I swear to god that the plan was to have homemade chicken soup for dinner.

The whole chicken was defrosted, the ingredients were ready to be chopped and then it occurred to me and Joann, almost simultaneously that what we really wanted was not chicken soup at all.

What we really wanted was a couple of big fat juicy hamburgers and a bottomless order of steak cut french fries and a couple of watered down Cokes. Which is pretty much how we found ourselves at the restaurant at 4:45pm on a Friday afternoon.

To those of you that don't live in a mini mall mecca, 4:45 might seem like a bit early to be going out for dinner, but over the years we have learned that there is a perfect time for meeting all of our Amercian consuming needs.

People in our little town don't work 9-5 jobs, they don't know how to drive their six-ton four wheel drive mini-vans, and they don't like to cook at home.

But if you learn a few basic rules about timing, you can live almost stress free.

First rule is this: Food shopping must be done on Mondays around noon.

Second rule is to buy your Christmas presents on-line.

And the third is that if you head to any restaurant after five thirty, you're gonna have a bad time. However, if you adjust your consumption clock by three quarters of an hour, then when you arrive at the restaurant there will be very little wait, the staff will be just starting their shifts and will be naturally friendly cause they haven't dealt with hungry people all day, and most importantly, the food will be freshly cooked and arrive hot.

Now because Joann and I could go to restaurants professionally, we have a very specific protocol that must be followed in order to achieve maximum happiness when dining out with each other and our eight year old.

First, while standing in line, we find out what the boy wants to drink.

There are only three usual choices, milk, lemonade, or a coke.

We make this determination while waiting to be seated, so that everyone's beverages can be ordered at the same time and the poor server doesn't have to stand at our table, waiting, and waiting while we ask and eight year old for his opinion.

Don't make your server wait while you ask an eight year old for his opinion.

For god's sake.

Yes, we would like a kids menu, yes, we prefer inside, yes, we've been here before, and please, would it be possible to get a booth? We don't have to think about these things or check each other's faces for confirmation.

Sit down, drinks immediately ordered and then quick as a couple of bunny rabbits, we dive straight into the kids menu.

Again, do not make your server wait while you ask your eight year old what he wants for dinner.

OMG I can't stress that enough.

There are three usual options. Plain cheese burger, Mac n Cheese, corn dogs.

You would think chicken fingers would be added to the list, but no, for some reason he's just not a big fan.


Anyway, our drinks arrive, and a plain cheese burger is ordered quickly, but the two adults are going to need more time. This is subterfuge. The quicker the eight year old gets his food, the less time he has to start getting antsy and crawling under the table.

Do any thing you can to keep your eight year old from crawling under the table.

Small pox is a real thing.

Now, just to get real for a moment, Joann is going to get the avocado burger and I'm going to get the jalapeño burger, but we like to take ten minutes to perform this little one act play of ours:

Joann: What are you gonna have?

Josh: I was thinking about the thing with the thing.

Joann: Oh, that's what I was thinking of getting.

Josh: Well, why don't you get it and I'll get something else with the thing and I'll just have a bite of yours.

Joann: Get your own food, I don't want your boy cooties. Ooh, onion rings or french fries?

Josh: Maybe I'll have this other thing with the things.

Joann: OMG where's that? I didn't see that.

Josh reaches across the table and turns a few pages of Joann's menu and points to the description of the thing with the things.

Joann: Ooh, that looks good.

Josh: I know, but look at the calories.

Joann: Really? Cause we're not here to get thin.

Josh: Maybe I'll just get the thing.

Joann: That' so boring, you always get the thing.

Josh: That's cause I like the thing. Enter Server. Do you know what you're getting?

Joann: No. You order first.

Server: What'll it be?

Josh: I'll have the Jalapeño Burger.

Server: Good choice. And I dare you to eat the roasted Jalapeño on top.

Josh: What?

Server: It comes with a roasted jalapeño on top and I've only seen two people who ate it. And Ma'am, what'll you be having?

Joann: I'll have the avocado burger, well done, with fries.

