Friday, November 22, 2013

Win some, lose some

I don't know right now how much blogging I'm going to get done next week. I'm working Monday through Wednesday, so I should at least have those days covered. And who knows, since I'll be in my cubicle but there will be fewer and fewer of my co-workers surrounding me as the days tick by, maybe I'll be able to work ahead and get some posts queued up in advance. But maybe not, and I'm certainly not about to guarantee it. So while I have a chance, on this pre-Turkey Day Random Anecdote Friday, I wanted to share some goofy stories about overindulgence in food. In particular, eating contests.

Well, except "contests" may not be exactly the right word. "Challenges" might be better. Perhaps I'll just go ahead and let the recountings speak for themselves.

I've been working the same job ever since I started this blog, but I believe I've mentioned at least once or twice that the gig before this one was starkly different. I work for a gigantic, well-established government contracting firm now, and handle projects for Department of Defense agencies. I'm not as young as I used to be, and yet I'm very much one of the younger people in the office no matter how you break it down. My previous gig was working for a tech start-up company that brought together large corporations and philanthropic organizations online. I started there in my late 20's and I was one of the older people there. The office atmosphere, as you can imagine, was slightly different.

I don't recall that start-up office ever doing anything for Thanksgiving, which probably comes down to numerous reasons. We did have an annual Christmas party, and wearing costumes to work on Halloween was, if not encouraged, at least indulged, so we didn't really need another festivity in between those. Plus, there was a somewhat strange, decidedly juvenile kind of boys-vs-girls inclination in the office. At one point all of the programmers who developed new releases of our online portal were young dudes, and all of the client managers who interfaced with the companies using our portal were young ladies, and if anything like a Thanksgiving potluck were going to be organized for the office, the girls assumed (rightly) they would end up doing most of the work, which is admittedly unfair in terms of division of labor between genders AND between departments. So I don't have any old stories from the start-up trenches about Thanksgiving face-stuffing specifically.

But as a bunch of guys in their 20's with hearty appetites and regular paychecks, the tech department went out for lunch a lot. One of our most frequent destinations was Chipotle, back when it was kind of new and novel and not incidentally very cheap. I still love Chipotle even as their prices have steadily crept up, but back in the early 00's there were really very few places where you could eat so much for so little cash. There are certainly reasonable people who would consider half a Chipotle burrito to be a good-sized dinner portion, yet there we were, five or six guys having a whole burrito each for lunch once or twice a week. I forget who first came up with the idea, in just sort of a wondering out loud kind of way, if any of us could eat two whole burritos in one lunch sitting. Some of us thought we could, and others of us were skeptical that anyone could. One of my co-workers was a borderline compulsive gambler, and he came up with a proposal: for anyone who wanted to take him up on it, he would buy them two burritos, and if the person could successfully eat them both down to the last bean, kernel of corn or grain of rice, then he would absorb the cost. If the person failed to finish both, they would have to pay him back the money for both. So really he gained nothing either way, and could only lose money on the deal or break even. But he rationalized that it would be worth the money for entertainment value alone.

Three of us (yes, myself included) took him up on it. Two of us were successful; ironically, our very tall and very stout IT support guy was the one who failed to make much more than a dent in his second burrito. I got a free lunch out of it, and was pretty much in a food coma daze for the remainder of the working day. This was back when I was carpooling with my buddy Clutch, and I may have asked him to drive home that night. It's a bit of a blur.

The abject shame of our IT guy pushed him at a later date to suggest a hot dog eating contest, a la the Nathan's Fourth of July spectacle (of which we were all fans), as his own shot at redemption. There weren't any super-cheap hot dog vendors within range of our office building, so we decided to put that contest together in the office. Somehow we convinced management that it would be fun for the whole staff to watch. (We did not specify whether or not my compulsive gambler colleague would be taking sidebets on over/unders.) Nobody wanted to go completely crazy with unlimited hot dogs, so we modified the ground rules slightly. Again the re were three contestants, and there were 36 hot dogs and buns purchased and prepared in the kitchenette, 12 per competitor. We (yes, again, me included) would have 15 minutes to eat as many as we could. There was genuine curiosity as to who would eat them all, if any of us, and if more than one of us shoved down all 12, who would do it fastest. The IT guy claimed this was undoubtedly going to be his moment to shine, something about burritos being too hard to eat. My fellow co-worker who had triumphed alongside me in the burrito challenge went along as a good sport but managed expectations by saying he hated hot dogs. And then it was on.

12 hot dogs doesn't sound like very many compared to the 40 or 50 or 60-something the winners at Coney Island usually shovel into their gullets. But none of the three of us were able to get a dozen down. I had honestly believed I had a good shot (I freaking love hot dogs) but If I recall correctly I hit the wall somewhere around the ninth or tenth. I did manage to eat more than either of my two colleagues, so technically I won, but it was a bit of a letdown and once again I was given plenty of cause over the course of the ensuing afternoon to question whether victory was worth the price.

That was all about ten years ago, which kind of blows my mind, but feels right on a gut level, pun absolutely intended. These days I cannot put it away like I used to, and I pay for it far more severely if I even come close. People say youth is wasted on the young, but I did plenty of crazy-stupid-but-fun things while I was able-bodied enough to get away with it, and I don't consider that a waste.

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