An event. Every generation has one. A singular moment from which all days afterward are reckoned. The assassination of JFK, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the inauguration of Becky Stoltzfus are examples of such occasions.
Inevitably, a sense of collective identity forms between those that experienced the event, with sentences in the format of “where were you when X happened” inducted into the list of acceptable small talk topics. Normally, these events gain widespread media coverage, but one occurred just last Thursday that was passed over by mainstream media.
Consequently, it falls to me to inform you of the most important event in living memory: the supper where the fish was extra spicy at the Westlawn Dining Hall.
It was 4:59 p.m. on an average Thursday evening and the usual crowd was waiting patiently outside the dining hall doors. With midterms still a ways off and the luster of a new semester a fading memory, there was a noticeable lack of anything interesting to talk about.
Students huddled in their cliques and parroted quiet banalities about the weather, wholly unaware that in a mere 60 seconds they would be admitted into the same room as The Fish.
It came with no special warning, The Fish.
“Tilapia and Rice Pilaf,” the sign announced humbly, just as it had at countless other meals. As if taking a cue from its signage, The Fish itself was visibly quite plain: white with an unassuming brownish sauce. We lined up and waited for our turn to dish It onto our plates.
Because of its mundane appearance, The Fish was not the first thing I ate. That honor went to chicken wings (God bless Fusion). In fact, it was not even the second item to leave my plate, or the third. Truth be told, I didn’t even take any until guilty seconds (the healthy plate of food you get after filling your first plate with chicken tenders).
The thought that I only chose The Fish because I wanted to have something to eat with culturally progressive™ quinoa is knowledge that will haunt me for the rest of my days. When the first bite hit my taste buds, it was pleasantly spicy. At the second bite, it was hot. After the third bite, it warranted a prompt swish of water. Why I took that fourth bite I do not know, but as I soon as I did, I realized that I was eating zeitgeist.
I looked up at my table mates as if for the first time, eyes watering from the twin fires that were now burning, unquenchable, in my mouth and in my soul. I could tell Courtney had also tasted the Tilapia from the inferno behind her eyes. We launched into discussion of the picant pescatarian dish and soon came to the conclusion that the only sensible thing to do after having such a formative experience was to interview the other eaters of The Fish.
Events that shape our society are often polarizing and the Day of the Extra Spicy Fish was no exception. Some took to the unexpected heat better than others.
“It’s pretty good, pretty spicy,” was the comment of our first interviewee. Another rated it as “high-quality fish.” Others said they would “not serve at their wedding,” but “would recommend to their enemies.” Some were more negative, calling the fish “not awesome,” saying that it “hit too hard” and that they “didn’t like the sauce, or the bad feeling it left in [their] mouth.”
Finally, there were those that, tragically, did not escape the ordeal with their sanity intact, as these incoherent exclamations echoed through the dining hall:
“Very spicy—felt spice going down your throat.”
“2.5 fish out of fish fish.”
“Tore my soul apart!”
“Watch out: fish.”
Whether they loved it, hated it or were broken by it, these brave souls will undoubtedly go down in history, their comments quoted in textbooks for years to come. So, where were you when the tilapia was extra spicy?