Tuesday, December 8, 2009


My husband, Rob, has a THING about burning down the house. "Don't leave the teakettle on, Babe. You'll incinerate our place." The other night he rousted me out of bed at midnight. "What? You left the clothes dryer running? Probably oughta shut it off. By the time the smoke reaches our bedroom, the house will be gone." Once he even closed down the oven when I wasn't looking. "I turned it off. You weren't in the room."

"I was in the bathroom."

"When something's cooking, you have to be in the kitchen." Before my eyes he turned deaf when I tried to explain that ovens are DESIGNED to function when you're not physically present. For Rob, the most logical man I know, the logic has to arrive when he asks for it--from a source that's more exotic than a wife. As to the house burning down . . . apparently he wants me right there, watching, when flames start licking out of the oven.

This same Rob has few problems with stenching up the house. One evening, two weeks ago, he stuck a bag of popcorn in the microwave and set the timer in the dark. Exempt from the watch-the-oven rule, he hobbled back to his chair, using a cane because his knee hadn't quite recovered from its eighth surgery.

I began smelling a smell. Not a good smell. Tentatively, I peeked into the microwave, and quickly slammed it shut. Smoke had already collected into a black, stampeding ball, just waiting for some fool to let it out. "The popcorn's burned!" I shouted toward his chair. "The microwave is full of smoke. I don't dare open the door!"

"Just wait, Babe," he said calmly. "It'll go away." Well, he was right. Some of the smoke escaped without anyone's help. Out through seams and cracks that only a demon could find. Our kitchen took on an overlay of evil. This wasn't your ordinary smoke--it was the kind of chemical effluvium that seeps out of dangerous labs, forcing people to grab gas masks.

Unprotected, I ran around the family room and front hall, opening outside doors, propping them open. The cats were bewildered. She's letting us come and go--at willl? I turned on the attic fan in the hall, which sucks in air from outside. I switched on the fan over the stove. Nothing helped. The foul air grew worse, crept over to Rob's chair.

He said, "You'd better remove the popcorn. Grab it quick and throw it outside." He made it sound easy, but the job actually required preparation. First I ran to the back door, grabbed a lungful of clean air, and holding my breath, I darted to the microwave, grabbed the popcorn, and flung it out toward the garage. Eventually I allowed myself another real breath. But not in the kitchen.

For the rest of the night, our kitchen and family room remained toxic. Unless you stood in an outside doorway, breathing seemed a dangerous option. Inevitably, a question ocurred to me: WHAT did they put in the popcorn? I said to Rob, "Surely you'll never eat THAT again!" And Rob, who would abandon a wheelchair for a penny in the gutter, said, "Well, there's only one more bag." Implying that even one bag of poison was worth saving.

We could only escape the fumes by going to bed.

The next day the two rooms were still alive with odor. A rag dipped in Pinesol and swabbed around the microwave's interior removed a horrible, yellowish layer of scum, but in no way interrupted the smell. A second swabbing was equally useless. Some odors simply can't be overcome. We'd have done as well with the residue from a skunk.

At last, one week later, the kitchen was once again breathable. But not near the microwave. Our appliance survived a bad encounter with popcorn, but now it has putrid pores and bad breath, and so do parts of the family room. You don't have to burn down a house to destroy it. You can actually accomplish the same thing by stinking it to death.

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  1. Yes, WHAT do they put in that popcorn. When we moved into our new office building, we made an exeutive decision to ban microwave popcorn. If it is burned, the stink just lasts and lasts, and if it is properly cooked, the smell throughout the building makes everyone hungry. And what's in diet soda? My hubby told me to put a tarnished silver necklace in a bowl of the stuff when I asked him for silver polish. Thirty minutes later, it was shiny, like new. What?

  2. What they put in microwave popcorn is called diacetyl, a chemical linked to the infamous "popcorn lung." It's highly toxic.