The Time Mike Ate The World’s Hottest Pepper
The following story is meant to be humorous, and is not intended to represent the real-life Mike Pence. As far as we know the extent of Mike’s knowledge of the Lanthanide series is not, in fact, a matter of public record..
One wistful spring break in college Mike Pence and I went on a backpacking tour in Sri Lanka. It helped that Mike is fluent in both the Sinhala and the Vedda, and it was the latter that saved our lives. The whole episode is, if you don’t mind, a funny one, I’d like to think.
It starts on a return voyage from a party at some friends of Hoff’s at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis. He, Richards and myself were in Woody and Mike was performing the critical role of driver, designated.
We got pulled over at one of them what you call Sobriety Checkpoints. Right. The worst sobriety checkpoint selection in the history of Western Civilization, I should think. Mr. Michael Pence, if you don’t mind, in that very moment the soberest man on the planet, Pastor Dennis on the 8-track and himself suspected of being under the influence of that most insidious devil: Demon Rum. But selected he was, so he pulled ourselves over and the rest of us gathered at an open window to fully enjoy the spectacularly competent display of sobriety he’d presently make.
Well, your man in blue sure put Mike through his paces. Walking the line. Blowing in tubes. Touching his nose. Reciting the alphabet backwards and forwards. Roadside urination. The works. Mike, all pleasant as you please and smiling to beat the band the entire time. But the policeman, convinced beyond all doubt that our friend was under the influence of the Kill Devil, had one more trick in his pocket. What was this trickery?
“Mr. Pence,” says he. “Would you please recite the Lanthanide Series,” here he paused dramatically, “in reverse order of atomic weight?”
The cheek of the man!
Well, our man Pence sang a song of his own composition naming them from Lutetium to Lanthanum with a jaunty little chorus about Dysprosium and Praseodymium to round the whole thing out. Woody housed an ovation and the policeman, a sour sort of gentleman, begrudgingly ceded the field.
“Michael,” says I. “Why did you learn this particular, obscure information?”
“Well,” he said. “I just submitted a paper on the subject to a conference in Sri Lanka. In fact I was hoping you’d accompany me, Bryan.”
Sure and don’t you know I agreed on the spot.
After the conference we decided to take a few days and do some backpacking in the bush. We’d signed ourselves up with a guide, who’d appeared right and trustworthy enough, a gentleman by the name of Pasindu Thedsanamoorthy. Well, Pasindu Ted, as he said he should be called, guided us deep into the jungle. He was a great guide at first. He knew by sight and sound which creatures were dangerous and which harmless, which leaf would soothe and which cause a class of diarrhea that would make Montezuma blush. Many’s the tale of high adventure and derring-do he regaled us with as we hacked through the leafy jungle.
You can imagine, then, that we had quite a shock on the third day out of Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte. Pasindu Ted had abandoned us. We woke that morning to find all manner of chaos; he’d taken as much food as he could carry and the better of my two pith helmets.
I was despondent. Deep in a foreign jungle, without a guide and all manner of native bugs and insects and other sorts wandering about with any amount of infectious diseases. Spiders the size of your fist. Snakes so fearsome they’d sooner swallow you whole than look at you. Millipedes of the size and disposition of dyspeptic house cats. My own mortality felt imminent.
“This is it, Mike,” I said. “We’re going to die out here. This is the end of it, I’m sure.”
He just smiled at me and put his hand on my shoulder.
“We’ll get through this, Bryan. We haven’t had our last sight of the broad, majestic streets of Old Indy, yet.”
“Thanks, Mike. You’re always the first to give your fellow man a reassuring pat on the shoulder,” I said.
“Actually,” he said. “I was killing a half dozen mosquitos which were about to strike; I didn’t want to alarm you.”
He held up one of the offending gentlemen by the wing for my inspection. “This particular genus has an almost preternatural ability to spread malaria.”
I nearly fainted—I’ve always been deathly afraid of the malaria, a great scourge upon humanity the malaria has been—but we soldiered on, he with his cool efficiency, me with my spare pith helmet.
