A “Name Brand” Chili With Meat The Big Horrible Event

M

y first hint that I would not be going down a normal, or even vaguely normal life path, came early in my life and from a totally unexpected source. When I was about 13 or 14 years old, an event happened to me that was one of, if not the, most influential events’ in my life except for my marriage and the birth of my children. Even today I involuntarily cringe when I think of it, and it all started with a simple can of a name brand chili with meat. Some are chosen for messages from God or revelations of great truths. I had a pain-induced spiritual revelation as the result of the burning power of chili. In my early teens I started what would become a lifetime inclination for poor eating habits and what may now be a dangerous eating disorder. On one summer vacation I got into the habit of eating three hotdogs for breakfast (boiled until mushy, slapped on a stale bun and slathered with plain yellow mustard), and for lunch a can of a name brand Chili with meat accompanied by some saltine crackers. Except for fleeting occasions where a parent would notice my fare and would require a more varied and healthy diet, the above constituted my sole breakfast and lunch menu for the entire summer. Ummmm, that is good and healthy fare. It was summer vacation and I slept in late as I possibly could. My father was always gone and my mother was off doing whatever mothers do on a good summer day. Both my sisters were gone; I never kept track of what they did or where they were. They were always either in their room, or off with friends or at Bluebird. (Do they still have Bluebird and Brownies?) My youngest brother was probably with my mother. It was after 11:00 and I decided to have my lunch, a can of a name brand Chili with meat, rather than mess around with breakfast. That one decision has changed my life forever. I rolled unsteadily from my bed and stagger down the hall from my dark, dank, fetid teenagers bedroom to the kitchen, hiking up my tighty-whitey undies I am wearing. I stand in the kitchen door for a minute to get my bearings and to let my eyes adjust to daylight. Finally, I can open both eyes at the same time. I do. I stretch, scratch my crotch and then lumber over to the cabinets. I am going about the usual preparation of canned chili that I had done a hundred times before this day. Go to the cabinet and get the can of a name brand chili with meat down. Open the other cabinet door and get the box of saltines. I bring the can to the counter and start rooting in the kitchen junk drawer for the can opener. We did not have an electric can opener. No one I knew did. Ours was this little metal thing with a wing like wheel that you turn to open the can. I finally find it and I fit it onto the can and twist the key that opens the can. I take the lid with the jagged scalloped edge off the can. This was in the days that cans have tops and bottoms that were indistinguishable. I took the lid off and there is a layer of rich reddish grease on the lid. I carefully wipe it off with my finger and lick it off my finger; wonderful, delicious red grease. Then get a pan to warm the chili. There were no microwaves in my youth and food had to be warmed in a pan on the stove. Cooking was pretty barbaric way back then. I usually ate the chili directly out of the pan cutting down on dishes to wash and any sense of civility or couth. I also ate the hot dogs off of the counter. Why dirty