Server: Anything else for you two?

Josh and Joann: No thanks.

Cue lights.

Now, I don't know if you caught that little piece of the play where the server improvised, but I'm pretty sure there was a moment where a community college dropout with dreams of getting into a nursing program just double dog dared me to eat a jalapeño in front of my son.

(Now don't get me wrong, I dropped out of community college no less than three times myself while working a multitude of retail jobs, so even though the joke required a bit of mean spirited adjectives, I have nothing but the utmost respect for people doing the best they can to live good lives, and our server was no exception.)

Yet, if you missed the line, I assure you, Calvin did not.

Wait . . . Dad?

Uh huh?

Are you going to eat the whole Jalapeño?

Of course, duh.

So you're going to be like only one of three people who have ever eaten the whole thing.

Damn straight.

Which is when I got the look from my wife. You know that look. The look that says you're acting like a child.

Now to be fair, had I been double dog dared to eat a jalapeño in front of my wife and my wife alone, I would very easily respond like an adult and have made the decision whether or not to eat the whole thing only if I felt like it.

She has witnessed all kinds of unmanly behavior from me, and to back down from what was most likely to become a gastrointestinal nightmare, wouldn't change her opinion of me in the slightest. In fact, considering that she has to share the bedroom with me later, she would probably be relieved to know I made the decision not to jeopardize her clean sheets.

But I'll be damned if I'm ever going to let my boy see me flinch.

So the burgers arrive, and yes, right there, skewered to the top of the bun, was a five inch roasted Jalapeño just glistening with capsaicin.

(That's the stuff that makes peppers hot)

And you gotta remember, I love jalapeños.

Love jalapeños.

I grow em, I stuff em, I barbecue em, I put them in every salsa I've ever made, I've even perfected a recipe for pickling them.

I put them on chicken soup.

Awe yeah.

Pickled jalapeños on chicken soup.

Awe yeah.

But, this might have been the case of maybe a little too much of a good thing.

See, I ordered a Jalapeño Burger.

Which comes with a 1/2 pound of ground beef, on a Jalapeño bun, with tomatoes, lettuce, pepper jack cheese, a creamy chipotle sauce, and these wonderful deep fried jalapeño medallions scattered throughout.

If there is any thing in the world that could probably go without having a five inch roasted jalapeño skewered to the top of it, it would probably be the jalapeño burger I was about to eat.

When Calvin saw the jalapeño, he freaked just a little.

And I, of course, being a man with several testicles, took a huge bite of the roasted pepper.

Which, wasn't a bad decision if I want my son growing up with an image of powerful masculinity, but it was not the right choice if I wanted to enjoy my meal, or for that matter, the rest of the night, and most of the morning after.

My digestive tract was now lava.

Beads of sweat dripping down the shriveled testicles I was so proud of earlier.

It took a full ten minutes before my hands stopped shaking.

Was I gonna finish it?

Of course.

Like, duh.

I may have had to eat the rest of it after thinly slicing it and following each piece with a coke chaser, but if he was a she, then I was gonna get her done.

And I stand by my choice.

As I do all my choices.

In fact, there are only two kinds of choices:

Good Choices,

and Better Choices.

Make a choice, its a good choice, but you won't know if there was a better choice until later, so, you know, choose something.

And in this particular case, I made the Better Choice, and I'll tell you why;

Truth is, I write stories.

And it's a better story to have eaten the thing, than to not have eaten the thing, clean sheets be damned.

And second, there will absolutely come a time when I get to instill in my son the more pragmatic measured man that defines the real role of positive masculinity. Teach him to build things, treat people with respect, hold open doors for people (including feminists), be strong and quiet and decisive and approachable.

But, please jesus, not yet.

He doesn't have Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny, or the Tooth Fairy, or Superman or Batman or The Incredible Hulk anymore.

What he has is Dad.

And yes, the day will come when I will absolutely teach him that real strength is only derived from weakness and fear and that sometimes, the manliest thing is to not eat the jalapeño.

But today is not that day.

Today is not that day.

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