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The Contest

December 23, 2011
By Reza

This isn’t food — it’s a symbol.

“There’s a deeper meaning here,” I thought to myself before biting into my sixth Crunchwrap Supreme of the evening, chewing for several seconds, then dropping to my knees and vomiting a brilliant cascade of red, brown, and orange into the plastic Taco Bell bag at my side. The cold linoleum floor was comforting, and I stayed there for a moment, hunched over the bag, staring down at the mess as I anticipated a second wave, but it never came — just a series of shuddering dry heaves and a few sharp burps that hinted of sour cream.

“Loser! We have a loser!”

The referee stood over me, his voice cutting through the waves of nausea that still racked my weakened body. It was over. I had lost. To my right, the winner stood from his chair. I looked up in time to see him push the final piece of Crunchwrap Supreme Number Seven into his mouth and throw his arms in the air, victorious, as he chewed and chewed and finally swallowed the last bite of that horrible disease of a food item I had once held in such high regard. He cracked a smile, pumped his fist, and began jumping up and down, bouncing around the kitchen in celebration. Bad idea. He didn’t even have time to hit the ground before a bright mosaic of Taco Bell’s finest ingredients — barely digested — spewed freely from his mouth, down his shirt, onto his shoes, forming a shallow pool around his feet. He fell to his knees and let loose. “Awe inspiring” may be a strange way to describe a young man vomiting gallons of liquefied fast food onto a dingy kitchen floor, but it was the only phrase I could think to associate with that image at the time. He had won the contest and now he was capping it off with the most impressive display of puking any of us had ever witnessed. He was a champion through and through. I couldn’t help but be jealous.

When he finally stopped, he looked up at me. I was on the ground, leaning against the wall, still clutching the barf-filled Taco Bell bag at my side. His eyes met mine. They were red, filled with tears.

“Why?” he asked weakly.

I thought for a moment. There was only one answer.

“Because we had to,” I said.

He nodded. He understood. We both did. Sometimes you have to prove yourself. Sometimes that involves a sporting competition or an academic achievement or a test of skill. And sometimes it starts when one man says he can eat seven Crunchwrap Supremes in 30 minutes and another man calls him a liar because there’s no way in hell anyone can do that. And sometimes the only way to put a question like that to rest is to drive to the nearest Taco Bell and ask for 14 Crunchwrap Supremes and stand there with a look of determination on your face while the cashier asks you to repeat your order, because who the fuck buys 14 Crunchwrap Supremes. And sometimes, once the contest is over and a winner has been declared and you’re both lying there in puddles of unspeakable filth, burping and moaning and regretting your own stubbornness, you begin to see the value of your actions. Because while you were trapped in the sordid depths of that competitive fast food binge — somewhere between the thrill of the fight and the fear of impending sickness — you caught a glimpse of your true self. You’re someone who stands his ground. You’re someone who refuses to concede. You’re someone for whom it takes violent stomach convulsions to make you back down.

Some men climb mountains. Others eat until they throw up. At that moment, for my opponent and me, there was little difference between a disc-shaped fast food burrito and the snow-capped peaks of Kilimanjaro.

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