He was greek or Italian I think. White suit. Greasy hair. Didn’t look like a homeless person. I don’t even know if he was. But he
practically lived on the boardwalk. Whenever I was down there I always saw him. And he was always wearing the same thing. So I assumed he either lived in his car. Or a tent, or camper van.
What he really was is ‘the Heimlich Man.’ That is what everyone called him. And that is what everyone knew he was. He was like an agency. Or an institution. Like a one man organ of state government. He had a jurisdiction. He had a mandate. A mission.
There are many restaurants, and many tourists on Venice Beach. Many people eating. Eating at standup counters along the sidewalk. Sitting on benches eating. Eating on the grass. Some even eating while walking. Hot dogs, hamburgers, sushi. Urchins jamming avocados into their toothless face holes. Fat ass southern belles sucking on chili dogs. Prudes on sushi. Lovers removing the onions from hamburger patties. Indian Curry.
The eating never stops. Breakfast lunch dinner. Day in day out. Hundreds upon hundreds of eaters. Hundreds upon hundreds of
opportunities for someone to choke.
Like a hunting grounds. Eaters as antelopes. Sushi beasts. Honey bun bears. Teriaki Tigers.
Foraging. Killing. Gulping enormous mounds of protein and sugar and fat. A food festival. Culinary orgy.
Heimlich man. Fucker. All soave. In his white suit. Slicked back hair. Cruising my hunting grounds. There could be only one hero. It had to be me or him.
How was it possible for two individuals to come up with exactly the same dream. To become exactly the same person. And to converge, of all the possible locations in the world in exactly the same spot on earth. It was a test. Survival of the fittest.
The first time it happens. You never forget that moment… it changes you. Shows you a side of yourself you have never seen before. Hot dog eating contest.
That was the first big one for me.
You would think at an eating event there would be people on staff who were prepared in event of a disaster. It’s an eating compettion. God knows it’s hard enough to navigate the complexities of getting food down your gullet without the additional challenge of time pressure, and the thrill of competitive battle. I’m surprised more people don’t die.
It was probably a good third of the way into the test, and you could tell the competitors were hitting the first wall. I was in a front row seat. Not all the competitors were fatsos. The guy right in front of me was in the middle of jamming a dog into his pie hole when he accidentally got a smear of mustard or something up his nose. He was shoving and gulping and looking at his competitors plates out of the side of his eyes, everyting all at once, and then the mustard that got trapped on the back of his hand somehow got into his nose. And he sneezed.
Well. Not quite. The first part of a sneeze involves a dramatic inhale. And at that exact moment the dog he was currently eating happened to be jammed to the exact point of no return. I had never seen it happen before. And although it is a figure of speach. The kid actually inhaled an entire hot dog.
Such a sweet solid seal. Like a cork in a wine bottle. A solid first choke. The one that you will measure all others by for the rest of your life. ‘Muapb’ the dog dissappeared and the kids eyes suddenly flew wide open. Not one wisp of breath could get past in either direction…
I watched him, studied him first from afar. To gain insight into the method, ways, strengths, weaknesses of my opponent. All I wanted to do was save someone. And, that was also all he wanted to do.
You knew when it was going to happen. You almost knew where. It was like a sixth sense. I knew this because we almost always found ourselves within eye contact. Like we were two sharks on a blood trail from the same distressed twitching bleeding fish taco…
The thing was. He always got their first! Every single goddamned time. It was like a curse. I’d be trailing, or even if I was leading. We both cruised relentlessly. Bloodshot eyes. Not wanting to blink in case someone in danger got missed. And like I said. No matter how vigilant I was, somehow, just at the exact moment someone wulfed down that too big piece of sushi, at the precise second someone tried to take a deep breath while munching on a crumbly cookie, at the instant some drunk teenager snuck up on their burrito gulping buddy and tried to scare the living daylights out of them – the moment that life threatening error of the achilles heal of breathing and eating trying to share the same tube at the same time… BOOM.
