M. Giant's
Throwing stuff at the internet to see what sticks

Wednesday, July 17, 2002  

The oven in my house is really old. Really, really old. My house was built in 1950, but I think the oven is even older. I think the house was built around an oven that was already there, standing in a cabinet in an open field, where indigenous peoples used it for millennia to bake their pies. Then, when the area was developed for residential use, the placement of the street was based on the optimum depth of a kitchen and a backyard, and the Minneapolis route grid—streetcar rails and all—sprang up around that point. That's the oven I bake stuff in. The door is covered with flat beige enamel with brown streaks towards the bottom, as if it’s been in contact with actual flames several times. The temperature is uneven and has a fairly independent relationship with the worn numbers on the knob. I always have to put a cookie sheet on the lower rack to act as a heat shield; otherwise the bottom of everything gets burned before the top is even brown. The insulation stripping is beginning to fall off in sections. The clock doesn't work. The light doesn't work. The gravity barely works. Did I mention the oven is old?

In a seemingly unrelated story, a couple of years ago I heard one of those news stories that actually gets you up off your patoot to do something. Seems this family had gotten a household carbon monoxide detector. The very night they got it, the sucker went off, waking them all up in time to get out of their house safely. Without that detector, they would have all woken up dead the next morning. So I got a carbon monoxide detector. Unfortunately it didn't go off that first night, so I woke up the next morning wanting my forty bucks back.

Don't worry, these two story threads will soon be woven together into the rich tapestry you've come to expect here.

The novelty of our carbon monoxide detector kind of wore off in a hurry. When you get right down to it, it's something that's only nice to have in your home when it's not going off. Unfortunately, it went off every time we used the oven (told you). We'd already been using the oven pretty regularly for five years or so, and it never killed us once. But now, if we wanted to bake something, we had to either remember to unplug the CO detector in advance, or grab enough cotton to stanch the bleeding from our ears when the thing started letting off a screech that made a smoke alarm sound like James Taylor. I'm not kidding. It sounded like freaking DefCon 1 in our house.

At some point, we forgot to plug the thing back in. You know what? Still not dead.

Anyway, a few months ago, Trash was cleaning the oven, and we finally realized that we're sick of this relic taking up space in our kitchen where an actual appliance should be, and we decided to call the local gas company to have them come check it out and see if it was enough of a hazard to justify replacing the ugly thing. A good rule of thumb for expensive appliances: if they’re ugly, you can keep them. If they’re trying to kill you, you probably shouldn’t. Interestingly, this advice also applies to cars and friends.

So I called the gas company and gave them the sitch. The guy transferred me to the emergency line.
I repeated my story to the emergency operator, emphasizing that I really didn't think this was an emergency, as this oven had had over eight years to kill us, and if it was going to do so, it probably would have already.

She said:

"Is anyone at the house right now?"

The answer was no, and her manner gave me the clear impression that had it been otherwise, she would have ordered an immediate evacuation. I explained that I'd be home later, as in after business hours. She said she’d send someone over as soon as I got home. I said, "Wow, that's great! Thanks!" I'm used to good service from our gas company, but not this good.

Lesson? When you want something from your gas company, remember the magic words: Carbon Monoxide. It works like 20,000 volts shot through their cerebral cortex.

Cut to that evening. The gas guy comes to look at our oven, punctually as promised. He turns on the oven to check it, goes blue in the face, and hits the floor. I'm left standing over him going "WTF?" I call the gas company to ask them to send another guy. They do. Same deal.

By sundown, my kitchen is littered with the bodies of asphyxiated gasmen. Finally, the gas company figures out that years of living in this house with this oven has caused us to build up a resistance to the effects of carbon monoxide. We could spend an hour taking turns sucking on the tailpipe of a '72 Vega with a bad carburetor and not suffer anything worse than burned lips.

So does this mean I have to become a superhero or something?

Okay, that didn't really happen. The guy fixed the oven in about two minutes and we were stuck with the hideous monster. The oven, not the gas guy. He left under his own steam.

But now we’re glad that we didn’t trash the oven right then and get a new one. Serendipitously, my grandmother just moved into a new house and she wants to switch it over from gas to electric. Guess who gets her practically new stainless-steel oven and cooktop? I don’t want to say too much in case it doesn’t work out for some reason, but WE DO!

Watch this space in August for “before” and “after” pictures. I’ll do the “before” in advance, just in case I blow myself up on the “during.”

posted by M. Giant 3:16 PM 0 comments


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