I did not learn to cook until I was quite definitely an adult. I took one Home-Ec class in grade school, but, having a penis, was mostly ignored, or asked to make pillows in the shape of footballs.
So learning how to cook was a bit of trial and error, but if I can do it, anyone can.
This was the first trial.
Realize that it all made sense at the time.
I was having someone over. It was a sort of date thing. I was completely flabbergasted, because prior to this, I don’t think I’d actually had a real “date” before (obviously, this was many years ago). I had been living in the same apartment for several months, and hadn’t bothered to unpack a lot of stuff because, well, boxes are like shelves, but portable.
So, it suddenly strikes me — I’m having a guest! I should clean up!
In a frenzy, I straighten stuff up, clean, and put things away. One of the things I “put away” was a stray speaker. One of those big bastards made of wood that can actually kill you if they fall on you? Somehow I had acquired one. During my cleaning frenzy, I somehow realized that having one speaker was too strange and I needed to put it away. So, I put it in the only place I could think of to keep it out of sight — the small cabinet under the stove.
After my tiny apartment was cleaned up, another series of neurons fired: Guests need food! Riiiiiight, food! Fancy food. Date-kind of food.
I immediately started raiding my fridge to figure out what I had. Very little, as it turned out (surely you’ve seen the contents of a bachelor fridge before — that was me, sans beer). Nevertheless, this was a problem I could solve, because I also had… A Cookbook! So, I started browsing through recipes and dinner suggestions. My eventual realization was that — aside from a few spices (or “species” to be wholly accurate) — I had nothing with which to make any reasonable sort of dinner.
Everyone knows the Chinese glyph for “empty fridge” is the same as the glyph for “opportunity”, so I ran across the street to the local Safeway to buy the makings for dinner. For a neat dinner — an actual romantic-flavored dinner that would wow her!
Naturally, I chose based on “coolness” which in this case referred to how “cool” I thought the lobster display was.
The next half hour of shopping is a bit of a blur, so I’ll skip ahead. I do recall, however, that I had planned and purchased for something on the order of sixty-eight different side dishes.
I end up at home with several grocery bags filled with the makings of what is certainly going to be a fantastic dinner. At some point in time, I had been convinced by either a Kindly Shopkeeper or my Still-Embryonic Cooking Sense that I could not tangle with live lobsters, so I had settled on already-prepared lobsters that just needed baking.
Figured out which controls were the oven, set it to preheat, and started in on making the side dishes.
Another twenty or thirty minutes later, I am locked in a morass of cooking-prep the likes of which would make a grown man cry. The phrase “in over my head” doesn’t even come close. Seriously, those of you who understand the least bit about cooking just knew this story wasn’t gonna end well, didn’t you? Nothing is happening the way it says in the cookbook. A couple of burners are doing their things, and I think a pot of salted water is boiling. Or maybe it’s some sort of gravy.
Those of you who understand kitchen cabinetry have probably already figured out why I am smelling the pleasant odor of wood smoke.
In addition to being monumentally incompetent in my preparations for dinner, apparently, I failed to attend the briefing wherein it was explained to me that the small cabinet under my stove was not any ordinary small cabinet, but in fact, an “oven.”
Well. Who could possibly have known…? (To be fair — my mother often stored cookie sheets and such in the oven — I just never happened to be present when they were removed for oven purposes.)
This one is worth enjoying for a moment — nothing says “restaurant date” like realizing that you have achieved a kitcheny situation the likes of which you’ve only seen in major motion pictures with significantly larger pyrotechnic budgets.
Apparently, the proper indication the oven has achieved the expected temperature is not the quiet ticking of the pre-heater turning off, but the billowing smoke as a single stereo speaker grill cover smolders, mere moments from open flame.
This is when I discovered that someone had an appalling lack of insight and neglected to outfit my one-bedroom apartment with “potholders.”
I also discovered that my smoke detectors did not, in fact, work, but that was a blessing, actually.
In a blinding panicky flash that lasted several blinding panicky minutes, I was able to wrap both my hands in bath towels (yes, both!), making me resemble nothing more than a Tragic Burn Victim, pull the smoking stereo speaker from the oven, dance across the living room, desperately balance the single smoldering stereo speaker (these, in case you remember this technology, were not “light” ) on one hand while my other hand deftly unlocked the sliding glass door and slid it open.
Well, that was the plan, anyway.
Evidently, some idiot had tightly wrapped a bath towel around my entire hand. I had no hand, per se, but an arm that ended in what looked like a tightly-wrapped Q-Tip. Or a turban. A miniature terrycloth turban.
Ever try to unlock a sliding glass door and open it using only your turbaned hand? While your other turbaned hand balances a smoking 250-degree stereo speaker next to your head?
It’s moments like these that you suddenly realize “Oh yeah — there’s a bar in the track, too.”
But that’s okay — I’m a problem-solver!
With my free foot, I start kicking at the bar in the sliding glass door track. Certainly I can’t use an extra hand turban, and the other foot is currently doing double-duty in the Balance Smoldering Shit Shift, so one spare foot, kicking at the bar, hoping to dislodge it through sheer impact, or “boinginess.”
Meanwhile, I have been desperately unwrapping my free hand turban using the only possible manipulative tool remaining — my mouth. Gnawing at the terrycloth, I try to unspin it from my hand.
The speaker, still smoldering heavily, and maybe still on the verge of bursting into flame, recognizes the opportunity. “Oh!” it realizes. “He’s turning his head around a lot to gnaw off his hand turban. This means his vestibular system is too preoccupied to keep me upright. Freedom!” and it begins to topple.
Then, for no reason other than to add complexity to my already challenging task, my brain chose that exact moment to cry out “Don’t let it touch the wall or you won’t get your deposit back!”
There was some overcompensation, I admit that.
Naturally, my non-speaker-supporting hand flew to the rescue. With the towel mostly still wrapped around it. Except for the part my teeth had clenched.
I’m not entirely sure how to describe this, because there was a sort of bright flashy moment when my head, connected firmly to my hand, came into contact with the very hard side of a smoldering stereo speaker, but trust me when I say that to do this all while standing on one foot took real talent.
In the cognitive aftermath, while my left arm is going crazy from the strain of holding the weight of this heavy speaker and my brain is trying like gangbusters to regain enough equilibrium that my head is not part of the support system for a huge heavy chunk of burning wood and electronics, somehow, my spare foot managed to dislodge the bar from the slider groove.
My partially turbaned hand snagged a loop of towel over the door handle, and a single yank pulled the door open.
The speaker, still smoldering, tumbled from my grasp at last, and landed on the deck where, if this were a fictional narrative, it would crash through to the floors below me, but because this was a Harrowing Tale of Real Urban Survival, and because I lived on the first floor apartment, it merely rolled and bounced along my porch, off the porch, across the path, and eventually came to rest cattywhumpus in the soft mud of my neighbor’s flower garden. Still smoking.
That evening, we had a nice date out at a pleasant nearby restaurant.
If I recall correctly, it was a Mexican restaurant, where I knew the waiter and made sure to tip heavily. The more cynical among you might think I tipped heavily to impress my date, but this was not, in fact, the case. The waiter was my neighbor and it was my sincerest hope that by the time I returned home from this date, the speaker would have sufficiently cooled such that I could extract it from her flower garden, leaving only a mysterious series of marks that would otherwise be unexplained.
I think the lesson we can all take away from this is that lobsters belong in the ocean.