Days passed. Our supplies ran low. We were down to our last can of milk. I swear to you Mike slept no more than fifteen minutes the entire time. Finally, just as I thought we’d hacked our machetes down so blunt they couldn’t cut warm butter, I heard something.
“Either the heat has gotten to my head and I’m hearing things, or there’s people nearby!” I tell you I near jumped out of my skin in excitement.
“That’s no auditory hallucination, Bryan. I suspect there is a village ahead.”
He was right.
Things were no better when we stepped out of the jungle, however, for there stood a mass of angry locals and who was at the front of them, but Pasindu Ted, cock of the walk in my best pith helmet.
“Pasindu Thedsanamoorthy, we mean you no harm!” Mike called.
“Ah, speak for yourself, Mike, but this piker left us for dead in the jungle, stole half our food and my helmet!” I fumed.
He shushed me.
Pasindu Ted said something to the crowd and they let up a mighty, angry roar.
“What did he say to them, Mike?” I asked.
“He told them that we have come to steal the Red Hornet. It’s an ancient cultivar of chili so blisteringly hot few can tolerate the experience, and those who can are worshipped as minor deities,” he said. “It is their livelihood. It is only grown in this region and is sold, blended down to reduce its potency but still retain its, I’m told, unmistakable character and exported to markets the world over.”
He stood tall and said loudly in Vedda, “People of this village, we come in peace! We are not thieves or brigands, merely lost travellers.”
I understand Pasindu Ted repeated his allegation.
“This is a lie, good people. In fact I have never tasted a chili, much less one as renowned as the Red Hornet, valued the wide world over for its piquancy.” Now, that our friend Mike had never tasted a chili was true and I can vouch for it; he’d never tasted anything hotter than an old shoe.
“The Red Hornet is your birthright, “ Mike continued. “To steal your patrimony would be to steal your very souls. This would be a crime unspeakable. How may we prove our abundance of good will?”
An ancient sage, leaning on a gnarled walking stick, came forward. The crowd quietened. Even the buzzing flies held their breath, waiting for the old man to speak, and when he did, it was in the low, measured tones of one who expects to be minded.
“What did he say, Mike?”
“‘Let the Hornet decide’.”
Even then no fear was in Mike’s face nor voice. He strode confidently to face Pasindu Ted. Now that face showed real fear. Sweat soaked his brow; he staggered back a pace.
The crowd parted and a woman bustled through with a basket overfull with little red peppers, each about the size of a golf ball. By local custom, Pasindu Ted, as the accuser, had to take the first bite, but right of first selection was given to Mike, as the accused. He reached to the basket and, with great decision, took his pepper. When the basket came to Pasindu Ted, however, his hand shook violently and he took great care to find the smallest one.
At the command of the old man, Pasindu Ted took the pepper into his mouth, and after a moment’s hesitation, chewed. His agony was instant and terrible. He wailed, he spat the pulp out onto the ground, he clawed at his tongue, he vomited into my best pith helmet, then he reached for his eyes.
“Don’t touch your eyes, man!” Mike shouted as he jumped forward and restrained the tortured man’s hands. “Here,” he said. “Drink this. It will soothe some of your pain.”
And he handed Pasindu Ted the last of our canned milk.
Mike was not safe yet, for he still needed to withstand the Hornet’s sting himself.
There he stood, before the people of the village, before the old man and the pepper lady, before poor Pasindu Ted. He put it in his mouth and chewed. And, no word of a lie, his omnipresent smile widened. “Why, golly, but that’s got some zing to it! And what a pleasant sweetness there is, as well. And, if I’m not mistaken, there’s a dang delightful secondary heat coming. Yes! There it is! My, this pepper of yours is truly, truly wonderful!” The crowd cheered, men and women openly wept in the streets. Children were lifted onto shoulders so that they might for a moment spy the great man in their midst.
And—get this—he says to me, “Bryan, you should try this!” Now, one look at your man writhing on the ground even after he drank the last of our milk and soiled my best pith helmet, and there was no way on God’s green Earth I’d even consider allowing that pepper within arms reach of myself for even a second. But do you know what Mike did?
I’ll tell you what he did: he had another!
Some time I’ll have to tell you about the time Mike single-handedly defused the straw hat riots.