Sunday, 1 June 2008

The making of a legend

Picture the scene: MadCat has taken Pod and Ferret out for drinks with his friend Iaculus, so they can all listen to Iaculus's favourite live band, White Rabbit (a very good cover band, by the way). They're dressed über-casually, and end up in a rather spiffy restaurant (Voodoo Lounge in Linksfield, perfect for supper club, ahem). To ease their nerves at being woefully under-dressed, the ladies drink a couple of glasses of wine over a rather lovely dinner. Later, they all move into the pub where Pod orders several tequilas for herself and Ferret - after all, it's a Mexican night, and MadCat is driving, yay! I mention the amount of alcohol consumed as some sort of (lame) explanation for the events to follow

They get down on the dance floor, listen to some pretty good covers (and I don't mean simply 70s or 80s here, either). Some Good Charlotte, a bit of Green Day, Violent Femmes and apparently they even do Offspring and System of a Down (although not that night). Great stuff. Suddenly, hark: what is this they hear? A jalapeño-eating competition for the guys, prize a R300 bar bill. Well! Pod and Ferret are incapable of passing up jalapeños at the best of times, never mind when there's a decent prize at the end. Scoffing at the notion that this competition is only for guys, the two step up onto the stage and prepare for a feast - after all, Ferret used to eat these out of the bottle with a fork, and Pod can put away a goodly amount in one sitting. Should be a breeze!

The MC steps up, bowl in hand, filled with deep-fried, crunchy-looking chillies.

It's at this point that I, MadCat, being of sound mind and judgement (yeah, right!), must add my point of view. I had been energetically called to the stage by Pod and Ferret, and found a decent spot from which to note the (doomed) proceedings. When the bowl was passed to Pod and Ferret and they'd both removed a chilli each, time seemed to slow down for me, as my brain, having zeroed in on the "jalapeños", immediately set to work figuring out why those "jalapeños" didn't look like jalapeños. "MadCat," it said, "that's not a jalapeño. Jalapeños are long and thin, and green.". "Ah," I remarked, "Pod and Ferret eat these things all the time; they know what a jalapeño looks like; I'm sure you're mistaken." "No," my brain retorted, as my mind was filled with images of jalapeños vs. habaneros, "do I have to draw a bloody picture for you?" Immediately, my thoughts turned to me running up onto stage and slapping the offending chillis out of the hands of the two hapless babes (all in slow-motion, of course), while frantically nodding my head sideways and shouting "Nooooooooooooo!". By the time all this had registered, Pod had already inhaled two of the bastards, and Ferret was already reaching for a third. It was at that point that Pod gave the cutoff signal and vacated the stage with vigour. Ferret stayed, but only for a few moments longer, before she too succumbed to the habaneros' overwhelming firepower. "I told you so," said my brain, smugly. Ferret then also exited the stage with the vertiable determination of a crusading knight. Well, that's my story, and I'm sticking to it. I shall now let you continue reading the rest of this sorry saga.

A vague notion crosses Pod's mind that these are rather small and fat jalapeños, but the countdown begins and there's no more time to think. Pod, Ferret and the three male contestants each pop a pepper into their mouths, chew rapidly and swallow. Down the hatch, and time for a second. As Pod pops it into her mouth, and bites down, her mouth suddenly sends a warning - this is NOT a jalapeño! Her throat starts closing, unwilling to accept this fake jalapeño and even trying to bring it back up, but she fights the urge and swallows what's in her mouth - after all there's nowhere to spit it and she's not throwing up in front of all these people! She turns to Ferret and slashes her hand across her throat, signal for defeat. Ferret, who is reaching for a third chili, looks surprised for a second - and that's when the bite hits her. She gags and follows Pod off stage, both trying desperately not to cough, heading straight for their table and the lovely beers standing there.

In less than a minute, Pod has downed a Hunters and has picked up Iaculus's beer without asking. Tears are streaming down her face and she can barely hear over the roaring in her ears - the roaring of blood sent into a frenzy by an accelerated heartbeat as her body tries to outrun the pain. Drinking is not helping; it's simply washing the pain further down her throat. To her right, Ferret is red-faced and wheezing, eyes streaming, an expression on her face that is normally only achieved by being tied to a chair and hooked up to an electrical torture device. They grab for the lemons in the glasses and chew on these; Pod spots a tot of passion fruit for the now-forgotten Suitcase delivered but a wee while ago, and holds the contents in her mouth, hoping the thicker liquid will help - but it's no good. Iaculus comes round the table and tries to tell them something about licking the lemon, not eating it. This is unintelligible gibberish. Pod grabs Iaculus by the shirt and snarls at him: "Screw the lemon, get us MILK!" Without a word, he turns and hurries off through the crowd - no wonder, having been confronted by a wild-eyed harridan who just breathed paint-stripping chili fumes into his face.

