The package in the mail was from Rob O’Neill, the former Navy SEAL who shot and killed Osama bin Laden. I recently interviewed him for a magazine story, and we have since become friends. Seeking to profit from his fame, in tried-and-true American tradition, O’Neill is starting a new line of hot sauce, under his name. It is called Top Secret. The accompanying literature describes it as a “highly classified new weapon.”
I tried it, and because men respond to macho challenges from other men with a deficit of mature judgment — think Aaron Burr vs. Alexander Hamilton — I boldly took a swig, right from the bottle, about a teaspoonful. What happened next was not pretty. Some toilet-oriented regurgitation was involved, followed by comical sweating, like you see in “The Wizard of Id” comic strip from a peasant before he is hanged.
My girlfriend, Rachel, who is not a food wuss like me, unhesitatingly and hopefully tried the stuff. She dipped a pinkie into the bottle, licked it off, declared it, admiringly, “really, really hot,” and then got an odd look on her face. There is an after-kick, or, as O’Neill calls it, “a finish.” Then Rachel abruptly left the room. The last thing I heard from her for quite some while was “OMIGOD I GOT SOME IN MY EYE.”
I called O’Neill. “Yeah, eyes are an issue,” he said. “You gotta be careful about rubbing your face. Like with the coronavirus, you want to do yourself a favor and wash your hands a lot.” He likes to mix it with mayonnaise and create a thermonuclear bologna sandwich.
He said he had sent bottles of the stuff to fellow SEALs and warned them to treat it with respect, but they said, all Navy SEAL swaggery, “Don’t tell me how to live my life.” Then they boldly slathered it on to, say, a hard-boiled egg. “They were down for an hour,” O’Neill says. He also mailed a bottle to Charlie Sheen, who never tasted it because it was stolen from his front porch, probably because it was tantalizingly labeled “Top Secret,” so O’Neill sent another.
The replacement sauce eventually arrived. I reached Charlie, who said by email, “Let’s just say, the sauce thieves got exactly what they deserved!”
It’s hard to describe what this stuff feels like. You are aware it is hot — it smells hot, which isn’t something easy to explain — but then transcends its smell into something necrotic. Your lips erupt in flames. Your sinuses inflate. You talk nasally, like Fran Drescher. Your breathing becomes labored. O’Neill has sent out a bunch of samples, and the reactions have been like mine, so he says that he and his partners are working on “mild” and “medium” versions, but they will also offer this one, with a caveat: You might have to specifically request it, in a whisper, like at a porn shop where you have to ask for the truly bad stuff, and it is pulled out from a hidden shelf in the back, and sold for cash only.
When I mentioned on Twitter (cryptically) that I had nearly been assassinated, I got an email from my brother, who was concerned that I might have run afoul of al-Qaeda. I assured him it was exactly the opposite, and explained. Here is his response, in its entirety: “Send me some! There is NO SUCH THING as too spicy.”
I have a complicated relationship with my brother. I love him and respect him, but as in many fraternal relationships, there are ancient issues, unresolved. I decided to send him the rest of the bottle and urged him to sample it generously.
We may be even, after that.
Email Gene Weingarten at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find chats and updates at wapo.st/magazine.
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