Kip sat across from me in the cheap vinyl booth and dug into his Chinese food. His breath quickened as he sucked air past the food in his mouth.
"Oh, yeah," he said. "I was afraid they wouldn't take me seriously. They don't sometimes. When they see a white kid and he asks for 'extra spicy,' they don't believe me. But I like it hot like this."
As he spoke, his forehead began to shine, a hint of the heat. Beads of sweat forming on his forehead turned the shine into mist, and he wiped his brow with a napkin from the pop-up dispenser. He continued eating, his cheeks reddened. He barely stopping chewing long enough to sip at his water. Soon, the flush from his cheeks spread across his face, and the space between his nose and lips began to shine.
"I like it hot enough I can feel a buzz," Kip said, smiling and dragging another cheap paper napkin in a circle from forehead to lip. I briefly wondered if he would need a shower after dinner.
"When I go to a place often enough, they start to believe me. Then they give me the same spices they're eating in the back."
# # #
I've never liked spicy food for the sake of heat, but I've met a number of people seem to see food as a potential challenge. I'm not sure if this is an adrenaline thing or a "master of my own destiny" thing. Either way, I don't really get it. I don't like my food to fight back, physically or figuratively.
Our boys lacrosse team has a ridiculous ritual where they go to the Buffalo Wing Factory and eat flatliners. Probably one of the funniest stories I've ever heard a teacher tell involved one young man who ate the most flatliners one year. He ate so many, he was a moaning shambling mess the next day. His dad told him he'd made his choice and sent him to school anyway. The way my former colleague reenacts his conversation with this poor, foolish young man never fails to leave me in stitches, even though I've heard the story many times.
One of my students this year came to school wearing a t-shirt declaring "I survived the flatliner challenge." To his credit, he wasn't a whimpering, moaning mess. But he did admit he wasn't feeling so well. I believe I just shook my head at his self-satisfied grin; I may have used the word "moron," but my memory isn't too clear on that. Whatever I said, his grin just got bigger.