This Mortal Coil
October 07, 2011
I dropped my mom off at the train station yesterday, and she fretted over leaving so soon. Jason wasn't going to get home until the wee hours of the morning, so was I sure I would be okay without her that night? All on my own?
I laughed. Come on, Mom. I can handle one measly night alone with my own children. I've done it before, you know.
That's the conversation that kept running through my head a few hours later, when the oven caught on fire.
I'd just finished heating up some fish sticks for the boys -- the nerdy homemade kind, full of vegetables and healthy crap that always disappoint Noah because what happened to the rectangle kind, Mom? From the bo-o-ox? -- and was starting to steam some broccoli for my dinner. (Broccoli that I was planning to utterly drench in cheese sauce, however, lest you think I'm some kind of healthy wizard, or something.)
I heard a loud pop, like a blown light bulb, and saw a bright white flash from the general direction of the stove, like metal in the microwave.
Something had sparked in the oven. Something was still sparking and hissing and glowing red. Something else was burning, with actual fiery flames.
I opened the door (DUMBASS) to see what was happening and...okay, the heating coil was sparking and freaking out and then random bits of filthiness and crap from the bottom of the oven that we hardly ever clean (DOUBLE DUMBASS) were catching on fire as the coil snapped and fizzed.
I slammed the door shut and turned the oven off. When this failed to solve All The Problems I went for the fire extinguisher.
It occurred to me that I have never actually used a fire extinguisher in my life. This occurred to me right as I noticed the words "STAND BACK SIX FEET" printed on the instructions. I noticed these words right after I blasted the thing at the oven, which I was standing directly next to.
While I was choking and gagging on the cloud of...whatever it is that comes out of a fire extinguisher and frantically opening doors and windows, Noah cheerfully asked for some milk.
NOT NOW OKAY MOMMY'S BUSY.
The fire extinguisher succeeded in killing the extraneous filth fires, but the coil continued to glow and crackle and shoot off sparks and smoke. And it was...moving, from the back of the oven towards the front, like that scene in The Money Pit right before the entire kitchen blows the fuck up.
I stood there and debated my next move. I settled on chewing on the inside of my cheeks and wondering when a grown-up would arrive to help me.
When this also failed to solve Any Of The Problems I wondered if I should call 911. Get the kids out of the house, sit outside and wait for the fire department to come fight a fire that wasn't really a fire, but just, uh, I don't know. A VERY ANGRY OVEN.
No, I decided. I was not going to be the mother -- the person -- who got all spooked out over a malfunctioning oven coil and called 911 because she had no problem solving skills. Fuck you, oven. I was going to DEAL WITH THIS.
Free Business Idea For Google: Make a version streamlined for emergencies, that senses if someone is frantically trying to look up things like "OVEN FIRE" and "ELECTRICAL COIL THINGIE BURNING" and "HOLY SHIT NOW WHAT," you send them directly to a result that tells them what to do.
Instead, I got a page full of forum topics and OH THE IRONY, multiple complaints about defective heating elements catching fire in MY OVEN MODEL THANKS GE SPECTRA. The first link I clicked was a message board where someone described my exact predicament and said that the fire didn't stop until he unplugged the oven. And then the first response was from an "electrician" who claimed that what the OP was describing never happened and wasn't possible and it was probably just a grease fire and HOLY HELL I DO NOT HAVE TIME FOR YOUR "PICS OR IT DIDN'T HAPPEN" ARGUMENT.
I spent all of about 15 seconds speed-reading through Google results and content farm garbage before gathering that I needed to unplug the oven. Okay! That's easy enough.
Where...does the oven plug in? Right behind it? In one of the cabinets? WHY DON'T I KNOW THESE THINGS SOMEBODY REVOKE MY IN-CHARGE-OF-OTHER-PEOPLE PRIVILEGES.
I opened several cabinets and yanked out the contents to see if there was an outlet visible in the back. No luck. I stepped back and stared at the oven and took a deep breath. Okay. IT'S ON MOTHERFUCKER.
I grabbed it by the sides and started pulling it away from the wall. Noah repeated his request for milk and pointed out that Baby Ike was crying in his swing on the other side of the room.
I KNOW SWEETIE BUT MOMMY IS STILL BUSY DEMONSTRATING SUPER-HUMAN STRENGTH TO SAVE YOUR LIVES OVER HERE OKAY
I managed to get the oven a few feet away from the wall, enough space for me to scramble over the countertop and reach behind for the cord and see that it...went directly into the floor, through a hole cut into the hardwood floors, and then disappeared to God-knows-where.
ARE YOU KIDDING ME COME ON
Okay, fine. FINE. Circuit breaker time. I ran downstairs to the basement and was immediately faced with some challenges:
1) The fusebox and circuit breakers are in the far, far back corner.
1a) In front of which we have been thoughtlessly hoarding an incredible pile of miscellaneous and randomly hurled junk.
