Stairway to gluttony

Photo By David Robert

Swensen’s Ice Cream Factory and Shoppe is a mid-priced family restaurant serving salads, sandwiches and, as the name would imply, ice cream. However, for the devout culinary connoisseur, there is but one real attraction: The Earthquake—eight different scoops of ice cream topped with eight different toppings, a generous helping of whipped cream, candy sprinkles and, not surprisingly, a cherry ($16.95). The names of all of those who have successfully mastered The Earthquake experience—eaten the entire thing in under an hour—are emblazoned in golden brass along the back wall of the modestly decorated and old-timey “shoppe.”

In preparation for the experience, I spent the day fasting. As the scheduled time for communion began to approach, I found myself craving fresh fruits and vegetables. Fortunately, I had the presence of mind to recognize that these cravings were distractions and did not give into temptation.

I joined up with two other pilgrims, Dan and David. The first task that faced us was to choose the flavors and toppings with which we would be grappling. David and I both opted for basic flavors like chocolate and vanilla matched with coffee-flavored ice creams. Dan chose to divide his flavors evenly between chocolate flavors and fruit sherbets.

We took to our respective Earthquakes like prizefighters, trying different approaches, working different areas.

After about 30 minutes, David took a look at the melting swirl of colors in Dan’s bowl. “Dan, yours looks like a clown melted,” he said. A moment later he added, “I honestly don’t think I can do this. I don’t care if I don’t finish this, I still have my dignity.”

Dan responded, “I guess you can call the life of loserdom ‘dignity.’ “

“Do you really think you’ll be able to do it?”

“You don’t know how bad I want that brass plaque.”

A few grueling minutes later, Dan announced, “I’m glad that there’s no rule against going to the bathroom.” He then got up and disappeared into the men’s room. When he returned, he was strangely reenergized.

I decided to follow his cue and went to the bathroom myself. I took a long look in the mirror. All right, kid, I thought, you can do this. And then I walked meekly back to the table. I was shaking all over. My stomach was freezing cold and churning steadily. I had a hard time getting my eyes to focus.

“You’ve got seven minutes left,” said David.

I looked at my bowl. There was just too much still there—at least a scoop and a half of ice cream, gelatinous gobs of caramel, airy fluffs of whipped cream. But then something happened: “Stairway to Heaven” came on the radio. I put my head down and began shoveling in the ice cream at a sickening rate. I was on an escalator to victory.

Just as the song was reaching its climactic guitar solo, I threw my spoon into the empty bowl and raised my hand in a triumphant thumbs-up. Robert Plant belted out, “And as we wind on down the road, our shadows taller than our souls, there walks a lady we all know-we-oh!”

“How often do people try to do this?” Dan asked our waiter.

“Well, somebody tries nearly every time I work. But only maybe one in every 10 actually succeeds.”

One in 10. Dan and I have now joined the ranks of one of the most elite cadres in all of the culinary arts.