Those who know me know of my abiding love for the Utah Jazz. I grew up in Eastern Idaho and they were the only professional sports team in a 500 mile radius, and my boyhood was during the heyday of Stockton and Malone. While I rarely visit Salt Lake City, I make it a point to see the Jazz play whenever and wherever I can. When I moved here I could see them play the Sonics twice a year, but since the Sonics have been cruelly ripped from the bosom of Mother Seattle, I’ve had to make the pilgrimage to Portland periodically.
The plan for this week was to drive down to Portland with several friends, and to meet some friends of mine who live in Oregon for dinner and the game. However, one by one, everyone cancelled. One friend had to return home for a family emergency, another’s wife threw out her back. Eventually it was down to just myself and my stalwart roommate, Chris. We should have seen these cancellations as omens that the trip was ill-starred. Yet we decided to press on!
The first order of business as we drove to Portland was to find an interesting place to eat. As much as I love the Jazz, I love pig-out spots and eating challenges even more. Hence, when I head to a new city I always check the website of the Travel Channel’s “Man vs Food” for restaurant recommendations. This time the MVF site steered us to a place called Salvador Molly’s. The restaurant was excellent – great decor, fine service, intriguing culinary options. But most importantly, they had a big wall covered with photos of people who had completed the “Great Balls of Fire Challenge”. If there’s one thing I can’t resist, it’s getting my picture on the wall of a restaurant.
There are generally three types of eating challenges: eat something huge, eat something quickly, or eat something spicy. While I’ve done plenty of the first two, I have never attempted a “spicy challenge”, so this was new to me. But I figured, how bad could it be? All I had to do was eat five habanero cheese fritter balls and the salsa that came with them. I’ve eaten extremely spicy foods before, it hurts for a while but then it goes away. I knew that I could handle this.
And I was right! I quickly downed the fritters, my mouth and throat burned something fierce, but I endured and it subsided. We then ate a delicious meal, I got my picture on the wall, and I left Salvador Molly’s triumphant and sated. As we headed to the Rose Garden for the game, I commented on how I should take spicy food challenges more often.
Then, as we took our seats and the game started, I got my comeuppance.
It started like regular indigestion but quickly became an explosion of fiery acid in the depths of my stomach. It’s tough to describe this pain without sounding like a wuss, but you’ll have to trust me that I’m not a particularly pain-sensitive person. This was the worst pain I’ve ever felt, worse than any migraine headache or post-dental-surgery throbbing. I felt like John Hurt in Alien.
After several minutes of clutching my stomach and groaning, I dragged myself to the arena’s first aid station, where two paramedics asked me lots of questions, tested my blood pressure, and pricked my finger to test my blood sugar. In their words I looked “pale, sweating, and wobbly”. Despite my certainty that this was some kind of ulcer bomb detonating in my vitals, they diagnosed “indigestion caused by spicy foods” and told me there wasn’t anything they could do. At that point I commenced staggering around the Rose Garden looking for a place to purchase antacids.
I should mention that I was wearing my Deron Williams jersey and was decked out in Jazz blue, one of only a handful of Jazz fans in a crowd of 20,000 screaming, red-clad Blazers fanatics. At halftime they all spilled out into the halls and my jersey was like a magnet for every drunken Blazer fan to come and heckle me about how my team was losing. Normally, I enjoy this – mixing it up with the home crowd is the best part of coming to the game! But in my current excruciating state, I was in no condition to react well to drunks getting in my face. Luckily, I looked like the Black Death incarnate, so not many got too close. Whenever anyone did come up to me to make some comment, I would grab them by the shirt and scream at them, “DO YOU HAVE TUMS? PEPTO BISMOL?”. This proved to be a good way to deal with hecklers but did not result in obtaining any Pepto Bismol.
I managed to tough it out. I got back to my seat eventually and we stayed until the end of the game, and although the game went poorly for the Jazzmen, I felt a kind of triumph in staying for the final buzzer and never removing my jersey. We decamped the stadium, and soon antacids were acquired and we were heading back to Seattle. My stomach slowly returned to normalcy.
There is a terrifying coda to this tale however, which has caused me to rethink everything I know about human digestion and the way our bodies process food:
The fritters burned on the way out.
The moral of this story is that there is always a price to be paid when placing fiery balls in your mouth. If you don’t pay the price now, you’re sure to pay it later!