Let this be a lesson: Read emails carefully. A few weeks ago, Philadelphia Inquirer sports columnist John Gonzalez sent out an invitation: “The Wishing Well in Bella Vista has something called The Shame Burger Challenge: It’s two double Shame Burgers (topped with scrapple, egg and cheese), two orders of fries and two beers. You have to do it in 45 minutes. Who’s interested?”
Forty-five minutes? I thought I’d finish in a half hour, tops. What I overlooked was one critical word: “double.”
When the day of our meat reckoning arrived, John had managed to convince two other friends/suckers to join him. We knew we were in over our heads when the first plate appeared. I’d eaten a Shame Burger before and it went down easy. But these patties were thicker; the scrapple, more formidable. Each burger was packed with four slabs of meat and towered nearly a foot high. There’s a reason that only a handful of moronic gastronomic superstars have made it to the bar’s Wall of Shame. (They swear that one guy finished in four minutes; I’d like to see where they buried him after his intestines exploded.)
The countdown began and we dug in. My strategy was to maintain a slow, steady pace. The trick, I thought, would be to treat this like any other meal. I usually have a bottomless stomach—just three days earlier, I’d polished off five slices of pizza (including three topped with cheesesteak meat) and two beers in 15 minutes without breaking a sweat. How hard could this stunt be?
In the history of miscalculations, this ranked somewhere between the Battle of Little Bighorn and the 18-inch Stonehenge from This Is Spinal Tap. Five minutes into the gorging, I was already in trouble. The burgers were piled so high, it was impossible to eat them whole. I set aside one patty and one block of Scrapple and started working on the other half. It wasn’t going down easy. Ten minutes passed, and I took a look around the table. Andy was exhaling deeply. Joe looked a few shades paler than when he started. The Wishing Well’s head chef kindly brought us a bucket. “This,” John said, “was the worst idea ever.”
By the 30-minute mark, we’d slowed to a crawl. Each french fry felt like chewing gum as I gnawed away, trying to get them down without triggering a gag reflex. I suggested we at least try to finish our beers. With a big lead, I chugged my second Kenzinger and won the drink-off. It was the most shallow of victories.
As the final seconds ticked away, we declared a three-way tie for last place, and awarded best in show to Joe, who sprinted out to an early lead but was felled by a nasty case of the meat sweats. Afterward, there was no post-game chatter, no talk of our failure over a few pints. All we wanted was to sleep and perhaps induce vomiting. As I stumbled home with egg remnants on my fingers like evidence from a crime scene I just escaped, I wasn’t bloated. This wasn’t like Thanksgiving dinner, where you pop a button on your pants and doze off on the couch. I just felt nauseous. If I smelled so much as a whiff of a Big Mac, it would have looked like an outtake from The Exorcist. We called it PTMD: post-traumatic meat disorder.
If you’d enjoy seeing four idiots fail miserably as John’s lovely, but cruel, fiancée Colleen Wolfe takes pleasure in our pain, then watch. [Link to story on Philly.com] And if you think we’re wimps, I encourage you to take the Shame Challenge yourself. Your GI tract and your dignity will never be the same.