When confronted with defeat, there is one of two roads that your enemy will travel. The high road is the one of acceptance, where after a long fought battle, giving it their all to the very end, they know that they have been beaten by an opponent whose strength and wits overcame their own. You may not like this enemy, but damn it, you most definitely respect him. Both parties leave battle more hardened, knowledgable, and as stronger opponents, looking forward to their next meeting.
The other road is one in which the loser kicks, screams, cheats, lies, and does everything they can not to accept their defeat, even after the battle has been long over. These are the sore losers, the one’s that rob you of an honorable win and the piece of mind one deserves when they know they fought with integrity and honor, but just came up short.
That night, nearly a year ago from this day, I realized that I had met the most atrocious of these enemies. They made sure that I would feel their defeat for days to come. So there I laid, sprawled out across the bathroom floor, trembling, arms grasped around the toilet as if I was holding on for dear life, which I was.
“JULIAN!” I cried out to my roommate below me facing the same sort of pain. He couldn’t her my cry, for that pain that was coming from the disintegrating walls of my stomach turned my cry into a mere whisper, much in the same fashion as Rose cried out for Jack at the end of Titanic while floating in the ice cold water. Only hers could never compare to what us soldiers went through on that horrific evening… The day we took the 7-7-7 wing challenge.
That’s 7 7-alarm wings in under 7 minutes. Sounds easy right? Not so fast. Even our months of training with the hottest of hot sauces, including Widow, Dave’s Ghost Pepper, Rectal Rooter, Death Wish, Hot Ass Devil Juice, and Ass Reaper just to name a few couldn’t have prepared us for the dread that was to come.
It was a warm and sunny first Wednesday of August, proved by my polo shirt drenched in sweat from the two mile bike ride up the notorious pike street hill from work. The 2012 Summer Olympics had begun, the United States kicking ass as usual, led by the swimming sensations Missy Franklin, Ryan Lockte, and Michael Phelps. No time to think about that however, for Big Sean was all ready yelling obscenities for my tardiness, and Tristan was well into his bottle of whiskey, the only way to cope with the stress and nervousness the big event.
I quickly changed from my work clothes to a tank-top and cut-offs. Julian, Tristan, Big Sean and myself were ready to go. Quinn would be meeting us at the locale. The only thing left was to rendezvous with our comrade Ben Woodward. I made the call, but there was no answer.
“Julian, have you heard from Ben?” I asked. Apparently, Ben Woodward had gone AWOL, and had not been seen or heard from all day. Multiple attempts to contact him had only resulted in failure, and it seemed as if our once trusted ally had turned his back on us, leaving us to face our challenge one soldier short. It was one of the most infamous acts of cowardice I had ever witnessed in my lifetime, and although I was utterly disgusted at his actions, I did what any great commander would do, and lead our platoon into battle with strength and courage. Besides, we don’t have room for sissies like that.
The team walked into the Wing Dome: Zachary Michael Andrews, Julian Strait, Quinn Obenoff, and Tristan Clayson-Porter with our body-guard/manager Big Sean to fans all ready in attendance cheering us on. They included Sara Thompson, Zoe Lammar, Laura Calriaso, and Reva Keller among others. Our demeanor was calm, but our nerves on edge. Our months of practice and preparation had come down to this moment. There was no turning back.
“What would you like to order?” The waitress asked.
“We’d like to take the 7-7-7 wing challenge please,” Julian replied.
“Haha, you can’t be serious?” Every one of us shot her a look as if she had just offended our recently deceased grandmother. We weren’t joking around, and frankly, were quite annoyed at the attitude our waitress had presented us so early into our meal. My eyes grimaced into hers, ready to snap at any moment from such crummy service.
“Oh, well, its just I don’t know if the cooks will be able to set up the challenge, we’re short staffed and don’t have enough ovens working tonight.” Bull crap. What a sorry excuse for redemption.
“Could you please check mam?” I responded. Although she was quite rude, it would not falter our emotional stance, for we had worked too hard to let one terrible individual ruin our night. Besides, you never piss anybody off that’s handling your food. Any ol’ dingus knows that’s a bad idea.
After a 10 minute break and a signed waiver, she came back with four plates of the 7-alarm wing concoction: A habenero chili pepper soup with 7 chicken wings buried inside. The challenge was to eat the wings, soup and all. This waitress was pissed, and she was going to take it all out on us.
There the plate of liquid death lay in front of me. My heart was beating faster than a jackrabbit, but for the sake of my fellow allies, I kept my composure. It was go time. We gave each other the ready look, then TING. The timer sounded. We were off to the races.
First wing. Easy. This challenge was going to be a cake walk. Sure it’s spicy for the untrained mouth, but we had been serving ghost pepper wings for ages now, and there’s no way these were going to stop us.
Second wing. Now things were heating up. I glanced at my fellow members who were chowing down in the zone. The wing zone. This one was a struggle, but nothing I wasn’t prepared to handle. So down it went.
I bit into the third wing… And then it hit me… Like a wrecking ball to the face. Thousands of fire ants gnawing away at my lips, mouth, face, and any other region of my body where the wing sauce had landed. The pain was nearly unbearable, but I proceeded on, slowly but surely. Each bite exponentially more devastating than the prior.
