9.5% ABV from a bomber
For the first thirty seconds after you eat a habanero chili nothing happens. You’re confused. You’re like, “This is it?!” Instead of being quizzical though, you should savor the moment. Because the next six to twenty-four hours of your life are going to be one giant ball of misery.
It was Sunday afternoon wrapping up a weekend in Syracuse. That Friday I had taken the Cave Creek Chili Beer Challenge and lived to tell about. My friend Dean–who actually enjoyed the vile brew–and I had spent all weekend relishing in our love of spicy foods, wherever we went trying to indulge in spicier and spicier foods both as acts of machismo and to impress and repulse our tamer tongued friends.
I had recently seen a television special on the habanero, purportedly the hottest pepper in the world, chalking in at some forty times the heat of a standard jalapeno. Both Dean and I were determined to find one and try it. Our dream finally became reality at the end of the weekend as we stopped at Wegman’s for a bite before heading home*.
I’m a fast eater so I finished my sandwich before my friends and excused myself from the table to check out the store’s newly revamped beer selection. I was quite impressed, especially from a Central New York point of view and grabbed a few things, including a bomber of Druid Fluid from Syracuse’s own fairly regarded Middle Ages Brewery. I continue to be stupefied that I lived in the ‘Cuse for four years without even realizing a brewery resided there**. Unfortunately, I found the Druid Fluid a tad sub-par. Barley wine is probably my favorite style of beer so I expect greatness and when you’re comparing Druid Fluid to say, a Stone Old Guardian, a J.W. Lees Harvest Ale, even a Lagunitas GnarlyWine, it simply doesn’t stack up. Too weak and sissy for a barley wine. Like they’re trying to make one normal folks will like. Lacks complexity, lacks sweetness, lacks flavor. Although, I will admit, the more I drank it the more I enjoyed it. (Perhaps I was just getting drunk and my tastebuds were loosening.)
Heading to the register to pay for my beers, I stumbled upon the chilis aisle and, wouldn’t you know it, I found a bag of dried habaneros. Giggling like a little girl, I returned to my friends and handed the package to Dean. We had to try them. He concurred. We were excited.
You might ask, “Aaron, why do you do these things? Why do you put your body and health on the line for these dumb enterprises?” It is because I am a man that loves novelty. A man that loves to be able to say, “I have done that.” It’s not about enjoyment necessarily, it’s about climbing that mountain and slaying that dragon. I also like to see what unexpected things will happen. It’s why I drank Chelada, why I drank the chili beer, why I was about to eat a habanero.
Dean was ready to bite into the habanero right in the middle of the food court, but I stopped him. I explained that we had no idea what would happen to us and the last thing we needed is to be projectile vomiting amidst families enjoying some buffet bar sneeze-guarded General Tso’s chicken after a pleasant church service. He agreed we best head out to the parking lot.
I noted we should have some cold fluid ready too, mentioning how I’d heard that, surprisingly enough, milk was the best savve for a hot tongue and throat wound. Both Dean and I had no interest in milk–as Arnold Schwarzenegger once said, “Milk is for babies. When you grow up you have to drink beer!”–so we decided to go with something similar. Dean bought a sack full of those milky frothy Starbucks bottled frappuccinos.
We headed to the parking lot and stood in the frigid cold mentally preparing ourselves. Dean laid the numerous bottles of frappucino on our car’s hood, loosening the caps for quite access. Meanwhile, I studied the habanero packaging where there was literally this warning: “Do not directly touch with hands, may burn. Do not get anywhere near eyes.”
We were finally ready to eat the hottest spice on the planet.
Holding only the stem of a habanero, Dean and I each took a full bite of our respective pepper. Nothing. Dean and I looked at each other, confused. This was it? We are both incredibly arrogant about our ability to handle heat so we weren’t surprised. Heck, I was about to pop a second habanero when–
Fire! My whole head was on fire! I was like one of those cartoon characters who has fire shooting from his ears. I couldn’t control any function on my face. It was like I was a stroke victim. My eyes were watering, it felt like my ears were bleeding, snot was rushing like Niagara Falls from my nose, and phlegmy froth was coming from my mouth. I grabbed a frappucino and chugged it. I tried to speak to my friends but my tongue was anesthetized. I couldn’t even feel it. Correction, it felt like my tongue had become a giant airy inner tube hovering inside my mouth. Words were not coming out of me, just slurs and babbling as my non-habanero eating friends cracked up and took pictures of me.
Dean was in worst shape. His habanero kicked in a few seconds after mine and he jetted out of the area, now finding himself pacing madly some fifteen yards from where we stood. After about ten minutes of misery, we both had somewhat calmed down. We were in massive pain but finally able to somewhat talk, somewhat able to get in the car and head back to New York City. I could barely recall what had occurred in the several minutes after eating the habanero. It was as if I had entered a blackout fugue of spiciness. They saw traumatic events are often repressed and this one was instantaneously.
The Audi was packed with five adults of varying girth and shoehorned into the back, Dean and I again found ourselves in a new sort of pain. Like an hourglass, the habanero pain had left the northern extreme of our bodies and was now slowly creepy down. Our esophagi felt like a tunnel of flames, each exhale, each burp god forbid, coming out like a fireball, as if we were dragons. The floor of our stomachs feeling as if some Boy Scouts had kindled logs in our belly. We were in too much pain to read the newspaper, too much pain to even listen to music. And we had four hours of driving to go.
After thirty minutes of driving I could take it no longer. “Pull over, pull over!” Like a cosmic joke, at the instant, we passed a sign: “Next Rest Stop: 22 Miles.” We had no choice and the car was pulled over to the edge of the highway where I began projectile vomiting the entire insides of my stomach–eighteen inches of sub, several bottled frappuccinos, a whole Saturdays worth of pitchered beer and gin & tonics–for the next ten to fifteen minutes. Eventually, my insides were ravished, the pepper poison rejected from me, only bile now left inside of me, and I was able to get back in the car.
Yeah, I felt good. I smiled. The pain was over. I started laughing at my foolishness. Only problem now was–having just upchucked lunch–I was starving.
Hubris be damned, thirty minutes later more pain would come.
Now, some hour and a half after the habanero indulgence, I’d finally cleared my head of heat, finally cleared my torso, but the pesky heat had one final southern stop. I won’t get into details, but you guessed it. We were forced to stop at the next rest area where I did something more foul in the public bathroom than anything Larry Craig has ever even considered.
However, that was luckily the final step. And though I was a sweaty, stinky mess, like I’d just been in a record-breaking gang bang, I was finally free of pain. Poor Dean, though, poor Dean who had yet to vomit or defecate, was pale as Casper and would remain that way the rest of the day.
Any time I do something stupid, no matter how much pain or indignity it gives me, I usually still admit that it was worth it. It gave me a good story. It allowed me to look back fondly for the rest of time and say, “I did that!”
Not this time.
Not this time at all.
I will never eat a habanero again. I don’t care if you offered me $5000. Not worth it.
Likewise, I would never even play a “prank” on someone–even my most mortal enemy–and secretly Mickey them with the vile pepper. That’s just too cruel, bordering on felonious. It really is some of the most pain I’ve experienced in my life and, considering that a newborn will never slide out of me, I think it will remain the worst pain of my life.
*You say, “Why would one stop at a supermarket to eat lunch?” Well let me tell you, friend, that Wegman’s has some incredibly fine food of all cuisines which they serve up in a nice food court setting off to the side of the grocery area. I prefer their Danny’s Favorite foot-long sub which is actually more like eighteen inches in length and near impossible to finish in one sitting.
**Then again, the 7 & 7 was my drink back then. Yeesh!