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Jalapeno Dan, the Cheek Cheater, and the Girl with no Arms

Jalapeno DanStuart’s back from Thailand, so we resumed our Thursday night BBQ parties last night. It was a small gathering – just eight people and a dog – and included a couple of new faces. One of them was Jalapeno Dan, three-time winner of the Mexicali Rosa’s Jalapeno-eating contest. Dan ate 21 jalapenos in less than a minute, way back in the late 90s.

Me: Is there a cumulative effect to jalapenos? Is the 21st jalapeno hotter than the 1st jalapeno?

Dan: No, they don’t keep getting hotter and hotter. But I can tell you they’re hotter coming out than going in.

Me: Are you still the champ?

Dan: No. A big guy with huge cheeks beat me last time I entered.

Me: What do you mean, “huge cheeks”?

Dan: You’re supposed to swallow the jalapenos; only the swallowed jalapenos are supposed to count towards your total. But I think this guy hid some in his huge cheeks.

Me: Are you saying he cheated?

Dan: [silence, accompanied by a subtle but unmistakable flash of bitterness]

Witnessing this flash of bitterness transported me back to Grade 5, when I entered the Carp Fair’s handwriting competition. I carefully copied the poem “Something Told the Wild Geese” in my neatest, most elegant handwriting. It was a lovely, flowing script: a work of art really.

Did I win? No. I took second place. The winner of the handwriting contest was a girl with no hands – she’d lost both arms in a farming accident when she was three. She wrote by gripping a pen between her chin and her stump. All things considered, her handwriting was quite nice. But I distinctly recall feeling a flash of bitterness when I learned that I had lost and she had won. I remember thinking “That’s not fair, it’s not even handwriting if you don’t have hands!” I remember thinking the judges had just given her first prize because she had no arms. And then of course I felt instantly ashamed of myself, and wondered if I would go to hell for having such an uncharitable thought, even if it was true.

I never entered another handwriting contest. Jalapeno Dan never entered another Jalapeno-eating contest. We just drifted into lives of relative obscurity, punctuated by brief but unmistakable flashes of bitterness, while the girl with no arms and the guy with huge cheeks probably both went on to accomplish great things in life.

UPDATE: What did I tell you? I just googled the girl with no arms. She recently won first prize in a hosta-growing contest AND a 3-stemmed Rudbeckia growing contest AND a flower arranging contest using only flowers that start with the letter C.

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