what hot sauce taught me about men

i never imagined that my stomach would teach me so much about matters of the heart.

thanks to yelp, i met mamoun’s falafel restaurant in greenwich village for the first time this summer. i wanted to i grab some grub en route to community group, which meets in the basement of a dorm building a few blocks away. i had $5 in cash on my person, which was more than enough to buy a falafel sandwich (psst, it’s $3).

i spotted a bright red squirt bottle that housed a deep carmine sauce speckled with black pepper. “it’s very hot,” someone warned me, so i proceeded with caution.

i put a wee bit on my already tasty sandwich and they were right — ’tis indeed one potent condiment. if sriracha had a mischievous distant cousin from the middle east (or, as mr. badgley, my global studies teacher from my freshman year of high school would refer to the region, “southwest asia”), this hot sauce would be it.

this culinary accoutrement skirts real close the border between the “it hurts so good,” and “my palate is burning.”

i made a mental note to skip the sauce in the future.

one tuesday in september, i decided i’d show up for community group early, to give myself time to play the piano just outside of the meeting space. and en route, i popped into mamoun’s for the second time.

i ordered the falafel sandwich again but this time, i asked for hot sauce on the side. the lovely folks behind the counter obliged and dropped a pre-filled cup o’ sauce into the brown paper bag.

upon reaching my destination, i sat down to consume my tahini-sauced falafel-filled pita. remembering how spicy the sauce was, i dispensed the smallest drop i could.

photo by flickr user ginnerobot (creative commons)and that one drop, no bigger than a 18-pt times new roman period, in that single bite of sandwich overwhelmed my tastebuds. one would think i should’ve quit while i was ahead and proceeded sans sauce — especially since i had nary a beverage.

“i bet you can’t finish the rest of the sandwich with the sauce without water,” said my will to my tongue.

challenge accepted.

there was still plenty of sauce left in that cup, about a couple tablespoons, by the time i finished my sandwich. i managed to eat the entire thing, dotting every other bite with the redness; each bite left me a bit breathless, numbing my tongue.

the third time i had mamoun’s falafel was after community group. (at this point it might be worth nothing that this location stays open quite late.)

“i’d like a falafel sandwich with a side of falafel,” i asked.
“and could i have the hot sauce on the side, in a cup?” y’know, since i survived the hot sauce just fine the last time.

i enjoyed this sandwich while riding the train, so it was all the more miraculous that i dispensed the sauce from the foil-covered styrofoam cup onto my sandwich without spilling it on me. by now, i was familiar with but no less surprised by the punches the sauce laid into my tongue.

i waited until i got home to eat my extra falafel. i dipped the delicious morsels into the flaming lagoon. perhaps due to the greater surface area, each bite of falafel + sauce set my lips ablaze. i’d suck my teeth and breathe, as though i were in lamaze class. or something.

and then the onset of heat. it radiated from my belly like a forest fire; i felt a spike in body temperature in my legs. all of it was a harbinger of the digestive tribulation that followed.

the gustatory excitement the hot sauce offered disguised its true nature: a gastrointestinal wrecking ball. but by then, it was too late.

then, an epiphany: substitute “bad boys” for every instance of “hot sauce” and i have a fable that explains why girls might like bad boys and why bad boys are so bad.

flickr user discutivo (creative commons)
i’ve rarely found “bad boys” attractive in the holistic sense. the intensely apathetic smoldering look that’s the trademark of characters like ryan gosling’s in crazy, stupid, love.? meh.

guys i’ve been interested in and/or dated are all “nice guys.” i’ve never fancied myself as a sandpaper woman, the kind who looks at a guy that’s rough around the edges and thinks she’ll be the one to smooth him out.

so ultimately, this allegory mostly helps me relate with women whose taste in men differ from mine. in fact, i think i can better sympathize with guys who go for “bad girls,” guys who, unintentionally or not, follow in the footsteps of pygmalion.

in conclusion, here are the bonus nuggets of wisdom i got from mamoun’s falafel:

