Once Was Enough

Things the Crunchable staff will never, ever do again.

I will probably never again get a chance to shake hands with the Dalai Lama. Also, I will never again chug a Red Bull on an empty stomach as part of a literary stunt.

We all have at least one thing that we’ve done once in our lives and never expect to do again. Maybe it was a one-time splurge, or a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Maybe it was an accident, or we didn’t know any better. Maybe it was just plain horrible.

But not so horrible that we wouldn’t write about it.

The story I most enjoy telling any current boyfriend is the one about the time I accepted money for kisses.

When I was in elementary school, around third grade, I used to play with the neighborhood kids in the small forested area behind our houses. It was just big enough for great adventures — not so enormous that we’d get lost, but large enough that the trees completely engulfed us.

One day, some of the neighborhood boys took me into the forest and made me a proposition: If I’d let them kiss me, they would pay me money. As a young entrepreneur, this seemed like a pretty good deal. So, all the boys lined up, and they took turns kissing me.

Most of them kissed me on the cheek, and a few took a running start and kissed the air, turning shy at the very last moment. After they all had taken their turns (a few took an extra turn), the ringleader handed me a rolled up wad of cash, which I promptly took home to show my mother.

As it turned out, Mom was less impressed with the cash and how I had received it. This was long before I had heard words like “easy” or “slutty” or had any real clue what a “prostitute” was, so I had no idea why Mom seemed so pissed off and upset.

The outside of the roll of money was a $20 bill, but it turned out most of the bills inside were Monopoly money. At the time, I was just grumpy at getting swindled — today, I’d be more concerned if some sweaty fourth grader had handed me a lump of cash.

Mom forced me to return the money to the boys, which I begrudgingly did. And, not surprisingly, that was my last foray into accepting cash for sexual favors.

My “never again” list: Ice skating. Jazz in a live setting. Traveling from Pennsylvania to Florida by car. All unpleasant experiences — but they were all days at the beach compared to the three weeks I spent in the summer of 1996 selling knives.

“Are you a college student looking for summer work?” the ad had asked. Answering it led me to a barely furnished shed of a building inside an office park, where two guys in cheap, ill-fitting suits gave us our mission: Go out and sell knives.

To be fair, these really were great knives: Super sharp, super durable, with tons of high-end features. That meant they weren’t cheap. And we weren’t supposed to go door to door, making desperate pitches and getting rejected by strangers. The idea was to sell a set of knives to, say, our grandparents, and then get them to give us 10 names of other people who might like the knives.

So basically, I spent most of June making desperate pitches and getting rejected by people I sort of knew. The climax of my elaborate sales demonstration involved cutting a penny in half with a pair of really strong, really sharp shears. But I lived in a county with an extremely high population of senior citizens, none of whom were in any hurry to spend a few hundred bucks on knives that would “last a lifetime.”

The final straw was a day-long motivational conference in which our team — known as the “Beast of the East” — chanted “Beast … UH!” for what seemed like three hours. A few days later, a job at a swimming pool factory opened up, and my sales days were over. The factory was hot, loud, and dangerous — and I’d return to it in a heartbeat if it meant not cutting a penny in half ever again.

Anyone who knows me knows how deeply I love spicy food. It’s something my Hubby and I share — our first date, in fact, was to a restaurant in our college town where we ate buffalo wings and buffalo chicken sandwiches. We love wings and curries and habanero potato chips; we put jalapeños on everything; we even grow our own hot peppers in the summer to keep our stocks full.

Because of our seemingly indestructible taste buds, I thought I could handle any spice thrown at me. I was very, very wrong.

Hubby and I love to go to California Tortilla, a Mexican food chain near our home that boasts a huge selection of hot sauces. From its many shelves, we always try to pick out the hottest or craziest flavors to challenge each other. I met my match when I boasted that I could handle the scorching-hot “Scorned Women” sauce.