The two are searching frantically for something, anything, to put into their mouths, something that will prevent them from biting out their tongues and stamping on them to put out the flames, when Iaculus arrives, milk in hand. They seize the cool liquid and gulp, holding it in their mouths to wash away the chili oil that's hooked into their tongues. Finally, some actual relief. At least the roaring has subsided somewhat, although Pod would still like to take a scourer to her mouth and throat. Worse, every time she burps, she can taste fresh, raw chili. This must be what hell is like, unable to just make the pain go away. Iaculus steps up and offers to hypnotise her. At this stage, anything is welcome, so she closes her eyes and listens to what sounds like nonsense - concentrate on what the soles of your feet are feeling, can you hear what Ferret's saying (she's arguing with the waiter about what type of chillies those were), bet you can't hear what the people at the next table are talking about (us), are the soles of your feet hot or cold? Surprisingly, it's working; the pain exists, but it's no longer threatening to cause acute respiratory failure. There is a line of fire stretching from her lips to her stomach, which is roiling around in protest, but it's no longer hot lava. Iaculus is a life-saver.

Iaculus heads off to order more milk, returns to the table and reports that the three guys who were on stage are in the bathroom, crying and wailing, sucking up as much water as possible from the washbasins, splashing their faces, stamping their feet. This makes the ladies feel better. Only one person managed three, so they're not complete failures.

She phones Ffeog. What should they do? What did they eat? "Was it shaped like a bell pepper?" he asks. That sounds about right, confirms the side of Pod's brain that was actually paying attention and trying to warn her before she began this ordeal. "That was a habanero," says Ffeog. "You ate two? Maybe you should have your stomachs pumped." Great. This from someone who eats hot chillies for kicks and giggles.

The waiter comes over and refuses to believe that they ate habaneros. No, he says, the chef knows what he's doing, and he says they were jalapeños. The chef battered them and popped them in the deep-fryer until the batter browned. Basically, the contestants were eating raw chillies, seeds, ribs and all. The two insist that those were like no jalapeños they have ever eaten - not in shape or in taste. The waiter goes off to confer with the chef and returns, adamant that they are wrong. He's lucky not to be breathed on. The ladies are not impressed.

The fun is over; the time is coming to leave. Ferret goes to the bathroom and throws up, but Pod's not too keen on having all that chili come back up - a decision she will regret later. For some reason, the two start dancing again. Madness, I tell you! Finally, they drag themselves away and go and find the guys. Got to go home. The endorphins have kicked in and Pod is about dead on her feet.

Ah - bed. Asleep as soon as she hits the mattress, Pod is awakened several hours later by the urge to worship the porcelain god. This is a bad idea, she thinks. She doesn't want that chili revisiting her oesophagus. Nothing happens. Two hours later, however, a series of cramps so severe they have left her crying for her mommy, like a baby, have convinced her that the pain to come must be endured, if only to rid herself of the vile poison in her system. The chili hurts almost as much coming back up as it did going down. There's chili in her nose! Maybe snorting milk will help. The already tender spots at the back of her throat are now on fire.

This time it's MadCat who steps up to the plate. He offers her a Schedule 5 painkiller. A morphine derivative. Half an hour later, not only is Pod pain-free, she's floating. This is great. This is wonderful. Ferret awakes, and they go online to see just what the hell it is that they ingested. There's the jalapeño - sort of banana shaped, rather large - about the size of a middle finger. And there's what they ate - bell pepper-shaped, smallish - as long and wide as the two first joints of a pinkie finger. As Ffeog suspected - they ate habaneros. Two habaneros each. To put this in perspective, the jalapeño is 5,000-8,000 on the Scoville heat scale. The habanero is 150,000-200,000. This is not a fun chili. This is not something to use in a competition, unless you are a demon sent from hell. This is something that sends people to hospital.

It's several hours after the fact, but at least one thing is clear: Pod and Ferret can barely walk down the hallway. Their cojones of titanium are getting in the way. It might have been unwittingly, but they ate two habaneros each, and survived. The only thing left now is revenge.

Ferret interjects: So from my side the story goes like this: I have more balls than brains. Logically I knew what I was putting into my mouth was NOT a jalepeno, but pride is a dangerous play mate and I went ahead anyway. I knew something was wrong when I felt my ears begin to burn. Curious, one eats with one's mouth not with one's ears, how could my ears be burning? It was the first thing that registered because my mouth and throat had been singed completely and therefore had no immediate sensation. When I did regain oral sensation, I honestly believed I was going to die. My heart developed a murmur and my lungs clamped shut. They say you get a rush of Seratonin when eating hot foods but I don't believe a word of it - all I wanted to do was die!!! I did not cry and of this I am extremely proud, but I believe my face was set in a rictus grin of near death.

I could not hold the offensive chillies for long, and as Pod has mentioned, I deposited them in the nearest porcelain recepticle at the earliest possible moment. This was almost as painful as eating them, but I still believe it was the right thing to do. I can write all day about this BUT I won't. What I will suggest is that you try the same thing. Not because I wish to encourage you to expand your horizons, but purley for the selfish reason of wanting someone else to suffer along with me. Thank God, Pod joined me on that stage because if she hadn't she would have laughed her arse off at me, thereby making things considerably worse. Thank you, oh Loyal Friend. Stupidest thing I have ever done followed closely by rap-jumping off a 70-storey building.

The Fried Ferret.

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