Oh my god. My stove and oven won’t work. I’m dying — I’m going to die. Any second now. I’m sweating. I’m pacing around the kitchen like Woody Allen in Hannah and Her Sisters when he realizes that he’s eventually going to die. Is there no saving grace in the universe, to make our miserable time on earth worthwhile? If I pray hard enough, will the little ring of fire suddenly blare on when I turn the switch, just like it always did before? Should I be down on my knees, not just to check for a pilot light? How does one live without fire, anyway? What would our ancestors have become, if man had never learned to tame the flame? Would he have dwindled into extinction, or evolved into a morbid race of raw food enthusiasts and never have invented footwear beyond sandals?
Is this my fate now? I’m pacing. I need to eat something now, before I starve. Okay, I just went down the street to buy a slice of pizza. I’m okay now. I don’t feel so good now. That went down fast. What else was in it? Was that place up to code? Will I be okay?
And… then, after furious efforts, holding a match up to a single stovetop burner while flipping the switch to ignite, the thing ignites. And here ends the excessive exaggerations for this post. (Sorry if that was exhausting/annoying.) But it’s not quite the end of the story. While the stove will light with the help of a ready flame, the oven still won’t turn on, and behold: this appliance has no pilot light that it runs on normally. It’s a mystery that my super will need to help solve.
Actually, this is not the first time I’ve lived without a working stove and oven. Roughly two years ago, when I moved into my old apartment in Fort Greene, the gas wasn’t hooked up for a whole week. I was sprightly then, a nimble not eating out-er with a reputation to prove, and tricks up my sleeve both old and new. Today, when I realized the stove wasn’t working, I was trying to make tea. The mere thought of not being able to heat some water was crushing. (I still don’t own a microwave, as I hadn’t during my previous cooking blackout.) I actually freaked out a bit.
These things, and other technological glitches, have plagued most every person from time to time. It made me think about my profound dependence of the modern conveniences I’ve come to rely on. It’s never fun to lose power in one’s building, or simply lose connection with the Internet for a spell. If anything, though, these are great times for reflection. Thinking back to the great New York City blackout of 2003, we encountered a lot of interesting camaraderie then, didn’t we? But when the blackout is on an individual, and not the rest of the community, we tend to encounter a lot of deep introspectives instead.
Or just get really frustrated. After helping me figure out how to light the stovetop with a match, my brother, who happened to be visiting from out of town, told me a harrowing story about the time his iPhone went out of batteries. Like several folks I know, Chris relies on his iPhone like an explorer his compass. So when he was traveling through Seattle, trying to meet up with friends whose home he was supposed to stay at overnight, his iPhone conked out and thus began a lost-at-sea like journey. He was planning to meet his friends at a certain bar, and assumed he’d look up its address on the iPhone. Without it, he spent the next couple hours searching, asking around for directions or recognition of the place from strangers. He also didn’t have any of his friends’ phone numbers memorized, which were locked in the phone. Finally, he found the bar, but since he was so late, no one was there. After waiting there a while, he wandered out into the strange city, now somewhat tipsy. He made it to his friends’ home, but no one was there. Then sitting on the stoop, he realized that his laptop inside his bag had about five minutes of power if left unplugged, and he picked up the wireless signals from inside the empty home to look up Facebook profiles of his friends in search of their cellphone numbers. They didn’t publish their numbers. He looked up friends-of-these-friends’ Facebook profiles, and made several dashes to a payphone to dial their numbers and ask for the numbers of the Seattle friends. No one picked up. The payphone was the type that only took dollars for every call, and frequently did funky things like drop calls or simply not work or return any change. Finally, he sent off emails to all his Seattle friends, telling them to meet him at the original meeting-place bar. (Nobody else had an iPhone, either, and could get these messages if not at home.) Chris then walked into a convenience store. While paying at the register, a loud, drunken fratboy-looking dude began berating the Asian couple who owned the shop for not keeping paper towels by the packaged burrito heater. The fratboy’s friend began pulling at his arm as his tone became more incensed, but he fired off some racist slang at the couple and spoke in a mock-Asian accent of sorts to them. My brother, standing at the register in the middle of the scene, frustrated by this point to near-frenzy, told the kid to shut up. While walking out of the convenience store, a hot burrito was thrown smack on his back.
Eventually, Chris’ Seattle friends found him and all sanity was restored. That’s the shortened and much less frustrating version of the whole story, but wow — iPhones have only been sold in the last two years. And now people can barely live without them. Likewise, I’d hate to lose power of a GPS system if I were driving without a paper map and no idea where I was.
I’m not really sure what the point of this rather long story is, other than realizing one’s dependence on certain technology, when one thinks they are so uniquely independent, can be scary. I’m humbled by this stove incident and the reminder that my hands alone can’t begin to create everything I want to on a daily basis. Say it wasn’t my stove and oven that stopped working this time, but… my vegetable peeler, my food processor or — egad! — my refrigerator. To say that cooking is a self-reliant activity — even if one is “not eating out in New York” — is pure baloney. Small wow.