I have very complicated feelings about hot sauce. Let me explain.
I woke up every morning between the summer of 7th and 8th grade and prepared myself to conquer a hectic schedule. The first half of my day consisted of various tasks at a factory in an industrial area where one of my best friends and I worked. After my strenuous morning, I attended Team Magic where I played basketball and volleyball all afternoon – learning plays, practicing techniques and scrimmaging. I still somehow managed to terrorize my parents at night. If they expected my energy levels to drop by dark, they were sorely disappointed. But, back to hot sauce.
The factory where I worked specialized in gourmet foods. That summer, they released a limited-edition hot sauce. From what I understand, this hot sauce was pretty much death by mouth fire. If we accidentally broke a bottle, it had to be cleaned up by an adult wearing plastic gloves. We were told that it would burn skin on contact. I don’t know if this was a scare tactic to make us extra cautious, but it worked. I only broke one bottle that summer and when the glass shattered, I instinctively ran for cover.
Our tasks varied from day to day, but it was never exactly fun. Most of the time I either placed labels on the bottles or numbered them using one of those elegant gold felt-tip pens. Both tasks required small, agile hands and neat precision. It makes sense to hire an eager child who seeks authoritative approval. Whether it’s legal or not is another matter. I was obviously paid under the table, and though I can’t remember how much exactly, it covered the essentials: Wet & Wild lip gloss, Bubblicious, glitter eye gel and Tiger Beat.
Hot sauce gave me my first dose of blue collar America. On our short 15 minute breaks, we would go to the taco truck and purchase sugary sodas and Hostess treats. I distinctly remember purchasing a glass bottle of Martinelli’s Sparking Apple Cider and thinking to myself, this is how fancy grown-ups live: delicately sipping on bubbly drinks while chatting with their co-workers. Of course, most adults drink coffee and don’t eavesdrop on immigrant conversations in other languages, but what did I know?
I always wondered why no one struck up a conversation with me. Looking back, I realize it might have been strange and inappropriate. Not only was I one of the few Caucasian laborers, but I was a 12-year-old girl wearing a Team Magic shirt and probably acting like a little turd. Best case scenario, they thought I was an executive’s kid being punished which was supported by the fact that I chose to drink Martinelli’s Sparking Apple Cider from the Roach Coach, the most pretentious of all available beverages, and stared at everyone. Worst case, they thought I was an Irish orphan plopped into some slave trade proven by my rosy cheeks, strawberry hair and short fuse. Either way, it was in their best interest not to get involved with me.
I do not enjoy using hot sauce (I can barely handle mild salsa), but when I see a bottle, it brings me back to the times when child labor seemed so fun and full of opportunity. Ah, the good old days…