Some Like it Hot. I Used To.

By BOB WIRE

It happened at the Cabin Tavern, ten miles north of Seattle (slogan: The Cabin Tavern on Puget Sound—Come On In and Buy a Round!). It’s a gray, drizzly winter day, circa 1992. I’m seated on a stool, drinking beer in solitude, reading the Seattle P-I. I’m vaguely aware of the bar chatter coming from the half dozen working stiffs at the other end of the bar. They’ve knocked off at 4:30 to have a cold beer or three before they join the lurching mass of rush hour traffic on I-5.

I was a freelancer. I’d knocked off at 2:00.

The Cabin’s owner reaches beneath the counter and comes up with a #10 can, which he plops onto the bar. “All right, let’s see who’s man enough to eat one of these things,” he challenges.

The blue collar boys eye the can, and one of them correctly identifies the contents as jalapeño peppers.

“That’s right,” crows the owner. “Give the man a cee-gar. But these aren’t just your run-of-the-mill jalapeños. These babies are Embasa brand. Whole peppers. Hotter than hell. Can’t buy ‘em in the stores. My distributor had an extra can on the truck this morning.”

“What’s that?” asks a Budweiser delivery driver, pointing at the label on the can. “A carrot?”

The owner explains that there are a few slices of carrots mixed in with the peppers. He doesn’t know why, but they are ten times hotter than the peppers themselves. The guys murmur appreciatively, and the owner runs a can opener around the rim, asking who’s going to be the first to eat a whole pepper. The guys start poking one another and talking trash, but no one is exactly jumping off his stool to grab a pepper. I drain the last sip of my beer, swivel to face the guys, and clear my throat.

“I’ll have a carrot.”

They all look at me, then at each other, and shrug and mumble while the owner, the only one who knows me, forks a carrot slice the size of a Gatorade lid out of the can, places it on a saucer, and slides it down the bar to me. “Let me pour you another beer, Bob, you’re gonna need it.”

Papaya extract, don’t fail menow!

The guys are chuckling, but then stare in disbelief as I shove the carrot slice into my mouth and chew it slowly, never taking my eyes off them. The owner walks over and sets a mug of beer on the bar, but I don’t grab it right away. My eyes are watering, but they’re tears of joy. I finish chewing, swallow, smile, and say, “Ahh. That hit the spot.” Then I pick up my mug and gun the entire beer. The guys are dumbfounded. I haven’t even broken a sweat. I pull out my wallet, but the owner says, “Beer’s on me, Bob. Stop in when you want some more carrots.”

I should’ve made a bar bet. What those dudes didn’t know was that my taste for chile peppers was honed over several years working in Mexican restaurants, and a carrot from a can of Embasas was no hotter to me than a cinnamon Jolly Rancher.

When I first started waiting tables at La Paloma in Pocatello, I was a white bread-eating bundle of gastronomical blandness. I was barely 21, and I ate no condiments stronger than pickle relish. But at La Paloma (translation: The Paloma), where I took two meals every day, I developed an appreciation—hell, a craving—for those fiery little bastards: the jalapeño, the serranos, and eventually, the fearsome habañero.

As most of you know, the hottest varieties of these chiles can strip the varnish from your soft pallet, turn your mucous membranes to marmalade, and actually changed the color of your hair. So I took it slowly at first, with three or four slices of jalapeños scattered over a plate of nachos. Soon I was spooning green sauce on all my food, and then eating the peppers whole, from the can, like popcorn. I ate peanut butter and serrano sandwiches, and I was winning bar bets by holding a Bic lighter flame on my tongue for ten seconds.

But, alas, my iron tongue and lead stomach couldn’t last forever. Now, as I shuffle clumsily into middle age, acid reflux is taking its revenge on my stomach lining, and nothing sets off the alarms down below like a helping of hot chile peppers.

I was bemoaning the gutless state of my guts to my friend Steve, who told me about papaya extract. Chew up three tablets right after you eat the peppers, he said, and it’ll keep everything copacetic. And by god, it works. For awhile. But my system is aging, and the burning blow-back eventually finds its way to my esophagus. Where I used to brag that I had the constitution of a bull and the digestive system of a dog, now I’m wondering where I’m going to keep all these cartons of Zantac and bottles of Kaopectate. I suppose I can find room in the medicine cabinet between the Viagra and the Centrum Silver.

I was in Dr. Nick’s office last month for my annual physical, and asked him about the problem of eating peppers. “What does it mean when I sit on the toilet and lightning shoots out my ass?”

“You’ve been eating jalapeños again?” He wanted to give me a shot. He likes to give shots. But then he told me the best thing to do is avoid peppers. I’m getting older, he said. Well, no shit. I just wanted to see if there was some magic bullet, or maybe some elective surgery. I gotsta have my peppers.

“No magic bullet, Bob. We just can’t subject our gastrointestinal system to the same kind of reckless substances we ate when we were younger.”

“I ate a cigarette once.”

“That’s nice. Now, let’s finish up this physical, shall we? I have a 2:40 tee time.” He looked at my chart. “But before you go, I’m going to need a semen sample, a urine sample, a blood sample and a stool sample.”

“Well, I’m in kind of a hurry too, doc,” I said. “Can I just leave you my underwear?”

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   Check out all of Bob Wire’s posts in his blogarchive.

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Bob Wire is medicated and ready to rock.

Think of it as Gonzo meets Hee Haw: Missoula honky tonker Bob Wire holds forth on a unique life filled with music, parenthood, drinking, sports, working, marriage, drinking, and just navigating the twisted wreckage of American culture. Plus occasional grooming tips. Like the best humor, it’s not for everyone. Sometimes silly, sometimes surreal, sometimes savage, Bob Wire demands that you possess a good sense of humor and an open mind.

Bob Wire has written more than 500 humor columns for a regional website over the last five years, and his writing has appeared in the Missoulian, the Missoula Independent, Montana Magazine, and his own Bob Wire Has a Point Blog. He is a prolific songwriter, and has recorded three CDs of original material with his Montana band, the Magnificent Bastards. His previous band, the Fencemenders, was a popular fixture at area clubs. They were voted Best Local Band twice by the Missoula Independent readers poll. Bob was voted the Trail 103.3/Missoulian Entertainer of the Year in 2007.

You can hear his music on his website, or download it at iTunes, Amazon, and other online music providers. Follow @Bob_Wire on Twitter.