Just let me survive this night

Just let me survive this night

I refuse to let my tendency to hibernate (translation: eat and become a lazy slob) take over this winter. My strategy? Have fun, eat healthy and get regular exercise. My best intentions, however, often take a little side trip.

This time, it all starts at my mother-in-law’s, on beautiful eastern Long Island.

On Friday night, we sit down to a homemade dinner. I carefully push the cheesy sauce off my chicken to stay “on plan,” and take more veggies. Yup. It’s going well.

By 8:45 pm, my husband Ted and his mom (“Muggsie”) begin yawning. Since 8:45 is the bedtime of toddlers, I ask Muggsie how to use her TV remote.

“You push the ‘ON’ button,” she says, eyeing me suspiciously. She heads down the hallway. I turn on “Law & Order” to entertain me while I do my exercises.

“I might make tea on your flat-top stove,” I call after her, “but don’t worry. I won’t burn down the house.” I always feel nervous using someone else’s stuff.

9:40 pm. With exercises done and the TV show nearly finished, my mind turns to our snack stash in our small cooler. Forget the tea for now. I’ve got one packet of low-fat microwave popcorn. Hmm. New microwave oven. With a special “Popcorn” button? OK. There’s brief popping, then a “ding” – then nothing. It can’t be done yet. Wait. What’s this “Sensor” thing? Like a magic eyeball knows something’s done? Oh, please. I press some numbers and hit “Start.”

I did not realize that restarting microwave popcorn could produce smoke within seconds. Did you? Not just wisps, but the “Yikes, the entire county’s burning down” kind.

Suddenly, a distant memory comes up of witnessing the aftermath of a hotel fire in Boston, with ashes re-smoldering for days.

I grab the popcorn bag and turn on the stove fan. I wish, in retrospect, I’d been wearing my glasses, as I’ve turned on the overhead light, not the fan. But what’s a few seconds of smoke inhalation?

Did you know how quickly smoke fills a small kitchen? Me, neither.

The kitchen fan, installed in the 1940s when the house was built, emits a cat-like squeal that has no correlation with pulling air – or smoke – from the room. Not wishing to destroy the last possibility that the popcorn might be edible, I run to the garage and open the bag. Billows of smoke, now open to fresh oxygen, let loose.

I quickly and repeatedly swing the door (ventilation and – yes, exercise) and scan the floor for embers.

Heart pounding, I race to the nearest bathroom and fill the smoldering bag with cold water.

(“Don’t worry. I won’t burn down the house.”)

Did you know that filling a smoldering bag of microwave popcorn with cold water makes an incredibly disgusting smell? I open the window wide, letting in the cold night air, then notice that this bathroom’s shower stall, used only for company, contains open bags of bird seed. The window has no screen, so I close the door and catch the final minute of “Law & Order.”

I suddenly feel – well, panic is such an ugly word. It’s more like terror.

Am I simply imagining the bag’s smoldering?

(“Don’t worry. I won’t…”)

I check the bag, look for birds or bats, then close the window.

One never thinks about what to do with a smoldering, soggy bag of microwave popcorn (SSBOMP) so others won’t know what a complete boob one is in another’s nice home.

I worry that Ted or Muggsie might walk out of their respective sleeping chambers to find me, in no particular order:

1. Triple-bagging the fully water-logged SSBOMP.

2. Starting to put it in the kitchen garbage.

(“Don’t worry….”)

3. Emptying out our snack cooler.

4. Inserting said SSBOMP into our cooler for isolation.

5. Lysoling bathroom and kitchen countertops to cover odors.

6. Rechecking the bird/bat quotient.

Done.

Except – as I leave the kitchen, I pass through a new patch of greasy popcorn air. It hits me hard.

Cooler in tow, I spray the air, then fan away its chemical smell – worse than the popcorn odor.

In bed, I lie awake hoping my husband won’t look in the cooler for a 2 a.m, snack. Or that it won’t explode in the middle of the night from some freaky pressure/delayed fire reaction. I know. It’s crazy. But if you’d seen that hotel fire. …

I reassess the situation. Not that I’m obsessed. No. I am enjoying a relaxing weekend.

The next afternoon, we hike, then go to an art show. That’s when we hear the rural “6 p.m. whistle” from the fire department.

Only it doesn’t stop.

No, no. Come on. I did not burn down the house.

And the doctor says I’ll be fine after the antibiotics for my chest and some rest for my stress-related heart condition.

Oh – and Muggsie has suggested we come for another fun, relaxing visit real soon.

Kathy Eliscu is a nurse and freelance writer who lives in Westbrook. She credits her way of looking at the light side of life to her mother, the late Marge Eliscu, whose “Coffee Break” humor column ran for two decades in the Maine Sunday Telegram

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