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.