Wings with Fryin’ Brian
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KNOXVILLE, TN – This is the story of when I witnessed a man eat fire. It was a Tuesday, and the sky looked like slate. Nichole and I had slid into a parking spot in front of Quaker Steak and Lube. We were early.
“Are you going to eat them?” she asked.
“I might try one. I think I kind of have to.” I said.
A few minutes later, a silver-bullet of a car cruised into the parking lot and stopped next to us. It was Fryin’ Brian making what, to him, was a weekly pilgrimage. There’s something about Brian that any time as he enters any scene, it seems entirely appropriate to play some old static-laced Hank Williams song; “Honky Tonkin’” should about do it. Brian lumbered up, and the three of us entering what is commonly known as “The Lube.”
“Ready to eat some hot wings?” I asked Brian.
“Do it every damn week,” he said. “This ain’t nothing.”
“I take it you getting the Atomics?”
“I get ‘em every time, and they’re good. They go down like candy.”
I was still wrestling with the idea of trying the Atomic Wings. They are so spicy that The Lube once had patrons sign a contract that cleared the establishment of all post-wing responsibility. So, as I understood it, these wings could kill me, and my little speck of a life could reach its climax on the floor of a place called The Lube.
The waiter approached. Brian ordered the sacred Atomics. Nichole ordered Asian style, and I, characteristically, wimped out and ordered plain hot wings. I could already see the indelible headline: “Scooter Cowardly Orders Hot (Wimpy) Wings. Atomics laugh heartily.”
“You can try a piece of mine, brother,” Brian said. I should have felt relief, but even this mild consolation startled me. I began to wonder whimsical things, like how cushiony the carpet was at The Lube or how it long it would take the paramedics to respond.
I drank a beer. Nichole sipped one. Brian drank two. Was he numbing his taste buds? Was that the key to Atomic Wing success? Should I too drink excessively, or would that only speed-up my post-Atomic demise?
The Wings arrived at our table, but I swore I could catch their fumes as they cleared the kitchen door. Their scent was stinging, almost suffocating. It felt like a hornet had flown up my nose and instantly crapped out acid. Brian basically licked his chops. Without any notice at all, he sunk his teeth into that juicy inferno.
“Just like candy,” he said.
“I can smell them from here,” I said.
Nichole held her nose.
“They smell good,” he said. “You should try ‘em.”
I nodded slightly and bit into one of my wings. It tasted as I expected it to taste: mild. I was coward; I knew that for sure. In the world of manly excursions, eating the hottest wings is a sure-fire way to rise to the top of masculinity, and by humbly munching on tame wings, I provided too much evidence that my estrogen level was high.
“My wings are pretty good,” Nichole said. Of course they were; they were tamest of all.
There was only one sensible thing for me to do. I had to try the Atomic Wings. “Cut me off a little piece,” I said.
“These are the hottest wings in town,” said Brian. I thanked him for his bedside manner, and with my fork, I snagged a small piece of chicken from his basket.
I was definitely hesitant, as I smelled the piece of meat until my nostrils hurt. I then decided to compromise and dip the meat into my ramekin of ranch dressing. Actually, dip might be an understatement. The correct description would be that I drenched the meat in ranch until there wasn’t even a section of it visible.
“Chicken shit,” Brian said. “The ranch dulls it.”
“I know,” I said.
Here was the moment. I glanced at Nichole in a subtle attempt to say farewell. I would have said farewell to Brian as well, but I secretly blamed him for convincing me to try such a thing. I shoved the meat into my mouth and chewed until the ranch wore off. Sensation: that’s the best way to describe it. It spread like spicy cancer through my mouth, and I tried to chew faster. I let out a sound, although I don’t remember what it was. Something like “Whew.” Brian snickered. My mouth had officially combusted. The sensation spread down my gullet as I swallowed the meat. How, oh I ask how, could this man in front of me, with his bristly beard already full of Atomic sauce, devour an entire basket of these things. He didn’t use ranch. He used nothing. He just took bite after bite with the look of a famished lion. He enjoyed them. I bet he would have eaten burning coals if I would have asked him.
“How’d you like it?” he asked.
“I hate you,” I said.
“This ain’t nothing,” he said. “These are only 150,000 Scoville units. There’s some in Chicago that are 560,000. I want to try those.” I should explain to the reader that a Scoville heat unit is a measurement of a food’s spice. It measures the presence of capsaicin, the active ingredient in chili peppers. Basically, Brian wanted to eat lava.
“You think you could finish a whole basket?”
“I’d damn sure try.”
I swigged my beer and went back to my regular (tame) hot wings. Interestingly, they weigh in at 3,000 Scoville units, which seemed a lot to me, but when compared to the mini-Mount St. Helens in Brian’s basket, I guess I should consider them about as spicy as a banana.
The rest of the meal passed as uneventfully as any meal does. My mouth still burned, and I feared what might happen when that little piece of chicken fully digested. I imagined that I would make the bathroom my monkish cell, as the wrath of God erupted from my ass.
Nonetheless, I had tried the suitably-named Atomic Wings. Brian ate a basket of them. I had a mere speck. And, if anyone cares to know, Nichole’s Asian wings were probably the best ones there.