I occasionally make poor decisions.
Sometimes, if the anticipated payoff is great enough, it’s still worth it.
I exercised this maxim a week ago or so on the way home from work. Thanks to my home state’s policy of “always working on all roads all the time for every reason even though nothing ever seems fixed because we work on the same roads every single year,” I’ve been taking a different route for the way home, and each day I have passed a store that specializes in smoked meats.
Smoked meats, as should surprise no one, are my kryptonite.
I don’t know what it is. There’s something strange about smoked meat. Like, it’s meat, only full of spices to hide the gross parts and then cooked so it’s tough and weird. Like, sure, you gain the benefit if having it be able to sit around for a while without cooking or refrigeration, but you lose not being able to use the same meat to make a steak or a hamburger or literally almost anything else. (Granted, I’m certain the meat they use in smoked meat is not the same meat you’d use for a steak or even ground beef—it’s probably the Z-grade scrapins they can form into a tube and fill with garlic powder and brown sugar. But that’s neither here nor there.)
And none of this matters, because it tastes so good. I’m never thinking “Man, forget that teriyaki meat stick, I’m savin’ myself for a good ole sirloin steak later.” I’m thinking “Can I get away with eating three of these meat sticks and also eating steak later?” (The answer is always yes.) And can I use the benefit of being able to keep a meat stick around for buying a few of them and eating them over the following week? Yes! Do I do that? No! Do I instead eat them all in one sitting and then lay on the carpet wondering what I am doing with my life and what happened to my sense of self-control? Of course!
So anyway, after resisting the siren call of the meat shack for over a month, I finally gave in to temptation.
I stop one temperate evening and walk into the shop. If you’ve never been inside a store that almost exclusively deals with cut meats, let me describe how eat and every one of them looks: it’s a small, very claustrophobic room that has a distinct smell, probably of cloves or formaldehyde. They make a valiant if futile effort to sell things that aren’t meat, like chips and drinks, but they all have long-abandoned logos from campaigns past, covered with a sickeningly nostalgic coat of dust. There’s a rack of do-it-yourself seasoning packs, a noble gesture for those outraged by the reasonable prices who believe they would rather hunt and dress a cow themselves in order to form weird tubes of meat in the comfort of their own garage.
I vastly prefer spicy meat snacks, so I asked for that. I was just sampling, so I turned down the clerk’s offer of a full pound; just two sticks, thank you. The clerk seemed mildly annoyed at having to stop her butchering of a cow just to ring up two dollars and change’s worth of product, but she did her job gamely (ha!).
So I get in my car and immediately dig in. I’m driving, a meat snack hanging out of my mouth like Tony’s cigar in the title sequence of The Sopranos. It is…OK. Only mildly spicy, like someone reached for the red pepper flakes but grabbed parsley flakes instead. Also a little fatty. Disappointingly, I finished the snack and mentally crossed the store off the list. Oh well, I thought, maybe next time.
But! I still had one stick left over, and the previous one literally left a bad taste in my mouth. So I took a bite.
It was spicy.
Like, really spicy.
Like, pull off the side of the road because I can’t see the road because tears are streaming down my face spicy.
Of course, I’m driving when this happens, and while it’s quick it’s still gradual. I am, at least fleetingly, a menace to the others on the road. Caught off guard, I start coughing. Two bites in and I can hardly breathe.
It was delicious.
I get back on the road but my mouth is on fire. I limp along to the nearest gas station, where I grab a fountain soda. The workers there probably thought I was some weirdo, face wet with sweat and throat constantly clearing, trembling as I take furtive sips from my unpaid-for drink. Back in the car, I hit the road again, taking tiny bites while gulping down Coke Zero until it was gone.
I don’t know what was up with that first stick. Maybe they put twice as much spice in the second and none in the first. Maybe they put it in the wrong box instead of “mild, fatty flavor”.
Who knows? All I know is that I’ll be back and I have no self control. Because I have no self control.