One time I worked as a member of the stage crew on a production of Sweeney Todd at a reputable theatre in Baltimore, Maryland. There was this guy on the crew – blonde beard, glasses – and, I guess, the deal was, every year he would try to eat, in under an hour, 2 footlong philly cheesesteaks + an order of fries from the local Chinese place down the street which specialized in Chinese cuisine but also happened to make pretty tasty/sloppy cheesesteaks, sliced five times through the length of the footlong, thereby making it easier to pick up in bite-sized pieces.
The day of the annual contest arrived. It was Winter 2004, and we the members of the crew gathered backstage in the green room between shows on a two-show Sunday to watch him try to win the challenge. He’d brought along a jar of pickles, which he claimed was some sort of secret weapon, that the pickles would help cleanse his pallet and make room for more food. It sounded like hogwash to me, but I was young, and curious.
To my mind – at the time – he went about it all wrong. First of all, he wasn’t working with any sort of expedited speed, let alone a plan of attack. It seemed to me (not that I’d ever participated in such an event, so, call me a backseat food contest driver if you must) that the best bet would be to eat the two cheesesteaks first before even beginning with the fries. The fries were bound to fill up too much stomach space, space that was needed for all of the meat and cheese and bread. The pickles seemed to provide no strategic aid whatsoever. Also, and most frustrating to me (at the time) was that, he didn’t stop talking and laughing alongside the other crew members who annually made the bet! If he really wanted to win, why was he yucking it up, cracking jokes, laughing at their jokes, and treating the whole thing like it was some dumb game? I mean, did he even want to win the bet? And if not, why were we all gathered to watch him annually lose?
Around the thirty-five minute mark, he ended up running to the bathroom to puke out everything he’d consumed, and didn’t even come close to meeting the goal; I think at least half a cheesesteak remained untouched, along with a third of the fries. He’d lost the bet, and so the rest of us returned to our between-show routines (cigarettes, naps on cots) before prepping for the evening’s performance.
It’s been eleven years since then. I’ve carried my disgust towards this guy for over decade, but now I am ready to release it. It’s embarrassing to me, how competitive and determined I once was, to Win and Succeed, no matter the task at hand. Now I can see that all he really wanted was a moment in the spotlight; put another way, love. It’s what we all want. So I am trying to learn to forgive the people from my life who I once strongly adjudicated, and am trying to understand that they were just doing the best they could with the hand they’d been dealt; that everyone was bound to let you down in one way or another, including yourself; and ultimately, it’s not worth carrying all that disappointed weight around from one year into the next.
Anyways, I forgive you, cheesesteak + fries attempting stage crew guy.
Okay. Next up: my father.
Josh Lefkowitz won the 2013 Wergle Flomp Humor Poetry Prize, an Avery Hopwood Award for Poetry at the University of Michigan, and was a finalist for the 2014 Brooklyn Non-Fiction Prize. His poems and essays have been published at Court Green, The Rumpus, The Huffington Post, The Hairpin, Queen Mob's Underground Funnies, and many other places. He has also recorded humorous essays for NPR's All Things Considered and BBC's Americana.