thank the lord for chrome

Fire. I can see it reflected in the coffee maker.

I’m in the kitchen, cooking burgers for me and the young man of the house, when I venture to the other side to toast the rolls. It’s a long and taxing journey to the toaster, but I survive on rainwater and half a box of stale Ritz.

That’s when I see it, this flash of light against the gaudy chrome trim on the Mr. Coffee 12-cup automatic drip machine I just bought off Amazon.

I turn around. I see the fire in the pan; the flames are shooting up. And then I do something really strange. I don’t panic.

Instead, I stand there for a moment, quietly assessing. The flames haven’t yet reached anything flammable. So far, the fire is contained to the pan.

I ask myself what set it off. I answer: the fat. Some dollop must have spat out and up and down, hit the burner, shot back up and ignited the pan.

I see a dish rag sitting on the counter, and I ask myself whether the flames are in danger of reaching it. I answer: Nope. Not yet. Though they’re starting to get a little close. Isn’t that interesting.

I see a puddle of grease on the stove, and I ask myself whether the fire will hit it, burst toward the dish rag and cause a holy hellish conflagration. I answer: Hmmm. I think not.

This level-headed autonomic Q&A occurs over about two-thirds of a second, maybe a second and a half. I’m intrigued by my chilly detachment, but I’m always intrigued when I fail to panic. I’ve done it before, this not-panicking accompanied by a quick, rational breakdown of risks and options, and I find it more than a little curious. It’s as though, in moments of crisis, I am overcome by some heretofore uncharacteristic trait, like a sudden fluency in Urdu or an amazing new capacity for foreign car repair.

See, I am not a rational sort of person. I am instead a gut-first sort of person. An emotional sort of person. A Neapolitan sort of person. A loud and vibrating sort of person prone to slushy over-dramatizing. Hellooooo, arias! “This is why the Italians invented opera,” Mama always said, often citing as bona fides the fact that she married one and gave birth to two more.

But I am not singing Verdi at the moment. No. Instead I am thinking about the fire extinguisher.

I ask myself whether I should fetch it posthaste and promptly squirt the shit out of it. I answer: No, I not yet. Then I ask myself whether I should smother the flames with rags in the closet. I answer: Don’t be a bonehead, that would just make matters worse.

Finally, I ask myself just how I should begin to contain this unexpected combustive phenomenon before it gets any bigger and consumes the kitchen.

And then it hits me, and I answer: JUST TURN OFF THE DAMNED BURNER, GIRLFRIEND. And then I add, for emphasis: DUH.

I reach over and turn it off. Then I stand there about five feet away, doing nothing, waiting half a minute while the fire at my stove patiently burns itself out. When it does, I wipe the fat off the stove, drain the pan, then resume cooking supper.

My son and I eat. I don’t tell him about the gobs of flaming fat. But he swears up and down that it’s the best burger he’s ever eaten, bar none. “Better than Five Guys,” he declares.

A happy boy. No house on fire. Score two for mom.

the philosophy of mac & cheese

Mmmm. Mac ‘n cheese. I am not a great cook, but I’m an effective one: i.e., my kids think of me as a great cook, and they will continue in this blissful, innocent, semi-delusional state until they’re a little older and much wiser and have supped at the tables of many and better cooks than I. This is a final stage in growing up, this culinary awakening, and it tends to occur somewhere in the early- to mid-20s. My oldest just cracked that decade herself. So I have a few years to go, still.

Tonight, as I set this dish of baked nirvana before my 13-year-old, he was one happy fella. If only all human needs were met so directly, and simply, and effectively, and with the same gluey profusion of melted cheese. He scooped it, splooshed ketchup on it (yes, when it comes to eating mac and cheese, we are People of the Sploosh), devoured it, scooped out more, splooshed more ketchup on it and then abruptly stopped.

Analyzing the be-splooshed squiggles of elbow macaroni occupying his plate, he noticed a problem. Something was way out of whack with the mac-to-sploosh ratio. He took another scoop.

“I have to even out the balance of ketchup and mac and cheese by adding more mac and cheese, because there was too much ketchup,” he explained.

Ah. Wisdom for life. Finding balance in all things.

“It’s like, if you have too much dressing on your salad, you add more salad to even it out.”

That sounds deep, I told him. There’s some profound truth embedded in there somewhere.

“Yeah,” he said. “It’s like, the mac and cheese is the good stuff in life, the happy stuff, and the ketchup is the bad stuff that happens, the stress.”

He picked up the ketchup bottle and waved it in the air for emphasis.

“So if you have too much stress, you add more of the good stuff to even it out.”

And what’s the good stuff? I asked him.

“I dunno.”

Like, laughter?

He shrugged.

Time with friends?


Or maybe we’re forcing this just a little, I said. Maybe the mac and cheese with ketchup is just mac and cheese with ketchup.

“I think so,” he said, and our graduate-level seminar in the Philosophy of Baked Pasta and Condiments came to a swift end.

But I didn’t think we were that far off. The only fallacy in the mac-versus-ketchup thesis is the element of control. In eating, we can dole out the bad and the good, the splooshing and the scooping, without any interference from outside agents; in life, the giant generic bottle of evil splooshes whenever and wherever it damn well pleases. But that only makes the macaroni that much more important, our determined scoops of joy offering our only real counterbalance to the ketchup.

Or not. Probably I’m over-thinking this. Probably it’s just food.

I shut up and ate.

don’t you take that tone with me

photo (18)


So over the weekend I was cleaning out my fridge — BEFORE it started to smell like a landfill — and found, way, way, way at the back, hiding out like a poor, lost, fuzzy child, or maybe a fugitive from justice who’s been on the lam from Albany County Sheriff deputies for 87 years, the above advanced mold formation.

And when I say “advanced,” I mean it probably talks. In all likelihood it holds a Ph.D in some obscure academic discipline, like the history of peanut farming or Indoeuropean ethnohistoriographic geomorphology. If I asked it how long it had been in the fridge, it would respond, “Umm, twelve weeks, maybe?” and then add, “No, no, more like six months, it was before I grew the beard” before snapping, “Why the hell do YOU care, anyway? It’s kind of late to ask!” I would then turn defensive, saying I’ve only owned this particular fridge since late November, so Professor Snotty Fungus couldn’t be more than six weeks old, seven tops, at which point the mold would roll its eyes and say, “Whatever.”

At first, after liberating this sentient being from the back of my fridge, I wondered what form it had taken in its larval stage — i.e., when it might have been defined as “food.” I tried staring at it really close, but not too close, 1) because I’m far-sighted, and as I bent over my reading glasses slid down my nose into the fuzzy part, which, by the way, was wet; and 2) because it kind of scared me.

Then I recognized it. Do you? If you don’t, I don’t blame you; it looks more like Rip Van Winkle’s deformed lost twin, the one that got half-absorbed into the placenta before being born, than something that might in an earlier era have been consumed by anything other the occupant of John Hurt’s chest in “Alien.” Speaking of aliens, it rather resembles those flying neural boogers that sting Spock in the back in that old episode of “Star Trek,” doesn’t it?

Otherwise, I’m not going to say what it is. If you’re not too grossed out to give it a close look, you can guess.