When I was a teen-ager, I cockily ate jalapeno peppers in front of girls because I loved to hear them say, "Wow, this guy is crazy!" To be called crazy at eighteen is to receive respect; and when I felt the glow from the girls, it took my mind off the glow from the gas.
Jalapeno pepper! Jalapeno pepper! my stomach would cry when I was eighteen, and the juices would flow like fire hoses because this was a four-alarm meal. And moments after they had extinguished the pepper, the alarm sounded again:
Look out! Here comes another!
Tell him to mix it with something! Roll it in bread or asbestos!
Meanwhile, the girls kept smiling and saying, "Wow, this guy is crazy!"
When I am called crazy at fifty, however, I feel less respect in the word. For example, a couple of days ago, I picked up a jalapeno pepper and my wife softly said, "If you eat that thing, I will go to court and have you declared legally insane."
Nonsense," I replied. "I used to eat these things all the time."
"Yes, and look what it's done to your brain."
She was looking at me the way a person might look at an accident in progress. I looked back at her with the confident yet idiotic smile of a man about to dive off a cliff; and then I put the pepper in my mouth and began to chew.
This time, my stomach sent up no cry of panic. This time, the fire department simply went on strike; and, like Atlanta, I burned through the night.
From TIME FLIES, introduction by Alvin F. Poissaint MD (Doubleday: $15.95; 176 pp.).