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3 Minutes On High.

November 9th, 2008

I recently bought a small microwave.

I am thirty-six, and this is the first microwave I’ve ever personally owned.

Buying it was my girlfriend’s idea.  She thinks cooking vegetables on the stovetop is entirely too difficult. For the record, most of her shoes are the slip-on kind.

My girlfriend, when she learned that she’d taken my microwave-owner innocence, she reacted with undeserved and irrational prideful joy.

She gloated.  She bragged.  She felt it necessary to share her triumph.

She told the sales clerk, “This is his first microwave.”

In turn, the sales clerk completely stopped what she’s doing and asks me, “Where are you from.” This wasn’t offered in the thoughtful, inquisitive way you’d ask someone with an interesting accent from whence they came. No, she asked in the other way.

“Kentucky,” I said, which is a) entirely false, and b) from whence the girlfriend hails.

“Wel-come. To. Ma-ry-land,” she said.

On our way home, Cindy asked about my theretofore microwave-deprived life. “It’s the first I’ve owned,” I said. “Not the first I’ve seen.” But that didn’t matter to her.  So far as she was concerned, she’d singlehandedly rescued me from the dark ages.

When I was a kid, I explained, my family owned a behemoth Kenmore microwave.  It was big enough  to accommodate a twenty-pound turkey, or to power a nuclear sub.  There simply was no reason for a private family to own such a microwave.  This thing was so ridiculously powerful that turning it on caused our lights to dim.  It shook the kitchen, rattled the glasses in the cupboards.  When you pressed the buttons to set the timer, the dog would whimper and disappear.  I have no idea what happened to that microwave.  I suspect the Power Company or Greenpeace begged us to stop using it.

Since my mother could not, and did not cook, the behemoth microwave never lived up to its full potential.  It did little more than warm water for tea –my mother was never without a glass of iced or warm tea and a cigarette. The microwave took the place of the stovetop, which had given me some trouble years earlier.

As I mentioned, my mother was a tea drinker.  One day, when I was about six or so, my mother was across the street at our neighbors.  I decided to make her a cup of tea, so I filled the small pot, dropped in two teabags, lighted the burner, and boiled the water. Within moments, however, there was a bright, colorful problem: the strings of the teabags caught fire.  I tried to put it out, but the oven mit I used also caught fire.  Out of options, I abandoned the kitchen and ran outside and screamed, “Mom, the house is on fire.”

For the record, my brothers and I are the basis for all those conditional motherly warnings; e.g.”Don’t bother me unless the someone is dying or the house is on fire.”

After hearing from our neighbors that the fire department had, yet again, been to our home, my grandmother visited.  She found no humor in the story whatsoever and labeled my mother’s tea drinking, “a problem.”  I, of course, went to school and repeated this to my teachers.  At the subsequent conference -what today we’d call “an intervention”- my mother tried to explain the whole thing away.  Unfortunately, the principal and my teachers were of grandmotherly stock.  A humorless lot who went on to suggest that raising so many boys on her own was, perhaps, beyond my mother’s capabilities.  This is a conversation I remember because I heard it repeated so often.  You may recall the story of THE PIG FETUS.

Still, I preferred stovetops and grills to microwaves.  During college, I was a line cook in several kitchens.  In only one did we have a microwave.  I never used it.  I’m of the slow cooking movement mentality.  Except for when I’m not.  But my apprehension towards microwaves is about more than using a nuclear device to bombard my food with microwave radiation.  There’s the dislike of preservative-laden foods.  The attempt to get myself to slow down and plan things out.  And my passion for cooking authentic, homemade meals.  Sorry Stouffers, lasagna bolognaise ought not be orange.  This, perhaps, also has roots in my Army experience, where eating tasteless food from hermetically sealed foil bags warmed by a magnesium-based chemical reaction.  For the love of God, MRE bread and milk have 10-year shelf lives!

Another source of my microwave angst may be my brother Chris.  He is the blackest of sheep in my mothers wily and rambunctious flock of deviants.  Anyhoo, Chris was a borderline genius, as well as an exceptionally gifted artist.  His jailhouse tats are, by far, the most exquisite I’ve ever seen.  How a genius ends up with jailhouse tats is a long, sordid story.  I’m sure it has something to do with microwave radiation and chemically preserved food.  It certainly couldn’t be traced to my mother’s laissez faire parenting style.  Anyway, Chris worked construction and occasionally he would take me on a weekend job to hang drywall for a few bucks under the table.  He’d usually buy me lunch.  One time we went to McDonalds and got Chicken McNuggets.  We were driving along a windy, shaded country road when I spotted a bicyclist decked out in spandex and helmet -one of those enthusiast riders who ignore both commonsense and the law, all while looking like a complete tool.  Anyway, as we neared the douche bag, I hurled my McNugget sauce at him from behind.  It hit him smack in the left ear and he tumbled over and crashed into a ditch.  Chris and I cracked up.  Years later, I feel horrible about this and recently confessed it to my girlfriend.  But I digress. One day, instead of taking me to McDonald’s, Chris cooked hot dogs with the car battery.  Plunging alligator clips (which Chris always had around, for some unknown reason) into each end of the dog, and then touching the trailing wires to the battery, POP! Lunch was served; deformed, foul-tasting…but served.

This brings me to Michele Humes, author of the food-centric FINE FURIOUS LIFE blog.  Michele sent me THIS LINK, wherein, through the magic of video, the authors answer the question, “What happens if you microwave[fill in the blank]?”  Experiment subjects include: marshmallows and eggs, as well as some more interesting items like…deodorant, a football, and -I’m so not making this up- Christmas lights.

My opposition to the microwave hasn’t diminished.  My aversion to nuclear power in the kitchen hasn’t lessened.  The microwave sits in the far corner of the kitchen, as far outside the “kitchen triangle” as possible without being in another room.  Interestingly, despite pushing me into by the thing, the girlfriend doesn’t use it very often.  This may be because her last microwave was defective, and required one to physically hold the door closed while it cooked.  If one did not do this, the seal around the microwave’s door caught fire.  Visions of Chernoybl ensue.

It has made a few bags of popcorn, steamed some vegetables, and defrosted some meat.  The latter being a task that it performed poorly.  Still I’ve discovered the one thing my microwave does well: just 3 minutes on high and my freshly-bathed cats are totally dry.


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