November 08, 2007

A Comet, a False Alarm and the Tale of a Pot

First the Comet: Comet 17P/Holmes, discovered 100 years ago but believed to have gone extinct, astounded sky watchers on October 24th. It is thought that a meteor may have impacted the comet. Just the day before, the puny comet had been 25,000 too faint to be seen with the naked eye but since the 24th it has become the brightest comet visible in the past 10 years, bright enough to see in the still bright light of the waning Hunter's Moon. You can see it in the northeastern sky during evening hours and if you spot it in the northern hemisphere you can keep watching it all night. It is a bit tricky to see it, as it has a fuzzy ball appearance, not the crisp twinkling of a star, but it is as bright as the brightest of stars. Once you see it, they say you will wonder why you didn't see it immediately. Try a pair of binoculars if you have them; they really do help. See this web page for a picture of what the comet should look like under ideal conditions, without the ambient light so many of us fight, living near or in cities and towns (or even in well-lit suburbs). http://

I woke last night around 3:30 a.m. to the sound of 5 or 6 enormous firetrucks racing up to the cul de sac that is ESquare, our building, a subsidized "elderly and disabled" highrise. No other structures "live" on our street, except perhaps a Best Western hotel, which may or may not share an E Square address. (That's not at all clear, as it faces a different direction, though the driveway comes in from E Square...). Anyhow, what was clear was that the fire, wherever it was, was somewhere in our building. No alarm klaxon was sounding, not yet. I knew it would not sound at all unless we were going to be asked to evacuate. Few were up at such an hour; why wake people with the alarm to warn them not to use the elevator, to stay in their apartments, when most were already fast asleep?

I was not, however. The first dose of Xyrem had worn off enough that the sirens woke me. I proceeded to make a quick inventory of what I'd take with me in the event of an evacuation and to gather it together. Not much was rescue-able, given Eemie: I'd take Eemie, of course, in her carrying canvas bag; my small purse with its necessary license and banking card and insurance cards and money; as many (ie a few) pills as I actually had on hand (the rest being locked in an overweight Sentry box, which was made of concrete and presumably would survive a fire); my laptop, of course and the iPod, because it was tiny and portable and valuable; cellphone, ditto; but I stopped there, realizing there was nothing more to do but simply leave when the alarm came, to hell with saving anything but our lives. I could start again, nothing was so important I couldn't repeat it or do it again and better. Even the poetry book -- Femto has a copy of most poems, and the others are on my blog in cyberspace in one form or another!

So I calmed myself and went to look out the window. There were 3 huge trucks with the expandable ladders, but I didn't think any were made that could reach to the twelfth floor even so. There were two Emergency Rescue trucks and a whole squadron of firefighting men and women in their battle regalia...But why were they outside, not in? And where was the big fire they were all in their get-up to fight? I suspected that once again, someone had put a frozen microwave dinner in the over -- an addled elderly widower perhaps, or someone who wasn't sleeping well -- and the apartment had filled with the black smoke of burning plastic, setting off the implacable smoke detector. When the resident could not get this to stop and the smoke became obvious to other residents nearby, well, a cascade effect took place and somewhere along the line 911 and the fire department were called. Now it was mostly what our completely competent building superintendent calls a "smoke situation" and no fire, hence little need for 5 firetrucks and two dozen firefighters. The trucks executed a difficult about-face that took out some flowers planted at the curb and sped away with most of the firefighters. I sighed with relief: false alarm. Someone's apartment was no doubt a mess and one hallway must smell terrible, but all told just another false alarm. I took my second dose of Xyrem at 3:40a.m. and was asleep by 4:10.

The next evening I proved myself no better than that elderly gentleman with the addled brain: I set some wheat berries in three times their volume of water on the stove and turned it on high. I intended to turn this to low once a rolling boil started. I figured that would take 8-10 minutes so I went back to my computer to work on my Praire Vole poem, which I was rewriting for Cy's birthday (never did get it done, but worked on it mightily). Sometime around a half hour later, two things happened: I looked up to see the room was suddenly full of smoke, smelled the smoke, and the smoke detector went off. All these things occurred at one and the same time, not as a consequence of each other, I swear. But they led to my leaping up in horror: I forgot the food on the stove! This was now burnt dry and black, almost in flames...No, not near flames, I don't think, since the wheat berries had been in a good stainless steel pan that could take the heat, and nothing was nearby that could "catch." But neverthe- less, the pan was clearly blazing hot and the food inside charcoaled and smoking. I snapped off the stove, grabbed my thickest potholder, seized the pot and plunged it under running water. Steam exploded in my face, with a stench that made me gag. I dropped the pot in the sink and went to take care of other matters.

Next thing was to get the smoke detector turned off. I ran to open the windows, the two that would. Then I grabbed the fan I keep by my bedroom door all year round-- for white noise -- and leaned it back against a table, aiming it directly at the smoke detector anchored on the wall near the ceiling. I crossed my fingers and damned if it didn't work but good. The screeching ceased at once. I left the fan on, wedged in place where it could keep the thick smoke away from what I felt now was little more than a nasty little tattle tale . Possibly the little people were involved with this -- the tattle tale business would be their thing -- without my being aware of it due to my distress. Since the pot was a Lawyer under indictment and the lid an irresponsible Clown, I think now that this was indeed the case...

In any event, I had noted that the smoke was so thick that I could not see across my small apartment except as if through heavy gauze. Where was it going to go, and more important, when? I could not stay here with the air so acrid for long. But where else could I go? I did not, definitely did not, want to hang out with Karen, even if she would welcome me...and I knew she had gone to bed early. In desperation, I tied a silk scarf over my mouth and nose and made sure there was a tight seal so that this awful smoke had to pass through some sort of filter first before it entered my lungs. Then I turned on the A/C and finally, I pumped the hall door several times, trying to push as much smoke out there as I could. This did help, thank heavens. And the A/C rather quickly exchanged the air, filtering it as well, so that in about an hour all was back to normal, though today the apartment still smelled, well, "awful" to the morning nurse, and "like popcorn" to the evening nurse.

I learned two things from this episode: 1) Never leave food cooking unattended, or at least without a timer on to alert you when it is ready for your attention. 2) You can clean even burned to a crisp stainless steel by boiling dishsoap and water in the pot for 20 minutes then leaving it for 3-4 days.By that time it should wash off with a nylon scrubby. Some people swear by wire mesh to get this grunge off; others say that this leads to scratches and lines in the steel, which cause food to stick and burn more easily. I suggest that one err on the side of caution, and use a plastic wire mesh to scrub stainless pots. It seemed to work well for me on the burned lid (after I "cooked it" in dish soap and water). I am still waiting while I soak the burned pot a few days but I expect a nylon scrubby will do for that just as well. Note: other solutions to burnt pot syndrome are: soaking the innards with full strength bleach for a day then scrubbing; making a paste of baking powder and vinegar, applying and leaving that for some time then scrubbing it off, hopefully along with the burnt-in blackness. For other solutions I'd go to HTTP://WWW.ASK.COM and type in search terms like BURNED POT CLEAN or REMEDY or RESTORE.

Posted by pamwagg at November 8, 2007 08:29 PM | TrackBack


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