It takes a lot to surprise me and even more to leave me speechless. I can honestly tell you ‘silent stupor’ is written across my forehead and I’ve been scratching my head trying to remove it and establish reason to what I have just witnessed. Where do I begin this story…I’m not sure when the events started; surely it must have started months ago…for this monumental feat to have occurred we are talking arduous timing, careful coordination, clandestine maneuvers, sheer determination, and outright fearlessness.
For those of you that didn’t know; Chris & I bought a 100 year old house give or take 2 years ago; moved in with our growing German Shepherd puppy named Mowgli, and knew from the get go our kitchen needed a remodel. With lots of help we ripped out old cabinets, refinished the hard wood floor, squirted insulation in all the crevices, heaved granite onto lopsided surfaces, and finally got a dishwasher to match our other stainless steel appliances. Why am I telling you about our kitchen?…because that is where the events leading up tonight have been secretly taking place.
Chris is finishing up her night float month; which means tonight was her last night to go into work at 8 PM and admit all the kiddos until 8 AM the next morning. At which point she drives aimlessly home, drops all of her medical accoutrements on the table, walks up the stairs eyes half closed, and crawls into bed for her daylight zombie hibernation. From all the zombie movies I’ve seen and observing my wife during the past month; I can tell you that without a shadow of a doubt: Zombies do not cook.
Barbeque Chicken pizza has got to be the most savory (Chris’ favorite word) and easiest meals to prepare; especially when your freezer is stocked with the CPK variety. My growling stomach was telling me it was time to scavenge some food; luckily Mowgli was volunteering his help. While licking his lips and shadowing my every move, knowing he would likely inherit at least one piece of crust, he escorted me to the freezer and guarded the care package to the stove while I set the oven for 375 degrees.
Being environmentally friendly and neighbor sleep cycle conscious I slipped on my shoes and hauled the clunkity clunk wobbly loud blue recycle container out to the street prior to my elderly neighbor’s bedtime. Upon my return from the silent street I could smell someone burning garbage? Maybe manure? Maybe a live cow? Those were my best guesses anyways. Just as I got to the back door the wintery silence was broken: Meeeep!! Meeeep!!! Meeeep!!!! I opened the door and a plume of black smoke billowed past all of my sensory organs. Apparently I was the one who had lit the filthy bovine on fire.
Mowgli was the first to greet me with a frantic slightly guilty look on his face. I made my way into the kitchen in search of flames, but found only an angry oven with dark smoke coming from behind, beneath, and around it; even through the front glass window. What’s the first thing you do when you see smoke? Drop to your knees crawl to safety? Grab your loved ones? I suppose you don’t really know what you’d do until faced with that situation. Well, I rescued the pizza off the top of the stove and headed for the back door. You’re probably thinking what about the sleeping zombie upstairs? Well to my credit I yelled her name on the way to open the back door.
After setting the soot stained pizza down outside, I returned to the action brandishing my childhood Boy Scout valor, or should I say pyromania mindset, and opened the oven. “Wooosh! Vwoooom!” said the oxygen deprived flames. Singed and rattled by my most recent move I released the handle and the oven door slammed shut containing Hell’s fury. Having inhaled plenty I shut the oven off, and tried to remember where the fire extinguisher was as I opened all the outside doors to let the noxious cloud escape into the night.
I’m not sure what finally woke Chris up: the smoke alarms, the suffocating air, or the offensive odor. Coughing and tiredly stretching my name out, “Wyaaaatttt?” she made her way down the stairs, Mowgli met her in a frenzy, I think to tattle on me. With my dinner plans now ruined and the frigid Massachusetts winter air rushing in the detective work was about to begin.
“What did you do? What did you burn?” she asked.
“What did you spill in the oven?” I replied.
“Did the turkey drip out of the pan?” (Thanksgiving in mind)
“No, it was a huge pan.”
Skeptical about lack of spillage, I started opening windows, and Chris headed back upstairs to get ready for her last night shift. Mowgli sauntered around the living room chasing his tennis ball as if nothing had happened. My breath in sight, I outfitted myself with a hat and gloves and set up some fans to clear the air and disarmed the caterwauling (my favorite word) smoke detectors. Soon Chris had grabbed her things, we said goodbye, and she walked out the open door into an equilibrated environment. The last thing she said to me, “We need a new oven.”
Now I’m no fire marshal, but for there to be that much smoke, and having my eyebrows witness the fire first hand, I was fairly convinced some sort of “fuel” was to blame. I garnered a flashlight and set out to find the culprit. The oven air space now cleared; I could see nothing, no sticky residue, no smoldering carcass, no leaking jet fuel, no rubber tires, nothing.
Time to dig deeper, I reached for the pink toolbox (yes we have a pink set of tools-it was free so no judging), and began to dismantle the oven floor. Half dozen bolts later, I jimmied out the flat metal plate, and to my amazement: dark steaming rocks and hundreds of them. Small, round, flat, maybe 1 centimeter in diameter black rocks, pebbles, stones whatever you want to call them. Each rock is laid-out, side by side perfectly spaced. That’s strange I thought; why are there rocks in the bottom of an oven? This being the first time I’ve been in the underbelly of an oven, I started pondering their function.
My brain starts storming: ((( Maybe they are like ceramic stones that hold heat? Perhaps they help with convection and speed baking times? Is this what keeps the warming drawer warm? Is this some sort of insulation? Little permanent pieces of coal that help power the oven? ))) I pick one up and try to break it; it’s solid; it feels like a piece of brick. Stumped and bewildered I do what I normally do when I have a question, I consult Google.
