I was fifteen at the time, involved in Cub Scouts for the second time. It was a “leadership position” on paper, a loophole in Boy Scout procedures in reality. Rank advancement required leadership, and the fact I was not God’s chosen mouthpiece in my church-sponsored troop did nothing to deter my ambition towards whatever petty treat my parents might surrender at the next Court of Honor. Thus I became a Den Chief, a go-between of boys and mothers.
I was the first person to volunteer for the obscure position. The boys are maniacs, the products of video games, action movies, and prescription stimulants. Control is established by having the most prominent boy’s mother “called” to be the Den-Mother. That ringleader was the key, he could control most all of them, except the most rambunctious and rebellious. But as a teenager with a propensity to wearing sunglasses, the same age as mutant turtles and other fads, I was pretty cool stuff; they hung on my words, basking in my reflected style, as I covered the tall tales section of the Cub Scout manual.
“…and that is the story of Rip Van Winkle. Well, that’s interesting. They’re missing one.”
“Which one?” “Tell us!” “Yeah!” They spurred. I could tell they wanted more, whether of my story telling or respite from silly crafts, I couldn’t be sure.
“The greatest tall tale of all time: the story of Old Man Pace and his picante sauce...” I let the words hang for a moment, enticing them.
They marveled. They begged me to continue.
“Well, there are many stories about Old Man Pace, but my favorite is the about his picante sauce. Legend has it that he loved his sauce more than life itself. You see, he had a vision, a mission really, to share this special recipe. He worked his whole life on it, and, once it was done, there was nothing in the world that could stop him from sharing it. That recipe is still imitated to this day but they say we’ll never get it half as right as it was back in the day. It was one of a kind. They had to invent that word to describe it, but they could never find a word to capture such a spicy experience. They chose the word picante; it means “biting,” because it was the old sauce that bites you back. It was the closest they’ve ever come.
“And if inventing the world’s most exciting food wasn’t enough of a claim to fame, he had marvelous adventures. He traveled the world doing grand things, him and his “poco pimiento,” that was his name for it. Now, this wouldn’t be a proper story without telling you about when he once fought a whole pack of rabid coyotes who wanted nothing more than to devour that delicious sauce with some hard boiled eggs. He won a spitting contest with a Gila monster, which were much more monstrous back in those days. He once crossed the Rio Grande with a rattler on each ankle. Why snakes would want to try that bold salsa, if you can call it that, with its diced tomatoes and fresh jalapeños, is a mystery, but it seems that not even snakes could resist Old Man Pace’s picante sauce. He traveled from El Paso to Chihuahua while suffering from a bad case of the bowlegs, without ever releasing his scowl. But nothing got him madder then people trying to make condiments that just didn’t know what they were doing. When he found some crazy fools were trying to imitate his salsa without using the freshest ingredients, woo boy! Especially when he found out where they were from…”
“Where were they from?” one of the cubbies asked.
I gulped, paused; I wanted my next words to reflect the severity of the crime committed against foods that day. “New York City.”
“New York City!” the children cried, at least one was noticeably unsettled by these words.
“That’s right, kids: New York City. When he found out what they were doing, he ate nothing but the spiciest jalapeño peppers until he was right near spitting fire, then he chased them all the way from El Capitan to El Capitan. Some say they saw him shooting flames, but I don’t know if I believe that. There was some talk of making the statue of Old Man Pace, built on the very spot he first shared his picante sauce with an tired group of vaqueros, (they call it “Big Tex” now) fire-breath capable, but it was ruled out for public safety reasons. Did you know that his magical blend of herbs and spices cured one of those vaqueros from dysentery and another of rope burn? Rumor has it; in 1979 it was served in a few of the more exclusive clubs, and cured over two-thousand individuals of disco fever. Kids, you should all avoid disco fever like the plague. It’s very contagious, and quite dangerous. I lost a cousin to a bad case of it; kind of a sore spot for me. But let’s move on. I wouldn’t want to put a damper on your guys’ mood.
“That sauce, they say it’s the closest thing to the food of gods that man has ever created. Old Man Pace, he lived for it. He did everything hoping to just to share the taste of his delicious picante sauce with the people of the Southwest and the world, and boy, did they love him. In fact, jalapeños are the state fruit of Texas to this very day and chips and salsa is the state food. Yep, Old Man Pace did his best to share his great local taste with everyone he could. He cried himself to sleep at night thinking of people eating salsas canned in New York City. He was a pretty amazing man. There are other stories about him, of course, but that’s all I can remember off the top of my head. You can always consult your local library for more information if you’re curious.”
Of course, none of this was really true, but they ate it up. I imagine someday in the supermarket they’ll figure it out.