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Jen’s World: Beware of the microwave

January 4, 2019 GMT

I do this weird thing.

Well, I probably do many weird things. But one of them is this: If someone turns on the microwave in my kitchen, I leave the room. Or at least stand way off to the edge of the room, against the wall.

You know, so the beams won’t zap me.

My family has assured me that I’m not getting zapped. That microwaves are insulated, and safe. That why they can sell them to people like us.

But it doesn’t matter. As soon as someone pushes “start,” I’m ducking, dodging, and yelling, “Wait! Let me get out!”

I haven’t always been weird about microwaves. Even when I probably should’ve been — like in the ’70s, when my family got our first one. It was a beast of a model with large buttons, a round dial, and a fake, wood-grain veneer. My dad surprised my mom with it for her birthday.


So foreign was this appliance that my mom took a microwave cooking class at the local middle school to learn how to use it. When she came home, she showed off her new skills by making applesauce.

I was wowed by this new machine. Applesauce was something you bought in stores in glass jars. Yet here it was, created by my mom’s own hand and this new-agey box.

Never mind that we could’ve been making applesauce on the stovetop all along.

I was telling a couple of friends about this memory the other day — of my dad rolling the microwave cart down the hall to the kitchen. Of my mom’s surprise. Of my amazement over applesauce.

I wasn’t alone in my nostalgia. My friend Brook remembered her family’s first microwave — how it was so huge that it took up most of the counter. And how her sister taught her to microwave ice cream sundaes for 10 seconds so she could stir them into “soft-serve.”

So novel! So life-changing! So new! Emphasis on the new. Because there was a learning curve.

Brook also told the story of her mom’s friend who set the timer for 30 minutes when she microwaved a “baked” potato: “It caught fire and destroyed her microwave.”

But microwave disaster stories weren’t relegated to the ’70s. My friend Christy told how her 7-year-old daughter started a fire with a carton of Easy Mac: “She didn’t remove the foil and didn’t add water.”

“Oh, my daughter did the Easy Mac without water,” said Brook. “Our microwave smelled for months.”

Which reminded me of my own worst microwave story. I’d been working at the Post Bulletin for just a few weeks when I stayed late one night to finish a story. The rest of the floor was dark — so, figuring I was alone and wouldn’t annoy anyone with the smell, I threw a bag of popcorn in the microwave down the hall and returned to my office.


You probably know where this is going.

The P-B’s microwave, it turns out, was of the industrial variety. Which means that the popcorn’s recommended cook time of 3-1/2 minutes was way too long.

Two minutes in, I could already smell it. And I’m not talking about the pleasing scent of butter on hot kernels. I’m talking about the stench of 500 coal-like kernels burning in a box.

By the time I realized what was going on, raced to the microwave and flung open the door, the thick, hot smoke of 1,000 fires poured from its depths and flooded the room. I coughed and stepped back, waving my arms.

“No, no, no!” I yelled, grabbing the bag by its corner and racing it to the sink to drown it with water. Meanwhile, the smoke had traveled down the hall, enveloping the P B’s first floor in a pungent cloud.

“Thank God no one is here to witness this,” I thought as I stood in the doorway, waving my arms in a futile attempt to clear the air. And that’s when I saw the P-B general manager through the haze at the end of the hall.

I hung my head in shame. “Popcorn,” I said.

I didn’t finish my story that night. And not because I fled the building, but because it took me more than an hour to scrub the burn marks out of the microwave.

The odor still hung in the air when I arrived at work the next day.

“Smell that?” asked a co-worker. “Someone burned popcorn last night.”

“Yeah …” I said. “Guess they should’ve stayed closer to the microwave …”