I Am So Sorry: A College Memory On National Hot Sauce Day

It’s funny how they have a “National (fill in the blank) Day” for everything. And they really do. National Hug Day, National Spouses Day, National Squirrel Appreciation Day, etc. Then there’s today, National Hot Sauce Day.

I’ve looked at that special calendar and found that each day is populated with 3 or 4 bizarre things for which to celebrate. To no one’s surprise, I probably have a corresponding story for just about every day.

And yes, many future stories will be based on the National/World Day Of Something celebration. Whether funny/interesting or not. Cause I love to write. But you already knew that.

Which is why I’m posting this story today, probably against the wishes of certain people (which is why I’m not telling him I’m sharing this memory).

Tallahassee, Florida; Circa 1989

My roommate Willie and I were out with a couple of girls from campus (no, not the ones I got in trouble with – remember that story?), driving around, trying to find a new restaurant. Normally we would have hit a familiar pizza spot like Gumby’s or Godfather’s Pizza (remember, this is Tallahassee of the 80s), but someone suggested we do something different.

We ended up at a restaurant we’d never seen before. In fact, we’d never even heard of it. I can’t remember the name, but that’s insignificant at this point. All that’s important is the sign in the window telling us to try the wings if we REALLY wanted to “fly“.

My first thought was that they were laced with marijuana, but I decided not to say that. People have a tendency to give a second and third thought to things I say, even when I’m obviously speaking in jest.

We parked, entered, were seated and greeted, then talked with our server about our options. No matter what we considered, he was adamant that we try the wings, which he swore were their best signature items. Back then, Buffalo Wings were the new thing, especially with the expansion of Hooters Restaurant, which had not too recently opened a location in Tallahassee.

We decided to take him up on his suggestion.

Nothing on his flavor list really stood out as unique until he creepily concluded that if we were REALLY looking for a challenge, we should the “Acid Leak”, their hottest and most dangerous flavor.

Willie glared at me with that all too familiar “Don’t, Kenny” face, unbeknownst to our companions.

The girls decided we should get a combination of mild, regular (semi-hot), Caribbean and barbecue. Funny how they can call out so many flavors when they’re not paying. I said nothing as I stared back at Willie in both defiance and earnest.

“Exactly HOW hot is the Acid Leak?” I asked in great interest.

“Let’s just say that few have survived,” our server answered, laughing in a style, mocking Vincent Price’s devilish laugh at the end of Michael Jackson’s song, “Thriller”.

“WE don’t need any!” Willie shot back.

“The hell we DON’T!” I snapped back. “I wanna know how hot it is.”

“Ken,” Willie warned. “You can’t do hot sauce like that.”

“Correction. YOU can’t do hot sauce like that. I can handle anything.”

Remember, this is the YOUNG me. Not the 54-year-old who needs pancreatitis pills and a two-hour nap after half a cup of Chili Cheese Freetos.

“Tell you what,” our server offered. “I’ll bring you a side plate of two with Acid Leak sauce. If you can eat them both without making a sound, I’ll take half off of your meal.”

“DEAL!” I said excitedly.

10-15 minutes later.

The server brought our food, setting the challenge plate in front of me. Willie shook his head in disgust, having once told me that I often do things to impress women, get attention or to cause trouble. I suppose he thought I was satisfying all three in one this time.

The girls sat there, frozen, not touching their food; attention focused on me, along with a few eavesdroppers from the adjacent tables.

“You want one?” I asked Willie, charitably extending my arm towards him, holding one of the two dynamite sticks. The smell alone was enough to raise the hair on a skin-bald dead man. It was as if someone poured hot gasoline on the table. Even the appearance was a gritty, bright orange, warning that this was nothing to take for granted.

“No,” Willie refused. “I’m not gonna try it and neither should YOU.”

“You should try it!” I chuckled, holding the wing.

“I ain’t tryin’ it and get that mess outta my face!”

Not wanting to delay the server (and my audience), I shrugged my shoulders and inserted half of the flat past my teeth, biting down and stripping it of its flesh as I quicky chewed and swallowed.

I couldn’t get it to pass down my throat quick enough to beat the lava flow.

The school fire alarm sounded as every part of my mouth that came in contact with the wing sauce seemed to swell and explode at once, all the while melting like an ice cube in an oven broiler.

I jumped away from the table screaming; inhaling rapidly and deeply through the tunnel my lips had formed. I reached for the courtesy bread that had been placed at my table, along with the water. Few college students knew back then that milk was the appropriate alternative to water after ingesting spicy wings. Note: water will only spread the capsaicin (the active component of chili peppers) around your mouth, making the damage worse.

What I failed to notice was that everyone’s attention was split between two entities: me hopping around the table like a chimpanzee in a swarm of bees…

…and Willie, writhing about the floor, screaming in agony.

What happened to Willie you ask? Well, when I bit into wing and reacted to the flavor, my wrist snapped involuntarily, casting a drop across the table and into Willie’s wide-open, unsuspecting eye(s).

Later that evening, Willie and I sat in our apartment living room, neither speaking a word to each other.

Not that we were angry with each other (at least “I” wasn’t).

It’s just that each of us were dealing with our own issues.

I wouldn’t know what to say if I COULD talk.

And no matter WHAT I said, I’m sure Willie would never have SEEN things my way…

“EYE” am SO sorry Willie.

Happy National Hot Sauce Day

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