I can say without hyperbole I nearly died yesterday.
I lead a soft life bereft of danger. My health is good and exposure to threats minimal.
That meant Sunday in New York elevated all my risks. I’d be inebriated in an unfamiliar city, increasing the chances I’d stumble in front of a speeding taxi or get gunned down by any of the numerous homicidal maniacs who call the Big Apple home.
Any of that would have at least made an interesting death story, and I’m all for that.
That’s why my near death experience would have been fatally embarrassing to my humble legacy, had I not survived it.
Blame it on a bacon-armored shrimp.
John and I were enjoying dim sum at the Golden Unicorn in Chinatown. Dim sum is a great exotic treat where the food is served on little carts pushed by waitresses offering trays of tiny feasts. The girls bring the carts past and you point with your chopsticks at what you want.
And John, whom I’ve recently mentioned as my most corrupt and soulless friend, is great company. He’s witty, profane and so sacrilegious I imagine dining with him would be much like sharing dim sum with Satan.
Our bellies were full from an hour of rapacious over-eating. Yet, we pressed on.
I don’t remember how it happened. I may have been distracted by my eagerness to work the words “dimolition derby” into the conversation whenever the carts collided, but the blame goes to simple poor manners and gluttony.
I didn’t even realize I was choking.
All I remember was my body started shutting down. I remember reaching for a glass of water and my hand starting to shake violently.
I don’t remember feeling pain. Only bewildered alarm.
I remember ordering my body to behave. I didn’t want to make a scene, even as I was choking to death.
An unchewed golf ball-sized chunk of lightly fried shrimp wrapped in bacon was lodged in my throat.
Now, I know better than that. But as this was a Chinese restaurant, the custom is to use chopsticks, the most ridiculous dining utensil ever conceived to convey food into the mouth.
You can’t saw steak with chopsticks. It takes practice to skillfully pick up some General Tso chicken, let alone a slippery pork dumpling. They are inferior to even the spork, a really handy innovation that by all logic should reduce by a full third the space of every single silverware drawer in the world.
But after an hour of using the chopsticks I’d gotten careless. I didn’t want to bite the piece in half and risk having the remainder plummet into a puddle of soy and splash stains on my shirt.
So I just shoveled the whole chunk into my mouth.
John later said it lasted about a minute. He thought I was having a seizure.
Somehow, I got that sucker down. I restored to normal almost immediately and we began to piece together what had happened.
The incident, of course, dominated the conversation the rest of the day. I didn’t see my life pass before my eyes or anything like that and take away no great lessons other than the reinforcement of the ones my mother told me about proper table manners.
I haven’t had any foxhole conversion to lead a better life, change any of my habits or enjoy this precious life any more than I already dearly do.
We spent the rest of the day just as we’d planned. We hit the bars and whooped it up with unbridled revelry.
John, of course, is already spinning the story to his advantage. He said today he intends to compose an e-mail telling all our friends about my piggish behavior and the heroic steps he took save my life, a complete fabrication which I fear will somehow take hold in spite of the lies.
I don’t think it’s any exaggeration to say I could have died right there. People choke to death all the time. And that’s not the way I want to go.
I have no fear of death as long as it doesn’t have to hurt. I argue the best way to go is to die peacefully in your sleep of multiple gun shot wounds, which isn’t nearly as contradictory as it sounds.
I can now say there isn’t much real pain involved in nearly choking to death. The body just seems to check out. I’m happy I’ll soon be home in the arms of my loved one who, despite all my jokes, need me around for many more productive decades.
John selfishly wondered what would have happened to him if I’d have died. Would he have been stuck with the whole bill? Could he have persuaded the manager to offer him and a guest a free meal to compensate for the unpleasantness he’d endured the day his old buddy died?
I asked John to describe how I looked as the death mask tried to descend on my face.
“Oh, it was awful,” he said. “Your face was turning bright red. Your eyes were bulging and you were shaking so badly I thought you might overturn the table. I thought you were a goner. It was very disturbing.”
I told him I was surprised by his humanity.
“Oh, I didn’t mean I was disturbed for you. I meant it was disturbing for any of us who had to see it.”
So I’m damn glad to be alive today. Every day, really. I hope you are, too.
And I hope when I do die it will be quick, neat, and far from my evil friend who’s disappointed he couldn’t use my untimely demise as a bargaining chip for a free meal.