Hot, Hot, Hot

Image: Cover art for The Feral Chicken of Clayton (and other essays)

(This essay is several years old and refers to my very patient and forgiving ex-wife. Enjoy.)

COUPLES ARE WONT to go through many pleasant infatuations after getting married. A gardening fad, a fancy for sewing, a board game craze – these are all well known. Sometimes these are long and involved, others are brief, like a shooting star. My conservative estimate is that my wife and I went through at least 5,237 different mania during the seven years we were married.

The majority were of a singular kind – I began woodworking, she began doing something called ‘tatting’. Notable were the obsessions that involved both my wife and myself, such as the ‘survivalist’ frenzy of 1999, or the disastrous ‘Atkins Diet’ event. For a time (an odd time), I even found myself saving dryer lint for a planned future mania (I was not informed what that might be). Few of these frenzied activities came and went as quickly as the Great Dehydration Passion of 1995.

It all started out innocently enough. I had some meat left over from a stew I was making, and not wanting to waste it, I soaked it in teriyaki sauce and then left it in warm oven overnight. Next day: Beef Jerky! The wife was duly impressed by the idea of creating what heretofore was a food one could only obtain in a store. After a few more attempts, we began to try other items, such as fruits, vegetables, etc… Results were mixed, and the blame was placed squarely on our highly unstable oven. Clearly we needed a ‘proper’ dehydrator.

Fate lent us a hand, in that the father-in-law had wanted a gift idea for the holidays. After some brief discussions, he sent a small dehydration machine. Soon the kitchen was awash in the smells of food being deprived of its natural moisture. Every conceivable type of food that could be dehydrated was attempted, from Apples to Zucchini. Results were decidedly mixed, but we were not easily dissuaded.

Our downfall was unexpected, and came from an outside source. A friend at work had a passion for hot peppers. He even went so far as to grow his own, so he would have a ready supply of the freshest, hottest peppers possible. Upon learning of our dehydrating fervor, he asked if we might consider doing a batch of peppers. “Be glad to!” was my cheery reply.

A week later I was presented with a bag; two pounds of fresh HabanĂ©ro peppers. Pretty little orange things they were, innocuous in their own way. After taking them home and giving them a quick rinse, I arrayed them upon the drying racks and turned on the dehydrator. My wife and I then went into our ‘TV room’ near the back of the house and watched a movie or two.

After about 3-4 hours, we noticed a peculiar odor. “What is that?” asked my wife. Indeed, it was oddly familiar, though I could not place it at the time. “Not sure,” I said. “Mebbie we should check on the peppers.” At this I rose and boldly went into the living room. I had taken about three steps when the first wave hit me. It seems I had forgotten that when the liquid inside peppers is released it becomes pepper gas. The familiar scent was from Army basic training, when I was duly gassed. Regrettably, I had just gassed the kitchen.

The effect on my person was both swift and dramatic. My eyes began watering, impairing my vision. My lungs refused the toxic vapors, choking me. I could feel my skin begin to burn as well, although this was likely caused by my wife’s rather intense gaze.

Fearing the wrath behind me more than the burning fumes ahead, I plunged into the kitchen and unplugged the dehydrator, quickly dashing out to the back deck. The fresh air was a boon to my now-debilitated senses. Also, my now-angry wife was inside. Dare I return? With only a moments hesitation, I returned to the fray to assist in opening windows and general hand-waving. After her immediate distress was abated, my wife began to see the humor in the situation. “How in the hell can someone eat those things?” she remarked, her eyes tearing slightly in curious contrast to her smile.

How indeed. After the chaos of gassing the house, our interest in shrinking food waned rapidly. We did finish the peppers (outside), to the eternal gratitude of our friend. He told us that he ground the dried peppers up and uses them to sprinkle atop such items as pizza. “Like pepper, but pepperier!” Maniac.

Soon the dehydrator found its way into the room of incomplete projects along with the crafts, the yarn, the half-reupholstered chairs, the 17 Raggedy-Ann dolls, and the other remnants of prior fads. It would soon find itself in a garage sale, or on permanent loan to a friend in the midst of their own fanatical episode. My wife and I suffered no real harm, nor did the house, but neither did we abate in our folly of fleeting fancies.

Indeed, I think some of my happiest memories are of those silly detours we took. Oblivious to any but our own whims, we wandered down the side streets of our life. The cost was small, the memories easily recalled at the scent of a hot, hot pepper.

[Chapter 13 of The Feral Chicken of Clayton (and other essays)]

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