In a Horribly True Tale I penned nearly ten years ago, I mused that perhaps I shouldn’t be allowed to be a home owner due to the occasional lapses in attention to detail I suffer from when it comes to major home appliances. Said lapses have previously included: leaving for work with a turkey carcass on the stove in the cast iron Dutch oven with the burner beneath it set to medium; and, in a separate incident, turning the wrong burner of the same stove onto high so that all of its heat was applied to a plastic spatula rather than to the tea kettle for which I’d intended it. However, all previous warning signs to the contrary, I am now a home owner and have been for well over two years without any major incidents. Oh, sure, we’ve had to make it a family policy that all tea kettles in the house must come equipped with lids that not only howl and whistle, but which also automatically close and cannot be left ajar, preventing me from burning up any more of them due to inattention. But that’s hardly anything to get excited about, right? Right?
Today seemed an average day. I woke, saw the wife off to work, made coffee, ate breakfast, walked our two dogs, annoyed our two cats, assembled a podcast, wrestled with the uploading of the podcast, discovered it was my treacherous firewall causing the FTP clog, fixed that, publicized the upload and then ate some lunch. I noted while digging in the refrigerator at lunch that we had an awful lot of raw green beans left over from our recent venture into the realm of summer time home-delivery of organic veggies. One bag of them had already gone bad, but we still had a giant plastic container that I’d spent the better part of an hour filling with beans I’d snapped myself which soon would go bad if they weren’t cooked. Wouldn’t hurt to make them for supper, I reasoned.
Around 2:30 I decided to head to the gym and to the grocery store. I was about to leave when my progress was interrupted by a 20 minute phone call from our insurance company. After taking care of that, I left the dogs and cats in the house and drove across town to the gym. There I had a semi-vigorous workout for 35 minutes or so, checked the bulletin board on the way out for any new cool happenings about town, ran into our friend Tarek in the parking lot and talked to him for a couple of minutes before leisurely driving over a few blocks to Kroger. There I strolled into the building through the exterior set of automatic doors, chose a shopping cart and then went through the interior set of automatic doors and began shopping for more produce. Something tickled in my mind at that thought, but I put it aside as I’d found some Asian pears that looked tasty, followed shortly by some avocados. A minute later, I was swinging my cart back toward the vegetables proper when my eyes fixed upon a bin of green beans and the tickling in my mind transformed into a shudder of horror.
What I’ve neglected to mention until this point in the narrative is that earlier in the day—more precisely, between the time I had decided to go to the gym and the time the insurance company had phoned—I’d put all of the green beans from the plastic container into the largest of our butt-ass expensive Pampered Chef pots (the very ones my wife had hosted a Pampered Chef party in order to get a high enough discount on them to justify their expense) and put them on the stove where I planned for them to simmer to perfection while I was out on errands. However, after giving them only a few minutes on the burner’s #2 setting, I’d gone back and turned the dial up to high so the beans would start to boil and get a head start on the cooking process. My plan had been to turn them back down to simmer after they hit a boil. And even as I’d turned the knob to high, I had thought to myself that I should be very careful to remember that I’d turned the beans to HIGH, because it would be a horrible tragedy if I were to run off to the gym with the beans on high and burned down the house as a result. Then the phone had rung and 20 minutes of retirement talk and Simple IRA explanation ensued, after which I had practically bolted from the house leaving all the animals trapped inside behind me. All of this flashed through my mind over the course of one second, there in the vegetable aisle of Kroger.
Abandoning my shopping cart where it stood, I hurled the peaches and avocadoes in the direction of their displays, already shifting my ass into proper hauling gear as I headed toward the automatic doors. I then nearly slammed into said doors, which failed to automatically open for me and played a loud klaxon alarm as punishment for my attempt to egress through them. Apparently once you got into Kroger, you could not get out via that door.
“OH, GODDAMMIT!” I screamed across the produce section. I didn’t have time to argue with the doors, though. I ran between the nearby service desk and the checkout lanes and then through the other set of automatic doors Kroger has deemed as their preferred exit.
