I’m standing at D-Spot’s counter for the second time in a week, in pursuit of the Seppuku wings—one of two varieties not listed on the Oakdale establishment’s epic menu.
“Do you have a death wish?” asks a young employee.
Hearing my answer, his shoulders shrugged in a way that left no doubt we both knew whose funeral this was. When I asked if I might get a pair of gloves to go with my order of chicken wings, he shook his head. “You’ll just have to die like a man,” he sighed. I ordered a Hamm’s from the tap, my preferred last earthly drink in the absence of bourbon.
The Seppuku wings require 24 hours’ advance notice, payment upfront, and may be ordered only after the eater has proven their tolerance by finishing all five of D-Spot’s “Scorpion’s Lair” wings. The first of these prerequisites is practical; the wings must be prepped outside regular business hours, which keeps the kitchen from gassing out the restaurant or causing bodily harm to anyone near enough to suffer their wrath while preparing them. Considering that arrangement, you can understand the second prerequisite: cold feet are common with wings this hot.
I had felt it myself as the car nosed its way around the curve of I-94 and St. Paul disappeared from my rearview on our first visit to D-Spot for a showdown with the Scorpion’s Lair. My nerves were on edge, and it wasn’t just my lifelong fear of suburbs. As a lover of spicy wings, I’d had a number of D-Spot’s more punishing flavors, from the El Loco to the feisty cajun Rougarou. But I had yet to visit the Scorpion’s Lair, and the deeply intimidating Seppuku had always existed more as a theoretical option than something I was likely to ever put myself through. Apparently I am not alone in this attitude of self-preservation; multiple times staff members mentioned they’d never seen anyone order the Seppuku.
The best way to enjoy a night at D-Spot is with a group of friends who like to share. The best way to enjoy a night in the Scorpion’s Lair is with a group of friends who like to share and who also lack a safe word. We gathered around the full spread. Revel with me now in the names: Brimstone, Devil’s Paradise, Scorpion King, Black Venom, and the dread Witch Doctor. Describing any one of these using traditional notions of flavor profiles is futile, though the Brimstone is a particularly delicious barbecue sauce right up until it eats your sanity. While each certainly has flavor—the Devil’s Paradise’s afternoon of fruit and tea as held in Beelzebub’s kitchen, for example—the defining characteristic of each is the effect of ample capsaicin on the body and mind.
In her seminal 1985 book The Body in Pain, Elaine Scarry writes, “Pain does not simply resist language but actively destroys it.” As friends and I made our way through the wings, descriptive phrasing broke down into primitive monosyllabics, grunts, and emphasized exhale-inhales akin to the Lamaze technique deployed during childbirth. We sweated, we cried, we spasmed. At one point I found myself blowing on a particularly nasty Black Venom flat before biting into it, as if this would cool the Scovilles into something more merciful. After diving into the dry rub Witch Doctor, easily the most sadistic of the Lair’s denizens, we were overtaken by violent shivering that lasted several minutes and culminated in us donning our winter coats indoors. I remain unsure if we had developed wing-induced fevers or suffered from physical shock.
That is the thing with pain: While we bonded by sharing in the experience as a group, the reality of suffering is that it is experienced individually. We all burn alone. As the capsaicin shot frantic warnings to my brain—that peculiar mix of stimulation, warmth, pain, and pleasure—the brain responded by opening endorphin floodgates, an analgesic response trying in vain to keep up with my stubborn masochism. I felt my head and face carpet over with a not-unpleasant tingling before a couple minutes of near-total disassociation; my head floated up over the table to a vantage point from which to revel in the grand stupidity of it all.
Before leaving, we placed the order and paid for my Seppuku, to be “enjoyed” three nights hence. I went home to sleep and tried my level best not to think of what terrors I’d brought on myself. Did my guts understand that tonight’s onslaught was merely the warm-up act? As if in answer, a fart presented itself, reeking of cremation.
Seppuku, also known as Harikari, was a ritual suicide practiced in the feudal era by samurai, by a small number of Japanese officers during World War II, and, notably, by brilliant author (and mad nationalist) Yukio Mishima, whose 1970 seppuku was a botched and morbid affair, committed after a similary botched and morbid attempt to lead a military coup on behalf of the emperor (the soldiers were not interested).
In seppuku, the soon-to-be-deceased plunges a short blade into their belly, slicing left to right. This can lead to death by blood loss, but more typically the pain is overwhelming, at which point the individual signals their second, who is tasked with decapitating them. A perfect decapitation is done in one stroke, and leaves the head still attached by a small bit of skin and tissue. It is considered an honorable death.
When I tell the counter staff at D-Spot that I have arrived for my Seppuku, they react much the way folks reacted to old Mishima’s politics, best summarized as “Well that’s insane but go off, I guess.” There is no pomp, nor circumstance. We do not get a special T-shirt or a table. And, to be honest, I love it. Humans die in dirt and decay; why should an ability and willingness to tolerate intolerable spice mark any one of us as different? I find a seat in the back room, surrounded by my closest friends. A server comes by, carrying my basket of pain at arm’s length from her face. “Who gets the death wings?”
In front of me, she places four to six wings. It’s hard to tell, exactly. The wings are sunk in a tar-like viscosity from which no light will ever escape. Over that surface, orange and red pepper powders and seeds coat the bulging meat.
It is time to plunge the blade.
The best (worst) heats build. This one is no different. The bites heavy on dry powder attack the mouth and back of the throat, reducing my voice to a wheeze. But the real pain takes its time. My ear canals, face, neck, hands, arms, and back of my neck feel like low-level electric shock. I gasp like a fish pulled onto the deck of a boat. My body temperature rises and then drops. As with the earlier, less-hot wings, I feel my head detach and float upward toward the ceiling, stopped short by the skin still keeping it (just barely) attached. An honorable death.
Of course, I don’t really die. I eat two wings and a bite of a third before throwing in the towel. I take greedy gulps from the bottle of milk a friend smuggled in and wait for the burn to fade into a pure endorphin after-party. Driving home, my insides are already beginning to turn on me. It’s a reminder that tomorrow will, in fact, arrive, bringing with it the aftermath of this ritual, as well as a return to the jobs that grind us up daily and whatever horrors our big, dumb Anthropocene has in store for us. And although I did not achieve my beautiful death, I have affirmed this one thing to myself: I have the capacity to endure.
7129 10th St N, Oakdale
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