Los Angeles, CA (Orochon Ramen) | 12-13-09
This tale is of the variety reserved for face-to-face encounters under normal circumstances. I need to get this out of my head before my memory destroys it.
Sunday night, (12/13) my friend Ryan and I were invited by our other friend Kyle to visit our friend Danny out in Hollywood. Danny had been missing from our lives for at least two years by this point. The very first thing Danny said to me after months of non-communication was “What’s up Charles Bukowski!”, making a hilarious observation about my USPS jacket. We took a tour of his place, I fell in love with the rocks in his bathroom sink, I chased his fat cats around, and it wasn’t long before it was decided that chomping was very much a necessity. Some burger joint around the corner from his pad was mentioned in passing, but then he dropped the name Orochon and whet all of our appetites.
If you don’t know me, I love big portions. Orochon (alongside El Loco and Donut Man) is one of my JAMS. Needless to say, I was stoked. On the way there my friend started bringing up “the classics”. Tales I’m starting to forget about our antics of yore. Slightly embarrassing to have the tales regaled in the presence of his girlfriend, but that’s a forgivable offense. I don’t remember how it came up, but I know that I probably brought up the fact that I had completed the challenge before, and I boldly stated that I could do it again! For him!
While patiently on standby for our table outside of the Ramen house packed elbow-to-elbow with patrons on the third-floor of Weller Court in J-Town, I flipped through their binders of previous challenge champions to find my own victory document. I’m in book #9.
I checked into Foursquare. I tweeted. I updated my Facebook status. If I had a Yelp account at the time, I would have started writing my review. I had a nice chat with some punks who were looking for a smoke. All the while waiting, it never occurred to me that in the Bible, David did not slay two Goliaths.
When our food arrived at our table, our party had grown to seven. Two of my friend’s roommates had joined us for dinner. He quietly informed them I was insane, and that I was participating in a challenge. For the establishment to have so much notoriety on account of this challenge, you would expect them to acknowledge it. None of the employees make a stink about it, no one cares about you. The challenge is all you, it’s all in your head, your will. They don’t even set an egg timer next to you. Although supposedly to complete the challenge properly, you must finish your entire ramen bowl in one half hour. Truthfully, as long as you finish it, period, they’ll take your picture.
I ordered the miso ramen “Special 2” with an egg and pork slices.
Then maybe fifteen or twenty minutes passed, one refill of my orange plastic water cup (my ramen bowl is in the background) and three “likes” on my Facebook status update later, I really needed to use the restroom to blow my nose. The intensity of this soup had lit my nose hairs on fire. I mean, I couldn’t really feel my lips or hear out of my left ear either, but blowing my nose would remedy all of those things.
The trick to successfully devouring this monstrosity in my previous experience was to drink the broth first. The only way to really drink (not sip) that broth is to
a) wait until it cools
b) add soy sauce to neutralize the spiciness
Both of those options lead to you drinking spoonfuls of maddeningly hot garlic-y powder. My friend joked that I should have eaten some wax before taking the challenge (a la Homer Simpson).
Everybody at the table had had their fill. When I looked ‘round the table I saw bowls devoid of noodles, filled with a quarter of the broth they once brimmed with. When I returned from my trip to the commode, sniffer no longer dripping, I felt reinvigorated. That feeling of invigoration lasted approximately six more spoonfuls. They asked me if I felt all right. They must have sensed something bad was afoot. I don’t know what I said to take the attention from me, but whatever it was… it was convincing. I’m almost positive they reminded me that I didn’t “have to finish it”.
The next thing I remember is calmly getting up from my seat then running to the bathroom, no longer able to endure the pain in my stomach. I’ll admit, I’ve had to pull the trigger before, but can’t recall when the trigger pulled itself. I had no trouble vomiting. I barely made it to the toilet. I didn’t even feel (what had to be a liter) the hot, stinking, broth flowing from my mouth. All I could do was watch. The worst part about throwing up, besides the reality striking that I had lost the challenge, was the feeling of intense pain shooting throughout my entire body.
I very much enjoy spicy foods. Every once in a while, a spicy food gets the best of me and I pay the price. Rather, my asshole pays the price. Never has it been so instantaneous before. You’re more than welcome to quit reading at this point. I just want this to be a warning to people.
After emptying out what felt like the fluid from my lungs for a good minute or two, (can you believe my luck that no one else was in this bathroom?) I lunged across the tiny bathroom from the lone stall and grabbed the only trash receptacle from its place next to the sink. I dragged the trash can with me into the stall, and proceeded to vomit from both ends. At this point, not only were the thoughts in my head swirling about, but the forces in my stomach were too. When I could finally give no more sacrifices to the porcelain god, I was barely able to drag myself to the sink and wash up.
Then, in what I now know to be overheating/heat stroke symptoms, I felt myself unable to support myself anymore. I felt time slowing to a crawl. Alternating frightened and reasoning thoughts entered my mind.
“Do I really have to call 911 right now?”
“I am in the bathroom of a restaurant”.
“I don’t have medical insurance”.
“I have to call someone”.
At the same time those thoughts were entering my head, my hand was reaching into my pocket for my phone, which I then realized had gone numb. My hands, not my phone. I was unable to move my fingers. That’s when I figured, ”fuck it, I’ll just let my friends take me to the emergency room if they have to”.
By this point, I was lying flat and face-first on the cold, wet, magnificent-feeling tile. I had lifted up my shirt so that my skin could feel the sweet embrace of ceramic tiling. My fingers had numbed and cramped, affixing themselves into a shape similar to pinchers. I had limited mobility at this point, and I could only lift my head up from the floor to look at my phone. Thankfully, the keypad was not locked. I could not, could not for the life of me, dial by extending my fingers. I had to lift my entire hand and point my fingers down and mash them at the phone’s keys. I only had to hit the green send button twice to call my friend. Thank you call history.
The challenge of lifting my head while simultaneously lifting my hand was/is, to this day, one of the hardest things I have ever done in my short life. It was an impossible feat, thus it felt like some kind of miracle when I was successful (think Johnny Cochran-getting-OJ-off-the-hook sensations). The only sound I could hear was the pressure in my head, so I was staring at my phone, waiting for it to say “connected”, and when it did the only word I could muster from the depths of my soul was my friend’s name, “Kyle”. He later informed me that he never received the call. AT&T: more dropped calls than ever.
I can’t tell you how grateful I am that a father with his son walked into the bathroom. I can’t even describe that feeling of gratitude. It was probably his toddler that needed to use the restroom, now that I think of it. I know I asked for some aspirin, as I was positive I was having a heart attack, and I think I read somewhere that aspirin will save you from the brink of death.
“Hey man, are you all right?”
All I recall seeing was two sets of feet, one set notably larger than the other. Then lots more feet. Feet with concerned-sounding voices. Feet with voices. Feet that asked me,
“Can you move?”
Feet that placed a plastic bag full of ice onto the back of my neck and a cold, wet rag between my forehead and the floor. Really calm, nice feet that knew how to swiftly take action and probably don’t need the Health Inspector’s wrath or lawsuits brought against them.
After regaining the feeling in my hands/body and drinking two tall cups of ice water, I had most of my strength back. Enough strength to stand up on my own again. I’m surprised I didn’t find time to pray the Rosary while I was laid out like that. I later asked my friends how long I had been gone before the wait-staff were alerted to my situation. They said I had been in the bathroom no more than five minutes. Five minutes. It felt like eternity.
The employees helped walk me out of the restroom. Upon exiting back into the restaurant I was greeted by applause.