August 1, 2009

Fear of Flying

I love my cast iron. I love it almost as much as I hate to fly. And I really hate to fly.

On Tuesday, these two facts collided.

On Tuesday, I set fire to my favorite cast iron pan. Real fire. Orange flames leaping toward the ceiling. Smoke alarms screaming madly all over the house. In other words, a scary fire. A little one. But scary nevertheless.

The fire started because I'm afraid to fly. In the face of that fear, my everyday insomnia had become a big hairy insomnia monster. Lack of sleep is normal for me. But lack of sleep to that degree? It'd make Einstein stupid.

The fire started because I couldn't find my Xanax. Xanax is the miracle that makes flying possible. Without it, I get panic attacks and can't even set foot on a plane. I was getting on a plane in 12 hours, and I couldn't find my Xanax. My brain had stopped cold.

But mostly, the fire started because I love my pan.

This pan, it's a simple 12-inch skillet. My grandfather made a gift of just such a skillet to my mom when she left home for college in the early 1960s. My mom gave that same skillet to me in 1985, when I moved into my first apartment. And I gave that skillet to my sister when she moved into her first place all by her lonesome.

My sister knew just how much I missed that skillet. So she took the time to find me a new one. She seasoned it lovingly until it attained that black patina good cast iron gets when it's properly cared for. And then she gave it to me. Twin skillets, one for me, one for her.

We don't have twin skillets anymore.

Late Tuesday, on a quest to feed the insomnia monster, I set a pot of water on the stove to boil for noodles. I turned the burner on high and went upstairs to pack. Thing is, I turned on the wrong burner. I turned on the burner under my beautiful - and very empty - cast iron skillet. When I came back to check on my water, the bottom of that beautiful skillet was peeling and gray and ugly.

My first thought? My poor pan! It needs oil!

You can see how sleep deprivation and panic may have played a role here. In my normal, well-rested state, I can tell you, point of fact, that if you pour oil into a superheated skillet, it will light up like a giant fireball.

But that night? That night all I could think about was my beautiful pan. I didn't turn off the stove. I didn't let the pan cool. No, I pulled out my big bottle of Trader Joe's cold-pressed, extra virgin olive oil and poured a good quarter cup into that hot cast iron frying pan sitting on a glowing red electric burner set to HIGH.

Moments later that pan exploded into flame. Gosh, what a surprise that was, eh?

I'm damn lucky the whole bottle of oil didn't explode in my hand. I'm luckier still that the part of my brain saying "Oh shit, better put that burning skillet of oil into the sink and pour water on it" got stuck on "Oh shit," so I didn't act on the thought. Instead, I grabbed the fire extinguisher from the cabinet next to the stove. I heard some voice in my head - I think it may have been Dick Van Dyke's - telling me to pull the pin and shoot. So I pulled the pin, and I put that damn fire out.

The oil splattered. It burned the crap out of one of my fingers and singed my kitchen floor. My formerly white cabinets are a dingy, smoky gray. My kitchen is covered in extinguisher dust. And my poor, beautiful, well-loved skillet is sitting in the sink, a ruined, greasy, extinguished mess.

That's all waiting for me when I get home.

The good news? I found the Xanax. I got on the plane. I got off the plane. And then I got a great big hug from my dad.

I think that makes it all better.

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