In the parking lot, as I ran toward my car, I was already trying to determine the probability that my house and pets were now in flames. I’d only been gone for around 45 minutes, so I thought it unlikely that the house had ignited yet. Granted, many house fires start in mere seconds, but the one on the stove was at least contained within an expensive and high-quality stew pot, lid secured atop it, situated beneath a stainless steel oven hood. There had probably been enough time for the broth and water to have cooked off, leaving only the moisture in the beans to prevent actual combustion. If I could get home as quickly as possible, I might only have a smoky house and freaked out pets to deal with.
The problem with exiting the parking lot of Kroger in Princeton, WV, is that while there are three exits for the lot none of them are ideal for a quick departure. The easternmost exit is probably the least used and therefore the quickest, but it isn’t so much an exit as a connection to the speed-bump strewn shopping center next door. It also puts you at the furthest distance from the road leading to the highway I needed to take in order to get home, which was to the southwest. The most direct route to the highway, the westernmost exit, was no good either, though, because it always has heavy traffic pouring by it from the north and south, but with really shitty sight lines, making it extremely difficult to turn left there. I opted instead to take the northernmost exit, which has just as much traffic as the western exit, but with better sight lines and the notable advantage of having a chicken lane. Unfortunately, it’s also the exit that every slow-of-ass human being tries to use and they always turn left. Sure enough, as I arrived at that exit there were already two vehicles ahead of me, intent on turning left but unwilling to actually go when given clear opportunities to do so.
A momentary digression on the topic of going: I’ve been a licensed driver for over 23 years now and in that time I have come to the conclusion that ours would be a far better world if all drivers of all vehicle-equipped nations could find it in their hearts to simply go. This is not to say there is not a time and place for caution behind the wheel, but, for the vast majority of any driver’s time, going is the policy preferable to me, especially when I’m the guy behind the person who isn’t going or am otherwise in a circumstance where I am forced to rely upon them to go in order that I may also go. I fully realize that there are plenty of allegedly valid reasons as to why people do not go as they should, such as red lights, or the desire not to violate posted speed limits, or two lanes of busy cross traffic at 4 o’clock on a Friday afternoon. These excuses matter not one whit to me when it comes to my desire for other drivers to go. And regardless of whether or not the driver in question can go, I make my feelings known by screaming the word “GO!!!!” at full volume from the safety of the interior of my vehicle. It is the single word that I have screamed the most during my lifetime and it is my behavior to do so on any given average day. So imagine, if you will, the rending of vocal cords that occurred as I sat behind the two cars at this northernmost Kroger entrance/exit, with my house and pets going up in smoke in my imagination.
After nearly a minute of impotent screaming, the front car was able to escape from the parking lot, leaving behind the small, primer-colored pickup truck in front of me driven by a young woman whose aspect in her rear view mirror suggested her to be maybe 20 years old. Her passenger in the truck cab looked to be another similarly aged girl. In the bed of the truck was a teenaged boy wearing a ball-cap and looking mighty dissatisfied with his lot in life. This driver also refused to go. However, she not only refused to go in the long intervals of heavy traffic during which she could not go, but also during the two or three occasions when there were large enough gaps in the traffic in which she conceivably could have gone had she but the skill to do so. At least three minutes passed during which my mental image of my pets aflame because of this girl blocking my path caused my blood pressure to spike. I slammed my fists on the steering wheel and wailed “GOOOOOOO!!!!” Then, around the start of the fourth minute, both lanes of traffic magically cleared and the girl had no remaining obstacles to her path forward for a nearly a quarter mile in each direction. And yet there she sat, her head swiveling back and forth, regarding both of the clear lanes of non-traffic, her foot firmly on the brake. Never mind that her situational luck would not hold for very long and soon traffic signals would turn green and hellish road congestion would again be unleashed upon the land, she remained stationary as though she fully expected Doc Brown and the DeLorean to slam through the space-time continuum and cut her off. I laid on my horn, causing the kid in the back to jump, and again screamed “GOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!” The girl stomped the gas, then immediately stomped the brakes, causing the kid in the back to first fall forward and then suddenly backward, smacking his head into the back of the truck cab. He looked pissed, but didn’t actively climb out to come beat me about the face and neck, nor did he even make eye contact with me. He just rubbed his head while the driver moved forward not even an inch. I don’t know if she was trying to punish me for daring to impugn her driving ability or if she just couldn’t get it into first gear, but by the time she was able to move again the traffic flow had resumed before us and it was another half minute before enough of a gap opened up for her to escape—though not long enough for me to. A minute later, I caught a break and I floored it all the way to the westernmost traffic light where I managed to turn left in a narrow and perhaps unadvisable window of space. I then sped toward the next traffic light that led onto highway 460, but was forced to stop a good 200 yards from it when I saw the enormous line of cars that were waiting to turn left onto the highway there. I screamed and raged and pounded the steering wheel some more, all because I’ve found myself in similar lines at that light before and knew that it would be at least a ten minute wait to get out. People in huge lines at that like traditionally do not go, and drag ass in moving at all, allowing the light to cycle back to red before anyone can move more than two car lengths forward. The right-turn lane, however, was practically wide open and had a green arrow. I roared past the slow asses, turned right and then tore down the highway in search of the first police median turnaround I could find. There weren’t any, so it was a good two miles before I reached the next intersection where I was able to whip a U-turn and floor it back the way I’d come. The light near Kroger was kind to me, this time, and I zoomed perpendicular to the line of non-going slow-asses there who I’m pretty sure hadn’t moved an inch since I’d passed them a minute earlier
Down the highway I roared, easily doing 70 in a 55. My plan, if pulled over for speeding, was to inform the officer that he was welcome to give me as many tickets for speeding and reckless endangerment as he liked, but he was going to have to give them to me in the driveway of my potentially burning house because I wasn’t going to hang around.
