depart in an hour. I checked my watch again, frowned, and absent-mindedly opened the bag of Haribo Sugar Free Gummy Bears and began to munch on them as the line slowly advanced.
To be fair, they tasted fine – just like every other manufacturer’s brand of the colourful candy, and they were sugar-free to boot. This is what made the whole incident that followed so baffling – if they had tasted ‘off’ or ‘different’, I most likely wouldn’t have continued to shovel them into my mouth absent-mindedly while daydreaming about what I would order to eat from room-service in my hotel in Amsterdam.
As I gave the attendant my e-ticket and she weighed my bags, the first of the pains began in my stomach.
I thought nothing of it at first, chalking it up to the fact that I needed something more substantial than gummy worms to tackle my hunger, but over the course of the next five-minutes the shooting pains began to come in more rapid succession. At this point, I had my boarding pass printed and rubbing my stomach a little, I proceeded to security. I briefly entertained the thought of trying to find a restroom before going through, but at that point my discomfort was manageable and I didn’t think it was going to get any worse – certainly not within the amount of time it would take to clear security.
As I joined the line and started fishing for my passport to present to the agent checking tickets, I felt a thin sheen of sweat break out on my forehead and underarms, and my features flushed for a moment as a wave of heat washed over me. I didn’t pay it much heed as going through security always caused me great anxiety and I chalked it up to pre-flight jitters. It was only as I stood face to face with the agent and handed her my passport and ticket that I had a glimpse of the agony that was about to begin.
It felt like time rippled for a moment, as if my consciousness buckled so intense was the pain that fired through my bowels. I grimaced spastically and emitted a low moan, and felt myself take an involuntary step sideways. Stars shot though my head briefly and my vision blurred and then snapped back into focus.
The agent was staring at me with slight consternation and asked me if I was alright. I pulled myself together, stood up straight and declared that I was fine, mortified that I had had a lapse of decorum not only in public but at the security clearance in an airport!
As I fumbled off my belt to go through the metal detector, the pain in my stomach increased and I practically had to sit on the floor to take my shoes off, terrified of what would happen if I bent at the middle to do so. It was becoming increasingly evident to me that this wasn’t just a stomach ache. No, this was something much worse.
As a child, I had had a bout of diarrhea after a trip to Mexico with my family. I remember the feeling of nausea that swept through me before my child self had surrendered to the gas pains and parked myself on the toilet for an hour, s***ting until I felt like I didn’t have any bones left. That was how I was feeling now – with several key differences: The pain was worse, the sense of an impending bowel movement was so formidable it gave me temporary amnesia, and it took all of my will-power – all of it – to clench my butt cheeks together to prevent my sphincter from exploding.
A sudden shock of pain racked my body, and I half wondered if I was going to give birth to a Tasmanian Devil. The crazy, fever-induced image of said cartoon animal chasing Bugs Bunny through the splashy, volcanic s***-kettle that was my stomach, caused me to illicit a short, maniacal bark of laughter as I approached the Metal detector, a wild, distant look in my eyes, sweat now beginning to pour off of me like a long-distance runner in Kenya.
The security agent on the other side of the detector shot a quick glance over to her co-worker who narrowed his eyes and made a subtle movement towards his holster.
My breathing became uneven as I entered the metal detector and I realized with alarm that I had taken off my socks without even registering it, and one of my shirt tails was untucked at the front. I held my breath, my eyes bulging dangerously from my head as the machine scanned me. As I shakily moved forward towards the agent for a pat down, my stomach began to illicit sounds that can only be described as otherworldly. It started off a sort-of bubbling sound heard from afar and grew in pitch and intensity at an alarming rate. My jaw dropped in shock as what I can only describe as the sound of an agonized wailing alley-cat in heat with a persistent Doppler effect added to it’s voice emitted from some nether-region of my intestines.
The officer’s eyes widened in alarm, and she kept her eyes glued to my stomach as she thoroughly patted me down. As she reached my shins, I felt my innards suddenly expand, and plummet towards my rectum. With cat-like reflexes I squeezed my sphincter shut with what seemed like nano-seconds to spare, and I knew, I KNEW that if I didn’t get the bathroom immediately I would s*** myself.
With a Herculean effort and all of the strength that I could muster, I forced my butt cheeks together knowing that one false move would open the floodgates.
I began to walk like a duck, trying to remain as inconspicuous as possible, not even caring now what other people were seeing in front of them – a disheveled, barefoot 40-year-old business man, red-faced and bulgy-eyed, sweating profusely, shaking slightly and walking without bending his knees. With single-minded intensity I grabbed my carry-on, shoes and socks from out of the plastic tub that had passed the x-ray inspection, and without putting anything back on, I turned on my heels with the intention of finding the nearest restroom and slowly dying there one squirt at a time.
But that’s not what happened.