The first bite of my taco, liberally coated in the runny red sauce, turned my mouth into an inferno. Within seconds, my tongue swelled and tears and sweat started coursing down my face. I couldn’t taste a thing — I could only feel the heat blasting every corner of my mouth, a sensation that got worse the more water I tried to gulp down. My tongue went numb, the manager came over to make sure everything was alright, and Hubby watched wide-eyed as I sat sobbing and chewing at our rickety table.

Despite the gasping and sputtering, I finished that whole “Scorned Women”-tainted taco. And I will never touch the stuff again.

I’ve done a few things once. Bungie jumping. Swimming with sharks. A month of backpacking through England. A double dog dare that won me $60 (I was required to eat something gross with legs, but I bathed it in chocolate pudding so it wasn’t as bad as it initially appeared).

Some things I’d do again instantly. Karate. Streaking. Fights. Broken hearts and broken bones. Scars. Tears. Car accidents. Pushing myself beyond all reasonable limits to play NCAA volleyball. Wild nights of drinking. There is an entire list of things I won’t mention because my mother is probably reading this.

But sometimes once is enough.

There was that night I almost ended up in jail — the officer was really nice to me. I had a near-miss at a tattoo parlor. There was a scene in front of the Supreme Court in DC that I’d rather not mention — that officer was surprisingly nice to me as well.

If a thing is worth doing, I used to say, then do it 100 percent or don’t even bother with it at all. Now looking at that list — and it’s only a fraction of the mess I’ve made — I can see I owe more to being lucky than being smart. In the years since, my eyes have grown clearer and my body sometimes aches from old damages. But I just can’t bring myself to regret those moments of insanity and memories gained by disregarding good advice.

My only regret is that I know somewhere out there my mother is reading this and shaking her head at me.

When you’re at a dimly lit bar and a hot blonde screams “Get the fuck in here with me!” and points to the bathroom, you don’t really hesitate. You just go.

Now keep in mind, this bathroom barely fits one person. But in this situation we were able to fit four grown adults. I didn’t know what was going on. Then my friend took a tiny plastic bag from his pocket — the kind of packet you might recognize from “Scarface” or a Tarantino movie. Someone dipped a house key into the mysterious white substance, and I took a sniff.

The powder ran through my nasal passages and down my throat, leaving a stale, metallic, aspirin taste. After a minute or so I felt it, too. I was fired up and ready for anything. I felt like I was floating, but there was also a powerful sense of acceleration. My heart was racing. This was overwhelming.

In a blurry moment, the four of us jumped in a cab, went to Wall Street, and stopped by a friend’s apartment. Everyone opened up their pockets to reveal several more packets and even a small vial of the white stuff.

“This is the most coke I’ve ever seen in my fucking life!” yelled our cute blonde friend.

This time we did it in traditional 80s fashion — with a small mirror as our base and a one-inch, cut-off straw that looked pretty well-used. As the guys poured the powder onto the mirror, I whipped out my MetroCard and started cutting it up.

“Holy shit, have you done this before?” asked one friend.

“No, but I’ve seen a lot of movies,” I said, grinning.

Still revved up from our party in the bathroom, I inhaled two lines in one swoop. My friends cheered me on. My heart was ready to explode out of my chest. My body trembled like I was shivering. I couldn’t stand still for a second. It was already 2 a.m. on a Thursday, but I was ready to jump out the window and start climbing the building.

“Let’s go to the bar!” yelled one hopped-up friend.

That was probably the best idea considering our state. We needed something to calm us down. We were dangerously eager for action. One friend suggested we go to a strip club. Another suggested we get into a fight. The blonde wanted to go to a club. I was doing everything I could to not pounce on her.

Two shots, three beers, and three hours later, we came to our senses. But 5 a.m. is not a good time to still be awake and still have to go to work.

I woke up at 8 a.m., in my apartment and with my jacket, shoes, and work clothes still on. I was dehydrated, exhausted, and completely spacing out. Around 9:30 we all strolled into work, looking like George Romero zombies. I looked over to my friend. He nodded and flashed a villain-like smile.

“Never again!” I told him. I needed an orange juice.

Article © 2010 by Melissa Reddish