I don’t like to be scared.

I’ve always found it strange that there are people who actually pursue the feeling of being frightened. If you’re a horror-film aficionado, I seriously question your mental stability and whether you should be allowed to carry a motor vehicle license.

This isn’t to say I don’t appreciate a good thrill. Sure, it took me until age 12 to muster up the courage to ride a roller coaster — the Jackrabbit at Kennywood took my v-card — but I’ve been a fan of controlled adrenaline rushes in the two decades since.

Controlled. That’s the important word there. When I have a reasonable idea of what’s going to happen, I’m good.

And yet …

I know I’ve missed out on possibly enriching experiences because they didn’t take place in a bubble of artificiality. It’s a luxury and a privilege to be able to pick and choose where I can put myself out there. Actually, I’m not putting myself out there at all if I know the ending before I start.

Altruism, engage!

So, when Rocco proposed this series, I knew I probably should do it, even if I really don’t want to do it. And, God help me, I have a bit of an exhibitionist bent to my personality (Ed. Note: For proof, see the many topless photos of Matt scattered throughout Do-Goodery.org).


In the first challenge of ‘Scaring Matt Gajtka,’ I’ll be chronicling an area of life I enjoy very much: Eating.

Except, Rocco is determined to introduce an element of fear into one of my favorite pastimes. Good guy. Good times.

The challenge issued to me is this: To climb the Scoville Scale one red-hot chili pepper at a time.

I’ve been acquainted with the Scale, created by a Scottish pharmacologist in the early 20th century, through my encounters with many chicken wing joints over the years.

But, while I’ve probably eaten thousands of wings in my life — 45 in one sitting is a personal best — I’ve not pushed the envelope too much in terms of spice. I think the Golden Garlic from Quaker Steak & Lube are the hottest foodstuff I’ve eaten regularly … and upon review that’s not even as hot as the Hot variety.

I’ve got some uncharted territory ahead of me, clearly. From the humble chipotle all the way up to the habanero, I’m in for a world of hurt.

Or, I might actually enjoy the experience of procuring these peppers and tossing them down the hatch? Anything’s possible!

Since I live in Pittsburgh, not a locale known for producing chili peppers in abundance, it might be just as big of a challenge to find some of the more exotic peppers as I test human heat tolerance. I’ve already begun scouring the internet for tips on where to find the fabled bhut jolokia, or ghost pepper, which clocks in at over 1,000,000 SHU (Scoville Heat Units).

For context, the famously spicy habanero pepper registers at around 100,000 SHU. A typical jalapeño is around 5,000 SHU. Those Golden Garlic wings that tasted pretty spicy to me? Just a shade over 2,000. Oh boy.

How It Works!

How Do-Goodery Works

(This seems like a good time to note that the Scoville Scale is now much more scientific than its origins. At one point, the grading process was based entirely on a series of taste tests, but now the SHU number is determined via a chemical measurement of capsaicinoids, or heat-producing elements, in the food being examined.)

In the coming weeks, I’ll regale you with my tales of adventure, daring and — almost assuredly — suffering. Just remember, I do it for all of you out there in our Do-Goodery community, and, ultimately, for our non-profit partners. And maybe a little for me, to explore that very human desire to see how far one can go. To enjoy the ride.

p.s. If I damage my taste buds or burn a hole in my esophagus or endure some other malady of my own making? Well, at the very least, I’ll have someone to blame.

Rocco, this is already your fault.

(Ed. Note: I hope Matt will be armed with whole-fat milk, egg nog, and as many other heat/capsaicin counter-measures as he can muster. If not, this may end up being an extremely short series 😩)


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