On Thursday I had lunch with Corey, a 43-year-old Black man I visit as part of a volunteer thing through an organization that builds community with low-income, disabled people. I enjoy our visits because he makes me laugh. We meet on the phone now, because of Covid, but every so often I go downtown and take him lunch in the park. This is the first time we’ve gone to a restaurant.

We met at Chipotle. As we waited our turn, I explained that he’d go down the line and tell them what he wanted. While I paid, I asked for some hot sauce – mild for me and regular Tabasco for him. Corey’s told me many times, “I like a lot of hot sauce on my food.” The server handed us two little clear plastic cups filled with about an eighth of an inch of sauce. Poor Corey, what he calls “hot sauce” apparently isn’t Tabasco.

Even though it was chilly, we sat outside because of Covid, He took a bite of his steak bowl and said, “This is good.” He told me about his pending lawsuit against the guy who ran into him and broke his femur. “The lawyer said the son-bitch’s insurance will pay for me to have a maid if I want one.” Corey seasons his speech with a lot of cussing, no matter if he’s talking to an old Catholic woman like me or the down-and-out people on the streets.

“You only have a one-bedroom apartment with no furniture except a bed,” I said. “Why do you need a maid?”

“Hell, if the son-bitch’s payin’ for it, damn right I’m havin’ a maid. A mother-f-ing butler too. I needs me a butler.”

He took a couple more bites, then remembered the little cup of hot sauce and picked it up, still talking. I watched him pour the whole thing on his food. When I shake Tabasco from the bottle, I count the drops – about 7 is my limit – each drop carefully spread out so I have the flavor without getting excessive heat in one bite. Corey put about 250 drops on his steak bowl – he poured it all out and even thumped the cup with his finger to get the last few drops.

I stopped eating and watched him take a bite. He put the fork into his mouth, pulled it out, did a little shake of his head and said, “Man, that’s some hot sauce.” I started laughing. Anybody who’s ever used Tabasco knows that feeling, the heat, the burning that won’t stop, and he had just dumped enough on his food to belch fire.

 “I thought you liked hot sauce.”  

“I do, I do…I do.” He looked at the bowl like it was a rattlesnake, or something worse, but I could tell he wanted another bite because he had his fork raised, ready for action. Finally he got up his nerve. He aimed the fork, then slowly, cautiously, put the bite in his mouth and deposited the food. He looked straight ahead, his eyes bugged out. “That’s some hot sauce,” he said. He shook his head a little and let out a “Shwooo,” sound. He grabbed his water glass and took a sip. “Wooo,” he said.

I started laughing and couldn’t stop. Not only was it funny the way he said it, but I understood the dilemma he was in – between a culinary rock and a hard place. He wanted to eat, but he was scared to because his mouth was on fire. He also probably didn’t want to seem like a wimp. He’s six feet tall, meaty, with a bushy grey beard and shaved-bald head. A nice guy in a hardened shell. The times we’ve eaten together in the park, he’ll only eat a couple of bites then say, “I’m going to take the rest home. I wanna put some hot sauce on it.” He had an image to uphold.

So I just watched. He looked at the bowl as if it was now the enemy. He stirred it. Stared at it. Stirred it again. Pushed the food from one side to the other. Then he took another bite. As he pulled the empty fork away he paused midair. “That’s some hot sauce,” he said, and shook his head. I laughed again, actually I guess I hadn’t quit laughing from his previous bite. 

He put the fork down and picked the empty sauce cup up and looked at it like it had turned on him. He put it down and said, “I called Merry Maid and told them I wanted a maid. I can’t just get somebody off the street. They might rob me. You can’t trust people. Not around here. They said they’d call my lawyer and get it all set up.” 

I continued to eat and just let him talk. A couple of times he looked down at his food, like he was getting up his nerve. Finally he loaded the fork half-full and hesitated a split second before putting the bite in his mouth. He chewed a couple of times, shook his head and said, “That’s some hot sauce.” I started laughing again.

I was enjoying this lunch. A lot. It was cold sitting out there under the October overcast sky with wind trying to steal our napkins, and I was eating quickly so I could be done and climb back into my warm car, plus all the laughing was wearing me out. I often tell Corey how funny he is, though I’m not sure if he means to be. It’s a combination of all the cussing plus the way he tells the stories. His eyes twinkle and he grins when he sees me laughing, so I know he does some of it on purpose, but not this time. He molded the aluminum to-go lid on his bowl and put it in the bag.

“Too hot for you?” I ask.

“No girl, you know I can’t eat much at one time. I’m gonna take this home and munch on it later.”

“Yeah, right,” I think. He asked me to drop him off at his dentist’s office a few blocks away. He made fun of the way I drive, and I thanked him for all the laughs. On the way home, every time I hear him in my mind saying, “That’s some hot sauce,” I start laughing, and it’s a hearty, deep, lasting laugh.

They say it’s better to give than to receive. For the small price of a Chipotle lunch, I enjoyed a lot of entertainment. I also got a blessing that filled my heart, and my soul. Thank you, Corey!