The Talkin’ I Am Just An Ordinary Guy, Burnin’ Down The House, (non-Talking Heads version) Blues (A churnin’ burnin’ Horribly True Tale)

I’m starting to think that maybe I shouldn’t be allowed to be a home owner.  Or a home renter.  Or be allowed in other peoples’ homes.  Or, for that matter, be allowed to own appliances that are capable of generating heat of any kind.  It’s a realization that has been slowly dawning on me for the past few months, though the evidence has been startlingly obvious.

This year marked the first Thanksgiving as a married couple for Ashley and me.  It also marked the first time that either of us had to prepare Thanksgiving dinner, almost exclusively by ourselves.  Family and friends were brought into our home and fed what turned out to be a pretty scrumptious meal, right down to the three pumpkin pies I made while attempting to make two.  We couldn’t have asked for things to go any smoother, except maybe for the incident involving one of Ashley’s friends pouring every last drop of our leftover gravy down the sink.  I had to go to the store on broth runs no less than five times, once on Thanksgiving day itself, to make that damn gravy, and down the disposal it went on the premise that “gravy doesn’t keep well.”

After a couple of days of gnawing on leftover Turkey sandwiches, (dry turkey, mind you, as we had no gravy; see above,) it was clear that the time had finally come to make the traditional post-Thanksgiving kettle of turkey soup.  Ashley began the process of boiling the turkey off the bones one morning just before leaving the house to go Christmas tree shopping.  Before she left, she informed me of the bird on the burner.  Now, I presumed she told me this because she didn’t want me to freak out if the house were suddenly filled with the aroma of cooking turkey.  She, on the other hand, presumed that by telling me this I would take the initiative of checking on the turkey and make any necessary burner temperature adjustments before I left for work.  We both could not have been more wrong.

By chance, I did wind up in the kitchen before leaving and did note that the large, bird-filled, cast iron kettle was just a simmering away and emitting a not entirely appealing turkey smell into the air.  The burner was set on medium, which seemed a little hot to me for something that was presumably going to be cooking all day, but since Ashley always knows what she’s doing in the kitchen, and because I’ve screwed up her master plans by meddling in the past, I was not about to touch the oven and risk having to sleep on the guest bed.  I did turn on the ventilation fan, though, so the house wouldn’t smell of stinky bird when she came home.  I went to work, safe in the knowledge that I’d done right.

An hour or so later, Ashley called me.  It seems that when she returned home from Christmas tree shopping she was greeted by a house filled from floor to ceiling with thick black smoke and the incredible stench of charred bird carcass.  How the cat survived, we’re still not sure.  Ashley was furious with me for not turning the burner down before I left, especially since I had turned the fan on so I had obviously seen that the kettle was too hot.  However, in the face of never actually having told me to do anything to the turkey in the first place, and due to the fact that she was well aware of my status as a complete goob long before she married me, she wasn’t able to back her emotions with a solid accusation.  I too could not get justifiably angry with her for running off and leaving the kettle on medium because I had clearly seen that it was too hot and had not done anything about it.  It took two days to air out the apartment, and nearly a month before  the noticeable char-broiled turkey stench stopped sucker punching us in the nose whenever we walked through the front door.  And still, on particularly humid days, it returns from within our furniture to haunt us further.

That incident should have been a valuable life lesson never to be repeated.

Last night I went to make some tea.  Simple enough.  I took out my favorite mug, selected a fine bag of Philosopher’s Blend tea, filled our new, stainless steel, whistling teapot with water from the tap, set it on a burner atop the stove, turned a burner on and scurried back to the living room to watch the X-Files.  A short time later the sound of gently boiling liquid could be heard from the kitchen and I knew my tea would soon be ready.  Sure, I could smell something burning, but I chalked this up to there being some grease on the burner from the meat-loaf dinner we’d consumed earlier.

