Who needs fireworks? Bite a pepper

Who needs fireworks? Bite a pepper by Bob Karolevitz I'm not good at eating hot stuff.

Even salsa, pizza and chili have to be cooled down for me to enjoy them.

I marvel at the Mexicans who consume hot peppers like popcorn. They must have cast-iron innards.

"We're used to it," says Antonio, the Garritys' helper, as he eats another tamale.

Well, I'm used to mashed potatoes and white bread, so anything hotter than Cream O' Wheat is too fiery for me.

I recall a date with a jalape�o, and I break out in a cold sweat just thinking about it. The occasion was a speech date in Texas which I've written about before, but it deserves repeating.

Anyhow, we were dining in a small restaurant there when the peppers came, and I idiotically said to Phyllis: "I think I'll try one." After all, the jalape�o looked so harmless on the relish tray.

Needless to say, I bit into it, and all hell broke loose! It was like putting a grenade in my mouth. As I said, rockets went off in my head. Flames shot out of my ears, and – through my tears -�I could see, not one, but three hazy Phyllises across the table from me. And that was even before the pepper's after-burner kicked in.

Meanwhile, my unsympathetic wife was convulsed with laughter as the inferno flared up and gradually subsided.

"It couldn't have been that bad," I muttered through my burning lips. "I just wasn't prepared, that's all." And then I foolishly bit into another one.

The second blast was worse than the first. If there had been a tank of water around, I would have dived in. The pepper cauterized my mouth and tongue so that my dentist could have done anything to my teeth, and I wouldn't have felt it.

It was as if World War III had suddenly erupted. Tears welled up in my eyes, and they glazed over so I couldn't read the menu, which was ever so blurry.

Phyllis had tears in her eyes, too, but they were tears of merriment. At least I brightened her life, I thought. (Our relationship – which was momentarily strained � was finally restored.)

The experience taught me one thing: a jalape�o is to be looked at, not eaten!

I also decided that Texans send the mild peppers up North for the Norwegians to nibble with their lutefisk. They keep the hot ones for themselves – and gullible visitors like me.

It was an episode I'll never forget. I haven't tried a jalape�o since. Twice bitten is enough for me.

The Latinos can have their incendiary diets. If "being used to it" is what it takes, then I don't qualify. My palate is more attuned to Jell-O than peppers, thank you.

All I know is that I'm going back to mashed potatoes and white bread. The other stuff I'm going to save for Antonio.

© 2004 Robert F. Karolevitz

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