The taproom is loud with conversations at other tables and the clink of dishes as servers shuffle plates and glasses around, so we are shouting like stock brokers the specific times at which each of us thinks Ansel will break under the pressure, literally. I picture an abdominal swelling reminiscent of Violet Beauregarde in Charlie & the Chocolate Factory, only a skosh more revolting. But Ansel's determined: "I can do it. I can do it."
Ben, the challenge commissioner, guesses 8:42. Bobby guesses 8:50, and Emily guesses 8:40.
The challenge is to take place the following night at precisely 7:30pm. Ansel will have until 8:30pm to finish his gallon and, diverging slightly from the traditional rules of the challenge, must not expel the milk before 9:30pm. Now, if there is one person I know that should be able to excel in this sort of contest, it is Ansel Sanger. The man is no stranger to milk. He is the primary milk consumer in our house, drinking pint glass after pint glass in a single sitting. To him, there is nothing quite as satisfying as a tall, cold glass of milk, and osteoporosis doesn't even run in his family. I'm sure, if there's one person I know who can rise to the Gallon Challenge, it is Ansel.
I place my bid at 8:23. No, I'm not convinced he'll make it the whole hour. Because if there's one thing I know about Ansel it is that he is competitive, very competitive. His love of milk wouldn't even make the top 5 list of things characteristic to him, and I suspect he will not pace himself properly for optimal endurance.
Other bids include 8:10, 8:28, 8:46, and 9:10. Molly is the only one who thinks Ansel will not puke, but I feel good about my time. We finish our beers and leave, feeling a little like you might just before a raffle drawing, or when you receive sweepstakes mail: unshakable, with a flurry of excitement in your belly. You may already be a winner!
In the historical records of my house, the Gallon Challenge has surfaced time and again in conversation. From the beginning, Ansel was certain that he would emerge victorious should the challenge ever be set before him, and Ben always offered that he would buy the very gallon used. But, like many things spoken of around here—pool tables, helicopters, house cleaning—the event was never initiated. Now, in our final weeks living together, the gauntlet was finally thrown down.
The morning of the event, I woke to realize that the only milk in the house was reserved for Ansel to guzzle later that night, leaving me with a dry bowl of Frosted Mini-Spooners and a sour mood. I would not be around that evening when Ansel would test the limits of his digestive tract. Mercifully, I would be at work. Later, while standing at the bookstore counter, I felt my phone vibrate and, with no one looking, I peeked at the text message I had just received. It was from Bobby: Dave wins! 8:23 tons of puke!
With no real prize to speak of, my first thought was, "Gross. Nobody wins," but then I reconsidered. No, in fact, I had won: Not only did I guess the precise time for Ansel to vomit, I also did not have to watch any of the proceedings. I did not see the repulsive pint-after-pint drinking. I did not hear the eventual and incessant complaints Ansel surely made as the milk turned to rocks in his gut. And I missed the actual vomiting. Indeed, I won in spades. Getting the time right, well, that's just the icing on the cake. I felt unshakable, a little flurry of excitement in my belly. Everybody likes to win. If I were the gambling type, I knew my game, provided casinos and basement poker tournaments eventually expanded into competitive milk drinking. Still, I knew my game, and I had my cash cow—so to speak.