This post originally appeared March 14, 2018, on the Chile Today Hot Tamale! website. (www.chiletodayhottamale.net)
Our festival season begins this weekend, March 17, 2018, at the St. Patrick’s Day festival in Dublin. That would be Dublin, Georgia. This is our 5th year there, and it is an excellent festival. Come on out and see us! http://www.dublinstpatricks.com/ You know we can’t miss this one: Kathy’s maiden name is O’Connor.
We sell a lot of chili pepper sauce and a lot of pepper jam. We also carry orange habanero powder, but that is not our big seller. It is hot: I once used it in a vegetable chili for my vegetarian daughter, at ¼ the recommended dose, and the chili was too hot for any of us to eat. For some reason, last week the website lit up with orders for orange habanero powder, and I found myself back in the production facility (i.e., our kitchen) filling little bags of the devil’s snuff.
It is a finely divided powder, and soon it was in the air, and up my nose. My eyes were watering, my throat and nasal passages were burning, and it made me long for my half-mask respirator. Which reminds me of a misadventure from several years ago.
After moving to Madison I bought a house that had belonged to a young couple with cats. Five cats, to be exact. I liked the house, and planned to put my computer, a table, and a few bookcases in what had been the cat’s lavatory, a room that had contained five litter boxes. But there was one lingering problem with that room: the odor of cat urine.
I tried everything to get rid of that odor. I shampooed the carpet. I bought bottles of urine-eating bacteria. Nothing worked. It appeared that I was going to have to rip up the carpet and sub-flooring to get rid of this foul stench. But before going to all that effort, I thought it worthwhile to do a little research.
Everything I read indicated that the problem was uric acid crystals. These crystals get deposited in the carpet and just stay there. You can’t vacuum them up, and they refuse to dissolve in the soapy solution spit out by carpet shampooers. My best bet, research indicated, was uric acid-eating bacteria. But I had tried the bacteria, and apparently they just weren’t hungry enough.
And then it hit me: get rid of the crystals by dissolving them. All I had to do was to find a liquid that would dissolve the crystals, and then I could suck them up into the belly of the carpet shampooer. Time to consult my trusty CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics.
Sure enough, uric acid can be dissolved in a sodium carbonate solution. I don’t recall the exact concentration required, but I do recall dashing into the laboratory to make up a couple of gallons of sodium carbonate at the right concentration. My plan was to add this to the carpet shampooer, and solve my problem. The nice thing about sodium carbonate is that it is pretty innocuous: it is the stuff that gives Alka-Seltzer its fizz. It would not harm my carpet or the carpet shampooer.
And I did just that. I poured the carbonate solution into the shampooer, cranked up the machine, made a pass across the floor of the room, and nearly died.
The air turned putrid. The stench was unbearable.
I staggered across the room to the window, threw it open, and retreated with a whimpering Ronnie to the fresh air of the great out of doors.
Uric acid crystals stink. Uric acid solution can double as Satan’s fecal gas. My plan was working, but too well. I could not breathe in that room.
So I made a quick trip to the laboratory, and grabbed my trusty half-mask respirator. I returned home, and with the help of the respirator was able to shampoo the rug, removing every trace of cat urine. I left the window open for a couple of days, and that was it. The cat’s lavatory was now my computer room.
You could call this “better living through chemistry.”
Oh, well, if you folks keep ordering orange habanero powder, I’m going to have to buy a new respirator.