Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The Cleaning of Major Appliances

The most dangerous and least appealing of all household chores is cleaning the oven. Fortunately it is a job that must only be attempted every decade or so. This actual frequency of the cleaning will vary depending, of course, on how frequently you have to empty an entire A-B-C rated fire extinguisher into the mouth of the beast. The 10-20 year estimate is based on the snuffing out of 45 fires.

Many people make the mistake of cleaning the oven too often. This mistake will result in a great amount of waste…both in terms of the highly unstable chemicals I use for such purposes, and the money spent for the additional skin grafts that become necessary after handling such chemicals.

So, how can one accurately determine when an oven really “needs” to be cleaned? There are two critical references that must be closely perused in making such a determination.

The first such area is the door seal. When the creosotes from the burning of several thousand pot roasts accumulate around the door, you might discover that food does not cook as quickly as you would like. When my last pot roast took some 42 hours to cook on the broil setting I figured that something wasn’t quite right. We ended up eating our Sunday lunch feast as our Tuesday morning breakfast. The kids gratefully choked down the meat. (One possible benefit to this would be all the extra water they consumed in order to swallow the meat slivers. Water is so good for children.)

A second way to determine the stove’s need for cleaning is whether your roasting pans will fit on the racks without having to be hammered into a smaller size. (Hammering only recommended with non-glass roasters.) Since my oven flunked both tests it was time to collect my gear and begin.

A quick trip to the hardware proved fruitful in my quest for the proper tools. I bought some oven cleaning chemicals, a chisel, a hammer, rubber gloves, an ice pick, a small propane canister and torch, spatula, goggles, garden hose, power drill, grinding wheel and a large coffee. All of these things were charged to my neighbor’s bill since a clean oven in my home would greatly benefit their property value.

Upon arriving back home I took the can of spray oven cleaner and, after prying open the oven door, I carefully read all the directions and safety precautions and then sprayed the chemicals directly into both my eyes and deep into one nostril. After stumbling to the bathroom and irrigating my face for the better part of an hour I was able to regain sight in my left eye and hoped to be able to smell again come March. Of course after this first mishap I was better prepared to try on my goggles but found my reddened flesh too sensitive to wear them unless I padded them with the addition of several layers of two-ply.

After the donning of goggles I attempted to read the instructions again with a bit more attention paid to the details—but reading through plastic goggles proved too much for me. I removed them again and quickly discerned my earlier mistake. Where the instructions clearly said “Spray Arrow Should Always Point Away From the Face” I accidentally had overlooked the Away part.

Harboring no resentment toward the manufacturer of the product (I can win a lawsuit without hating someone now can’t I?) I took the cleaner back in hand and proceeded spraying it liberally around the outside of the door and watched the acids bubble to life, creating an incredible, black, vertical stewpot of toxins.

The chemicals now applied I took off the goggles to better watch the bubbling cauldron like effect of the meat acids. I became entranced like I often do while gazing at a campfire or watching Alice reruns. As I gently nodded to sleep and my body tipped ever so slightly, my face settled lightly onto an area where I had liberally applied spray. During my deep sleep the spray dried and hardened with my face firmly planted.

My cranial adhesion caused a major work stoppage for in my haste to get the project underway I had regrettably neglected to place my tools within easy reach. Now, with my head bonded solidly to the stove, mostly blinded, and the bag of supplies on the opposite side of the kitchen I figured I was in trouble. What I needed was that spatula.

My view was somewhat impeded with my face glued to the front of the stove. I could only see with one eye (my left) and it was pointed toward the dining room where the cat was spraying on the curtains. It took me several minutes to gain the attention of the destructive beast before it eventually walked over to me and marked additional territory on my cramping leg.

I tried to stretch my body out to reach the bag of supplies with my feet, but stretch as I might, I could not reach the bag of goods. I thought I might be able to reach the bag if I could just get the door of the stove open again. But, the door showed no sign of opening with gentle pressure, and the fact that my face was stuck to the door as well as the facing of the stove made the prospect of opening the stove’s mouth a painful course of action.

I removed both of my shoes and removed the laces. I tied the laces together, end for end, and when I finished I had one 8’ long lace. Then, I took one of my shoes and tied it to the end of one of the laces, thus giving me a tool that I could use to drag the bag of important components back within reach. On my first attempt at whipping the shoe behind me I accidentally knocked over a stack of dishes waiting to be washed. This scared the cat and he bit me.

I dragged the shoe back toward me along with any shards of glass that happened to be in the shoe’s path. I tried a second time to move the bag and I did hit it on its side I knocked out the contents on the floor. On the third attempt at throwing the shoe I dislocated my shoulder, lost grip of the lace, and the shoe went crashing through the windowpane just above my sink. I cursed, heard lighting, and the cat bit me again.

Thusly glued to the facing of the oven, I resigned myself to die there. But then I had another great idea. If the oven cleaner had been soft at one point and only hardened after drying, would re-wetting the surface with more oven cleaner loosen everything up? This was my hope and prayer as I took the bottle of searing chemical and immediately sprayed it directly into my left eye. Fortunately for me I’d been building up some physical resistance to eye pain.

