I’m not proud to admit that when we moved into this house ten years ago, I spent the first 48 hours suspecting it was haunted. In part it was because I have an overeager imagination that turns easily to horror, thanks to the Stephen King novels that accompanied me through puberty. In part it was because every time I closed a door behind me, it locked – from the other side. And in part it was because the fan on our wall-mounted microwave oven turned itself on and off at will, like a cook from beyond the veil was messing with me.
The fears were addressed one by one: the creaks and shifts of the house were not poltergeists but the normal stretching and arching of a sixty year old home that sits near an earthquake fault, and those sounds are now as familiar as the hoot owl who perches in our next-door neighbor’s tree. The doors locked themselves because they had plunger locks, so every time I opened a door wide enough to hit the wall behind it, the plungers got pushed in and voila, the next time I closed the door the lock was engaged. (That’s why there’s a bamboo skewer above every doorframe in the house: just stick the pointy end into the hole in the middle of the door knob and you can pop the lock.)
And the microwave, a model from the early ‘80s from the looks of it, has a self-preservation instinct that kicks in at the threat of meltdown. It sits above a Wedgewood stove from the 1950s whose ambient temperature is 300 degrees, so when you turn the temperature up to cook it’s incredibly efficient. There’s a sensor somewhere in the microwave that turns on the fan when its underside gets too hot.
I grew to admire the wisdom of the microwave, enjoyed explaining to startled guests in the kitchen that they shouldn’t worry, that’s just the microwave deciding it’s been schwitzing too long. It’s self-sufficient, which is more than I can say for the rest of the house.
Maybe that’s why I can’t bear to say goodbye to the kitchen appliance that clearly needs to be put to sleep.
It started about six months ago, when the “5” button stopped working. If you wanted to heat something for 25 seconds, you either hit “24”or “26” and made the best of it. Then it was the “2.” Then the “8,” and the middle row of numbers was gone.
“1” was next to go. We all got good at rounding up and down, using “69” seconds instead of “1:10.” Then the Defrost button stopped working. Then the Start button. Last night I tried to turn the fan on, and the fan stayed off but the interior light went on. Sadly, the interior light button does not control the fan.
Here’s what we’re left with: an “Add 30 seconds” button which allows us to cook what we want as long as we punch in the time in 30 second increments, and the sensor that enables the microwave to turn on its own fan (though we can’t do that.) If you want something to cook less than 30 seconds, you stand next to the microwave and whip the door open at the appropriate time.
If the microwave were a dog, we’d be carrying it outside to do its business, kissing its ears, and crying a lot.
Instead, we place a cup of coffee inside and press a button tentatively, letting out a cheer of encouragement when it starts. And deliberately refrain from reading the Sunday circulars from Pacific Appliance and Best Buy – too soon.
But it’s inevitable. We have to be prepare ourselves for when the microwave finally gives up the ghost.