Checking the stove, checking it twice
No, there’s nothing wrong with the appliance. The stove/oven range sits snuggly embedded inside of a curving pathway of granite countertop and contends favorably with the dishwasher for the title of swankiest object in the kitchen. It has no known malfunctions.
What I’m interested in is making sure that, before I leave the house, I haven’t left the stove “on”. It just takes two (on rare occasions, three) separate trips within the span of about two minutes for me to be really convinced of the stove’s neutrality.
I’ve grown used to this habit, but the irrationality of repeating this rite at least once a day has its own consequences. The Stove has acquired powers of awful proportions. One burner left carelessly open during the course of a workday, and the entire house – my laptop, my Kindle, my papers, my books, my musical instruments, my pets, my paperwork – will be licked away by property-destroying flames (or so I think). The stove represents a solitary seed of chaos-potential in the otherwise predictable routine of life.
So it must be monitored with the care that one reserves for an errant child with a bent toward pyromania. And if one has to swing through the kitchen an extra time because one wasn’t convinced that one sufficiently scrutinized the status of every burner knob (including the slow-cooker’s) the first time, then it’s a necessary evil.
This compulsive stove-checking doesn’t bother me too much; it’s really just a healthy habit “on steroids”. Besides, I’ve found that many of my friends (if not the majority of them) have some kind of obsessive habit or other to soothe away life’s threats of imminent mayhem.
What does bother me is the granule of pessimism embedded in such a mentality. I wonder whether I double-check the stove not out of worry but out of a secret relish to find it on one of these days. I can see it now: rushing out the door, I’m certain the house’s appliances are placated, but I decide to give the range another visit; as I clear the refrigerator, I see that a teapot has been left on the stovetop above a blue flame waving wildly with malicious intent; images run through my head of water boiling, teapots turning into molten brass, and explosions squirting liquid flames onto the wooden kitchen cupboards; my fingers roll the knob of the burner until it hits the familiar click of the “Off” position; I can breathe easier, disaster has been averted.
If The Stove represents impending and inescapable destruction, then catching the workings-out of our demise in the act is the ultimate thrill. Not today will you destroy my worldly estate! I’m glad I came back to find you scheming here and put an end to your machinations, Stove. I live to see another day.
I call this secret desire to cheat death pessimistic because it implies a universe that longs for our physical or social destruction. And this thought is much harder to banish from the mind than the habit of stove-checking from one’s daily repertoire. Facing the inevitable uncertainties of life is one thing, but combating the perceived hostility of a higher power is another battle entirely. After all, what kind of God do we believe in that would find the most spiteful ways to ruin humans?
Thankfully, the stove in my house has yet to explode. And I’m not even convinced that there’s any real danger of accidentally forgetting to turn off a kitchen appliance (the famous apartment scene in Fight Club notwithstanding). But if personal quirks are projections of our inner anxieties, it helps to understand what they’re truly trying to say.