“A lot of you have been asking me about what I do with all of the cans I consume when I do the Carbonation Carnage Challenge.” Jon’s smile was unbreaking. “First of all, thank you all so much for being so environmentally conscious.” He pushed candy wrappers across the table and set his phone against a box of bougie canned seltzer. “I wash out all of my cans and separate them from my paper and compost.” He tapped a button on his mix board; the sound of an old foghorn burst out from a speaker behind him. “Can I get some love in the chat!” He watched heart after heart float onto his screen, and the dopamine washed over him like an ocean spray. “I’m gonna get real personal here for a moment, guys.” He looked up to a corner of his studio, where a spider rested undisturbed, waiting for anything to come its way. Jon’s eyes glassed over like oil shimmering on a hot skillet. “Growing up, my mom and I—we—we would collect cans from dumpsters in the neighborhood for that extra buck.” He wiped his eyes clean. “It was our way to keep our heads above water.”
He looked back to the screen, which lit up his face with blinking red as each heart filled his own with a rush like watching fireworks, and just as fleeting. “It was because of recycling at the local supermarket that we—we survived.” He wiped his eyes and smiled again. “Which is why I am teaming up with Fizzybetch for the release of their new flavor, Brunchtime paradise. Use the promo code: GETTINFIZZYWITIT for a ten percent discount on your next twenty-four pack of Fizzybetch flavored seltzer.” More hearts. “Thank you Alfalfa6969 for the love. I see you, my friend.”
Jon adjusted his posture, nearly knocking over the folded up mini green screen behind him. He caught it just in time, almost revealing the sofa with the mimosa vomit stain from last week, which he’d clumsily tried to erase with a stain pen his mother had sent him before his first New York job interview. “You are all amazing!” he cried. “I see from your comments that this is a very environmentally conscious fam we got here. Let’s get some more love in the chat.” EvrBDYLuV(Cat emoji) commented Fuck you fake ass Mukbang bitch!. StarBrBY2010 commented YOU are amazing, King. Marry me?
“Alright, y’all. I’ll try and see if I have time to come on later tonight. But until then, remember, I’m Jon of Crunchtime! Later!” He ended the live video and saw his image stilled on his wide smile. Several comments overlapped his face on the image, mostly suggesting he eat shit instead of food. The room felt dark with only the long fluorescent light above his kitchenette, showcasing all the dirty dishes, and the buzzing lamp with the missing shade squinting at him from the opposite corner. He looked back down at his phone to see that a follower had sent him five dollars online with the message, Send foot pics please!
He popped the top of a can and waded to the other side of the apartment, between trash bags filled with cans and wrappers. In the sink were dishes caked with tomato sauce and congealed egg from breakfast sandwiches he got in the bodega. When he lit the gas and emptied a can of black beans into the pan to simmer, he realized that there were no clean dishes left. He ran the sink until steam billowed out. Jon silently watched the filth fall from the bowls of dried cereal milk and plates of hardened bean juice.
When the beans were ready, he added a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Feeling like there was an element of preparation to the simple meal, he let out a satisfied sigh. He haphazardly wiped the loosened food from one bowl and dumped his beans in.
On the sofa, he opened his laptop and logged into Instagram, or as he had silently referred to it when using his laptop, Bigstagram. After doing live video twice a day for the past five days, he’d seen a spike in his following. He was now at 50,000 followers, though he’d lost 1,000 yesterday and couldn’t figure out why. People just don’t want to see photos anymore. He’d be lying if he said that he didn’t whizz past pictures while scrolling. But they have their place.
