Which may sound like a type of horror movie. Or a particularly gut-dropping thrill ride at an amusement park. Or some kind of small caliber firework that rockets away with a screeching whistle after blowing off your fingertips.
In fact, this definition of "screamer" - judging from the source of the suggestion - refers to yet another kind of food from whence I grew up.
Not, perhaps, an ethnic speciality or - upon breaking down the ingredients - even a type of food that you can't get just about anywhere if you put your mind to it.
However, this food is not just about the ingredients. Or the packaging. Or even the fabulous ain't-nothin'-else-like-it taste.
It's about all three of those things.
And it's about the experience.
I was going to describe a Screamer to you, but I think this guy from Roadfood.com says it best:
Screamers are a legendary hamburger with Tony's hot sauce and onions with a buttered bun, just as described. They are hot, no question about it. They will burn ya twice. Certain days of the week are hotter than others. I imagine that Joe (current owner, not Tony) makes big batches of the stuff and if it sits around unsold it gets hotter. It is heated before application to the Screamer.
The typical happy meal at Tony's is 2 Screamers chased by a Guers Iced Tea or a Chocolate Milk. The milk seems to cool the bite of the hot sauce a little better than the tea. The place is open from about 8:30 PM till about 2:30 or 3 AM. Despite the name Tony's Lunch, it is not open for lunch. It caters to the bar crowd and night owls. Not that there are many bars in Girardville anymore, but people come from all over creation for Screamers and with good reason. They are fantastic. If you don't like spicy food, get a burger however you like it with normal condiments. These burgers are hot, and I like hot stuff. The secret I believe is the butter on the bun. Not grilled, just spread on like your Mom used to do with your school lunch. The heat of the meat does the rest.
The sauce cannot be purchased to take home. The recipe is more secret than launch codes. Tony's is a great, great place. I haven't had one in years but I don't imagine much has changed.
This about sums it up.
I honestly couldn't have said it any better.
Most Screamer Runs (that's the process of driving to Girardville to purchase Screamers, although it could also describe what happens a few hours later) go down like this:
You're sitting around, maybe at Roman's Bar, maybe at the Black Diamond, drinking your third bottle of Yuengling and playing with the change from the fiver you had to break -
Or maybe you're sitting on the front porch drinking a Yuengling and your old lady just yelled at you to keep it down, it's after midnight -
Or maybe you got home from a Friday night football game and you're sitting around your mom's kitchen drinking your dad's Yuengling -
And someone says to someone else, Yo, I could really go for a Screamer. How 'bout youze guys?
And someone else says, Oh, Yazzuz, if I eat one a dem right now, I'll be shittin' fire all day tamorrow.
And that should be the end of that.
Yet somehow, this last bon mot gets everyone to thinking just how delicious a Screamer is, and no matter how much it burns going down or coming out, it's always worth it.
So then you all take a sip of your beer and shuffle around a bit waiting to see if anyone is going to volunteer to go out in the cold and drive down the mountain to Girardville. And nobody says anything for a while. And then you start talking about the game or yer old lady or the how the Journey song on the jukebox always reminds you of sophomore year in high school even though you never intentionally listened to Journey in high school and if the remake of Don't Stop Believing is a good enough reason to hate Glee, well then that's a good enough reason. And yo, remember that time after homecoming, me, you, Chesko, Bughead, and Anne-Marie from North Schuylkill took your dad's car and you only had yer learner's permit? And we drove out to that party and almost skidded down a strippin' hole? And Chesko broke his tooth on the back of your head when we hit that railroad track goin' fifty, da fuck? Oh yeah, and we ended up down at the Dunkin' Donuts in Pottsville with them kids from Mt. Caramel and that boy said to meet him at Tony's?
And then everyone gets quiet again, but another hour and two more beers have gone by and now you're that much farther from a Screamer - from biting into the buttery softness of the bun, sinking into the nuclear delicacy of the hot sauce, the quick crunch of onions, the top layer of your tongue flaying away in ecstasy and washing it all down with chocolately salvation in some Yonko-Catholic palate immolation ritual that simultaneously offers bodily purification via gustatory rapture.
No one says this. But it's what you're all thinking.
Finally, someone stands up and announces, "I'm heading to Tony's. Who's going wit me?"
It's a tough decision. Because although you'd be one of the first to get your fresh, hot Screamer...well...man, it's after midnight and your pupils are permanently dilated and just walking into the fluorescent light and getting a glimpse of all the other meat-hungry, lager-stupid Skook zombies is a reality-mirror you're not sure you're up for right now.
At the same time, you don't feel like sitting around reminiscing like the bad tracks on Springsteen's Born In The USA album. And someone else is flipping through channels on the television and it looks like all QVC and Mesothelioma Attorney ads.
The night is cold.
The car is colder.
The stars are billions in the Pennsylvania sky.
The drive is quiet on your way out of town into the valley.
Blacktop roads with only a few streetlights here in Gilberton, now a few more string through Mahanoy Plane, the patch towns barely there then gone as you speed through the dark. Roads around here all have unofficial names: the Burma, the Goldstar, Two-Miler. Your mom told you once that this stretch was called The Flicker. Your grandfather was dating a girl from Mahanoy Plane. She was walking at night along The Flicker with a friend, coming home from a dance, and she was hit by a car and killed. Or maybe The Flicker was the name of the patch town itself? A village. Three or four shingled houses shrugged together along the hill. You can see the outlines at angles. One boarded up and lifeless. Another slightly tilting silhouette, you catch a kitchen light, someone at a table with a Yuengling, another person putting on a jacket, getting ready for a Screamer Run herself.
It took this long for the heat to kick on, and now you're roasting. You roll down the window and a blast of icy air reminds you that it's way too cold to roll down the window. You roll up the window, and realize you're hungrier than you've ever been ever. It seems like a week ago since someone first made the suggestion of food. Now it's a mile to go before you eat.
What were you thinking?
Your buzz is wearing off
Is there anything in the world that would possibly be worth the drive through these non-hours of the morning when most mortals are content with slapping together some coldcuts between bread, having a quick snack, and trundling off to beds and pillows and sleep, sleep, sleep?