My teeth still hurt the morning after.
In retrospect, I’d bitten off more than I could chew — or twisted off more than I could chug. Before it all went down, I was confident, even cocky. Had I truly remembered the zenith of “icing,” back in 2010, when anyone of sufficiently trashy bearing who had access to the ultra-saccharine malt beverage Smirnoff Ice was routinely forcing their friends to take a knee and pound an entire bottle in a simple yet stylized ritual, I might have understood what I was up against. But I’d underestimated the ice once again.
My woes began with a column published here at MEL a little more than a month ago. “It’s Time to Bring Back Icing,” the headline declared, with the piece itself arguing that this splintered, shitlord nation of ours was beautifully primed for a renaissance of the binge-drinking sport. I figured such an opinion would garner some curious clicks, a few nostalgic laughs and perhaps a few inspired icings. I’d been particularly concerned that reports in March that White House staffers were fond of the game would turn decent, Trump-hating Americans away from its charm; this was one tradition we couldn’t let the fascists ruin, I thought. It was up to the rest of us to reclaim its former glory.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the response. Readers said I was out-of-touch — that people are still getting iced all the time. Some swore that icing had never once gone out of style in the past eight years, not if you were committed to the cause. I asked for more recent icing stories and was blown away by what I heard.
My editors, needless to say, were less than pleased with my shoddy reporting. Perhaps I ought to have assessed the still-thriving ice culture before attempting to “revive” it, like some idiot who performs the Heimlich on a person who isn’t choking. The column would have to stand, a testament to my foolhardy arrogance as a writer. However, my superiors agreed that this wasn’t punishment enough. I’d also have to be iced.
This posed a challenge. Since last year, I’ve been living in the small college town of Davis, California — in theory, the perfect place to get iced. But my friend group here was almost entirely composed of grad students who earned their degrees in June and have since moved away. Given my shrunken social circle, I had virtually zero chance of being iced in any organic fashion. Thus, I turned to the refuge of the desperate: Craigslist.
As I explained in the post, what I needed was at least one person, aged 21 or older, and ideally a student, to purchase a Smirnoff Ice and meet me in an agreed-upon location, at which point they would ice me. For this service (I listed it in the “gigs” section of Sacramento Craigslist) I would pay them $20 cash, enough to reimburse them for the ice as well as their valuable time. To me, this seemed like a workable loophole around the impossibility of icing oneself — sort of like when Warren Beatty hires a hitman to assassinate him in Bulworth. Nevertheless, I knew the idea would prove controversial.
The icing had to happen, come hell or high water. And soon I had a few solid prospects crowding my inbox. The first was Mekdem, a grad student working toward his MBA at UC Davis who seemed to have no reservations as to how I was bending the rules of icing. Another was Kaitlin, a recent UC Santa Barbara grad and icing purist who initially wrote to tell me that my methods were improper — that a true ice had to be hidden by the icer, discovered by the icee. Apparently, the days of directly presenting the ice to a victim, as my pals and I had, were dead and gone. Kaitlin had a great anecdote about drinking an 80-degree ice upon finding it in a heated fish tank she’d been trying to clean. Despite her initial skepticism, however, she and her friend Sara, a former UC Santa Barbara classmate, agreed to witness (and heckle during) my humiliation on Monday evening, when Mekdem promised to drop by my apartment with intent to ice.
Kaitlin and Sara were the first to arrive, sans ice. I introduced them to my partner, Madeline, who would be documenting the occasion, and the four of us discussed silly drinking games, including Edward Fortyhands, which I’ve always been too afraid to attempt due to my tiny bladder. At 15 minutes past the hour, worried that Mekdem would be a no-show, I drove Kaitlin and Sara to the liquor store so they could buy me an ice.
Rather quickly, they decided to purchase a 24-ounce bottle, which was when I really started to dread the performance to come. They went back-and-forth a bit on which flavor would be the worst — icing, of course, hinges on the absolute awfulness of the beverage — debating the merits of “Screwdriver” and some watermelon mimosa thing. (While a few different basic flavors of ice predate the icing fad, the last few years have seen a terrible surge in far-ranging fruity offerings, including hellish “seasonal” brews.) Ultimately, the ladies settled on a raspberry variant of noxious neon pinkness. Fuck.
Worse news awaited at home. We pulled into my driveway right as Mekdem and his friend Jill turned up with another 24-ounce ice, plus an entire six-pack of the regular size. (Thankfully, these were the original lemon-lime flavor.) They explained that they’d just seen us leave the liquor store, having failed to find ices at a few other stores — that’s why they’d been late. Now certain that I’d taken things much too far, I ushered everyone onto my back patio, where I thanked them for assisting me in this utterly depraved spectacle. I reiterated that while what we were doing wasn’t exactly kosher in the icing community, I firmly believe an ice is an ice.
The kids sat there politely, waiting for me to shut the fuck up and drink, comfortable in the relative certainty that this weird guy was a) not a murderer; and b) going to pay them. Reasoning that the large, standard flavor ice was the best way to kick things off, I soberly asked Mekdem to do the honors.
You can see the regret written on my face. Already I wondered if my mostly-empty stomach — I’d skipped lunch for a gym workout to get in the zone — would be an asset or a hindrance. Too late for regrets. I popped the bottle, bent the knee and embraced my sticky fate. The first third of the liquid vanished without much of a struggle. Then I realized I was having trouble getting oxygen; it had been ages since I chugged anything, let alone Smirnoff Ice, whose harsh carbonation and hyper-sweetened taste invited the first stirrings of nausea.