After looking at his analytics, he spelunked down the rabbit hole himself. Among the cute animal post variety, he settled on a video, a bit long for his taste, of an abandoned dog being rehabilitated. The closest he had come to having a dog was an iguana named Doug when he was a tween. Doug had never gotten sick, or really done much of anything before they eventually gave him to a man with a large private terrarium, but seeing that pit bull with the mange and the chain fused to his neck reminded Jon of the time when Doug first shed his skin and younger Jon thought he was dying. He took a screenshot of the gaunt and sad rescue and tagged the organization that sponsored the video. He made the day’s first post:
It breaks my heart to see such a dark and careless side of humanity. How can anyone treat a dog this way? He reminds me so much of my childhood dog, Doug. Whoever did this should be brought to justice, but I’m not the one to do that. What I can do is use my platform to raise money for the orgs like BULLYLIFE who are doing the good work in rehabilitating our furry friends. If we can raise $500, I will do another food video and all of the proceeds will go to BULLYLIFE through my Venmo (@JDJDeego). Please find it in your hearts to shatter this goal and watch me eat six whole boiled lobsters in one sitting. #butteredlobster#BULLYLIFE#ASMR#Mukbang#Seafoodmukbang#savetheworld#livingthedream#charity
After reading through the post again, changing the name from Doug to Charlie and back several times, he posted it. He ate his beans and fell asleep on the sofa for several hours. He woke up to a sticky puddle of drool. His first motion was to check his phone, where he found that he’d raised a total of $2534 through charity in his Venmo account. In his cash app was another notification from Footman87 with the same message as before. He popped open another can of Fizzybetch seltzer. It stung his gums as it mixed with the acidity of the beans from earlier.
After a shower and outfit change, he put in an order for six lobsters to be delivered to his place via Grubhub. Not bad, he thought, as he sent $100 to Bullylife through their Venmo, thanking them for what they do. The rest of the money went to his bank account.
Once the lobsters arrived, he oriented himself before the green screen and behind his high-density mic setup, pairing it with his phone before taking a deep breath. “Hey guys, we are back. How we doin’ in the chat?” Participants trickled in. “I want to wait until we have a critical mass of people before I make the announcement. Come on in everyone!” His listless eyes betrayed the wide smile across his face . Once there were five hundred viewers, he began. “Thank you all so much for supporting Bullylife and their mission. We’ve raised nearly the full goal, but I couldn’t bring myself to not follow through just because we came a little short.” He lowered his camera on the tripod to view the shellfish platter below. “You are all amazing. Now get ready for the most in-demand of all the solid foods. Lobster!” Heart after heart bundled up on his screen, and the comments flooded in. The number of viewers fluctuated up and down to eventually settle on a steady two thousand. Jon’s mom tried to call him, freezing his screen for a moment, but thankfully he was able to ignore it before it glitched with the sound of his live video. Her text appeared at the top of his screen: How are you, honey? He imagined her midwestern accent following up with something like How’s the big apple?
Jon leaned in low, toward his microphone. “Okay, fam. Get those headphones on, and before I begin, be sure to go to my Linktree in the bio and smash that subscribe button for my Patreon, where you can view all my delicious past content. I’m Jon and this is Crunchtime.” He twisted a lobster tail before the camera, splashing juice onto his windscreen. He dipped the jiggly innards into a plastic cup of melted butter before chomping down.
He dissected the claws and innards with his nutcracker and methodically lowered the gobs of green and red bits into his mouth, licking his fingers each time. Eating all six lobsters was a mess that would drive anyone stricken with misophonia to murder. After, Jon fought off the urge to heave long sighs of bloated discomfort. Engaging with his audience was difficult with a full mouth, but some said they enjoyed watching him struggle to chew while talking. “That was delicious, everyone. Please keep the donations coming and we can be sure to support Bullylife and other orgs in the future. This is Jon, trying to deliver you quality content that will elevate us all in a cruel world. Can we get some love for Bullylife in the chat!” He watched the chat, fighting off the urge to burp so hard that he’d vomit. The food felt as though it were sitting just below his throat, waiting to emerge.
“Oh my gawd, Bullylife has joined the chat. Thank you all for the great work you do, and please accept today’s event as a small gift.”
Bullylife posted a bunch of heart emojis and the statement: “Thank you so much @JDJDeego for the support. It’s because of influencers like you that non-profits like us can thrive. Thank you for the donation.”