  • to beware of overestimating my ability to change someone. viewing a superficially appealing but subpar guy as a fixer-upper with lots of potential will pwn me — serves anyone right for seeing a person as a project.
  • the constant consumption of overly pungent food will desensitize my taste and mess with my entrails, sucking me into a downward spiral of escalating spiciness threshold and ulcerations. in the same way, bad boys are habit forming, a penchant for bad boys left unchecked will devolve into a pattern of emotional destruction.
  • nice guys finish last because they’ve entered the wrong race; the “bad girls” they chase after are false bait-and-switch prizes. meanwhile, the good women they should pursue never get a chance to run at all.
  • to ask mamoun if he offers savory but less intense sauces to accompany his delicious falafel.

sister of the bridegroom.

most of us knew it was gonna happen; ’twas a long time a’comin.
courtesy of google image search
liz had even told me as much in the spring; they hoped to get engaged by the end of this year and get married next year. and we were sitting in a bar/lounge somewhere in the lower east side after her birthday dinner when she asked me to be one of her bridesmaids. euge checked my spirited consent (as i’d never been a part of a bridal party before) with a cheeky reminder that he hadn’t actually proposed.

a few months later, and accompanied by our second cousins (the elder sister designs jewelry and the younger sister got married easter weekend), my brother bought the ring. being his sister meant that my eyes were among the first to drink in the precious: a yellow gold ring with french set diamonds and an oval cut ruby in the center with an oval halo of diamonds.

some weeks post-purchase, euge and liz vacationed in montreal. another perk of being the groom’s sister: early access to intel; he had asked what i’d be doing the evening of september 26th, as that was when he’d hoped to gather friends for an engagement party.

the email he sent informing us of his intent to propose whilst on vacation, therefore, didn’t surprise me:

Friends,
As some of you know, Liz and I are going on a trip to Montreal from Monday (9/23) to Thursday (9/26). What Liz doesn’t know is that I am going to propose to her on the trip, and she is going to say yes, So what I would like from all of you is to join us for drinks and celebration!
P.S. A really good way to get uninvited to the wedding is to spoil the surprise somehow. So SHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!.

despite being very well-apprised of everything, i was no less delighted than everyone else when photos of liz wearing the ring popped up on my Facebook news feed. we gathered at a bar in midtown west and i beamed with pride when i introduced myself to unfamiliar faces as euge’s sister — yes, his older sister, i’d add.

and now that he put a ring on it, wedding planning was well under way, details quickly falling into place. a couple weeks after getting engaged, they’d already set a date and paid a deposit on a venue.

as a member of the bridal party, i got to watch my future sister-in-law model some of the beautiful white and ivory gowns. it didn’t take very long for her to say yes to the dress. liz cried as soon as the consultant gathered her hair in an ad hoc up-do, to help her imagine how she might look dolled up, then my eyes suddenly got a little sweaty, too. later that day, our parents and her parents met over a sushi buffet dinner and korean bakery dessert.

it was then the bridesmaids’ turn to try on some dresses. i may be a rookie bridesmaid, but i’ve watched enough shows on lifetime and tlc to learn how not to do it. also, 27 dresses helped set my expectations low. when liz shared her preferences for our wardrobe, i was relieved that there was no mention of burlap or magenta.

trying on our dresses was a bit trickier, of course, ’cause reaching consensus with one person is far easier than with two of more people. liz, ever so thoughtful, invited feedback, but i would’ve welcomed more dictatorial rather than democratic decision-making.

after all, the bride and the groom are the stars of the wedding.

the wedding website and save-the-date video (which, surprise, i got a sneak peek of) have been published. email threads concerning bachelorette party and bridal shower have unspooled. yes, i must admit, the euphoria is fading, as the day of fast approaches.

but gradually so. i’m still very much excited that i get to call liz my sister. i’m very grateful that liz and i became friends, even before she and my brother became an item.

perhaps i’ve subconsciously chosen to focus more on the fact that i’m gaining a sister rather than losing my brother. i’m an optimist at heart, so the latter perspective doesn’t suit my m.o. and i’m mostly likely trying to convince myself that if i don’t think about and process how this marriage will change my relationship with my brother, i will magically bypass the grief of this loss/transition.

the two of them are becoming a family unto their own. as far as i know, i’ll become an aunt before i become a mother, and that makes me super excited. is it healthy that i’m far more keen on meeting my nieces/nephews before bearing daughters/sons of my own (if i get to, that is)?

