One of the kids said, “Mr. Pinkwater, you probably aren’t used to eating curry. You want to be careful of those chilies.”
“Kid, you obviously have no inkling who you’re eating with,” I told him. And I went on to fascinate the two boys with stories of death-defying pepper-eating among the Poles of Chicago, of whole towns wiped out by a single pepper in the southwestern United States, the dreaded Arizona firecracker, and the jalapeños that are individually shipped, packed in cotton and labeled “High Explosives.”
“It’s entirely a question of mind over matter,” I explained to the boys. “You simply ignore the pain and enjoy the flavor. You’ll understand things like this better when you’re grown up.”
While I was educating them, I was spooning various good things onto my curry - including the chilies. They were clearly a mild and inferior variety. I wished we’d been served something formidable, so I could really show off.
Two mouthfuls later, I was in the throes of the most complete agony I have ever known. I have been disappointed in love. I have endured gall-bladder disease, said to produce the worst pain known to man. I have had my great toe crushed by a huge stone. These were nothing compared to the effect of those damned peppers.
I wept copiously. I sweated. I gulped water. For a time, my heartbeat and respiration were suspended, and my disembodied spirit hovered above the table, observing the old Englishman and the two kids, chewing complacently and watching my death agony. For a moment, I believe I began the journey through the long tunnel, and was dimly aware of Diamond Jim Brady, Fatty Arbuckle, Oliver Hardy and Orson Welles, waiting to welcome me on the other side.
Then, I was drawn back into my body. I sat sobbing and gasping at the little table.
“See? I told you to be careful of the chilies,” the kid said.
It’s a lesson I’ve never forgotten. It doesn’t matter who you are, or what you’ve done, or think you can do. There’s a confrontation with destiny waiting for you. Somewhere, there is a chili you cannot eat.