He was like a bolt of lightning. A killer shark. A knight in shining harbor. And before I could even identify exactly where the call for help was coming from he was already there. Perfect timing. Perfect form. He had the best grip I had ever seen. The right sized hands. Placement… 10. Composure… 10. Knew the exact correct amount of force to use so as not to go too far and break a rib or puncture a lung. And more than that, he had style. Nobody ever puked on a table. Nobody got hit in the eye by flying projectiles of trapped food. Like a chiropractor. No, more like a gymnast. Or a superhero. I’m surprised he wasn’t wearing a cape.
What was I supposed to say. Saving lives was not some kind of game. “Hey, let me get one once in a while… Hey, stop stealing all the chokers… Hey you selfish bastard you are spoiling all my fun!”
I went for weeks without a kill. Heimlich Man was on a roll. I saw him save three chokers in one day. Smug fucker. He had the perfect release. It was almost too much to watch. Like it was in slow motion or something. And his hair would be all mussed. And then the family members would gather around. And people hugged each other. Sometimes there would be a crowd and people would clap…
Then it happened. We were taking a break. I kept my distance. He had no idea I even existed. Arrogant motherfucker. I had skills. I was desperate to demonstrate that I had it in me. Desparate for that kind of affection only someone who was about to die develops toward the person saving them. So intense. God, it’s the purest love known to man. Once you experience that kind of connection it becomes an addiction. I was an addict. Heimlich Man was hogging all my medicine.
How is it possble for someone with such an awareness for the liabilities involoved in the consumption of food to fuck it up. Someone so intensely aware of the danger of food, to slip. To fall flat on their face. In public…
But the fact that it happened was my salvation. Saving an average human was an amazing rush. But what about saving a saviour. I had never felt it before. And, I was pretty sure I would never feel it again. But not only was it an opportunity for me to best my nemesis, it was the opportunity I had been looking for to be freed from my obsession.
Simple food. Gets eaten by a hundred thousand people accross the country every day. People are practiced in it. Nothing exotic. Heimlich Man rolled up to the fried chicken stand on a Friday afternoon. No kill day. We were both pretty demoralized. He must have needed to be comforted. Fried chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy. I almost ordered chicken korma at the Indian stand. But then, I got the call. I knew it was coming. I stiffened.
The next few moments, like they always do, in retrospect, transpired as if they were stretched out over an exploded timeline. Another way of saying ‘it felt as though it happened in slow motion.’ Must have been a bone or something. Maybe he got distracted by a beautiful woman. Or something made him laugh. It wasn’t so much fear as surprise that I watched as it surfaced on his darkly tanned face, perfectly trimmed handlebar moustache, and thickly eyebrowed visage… He staggered away from the counter clutching his throat…
I thought he was fucking with me. My first response was contempt. Oh ya. Go ahead. See if I’m going to flinch. I’m going to sit right here and watch Heimlich Man choke to death! Revenge.
Something else kicks in before it’s too late. Something primal. We are programmed like bloodcells. When someone gets cut their blood automatically knows how to clot. It is built in. Because it keeps things alive. And that is what living things were meant to do.
Surprisingly I found myself moving in exactly the same ways as I had observed Heimlich Man move. I was a prodigy. I had inadvertenlty become his pupil. And all the times I had watced his saves had taught me in ways I had previously been aware of. Like a rollercoaster ride. He fell. I caught his fall. He clasped, I cleared the obstruction. I directed a bystander to help me get him back oh his feet. We held him. He was fading. Such a sweet moment. He was just about to pass out. I went in for the kill. Perect grasp. Perfect location. Just the right amount of force. And I spun him around just a bit from the other people eating. POOOF. Out it went. Just missed a kid on a bike swerving by. AAAAAH. And then that first breath. And the tears. The catharsis. He spun around and we looked each other in the eyes for the first time. And instantly became friends.