Scene: Miguel’s Baja Grill, a cheerfully decorated and deliciously authentic Mexican restaurant on Moab’s main drag.
Chloe is intrigued by the habanero pepper on her plate. She examines it closely. She thinks it’s cute. The server warns her that it’s not like a regular pepper. It’s on the plate as a garnish. It’s super spicy, he says, practically challenging her to take a bite. According to Habanero Madness (don’t you just love how the Internet puts every arcane fact at your fingertips), it’s one of the hottest chili peppers in the world. The jalapeño is a wimp by comparison.
Chloe’s mind is constantly churning. You can practically see the cogs in her brain move. She will tell you, with the unflinching confidence of youth, that she has many brilliant ideas every day. I would say that she needs to learn humility.
Back to our story. Chloe continued to enjoy her meal, all while keeping an eye on her habanero. She paused to look at all of us and with a grin on her face, offered us the deal of a lifetime. “Who will give me $10 to eat it?”
Her Papa laughed and continued to eat. Sophie rolled her eyes. Grammy told her she was crazy. Tenacious Chloe repeated herself at least ten times, hoping there’d be a sucker among us to take her up on her wager. We asked her why she wouldn’t try the habanero simply for trying’s sake. She looked at us like we all had two heads. “Why would I do that?” she asked. “I’m not crazy.”
I was sitting across from her, observing with bemusement her incessant chatter about the pepper. I thought of our brief stay in Las Vegas at the beginning of the trip. And our upcoming evening in Vegas at the end of the trip. And how I hadn’t even been tempted to put $1 in the slots that first night in Sin City.
“I’ll give you $10 if you eat the habanero,” I said, liberating the hibernating gambler in me. You see, I was convinced Chloe would never eat the thing. Although she’s developed a decent palate for a kid her age and is willing to try lots of new foods, a pepper that could cause nausea at the very least, if not bodily harm? No way.
My husband shook his head in dismay. “Why are you encouraging her?” asked his head shake. “She’s not going to eat it,” replied my own head shake. After 20 years of marriage, we can communicate telepathically like that.
Another 15 minutes passed. Chloe still hadn’t taken a bite. The waiter came around and took our plate, and the habanero was gone. I was off the hook. I smiled. Chloe was not smiling.
And then, our eldest daughter, the one who sends her 8-year old sister to ask the hotel’s front desk clerk for a pen, waltzed up to the waiter as we were leaving and asked for a habanero to go.
Chloe’s plan? To take the habanero to the local ice cream parlor and eat the habanero with a chaser of chocolate.
I protested. Claimed she was changing the rules of the game at halftime. She balked. “What rules? You told me you’d give me $10 if I ate the habanero. It’s simple. There’s nothing to discuss.”
There are days when I wonder how this kid emerged from my body.
Chloe took her ice cream and her habanero and sat down. She placed her feet firmly on the ground, put the habanero on a napkin and studied it for about a minute. She made sure the ice cream was easily accessible. She also made sure we were all watching.
Her hand moved the pepper to her mouth. She smelled it. She touched her lips to it. I told her there was still time for her to back out. She glared at me. And she bit into that habanero with gusto.
“That’s not so bad,” she managed to remark before her eyes started to tear. She began to cough. She dry-heaved a bit, too. I was tempted to bring the garbage can to her, just in case. She took a spoonful of ice cream.
Chloe is nothing if not stubborn. Despite her evident discomfort, she took another bite. And then another. With a few more spoonfuls of ice cream and dry heaves in between. Until she couldn’t wait anymore and shoved the rest of the damn pepper into her mouth.
“Ha! I told you I’d do it!” she exclaimed, opening her mouth wide to prove that she had swallowed every last bit. “That wasn’t so bad.” I suddenly found myself $10 poorer.
“The waiter gave me a second habanero. I’ll eat it if you give me another $10,” she said with a smile.