Noodles…and, no, I don’t mean the good stuff. I’m talking about the cheap-ass “pour in hot water and have instant ramen” type stuff. Yeah, yeah – we all lived on that stuff at one time or another in our lives. I know I did.
But, for the love of all that’s holy, does it have to be so bad?
Let me paint a picture for you: roughly 4.5 million visitors go through Yellowstone in a year. And, to all intents and purposes, every single damned one of them comes into this store and gets noodles for breakfast, lunch and dinner…all at the same time.
The hordes of tourists – all pushing and shoving and fighting to get their noodle-bowl first – are not even the worst part. The worst part? The smell.
No, really: the smell. How did I ever eat that crap?
The store’s cashiers, stockers and food service people are way too busy to take care of the damned noodle stand, so guess who gets to try and keep it cleaned and stocked? Good guess.
Every single time I walk past the place, I have to stop to clean and stock…all while gagging on the smell and getting shoved aside by hungry tourists. It’s enough to remind me why I’m an introvert…
Now, why on earth am I talking about the stench of cheap, instant noodles? Because, all too often, we writers forget that folks have senses other than eyes (and the occasional ear). How many stories talk about the smell of a place? Or the feel?
Honestly, the sense of smell can be just as evocative and memorable as sights and sounds. Whether I ever do another season working up here or not, I will remember two things about the store itself: the complete lack of air circulation in a 60+ year old building, and the stench of noodles.
And the noodles are worse…far, far worse. I’d gladly sweat my ass off every single day if it meant I didn’t have to walk by that damned noodle stand ever again.
Hmm…I thought about doing something serious here, a brief snippet to capture the feeling and smell of the store. My brain didn’t cooperate:
From sun to shade, the temperature dropped about twenty degrees. He pulled the hat from his head and wiped ineffectively at sweat-matted hair. The hike had left him tired, dirty and starving. But mostly starving. He needed something – anything – and he needed it fast.
He stepped through the door, dodging young kids and grandmothers as he squeezed between the two lines waiting impatiently for their chance at the registers. His stomach growled, and his legs felt weak. Something…anything…even a goddamned overpriced granola bar!
The crowd was a pain in the ass, every single one seemingly determined to keep him from reaching the ready-made food. It was a weaving, circuitous route he took. Faster to walk twice the distance than to fight upstream against all those pushing for the exit.
The beer fridge almost pulled him off the hunt – almost. As much as he wanted a drink, however, he needed food more. The briefest of sighs, and he left behind the Jennie’s Lake lager and the Bitch Creek brown. Later, when urgent needs were settled. When he didn’t feel like a weasel was eating him from the inside out.
He felt like a hero finally reaching the tower with the sleeping princess when he found the soup aisle. And when he’d grabbed one of those big, plastic bowls? He’d just slain the biggest fucking dragon in the place. Now he just had to escape, had to fight through the hordes of guards to reach the safety of the Kingdom of the Microwave.
Something began to build, however. A sense…a feeling…an odor. What fell beast lay in wait? What diabolical trap would he face?
That evil built, became all but overwhelming. Thirty people there were, all using two microwaves to heat soup. All the exact same soup…all the soup he himself held in his sweating, shaking hand.
The stench hit him in a wave. It was almost physical, that smell. Sickly, greasy…like a fire in a barn full of animals. Like the worst day in the slaughterhouses outside of Chicago.
He wanted to wretch, wanted to flee…but he was hungry, dammit!
He continued to wait in that line, started to push forward a bit, to claim a place as far ahead as he could. Hey, it was working for the little grannies – one had even stabbed him with the handle of her cane just to use his moment of shock to move ahead.
And the smell continued to build.
Thank God he had quit drinking early last night. He didn’t think he could take the place with a hangover. A headache and general queasiness to go with that smell? Yeah, that would be a good idea.
Only one person ahead, now. Hunger built until it had taken control of his mind. His eyes saw nothing but the microwave just ahead…
The rest of his body? The rest of his body was crying – screaming – to leave, to get out.
The dragon was still alive, and it was pissed. The air felt thick: thick with grease and salt, thick with the smells of nothing natural, thick with evil. His hands suddenly felt heavy, that plastic bowl starting to grow in weight until it dragged at his arms.
He had to do this, he had to eat!
The tiny granny fetched her soup from inside the microwave and moved away with a smirk for him. Psychotic bitch.
A tear at the packaging, then, and his bowl was open and ready. The smell, however, the smell from that granny’s bowl lingered. It had combined with the thousands before her, had permeated even the wood and plastic of the counter. Just a touch and the man felt soiled, dirty. Was that stain on his skin, or had it penetrated all the way into his very soul?
Water in the bowl…bowl in microwave…a couple of minutes to heat…
He started to shake and sweat. A burp, tiny and subtle, but one that brought with it a bit of bile from below. What the hell? He tried to settle himself, to take a deep breath.
That was a mistake.
He broke into a fit of coughing, wanted nothing more than water to drink..and to wash. The grease was everywhere, the evil filling every pore. He was gagging now, barely able to breathe.
A trembling, palsied hand on the small door. A brief pull and it snapped open. Not a bowl of noodles did that door release, but a raging demon on the attack.
He wretched, had to lean on the counter to keep from passing out. His stomach continued to heave, and the other organs decided that now was a good time for some internal solidarity: his lungs shut down, his heart began to pound. Hell, even his fucking spleen decided to not do whatever it is that spleens do.
Inside that cloud, however – inside that demon – still hid his bowl of soup. Still hid the lunch he so badly needed.
He commanded an arm to move, to reach. The arm refused.
His legs had had enough. Fuck you brain, they said, we’re out of here.
The bowl of noodles laughed at him with maniacal glee.
Men and women were pushed aside. Children simply run over. The only pause in his flight was to kick aside the psychotic granny’s cane. Out of the store he ran, pursued all the while by the taunting, evil laughter of a $1.69 bowl of soup.