I am experiencing an excruciating lesson in the anatomy of the human digestive system. The stomach is connected to the duodenum, the duodenum is connected to the jejunum, the jejunum is connected to the ileum, and if I were a cartoon, each portion would be lighting up red as everything I’ve eaten tonight passed through.
It’s not food poisoning. I haven’t eaten bad shellfish, or dubious hamburger, or even poorly-washed salad greens. I’ve just exceeded my culinary stupidity quota for the year. Maybe even for the next two years.
I went to Hell Night at the East Coast Grill. And I ordered the Pasta from Hell.
The first time Matt mentions Hell Night, I am somewhere in the welter of first-year, first-semester misery, and while it sounds entertaining, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure are hell enough for me. It’s almost two years later when I find an e-mail in my inbox with the subject heading “Hell Night: Harvest of Pain.” This time, my response is “Hell, yes!”
Which is how Wednesday evening ends up looking something like this:
5:40pm. Arrive at the East Coast Grill. Am running slightly late. Can’t help but notice that the door has been spray-painted with the slogan “Freaks only!” in black. Matt has already arrived and been seated. Our table is near the kitchen. Some of the chefs are wearing gas masks.
5:45pm. Between the loud music and general rowdiness of a crowd getting high on capsacin, the noise level is impressive. We almost have to shout to place our orders: a round of Russian Roulette Deviled Eggs, a basket of Hell Fries, spicy blackened swordfish for Matt, and the Pasta from Hell for me. The server tells me I do not want the Pasta from Hell, which, at nine bombs, has the highest heat rating of all the dishes on the menu. I assure her that I do.
5:50pm. The Master of Ceremony hands me the Pasta from Hell release form, which is printed on dark red paper and contains a full paragraph of synonyms for “regurgitate.” By my signature, I am absolving the East Coast Grill of all responsibility for anything stupid that I might do after eating the Pasta from Hell. The party at the next table over asks if they can read the release form. I can't tell if they're eyeing me with awe or horror.
6:00pm. The Russian Roulette Deviled Eggs arrive. The roulette involves their heat rating: they could be anywhere from three bombs (healthy kick) to eight bombs (incendiary.) One is garnished with a very dark sauce; one is garnished with a bright orange sauce. Matt offers me first pick. I choose the deviled egg with dark sauce. The egg is smoky and savory, but I suspect it's only five-bomb at most. I've eaten spicier Szechuan cuisine.
6:15pm. Server arrives with fries and entrees. The Hell Fries, it turns out, are regular potato fries, light and crispy, dusted with some sort of super-chile powder. They have kick, but they’re not particularly torturous. In fact, they’ve got a salty-sweet flavor that's rather addictive.
The Pasta from Hell, on the other hand, looks every bit as intimidating as its menu description. It’s not a particularly large plate, but it appears to contain as much sliced chile (red and green) as it does pasta, and the sausage sauce is reddish-orange in color from all the chile oil.
6:17pm. I pick up my fork. Here we go. I can't help but notice that I'm getting one or two glances from the next table over.
The first bite tastes good, full of fresh pepper flavor. The second bite offers tomato and the suggestion of sausage. At the third bite, the burn begins.
My nose is running. My eyes are watering. My ears are ringing. I am feeling light-headed. I take a few enormous gulps of iced water and try to catch my breath.
6:20pm. Matt is curious enough to try a bite. He develops a nosebleed a minute later. I think it might have something to do with the capsacin-laced smoke coming from the kitchen, but he’s blaming it squarely on the pasta.
6:50pm. I've accumulated a pile of crumpled paper napkins from wiping my eyes and nose. And I may be experiencing some difficulty breathing. I decide that I should take a break.
7:20pm. A long break. I am still feeling light-headed, almost drunk.
7:30pm. Scratch that. I've made it two-thirds of the way through the plate, and I am quite done. I could probably finish the pasta, but the amount of water I'd drink afterwards would make me sick - and that is an experience I could do without.
I try a bite of Matt's swordfish and eat some more Hell Fries. Matt is impressed that my tastebuds are still in working order. I admit to being somewhat surprised myself.
7:50pm. We decide that we are too full for dessert (though I do note that the dessert menu is free of chiles), and leave the restaurant. We start walking, and I discover that I am still troublingly light-headed. We decide to detour at Christina's Ice-Cream, which is located two doors down.
8:00pm. I discover that malted vanilla ice-cream is a highly effective way of cleaning the last traces of chile from one's mouth and throat. It occurs to me that it might have been more effective as a pre-meal measure, however, as a way of coating the lining of my digestive system.
8:30pm. "Detour" has turned into "extended stay." My stomach is on fire, and I've broken out in a cold sweat. I do not feel well enough to walk anywhere. We decide that I should take a taxi home.
9:00pm. Return to comfort of my own apartment. Pull the trashcan up near my bed, make sure the path to the bathroom is clear. Curl up in fetal position. Wait to see if the worst has passed.
10:00pm. I may have dozed off. Stomach seems to have settled. Has the worst passed?
10:30pm. Worst has decidedly not passed. Recall something about chile seeds and the risks of diverticulitis. Contemplate looking up diverticulitis on Google. Decide that I can contemplate painful death without the aid of Wikipedia. Curl up more firmly in fetal position.
11:00pm. There has been much joking about the aftereffects, as it were, of consuming very spicy food. I am nonplussed. Compared with the digestive effects, they're really quite anticlimactic.
1:00am. Here we go again. Through the haze of pain, I can't help but notice that the skin on my abdomen is hot to touch.
5:ooam. The worst is finally over. I decide that I am never, ever going to do anything quite so stupid again. And I will eat my diet of bananas, rice, applesauce and toast quietly and gratefully for the next few days.