Jon looked longer than he should have at the word influencer, fancying himself a BASE jumper, a famous traveling chef, or even a humble but skillful and creative clay potter. Any one of them would have been better than becoming someone that people watch eat huge amounts of gross food for pleasure. He grinned at his make-believe audience and convinced himself again that it could be worse. He could have been working at the canning factory in Milwaukee, or he could have been bussing tables for the trust fund folks at that overpriced Chinese-fusion restaurant in the west village. No, building his new life on instagram was the best thing for him. He tried to make it work in this world, but Instagram was a good consolation, just as mukbang was a good consolation for pursuing something fulfilling.
“Thank you all for your generosity, and thank you, Bullylife! I’m Jon, see you next Crunchtime.” He shut down the live video and ran toward his bathroom but ended up throwing up onto his carpet on the way there. It was chunky and red, and oily from all the butter. Jon stood over the mess as it intertwined with the brown shag rug near the bathroom door.
When he finished heaving what he assumed was all six lobsters, he rolled up the soiled mini shag rug and deposited it into a garbage bag filled with crumpled cans. After another shower, he figured that the apartment smelled ripe enough to elicit a trip to take out the trash. Garbage day was the following day, but it was already an irregular hour when most people in his building were in their 9-5s and he’d missed the last garbage day because he was sleeping in.
Jon checked the hall as though he were about to drag a body out to the trash. He took the six bags, all full to burst, down five flights. They clinked in the narrow hall with each descending stair, and a curvy woman in flattering athleisure walked past him as he left the first floor. “Garbage day is on Friday morning,” she said as she squeezed past him. Garbage juice smeared onto her yoga pants. Thankfully, she didn’t realize until she was many paces away from him down the block, but she did turn around and yell “Eww. You fucking freak! You got your trash jizz on my pants!”
He shrank at her words, but after returning to his lair, he gazed pridefully at his newly cleared out space. He felt even better once he opened the windows to let out some of the lingering vomit stench. Today’s gonna be a good day.
The weather was pleasant enough that Jon decided to go on a run to gather some high-quality content. He put on a jacket from a brand deal he’d recently made with the promise that he’d post about it within a month. As he headed out, he looked at his phone and saw that he’d accumulated another seventy monthly subscriptions to his Patreon account and another thousand-dollar donation to his Venmo. On his way to the subway, he burped up some acid from the meal. Thankfully, he’d packed several cans of seltzer in his backpack.
On the subway, a middle-aged man who looked to be fast approaching the winter of his life asked him if he was circumcised.
“Your parents mutilated you without your consent. Now you’re fucked, buddy!” The man spit as he spoke, and his breath smelled of old crab rangoon and shit. “Your dick was probably small when you got it! Then they went and cut it down some more!” He laughed. Motioning as though he were masturbating, he yelled, “Look at me, I got a fuckin’ small dick!” He continued to yell in Jon’s face for another two minutes. The man only stopped because he got out of the train at Broadway-Lafayette to yell at someone else who had the misfortune to look his way.
Jon got off at the same stop. He walked fast enough that before he knew it, he was already on Spring Street, walking toward Tribeca, where he’d no doubt find what he was looking for. He bought a large bag of nuts-4-nuts on the way and nibbled on them from their waxed baggie.
After about five minutes of searching, Jon found a black Lamborghini Veneno nestled beside a pricey pink trattoria bursting with perfectly sculpted caricatures of rich people sipping espresso after their meals. Jon threw his head back and guzzled the rest of his nuts and the candied flavor dust like a pelican does a wriggling fish. He examined himself in his phone’s camera. Beautiful. He produced his selfie-stick from his bag and extended it fully with his phone attached.
It wasn’t easy climbing onto the hood in his tight black jeans. He rested against the windshield with his elbows and started his photoshoot, sure to include some of the beautiful people behind him, who all turned in silence to stare at him. He made a few different faces and struck various poses to make it look like a drone took the pictures of him. All would have been perfect if not for man who yelled “What the fuck are you doing on my car?”