1b) The only lightbulb in the vicinity of that corner has burned out, because who cares? LOOK AT ALL THAT JUNK.
1c) The labels for all the circuits were written very small, in pencil, several years ago by an electrician with terrible spelling and handwriting.
1d) Oh, did I mention that Jason is pretty sure he saw a snake down there a couple weeks ago?
1e) And we put down traps but haven't caught anything yet?
1f) BUT THE OVEN WAS ON FUCKING FIRE.
So I did what any mother who just left her three defenseless children alone upstairs in the general vicinity of a volatile appliance (though to be fair, I did scream "ANYBODY WHO GETS OUT OF THEIR SEAT IS GOING TO BED" before I ran downstairs): I barreled through and up the pile of junk with bare feet and no flashlight, only to discover that I could not make out ANY of the labels and had no idea which circuit to turn off.
So I threw the main breaker and killed the power to the entire house.
And then. Dilemma. I was sitting in the far corner of a pitch-black basement, on top of a rickety pile of boxes and baby exersaucers and broken Ikea furniture. I could assume that cutting the power solved the oven problem and just turn everything back on, OR I could stumble back upstairs to check on the situation and try to make my way back here, hopefully with a flashlight.
I inadvertently solved that dilemma by accidentally falling ass over teakettle OFF the pile of crap, knocking over a bulk-sized bag of dog food in the process.
At this point I realized my children were screaming.
Oh no. Oh no no no MOMMY'S COMING WHAT'S WRO--
--THUD. I miscalculated the path out of the basement and ran facefirst into the wall.
The boys were crying because they were scared. Really, really scared.
And yet they'd both run into the foyer to huddle around Baby Ike, who was also crying.
The oven was dark. It worked. I dropped to the floor and tried to give everyone hugs and reassurances and not to worry about oh my God, alllllll the doors and windows are open and the neighbors are probably able to hear all this screaming, which was seriously at home-invasion-murder-van volume levels.
"It's okay! It's okay! Mommy had to turn the lights off but everything is fine and I'll get a flashlight and have everything turned back on in five minutes, okay?"
Hey, anybody remember that scene in the first Jurassic Park when they shut off the power to reboot the system? And then they have to go flip some circuit breakers "just at the other end of the compound" to turn it back on and Samuel L. Jackson's all, "No biggie, I'll do it, I'm Samuel L. Fucking Jackson," and THEN HE GETS EATEN BY RAPTORS?
Yeah, me neither.
I dug around our kitchen junk drawer for a flashlight. I kept thinking I'd found one but kept picking up the same goddamn screwdriver over and over. Finally I remembered we'd stuck a bunch of them in the coat closet in preparation for Hurricane Irene. I found two of them...
...neither of which had batteries.
WHAT THE WHO DOES THAT COME ON
Back to the junk drawer. All three children are still screaming at the top of their lungs. I manage to get batteries in one of the flashlights, guessing with my fingers as to which direction they're supposed to go, but it still doesn't work. Noah is convinced that we are all going to die and is yelling for "somebody" to come help us. I ignore this vote of confidence and try putting the batteries in the other direction, but still no luck. The flashlight is broken. I hurl it out the open back door just fucking because and start fumbling with the next one, realizing a moment too late that it requires the same size batteries as the one I just threw into the backyard.
At this point I'd probably been fighting with the damn flashlights for longer than the oven even burned, but I didn't dare try to navigate the basement without one. (SNAKE.) Finally, I get one working and the boys threw themselves at it like terrified little moths. I want them to STAY PUT while I head downstairs but they will have none of it, determined to stay as close to me and the light -- the glorious, holy light -- as possible.
So that's why Noah fell down the basement stairs, right around this point.
OH MY GOD COME ON
I stopped to make sure he was okay but instead of his usual theatrics he all but screamed at me to leave him behind and get the lights back on. DAMMIT WOMAN I'LL JUST SLOW YOU DOWN.
I scale the pile of junk and spilled dog food one last time and throw the switch. Everything comes back on. The boys rejoice. Ike continues to howl, because uh, lights are great and all, but I am mostly interested in some boob.
But we were all okay, the oven fire was out, and everybody got all the hugs they wanted. Including me.
EPILOGUE #1: Nobody ate their fish sticks, but I gave them chocolate milk anyway. I ate potato chips while watching Project Runway, because my broccoli got ruined and I was in no mood for any cheese sauce that did not come out of a can.
EPILOGUE #2: I was also in no mood to scrub fire extinguisher chemicals from the inside of our oven and several nearby surfaces until after midnight, but I did that too.
EPILOGUE #3: Jason got home around 2 am and said I mumbled something in my sleep about clocking out and it being "his turn," but I wouldn't say for what.
EPILOGUE #4: Replacement coil will be here tomorrow. Currently keeping situation under control through the Power of the Stinkeye, also eating out.