but seriously. i’ve been asked how i feel about my younger brother being the first among the grandkids/cousins to be getting married. and i’m totally okay with it (see above paragraph re: niece/nephew). my brother and i are both self-confessed late bloomers, so i’m really glad that his getting married is taking some of the pressure off of me, or at least is a bit of a diversion. or… maybe not, judging from the increasing frequency of my dad asking me when i’m going to get married.

autumn 1988anyway. i may be older but
a) i’m only 1.5 years older
b) my going on the world race leveled whatever privilege i enjoyed as the firstborn
c) with his full-time job, engagement and upcoming wedding, he has surpassed and clinched “most favored child” status.

i already look much younger than him (see earlier paragraph), and soon enough, it will be harder for new acquaintances to believe that i am actually older. historically, euge was the black sheep; now, we’ve swapped spaces, and until i get into law school/get married, my fleece will turn into darker shades of gray.

but truly, all that has been a blip on my mental radar. the joy and anticipation i feel for my brother, the bridegroom, far surpass any iota of self-pity that i’m not even tempted to feel for myself. the happiness has successfully crowded out that junk.
i feel like i finally understand what Jesus and john the baptist meant when they likened themselves as the bridegroom and friend thereof, respectively.

Guests at the wedding can’t fast when the bridegroom is with them. It would be wrong to do anything but feast. When the bridegroom is snatched away from them, then the time will come to fast and mourn.
mark 2:19-20 (the voice)

 I am only here to prepare the way for him. It is the bridegroom who marries the bride, and [his sister] is simply glad to stand with him and hear his vows. Therefore, I am filled with joy at his success.

john 3:28-30 (nlt, just a wee bit modified)

so no matter how you slice it, i’m just so happy for my brother. i’m too busy being happy for my brother and my friend to wonder, “when will it be my turn?” #aintnobodygottimeforthat #exceptformyparents #whyamiusinghashtagsinablogpost

and i’m pretty psyched that i may or may not have a biblical excuse to procrastinate grieving / distracting myself with bridesmaid duties. speaking of which… anyone live/work in a nice building in manhattan with a community room that would accommodate 25 people?

and i guess those of you who follow me on the instagramz will now understand why a disproportionate amount of my #tbt posts feature my brother. also, you could consider the retrospective series a poor substitute for a slideshow at the wedding. you’re welcome.

these are my confessions

my favorite vicei’ve had little success in policing my social media activity, unless you also weigh my declining countless invitations to play candy crush (i’m surprised at this particular exercise of self-control, frankly) — then i’d say a la borat, “great success.” but, generally, based on the feedback i’ve received from a handful of folks, i’ve a decent content quality control filter in place. if there were criteria for a well-balanced internet diet, like the usda’s food pyramid, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that mine would fit the bill.

confession: i’ve underestimated my level of focus.

in an attempt to peel my eyes from the screen, i’ve been reading more books. i’d heard of chang-rae lee but hadn’t read any of his books until recently; i finished a gesture life a couple days ago. i’m glad my local library has a few of his other works. i’m in the middle of khaled hosseini’s and the mountains echoed, which is on 7-day loan, and am confident i’ll finish it well before it’s due.

i wasn’t able to finish milton’s paradise lost or twain’s the innocents abroad as quickly as whizzed through green’s the fault in our stars despite renewing them. if i could find a copy, i’d like to read marquez’s one hundred years of solitude – in spanish. so really, me gustaría leer cien años de soledad de marquez en español. that might require borrowing and renewing it multiple times. oy.

i wonder if i’m probably missing something at the pace that i read. i’d hardly call myself a bookworm, as the word “worm” conjures images of invertebrate creatures burying themselves thoroughly and deeply through bits of dirt and earth.

methinks “booksponge” a more apt moniker. i just soak in the plot and thoughts, processing little of what absorb, though occasionally i’ll want to record in some way a turn of phrase or paragraphs that struck me. but mostly, a brief span of time is enough to squeeze out subplots and nuances and maybe i’ll retain the overarching themes and plot twists.

confession: i fear reading fast doesn’t serve me quite so well. 

there are a number of ideas, a few draft posts for my personal blog, and a draft for a post on a nascent platform but i’ve put ‘em on the backburner in favor of my freelance work and law school personal statement. even then, i toggle in guilt between the two; while working on one, i wonder about the other. at the risk of sounding dramatic, i feel like i’m presented with the writer’s version of sophie’s choice.