In his alarm, Jon shifted his weight swiftly onto his butt to sit up and inadvertently bent a deep impression into the car’s hood. He retracted his stick and put his phone in his pocket, but as he slid off the car’s hood, the heavy-set man with the stubbly face and leathered tan kicked him in the stomach. Jon buckled to the ground, gasping for air.
The tan man kicked him in the ribs, then looked at his car and grabbed Jon by the new jacket. “You fucking dented my hood.” He kicked Jon again. And again. Jon felt a pop beneath his ribcage just before the final kick to the same spot. The taste of blood filled his throat. Then the man kicked him in the face. Jon’s lip split open against his bottom teeth and the outer bone around his right eye felt as though it was about to snap like a wishbone. The man took Jon’s bag that had been resting on the hood and threw it at his fresh bruises, then got into his car and peeled away.
The onlookers from the restaurant were all staring at him in silence. The first one to break the quiet said to one of their friends, “I think I’ve seen that guy on Instagram.”
Jon got up and limped back to the group of people outside the restaurant and took a photo of them. They were all staring at him.
He was happy to find that his phone had emerged from the incident unscathed. On top of that, the pictures he took with his selfie stick were amazing. He smiled, splitting his lip open further. He posted as quickly as he could. It was a picture of himself lying across the front with one thumb up and a half smile. The text under it read:
You can’t expect everything to come to you in life. You gotta work hard and put in the hours and the hustle, but TRUST ME, it will all pay off one day if you stick to it. I never thought I’d have a Lamborghini, but here I am. You can do anything you want if you just believe!!! #believeinyourself#hustle#hardworkpaysoff#lamborghini#nyc#motivation.
As he walked on, the comments and likes buzzed in his pocket. He took shallow breaths to protect his ribs and braced the buildings beside him for some support. He wandered another few blocks until he passed by an unexpected opportunity. It was a boxing gym on Park Place and Church.
“You look like you just walked out of the ring, dude,” a giant man behind the desk told him.
“Nope, just had a run in, sadly.”
The man held out his hand. “Name’s Niko. I’d say we can help you, but you’d be better off healing first. You look like you busted some ribs by the way you’re walking.”
“Thanks. I’d like to do that, but can I buy some boxing gloves?”
Niko pulled down a few different pairs from the wall to present to him. Jon pointed half-heartedly to the wall, where an expensive-looking leather pair hung alone. Niko placed a hand on a less expensive pair and pushed it toward him. “Trust me, dude, you go around with these gloves and you’re basically telling everyone you’re a fuckin’ newbie. These are the ones real boxers use.”
“Thank you.” He gave Niko his credit card and took the gloves. “Would you mind if I messed around a bit on the bag now.”
“Man, you do whatever you want. Looks like you’re having a rough day. But be careful.”
Jon wandered to a heavy bag and set up his mini tripod on the ground. He pulled the tags off his new pair of gloves and recorded himself in front of the bag, throwing a few pretend punches. Then he removed a glove and grabbed his phone to take a few selfies with a gloved hand that showcased his fresh wounds. Out of his periphery he saw Niko shaking his head at Jon in disappointment. Jon did his best to pretend he didn’t notice as he chose the best of the photos and sat down in the musty gym to adjust all the lighting. He made another post:
Been a rough day at the gym, but I guess that’s why they say you don’t PLAY boxing; you BOX!!! A lot of you think all I do is Mukbang videos and charity work, but I have actually been boxing for the past few years since I moved to NYC for work. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my time here, it’s that if you’re too scared to take those shots, you’ll just end up on your ass. Thanks for all the pointers, Niko. You’ve been the best coach someone like me could ask for. Thanks to you, I feel ready to take whatever challenges come my way. Slip past the negativity. Weave around the haters. And jab, cross, and hook anyone who says you CAN’T do something! #boxing#thesweetscience#workoutmotivation#motivation#fitness#fightclimatechange#mukbang#asmr
Mom: Are you okay, honey? Did you really fight someone? Jon saw the text, sliding the notification into the great beyond to see the new messages waiting for him on Instagram. Turns out there were other small non-profits reaching out, and a CBD gummy company that wanted him to be a sponsor after seeing his boxing post. He would have smiled, but his lip was scabbing up now and the skin felt taut around his purpled nose where his philtrum met his septum.
