It is said that one definition of insanity is doing the same thing time and again while expecting different results. Have you met me?
For example, while recently obsessing over the execution of moonstones’ Cambodian peanuts recipe, I popped one of the roasted whole chili peppers into my mouth. Chomp, chomp. What seemed like a good idea at the time inspired just seconds later my finest “everything’s cool,” swashbuckling swagger away from the staff. I find it’s best to weep in private. My mouth could not have been more ablaze had I sucked on the creme brulee blowtorch. Holy smokes.
This latest incident brought about a rush of both endorphins and five-alarm memories.
Like the time my “borderline” favorite (and only!) brother and I capped a night of field research (barhopping) by stumbling into Zaragoza, an East Village bodega known for its late-night burritos. As we hovered over our bounty at one of the tiny rear tables, Dave spotted the jar of whole crispy chili peppers — the only other thing on the table besides the burritos and our elbows. In retrospect, I am certain they were meant as a fiery condiment, but at the time, our fuzzy heads saw complimentary Mexican “snacks.”
“Chili, mi amigo?”
“Si, si. Graci-ass, brother.”
As if consuming bodega goat at 3 a.m. is not a bright enough idea, we proceeded to crunch away, steadily morphing into crying, drippy idiots.
Soon after, we lumbered blocks back to his apartment, me in full-on hiccup mode, mouth still atingle, he singing something horribly — quite possibly Beyoncé — with Peanuts cartoon-like conviction, eyes closed, head back. Surely we were a sight to behold — the personification of “hot mess.”
I also recalled my first hot sauce “emergency” years ago. Somehow, an open bottle of Endorphin Rush — a sauce that actually carries a warning label — tumbled unnoticed into our Lowell bar’s hot water rinse sink. The ensuing vapor mimicked pepper spray, guests mysteriously coughing and gagging while heading for the door. Only after the fire department had given us an “all clear” hours later did we discover the offending bottle. One bad day; a story forever.
“Spicy” is addictive. At home, I keep a bottle of Sriracha on hand for everything from pho to scrambled eggs. Cobblestones’ favorite regulars clamor for more extreme Buffalo tenders — never hot enough for these guys!
There are those who live life on the edge, the crazy nuts who climb Everest or jump off of cliffs. I bow down to these adrenaline junkies. But me? I am perfectly content with feet aground, bones intact, awaiting my personal “rushmore” — the eye-bulging endorphin release brought on by a mountain of wasabi atop the peak of my hand roll, gripping the table, temples throbbing, controlled breathing like I am going into labor aaand … “Thank you, sir, may I have another?”
Wasabi heat (mis)behaves similarly to horseradish. Known for nasal-assaulting, drippy-faced fun, it’s not to be confused with the longer-lasting, capsicum burn generously provided by the hot pepper family. That clan commands a greater commitment, as shortened breaths, water, milk or beer do little to quell the rambunctious oil.
Speaking of nuts, the peril of peppers is not restricted to the lips and mouth. A guest once asked for “the hottest sauce” we have and then proceeded to douse his tacos. Turning his attention next to the bathroom, this ballsy bloke apparently handled his business without first washing his hands. Need I further paint this picture? Warning labels only say so much. Soaking those puppies in milk would have made no difference, as dude spent the next half hour squirming on his bar stool while suffering his unique version of a “fire down below.” Great balls of fire!
Similar lessons have been lost on me. Years ago at Cambridge’s legendary East Coast Grill, I bit excitedly into one of their “hell fire” hot sauce-slathered barbecued ribs.
Whoa, mmm, delicious. For, like, three seconds. Then …
Wait, what? What the hell is going on?
“Beople! Uh ma libs uhn fhar?” I somewhat recall asking my friends.
“What did you say? Are your lips on fire?” they returned my query.
“Ess! Ma libs, ma libs! Ut the uck?!”
Imaginably sounding like that mumbling character from Fat Albert, I booked it for the boys room, where I bent over the sink, head turned sideways, as a flow of tears, snot and cold water ran across my face-on-fire.
I suppose the bright side is that no one walked in, or that this occurred well before smartphones provided ubiquitous pictorial evidence of shame. I sat for the remainder of lunch, eyes leaking as if Flipper had died, a-gain, gumming a napkin with my swollen, porpoise-like lips.
Of all my saucy stories — and there are so many — my personal favorite involves a larger-than-life, respected and ranking police official. With a reputation as formidable as his mouth and plentiful posterior, he accepted a dare at Cobblestones’ bar to eat a straight teaspoon of Endorphin Rush. For the next hour, with sweaty head and cheeks glowing a lava red, he sat silently, a roll wedged between his lips as his hysterical “brothers” teased mercilessly that this was the longest he had ever kept his mouth shut.
When the burning finally receded, he climbed up and squat-perched his 300-plus-pound frame atop his creaky bar stool. With arms akimbo like a giant chicken, flapping and crowing repeatedly like a crazed rooster while gargling mouthfuls of white zinfandel, Captain Crazy revealed his own cockamamy version of insanity!