Monday, April 25, 2011

Tales from an Accident Prone Life, Episode 3: Burn, Baby, Burn

Standard Curseword Disclaimer Applies. You've been warned.

In 2000, I lived alone for the first time. I had a quirky apartment that was essentially the entire second floor of a 200 year old farmhouse. By quirky, I mean: crazy wallpaper. An odd number of rooms that sort of tumbled into each other.

I loved that apartment, weird wallpaper, sagging ceilings, horsehair plaster, mice and all. It was cozy and comforting and MINE. (Also? It was really inexpensive due to the previously mentioned quirky-ness.)

One afternoon in early May, I came home from a walk and it started to rain. It was a warm, lovely Saturday and the sound of the rain on the roof was completely soothing and perfect. I cracked open the windows so I could both smell and hear it, and then I thought to myself, "You know what would be perfect right now? Curling up with a good book and a delicious cup of coffee, just enjoying the afternoon and the sound of the rain. That, my friend, would be wonderful."

So I grabbed my book of the moment and put it on the couch, and then went to the kitchen to get the coffee a-brewing.

A word about the kitchen.

I mentioned that I loved my apartment. I did NOT love the "kitchen". The kitchen had a huge eating area (my friend Mike called it "the ballroom" because, well, it looked like one), but a very tiny workspace. How tiny, you ask? It looked rather like someone had taken the doors off of a walk in closet or pantry and converted it, shelves and all, into a "Kitchen". The shelves were as close as I would get to cupboards and had no doors. There was a old, cast iron sink tucked into the back corner and a naked lightbulb hanging from the ceiling, which you could turn on by tugging on a long, yellowed string (and which would then swing and flicker in a horror movie fashion).

A tiny cookstove sat just outside the nook. It had an oven, but I had never used it due to the mouse situation. I kind of feared the oven. Actually, to be perfectly honest, I kind of feared the whole "kitchen" area and avoided it by eating at out -- or at my mom's --  a LOT.

At any rate, the coffee pot lived on the stovetop (because I didn't really use that either) -- I had covered the burners and it was just the right shape to sit on one of those. This was super handy, as there was an electrical outlet on the front of the stovetop. Why this should have been I had no idea, but it was there and I had no counters and I didn't cook so that's where Mr Coffee hung out. And that's where I measured the coffee, filled the coffeepot with water, plugged it in, and went back into the living room to get my book, listen to the rain, and anticipate coffee nirvana.

I was re-reading the section of To Kill A Mockingbird where Scout is asleep in her ham costume (which I LOVE ... "Poooooo-rk!" --Read it, people. You'll love it) when I realized that my coffee should have been done. In fact, I should have been able to hear it brewing over the sound of the rain, and I didn't hear ANYTHING. Also, instead of the delicious smell of the rain, I could smell ... something else. Something that was not rain OR coffee. Something kind of bitter and ... acrid.

I put my book down to investigate.

And that's when I discovered the inferno.

I remember what I thought next quite vividly, because it sounded like this:


(I told you there'd be cursing.)

I grabbed the fire extinguisher* off the wall and realized: I don't know how this thing works, but what the hell. I skimmed the directions and then went to town on the fire. I actually went a little overboard in my zeal to make sure that there were no flames of any kind to be found anywhere at all. The fire had been out for at least 5 minutes when I realized that in my panic, I was spraying things that had never been on fire with the fire extinguisher, just to be safe.

My house was now filled with smoke and dust. I had always thought that fire extinguishers worked by spraying something wet on the flames. It turned out that this was NOT the case -- at least, not with the one that I still gripped tightly in my trembling paws. THIS one worked with a fire supressing chemical that resembled the thickest layer of pollen you ever saw in your life. It swirled through the air as I approached the stove to find out what the hell had happened.

What had happened, it turned out, was that my coffeepot had MELTED.

HOW this had happened, however, was a mystery.

And now I had to ask myself, what to do?

I called the fire department. I explained that I did NOT have a fire -- at least, not anymore -- but that I had a melted lump of coffeepot and was afraid to touch it for fear of some sort of random electrocution. The nice man at the other end talked me through what to do -- turn off the breaker, remove the coffee pot, toss, turn the breaker back on. He kept offering to come over, but mostly I think it was because the whole thing amused him and he thought it would be a great story for the other firefighters. Or he was bored. Either way, I followed his instructions and thanked him politely.

And then gazed at the wreckage that had been my pretty afternoon.

Rain, check. Book, check. Melted chunk of coffeepot, slight scorch marks on the wall, everything I owned covered in three inches of yellow firesupressing dust? Check. Prayer of thanks that my landlord, who LIVED DOWNSTAIRS, was out of town? DOUBLE check.

Fear of kitchen area now at 1000% percent.  Check.

From now on, I thought sorrowfully, I am ONLY drinking tea.

*Public service announcement: if you have a kitchen, even a scary, frightening kitchen that your sister refers to as "the Shining" and that you avoid at all costs (perhaps ESPECIALLY then), then you NEED to have a fire extinguisher in your home, within easy reach. The fact that I did have one saved a good chunk of my stuff, and kept me from potentially getting very badly burned. Just as I know that seatbelts and airbags save lives -- they have saved mine -- I know that a fire extinguisher is your friend. So if you don't have one? Go get one. NOW. Today.


  1. Wow! Close call there. How long did it take you to clean up?

    We have a prominently mounted fire extinguisher in our little (but non-scary) kitchen. This blog entry makes me think I should go read the instructions on it NOW and not wait for an emergency!

  2. It took FOREVER to clean up, and even after I thought I was done, I kept finding piles of dust in unexpected places. Finally, my then boyfriend came in one day and moved the stove out and cleaned out all of the places I couldn't reach... but in the meantime, it was chemical dust city!