especially as law schools will begin reading applications, and i’ve already missed my target dates for submission. i’m probably putting undue hope and weight on this statement, that was probably displaced by my decision not to retake the lsat again.

unfinished faux still lifei’m currently working on my fifth attempt at a first draft and i really want to scrap it and start over yet again, the way a kid with chickenpox wants to scratch all the pox. what keeps me at it is a) maintaining the integrity that springs from following advice that i oh so freely dispense to others (by “others,” i mean the handful of high school seniors i’m helping as they write there college application essays) b) looming self-imposed deadlines

confession: perfectionism is paralyzing me, fueling my procrastination*

* okay, i’m giving myself a bit o’ credit — i’ve been at work on this, outlining, taking notes, bouncing ideas with my 3l friend, so technically, i’ve not been procrastinating.

meanwhile, as i table my personal/recreational writing pursuits, i read other people’s stuff, i feel myself devolved into the not-at-all-incredible not-so-hulk; envy, not anger, turns my inner writer into a whiny victim. yes, mostly, i find solace in the way each person articulates lines of thought that have run through my had; more often than not, i’m agape — figuratively and a few times literally — at how they must’ve read my mind from miles away, without even knowing me, and published prose that mirrors my sentiments.

but to continue with the theme of this stream-of-consciousness, i’m jealous that i hadn’t thought to write about it sooner. or, if i feel that i’ve dealt with the same idea or concept, i hear myself cry, “that’s what i said,” frustrated that what i had written had gone unnoticed (almost immediately, i remind myself that i did nearly nothing to promote, which quiets me slightly). i get angry at and judge myself for not getting my “homework” out of the way faster so that i, too, can join the wordsmithing party.

confession: i suffer from writer’s envy, which i realize is a poor cure for writer’s block.

so instead of developing those blogposts, editing them, then publishing them, or redirecting this momentum onto my freelance work or my personal statement, or putting flesh to my skeletal reactions to news stories or viral content or trending topics, i type this blubber so the blog doesn’t sit fallow for too long.

because it’s not for lack of content. i carry notebook(s) and pens almost everywhere i go, and a couple apps on my phone act as digital backups.

given my preference to use public transportation, or, weather-permitting, to walk, i tend to eavesdrop accidentally on conversations that illicit several kinds of knee-jerk reactions, most of them judgmental. i witness moments that evoke emotions that include amusement, anger, bewilderment, concern, happiness, nostalgia, pity.

i lost count of the times i’ve thought, “i should blog this,” or pulled out my phone to photograph or to tweet those slices of life. where does this compulsion come from? the very act of recording something — even if i don’t review the image or soundbyte or footage — helps me remember. but my recollection of an event or moment or activity isn’t a necessary condition for the event/moment/activity’s occurrence, so why this imagined need/burden to capture everything?

sometimes, i have to remind myself that it’s enough for me simply to experience or observe something. it’s hard to resist the urge to appoint myself secretary and take minutes. maybe after a few blurry shots that no filter will fix or the third attempt at encapsulating the moment into 120 characters, i’ll realize that i’m robbing myself of being fully aware and present.

i have to remind myself just to be, that it doesn’t take much to live, and just take in life — from mundane minutiae to monumental milestones, and everything in between.

i guess i felt compelled to write this post to tell myself that i am not my platform. that my blog and my lifestyle are not equivalent. i daresay that the activity on my blog is inversely proportional to the activity that fills my days and thoughts that reside in the recesses of my mind.

suffice it to say that the past weeks have been replete with conversations and discussions and encounters and laughter and memories and revelations of the encouraging, comforting, edifying, and convicting kind.

i hope, sooner than later, that i’ll be at liberty to share a few of them here. at this rate and with my undiscriminating filter for significance, the list runs long and has been for a long time. is there a statute of limitations for overdue blogpost ideas/drafts? ’cause i gots some from my world race blog. +___+

git outta hereconfession: i don’t know if/when i am hoarding or guarding stories; thus i blame my inability to discern which stories are to be saved or shared for lag/backlog. 

confession: it’s 4:03 a.m. as i finish typing this and i didn’t brush my teeth. i probably won’t brush ‘em ’til i wake up ’cause i’m already in bed.