In my ear was Big Sean, pushing me to endure the pain and to press on with moral support. Only his words were in the form of “C’mon you wimp,” and “Don’t be a pansy,” and just replace “wimp” and “pansy” with other obscenities that I would never dare say in front of my mother.
I looked to my left. Quinn was totally motionless, on the verge of cardiac arrest. It was his only defense excruciating pain of liquid lava pouring down his throat.
Darting back to the right was Julian, waving his head back and forth like the head bobbing kid in class, trying to do everything in his power to keep awake during the lecture. But no matter how hard he tried, it’d only be a matter of time before he’d pass out and make an ass out himself in front of the class. As was the case with Julian. He wanted this bad, but he was going delusional. He would’ve gone to the death, but a last string of wisdom seeped through his glorious Fabio-like locks and into his head and told him to stop. The great sexy Julian had had enough wings for one day.
3 wings down and I braced myself for the impact of a fourth atomic explosion inside my body. I looked at the waitress and she pointed to the clock, shaking her head with shame. There were only three minutes left, and I had 4 wings to go. “Damn it!” I cried out as I banged my fist on the table. The little snoot was right. I could put my body through unnecessary torture, but there was no way I was going to win this challenge.
I had nearly lost all hope. I’d almost rather die than have that twit of a waitress prove us wrong. But as I looked up to accept an inevitable defeat, there was Tristan, nearly 5 wings down, and from some Godly act of prowess, still powering through. The rest of his squad wiped out, he stood alone, defending his post. He would only accept victory, just like John Bastione 60 years prior fighting the Japs in the Pacific Theatre during World War 2.
2 minutes and 2 wings to go. The whole restaurant eye’s were glued to this one man, including mine. And the swears were flowing out of his mouth faster and more violent than the Mississippi River during flood season. A father and his son watched in amazement. Any other situation would’ve resulted in complaints and ear covering. But the father knew that his son needed to hear the battle cries of a true hero, and the little boy looked up at this hero; for one day, he would strive to be as courageous as the man devouring the death wings before him.
Less than a minute down and he was on his last wing. We were sweating bullets. We needed this, but more importantly, he needed this. For glory, and for honor. A scoop of the lasting fiery soup was forced down his throat along with a few scraps of chicken meat. Nothing was left, of the meat, of the death soup, and of Tristan. He had dropped into convulsions, his only movement being bounces from the boiling acids reacting with the killer crushed peppers inside his stomach.
Then he stopped. The crowd looked in despair at the fallen solider. He could not move a single muscle in his Coma-like state. The father held his boy tight at the horrific sight in front of them. A tear streamed down the face of the waitress, knowing she had spent her life putting down the people she needed most. Nobody was sure of his survival.
“What have I done?” I blurted. We all held a share of responsibility for the suffering of our friend. The patio was dead silent, so much that you could hear a pin drop crystal clear. The tension so tight, that it could be cut with a butter knife.
“Was it really worth it… For this?”
A few sputters left his throat and entered our hearts in the form of hope. He wobbled up from his dazed state, emerging back to prior position, the crowd at the edge of their seat. Big Sean raised his arm, and the restaurant went nuts, more so than when Missy Franklin won the 800m women’s freestyle a day before. Our friend, had risen victorious… Risen a king… A wing king…
OUR KING, TRISTAN CLAYSON-PORTER!!!
A standing ovation ensued, well deserved. Most people will never have the luxury of witnessing a milestone of mankind’s ability to endure pain and promote courage, let alone see it again in their lifetime. And there we were, standing proud next to a symbol of greatness. He had put the team on his back, just like Marshawn had done.
Moments later he will have given a once pristine restaurant bathroom a coating of projectile, spewing like ol’ faithful as the demons were released from his body, and off we were to our home to rejoice in his victory. The celebration was short lived however, for it would be only a matter of time before our enemy would retaliate from both the northern and southern front.
And retaliate he did, in an ugly fashion that could be classified as nothing but unpredictable. He had crept up on us during our slumber and launched a final offensive, blasting away at our insides. I crawled to my respective post as did my fellow soldiers and waited in horror as the wave of attacks ensued throughout the night. It truly was hell inside my body, so I equipped myself with a bottle of pepto-bismol and suffered until the enemy had lost all of its juice, finally blasting itself out of my body once and for all.
I awoke that morning in awe that I had survived, still scarred from the battle the day before, but able proceed forward. I thought about the pain and suffering that I had endured, and realized, it was only a fraction of what the wing king had suffered through that same night. But there he was, standing tall, showing no sign of weakness, like any great king would. It was then and there where I thought to myself, “There’s a man I would follow into battle. A man that is worth fight for, till the death.”
It has been nearly a year since that fateful night, and the flashbacks still haunt me to this day. I would never want another soul to go through the same pain and suffering as we had on that dark day of history. But, if there ever is a time that the we are asked to return to the battlefield, I would answer that call in a heartbeat, as long as I could stand side by side with our fearless leader to do what is necessary. What is right for the sake of humanity.
Long live the wing king.