Dispatches, thoughts, and miscellanea from writer Jon Konrath

Spicy food avoidance

There’s a lot of Mexican food in Denver, which sounds like a pretty good deal. But I’m finding as of late that I can’t deal with spicy food anymore. And I don’t have a long history of liking spicy food in the first place, so maybe it’s not that my insides are looking like the sleeve on a wizard’s coat, but that there’s some kind of psychosomatic training issue that stands in my way.

When I grew up, we never ate any spicy food, ever. Ever. If we made tacos, they were out of the Ortega kit from Kroger, and half the time I would put ketchup on them. Probably the spiciest thing I ate in my first sixteen years on this planet was that shaker of red pepper flakes that’s at Pizza Hut, and when I did try it, I was so immediately shut down, I never wanted it again. This was long before Elkhart was overrun with Hispanics, so there were no bodegas or good restaurants. (And for the record, I think it’s kindof hilarious that the Hispanic population exploded there, given the number of geriatric racists in the town.) There was this local chain called Hacienda that was about as Mexican as John Wayne in a Klan robe, and later I worked at Taco Bell, but that was it, until I got to college.

In college, I avoided spicy food. This wasn’t hard, because there weren’t any Indian restaurants in Bloomington, and the Mex places were more like Tex-Mex, with fajitas and shit, and not really hot items. I guess the Chinese places did have some hot numbers, but I stuck to sweet and sour pork. Otherwise, I avoided anything with any amount of chile or spice in it.

I remember one time being in Chicago with Simms and Bennett, and they were totally Jonseing to go to this Indian place. And for whatever reason, probably because the only Indian food I ever had was the stuff Simms was trying to make in his kitchen, I really didn’t even want to try it, so I just ordered a Coke. Simms and Bennett had all of this shit, and were chowing down and saying “Oh man Konrath, you have to try this Dal, it is fucking incredible”, and I was like “well, this Coke is pretty good. Can I go find a hot dog cart or something?”

You also have to realize there is some subset of the tech culture that worships chiles like they are christ on a cross. I don’t know why; it’s the same reason geeks get into Star Trek – maybe it’s nature, nurture, the quality of the product, but it just happens. So half of the places I work have had all of their machines named after various types of peppers, and the sysadmin that does that usually has that big chile pepper poster on the wall of their cube. The insanity goes to the point of flying to New Mexico to get raw peppers and then dry them, or growing them yourself in your apartment like you’re getting a pot harvest going. But the one thing common was this huge machismo pissing contest about the hottest peppers, about getting the craziest most insane sauces, finding the hottest green sauce at the most obscure restaurant, and turning the lunch product of beans, beef, and a flour tortilla into some giant test of manhood and individuality.

And if you ask anyone in that situation, “why the hell do you even like chile peppers?” they will give you some great philisophical discussion that makes no sense. And I always wondered, did I need to be born in another state or country to get this? I mean, I absolutely hated my first beer, but after a few months, it was a taste I acquired. I didn’t drink beer in the way I drank Coke though; it’s something about the way you let the flavor set in, what you ignore and what you focus on. An example: I have been drinking tart cherry juice for my foot, because it supposedly helps because of some enzyme. So I got this stuff at a health food store (if you see cherry juice that says 100% juice at the grocery store, 10 times out of 10 it is 4% cherry juice and 96% apple or pear juice blend. They can legally say “100% juice”, they just don’t say which juice.) and I poured a glass of it and drank it, just like I would drink a glass of grape soda. And it was HORRIBLE. I couldn’t finish it. Later I talked to Simms about it, and he said to get one of those little nyquil cups and drink it as if it was medicine. So I did that, and no problems. I could easily do four, five, six shots of the stuff if I treated it as medicine and not a tasty beverage.

And that always made me wonder if I needed to approach the food differently somehow, like ignoring the pain when you’re in the dentist’s chair. After I moved to New York, I started eating Indian food, and I slowly worked up to hotter dishes by doing this. And it wasn’t bad – I was eating the food for the experience, more than the flavor. I don’t really know how to describe that, but I worked my way up to hotter and hotter things. (Although one time I was trying to eat a vindaloo and I had a front tooth that was slowly working to the point where I needed a root canal, and that hurt like FUCK and set me back a bit on hot foods.)

So here I am in Denver, and we went to this place called Rocky Mountain Diner, which is sort of cowboy-esque in its theme, and has a lot of giant plates of hearty food, like chicken fried steak smothered in gravy and whatnot. And last night I ordered the chimichanga. Now, from what I remember, a chimichanga is basically a small burrito that is tightly wrapped and then deep fried, and you cover it with sour cream and basically take a year off of your life. But when I got my food, it was slightly different, like maybe it was pan-fried, and it was smothered in this green sauce. And when I took one bite, my system basically shut down, and I knew my intestinal tract would be about as stable as the current Somalian government for days. I felt a need to eat a few more bites, but it ate away at my tongue so much, I just couldn’t do it. And it baffled me as to why I could eat the most fiery Indian dishes back in New York, but I couldn’t touch this stuff. Maybe I have some dental work coming up that I don’t know about? I have a touch of a cold, could it be that? I don’t know, but it bothered me a bit. I always hated having tons of dietary or culinary preferences, so every time I ordered at a restaurant, I would have to say “hold the sauce, hold the mushrooms, hold the peppers, hold the cheese, hold the meat – actually, just give me an empty plate and a glass of water and charge me ten bucks.”

I did go get the cure this morning – McDonald’s hash browns. You drunks know what I’m talking about. Man I love it when I manage to get to the golden arches before 10:30. (Actually, that time varies widely these days, so don’t fuck with me about how it’s really 11:00 or whatever.)

I’m starting to hate eBay. I have a million auctions; I have allegedly like a thousand dollars in auctions that have closed or will close. I have two people who owe me money. I have no packages to ship out. I have made about $100 on this sofar, and I’m more than a week in. I wish I could push a big red button and just say “ALL AUCTIONS CLOSED! SEND IN YOUR FUCKING MONEY NOW! GO! GO! GO!” but I have to wait. That means I’m going to the My eBay page 900 times a day.

Oh! I got us Rockies tickets for the 4th of July. Box seats, as good as the ones we had for the Devil Rays, except we don’t have to watch the Devil Rays. It’s against the Mets. I have no idea how they are doing – I will have to read up – but the show will have fireworks, and we have kick-ass seats, and if it’s 200 out, we can duck back into the ACed clubhouse. I actually walked to the box office to buy the tickets, and I got there at like 6:07 and they closed at 6. So I ordered online. I will go back down there and pick them up, if that’s at all possible.

If anyone wants a good laptop, I am selling my old one on eBay, but I haven’t listed it yet. It’s a P3 with 128M RAM and Win98SE, so it’s no speed demon, but it is ultra small and light, so it’s a great road computer. I think it’s worth a couple hundred bucks. More info if you need it, but I thought I’d mention it here first.

Speaking of, gotta go box up some crap that just sold. Whee!