Cover of Trophy Envy by Mark Levy

Remembering the First Time

An essay by Mark Levy from Trophy Envy.


When it comes to food, my brain is pretty impressive. I don't have to tell you, because you have one, too. Standard issue. But indulge me for a minute and think about your brain and mine. Not only can our brains figure out problems, coordinate our bodies, and get us through the day, they also have a memory that can simply amaze us.


For example, I was walking down the street at lunchtime last week when I had an urge for a slice of pizza and a Coke. I can remember when and where I was when I purchased my first Coke in a bottle from a dispensing machine.


It was at a gas station around the block from where I lived in Flushing, New York. When I bought my first Coke in 1954, the standard Coke bottle was six and a half ounces. That was plenty big for a six-year-old, and I remember that neither my friend Paulie nor I could finish a whole bottle by ourselves. But we gave it our best try. Must have taken us 45 minutes to drink half of our respective bottles.


When I moved to upstate New York 27 years ago, a local restaurant advertised, "all the chicken wings you can eat," for $4.95. Since I loved chicken, this sounded like a wonderful opportunity. Buffalo chicken wings were just making their way out of Buffalo, but I hadn't heard of them.


It was about 6:00 p.m. on August 28, 1983. I arrived at the restaurant and was seated.


"Is this really true?" I asked the charming young waitress. "I can have as many wings as I want? Seriously?"


"Yes, sir" she said. "When you finish a plate, I will bring you another one and another one, until you are full. Would you like yours hot?"


Now, remember, I had not heard of the Buffalo hot chicken wing revolution sweeping the country at that time. I figured that if I didn't order them hot, they would arrive cold, which was not appealing.


"Of course I want them hot," I said, tucking my paper napkin into my shirt. "Extremely hot."


They arrived on a very large platter, an unnatural shade of red and steaming hot, as I recall.


"Yum," I'm sure I said out loud while subconsciously rubbing my belly.


I bit into the first wing and felt my esophagus implode. My mouth was ablaze with spicy heat. I drank half my glass of water in three gulps.


I stomped over to the hostess desk and demanded to see the manager of the restaurant.


"What are you trying to pull here?" I blustered. "Your sign says 'all you can eat chicken wings' and when I get here, I find that they're inedible. What sort of scam is this?"


The manager extended his profound apologies, but they weren't adequate for me. I stormed out of the place in a huff, my mouth still burning, vowing never to return.


Now, 27 years later, I can still remember the incident and my first taste of Buffalo hot wings. I have had many opportunities for chicken wings in the ensuing years and I often order them, the hotter the better. But that first time was such a shock to my system, I'll never forget it.


I look forward to my next culinary adventure, knowing that it may earn a permanent place in my memory. But I sure hope it will not bump the memory of something truly important, like the first time I tasted coffee ice cream.


Oh, that was July 14, 1955.

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"Remembering the First Time" from Trophy Envy by Mark Levy.