Footman87: If you let me abuse your feet in person, I will pay you $1000/hr. You pick the place!!! Also if you send me your dirty socks I’ll send more $$$$$!
Jon thought about responding, but he ignored Footman87 for now and found himself in the heart of SOHO outside of a John Varvatos store. Staring at his reflection in the storefront window, he cleaned himself up with some napkins he took from a food cart. Nevertheless, when he stepped inside, he was approached by a clerk to check his bag. He did as he was told and tried to not let it bother him. He found that his skinny-fat physique suited much of the clothes there, but each time he snuck his arms through a jacket, his ribs stung so sharply that his eyes would widen to their threshold and he nearly crumpled to the floor.
The burgundy suede parka he fancied looked great on him in the long mirror. He tugged at the sleeves and the tag popped out. $3000. He slipped his phone out of his pocket and took a few selfies in the mirror and one good picture in the only corner of the store that didn’t look like a store in front of a sofa made of similar material as the jacket. He smiled at the pictures and returned the coat to its rack.
The clerk returned his bag to him and as he walked back toward NoLita he posted a boomeranged reel of himself giving the middle-finger to the mirror. The post read:
To everyone who thought I couldn’t become a successful influencer; and to all the haters who said that a guy from a small town could never realize his dreams of moving to the big city and making his mark, I say to you: I did it! And you can too! Follow my Patreon and I will share with you all of the secrets I’ve discovered over my career to boost your social media presence and create content that is engaging, professional, and most importantly, YOU! Click the link in my bio and start your journey today #johnvarvatos#SOHO#Liveyourbestlife#mukbang#seafoodmukbang#dabonthemhaters#influencer#contentcreator
Jon felt a shift under his ribs, like he’d been stabbed. He lifted his shirt and saw that his lower ribs were black and blue and that under his right side was a deep purple stain, a puddle under his skin that looked to have pooled and dried. He could hardly touch it without holding his breath, and he had a distinct metallic taste in his mouth. He hailed a cab and slowly climbed in to head back home.
In the cab, resting on the fuzzy cloth seat, he determined that this injury was probably much more serious than he thought. He perused his Instagram grid of posts, hoping to put the pain out of his mind. Many people loved his car post, but even though it was clear that many dozens of thousands of people saw the boxing post, the comments were almost unanimously negative, and they were all some variation of I could beat you in the ring and You are not a boxer.
When the driver dropped him off, he took time getting out of the car, but thankfully the driver was patient with him. In fact, the driver wished him well and shot him a concerned look as Jon finally got out.
It was on this day more than any other day that Jon regretted living in a fifth-floor walkup. He was sweating profusely by the time he reached the top, and after he turned the key and made it to the bathroom, he saw that his face had grown pale. He didn’t have the energy to shower, but he mustered the will to go live.
“Hey, guys. Jon here with a Crunchtime update. I don’t have time to wait for everyone to enter the chat, but thank you all for coming. I’ll be doing a special food video in an hour or two by popular demand, and I think you are all going to love it. Let’s get some love in the chat.” Jon’s smile was smaller from his split lip, but he broke the scab seal anyway. Many comments were about his injuries and that he looked so pale. “Thanks for all the love, Crunchtimers. I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned this, but I’m a boxer, and I was sparring with a former golden glove champ today. It was a great opportunity and I grew a lot, but it definitely hurt.” He feigned a breathy laugh. “Anyway, I have some preparations to do, but I will post the times about the food challenge to my story in a moment in case you all forget or didn’t have the free time to join right now. Stay tuned for the tempura power challenge!” He left the live video and collapsed onto his sofa. He posted the info for the video set to start in two hours from then. Then he set an alarm on his phone, and made the food order to a fancy Japanese restaurant two miles away for ten pounds of shrimp and vegetable tempura. He fell asleep.