I turned to go and found myself staring at three armed agents who stopped me and asked if I would follow them!
“Why, what’s the matter?” I stammered, wincing slightly as the act of speech seemed to strain the tenuous and extremely fragile truce I had negotiated between my bowels and the tempest that raged within.
“I have to go the bathroom, RIGHT NOW” I pleaded.
“Just follow us please”, they said, leaving no room for argument.
The other travellers clearing the security check stared with curiosity and revulsion at the spectacle unfolding before them, whispering amongst themselves and hurrying to pack up their belongings and get as far away from me as possible – no doubt assuming that the airport had nabbed some sort of domestic terrorist. If I hadn’t been feverishly trying to hold back the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, I likely would have died of shame.
With each step I took towards the room that they ushered me into, I felt that my legs would give way. I marvelled at how strong the human will could be. I marvelled that what was essentially patching a hole in the Hoover Dam with bubblegum could actually be sustained indefinitely. Maybe I would make it through this ordeal after all. The room they brought me into was an examination room. I had pretty much stopped registering details of my environment as my consciousness closed off all but the absolutely necessary functions – breathing, ability to walk – but I snapped back to reality when I heard the snap of rubber. The slow dawning of realization poked through my agony and stoic resolve as I turned to face an agent donning rubber gloves!
“Sir, we are going to perform a cavity search on you”, a young fresh-faced agent stated in a firm but emotionless voice.
His short-cropped, blond hair was immaculate and for a crazy moment I wondered if he was an actor and this was all some sort of elaborate practical joke done to amuse bored kids watching YouTube. He must have taken my tortured silence for resistance because he looked at me sharply and said “Lower your pants and underwear please, and face the desk”.
Panic started to grip me in it’s icy grasp and the sudden adrenaline threatened to destroy my sphincters bulwarks and rend my anus in two. I inhaled sharply and with a pained gasp I doubled up my efforts to clench my cheeks together.
“Sir, please”, I begged deferring to this kid in an act of desperation, “I have to go to the bathroom. You can follow me into the stall if you need to but I had some bad Haribo Sugar Free Gummy Bears and now I feel like….'”, but they had stopped listening and smirked at each other. Two of the other agents – a tall, dark-haired female and a shorter, balding fat man – looked away from me and I could see them shaking a little as they stifled their laughs.
“Sir, face the wall, put your hands on the desk and spread your cheeks” the young agent stated, a lop-sided grin on his face.
“But….'”, I began to protest, and then a fresh shock of pain forced me to stop and lean on the table for support as an ungodly howling rose from my stomach – something between the dying moans of a Woolly Mammoth, and the sound of bubble-wrap popping underwater.
I exhaled shakily and my focus began to narrow, as I rallied for the final battle. Shaking uncontrollably and sweat literally raining down onto the tabletop in from of me, I turned to face the wall and heard a meek childlike voice, pleading from somewhere in the room.
“Please!”, it said.
And then again, “Please!!”.
From somewhere within me my mind recognized that this sound had issued from me, although my consciousness had now begun to separate from my body and I held my breath and prayed to God for strength.
“He probably has some heroin or something up there that opened up”, the female guard said as a part of me that hadn’t escaped into the ether yet acknowledged that she was behind me to my left.
“Probably high as a kite. Look at him”, she said.
The shorter guard agreed with a snort, off to my right.
“Spread your cheeks” the young agent said, his voice directly behind me and lower than the other two,
“And bend over”.
“Pleasegodpleasegodpleasegodpleasegod“, I whispered in a desperate, maniacal mantra, not even aware of my surroundings anymore.
I felt like I was lost in an opium fog with half-snatched images and sounds filtering through to create a nonsensical version of reality. Another volley of pain tore through me and I involuntarily leaned forward over the desk, my focus completely narrowed now to a spot on the wall two feet in front of me – a curious imperfection in the what seemed to be white-washed stone wall. It was a dark blotch about five millimetres long and shaped like a smiling bear, a yellow dancing bear. No, a green bear. No, red. It was all the colours of the rainbow. My God, it was beautiful.
It just took something as simple as a slight breeze to trigger Armegeddon.
No trumpets, no fanfare, no fire raining from the heavens. No dogs and cats living together in harmony. No finger on the button, no prophet to predict it. No nothing.
As I stared at the rainbow bear smiling and dancing in front of me, my mouth agape, drooling, eyes glazed and blood-shot, face coated with a sheen of sweat, I heard the softest sound, an exhalation from the young agent behind me, and then at the same instant the warm air of his breath feather across my butt cheeks.
For just a moment, maybe less, maybe a split second, even a nanosecond, I felt the presence of God there with me in that room as neurons began to misfire at a blinding rate, nerve endings bristled and muscles twitched reflexively. I stood on the brink with one foot hovering over the edge, and then without taking a step, I found myself plummeting.
