Monday, June 23, 2008

Near Death Experience

I have learned a new respect of anything in a bottle that says hot sauce on it. For about 40 minutes on Saturday night I was on fire. It was the most unbearable experience I have ever had.

My Quest for Fire began a little over a year ago. Something inside me said, "You need to find hot food." I know, it is weird to have little voices in your head, but don't worry, it was actually more like a craving. Kind of like that need for morning coffee, or the desire for chocolate that comes out of nowhere around 3:15 pm.

I have always liked spicy food, but this desire for something hot was really a new level of heat. For the past 12 months, I have been eating jalapeños on almost everything. At home I have Cajun Hot sauce, something called Road Kill hot sauce, green Habanera Hot sauce that I really love, hot Vlasic sandwich peppers and some crushed red peppers. If I wasn't sweating when I ate, I wasn't happy. Dinner time was all about the heat, putting layers of jalapeños, hot pickles and various hot sauces in a search to get the right level of heat. I used to enjoy the search for heat.

Saturday night I stumbled across a nightmare. I small inconspicuous bottle of something named 357 Mad Dog. This sauce is so hot it is technically borderline not a sauce, but a cooking additive. Not being a cook, (unless you call someone who uses a microwave oven a cook) even if I had been told that 357 was not a sauce ahead of time, it wouldn't have meant much to me.

Now I understand. I have tried to explain to my oldest son that I tell him things not because I am trying to be mean, but because I don't want him to learn things the hard way. Sometimes learning the hard way is a much more valuable lesson, but man do I wish someone had said something to me before I grabbed that bottle!

I took the family unit out on Saturday. We were celebrating my oldest son's birthday and had been rock wall climbing, and to the movies to see the Incredible Hulk (Awesome movie!). At dinner time we decided to visit the new Z Pizza near our house. After discovering that we would need to wait for 20 minutes, we adapted and choose Firehouse Subs instead.

I had a conversation with some of my Twitter friends last week (in person- how odd!) about Firehouse Subs. I thought because of the name, that it had hot food. I was told no, it was because the place was started by firemen. But then someone said that they do have a bunch of hot sauces on the counter. I was excited again.

Remembering this conversation, I took the family into the store and we all ordered our food. Sure enough, there was a long line of hot sauces. Everyone got their food and started to eat. I wandered over to the bar and grabbed the first bottle I saw.

I didn't look at the bottle, or ask anyone about it, I just opened it and looked inside to see the smallest drop of reddish brown stuff. I remember thinking, "Why didn't they throw this stuff away? Its empty."

The one drop in the bottom of this tiny bottle was enough to light up 50plus bowls of chili to blowtorch level. I am so not kidding here! I have learned a lot about pepper heat in the last couple of days. There is something called a Scoville Scale which was created to measure the heat of food. The reason the stuff I had was called 357 was because it measures roughly 357,000 Scoville units on the scale. Compare this heat to the little jalapeño at between 2,500–8,000, and you can see that there is no comparison. Once, I ate a full Thai pepper, sitting at only 50,000–100,000 Scoville units, and regretted it. The Thai pepper that I had was not close to the incredible heat I that I was about to experience with 357.

So, I pick up this bottle and I basically empty it onto my sub. I am surprised the sub did not dissolve! I ended up with 10 or more little dots spread evenly on my sub. About the time I am finished one of the guys at the counter asks me what I am doing. I said that I was adding hot sauce to my sub. He says something like, "Dude! What are you doing! That is the hottest stuff we have." I had wandered to the hot end of the counter, but I am not worried. Then the other people behind the counter chorus in, "Oh no..." Someone said something about an ambulance as I tried to keep my game face on wondering what in the hell I have just done to myself.

Not showing any fear, I calmly closed my sub with a smug little smile while teenaged boys mocked me. I put them out of my mind, labeling them immature punks who don't know what real heat is. Hubris, or pride, is one of the seven deadly sins. One should always be aware of this sin.

I returned to the table a little shaken, but I was determined to show these juveniles up. The first bite was not bad. I felt a bit of fire but nothing unusual. Feeling better, I went about the business of eating my sub. Four bites in, and my mouth is cooking. I am impressed. This stuff is hot. By the time I finish half of the sub I am on fire. It feels like I have a lava sandwich. It is crazy super hot! I am sweating, my face is red and my wife is asking me if I am alright.

I nod my head, because I can't speak, and there is still a half to go. Have I mentioned that I am a stupid man? I am truly an idiot. A smart man would have trashed the sandwich.

I looked at the other half of the sandwich and I knew that I had to eat it. I could not allow mere children to laugh at me. I took a moment to let the heat to settle, and I believed that this was the top of hill. There was no way it could get hotter than this...

I was wrong. I think part of the secret of this hotness scale is that it takes a while to soak in to all of the sensitive areas of a mouth. It is diluted by the food and doesn't always make direct skin contact. Chewing allows the heat to spread.

The second half of the sub was painful to the point of torture. Yes, I tortured myself just so some kids could not mock me. I am very mature.

I am trying to ration my drink at this point. Liquid really does no good, it is only a small oasis in the scorching Sahara of what was my meal. Small, gargling sips seemed to help for the briefest moment before the raging inferno that was my mouth continued with renewed intensity. I decided that it would be unmanly of me to run for a refill at the soda fountain.

The whole sandwich is gone and I am in agony. Amy is laughing at me, only because she knows how stupid I am and what is really happening. I still am having a hard time speaking. Crying is not an option as real men don't do this, but there is an urge to jump up and run screaming around the parking lot like a cartoon character from Looney Tunes.

I finish my drink and I am able to walk with a deliberate air of nonchalance to get a refill. This is when I realize that my attempt to impress the workers behind the counter have failed because their collective ADD had kicked in and they had forgotten about me. I am walking around trying to be cool and they don't even notice me.

The incredible heat has not abated and now I am concerned that this will be a permanent condition and that I have coated my mouth with some sort of fire paint. I am almost to the point of panic, and then I see the yogurt sign.

I immediately over-rule my wife (who has fielded earlier questions on this topic from my children) and declare to the table that the Doss family is getting yogurt. Right! Now!

The do-it-yourself yogurt store is two doors down. We have never been there before and as we walk in a nice young lady asks us if we have been previous visitors. I say no. She begins to tell about the procedure, when I suddenly realize that manners are for people who are not on fire. I nearly topple the poor girl over as I bull rush the stand with the empty bowls. Fire also does not give you time to decide over various flavors and toppings and I bee-line it to the vanilla dispenser. I am enraged to find that the spoons are at the register and that my family is busy making thoughtful (read- time wasting) decisions. I hastily grab a spoon and tell the cashier that she needs to ring me up now. Forget the rest of the family!

Frozen yogurt was the smartest thing I did all day. There is a magical property in yogurt that amazingly put out the fire in my mouth. By the end of the bowl, I was giddy with relief. Now Amy really laid into me. "Hey Captain Hot Sauce!" she says while the embarrassment turns my ears a nice shade of red. I may never live down this episode. Foolish man that I am I deserve it.
My quest for fire seems to be over. I don't know if it is gone forever, but the memory of the heat that I endured seems to be enough for me. Perhaps one day I will summon the courage to pull out my green habanera sauce and use it, but right now only the thought of plain food is in any way appealing to me.

Learn from my mistake; Read the label. Ask questions. Never try to impress teenagers.

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