My wife had been encouraging me to pick up a hobby and meet some people.
“Get out there, Jake! We’re overdue for a double date.”
She wasn’t wrong. We’d moved to a new town late last year, and I hadn’t really gotten past the water cooler stage with anyone at work.
So one Wednesday night I found myself at a woodworking class a few towns over, sitting in a circle of cedar stools as Mike, the owner of the shop, led us through some icebreakers. Name, goals for the class, fun facts, that sort of thing.
I introduced myself, talked about hoping to build a large backyard table for dinners in the summer, and said I once bowled a 240. Everybody nodded and smiled.
Eventually, the circle found its way to a short man around 25 or 26 years old. He sported a scraggly auburn beard and an oversized hockey jersey. After each student’s fun fact he'd cracked his fingers and chuckled, as if to make sure the room knew he was unimpressed.
When it was his turn he cleared his throat.
“My name is Chesney. I'd like to build a pergola or two. And I'm the great-great-great-great grandson of General Custer.”
There was a beat. Mike cocked his head to the side, bemused.
“General Custer? As in, Little Bighorn General Custer?”
“No, as in Bora Bora General Custer …”
Chesney darted his eyes around the room before breaking into a grin and cackling.
“Of course Little Bighorn General Custer, Mike!”
I was assigned partners with a man named George. He told me he worked at an accounting firm down the road. We listened as Mike taught us some basic tools and methods, and planned for our first collaborative project (knife deck and cutting board) but didn't end up talking too much. At the end of the session, he packed up his things and offered a quiet goodbye.
Meanwhile, Chesney Custer was announcing his intentions to head out for a bite to eat. He’d been taking nonstop throughout the entire session, covering everything from the efficiency of Disney World's monorail system to why he thought boxer briefs were overrated.
He asked if anyone wanted to come along to dinner, and received a bunch of muttered “Sorry, I cant’s” in return. Without entirely sure why, I found a “Sure, I'll go!” spill from my mouth.
Chesney sized me up.
“Yeah? Alright, that works! Follow me in your car. I know a place.”
He knew a place. A true local! I texted my wife that I’d made a friend and was grabbing a bite. She sent back a ton of happy emojis.
I followed Chesney’s Chevy down the road. He drove about a mile towards the highway before turning left into Buffalo Wild Wings.
“So you ‘know a place,' huh?”
We were sitting in a booth under a row of TVs.
“Yeah! Had a friend years ago who introduced me to this spot. He'd heard about from his cousin. It’s good! I promise.”
We busied ourselves with the menu and I tried to think of what to say. Making friends felt a bit like dating. The waiter arrived moments later, asking if we were ready to order. I nodded.
“I’ll do the boneless small in bourbon honey mustard.”
Chesney let the menu slide from his fingers onto the table and stared the waiter directly in the eye.
“I want it.”
“Don't play coy with me.”
“What would you like to order, sir?”
“Mount Vesuvius. I need it.”
The waiter’s jaw dropped to the floor. The music turned off and a bartender shattered a glass.
“Sir, no one has ever completed Mount Vesuvius. It's banned in 13 sta-”
The manager had arrived. He put a hand on the waiter’s chest and stared Chesney down, hard, for several moments.
“Very well. Alert the kitchen. Chesney Custer will scale Mount Vesuvius.”
As we waited for the food (and I tried to wrap my head around what was happening) Chesney meditated to himself, whispering something along the lines of “… blue cheese is for the weak, ranch is for the meek.”
The plate arrived. It was at least 100 wings, piled high like a volcano, with smoke emanating from the center. The waiter stood over us, almost trembling. Most of the bar was watching the spectacle now, and many had their phones out.
“This is our Black Widow Death Sauce. It’s sourced from a cave in the Amazon rainforest. The sauce is FDA rejected, and in large enough portions, hot enough to burn through the hull of an airship.”
The waiter snapped his fingers, and six additional waiters hurried over, each carrying a pitcher of waters and a pack of napkins.
“And of course, you'll also need—”
“Excuse me, sir?”
“Send them away, Chief. I don't need water or napkins. I'm fine. I can handle this.”
I figured it was about time I chimed in.
“Chesney, take the water! I can't even finish my 10-piece without a glass. Which, by the way, is that order coming?”
The waiter ignored me.
“Very well, sir. You have 10 minutes. Good luck.”
Chesney stormed out of the gate, inhaling what must've been 25-30 wings in the first two minutes. Drums, flats, didn't matter. They'd supplied an empty plate, but he chose instead to toss each finished bone on the floor.
Something happened, though, around Wing 39. Chesney Custer hesitated. His hockey jersey was soaking wet with sweat, and his hand reached expectantly for a glass of water that wasn’t there.
He shook his head, angry at himself for stopping, and dove back in. Forty, forty-five, fifty-five…The crowd began to chant his name as he surged against the onslaught of wings. He was doing it! Chesney was scaling Mount Vesuvius!
Until, well, until Wing 72. No matter how he tried, Chesney could not lift it to his mouth. His fingers were too slippery from the build-up of sauce, his quivering cheeks as red as a fire engine.
Chesney looked up at the waiter, the manager, the crowd, at me … and abruptly slipped off his stool, crashing into the pile of bones on the floor. Buffalo Wild Wings went silent. I dropped to one knee, and took his head into my arms, cradling it as one would an infant. Chesney coughed and opened his mouth to speak.
“There were too many of them. I suppose…I really am his great-great-great-great grandson.”
I wiped a dash of Black Widow Death Sauce from the corner of his lips.
“You are Chesney. And that’s nothing to be ashamed of.”
He died in my arms.
I got home about half past one and slid into bed with my wife. She cuddled up against me.
“Mmm. How’d it go, Jake? Make a friend?”
“Lost one, actually. I lost one.”