Man of the House
Last week, the Jawa asked me to define "synonym" for him. "It's two words that basically mean the same thing," I answered, feverishly scanning the recesses of my brain for an example, "Like automobile and car."
"Like burp and belch?"
Or like incompetent and inept, which in our home are synonyms for balding, unemployed, middle-aged Jewish guy, at least when it comes to activities relating to the preparation of food.
For many years, I have disappointed or just plain turned off people who want to discuss cooking, chopping, grating, folding, grilling, or anything up to and including Hibachi! which, I hear, has something to do with cooking but I know only as the epithet Gilbert Arenas shouts as he releases another killer j. A Hibachi, reasons Gilbert, heats up faster than anything on earth ... except Gilbert Arenas.
I have long insisted, with absolutely no guilt, that I am worthless in the kitchen. More so than in other places. During my single days, I made sure to sleep until around noon. That way, I could just wake up and walk across the street to the sandwich shop, rather than having to create anything in my own home.
In a perfect world, Sandra Bullock would return from another long day putting food on our table, only to find that said food had already been prepared and laid on the table by me, her progressive, 21st-century husband.
Not so. I will regularly get on my hands and knees to vacuum under the table, but I will not and cannot put food on top of it.
Witness the events of last Friday.
I dislike the preparation of food so much that these days my lunch usually consists of various items taken from the refrigerator or pantry, placed in a bowl on top of each other, and then eaten. An apple, some pretzels, a couple of hunks of cheese, maybe a tortilla. A spoonful of peanut butter, once I realized that not only is that far easier than actually making a sandwich but also saves you the calories of the bread.
Even leftovers are too much work. They involve the microwave, tupperware, and the dishwasher. No good.
Last Friday I was busy. I was trying to create a web site -- one which you will eventually see linked to from this page, listening to sports radio and IMing with Flush Puppy about the options available to her husband, Butter Goats, should he decide to ditch their bar and get a 9-5 job.
In the middle of this, as I was rummaging through the pantry, looking for pretzels, I came across a package of Yakisoba noodles, the grown-up version of the Top Ramen I had happily eaten so many times in my youth, when they cost $0.25 a package and I couldn't afford to go across the street to the sandwich shop. I'd seen them in there earlier in the week and told S. Bullock that she shouldn't put them in the Jawa's lunch. I would eat them. Add seasonings, full with water to the line, and microwave. Surely I could do that, as I had done so often in my twenties.
Maybe it was the distractions -- they were discussing the Super Bowl on the radio, I was wondering if Butter Goats, after ten years of working odd hours in shorts and a t-shirt, would be able to adjust to the company man life, I couldn't get my web page to publish -- or maybe it was the sad simple truth that I am worthless in any room containing a refrigerator, a sink and a range, but darn it if I didn't leave one step out of my noodle preparation before sliding the whole thing into the microwave, entering 4:02 minutes on the digital screen and then returning to my laptop.
A few minutes later I noticed a smoky odor. At first, I did nothing. In fact, I kind of liked the smoky odor. In my mind, I pictured my noodles browned, which would do nothing to lessen the sheer joy of noodle consumption.
At 4:02, the microwave beeped. The smoky odor had gotten a little stronger, and it did occur to me to wonder what was going on.
Then I turned around.
Somewhere, on the other side of a thick cloud of brown smoke, lay the microwave. In it was a package of what used to be noodles. I looked down at Shack, whom, besides being a dog and unable to speak, was so disgusted at the large plastic cone he'd been forced to wear following his surgery that he was lying helplessly on his side, sighing. He was no help.
I may have made some kind of involuntary yelp. I sifted through the smoke, coughing. It was too thick to get to the microwave. I ran around opening windows, hoping to avoid an embarassing smoke detector activation. At least I managed that.
Eventually, it cleared enough that I could get to the microwave. The package of noodles was crushed on one end, leaking thick brown smoke. Inside, the noodles had turned black and paper-like, reminding of nothing as much as the embodiment of pure evil that closed the 1980s Terry Gilliam movie "Time Bandits."
I reached through the smoke, grabbed the package of what used to be noodles and ran outside, trailing smoke behind me. The entire house was beginning to smell like a slumber party popcorn attempt gone horribly wrong.
Once outside, I waved the noodles around, taking in the full impact of the tragedy as it unfolded. I couldn't just throw the noodles away, as they would probably ignite whatever dry surface the hit, so I went back inside, lowered my head and ran water over them. They were, indeed, evil. Then I dragged Shack, huge plastic satellite dish and all, into the living room. I certainly didn't want to asphyxiate my post-op dog.
In a rage, I called Sandra Bullock. "Those noodles said they were microwave safe!" I thundered.
"Did you open the top before you put them in?"
"OF COURSE I DID!"
"Did you remember to add water?"
Silence on my end. The basic premise of any microwaveable noodle is to ADD THE FREAKING WATER TO THE LINE and then place the package into the microwave. I am useless in the kitchen, but I do know how to boil water and microwave things.
Apparently not. In the midst of a house full of brown smoke, I hung my head. How would I live this one down? We had dinner club in 24 hours. Would we be able to clear the kitchen of burnt popcorn smell in that time? It seemed unlikely. And with the world in turmoil, how much time would be spent specifically discussing my kitchen ineptitude? Most of it, as it turned out.
I was not finished with ineptitude for the day, unfortunately, but the rest of it turned out to be far less spectacular than the burnt noodles incident. Dropping an entire box full of blueberries onto aisle 9 is a pain in the neck for the produce guy, but the droppee can easily wheel his cart away from the pile of blueberries and return to anonymity within seconds.
Forgetting to go to Safeway in the first place is quickly forgetten when the forgetter blazes through his shopping in 30 minutes, blueberry spill included, and returns home in time to put away the groceries (weaving his way through a kitchen still lousy with brown smoke) and get to basketball practice before school ends.
Leaving the basketball jerseys in the car requires only a five-minute run back to the car during warm-ups. The aftermath of a burned package of noodles is not quite so easy to shake.
The next day, Saturday, we dropped $22 -- that is the exact amount, as calculated by a half-disgusted, half-humorously exasperated S. Bullock -- on various air fresheners and candles at Target. We came home, plugged in our air fresheners, lit our candles, and hoped for the best. "I had to clean the microwave twice," related Bullock, dryly, after I'd already cleaned it once. Despite the repeated cleaning, the microwave still carries with it a not wholly unattractive yellowish hue.
And yes, the cabinet next to the microwave still smells like burnt popcorn, because the microwave's surprisingly effective exhaust vent spewed weird yellowish liquid smoke onto it during the incident. In general, though, we had the entire event reduced to "funny story" status by the time people began arriving Saturday night.
And now our house smells like a comforting mix of vanilla and lavender, which provides a very appropriate background odor for any man's Super Bowl experience.