It Took Setting the House on Fire to Know I was a Writer

I can’t cook. I know it, my husband really knows it, my family knows it and now the local fire department knows it. I am a writer and cooking just never made it into my vocabulary.

When my husband and I first were married he assumed the role of food preparation, which is surprising given the fact that I am 100% Italian-American. The first mishap came about when I had my gallbladder out. For the first week after my surgery Jerry was home to take care of me. The second week after my surgery, Jerry went back to work and it was just the dog and I. How much trouble could I get into in eight hours? Apparently enough to warrant a frantic phone call to Jerry’s office.

I thought that I could make lunch on my own and soup sounded good. Proudly I went into the kitchen thinking that this was going to be easy and Jerry would be proud. I put water in the pot and boiled. I opened the little foil package of soup noodles and put it in the bowl. When the water boiled I poured it in the bowl with the noodles and stirred. The noodles never really softened but I had made soup all by myself. I proudly grab a glass of milk and hit the couch with my bowl. I sprinkle my grated cheese over my wonderfully delicious creation and take a mouthful. “YUCK!” This was NOT cooked. I called up Jerry frantically. Much to my surprise he reveals to me that soup is not like oatmeal and the noodles go in the boiling water for 10 minutes. Jerry made my lunch the rest of the week.

A few years later when I was working as a writer from home full-time I made a few more discoveries. Spaghetti will turn to complete mush if you boil it and forget about it, three little boxes of Jell-O will take up the entire refrigerator when you add all the water, and raw cookies are not good for the digestive track.

Part of being home all day and being a “writer,” is you must believe you are truly a writer. There is no name plate (unless you really want one in case your kids forget) telling anyone your position. No one calls and asks to speak with the “writer” and you can go in to the office in your pajamas and no one will care.

I finally felt like writer who was running a legitimate business the last time the fire department came out around lunchtime. After each phone call, the arrival of the trucks (and yes they send out trucks, as in plural for a 900 square foot condo), the extinguishing of the fire and the clean up, always came the inevitable question “How did this fire start?”

The first time this happened I had to explain that I put a bagel in the microwave and turned the dial to 15, not knowing if it really was 15 minutes or 15 seconds. I guess my logic was that anything that needs 15 minutes goes in the oven (something else in the kitchen that will cause a fire) and so I turned the dial and walked back to my desk and continued writing. It was not until the dog came running out of the kitchen with his tail between his legs that I realized something was wrong and ran to the kitchen which was now engulfed in flames where the microwave used to be.

Of course after explaining this I had to tell the firemen just what I was doing for 15 minutes that I forgot the bagel.

“Well I am a writer, and I was writing something on the computer in the office and just, well, forgot” was the best I could come up with. It was the truth but it just did not sound good.

After several months of weekly firemen visits it finally happened. I found out that no matter how well you shove the bagel into the toaster, it will not pop up when it is done because it cannot fit out the opening again. When this happens, the toaster does not know to shut off and consequently keeps toasting hence, causing a fire. Once again the dog alerted me to trouble in the kitchen and I hit the speed dial button for the fire department before leaving my desk to investigate.

When the firemen came I noticed that they had become very comfortable entering the house now and knew that the dog was friendly and they can go right to the kitchen. This time though I did not feel stupid explaining what I had done when the questions came as to what started the fire. When the fire was out and everyone was standing around the kitchen petting the dog and asking how Jerry was doing one of the regular visitors asked “So Tina, what project are you on now? Can I be a character in one of your short stories?”

I was elated. I had finally made it as a writer. I did not have a name plate on my door directing people where to go and who was working here, I did not have a nametag to identify myself as a writer, but someone had taken me seriously enough to ask how things were going and wanted to be included in my story. I was a writer on fire.

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