During the World Cup, ESPN Senior Writer Wright Thompson became enamored with a hot sauce he found in Central America. Inspired (or, perhaps a little sauced himself), he put out a call for short essays on hot sauce. He got a lot of them, among them one I whipped up because…well, I like writing about hot sauce, and Thompson (a fellow Mizzou grad) is among my writing heroes. That night, Thompson told me I was a winner. The prize (a bottle of hot sauce, naturally) must have gotten caught up in Customs or something, but this little piece remains. I realized today that Thompson was the only one who ever read this. So, for the purposes of posterity–and as an explanation for any future DSS visits–here it is –BW.
What many people don’t understand about being a dad is the holiness of bedtime. It’s the 15 minutes of the day a man can kneel beside his boys’ beds, kiss their foreheads, and be—as a father should—simply there. But it is also—and this is the part that gets lost when people take the Norman Rockwell approach too seriously—the latter half of that 15 minutes when Dad slips downstairs, pours something brown over three ice cubes, and is simply nowhere. It’s somewhere in that 15 minutes that a dad can be everything and everywhere he is supposed to be and the nothing and nowhere he needs to go on living.
The universe’s great error in the structure of this 15 minutes is that at some point just after the rye has hit a dad’s lips, the nine-year-old has discovered he has a stuffy nose. There is a medicine cabinet, and it is stuffed with every prescription, over-the-counter, and snake-oil-sold herbal remedy Mom has discovered in the last decade of parenting. I barely know what any of it does, and I’d rather give my son a sniff of the rye than a lavender extract elixir or something Pfizer shoved through FDA-approval.
“But, Dad, I can’t sleep,” says the boy. And the ice cubes are melting.
Maybe it’s the fact we’re still inside that holy 15 minutes, but I feel some sort of divine knowledge come over me. Without another word, I turn to the cabinet. I open it with a flourish to reveal three shelves of bottles. There are vinegars and wines and Asian sauces that will never get used. There are spices, herbs, and salts.
And there is hot sauce. Tabasco. Texas Pete. Louisiana. Cholula. Sriracha. They, like the ones in the other cabinet, are Daddy’s bottles. They are for breakfast. They are for lunch. They are for dinner. They are for bedtime.
“Stick out your finger,” I say.
He is hesitant, but I sense a trust building between us. He complies, his index finger turned up. I go with the Sriracha. It’s thicker and presumably a better medicine for mucus.
“On your tongue,” I say.
The kid shrugs and licks the pad of his finger. His eyes go wide, not with pain, but with an appreciation I can’t help but admire.
“That do it?” I say.
He sniffs once and then again. He’s found an airway. He actually laughs.
“Yeah. It worked.”
Several nights will pass during which we won’t tell Mom of how we solved his problem. It happens again, of course. The boy decides his nose is stuffy. I hear him coming before I’ve even settled into the couch. I know what he’s going to say, and he doesn’t disappoint me.
“Dad,” he says, “I need the hot sauce.”
I simply nod toward the kitchen and say, “You know where it is now.”