For the Birds Radio Program: Hot Peppers, Part II: Al Batt's Story

Original Air Date: March 22, 2002

One of Laura’s favorite writers, Al Batt, also had an interesting experience with hot peppers while birding in Texas.

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Last time I told a little story about my too-close encounter with a jalapeno pepper whlie I was birding in Texas. One of my friends forwarded an email story by another birder who had a close encounter with peppers while birding in Texas. My friend didn’t realize it at the time, but I happen to know the author, Al Batt, who is very active in the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union and gives wonderful programs specifically because of his fun and vivid storytelling.

Al gave me permission to read his story on the air. He writes,

I was in a small park in southern Texas. It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon and I was having a nice time looking at birds in the park. I remember that I was searching for a Clay-colored Robin. The park was filled with people cooking and eating. The sun was shining and kids were playing. I was looking through my binoculars into the leaves of a giant tree, when I first heard the voice.

“What are you looking at?”

I turned to the questioner, a man, and told him that I was looking for a bird.

“Yeah?” he acknowledged. “I suppose that I’m getting to the age where I should start watching birds.”

“Everyone should watch birds,” I replied. “How old are you?”

He told me. Surprisingly, we were the same age.

“What day is your birthday?” I asked.

“March 16,” he said.

“March 16? That’s my birthday!” I said.

The next thing I knew, we were getting out our driver’s licenses and showing them to one another. It was true. We were born on exactly the same day, with him about an hour older.

“It’s a sign,” he said. “Come on, you’re coming over here to eat with my family.”

I took him up on his offer. A man has to respect his elders, even if they are so by only an hour. Besides, it fit into the three keys to happiness that my grandmother told me about. 1) Never miss a chance to put your feet up. 2) Never miss an opportunity to go to the bathroom. 3) Never pass up any free food. Grandma was right.

I walked across the park to the picnic table and he introduced me to his family. He was an electrician with a wife and a 10-year-old daughter. They were charming and gracious hosts. I ate fried bread and beefsteak. The food was great. Then my host offered me a concoction made from peppers.

I grew up in a family where we only used three spices – salt, pepper and ketchup. We thought peppers came in three forms – hot, hotter and call the ambulance.

“It’s a habanero,” he said with a smile.

“Hot?” I asked.

“No,” he said. “It’s like candy. It’s good for you. It will put hair on your chest.”

I have hair on my chest. I turned to his wife. Women tell the truth about these things.

“It is very hot,” she said. She gave me a sympathetic look. Perking up, she added, “It will certainly curl the hair you have on your chest.”

That was all I needed to hear to decline the offer. But then I noticed the 10-year-old daughter sizing me up. My manhood was at stake.

I took a tiny spoonful. How can I describe the sensation? Lip remover in a bowl. Painful as stepping barefoot on a Lego in the middle of the night. My mouth was on fire. I was eating a dish of red-hot needles.

I had no milk to put out the dancing flames. It burned my lip and tongue. It burned all the way to my stomach. But I ate the habanero pepper soup of death and lived to tell the story.

Al says “Time does indeed heal all wounds. There are days now when my digestive system barely smolders.” His doesn’t recount whether his new-found Texas friend became a birder, or whether he himself saw the Clay-colored Robin he was searching for.