A belching smokestack.

Last night’s dinner was a rare failure. I had a hankering for a simple, cool-weather repast of beans and rice. Normally I reach for the ever-popular frijoles negro, but I had a bunch of dried cranberry beans and thought, what the hell. I started cooking with visions of a sort of chuck-wagon cowboy bean throwdown, and instead ended up with something that had way too many hot peppers and was otherwise oddly underflavored. It tasted like so many tailgate-party-style chilis I’ve tried, where in lieu of thoughtful tasting and season correction, the cook just tries to make the top of your skull lift off.

But the beer was cold and afterward I sat there, mouth aflame, hands on fire, and thought about hot peppers.

I thought about how careful you have to be when you’re working with them. I never scrape the seeds out with my fingernails, lest some of that capsaicin stuff get in my nail beds. If I throw the leavings down the disposal, I always step back when I turn it on, having gotten a faceful of low-grade pepper spray more than once.

But mostly, if you don’t wear gloves — and I never wear gloves, I never remember to buy them — you have to be careful what you touch afterward. Here’s a short list of things you shouldn’t touch after handling hot peppers, without at least one and preferably several sudsy hand-washings in between:

1) Your eyes;
2) Your nose;
3) Definitely your genitals;
4) Your lips;
5) and anywhere else the skin is a bit on the thin or membranous side.

I was discussing this with another hot-pepper lover. I told him about an embarrassing event involving contact lenses which left me writhing on the floor and red-eyed for days. He told me about going to the bathroom, taking out his unit and screaming in pain. But the best story was the time his wife turned from dinner preparations to nurse the baby, reached down to help the child latch on, and touched both her own areola and, of course, the infant’s mouth.

“That was a very noisy half-hour,” he said.

Hot peppers — all peppers, really — are otherwise a superfood. Oprah says so.

I said I thought the workload would ease up by Friday. News flash: It won’t. The momentum will carry me through next week, but that’s good. Work = money (eventually…theoretically) = a merry Christmas, a warm house, spring property taxes and a wolf kept from the door. As a character in a novel I can’t remember said, if you think a belching smokestack is ugly, try one with nothing coming out at all.

A little bit o’ bloggage: In the course of Googling something, by way of looking for something else entirely, I stumbled across a blog of someone’s fabulous Knight-Wallace Fellowship year. Not mine, silly, but Julia’s, who’s not a fellow but a spouse. It’s amusing to read, as I recall every emotion. And it’s good to see they’re keeping the standards high, as when Paul Rusesabagina stopped by Wallace House for lunch and a little chat. (The Flickr photos suggest Charles is holding everyone to a higher dress-code standard this year.)

Rusesabagina no doubt came because the fellowship includes a Rwandan journalist, Thomas Kamilindi, whom I was privileged to meet late in the summer. He told his story to the group earlier this month. A wrenching one, as you might imagine:

But there was a lot Thomas didn�t tell us that I later discovered on my own. A liberal Hutu married to a Tutsi, Thomas had been forced � during his time at the radio station � to broadcast the very hate messages he abhorred, the messages that incited hate and violence against the �cockroaches,� as the Tutsis were called. He didn�t mention that he narrowly escaped death on more than one occasion, that he has had a loaded pistol held to his temple and was saved when an officer who recognized him happened by. He didn�t mention that while he was at the Hotel, he actively tried to get word of the massacre out to the White House, the Elysees Palace and human rights organizations. He didn�t mention that he gave an interview to French radio from the hotel, an act which resulted in the government sending a soldier with the express mission to kill Thomas. (He was spared when, by happenstance, the soldier turned out to be a childhood friend.) And he didn�t mention that while he and his wife and younger daughter survived the massacre, their five-year-old daughter � who was visiting with her Tutsi grandparents at the time � did not. In a BBC interview, he says:

“It is very difficult to put my life experiences behind me and to forget. I and my wife live with it all the time. It is part of me. Sometimes I shut myself in a room and cry when I think about my first born, my little girl Mamee. It’s difficult when you know you were about to be killed and you survived but your child was killed”.

You maybe see why this year is a hard one to recover from. For just about everyone.

Posted at 8:54 pm in Uncategorized |

8 responses to “A belching smokestack.”

  1. Connie said on October 19, 2005 at 9:42 pm

    Yes, and trust me don’t stick your finger up your nose after cutting up chili peppers. Don’t ask me how I know.

    And on the subject of beans I made classic red beans and rice from scratch a few weeks ago, and it was oh so good. I used the recipe from http://gumbopages.com. And check out his blog http://gumbopages.com/looka as he is just back from helping his parents salvage their flooded New Orleans home.

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  2. John said on October 20, 2005 at 10:48 am

    areolae is the plural (one of the accepted ones at least, but the right latin one). my ninth grade latin teacher (god bless her soul) would have been proud.

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  3. Dorothy said on October 20, 2005 at 11:25 am

    My daughter had her own “writhing on the floor” episode a few years ago after accidentally putting the dog’s eye drops into her own eye. The little bottle bore a very strong resemblance to her re-wetting drops. I didn’t know who to call – the eye doctor or the vet! After a good bit of screaming she was okay – eventually.

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  4. joodyb said on October 20, 2005 at 5:51 pm

    3 words: disposable surgical gloves.

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  5. alex said on October 20, 2005 at 10:47 pm


    I was an overnight guest a few years back when I realized I’d forgotten to pack my saline and contact case. No prob, my hosts assured me. They had some stuff left over from another guest. The shape of the case looked kind of funny, like nothing I’d ever seen, but whatever. The bottle of solution was a bit peculiar too, but I figured same stuff just another brand.

    Next day I put my eyes in and it was more painful than if I’d wrung out a coupla habaneros and used them for wetting solution with a touch of Drano for good measure. I had to throw the bitches out and drive home near blind it was so horrible. It was days ’til I could see again or put in new contacts.

    The mysterious case and cleaner, it turns out, were for sterilizing a glass eyeball.

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  6. Dorothy said on October 21, 2005 at 5:14 pm

    Good Lord Alex! Good thing you weren’t blinded! I guess you didn’t have your spectacles to put on for the drive home? I’ve never been a contact lens wearer. I had prescription in only one eye for a long time, and when I tried contacts then, I only needed one. It was like having a monacle in. I gave up and never tried again. Both of my kids wear them, though, quite successfully.

    Except for that incident with the dog drops of course!

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  7. mary said on October 21, 2005 at 6:58 pm

    One time a pharmacist gave me someone’s dog medication (same last name) instead of a prescription for my son, who was less than a year old at the time. When I brought the medicine back, pointing out it was veterinary medicine, the pharmacist laughed and said it wouldn’t have hurt the baby. I changed pharmacies. Loudly.

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  8. Nance said on October 21, 2005 at 7:50 pm

    I’m always amazed at the things people are willing to say in a situation like that. Many years ago, my friend the education reporter was working late, filing a story after a school board meeting. She was the only one in the newsroom — it was after 10 p.m. — but for the janitor, who was emptying wastebaskets.

    She noticed he seemed to be taking a little too much time emptying her wastebasket. In fact, he seemed to be crawling under her desk. And then he had her foot in his hand, and was kissing it passionately.

    She brought her fist down on the top of his head, screamed and ran out to the security guard in the building’s reception area.

    “Oh, that’s just Bob,” the guard said. “He’s drunk He’s always drunk. Don’t mind him.”

    They were both fired the next day.

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