Today I nearly died.
I am not a fan of lunch. Or breakfast, actually. Essentially, daytime meals just aren’t my thing. My ideal workday starts with a twenty ounce, all fruit smoothie and includes a brief, protein-filled snack, enabling me to power through my afternoon in a frenzy of incisive edits and timely project management.
Some days, though, I need more serious refueling, and at noon when I came out of four back-to-back meetings over three hours I decided today was one of those days.
Mindful of my pre-wedding, pre-house budget, I turned down an offer from our designers to pick up sushi (sob), and instead headed for my #1 most reliable lunch destination – Mama’s Vegetarian.
(Note that on my proverbial desert island all that is served is sushi and falafel.)
I ordered my usual, “large mama’s, whole wheat, hummus, not hot,” and headed over to the salad bar to stock up on pickles, extra tahini, and something I hadn’t seen there before – some awesome, super-green tabouleh, dotted with couscous, or maybe pine nuts?
A good falafel causes me to maul it with wild abandon, as if I’ve been starved for weeks. Crumbs and tahini explode in every direction – I have no semblance of restraint.
Today was no exception, except for when I took that first voracious bite I discovered that my “not hot” got translated as “with hot.”
This is not how I nearly died. Mama’s hot sauce is hot, but not too hot. I can and do enjoy it from time to time. I just wasn’t prepared for the hot sauce – it caught me off guard.
I glanced around my desk for a method of fanning the flames now active on my tongue. I ate a pickle, which helped. I eyed my extra tahini, but I would need that to douse the rest of the falafel.
My eyes settled on the tabouleh. Leafy, grainy – perfect to scrape the hot out of my throat so I could better prepare for the next bite. I scooped up a heaping portion of the tabouleh on my fork – at least a tablespoon, and crammed it into my mouth, swallowing some as soon as it hit my tongue.
This is how I nearly died. You see, the tabouleh was not tabouleh. It just looked like tabouleh. It was actually ground up hot peppers.
Oh yes. And that couscous and/or pine nuts? Those would be the hot pepper seeds.
It was the hottest thing I have ever tasted. Or felt. Or contemplated. I don’t have a word for its hotness. And, take note, my father is a hot pepper farmer.
My face flushed with blood and drained of color in rapid succession. My tongue went absolutely numb from shock. I couldn’t breath.
I reflexively – foolishly – swallowed the entire tablespoon of not-tabouleh just to get it out of my mouth.
This was the incorrect stratagem to ameliorate the situation.
To its credit, my body – perhaps sensing my impending peril – did everything within its power to expel the offensive material from my esophagus. I coughed. I trembled and heaved. I began to rapidly hiccup.
All to no avail – I was committed to digest this foul pepper paste – a paste so hot that for the rest of the day I could physically feel its exact location within my digestive system at any given time by pinpointing the intense burning sensation within my body, and which resulted in several occasions of me lying prone on the floor of my cube, praying to whatever gods would listen to purge me of this awful misery.
Let’s just say that the average adult has four to seven meters of small intestine, and that after today I am acutely aware of that fact.