What is the most dangerous part of living in the city? Random attacks on the street? Gang violence? Daley’s privatization schemes? No, as terrifying as those all are, I am here to tell you that the closest I’ve come to death in my three years of living in Chicago was last Wednesday, when I nearly killed myself with the self-clean option on my oven.

I’d had a dinner party the previous Friday, and I guess some of that tasty meal must’ve spilled over into the oven during cooking, because when I was baking a pumpkin pie on Sunday, smoke rushed out of the oven vent and the smoke alarm went off. I opened some windows and set up a fan, and the alarm went quiet. The pie cooked for another hour, and the oven continued to smoke slightly. (The pie was unharmed, you’ll be glad to know.) Obviously this problem needed more attention, so Thursday I scrubbed the oven til it seemed pretty clean, and then I decided to use the self-clean button to finish it up. HORRIBLE MISTAKE. Almost as bad as deciding to watch The Proposal.

It started out okay. I went back to the living room and started watching The Office on Hulu and going through my mail. About ten minutes later, just when I was thinking, “Gee, this show is terribly mediocre lately,” I heard the piercing cry of my smoke alarm. I ran to the hall and saw my ENTIRE kitchen and dining room full of smoke. Like, all I could see was dirty white smoke rushing at my eyeballs with malicious intent. After clambering on a chair to grab the smoke alarm and pull out the battery (yes, thank you, I am aware of my impending doom, now please be quiet), I ran around the house opening windows and turning on fans. It was only as I was gasping for breath at the window in my bathroom that I realized, “I am inhaling huge amounts of smoke and will likely die of suffocation or lung collapse,” and wrapped a bandana around my face. I looked like this:

my aunt gave me this bandana for hiking trips, but turns out it is also useful in those perilous "quiet night at home" situations

Smokey and the Bandit

I cowered in my bathroom, door shut and window open, freezing in the late December elements and figuring out a plan. I quickly ascertained the best plan of action was to not die, so I called up my friend Claire and begged to be sheltered from this fiery storm. Note that I did not turn off the self-clean function on the oven, oh no. It was scheduled to take 4 hours and 20 minutes and come hell or high water (or fire department), it would finish what it was scheduled to do. The smoke had cleared up so I could open my eyes without a burning sensation, and there wasn’t even any smoke coming from the oven anymore. Clearly it had burned through the mess I’d thought I’d mostly got rid of and had nothing left to destroy. I scurried down the stairs and out into the night, thinking that I sure would rather inhale the smoke promised by the scheduled clean time than the smoke currently circulating in my lungs.

After being fed and petted by the lovely Claire, I returned home a couple hours later to a stinky icebox. The oven was now clean, but my entire apartment stank of smoke and what smelled like burned plastic. It had got in my clothes, my furniture, my walls. Fearing I would need to fumigate the whole damn place, I left all the windows wide open for the night, but of course this is late November and it is decidedly Not Warm. I got ready for bed with the same grim determination seen in Arctic explorers: I will survive this night, I will survive this night. I piled on layers of socks and sweatshirts and my winter hat and added two blankets to the bed. With the sounds of city traffic blasting into my room on chilly currents of air, I shivered my way to sleep, mumbling to myself about the eternal hellfire awaiting self-cleaning ovens.

And that’s the story of how cleaning almost killed me. I will now return to my slovenly ways.

6 thoughts on “Smokin’!

  1. I once had a landlord try to sell me on an apartment by telling me that the oven had a *self cleaning* feature. I thought, “all ovens have that” and “who ever uses this space-aged technology?” Now I know.

  2. Wow. I needed to clean the oven a couple of months back, and I was cursing it for not having a self-cleaning function. Perhaps that was a blessing in disguise.

    • I now know I will take back-breaking scrubbing and mumbled curses over panicked coughing and huddling in the bathtub. So you can think of that next time you have to scrub and curse!

  3. I’m pretty sure my oven does NOT have a self-cleaning function, which means I’ve been putting off cleaning it for a while. But probably all for the better, apparently.

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