dishes when a wipe of a rag cleans the counter, unless you forget to clean up and I often did. So I put the pan on the stove and turn it on to high. I believed if medium was good then high was better. I pick up the can of chili to pour and spoon it into the pan. The can slipped out of my hand and fell about one foot or fifteen inches at the most to the kitchen counter. Here we begin the jog off the well-traveled path. We are going to stop here because I have to explain some basic physics to you. If you take a can full of liquid and hold it over a flat surface and drop it so that is hits the flat surface…well flat, you will see a jet of liquid shoot out of the center of the can at high speed and it will go up very high. Long after this event, I have seen super slow motion film of this exact effect. I think it is even named. It is rather interesting to watch how that jet forms. If the can does not hit absolutely flat the magical jet of liquid will shoot out slightly off the perpendicular. Well that jet of chili shot directly into my open eyes instantly blinding me. It also shot up my nose, way up my nose into the deep sensitive dark, dark sinuses. Way, way back where all the nerves are right on the surface and where those nerves are poised to extract the most tenuous scent from the air. These delicate organs are now bathed in chili sauce with meat. That chili was way back inside the nasal passages where you can’t get to it from any direction. If you close your eyes and touch your eyelids, that chili sauce ended up about two inches behind where you are touching. In case you don’t remember I will remind you that chili have chunks of stuff in it. The short list would include tomato, onion, spices, chili pepper but by far the worst is chunks of hamburger or rather meat. Those chunks joined the liquid sauce when shooting jauntily up and deep into my nose. I now am blind and I have a big cold load of chili up my nose. I staggered to the kitchen sink and found a smelly, damp, vile dishrag. Before I even try to save my eyes I take a big breath and as hard as I can I blow my nose into the damp dishrag. Bad idea, bad idea! That seemed to have blown the chili into places it wasn’t before, and should have never been in the first place. My head explodes in pain on the inside. Fire! Oh God Fire! It actually felt like there was a small fiery explosion inside my head. I can describe the way my head felt but the English language is not well constructed to adequately convey the sensation so to do that I must use the language of pain. I dropped to my knees with my hands over my face. In the language of pain I said, “UH! Uh! Ho! OOOOOOH no, no, no! Pant, pant eeeeeeeeooooaaaaa, God, Haaa, Hee, oooh sweet Jesus, make it stop OOOhhh make it stop! Then I screamed the first semirestrained scream. AAAHOOOOOOOOO! No, no, oh no! I believe this is the time when the twitching pile of agony that used to be me dropped over on his side and just moaned for what seemed like hours. I rocked back and forth for a while. Finally, I crawled to my knees and continued rocking and chanting Uh, uh, uh, in time with the rocking. Tears were dripping down my face and my nose was running red chili with snot and meat and I was still blind but the tears had washed most of the fire out of my eyes and now they were just painful, puffy and blurry. I decided that if blowing out was so catastrophic I would snort in because I had to clear my nose of chili and any and all attending debris and I blew all my air out and gave it a powerful two-nostril in snort. SNEEERK!

You can now just go back to the previous paragraph starting at where I said, “Bad idea, bad idea and re read it. Except for one little detail the process was the same. There was one novel but ghastly new downward spiraling development. When I snorted in a couple, to a couple of hundred big pieces of “meat” that had been lodged in the nether regions of my nose, they shot down my windpipe causing my lungs to go into convulsions of coughing, hacking and wheezing. My lungs gave up and prepared to shut down and the first thing they do is turn off the breathing function. As the chili Nazi would have said, “No breathing for you—one year!” So, I can’t see, can’t stand, can’t breathe, can’t yell for help, what can I do? There must be something I can do, right? Well there was. In addition to the agony in my head I could get into a coughing fit so severe I actually vomit a little; twice. After a long while, after the taste of bile is starting to fade in my mouth, I look around. I see there is chili on the ceiling and down the wall. It is on the cabinets and the little kitchen curtains with clocks and teapots on them. It is also on the floor and me. Apparently at some point I was kicking my legs spasmodically and smeared the chili around the floor. I also have a bit of puke in my hair and snot down my face. Mmmmmm, good lunch so far. I am ready for dessert. I lay on the floor in a state of pain, disorientation, and amazed disbelief for a long time. Until I could see, breath without reverting to a body racking, hacking coughing fit, until I could stand without getting dizzy, I was as safe on the floor as anywhere in the house and I was going to stay there. But was safe a concept that was even possible in the Twilight Zone kitchen I was presently inhabiting? As my nose had been fighting valiantly to be a functioning bodily organ again, I had become aware of a hot, burning metal like smell over the perpetual smell of chili. It was there very faintly but it was a building sensation. I at first racked it up to a sorely abused nose with scorched and battered inner workings. But the smell became more persistent and troubling. I just want to lie on the floor but that smell said I was going to have to check out what was going on. So I started to get up, at least to my knees. I gracefully hunched up to my hands and knees and hesitated a moment like a diver decompressing to see if I would faint, explode or piss myself. When nothing happened I rose up on my knees and saw a sight that should only happen in Hell to the perpetually and rightfully damned. On the stove, through radiating heat waves, was one of my mother’s treasured “Waterless” aluminum cook pans. It was glowing red and had started to melt. The weight of the handle had forced one side out so that it was red going to white hot, and bowed out at the bottom. I tried to jump up but I slipped and went down hard hitting my right, no left, uh other left elbow on the broiler handle and it got my funny bone. My left, no right arm is radiating waves of pain-tickle-prickle associated with funny bone injury and I make another attempt at saving the “waterless” aluminum cookware from incineration. I stand and lunge for the pan grabbing it by the handle to get it off the stove. I actually heard the sizzle before I saw the bacon size strip of my hand rip away and stick to the handle, sizzling and filling the kitchen with a savory roast pork aroma. I smelled delicious. Then I feel it and I full throat scream. Yeeeeaaaaaahhhhhh, fuuuuuck! I turn