Search Box: “Little black rocks in your oven” “black warming rocks in stove” “Why does my oven have rocks in it?” Those Google scientists are totally useless; they couldn’t give me one good answer. I’m thinking how is it that no one has ever asked this question before? Why in the hell is my oven the only one with rocks? I think myself as a resourceful individual; why not ask the oxy Moron who put them there and then put the words “Frigid Air” on the front of the oven. I Googled Frigidaire’s headquarters contact info and dialed with haste.
(15 minutes later after holding on the phone staring at my oven rocks)
“Good evening, may I have your name please?” -Wyatt
“When did you purchase your appliance sir?” (fearing my warranty had expired and therefore maybe not getting the help I need…..I lie.) -Uhhhh maybe 10 months ago?
“Ok sir, how can I help you?” -My oven caught on fire…I took it apart…and now I’m staring at rocks…can you tell me what their function is?
“Rocks? What do you mean sir?” –Beneath the oven floor there are hundreds of little round rocks
“What is the model number for the oven?”…. “you said it caught on fire?” ………
“Um sir let me put you on hold for a minute”….
(Another 5 minutes pass and I notice I’m shivering and Mowgli has cool steam coming from his nose and around the tennis ball fixed in his mouth)
“Sir I’ve discussed this with my supervisor and their shouldn’t be rocks in your oven”
“Let me give you the number for the closest appliance repair service, can I have your zip code?”
Phone numbers obtained; I’m now freezing my tail off and no closer to solving the mystery.
“Would you like to complete a customer survey tonight?” –Um I don’t have time; I have to deal with these rocks in my oven.
At this point I close the doors and windows. Mowgli signals to me he is hungry by going to his empty dish and giving me a suffering puppy dog look over his left shoulder. I pick up his dish and go to the ‘feed barrel” on the back porch and scoop his bowl full and go back into the light of the kitchen. My eyes happen to glance into the dog bowl as I’m motioning it to the floor. I stop, half-stooped over, and bring the bowl closer to my face for a better inspection; Mowgli’s hunger will have to wait.
I take his food to the oven, it doesn’t need to be warmed; it needs a side by side comparison to my black oven rocks. Peculiarly they are the same size, same shape, even about the same number-a big dog bowl full of oven rocks: but not the same color. I think I have a near match; in appearance anyways, but it still makes no sense?
Literally in my head I’m thinking:
“Why would the previous home owners have spilled dog food in their oven?”
“Judy, a friend (who house/dog sat for us 2 weeks ago), surely she doesn’t cook some sort of casserole with dog food?”
“Did Mowgli barf in the oven?”
Google, Frigidaire, and my own appliance knowledge have hit a brick wall of black rocks: so I call my Dad-a man’s man he’ll know: Damn it’s busy. Hmmm I’ll call up Chris’ Dad, he’s handy, remodeled houses; He has probably taken apart a stove at least once in his life. I take some pictures of the rocks and their symmetrical layout, I’m still not certain what their origin or composition is, and I send them to his email.
“Maybe it’s vermiculite” he says. I’m no geologist, but that sounds like some sort of rock. “It’s used for insulation” Our discussion continues and I half jokingly suggest it looks like burnt petrified dog food. The think tank session shifts and he suggests that we may have a rat, a squirrel, or mouse hoarding food. I’m starting to believe it but still can’t quite grasp the magnitude of what this all means. We say our goodbyes and I set to removing the extrinsic black rocks from the stove (Now that I am 99% certain they don’t belong)
Mowgli is now chomping down his food. The oven now back to its original factory form and the pink tool set put away, I turn on the oven for a test run. As it is warming up, slowly nearing that earlier critical temperature, I’m left with so many questions and thoughts:
1. Rat’s don’t live in Springfield? Do they?
2. Squirrels run in fear of Mowgli, how would they get in our house? And surely they can’t fit beneath the oven floor.
3. A mouse could fit; How long would it take a mouse to amass that much food?
4. That is one organized geometrically founded mouse, those rows of dog food are near perfect alignment. How could a mouse be more organized than me?
5. Has this mouse really figured out how to harness natural gas technology to warm his every meal during the winter months?
6. Do I want to kill a genius mouse? Can I trap him alive, and test his mathematical skills? Is it worth my house catching on fire?-maybe
7. 300+ pieces of dog food: 12 feet from Mowgli’s dog bowl: What is the ground speed velocity of an unladen mouse, let alone a laden one.
8. How does a mouse carry a dog food pellet? In it’s mouth? Can mice dislocate their jaws like snakes?
9. This mouse must have done it in the dead of night; why have I not seen any mouse poop on the floor between the dogs dish and the stove? Does this mouse not poop?
10. Maybe this explains why Mowgli is so skinny? His food is repeatedly stolen.
11. Has all my food lately been coated with dog food grease: Don’t they put dead horses in dog food? Does that mean I can say I’ve eaten horse?
12. Maybe this is why all my poker buddies rave about my brownies?
Conclusion: I have a nocturnal calculating genius mouse; who lives beneath open flames; who steals from starving puppies; who does not defecate; and most recently, tried to light my house on fire. What shall we call this demon? How about ‘Satan’? Satan the mouse.
BEEEEEEEEEEEP! We’ve reached 375 degrees. No smoke. No fire. No pungent smell. All is back to normal in the Rivas oven. Time for some BBQ chicken pizza, actually let’s postpone that. The oven needs to run a few cleaning cycles first.
Have a happy holiday; and remember ovens don’t come with little black rocks, Google doesn’t have the answer to everything, and if you are ever in need of a signal fire-use Eukanuba dog food.