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Charlie Hatton
Brookline, MA

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Howdy, friendly reading person!
I'm on a bit of a hiatus right now, but only to work on other projects -- one incredibly exciting example being the newly-released kids' science book series Things That Make You Go Yuck!
If you're a science and/or silliness fan, give it a gander! See you soon!

That’s Smoooooooooth!

(For the baseball enthusiasts — and jelly doughnut lovers — among you, yesterday’s batch o’ drivel was delivered to Bugs & Cranks in the form of Requiem for a Heavyweight. Andruw Jones, we hardly knew ye.

And now, on with the program.)

There are probably times when being a ‘guinea pig’ — that is, asked to try out new and experimental products or services — is a good thing. Like when you’re visiting the Hershey’s chocolate factory, for instance. Or when the Victoria’s Secret models are trying out their new catwalk struts.

Most of the time, however, walking the bleeding edge is not such a good deal. You don’t particularly want to be in the first group of testers for your doc’s new homemade hemorrhoid medicine, for instance. Or at the front of the line to try the first-ever batch of seaweed smoothies.Or the second-ever batch. Or the ever-ever batch, come to think of it.

“Wild experimentation and free booze; when has that combination ever led to anything bad? I mean, outside of the ’60s, of course. And most of the frat parties I ever attended. And a few unfortunate incidents at summer camp.”

Then there are those situations that you think would be in the ‘good to be a guinea pig’ camp, but turn out to be in the ‘bad to be a guinea pig’ area. Like earlier tonight, when I was having dinner at this nifty little taqueria and bar near Fenway Park. Our pool league team stops by there for dinner most Tuesdays before the match, and we’ve gotten chummy with a couple of the staff. In particular, the regular bartendress, who was working tonight and who casually offered as I sat down to eat:

Hey, it’s slow tonight, so I’m inventing some new drinks. You wanna try some?

Now, what kind of question is that?

Do bears wear funny hats? Does the pope shit in the woods? Of course I’d like to try some exciting new concoctions cooked up by an expert mixologist. And in a taqueria, too, which frankly ought to be called a tequileria, because you can’t swing a dead gato in that place without smacking into a tasty bottle of sweet agave goodness.

In short, I was like a kid in an alcohol store. How, I thought, could being a guinea pig in this situation possibly go wrong? Wild experimentation and free booze; when has that combination ever led to anything bad? I mean, outside of the ’60s, of course. And most of the frat parties I ever attended. And a few unfortunate incidents at summer camp.

But other than that, how could experimentation and free booze be bad? I couldn’t think of a way. Which probably has to do with all the brain cells killed during all the other times experimentation and free booze got together in my vicinity. But no matter. I was given a short cocktail glass, and I was in the game.

The bartender girl disappeared around the bar for a couple of minutes and returned with a shaker full of something thick, red and chunky. Either there was a blood donation drive gone horribly wrong over there, or this was the first tester drink. She poured a couple of ounces into my glass and asked, ‘Do you like bloody Marys?

Not especially, as it happens. It’s not that I hate the taste, exactly; I’m just opposed on principle to bits of tomato taking up space in a glass where alcohol or mixer or even ice cubes could be instead. I don’t see where the little bastards get off with that sort of behavior, frankly. To me, tomatoes are a lot like cats — I don’t much like them in the first place, but they always seem to seek me out and wind up in places where I especially don’t want them to be. It’s like they just know, somehow. And they’re out to torture me.

I couldn’t say all of this to the bartendress, of course. For one thing, she was very kindly pouring me a free taste of her latest alcoholic invention. I didn’t want to be rude. But mostly, I’m not in the habit of telling my bartenders stories that wind up with me having paranoid fantasies about tomatoes conspiring to torture me. That sort of shit will get you cut off and kicked to the curb. So I just nodded, thanked her for the glass, and took a sip.

It wasn’t bad. Bloody Marys are supposed to be a bit peppery, but this one had some real heat. And I dig heat. I asked her what was in it.

Jim Beam and jalepenos.

Those are not two ingredients that I would expect to find together, in any situation. They don’t even sound right together. It’s not tuna and licorice or mayo and applesauce, perhaps, but I was definitely glad she told me the ingredients after I tasted it. And also glad I’d already swallowed the first taste, or it might have come shooting out of me — again, on principle. Tricky things, those principles.

Still, there was no celery in the glass, and the peppers did kick it up a notch. I truthfully told her that it was the best bloody Mary that I’d had in quite a long time. And decided not to elaborate any further on what exactly that statement suggested. Deeming experiment one a success, she set her sights on the next big libation.

I decided to help, which was clearly the wrong thing to do. I’ve yet to invent any alcoholic concoction that worked better as ‘a drink’ than it did as ‘industrial-strength paint thinner’. Tonight, it turned out, would be no exception.

I liked the peppers, but I wanted something stronger than jalapenos. ‘You guys have anything with habanero in it?‘ She thought she could probably come up with something habanerified. ‘And maybe with tequila? Seems a waste not to use all this great tequila here.

She snapped her fingers in that ‘just the thing!’ sort of way, and ran off toward the kitchen. A taco or two later, she came back. And brought hell with her — in the form of a small container of pure, unadulterated habanero pepper puree. She wouldn’t even touch the stuff directly. She waved the end of a swizzle stick near the surface — I’m not convinced more than a molecule leapt onto the plastic — then touched it to her tongue. And winced.

Aw, I thought — how cute. She’s not a fan of the hot stuff. I eat the hot sauce and pepper bits all the time. No problem. I smiled, dipped a clean fork into the goop for a good three tines’ worth of hell and took a taste.

And winced. Also, I started to sweat. I think I may have had a flashback. Or a hot flash. A flash flood. Something. This shit was hot.

It was also really, really good.

I encouraged her to use as much as she thought she could legally afford to administer, and my new favorite bartendress soon said to me those three little words that every man so desperately wants to hear:

‘Habanero. Puree. Margarita.’

A full glass of it, too. It was orange-ish, in the same way that certain venomous snakes are orange-ish, to say, ‘No touchy! Danger! Danger!‘ You could almost hear a faint sizzle rising from the surface. I immediately realized what a terrible idea it had been to get involved.

But I drank it. The whole thing, top to bottom — save one small pour doled out to a curious waitress. Who took a sip, then a second sip, said, ‘Eh, it’s not that bad‘ and poured her remainder in the garbage. I believe it melted through the plastic bag. And probably through the bottom of the barrel, too. I hope there was nothing of value directly below it in the basement.

Meanwhile, I sipped my concoction — and honestly, it was mighty tasty. But holy lord, did the heat build up. From lips to gut, the flames seared and didn’t relent for a good twenty minutes after I’d finished. After the first sip, I’d told the bartendress she could sell this thing. After three, I decided most sane people might pay not to drink it. And by the end of the glass, I thought she could sell it again — but as an industrial solvent rather than a cocktail. I guess that’s what we both get for letting me get involved with inventing new beverages. And now I can’t feel my colon. Ay, chihuahua.

On the other hand, maybe there are others like me out there. Other ‘heat-heads’ who’d slap down a fiver for the spiciest glass of good cheer this side of prairie firewater. For them, the new Fresh Hell Margarita — my name, thanks for asking — might be just the ticket. With that thought in mind, I asked my bartending buddy what sort of royalties I could expect, if the drink takes off.

Um… none. But hey, I’d always pour you a free one each visit.

Yikes. On second thought, then, burn the recipe. I don’t think my colon can make it in the cocktail biz.

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