When I was 19, I got more drunk than I have ever been in my life. It’s still a high water mark of my drinking career. It was a Christmas, and someone thought it would be a good idea to give me a bottle of really good tequila, a bottle of black sambuca, and – oh God – a bottle of poitín. The tequila and the poitín were almost impossible to drink. At least, they were at the beginning. I remember hitting on the great idea of just mixing all three into one glass to maybe, maybe make it the whole thing easier to digest. I can just remember brief flashes of images: swigging tequila out of the bottle and thinking I was just like Jim Morrison (followed by thinking ‘I fucking hate Jim Morrisson’); sitting outside in the back garden as my friend threw a glass at me, missing my head by inches and the two of us cracking up at how hilarious this near-accident was. Then, nothing. I woke up in my friend’s locked bathroom with vomit everywhere, under the towels on the radiator and everything. I don’t know if it was my vomit (that I’m not sure is my one glimmer of hope from the entire evening).
Just as sure as night follows day, my worst ever drunkenness was followed by my worst ever hangover. I managed to get home and crawl to the living room where I spent about 8 hours lying on the couch, shaking and sweating and writhing in pain. I felt like I was never going to recover. (Looking back now, I’m sure it actually was touch-and-go for a while.)
That evening, around 7pm, the film Without a Clue came on the TV, and everything changed. I wasn’t feeling any better, but I knew I wasn’t feeling any worse. My hangover had crested. Right at that exact moment, my ma poked her head in the door and said, “Would you like some rashers and sausages?” And right then, that’s when my worst possible experience turned into one of my most cherished memories. I think I actually cried with happiness, knowing that I was suddenly on the mend. Now, whenever I watch Without a Clue, I get hit with a wave of positive emotions. An entirely Pavlovian response that has now transformed this slightly shaky B-comedy into one of my favourite movies.
The other night, we went for Ethiopian food in a place called Mesob, which got a really good review from the New York Times a few weeks ago. And yeah, the food there was pretty damn great. The menu wasn’t entirely clear and we spent a good part of the night feeling a bit awkward and ‘what do we do now?’ but once the food came and we were getting nicely toasted, it all worked out just fine.
Except I managed to find a stray chilli pepper in one of the dishes.
Okay, so listen, I was a little tired, a little drunk, and I wasn’t really paying attention. When my mouth started chomping down on something crunchy, no alarm bell rang in my head to warn me that it could be potentially terrible. I thought maybe it could be a bit of celery. I only realised I’d eaten an entire pepper after I’d swallowed the last bite. It was then that my tastebuds managed to place that weird flavour.
My tongue started burning. My eyes started welling up. My nose started watering. Sweat started pumping from my head. If a part of my body could secrete something, it decided now was a good time to do so. To make it clear, I love spicy food. I’m a huge fan of jalapeno peppers and I can eat them fairly handily without any issue. This was no simple jalapeno. This was something else. This pepper really blew my socks off. I spent ten minutes thinking I was going to die, and wondering how I could ask where the nearest hospital was without opening my mouth, which felt like it had started bleeding. I thought my tongue had turned white-hot and was about to melt out the underside of my jaw.
It was such an intense level of pain that I could tell immediately when it peaked and started going away. When this happened, I was hit by a wave of euphoria. Now, the pain didn’t go away immediately. It must have taken a half an hour for things to return to normal, but that didn’t matter. I suddenly knew that, regardless of how long it would take to get better, everything was going to be okay, I’d survived the worst of it and I’d soon be back in the clear again. Such a feeling of joy and well-being as I’ve never experienced eating food before. Is this why people love absurdly, obscenely spicy foods? I can only imagine how this lady felt.