By Jerry Mooney
When I went to college, the earth was still flat, the internet was called a library and fossil fuels were leafy greens you fed your pet brontosaurus. In addition to living during this curious time, I was poor. Not like, I had no shoes poor, more like, stealing from the take-a-penny tray at the convenience store to pay for my emergency Tootsie Roll poor, but poor nonetheless and definitely one of the 14.5% percent under the federal poverty threshold.
Fortunately, I lived in a small community with a friendly local grocer. And before I went off for my senior year, he had heard my rumbling about starving at school (mostly to try and pry a few more bucks from the parents) and he magnanimously sold me four cases (192 total packages) of Smack Ramen for the generous price of four dollars.
I was ecstatic. I knew, no matter how much I squandered my other resources, I would eat.
While at college, I happily began devouring my fortune of food. After about a case, I grew tired of the included flavor packages (mostly MSG) and began dabbling in other, inexpensive additions. I brought home ketchup (or was it catsup?) packages, soy sauce, hot mustard, coffee creamers...anything to mask the ubiquitous flavor of my senior year.
I began to look at the slowly diminishing stockpile of noodle packages with contempt. My side-eyed glances did nothing, however, to make them taste better or replace them with better options. I tried bartering them away, but apparently, this ramen prank is played on too many college students and I was in a buyer’s market.
Mercifully, my studies ended and so did my supply of instant textured sodium broth. As I went out into the world I created a secret pact with myself to never eat ramen again. I vowed I would stay enough above the poverty line to always be able to at least afford boxed Mac ‘n Cheese.
I kept my internal promise for years. I proudly announced my ramen abstinence whenever I witnessed someone with the audacity to make any rendition of this psyche damaging fare. And even though I proudly trumpeted my freedom, internally I suffered pulses of PTSD at every encounter.
So my friends and I visited Las Vegas and they dragged me to the mandatory buffet at the Rio Casino. We waited in line for an hour to get into a restaurant and I was curious as to why. There are approximately one jillion restaurants in Vegas, so waiting in line there seemed particularly stupid. This better be good! I kept thinking to myself.
Once we got in and seated I was underwhelmed. The tables were reminiscent of a cafeteria. The price to get in was no bargain. As we were seated, I thought I saw the reason we were there: a giant pile of crab. I was starting to warm up to this place. I got up to grab a heaping pile of seafood, when my friend intercepted me. “Don’t waste your time. Follow me!” he insisted.
Before I knew it, we were standing before a frenetically flailing woman, who was shaking collendars and dropping fry baskets into a series of mystery liquids. She moved at cartoon speed and the order in which she did things was impossible to discern. After a few minutes of watching this food tornado, she sprinkled some chopped green onion on top and handed me a bowl of what smelled like heaven.
We took our bowls back to the cafeteria, er...our table. My friend, Brad, advised me to sit with it for while and just smell. As the flavors wafted into my nose, I was overcome with a sense of serenity. My mouth was watering and I impatiently waited for Brad to indicate that it was alright to begin.
He gave me the nod. I spooned a sip of broth first. When I slurped it in, my eyes crossed and my head shot back. “What is this? It’s the best friggin’ thing I’ve ever tasted!” I demanded. Brad smiled and calmly said, “Ramen.”
“Nooooooooooo!” Ramen is my enemy. Ramen scarred me for life. Ramen is the example of good intentions going too far!
“Yep.” he countered simply and nodded while blissfully enjoying this amazing bowl of flavor and texture.
Since that day, I have made peace with my Smack Ramen demons and about once a month I make a failed, but not entirely awful attempt at duplicating that magical bowl handed to me that fateful day in Vegas.
Feature photo courtesy of Flickr, under Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial license
Jerry Mooney is co-founder and managing editor of Zenruption and the author of History Yoghurt and the Moon. He studied at the University of Munich and Lewis and Clark College where he received his BA in International Affairs and West European Studies. He has recently taught Language and Communications at a small, private college and owned various businesses, including an investment company that made him a millionaire before the age of 40. Jerry is committed to zenrupting the forces that block social, political and economic justice. He can also be found on Twitter@JerryMooney