My idea worked and in only one short hour my head, though more sparsely skinned and my somewhat flattened, was once again free. Eyebrows not withstanding, all my other facial features would return back to normal after only a few months.

At this point, though my head enjoyed sweet liberty, the door was hopelessly locked shut. I pulled on the stove handle with all my might and it broke off cleanly, sending me careening backward into the opposite cupboard where I impaled myself hurtfully on one of those pointy brass cupboard handles that look so nice when no one is impaled upon them. The disimpalation went with relative ease and only minor tearing.

Getting the oven door open again proved difficult and a great tax on my intellectual ability. I could not pull backwards on the stems to which the handle had been attached. Nor could I plant the end of a pry bar into the crevasse of the door because it was painfully choked with what I’m sure was now radioactive solidified pork roast drippings. It didn’t help that the now-necessary continence enhancing clenched butt cheek maneuver was severely limiting my leverage. The only thing I could figure was to push the door open from the inside. I got out my electric drill and inserted the grinder wheel. After only 4 short hours I was able to cut a 3” square hole in the side of the oven. I slowly guided a metal rod I found in my neighbor’s garden through the hole until it made contact with the front door. I took a hammer and beat on the end of the rod and eventually forced open the door with only one puncture of the door itself. When the door finally did open it opened fully, made a horrible grinding sound, and became locked in the open position. The springs had either broken or some other part of the mechanism had fallen apart internally. I punched the door.

After the swelling in my knuckles subsided, I did a retake on my current situation and was somewhat encouraged by the fact that the door, now stuck in the open position, at least allowed me access to the black cavern within. Once again enthused with my project, I grasped the oven cleaner and without hesitation sprayed it directly into my eyes.

Wiping and re-wiping my eyes proved of great benefit as within two hours the pain had diminished to the level of blinding agony—a level I could easy tolerate. I eventually did get the chemicals more or less inside the oven, slathered deeply and evenly against all surfaces. After an hour of near asphyxiation from my exposure to the gaping oven, I ran a water hose from my sink and started rinsing. Several layers of semi-liquid gunk melted under the pressure of the water and flowed onto the floor. In addition, several still hardened layers of crusted meat smoke broke off and washed out onto the hardwood floor as well.

More or less satisfied with the results of the cleaning it was now time to pick up the mess so that the kitchen could be returned to its destined use—the willful burning of pot roasts.

I went to my neighbor’s and took a broom from one of his storage buildings. I then swept as much of the semi and fully liquefied mess down my basement stairs.

My clothes had absorbed a lot of the oven cleaner and the clothing was beginning to itch and chafe my tender and youthful body. I doffed all my clothing except for my shoes and started a load of wash. The only thing really left to do yet was to wipe up the stovetop and oven chamber. I did this quite quickly and easily by using the laundry my neighbor had hanging out on the line. Apparently aroused by my nakedness she came out of the house shortly after I removed several of her linens and chased me into the woods. I eventually made it home with some sheets and a blue sundress.

After mopping up with the laundry, one last snag occurred when I tried to close the door. When I first managed to get the door open I remembered the grinding sound of parts that may have broken during the process. Apparently something had indeed come apart and now these broken pieces were impeding the proper closing of the door. I lay on my back and tried my best to push upwards with my feet but there wasn’t enough clearance between the floor and the agape door for me to get any leverage.

I also tried to open the door by keeping my back straight, squatted down with my knees, and grasped the door firmly with both hands. Then I tried to lift the door by straightening up. This effort managed to strain my back, but the door stayed open, taunting me in its open mouth way.

Finally I decided I would try a new approach. Above the stove I installed a block and tackle pulley. Then I took my power drill and put a hole in the oven door large enough that I could slip a rope through it. After having completed this hole, I extended the rope through the hole and knotted it there. I then took the other end of the rope and strung it through the block and tackle so that downward pressure on the rope would lift the door open.

Facing the stove I put my right foot on the floor next to the right side of the door. Using my extreme yoga skills I placed my left foot onto the stove’s top surface by the front left burner. I grasped the rope with both hands and gave it a huge tug and nothing happened. I climbed down, sprayed silicone everywhere and got back into position. I yanked and the door gave about an inch but would not open. I climbed down again, sprayed some more silicone, tapped the hinges with a hammer, and did some closer inspecting. Finally I saw a bent piece of metal that had lodged in the hinge. I was able to bang the piece out of the way. I tried the door again without the pulley. It appeared that the door would move given one more powerful effort.

I climbed back on the stove, firmly grasped the rope and then tugged it for all I was worth. The door moved a bit, shuddered, and then started slamming shut. As the rope stopped resisting my downward pressure my left foot slipped outward and I tragically lowered my scrotum into the path of the now closing oven door. No more description of that particular event is warranted or necessary other than “oh dear God in heaven, that hurts.”

Since I wrote this article I’ve taken up smaller appliance cleaning and repair as a sideline. The pay isn’t that good and there are some dangers, but I perform all such repairs while fully clothed and wearing goggles. I no longer use that oven. I sold it on eBay.

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