KING OF THE KITCHEN

It has recently come to my attention (I think you can guess who pointed it out) that being retired means I now have more time to help out around the house. Quite frankly, this sobering realization has me scrambling to come up with all new excuses and quick! 

However, there is one area of our daily life where my bride steadfastly refuses to accept my repeated offers of assistance. Since you obviously read the title of this post, you know where I’m going with this.

It is an undeniable fact that, in my own home, I am not allowed in the kitchen. And I’m not kidding. During the evening, I can casually stroll through the dining room and step into the restricted area, and within nanoseconds, my wife will suspiciously call out, “What are you doing in there?”

I want to respond honestly by saying, “Because the dinner you fixed was inedible, I’m getting some actual food to stave off the gnawing starvation!” But, of course, I want to live long enough to see our grandsons grow up, so I answer in a breezy voice, “Just getting a light snack to munch on, My Dear.”

But before we proceed any further, let me pause for just a moment to explain that if you think this is going to be a post where I paint a less than flattering portrait of my bride, you are mistaken. I am not allowed in the kitchen for good reason. (Actually, many good reasons.) And, I must stress, this is a lifetime ban with no hope for a pardon.

First of all, I am incredibly clumsy. I can’t begin to count the number of plates and glasses I have dropped and broken throughout the years, although I’m pretty sure my wife keeps a running tally.

Unfortunately, all that breakage included her beautiful but incredibly fragile china that is brought out exclusively for Thanksgiving. Considering I was only granted annual access to such expensive dinnerware, it is remarkable that I was able to destroy irreplaceable keepsakes at a consistently alarming pace. And yet, for years, that is exactly what happened. Go figure.

As you might expect, there eventually came a point when my wife could stand no more. Consequently, each November at the traditional Thanksgiving feast that we host in our home, (which means we have to clean the house once a year) everyone else gets to use the priceless china while I am forced to eat off of an indestructible plastic Batman plate (in a clever marketing ploy, Robin the boy wonder is the dessert plate) and, of course I am required to drink from a jelly jar glass – but at least I’m allowed to use a fun straw. I’m sure it won’t be long before I’m moved down to the kiddie table, the one that is always festively decorated with whimsical cartoon turkeys.

But let’s go back to the beginning. My eventual ban from the kitchen got its less than auspicious start several decades ago when I was left alone at home unsupervised. Predictably, in my haste to catch the start of a movie, (no, it was not Home Alone) I inadvertently hit the number 5 instead of the number 2 as I attempted to set 2:00 on the microwave to make a simple bag of popcorn. Let me tell you, those additional 3 minutes of cooking time were not needed.

I was thoroughly engrossed in the opening scene of the Hollywood blockbuster, until, for some unknown reason, my eyes began to sting. It was then that my attention was diverted from the TV screen to the thick black swirls billowing out of the kitchen. I sat and thoughtfully pondered what could possibly be going on in there, but then out of the blue, my train of thought was interrupted by the piercing shriek of the smoke detector. My shoulders slumped and my heart sank as I suddenly remembered the popcorn.

Always a man of action, I leaped to my feet and bravely battled my way through the choking smoke that reeked with the pungent stench of charred kernels. With my vision obscured, it took a few moments to locate the microwave, but once I found it, I made yet another mistake by opening the door, thereby allowing the remaining smoke (not an insignificant amount) to pour into the kitchen and from there to snake its way through the rest of our domicile. It took several minutes of frantic towel waving before I was able to clear the air enough to see inside the oven. And what I found was amazing.

My favorite tasty snack had cooked down into a glowing charcoal lump roughly the size of a tennis ball. Completely fascinated by the unusual condition of what would have been edible only 3 minutes earlier, I had to force myself to concentrate on removing and hiding, for all eternity, the evidence of my futile attempt at food preparation before my wife returned home.

I put on my favorite oven mitt, the one with the funny owl sitting on a tree branch (……well, forget about that, it’s not important) and I reached in and pulled out the surprisingly heavy glob of crunchiness.

Sadly, as fate would have it, that was the exact moment my lovely spouse walked in the front door, surveyed the breadth and scope of the unfolding disaster and exploded at the top of her now smoke-filled lungs, “Oh my God!! I was only gone for 10 minutes!”

But wait there’s more……

On a later occasion, we had just returned home from a short fun-filled trip. It was the kind of weekend getaway that my wife dearly loves to take as long as I am forced to accompany her.

During this traveling extravaganza, I purchased a large plastic (pay attention, that word is important) coffee mug. It was the giant oversized kind that can be accurately described as a bladder buster. It even had a cushiony foam cover over the handle to make it easier to grip while hurtling down the highway. Because it was still half full, of what was by now room temperature caffeine, I decided to heat the plastic mug up in the microwave.

Obviously, this was not the same microwave as mentioned previously. The one involved in the “Popcorn Incident” (as it came to be known in our house) was not salvageable.

Anyway, I placed the large plastic coffee mug in the microwave, carefully selected 1:00 (by now I’d learned my lesson) and hit the start button.

I then turned around to run some water in the sink, eagerly anticipating the enjoyment I would soon experience as I quaffed piping hot coffee from my brand-new mug heated up in our brand-new microwave. But then suddenly I noticed out of the corner of my eye, what at first appeared to be a swarm of fireflies. But it only took another moment or two before I realized that what I was seeing were sparks and a lot of them. To say I was surprised by this development would be a bit of an understatement.

Because I have always considered myself to be the inquisitive type, I thought this might be worth investigating. I turned around, and what I saw left me stunned. For several seconds, I stood frozen in place as I stared at the new microwave in utter disbelief.

I had once again somehow managed to mysteriously set something on fire – but this time there was a difference. This time my wife was home.

As I gaped in horror at the kitchen appliance that had become my nemesis, my mortal enemy and, ultimately, my downfall, the large plastic bladder buster burst into flames and began to melt into a fiery puddle. The foam cover quickly dissolved away revealing the METAL HANDLE that it had cleverly hidden.

At that moment, I contemplated my options and, without further hesitation, decided to take the only course of action that seemed feasible. I threw my head back and began to scream in a high-pitched voice that resembled a ten-year-old girl. “Fire!! Fire!! We’re going to die!! Help!! Fire!! Help!! Fire!!” (Actually, the last Fire!! was drowned out by the now familiar piercing shriek of the smoke detector.)

Within seconds, my wife calmly entered the kitchen. She looked at me and then at the microwave and then back at me. She took a deep breath of resignation and then began to stare at me in the way that only a wife does when she is wondering why she didn’t listen to her father when he pleaded with her in the name of all that’s holy not to marry the idiot. Then my bride held up an index finger to her lips, and my screams of terror fell silent.

She took three steps to the pantry, opened the door, reached down, picked up the fire extinguisher, and two short foamy bursts later, the fire was out.

That was the day that my wife made the executive decision to revoke my kitchen privileges, irrevocably.

So, now that we are retired, if I want a snack in the evening, I am forced to wait until she falls asleep, which, thankfully, at our age is getting earlier and earlier. Then, employing a level of stealth that would turn a master ninja green with envy, I attempt to slip into the forbidden zone without my spouse being any the wiser.

But, usually, just as I’m reaching for some leftovers to pop into microwave number three, (wait, let me count. One, two, three – yeah, number three) the light is suddenly switched on, and I hear my darling say, with equal measures of contempt and disgust, “What do you think you’re doing? You know the rules. Get out of there right now!!”

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