on the cold water and run my hand under the water. Yeah, that took the skin right off. I look over and I have half knocked the pot off the burner but it is now smoking and some of my roasting skin flashes with little smoky flames. Oh yeah, I’m in Hell. I get a dishtowel from a drawer and fold it several times. Without turning the water off, I get the pan by the handle with the dish towel wrapped around it many times and I start it for the sink. But we aren’t going to make it. The towel, the linen towel folded three or four times, is starting to smoke and I can feel the heat coming through. I toss the pan toward the sink arching it directly into the sink where the water is running. Just before it gets there it knocks the can of chili with the remaining chili into the sink with the pan. I hear a Fooooooshm. And a gigantic wall of super heated steam and chili oil shoots out at me. I manage to turn my head and feel my hair, ear and neck get poached instantly. I am back on the floor and I no longer care, I am staying down this time. But little black squiggles are drifting down all around me. Black squiggles? Again I smell something. This time it has a smoldering truck tire aroma to it. I know immediately what happened without even looking. My mother had chicken in the sink defrosting. It took a long time back then to defrost stuff. When the white-hot semi melted aluminum “waterless” pan hit the little plastic tray the frozen chicken was in when I lobbed it into the sink that little plastic tray caught fire. Right in that Hell sink I briefly had steam, Fire and Ice all at once. I didn’t even get up. If it was going to kill me I had given it my best and there was no more fight in me. Co-existing fire, ice and steam, the aroma of burnt human flesh hung in the air, blackened chicken bone sticking out of a frozen block of chicken legs and thighs. I didn’t have the will to fight on. I just lay there looking at the chili-speckled ceiling, the little soot squiggles from the plastic drifting down around me thinking, “Has this particular string of events ever happened to anyone else, ever?” I tried to just stay down but there was one additional piece of business that had to be taken care of. As I lay on the floor I had expected the smoky steam and flame-scorched human flesh smell to dissipate. But no, Hell was not finished with me just yet. It still had a few things to show me. Finally, as the smoke continued to get thicker I realized this would only end when I stood up and fought to my last ounce of resistance. Then and only then could I subdue this portal to hell and close this breech into our world. I staggered to my feet. My elbow ached and still tingled, my eyes were watery, blurred and puffy and my nose was still dripping and it felt raw. My chest ached and I was still occasionally hacking up hamburger from my lungs. My hand was screaming in pain and if I thought about it too much I would almost sob. But I stood up and saw at the far end of the counter the linen dishrag I had used as a potholder and had thrown when I threw the aluminum pot into the sink. I thought it had gone in the sink along with everything else but no. It cleared the sink slid to the far end of the counter and just sat there smoldering. I walked down and picked it up by a corner and lifted it up to carry back to the sink. When I picked it up the towel opened up exposing the hot smoldering center part to the air and it went Fooom and burst into glorious flame. Again I am holding FIRE! I pitched it in the sink and turned on the water. At the last minute I remembered the wall of steam and chili oil that flew into my face the last time so I quickly ducked and struck my forehead on the sink counter. Little pinpoints of light sparkled for me for a while. I think I was getting a little shell-shocked by then. Oh God make this stop. There is one

