In the beginning third of Saw II, a largely unfortunate movie, a hoodlum named Obi gets himself locked in a furnace and the furnace ignites. Obi sees a drawing of a little devil on the door, next to a dial. If he reaches through the flames and works the dial, he lives. Instead, he cowered in the back corner and suffocated.
I’m not going down like that.
Two weeks ago, I began my downward glide into my blaze of glory – not on a bloody battlefield, or in the depths of a deranged human’s psyche, but a wing joint playfully named D-Spot. They’ve got some hot-ass wings, you see. D-Spot insists their back page menu isn’t meant as a challenge, and there’s no princess being held in another castle, but their heat intensifies by level and each “level” has a “key” flavor you must stomp to unlock the next. Totally not a challenge.
My story begins with El Loco. At 1.4 million Scoville units, El Loco is Level 1.
“You’re a brave man,” said the server as he set the basket before me. The impact sent a burst of smoke into the air between my wife and I. Before I could give myself time to back out, I snatched up the only drum and ripped the meat off in one mighty bite.
It hit me like Mickey would’ve in Snatch. The sauce dug into my lips. Pepper seeds hit the back of my throat and set it ablaze. Liquids of all manner oozed from the spouts of my face. Hiccups forceful enough to jerk my whole body set in. My fingerprints felt like they were being burnt off MIB-style. I lifted the second one delicately, gripping the endmost molecules with the tippiest tips of my fingers. My teeth flailed at the meat the way a falling man tries to grab hold of a rope.
Two down. My wife, ever a spectacular vein of moral support, asked me to pose for a picture. I somewhat looked, somewhat pointed; she totally snapped, and totally Facebooked.
I grabbed number three, not in the fashion one typically picks up a device of self-torture, but with the urgency of a cartoon hero holding a bomb. I bit the meat off one side, swung it around, bit from the other side, pushed the middle meat out with my right index and guided it into my mouth. I dropped number three like a runner cashing a water cup and reached for number four.
Number four was the least intimate. Most of my touch points had scorched numb by now, and this was merely another layer of sauce and a few more seeds. I systematically nibbled the meat off, set it down, saw I missed a sliver, picked it back up, snipped it off, and set it back down.
That’s how I conquered El Loco.
Of course water didn’t work, so I giant-stepped over to the counter and virtually threw my credit card at the cashier. My heartbeat and lung capacity were beginning to normalize, but my mouth was the steel of my parent’s fireplace.
“Do you guys have milk?” I asked. The tears had dried to my face and the hiccups had slowed. I may or may not have had a crusted-snot mustache. I’d rather not dwell on that. The cashier returned with a bottle of organic green tea, and The Man With His Face On the Wall:
Pepper Lord Darin Koch himself.
Darin might look like a man who’d slip off a chain belt and beat you with it, if not for the permanent smile and politeness in conversation. His eyes shine like his shaven head. His articulation is far beyond mine, even when I’m at my best. Tonight, I was far from that. Tonight, I sounded like a man who’d just been waterboarded.
We shook hands and he congratulated me, but wasted no breath before showing me the flavors I was in for next. That’s the message he conveyed: Flavors. Darin cares about the flavors a great deal, to the point I would’ve been ashamed to admit I’d crazily blitzed El Loco without noticing them. Fortunately, I’d had enough other flavors previously to pick up what he was laying down.
He gave me another green tea, compliments of the house. They help your metabolism, help you sweat out the heat faster, make it easier for you to enjoy the flavors. It’s a talent I’ll need to master, and pronto: I’m tackling every advertised super-hot wing,* all the up to the 4.5M-unit Seppuku and the game’s final gate-keeper, Seizonsha.
Seizonsha, in Japanese, means “to survive.” At 6M Scoville units, it’s hotter than U.S.-grade pepper spray.
“If you eat Seizonsha, you can count on 3-4 days without solid food,” said Koch. “Some people eat them and they’re knocked out of work for three days.” Fun!
I stayed up all night after El Loco with heartburn, and my first … sitting on the … in the morning at work … very scorchy, indeed, if you know what I mean. It’s going to take months but I shall hiccup, cry, snot, pant, quiver, sweat, and tea-guzzle my way to Seizonsha before 2014 expires. That’s my mission.
To quote that Christopher Walken line I love so much, “It’s too late to be scared. It’s time to kill!” I’ve reached through the fire once already. I know exactly what I’m in for now.
See you on the other side.
RELATED: Not into hot wings? D-Spot also makes excellent cheeseburgers. The 50/50 is one of my wife’s cardinal vices. And the asterisk? Every flavor they offer can be altered to a heat preference, so I’m limiting my tour to the 16 haunted/scorpion/death row flavors listed on the website.