We’re at Red Rock Saloon in Milwaukee with our friends Archibald and Bunny and two other friends (names have been changed to protect the innocent). Archibald and Bunny like spicy food. They like it so much that they grew habanero peppers this summer and have about a bushel of them at home in their kitchen. It’s a supply for 13 lifetimes.
Red Rock Saloon serves wings. Their spiciest non-waiver-required version is the mega-spicy, habanero dry-rub wing, the Diablo (they also serve ludicriously hot “TCB” wings made from ghost peppers). Archibald, with his love of the habanero, orders 8 of the Diablos.
Lisa and I have eaten with Archibald and Bunny numerous times in the past. On a recent trip to Chicago, we all went to a Thai place and had spicy food. Archibald is a sweater in these situations. His face glistens with sweat as he enjoys the capsaicin burn. And his sinuses open up — with a magnitude of something like the Glen Canyon Dam opening up. It’s wild to see — it’s every fluid in his head capable of evacuating, doing so with all the vigor it can muster. Archibald’s head is no longer a hospitable living environment, and his sweat and snot cannot wait to start their new lives with their aunties and uncles in Bel-Air. Lisa jokes about this as we wait for the wings.
The wings arrive. Archibald gives me one so I can try it. I take a bite; it’s spicy; I save it for later. Bunny tries one. “Not too bad,” she declares and puts the remainder back on Archibald’s plate. There are 7.5 wings to go.
Archibald eats his first wing. His eyebrows raise. His brow dampens. We hear a sniffle. “Pretty spicy,” he says.
For me, habanero spice is the exact opposite of horseradish spice. It starts low and explodes and burns forever. Horseradish starts hot and explodes and its burn only lasts seconds. Bunny and I remark that we can still feel the burn from our bites in our mouths. Archibald will have that burn to build upon as he eats the remaining 6.5 wings.
Wings 2 and 3 go down fairly uneventfully, but evacuation of head-fluids is ramping up significantly.
Wings 4 and 5 bring a new strategy — power through the pain to not prolong this any longer than needed. Archibald stops talking. He stops looking up. He’s face down, staring at his opponent, sweat building on his brow.
It’s time for wing 6, we’re now worried. Lisa is in pain from witnessing Archibald’s pain, but Archibald never raises his head and keeps eating. We summon the waitress — we need a horchata-rum shot for Archibald, stat! The sweat running down Archibald’s brow is now intercepting the snot running out of his nose and dripping onto the very reason they’re evacuating — the wings. Archibald’s eyes seems not to register this. The eating continues with no napkin breaks.
Wing 7 — Archibald’s head is a faucet and it’s full-on. The drips are now nearly a steady stream. A half wing remains.
Archibald grabs wing 7.5, covers its habanero dry-rub with some mucous lube and muscles it down his gullet. And then … what the hell is he doing? He licks his fingers! “Archibald!” I yell. “What are you doing?”
He dives into the celery and chipotle-ranch dressing and starts burning through the napkin supply. Soon there’s a pile on his plate of used napkins nearly as large as his habanero harvest pile back home. “Is there any more celery?” he asks.
The horchata-rum shot arrives and Archibald throws it back. “Wow, that helps,” he says. Archibald is alive. Cue the spicy poo jokes.
Lisa asks: “Was that worth it?”
“Oh yeah,” Archibald says, “the pleasure totally outweighs the pain.” My wings were good, but his Diablos were better. But, wow, I don’t think I could have handled them.