Wasabi Peas: A Word of Caution

A Public Service Announcement:

Recently I was given, by my loving family, a can of Wasabi Peas. They meant it as a joke, and here’s the background to the joke:

When I was in Okinawa with the USMC, a few of us decided that since we were technically in Japan, we should have some sushi. Really touristy, but real just the same. Therefore we walked a few miles to the nearest storefront food joint, and in the great tradition of mixing cultures ordered dinner by pointing at the menu and smiling a lot.

So, there’s three brave USMC flyers and the doc (odd group: over/differently-trained officers in an Infantry battalion) and we’re staring at different plates of variously-cooked things-from-the-sea. (I should say, at this point, that my idea of seafood is Long John Silver’s, breaded and deep fried). I was not the most daring of the orderers.

And, we have food, and some Japanese beer, and a sense of adventure borne of unusual surroundings and occasions. I chose one of the less-scary (from a cooked-uncooked point of view) dishes on purpose. And, I’m looking at some recognizable and unrecognizable bits all at once.

I take some small comfort in the recognizable things: beer, some deep-fried calamari, and avacado. So, a forkful of avacado and some calamari go into the mouth.

Until that exact moment in time I didn’t know your sinuses could melt, or the inside of your eyes sweat. I didn’t know pain, and had no idea the extent to which my tongue would go to get out of my head when things get ugly. I sensed more than felt the lining of my nose sear off and fall out, and it would have looked scary had I been able to focus after forcing my eyes open, which I could not. My sinuses were now trying to escape by leaping out of my skin, through my brain, and the lungs, warned by the treacherous spinal cord, decided the best course was to stop breathing to protect themselves.

My only conscious decision was to drown the entire forkful with the liter or so of beer I’d purchased, and I wasn’t in a half-measures mood then. I now have beer on my shirt and face, mixed with snot, drool and tears, and parts of my nose and sinus lining.

I found out later I was making a noise associated with dying animals, which attracted the attention of my fellow-diners. They looked upon me with alarm, and it was then I realized I was the only one there who knew CPR, and thought about the irony of being the one who needed medical care.

Slowly, the pain ebbed, and I was only modestly incapacitated. Control of my vocal cords was temporarily granted me, and I said “All I had was the calamari and the avacado”.

The uproarious laughter of my cohorts wasn’t the least bit soothing, and should have alerted me that I’d done something stupid, but at the moment I was still trying to keep from sobbing in front of my brave Marine colleagues.

“That’s not avacado” is one of the phrases I never want to hear again, as it began to tell the tale of my self-induced misery. I grew up in West Texas and was innocent of Wasabi, the ‘Japanese horseradish’, the ingestion of which results in, well, the above.

I lived through it, and enjoyed telling the sanitized tale to my family on my return. For humor, they recently bought me a can of the aforementioned Wasabi peas.

I now have a taste for wasabi, though in smaller-than-forkful doses. I like the wasabi peas, but here’s the warning: both ends of the digestive tract are affected by the wasabi-effect. Now you know. Plan accordingly.