Fire Down Below

So I’m sitting at the Littleton Cafe the other morning (my home away from home) and Oscar, the friendly waiter, brings me my breakfast of a double bacon cheeseburger. I tell him, “Osk, you forgot the jalapenos. I can’t eat this without them.”

He apologizes profusely and quickly brings me a large side of jalapenos. I put all of them on the burger along with some onions, then splash my seasoned breakfast potatoes with a liberal amount of Cholula sauce. There was a time when Oscar would’ve stood by with a fire extinguisher, but he’s used to it by now.

It seems that, as I’ve gotten older, my palate has become far less sensitive to flavor and I need to compensate by spicing things up more than a little bit.

I made my breakthrough in the summer of 2014 when a couple of my students introduced me to a miracle liquid called, Tapatío. Life was never the same after that. We would pass around a big bowl of popcorn at our Friday night card games and Martin or I would sprinkle a generous amount of Tapatío over the popcorn. Some of the students would partake. Others would not. Still others would take a few bites, then quickly leave the table, breathing heavily and grunting in agony.

I’m not embellishing. I brought home a bag of those wimpy buffalo wings from Wal-Mart one night. After we cooked them, this poor kid ate two of them, then stood up and began pacing around the living room. Soon, he was breathing copiously and yelping as if there was a live cobra crawling around loose in his underwear. I had to convince him that water is the worst thing you can drink when you’re in pain from a spicegasm. Luckily, we had milk on hand and it soothed his scorched throat.

Let me pause here to explain that cooking for Mexican students can sometimes be a challenge when you’re a meat-and-potatoes gringo from the middle states. I made them chili one night and was very proud of myself. I figured I’d make it interesting for them by throwing in an entire jar of jalapenos. My three students, all growing boys, ate one bowl and then said, “Ryan, that was so good that I can’t eat anymore.” Now, these are the guys who always cleaned their plates three and four times over, so I silently called bullshit and resolved to learn how to make authentic Mexican chili.

Us white people have it all wrong. You don’t concoct chili by browning hamburger and putting it in a Crockpot with canned tomato sauce, canned diced green chilies, canned kidney beans, pickled jalapenos and chili powder. Turns out that you have to include ingredients such as real steak or pork, raw jalapenos (not pickled), fresh tomatoes, garlic, cumin, freshly-soaked beans and (here’s the kicker) raw chipotle or habanero peppers. There seems to be some controversy as to whether or not beans should be included in “real chili.” I admit it…I’m not man enough to try it.

My coworkers get annoyed because I place an order for spicy Indian or Thai food. When I get it, I always admonish the order-taker, “You forgot to make mine spicy.” “NO I didn’t!” they always retort.

Then, there’s my family. At a recent Christmas dinner, my brother grilled some chicken tenders for me and smothered them with habanero barbecue sauce. I ate the chicken greedily, then washed it down with a cold draft.

“Ryan,” my brother said. “I can barely eat those things, but you powered through them without breaking a sweat.”

I silently called him a wuss as revenge for all those times he kicked my ass in our family room growing up.

I’ve even won the Blazin’ Challenge at Buffalo Wild Wings. It wasn’t easy. I’ll admit that I suffered, but I did it. My suffering wasn’t as dramatic as my pal Joe’s. He finished his 12 wings, then put a napkin over his face and began to shriek. You’d have thought that the CIA had attached wires to his hangie-down parts and cranked up the voltage.

As a man past 40, you’d think my stomach would revolt at such abuse, but spicy food doesn’t generally tend to give me heartburn. People often warn me that this or that spicy concoction will send me to the toilet with fire erupting from my lower aperture, but it never happens.

There is one thing that I’m deathly afraid of. You know that spicy mustard you always get with your Chinese food order, whether you asked for it or not? I don’t know what it’s called, but I’m sure one of you will enlighten me. Well…I can’t go near it. It makes my sinuses tingle just thinking about it.

By the way, if you’re wondering why I overdid it with both jalapenos and onions on my burger, it’s because Marty wasn’t available to kiss. But Mags, my cat, wouldn’t even come near me.

This weekend, I’m going to make homemade burgers. A coworker gave me a bottle of Ghost Pepper Salt as a Christmas gift. Will I endure? Watch this space for the answer.

Author: Ryan Osentowski

My name is Ryan Osentowski. I am a conservative blind guy going through life using the structured discovery method. I currently work as the Station Manager at a radio reading service for the blind. My passions include politics, writing, cigars, old-time radio, quality TV shows and movies, food, music, reading, clocks, swimming and tbd. I hope you will enjoy what you find here. If you don't...try it with a strong dose of alcohol.