His buzzer woke him before his alarm was set to sound. He pushed himself up to a seated position. All his muscles screamed. Soon after he accepted the delivery, he inadvertently dropped the bag to the floor, and he couldn’t bend over to retrieve it. Instead, he pushed the bag with his foot until it bumped into his coffee table. Jon lifted his shirt again to find that the puddle under his skin was larger, and seeing it nauseated him. He took great care in setting himself back down onto the couch and popped open another can of fizzybetch seltzer. The bubbles temporarily soothed his nerves and he took out his phone. There was a storm of texts from his mother, who was worried about his health. Jon sluggishly set up his microphone. He sent the notifications to the end of the screen and made one final post before going live. It was the picture of the people at the restaurant after he’d been beaten by the tan man. The post read:
Living in this city can be hard, and if you don’t have a strong network of wonderful friends, it will eat you alive. I’m so blessed to have such a beautiful group of people to air out all the dirty laundry and just have someone to talk to when life gets hard. I don’t know what I’d do without them, and I wouldn’t trade any of them for the world. This pic was taken earlier today when I booked this cute little trattoria out for the day to celebrate them. Here’s to friends, worth more than their weight in gold! #friendship#blessed#blessedlife#livingthedream#nyc#inspiration#spiritualinspiration#mukbang#seafoodmukbang
“Hi friends. Thanks for all your comments on my recent posts. My Patreon has seen such an outpouring of love and appreciation this week like never before.” He smiled and wiped the sweat off his forehead. If you haven’t yet subscribed, it’s the only place to see all of my past Crunchtime videos edited for your convenience. The link is in the bio.” Jon braced his side and felt that stabbing pain again. He couldn’t inhale completely anymore. “I’m Jon. Welcome to Crunchtime. This–is the tempura power challenge.” He began eating right away. The shrimp tempura was still crunchy and hadn’t sogged too much in transit, but each bite became more and more agonizing. It felt as though his stomach would burst through his ribs.
“Thank you TheofficialMuglife for asking. This jacket is a brand backing I’ve just agreed to. You can get one just like it at hemperrealcloth.com. It’s all biodegradable hemp and ethically sourced. Very important to me.” His eyes struggled to focus. “Interesting question Istudytheblade. That jacket I posted earlier today was from John Varvatos. It’s pretty pricey, but I like mine. Hemper is a much more affordable brand and if you use the code JDEEGO, all caps, at checkout, you can get twenty percent off anything over eighty dollars.” He took a few more bites, budgeting when he breathed and when he chewed. He was silent through the rest of the meal, and when he finished, he forced some deeper sighs, feeling a new agony in his belly blossom like a kindled wick. “I’ve got to go friends. Thanks again for all the love and support. I’m Jon, and this was Crunchtime.” He ended the live video just in time before he vacated his bowels. His urine was amber red and he saw a giant lump, no doubt all the tempura, sticking out just under his skin where the puddle was. He saw the texts overlapping the stilled image of his pallid face.
Are you alright, Jon? That was so much food!
“Thanks for asking @Denise4Reel. It was a lot of food, but I’m fine.”
Are you injured?
“I feel great. These bruises are a badge of honor.”
He imagined his myriad friends surrounding him, saying He’s so good at eating. He’s so ethical and sustainably conscious.
His vision faded purple, but not before he saw another text in the blue light of his screen: You’re awesome, Jon. We love you.
Jon smiled wide, his lip split and blood dripped down his chin. “Thanks, Footman87. That means so much coming from you,” he said.
He rested on the sullied sofa with his phone and texted his mom back. Miss you.