With a sound like an extra large plastic ketchup bottle being run over by a Mac truck, my sphincter released!
The pressure of the blast pushed me hard into the desk and the legs of the desk screeched as they scraped across the floor. My body remained rigid for a moment and I experienced a relief that can only be described as orgasmic in it’s purity.
My eyes rolled back in my head and my tongue lolled out of my head like a half-retarded dog and I emitted a low, sustained groan that grew in pitch as the filthy torrent pushed its way out of my body. Tremors wracked my body and I must have looked like a fish out of water with an endless stream of s*** firing out of its ass.
Other sounds and sensations started to filter in now as my consciousness began to materialize once more. The muffled scream of a dungeon filled with prisoners near death radiated from my stomach, the rushing sound of litres of liquid trying to escape through an aperture too small to accommodate it all at the same time. The omnipresent sound of chunky liquid spattering against a hard surface with great force, the high-pitched screaming of a woman’s voice calling out to God, another voice sobbing uncontrollably imploring to “make it stop!!!” and my own ecstatic, monotone wail.
When my ordeal had eventually run its course, I was left panting for breath and wobbly legged, half-crying, half-laughing with relief, barely lucid and feeling as if I had birthed an elephant. My colon felt like someone had poured chilli sauce all over it and then sent in a colony of fire ants to eat it. Through my sobs I heard the sound of dripping – like when the sprinklers are eventually turned off after an office fire, or after a thunderstorm when the willow that overhangs a pond continues to rain down long after the sky has stopped.
From behind me, the sobbing continued and I heard someone trying to speak into a walkie-talkie but nonsensical words were all that the man could speak. It sounded like the ravings of a lunatic.
With great relief, I slowly pulled myself off the table, legs trembling, my stomach eliciting one last sound, a loud prolonged gas bubbling that eerily resembled a pig orgasm.
I slowly turned my head to survey the devastation and in that instant, if I had had a pencil or some other sharp object, I probably would have gouged my eyes out in revulsion.
And the smell!!
The smell was enough to drive a man insane.
It was the stench of rotting potatoes mixed with sulphur and ammonia, cooked in a broth of chicken faeces and left to age for two weeks in a yeasty stew at the bottom of a French outhouse.
After half a whiff of this ghoulish brine, I immediately stopped breathing through my nose but the taste was to remain in the back of my throat for months to come.
The young agent had taken the brunt of the foul witch’s brew, and at first I couldn’t process what I was seeing. I thought somehow the young blond kid had been spirited away and replaced by a brown Golem, or an ATV rider that had spent the better part of a day driving through every mud puddle he could find after a torrential downpour.
With some degree of compartmentalization I came to understand that for some unfathomable reason this kid hadn’t moved – or hadn’t been able to move – through the entire faecal deluge. He had weathered the entire assault head-on like some sort of hero from Greek Mythology. I had given this poor schmuck a one-man s*** bukkake that would make a Brazillian pornographer retch with disgust, and he was still in the same position he must have been from the moment of first impact.
I tried to comprehend how he must be feeling, what he must be going through psychologically, but it became evident very quickly that he was broken. No doubt forced so deeply within himself once the firehose has been turned on that there was little to no hope of him ever coming back from it, certainly not without extensive psychotherapy or a lobotomy.
I looked beyond his quivering, catatonic, crouched form to see a perfect outline of him cutout on the white wall behind him, either side filled in with a dripping, opaque layer of alternately pulpy and runny faecal stew. I noticed two quivering masses at either extremes of the room and realized they too were humanoid in form, although the caterwauling that was coming from these broken creatures was just blubbering gibberish. And this was the tableau that was burnt into my mind’s eye for eternity.
Needless to say, I missed my flight.
In fact the next week is a blur.
I have vague recollections of an army of Hazmat clad figures looming through the brown landscape of the soiled room, the slopping sounds of rubber boats squelching in puddles of fetid detritus, uncontrollable wailing and animal-like sounds issuing from the mouths of creatures that had been traumatized beyond their capacity for being put back together; the complete loss of sensation from my waist down as I was rolled through the room on a waterproof gurney, it’s wheels struggling to surf on top of the s***-soaked floor.
I spent a week or so in the hospital enclosed in a well ventilated, sealed room, with suited doctor coming in on the hour to monitor my vital signs as they tried to rehydrate my body. I had apparently expelled every available drop of water from my body that was possible to sustain life without for a short period of time.
All of my clothes were incinerated in the hospital’s crematorium, and the soiled bag of Haribo Sugar Free Gummy Bears was never recovered.
This is my story.
It is inconceivable to think that this kind of product can be sold legally and be misrepresented as ‘food’.
I was lucky, I survived.
But as for the families of the survivors, and the survivors themselves, they will forever live with the trauma of the events that took place at Pearson International Airport on that snowy day in April 2013.