last thing I have to do. The burner is still on glowing angry red. I don’t run over to turn it off. No, something is trying to kill me and that could be a trap. I stand and examine the stove and the floor in front of the stove. I look up to see if something is going to fall on me if I walk over. I couldn’t find any obvious traps but I listen carefully to see if I can hear any demons from Hell chuckling quietly just around the corner. Knowing that what I am about to do may erupt in cascading horror, I reach over and turn off the oven. I wait a moment to se if there is some lurking demon that is going to drag me back to Hell. But finally, it was over if something like this could ever be over. I just stood there thinking of what happened for what seemed like a long time. Eventually, I had to shower, clean the standing chili off of all surfaces and mop the floor. The chili was roasted into the porcelain of the sink and around the drain it never came out. The curtains were shot. The stains never came out of the curtains. We got fresh crisp blue curtains with a white lacy border. My father tried to spot patch the ceiling and he had to end up painting the entire ceiling because the stain was not coming out of the paint. The stain kept bleeding through and it was so apparent that he ended up painting the whole kitchen ceiling. I offered to help but dad kept saying how small the job was going to be. It wasn’t. He kept saying all he needed to do is feather it out. He started mumbling that there was something wrong with the paint. I slithered out of the house when my father started thinking out loud how the ceiling would look painted brown and why were all ceilings painted white. A couple of years later and after the divorce that had nothing to do with ceiling painting, my mother had the ceiling repainted by professional painters. That closed this horrifying episode in my life. I do not eat canned name brand Chili anymore. The next day I had gauze bandages on my hand, big oily blisters on my neck, ear and head, my eyes were still red and slightly puffy, my nose was still running a bit and it would run pink from the blood mixed with chili. That would continue for about a week. About three days after the great chili disaster little patches of my hair started falling out on the steamed side of my head. If people asked me what happened, and they did, I told them I was the only survivor of a small plane crash. I couldn’t talk about it during the FAA investigation. I guarantee you I did not say, “A can of chili with “meat” almost killed me.” I think I may have actually died from that incident if events had played out just slightly differently. Just a bit more chili “meat” up my snout, just a bit more “meat” down the wind pipe, just slightly more fire to catch the curtains on fire and we have a headline that reads, “Local boy dies in freak chili accident”. If a simple can of chili could do that to a person what else is lurking out there? It makes one think and I did. I might have stopped eating Chili but I kept up with the hot dogs. What could possibly go wrong there? That started a rather fatalistic and pessimistic view of the universe that I have retained to this day. There is something out there that looks perfectly benign and that you are familiar with that could and maybe even wants to kill you. When you were in health class you got told to wash your stuff, get lots of fresh air, sexual feelings are the work of Satan and if you touch anything below mid chest we will catch you at it. But did you get any warning about a name brand Chili with meat can. I rest my case.

The Little Horrible Event There is another scary feature about this incident that I did not realize until many years after it happened. While not quite of the same magnitude as the searing intense agony of the great chili catastrophe, it has been a lingering bad memory. It has to do with that little dangling description of the product where it ends with the term “with meat.” In the name of God what is “Meat”. It is meat of what, prepared how, by whom, from where and when? Is there any raccoon or possum in there? Does an occasional zoo monkey get into the mix? In an unusual circumstance could road kill armadillo find it’s way into my chili? I do what any inquisitive person would do. I go to the library. There was no Internet then. I ended up having to ask for the assistance of a “Reference Librarian”. No matter how hard or diligently I looked I could not find the Chili section of the library. But even way back in the dark ages companies distributed product descriptions if you looked hard enough and most importantly, knew where to look. With the patient help of the “Reference Librarian” I found out that the company carefully describes the ingredients to artfully guide your attention away from the central question and they wrap answers in the succulent aroma or meaningless reassurance. I discover that they use only the choicest ingredients cooked in an open kettle until the exact moment when all the flavors are at the height of perfection. That makes me feel immeasurably better. I mean only the choicest ingredients. The choicest...uh; could a seagull foot be an ingredient or maybe a squirrel carcass? I look up what they mean by “choicest” and find that it means there are carefully and precisely approved standards of quality and nutrition. I had to give up here. The deeper I get the more difficult it is to even remember what I am looking for. I admit defeat when I realized the last description doesn’t even insure that the choice standards are good or nutritious. Damn, what did I have shot up my nose? “Meat”?