“Do you smell something burning?” Ashley said, a couple of minutes later.  Now that she mentioned it, something really did smell like it was burning.  In the middle of standing up to see about my tea, my mind flashed back to when I first turned on the burner.  To my horror, my mind’s eye saw that the burner I had turned on was not the one beneath the tea kettle, but was actually the one beneath the Corningware dish from the meat-loaf within which had been resting a plastic spatula.  Before I was even fully upright, I was scrambling for the kitchen, uttering my favorite mantra of panic, which rhymes with “muck a funky.”  Already, there was thick smoke and the flicker of flames within the kitchen.  Sure enough, the spatula in the Corningware had partially melted and caught flame.

There’s a scene in one of the early episodes of the HBO series The Sopranos where mob-boss Tony’s mother, Livia, overcooks some mushrooms in her kitchen, starting a grease fire.  As the flames grow higher, she just stands there looking at them, powerless to do anything except scream “Oh, the flames!  It’s burning!”  When I saw that episode, I wondered how anyone could just stand there and let their kitchen burn?  How can you not have common sense to do something about it?”  Of course, as I stood in my own kitchen, watching the flames creep higher and higher from the Corningware, the only thought in my head were the words “Fire!!!! Fire!!!! Fire!!!!”  No rational impulses as to what to do next, no notions of reaching for the handy extinguisher, only “Fire!!!! Fire!!!! Fire!!!!”

After a few moments, I developed enough presence of mind to realize I needed to act, so I reached for the non-burning end of the spatula and pulled it from the Corningware.  The burning end was, however, still burning as were the remnants of it within the Corningware.  Great!  Now I had two fires to put out.  Starting with the fire that was slowly burning toward my hand, I began flapping the spatula in the air to shake out the flames, using much the same principle as shaking out a match.  This worked, but only because it flung all the burning, molten bits of the spatula throughout the kitchen like little blobs of napalm.  These decorated the walls, the counters, the microwave, the refrigerator, the floor and me, but I didn’t notice them right away as I was then trying to figure out what to do about the flaming Corningware.   Again, my solution was to turn on the ventilation fan.  The fire didn’t go away, of course.  In fact, it was probably burning brighter now that fresh oxygen was being sucked into the room.  I then turned off the burner, but that didn’t have much effect on the fire either.  About this time our smoke detector, which isn’t even two steps from the kitchen door, finally got around to noticing the smoke and went off.  Fortunately, Ashley, who is a trained fire-fighter from back in her Emergency Medical Technician days, came to the rescue, first by removing the smoke detector battery then by walking into the kitchen and calmly placing a big metal cookie sheet atop the Corningware.  The fire’s oxygen supply now cut off, it died.

We then realized that our own oxygen supply was doing none too good either.  The poisonous fumes from the burning, non-stick plastic had filled up the kitchen and had begun to fuse in microscopic particles to our nose-hair.  We held our breaths and ran around opening windows before fleeing the apartment, Amityville-style.  We stood in the freezing cold corridor in our sock feet and jammies until we thought the place had aired out sufficiently.  It was only after returning that we noticed the little blobs of spatula napalm stuck to nearly every surface in the kitchen.  Fortunately, they had mostly extinguished on impact and were no longer a threat to life, limb and countertop.

That my lesson had still not been learned after the first incident bodes rather ill for the future.  Especially considering that we will soon be leaving the special comforts of the Sailboat Bay apartment community for what we have judged to be much better digs in a much better area of town.  And where Sailboat Bay was an immense trade up from the Festering Hellhole I lived in Tupelo, our new digs will be an even better trade up from the Bay.  We have agreed to move into what used to be a swingin’ bachelor pad the likes of which would near rival Austin Powers‘ London flat.  It’s a two bedroom, above garage apartment, complete with giant wooden deck, spacious living room, an enormous kitchen, walkthrough closets, shelf space for days, cable TV available in every room including the tile-laden, jacuzi-tub-filled bathroom and is located in a neighborhood where you’re unlikely to find strangers masturbating at your back door, unlike here in the Bay.  Complicating the move, besides my newfound fire-bug tendencies, is the fact that the new pad in question is also owned by my employer. I burn that sucker down, I lose home and job all at the same time.

Copyright © 2000 Eric Fritzius

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