Choking Hazard

The Cast: Breadsticks (inedible—sort of), Erich (uncaring—sort of), Myself (unbreathing—definitely).

In small-town communities, there are unique situations that occur. Like, for example, not everyone needs a school. So, two or three neighboring towns will share one, and the kids will get bused to and from, or parents drive. No big deal. It all works out just fine.

Some things don’t get shared, like a mechanic shop. You can’t drive from town to town in a broken car. Each town needs a mechanic. It just makes sense.

With food, this is where it gets tricky. There is a relationship created with the type of food, the quality of the food, as well as the price. For example, there was a Chinese place two towns to the South of Manti. They had a second restaurant one town to the North of Manti. This dispersion allowed for towns even farther North and South to find access to that cuisine. Two Chinese restaurants handled six-plus towns.

We had one sandwich shop. Sure, there were places that offered sandwiches, but only one sandwich shop. You could find burgers anywhere—not all of them good. Only one ‘greasy spoon’ (you know those places that clog your arteries just by looking at the menu). Two towns had a good ‘Mom & Pop’ ice cream parlor. And it was several years before we got a big name like McDonald’s. But the best place was the pizza place.

Fat Jack’s Pizza was the greatest thing in our little community. Completely unheard of by me before moving to Utah, it quickly became my favorite pizza place (it was the only pizza place, but at least it wasn’t bad pizza, it really was grand pizza). Many a time I would order a large Hawaiian pizza (for myself) for dinner, eat half, and then have the second half for breakfast the next morning.

They used to package their pizza in a polystyrene double-disk container. The top just popped right off, while the bottom had bumps that kept the pizza above the cheese-grease drippings. And because the container was polystyrene, the cheese-grease couldn’t soak through and ruin your tablecloth. Once, I ordered an extra-large Hawaiian on a Friday night, ate half while watching a small black and white television in my room, got sleepy, closed up the polystyrene disks and went to sleep. Next morning: Breakfast! And when I opened up the container I beheld, pooled at the bottom, was all that orange cheese grease, solidified. And amongst that small sea of orange, were all the white polystyrene bumps, like a bunch of polystyrene-Polynesian islands keeping my pizza clear of an orange colored tropical ocean. It was both gross and cool. It was both because of all the orange stuff and because the second-best thing to Fat Jack’s Hawaiian pizza is next-day-cold Fat Jack’s Hawaiian pizza.

Fat Jack's Pizza in a polystyrene container.
The Fat Jack’s Pizza container and the cheese grease sea.

In Montana, the Hawaiian pizzas were Canadian bacon (go Canada!), pineapple, and almond slivers. Fat Jack’s did it the same way. Nobody else in Utah does, and people always look at me like I’m a complete-and-total-looney when I say, “…with almond slivers.” Those slivers change everything! It can’t be slices or wedges or other cuts, it has to be slivers! It matters!

Sorry. I’ve gone off the rails. I just really love a good Hawaiian pizza, with Canadian bacon (you can’t do ham, it makes it bad. it really does matter), pineapple, and almond slivers. I’ve done it again, sorry. Back to the story.

Like many a good pizza place, Fat Jack’s offered yummy breadsticks. You couldn’t get Fat Jack’s and not get breadsticks. It would be like going to Wendy’s and not getting a frosty. It’s. Just. Wrong.

So, once again Erich and I were at my home, making ready to leave to begin another grand expedition, destination: Unknown (we never knew). I was a little hungry and popped into the kitchen to find something quick and easy to take along. What to eat? What to eat? Ooo… Breadsticks, yum. On the kitchen counter was a bag of Fat Jack’s breadsticks. They had been there a few days so they had become more stick than bread. But I had eaten one the day before and they were still… edible? Maybe?

Erich decided to take a pass on the breadstick, so it was mine. All MINE! Mwhahahahaa! I exaggerate. Yes, the breadstick was mine, but that didn’t necessitate a good thing. As it happened, the breadstick had other plans.

As the three of us walked out the front door, Erich in the lead. I wanted to be able to talk and plan without the complication of eating and talking, so I ate the stick-of-bread all at once. I had done this multiple times before, so I wasn’t worried. Foolish mortal that I am. I should have been worried. I should have been.

Stepping into the out of doors, we began our journey. Erich, merrily skipping and humming, forward into the sunlight. I, consuming a stale breadstick, edible (and yet, still not). Almost finished, I put the last bit into my mouth, chewed it up as best I could, swallowed, and then began to die.

I say I began to die because technically, I was. The doughy device had sludged into my esophagus and stopped. It wasn’t going down, and it wasn’t going up. Also, neither was air. I couldn’t breathe. I can’t breathe! Just call for help. Yeah, call for help. No air. No words. No help. Poo…

As I stood there attempting to move the blockage one way or the other, I looked forward as Erich continued to skip merrily away, swinging his arms about, up, down and all around. I watched, helpless, as my 16-year-old ‘friend’ jumped and danced away from me. I was sure he would turn around at any second. He didn’t. I was dying and my buddy was doing his impression of the Fairy King from The Magical Land of Nevermorenia, or something. Meanwhile, I was dying! That’s my best friend, the Fairy King.

Me, choking to death in front of my house in Manti.
Very life-like illustration I know. It’s almost like being there.

As my face turned blue, the last vision of my life was to see the back of my buddy, my best friend, The Fairy King of Nevermorenia, skipping and dancing away from me, waving his arms about, humming a pleasant tune, batting at the low hanging branches of the pine tree in our front yard, on a sunny day. Gre-eat. Lucky me.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re probably thinking something like, “Why didn’t you just tap Erich on the shoulder?” or, “You should have just grabbed his arm.” or some other logical idea such as those. Well, that might have worked if I wasn’t busy watching my life flash before my eyes. Or, maybe if Erich had been close enough to touch. But he was ahead of me. And far enough ahead of me that to catch him I would have had to run. And with no new air coming in I would have passed out and missed the highlight reel of my life flashing before my eyes (you know all those other fun near death experiences I had had that almost all involved Erich… Hey, wait a minute!).

Suddenly, Erich turned about. “Hey, are you okay?”

At that exact same time, the lump finally went down. “Well, I am now.”

After I explained to him what happened Erich’s only response was, “Well, I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”

(please provide your own substantial amount of sarcasm while reading the entirety of this last paragraph, yes, including this) My kind and understanding response was, “No, how could you. You were too busy playing Magical Fairy King while you skipped and danced about, humming merrily to yourself all very ‘La-de-da-de-da!’ while I stood here unable to breathe.” I’m a compassionate and forgiving person.

Well I am. And to be fair, there is no way Erich could have known I was choking (unless he had just simply turned around).

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