As if that weren’t bad enough, the well-refrigerated fluid was giving me brain freeze. I’d reasoned that between my normal heavy drinking and fondness for giant fountain sodas from 7-Eleven, I could conquer both the alcoholic and sugary side of an ice. In combination, unfortunately, they were overpowering. Halfway through the ordeal, my eyes were watering. I briefly tapped out around 75 percent of the way in, to audible disappointment from the group, and by the time I’d gulped down the remainder, I was sweaty and slightly shaking. What a pathetic display.
Having reacclimated to the horror of Smirnoff Ice following nearly a decade apart, I wearily sat on my outdoor sofa, whereupon I noticed that Kaitlin and Sara had stashed their giant raspberry ice underneath a cushion. Hoo boy. The rules of engagement clearly bound me to kneel and chug once more. Although I’m sure it’s occurred before, I’ve never seen someone attempt two 24-ouncers back-to-back, and I steeled myself to cross a turbulent Rubicon.
Cracking open the ice, I took a knee (the left one this time) and angled the foul elixir into my face. The lessons of the first ice were fresh, and my form was greatly, mercifully improved. I was breathing well, swallowing at a steady pace. The audience seemed impressed. Yet at the very moment my victory was assured — when someone was helpfully shouting, “It’s okay if you barf after!” — a gaseous gagging plummeted from the center of my throat straight to the floor of my gut, where it erupted like sour napalm. My whole digestive track roiled and burned with fizzy fire. Still, wearing a glazed expression of pain, I finished the job with grim determination, moaned inhumanly and excused myself to the bathroom for the inevitable bout of regurgitation.
The agony didn’t stop there, however. I flipped up the toilet lid to discover that Jill — who had hidden the six remaining 12-ounce ices around the apartment — had stashed one right where I planned to puke. I was able to extricate it only half a second before explosively barfing a substantial amount of the raspberry ice. With the artificial coloring, it was a pretty gory scene. Then, when I tried to flush the mess, I found the toilet unresponsive.
Immediately I surmised that Jill (actually, it turned out to be Kaitlin, in an independent attack) had stashed an ice in the upper tank, so that anyone who tried to fix the flush mechanism would expose it and have to chug. Expecting this, I opted to leave my puke floating where it was and deal with the first toilet ice, which I took the liberty of washing with soap.
Rejoining my friends on the patio, I informed them of all that had transpired, then knelt to suffer the third ice of the evening. After two large cold ones, a standard warm ice was almost a relief. Everything went smoothly, though when I was done, I did have to retreat to hurl a second time. Obviously, I was pushing the boundaries of Smirnoff Ice consumption.
With the toilet rather full by this point, I had no choice but to open the tank and fix the flush, thereby stumbling into Kaitlin’s ice. There was a certain poetry in this, I figured, as it meant I would conclude my ill-conceived stunt by polishing off the equivalent of an entire six-pack of Smirnoff Ice.
Returning to the arena, I begged for a minute to compose myself, then put on Vangelis’ inspiring theme from Chariots of Fire to carry me over the finish line. On my knee, I chugged for a fourth and final time, only then gleaning an essential truth: You must never look directly into the bottle to see how much is left to drink. No, the trick was to lose track completely, to leave your body, to let the ice enter you instead of sucking it in. To my great relief, I emptied the bottle efficiently, and while I was wracked with twitchy, clammy sensations at the end, I didn’t need to yak anymore.
As I recovered, burping occasionally, and the gathered witnesses commended me on my stamina, we discussed how the art of icing has changed since its inception. We agreed that concealing an ice is a better move than simply whipping one out — and that it was important I’d experienced this after the ceremonial first ice. (I hope you icing hard-liners are satisfied.) We swapped a few stories of awesome icings, including at weddings, the workplace or college classrooms with professors present. I said I’d been impressed by the tactic of embedding an ice in a birthday cake; food is definitely ideal for a bait-and-switch, as in the tactic of handing someone a foil-wrapped “burrito” that’s really just an ice.
Kaitlin, though, had my favorite philosophy of icing, which is to “create a problem” that leads to the uncovering of an ice, á la the toilet tank trick. She also described a maneuver I’m very eager to execute: If you’re seeing a friend for the first time in a while, tape a bottle to your back — when they go to hug you, they’ll get iced.
The kids had also experienced the height of icing paranoia: a house or dorm in which ices were hidden all over. One especially insidious example involved the dispersal of 23 ices from a 24-pack, so that the roommates were always on edge, living in fear of the last “phantom” ice, which may never have gotten tucked away at all — or perhaps the next tenants unearthed it.
When our little party broke up, my guests reminded me that this was more or less the situation I’d created for myself: Somewhere in the apartment, there remained another four ices. I could turn one up later that night, simply by opening the wrong cabinet or moving a piece of furniture. Or, if they were in more obscure spots, I might forget about them until I started packing up to move. That’s the essence of icing, they said: A player never steps off the field. The game is always on.
A day removed from my act of atonement, still queasy, with my mouth sore and eroded from acid torture, I don’t doubt their message. Nor will I forget how any misrepresentation of icing can be met with swift and terrible correction.
And yeah, I just found one in the microwave. Which I dutifully chugged. Respect the rules. But my real takeaway here? The practice and spirit of icing are in capable hands. Kaitlin, Sara, Mekdem and Jill: $20 was insufficient compensation — I owe you a revenge ice, too.