The next four traffic lights were not kind. In fact, the first of them contained a stalled vehicle that was blocking one of the lanes—MY LANE!!!—further gumming up traffic. The color red, more commie slow-asses and Grampy Patrol members bedeviled me on my way through the next three lights, after which I finally arrived at the road leading to my neighborhood. I traversed its mile-long, serpentine length at breakneck speed, the lack of smoke above the trees providing me some hope.
As I reached my driveway, the house appeared intact and I could see no smoke through the windows. As I exited the car, however, I could definitely smell something odd in the air. I bounded around the back of the house and threw open the back door. Flames did not explode into my face, Backdraft style. And while the interior of my house was definitely smoky, it was not exactly floor-to-ceiling smoky.
Our youngest dog, Moose, was running through the kitchen looking very concerned. From the front dining room of the house I heard our other dog Sadie barking. Then they both whipped past me and out into fresh air.
I turned off the burner of the stove, the stench of charred beans coming from the pot atop the burner. The cooking surface around the pot was covered in a ring of brackish colored crust. There were scorched-on spill stains along the sides of the Pampered Chef pot, made when the liquid contents had boiled over. Its clear glass lid was tinted brown and sounded as if it were on the verge of exploding from the heat coursing through its metal frame. Through its now tinted surface I could see that the pot no longer contained any liquid and the formerly impressive pile of beans within were now basically a thin layer of charcoal around an inch in height from the bottom of the pot.
After I’d opened all the windows and doors in the house, it occurred to me that the one thing missing from all this was the blare of our smoke detector in the hallway immediately outside our bedroom. There was smoke in our bedroom, which would have had to have wafted past the detector on the way into the room, so I didn’t know what the detector’s excuse was for remaining silent. I poked its test button with a stick and it flared to life, spewing high pitched alarm beeps and then shouting “FIRE! FIRE!” followed by “WARNING! CARBON MONOXIDE DETECTED!” Turns out, this is just what it always does when the test button is pressed. Otherwise, this Kidde Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detector appeared to be very late to the party.
The dogs watched as I hauled the pot of bean-char outside and set it on a patch of dirt. They looked more than a little worried, so I told them they were good dogs, gave them dog hugs and apologized profusely for leaving them in the house with a burning pot of beans. After giving the pot an hour to cool, I dumped the remains of the beans into the compost bin and washed out the pot. The interior bottom of it had lost much of its nonstick surface and is likely ruined. As pricey as the pot was, I’d rather buy a new one than a new house.
By the time the wife arrived home, several hours later, I’d put candles out in all the rooms and tried to make the place smell as good as it could under the circumstances. She, to say the least, was not happy about the beans or her Pampered Chef pot. Mostly, though, she was glad that the house and its residents were all okay. We joked to the dogs for the rest of the evening about how their Pa had tried to kill them and, likely, would again in the future.
Even with all the windows open, it took two days for most of the smoke smell to dissipate and now, several days later, we still get a whiff of it when opening up closets and cabinets that had since remained closed. The ghost of burned beans past.