MELINDA LAVINE: From Rocky Balboa to hungry toddlerI can handle massive amounts of Tabasco. I load my subs with jalapenos. I drown my eggs in Sriracha. So, I was ready for The Parrot’s Cay Heat Elite wing challenge, of which only 56 out of 82 people had completed.
By: Melinda Lavine, Grand Forks Herald
I can handle massive amounts of Tabasco. I load my subs with jalapenos. I drown my eggs in Sriracha. So, I was ready for The Parrot’s Cay Heat Elite wing challenge, of which only 56 out of 82 people had completed. I handed Cay owner Rob Drahovzal $25, signed the consent form, and thus began the most insane dare of my life.
Rob led me to a plastic table, strategically placed under an air conditioning vent near the front of the restaurant. I sat down on a keg. He handed me plastic gloves and goggles, and I repeated the recently Googled mental steps to beating physical pain.
1. Laugh through it.
2. Tell yourself the pain is helping.
I threw on my gear as a mini crowd began to form. I looked up at Rob, holding a stopwatch. He recited the rules again: “Finish all the meat in 5 minutes. Wait for another 5. If you don’t make it, I win and I keep your money.”
“Alright, let’s beat this guy,” I thought, and turned to the wings that were swimming in a nearly black sauce. A haze drifted up that scorched my nose hair.
“Let’s do this!” I said to myself, envisioning Rocky Balboa running up the stairs to “Eye of the Tiger.”
I dug in.
On first taste, “this isn’t so bad,” I thought, the temperature heat more striking. The wing had a lot of meat, but I kept chewing.
“This isn’t so bad.”
I ripped off the last piece of chicken. Mouth full, I swallowed a bit, and it burned the whole way down. I looked at my full plate, and that was it for me.
“I’m done,” I said, breaking etiquette, mouth full of food.
“Are you sure?” Rob and a couple of people in the crowd asked.
My answer: I ripped off my gloves.
All of my mental prep flew out the window, and the next few moments were strange. Almost primitive.
I emptied whatever meat was left in my mouth in a paper tray. I threw down my goggles and chugged a glass of ice water. Rob said something to the effect that I was breaking the rules. I was shocked he thought I was still competing.
He quickly changed from the dude I was trying to beat to an angel of mercy. He sprung into action and bee-lined to the kitchen to grab my ice cream and milk. I must’ve stopped drinking the water at that point because an intense fire burned from my mouth to my skull.
I looked up at a guy in the crowd, his eyes wide. Tears streamed down my face as Rob rushed back with the goods. Like a hungry toddler, I reached out for the milk and drank it. My reprieve from the pain was minor. I shoved my mouth into the Styrofoam dish of ice cream, but the burn remained.
A voice in the crowd yelled: “Try the honey.” So, I poured it in my mouth, and the fire ceased for a mere moment before I swallowed it, hoping it could tame the rest of my insides. I looked at the table, and had spilled some. My civility must’ve returned because I tried to wipe it up.
Rob led me to my table near the back of the restaurant — through a crowd of onlookers, their faces empathetic, some proud, some offered high fives but my hands were occupied as I triple-fisted milk, water and a cup of honey.
Rob asked if I was OK a couple of times. I shook my head “yes” and asked for more honey.
About 30 minutes later, “she’s laughing again, she must be alright,” he said. I smiled through swollen lips and red eyes. He said I lasted 55 seconds. That was one wing. I knew my instinct to forfeit was right. If it had been a chewing challenge, maybe I would’ve had a chance.
A white T-shirt floated around the restaurant for the crowd to sign. On my way out, I stopped and talked to a table of encouraging people, who were signing it. One guy said he dipped his finger into the sauce and knew he couldn’t do it. I felt surprisingly animated, having walked through the fires of hell and survived.
Walking out of the Cay, I realized that only there the honey slathered on my lips and cheek would be acceptable. And despite what I’d put myself through, I was pumped to return to eat their Cajun Pasta or their Jambalaya.
“I’ll avoid their regular wings for a while,” I thought.
That night, I fell asleep cradling a bottle of Pepto-Bismol, never happier to be a loser.
Lavine is Accent Editor for the Herald and can be reached at email@example.com or (701) 780-1265.