I almost choked to death at a cheap Japanese steak house near me. But Darwin gave me a second chance.
I was living in Kichijoji in Tokyo. After teaching English I’d get home at night, change, and go straight to the gym five minutes away from my apartment. I’d get an hour in before it closed. During this time I was lifting heavy, doing deadlifts and squats—five sets and five reps.
After the gym, if not buying discounted sushi from the supermarket, or if I was too lazy to grill a chicken breast, I’d eat at Pepper Lunch, a cheap Japanese steak house. The steak I always bought was $10, the one in the picture.
It was cut into thin, but thick, strips and was buttered and peppered. More often than not, it was fatty. You could chew on some pieces forever without breaking them down.
Sometimes all the chewing would make me angry. It always seemed to be at this particular Pepper Lunch and not at others, and I’d start thinking these sons of Chinese bitches were serving me the worst cuts on purpose.
Well, here I was chewing on this hunk of meat like it was a strip of bicycle tire. This piece, like almost every piece, was almost all fat. My jaws were exhausted. I thought about spitting it out, calling it quits and going home hungry.
But I wanted the protein. I’d just finished a workout. I wanted to become big and strong. And I didn’t want to be wasteful. Like most people, I don’t like to leave anything on my plate if there’s room in my stomach.
So I decided to swallow it whole. I’d done it often, as I came to this place often, and nothing bad ever happened. But not this time. This time it was too big. It got stuck in the back of my throat, sealing off precious oxygen. At first I didn’t panic. I thought I could cough it up or gag it out somehow. But it didn’t happen.
Seconds ticked by. Never before had I so desperately wanted anything as at that moment I wanted to breath.
I looked at the cooks in the back for help. But they, in their filthy, greasy, white aprons and hats, were preoccupied with kitchen work. I looked at the two Japanese men on my right, seated at the end of the counter, but they were somewhat facing each other and in conversation.
My head started to feel funny, like it does when you’re struggling to reach the other end of a pool after challenging yourself to swim across the whole thing underwater.
I remember thinking: Really!? This is how I’m going to die!? Choked to death by a dead cow. Here in Japan. In a fast food joint of all places. My face will fall in my plate. This is how friends and family will remember me.
I couldn’t go out like this. If only I had a vacuum cleaner to stick down my throat and suction it free, like old Japanese people do when choking on mochi.
I stuck my right hand in my mouth. I could feel the piece of fat with my long ET fingers. I tried to pinch it between my index and middle finger, but I only managed to push it a little further down my throat.
I began heaving. I vomited liquid around the hunk off fat and onto my plate; yet I still couldn’t get air. No one noticed. Or if they did, they chose to ignore me. I was about to bang on the table, but I didn’t put any faith in one of them saving me. After all, this was Japan—these people will watch you die before they intervene.
Thinking I might pass out at any second, I stuck my fingers down my throat again, this time able to pinch a bit of it.
I yanked on it. It came out. I gasped in air. My stomach was rising and falling again. It was wonderful—breathing.
I remained sitting at the stool at the counter. I couldn’t get up and pay and walk home right away. All I could do was sit there and think: I’m alive! fuck Pepper Lunch, I’ll chew my food better from now on and if I can’t, I’ll spit it out.
I’d been reborn. I was a virgin again. I’d been given a second chance. Everything henceforward would seem like the first time.
I took a swallow of my iced tea. My throat was soar; it would be for two or three days.
I had to go home and call my family. I hadn’t talked to them in a while. Then I would get in the shower. Yeah, a shower would be great. And tomorrow—tomorrow I would have sex. Yeah, sex would be awesome!