Flame Boy​​​

I am half-German and half Scotch-Irish- but I don’t say that to express any particular ethnic pride. Most people of my skin tone don’t really think much about their race. The German side kind of prefers staying under the radar since a certain election in the 1930’s. No one is going to declare “Day without a German” any time soon. Having said that, I don’t feel guilty about WWII, because, while half my ancestors started the thing, the other half helped whup ‘em. You know, family business. I don’t get insulted by ethnic humor, either because, frankly, most Irish jokes are hilarious. Here’s my favorite: “An Irishman walked out of a bar… It could happen.” (As for Scottish humor, I recommend Mike Meyer’s under-appreciated file, “So I Married an Ax-Murderer.” Tru dat.)

There is, however, one area in which my people are oppressed: fast food in California. I’m not going to criticize this restaurant by name, but it rhymes with “Shmaco Smell.” Schmaco Smell seems to be converting most of their items from “edible” to “hell-seasoned.” I bought a tostada there awhile back, the same thing I’ve been ordering at Taco- I mean SCHMACO Smell since I was in college, and it nearly burnt a hole in the roof of my mouth. I’m not kidding- there’s no separation between my nostrils anymore. My tongue looks like a piece of 10-year-old jerky. I’m nearly bald, too, because my hair burst into flames. (Some things you don’t get over.)

Listen to me, folks: not everything needs to be spiced up- least of all with habanero, ghost pepper, or the world’s hottest-rated pepper (according to Guinness- the book, not the guy who played Obi-Wan Kenobi), the “Carolina Reaper.” Reaper. As in “Grim Reaper.” This thing actually has a stinger tail. And you can order it on-line. The government won’t let me mail fireworks, but they allow this.

Years ago, I was invited to dinner by a lovely Asian family. I was thinking the food would taste like Chinese or Japanese, but I was so wrong. Just before we were seated, our host winked at me and the other haoles in the room and said, “This might be a little spicy for you, so be careful.”

I looked across the table and saw many things that were bright red or had little brown and black flakes, which my spider-sense immediately identified as “not for German/Scotch-Irish consumption.” (Bear in mind, my people think boiled potatoes are a little on the zesty side.) And there it was- my safe space; sticky rice and (sniff-sniff) pork gravy. Yes. Home cookin’. The lady of the house took my plate and spooned it on herself. I accepted my plate, smiled my thanks and took a huge bite.


I had no idea the gravy would be spicy. Until that moment, I had never considered that gravy COULD be spicy. It was February, but beads of sweat ran down my forehead, burning my eyes, and my glasses steamed up. I grabbed my red solo cup of ice water and downed it. Then I prayed and took another bite. My mother always told me that if you are a guest in someone’s home, you clean your plate, because not eating the food is insulting. The lady took my cup and refilled it. I drank it all in about two gulps.

Then I took another bite. And another. And. Another. I started hallucinating; demons danced around the room and on the heads of my friends. But I kept eating until half the plate was empty. I think I drank six glasses of water. If felt my ears with my hands and they were HOT. My shirt was soaked. And when our host filled my cup for the seventh time, she reached down and took my plate. Then she patted me on the head and said, “You a nice boy, but stop eating now. You gonna die.” Flame Boy nearly burnt out.

On the construction sites, the families come to invest sweat equity on their houses, which becomes their down payment. We have Hispanic families, Hmong families, and Armenian families building homes right now. And they always bring food. A couple of Saturdays ago we had the blackest coffee I’ve ever seen or tasted. We had coconut Jello salad, tamales, shrimp salad, honey cake, brazed sausage and something I couldn’t identify. I am judicious. I ask what’s hot and what’s not. And then, since I’m volunteer coordinator in charge of the snack, I taste everything beforehand, just to make sure it’s safe. (I’m a giver.)

Every week is an international pot-luck. Our volunteers eat new food (to them) every Saturday and they love it. It’s a wonderful time of fellowship and sharing. When the families move into their homes, they have about 30 new friends with whom they have eaten, worked, and shared. And on that day, they all celebrate together and eat cake- so bland it was probably baked by a German/Scotch-Irish lady.

God described his people in the early church like this: “Breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people” (Acts 2:46-47). It’s like Saturday morning at the Habitat construction site. I like that. God likes that.

Flame Boy out.

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