As we once were approaching the door of Los Reyes for our Thursday night tortas, I mentioned to the man I know best as El Ultimo that I’d been having chest pains since morning.
“You think it might be my heart?” I asked.
Without a second’s thought, he shot me a glare of skepticism bordering shock and declared, “That’s a stupid question!”
I’ve been handed some revelations in my lifetime, but this is one I would refer to as a moment of clarity. In any world worth the life it spawns, some things don’t need to be questioned. The world of serious eating is no exception, and no one understands this better than El Ultimo, a scholar of chili dogs and double jalapeño cheeseburgers who completed the Orochon challenge in twenty minutes.
The more contented among us may ask aimlessly why such tasks beset the champions of civilization, but I’ll never forget the moment I ran out ice cubes, feverishly sluicing the last chalky dredges of red ramen sludge down my throat and wondering how many days it would take my throat to heal enough to carry a meaningful conversation. I looked over to my other comrades, who were on the verge of defeat. I then raised my eyes to meet the satiated gaze of El Ultimo, pushing me onward with the knowledge that making it onto the Wall of Bravery was nothing more than a fact of life to be recognized.
Sadly, the only person capable of matching my campaign funds for pickled eggs, reckless bacon and double deep fried pork chops has just left Orange County for good, joining the rest of the civilized world in the search for a fridge too far. When I asked him what he wanted to accomplish in his last week of Southern California living, he shrugged surlily and responded, “I don’t know. You’re the one with all the goals, remember?”
Staying true to the facts of life, we thus settled on a farewell weekend featuring Star Trek: The Tour and a jar of Kool-Aid pickles. Having never been to the Delta Quadrant, brewing our own pickled punch-up was an accomplishment we had planned for months. With exactly one week left before he would traverse the wormhole to San Francisco, El Ultimo decided that it was time to boldly go where no kosher dill had gone before.
We began with the most important part of any pickling operation: acquisition of an authentic mason jar. After we had picked out a vintage beaut from the pantry of my boss’s mom, a trip to the supermarket garnered 12 ounces of Clausen Dill Minis and a thirty-four cent package of Tropical Punch flavored Kool-Aid. Ten minutes and one cup of granulated sugar then yielded an elixir of exploration that would make the Sisko family proud. El Ultimo stowed the jar in his fridge, and one week later we opened it as an appetizer for our final meal at Colima Burgers.
The aroma that burst forth was an uncertain warning cry: the pungent odor of brine gone wrong leapt forward with the Wrath of Khan, desperate to separate itself from the sweetly suffocating scent of double-strength Kool-Aid. It was shortly followed by a more pleasant though no less powerful wave of tropical punch, coursing through the pool of vinegar and sugar to produce a new kind of life altogether.
The pickles, whose skins shimmered with a deep red hue, were singularly sweet and sour, intriguing enough to be dressed up for a dinner party but recognizable enough to constitute an after-school snack. While the curtain of Kool-Aid had not permeated the dills to the core, the miniature pickles’ volume-to-surface area ratio was fairly forgiving of this flaw. With some fine-tuning of the steeping process, we could craft Kool-Aid pickles worthy of the finest flavor explorers the Alpha Quadrant has to offer.
El Ultimo suited up for his journey up the interstate. Having concluded our one year mission of friendship and foodstuffs in Orange County on this note, we didn’t need the interference of an omnipotent intergalactic entity to remind us of the nature of all good things. The bittersweet and sour crunch of a Kool-Aid pickle said it all equally well as a fact of life: For that one fraction of a second, we were open to options we had never considered. That is the exploration that awaits us. Not mapping restaurants, enrolling in the annals of cookery and studying the fads of fine dining, but charting the unknown possibilities… of existence.
123 S. Onikuza St.
Los Angeles, CA 90012
|Kool-Aid Pickles (Click here for instructional guide)
United States of America
The Final Frontier