The oven cat was at it again. This time I’d turned the knob to 450 to prepare for the entry of pepperoni pizza bagels, which are a fine delicacy in certain parts of Italy and most of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I’d considered outing oven cat to the media, but there’s no way any self-respecting journo would believe such a fantastic tale. Which, speaking of, the oven cat’s tail had begun to fray at its end, in burnt little splays of fire-orange follicles, but that was the only sign of the creature’s dastardly habit of jumping into the oven while it was on.
The first time it happened, some three months ago, Wife and I were cooking a green bean casserole, salivating over the prospect and barely containing our joy for recipes handed down through generations of die-hard aficionados, the kind of people for whom no dish was considered outside the bounds of the casserole form. Indeed, we’d joined the Clark County Casserole Club not a week earlier and were, in the Wife’s own slightly inebriated words, “prime and toot-shootin’ ready” to present our first effort as official club members.
When we slid the dish in it was perfect, took on that ready-to-be-sacrificed-for-the-greater-good condition, basically grinned up at us in the vogue of an extremely green private in the U.S. Army circa 1968. Within 15 minutes, though, oven cat was sitting atop our GBC, swirling his tail through the barely-cooked beans and the goopey sludge of the cream of mushroom, tossing fried onion rings with every wag, a CATsserole Terrorist if you might, treating our probable artesanal masterpiece like a kitty-pool, dunking his hairy ears into the slop and grinning wide as green goo dripped through his whiskers and onto his half-furled tongue.
I proposed that we still present the now disheveled dish to the Cass. Club — Mr. Yamamoto, the group’s president, being such a sweet man that even if the dish looked like someone had used it for a bathtub, he’d probably still’ve encouraged the group to give it a good round of applause and, once consumed, any constructive criticism that members felt could be responsibly delivered and received — but Wife wouldn’t have it, thought it would make us look like total amateurs, a couple of casserole con men even, if our very first project was covered in matted clumps of orange cat hair (an ingredient most cultures considered not to be a delicacy).
When oven cat emerged without a single burn, Wife and I thought we’d slipped into some kind of worm-hole that zipped folks to a galaxy wherein cat’s flesh was not just fully fire-proof, but seemingly immune to even the type of follicle snafu that might reasonably plague the head of a man walking through a moderately windy day. We then considered — in a mostly ad hoc effort to be the kind of people who, when faced with situations that were entirely alien and therefore made them queasy on a deep sort of intestinal-type-level, cautiously deliberated any and all possible plans of action — that it was the oven that was weird and was, perhaps (because who really knew?), morally opposed to harming small animals; and that it had, through the mechanism of its reality-warping-magics, shielded our favorite feline from the scorching walls of its friendly confines.
Wife turned the knob to 375 and made me touch the back of my hand to the black-grimed oven rack. Unsanctioned human experimentation. The rub was this: If my flesh remained unscathed we’d know that it was the oven that was special, and that it should probably (quickly, but also in a non-panicked way as not to attract attention from the Dinksons, our nosy neighbors to the immediate east) be taken to CIA headquarters down at Langley, VA, or at least to the execs at Extreme Channel HD, who’d most certainly be interested in an oven that cooked only food and could, in a rather beautiful representation of the art of self-policing, turn itself off when it detected life within its bowels.
However, and unfortunately, the experiment failed when the skin on my hand dissipated like butter on a hot skillet and I had to be rushed to St. Ann’s Hospital for a highly intensive skin-grafting surgery that I’m still not sure I consented to, let alone recovered from (especially given the noxious tic I’ve developed, that which seems to manifest itself at the least opportune times (when I’m, e.g., attempting to sink a crucial put, or when I’m, as further e.g., in the third hour of giving Wife a back massage).
The second time it happened we were preheating the oven for some Kroger-bought chicken nuggets (our love of casseroles fading hard after Mr. Yamamoto called our zucchini pizza casserole “the worst thing to ever happen to the human taste-bud,” and being replaced by a passion for precooked meat that could be bought cheap at popular grocery chains). When I dropped the oven door to slide in the Pan O’ Nugs, I noticed oven cat in the apparatus’s far left corner performing a perfect Wounded Peacock, which you might think was a shocking scene to witness but at that point I was pretty sure oven cat was the second coming of Jesus Christ Our Lord and Savior, and so nothing the little bugger did –yogic or otherwise — surprised me in the least.
I tried to shoo the oven cat from the sweltering climate of my 5.4 cubic feet, self-cleaning electric range stainless steel Kenmore oven (bought for $75 under the original asking price of $579.99 from the Sears Hometown Store on Ratcliffe Rd.), but he hissed so loud it woke the Dinksons (who, had they known what we were dealing with viz. the physical, mental, and emotional stresses of a once-docile-housepet gone not just rogue but altogether out of whack with the physical constraints of a reality we’d spent entire lives growing used to, would not have beckoned a SWAT team that took approximately four and a half hours to convince that everything was fine and no cats and/or wives were being savagely beaten and/or molested). Luckily Wife said she no longer wanted the C-Nugs anyway, but was in the mood for a strawberry and coconut (?) milkshake.
It happened again last week. Only this time we didn’t even turn the contraption on. Oven cat had apparently figured out how to push-twist the knob himself (a development so crushing to our marital psyche that we signed up for couple’s therapy and soon-after found ourselves weeping in [and being physically removed from] the office of one Dr. Angelo K. Rogsetti).
It was like an addict learning how to cook the meth for himself, breaking free of the subservient and downtrodden reality that was Reliance On a Professional Dealer. Wife was distraught. She started whispering to herself little haikus of pain and loss, 17 syllables of suffering at a time. What little hair remained on my depilated head began to fall out in clumps as intricate as origami. We considered taking oven cat to the Clark County animal shelter, but heard eight or nine puppies had recently been decapitated by a rogue shelter-worker –a boy who, it would be later reported, had been the victim of an intense and at times (if all the rumors are to be believed) sodomy-encompassing campaign of bullying at the obscenely large hands of the local high school’s offensive line — so we decided that oven cat should remain in our custody despite any disturbing propensities he happened to possess.
And so but now here I am, in the bizarre and stressful midst of a Mexican standoff with my own cat, attempting to rid him once and for all from the inside of the oven so that I may torch a half a bag a P-Bages. Clark County, I was horrified to hear, does not have a Pizza Bagel Club, but the neighboring Sherman County does, so I’m secretly contemplating a) a family move or, in the event Wife finally takes herself up on any number of threats lodged regularly at my head then b) a more solo type relocation. Dreams, after all, must be followed.
“Shoo, you wretched beast, shoo! The oven is no place for felines.” I try my best to channel the sort of energy pictorialized by Jack Nicholson’s performance in The Shining, but since I’m the kind of guy who looks twice before he crosses the hall it comes off rather like an inflexible man attempting to do ballet and oven cat doesn’t budge an inch.
Instead, he digs rapacious claws into the grime-spindled middle-rack and glares out at me with a determination so intimidating — mostly for the anthropomorphic dynamic it entails, but also because oven cat has grown meaner-than-ever since giving up yoga — that it makes me urinate down the inside of both my thighs.
“Pizza Bagels nooowWWWWwww!” the Wife demands from the upstairs bathroom — where she takes all her meals and most of her back massages — in a tone I’d come to learn meant that if food wasn’t delivered in twenty minutes or less a transformation that made Jeff Goldblum’s deal in The Fly look like children shooting marbles was on the proverbial horizon.
“Shoo, you blasted oven cat, shoo!” I go on, and at this the oven cat relaxes and seems even to grin, which creates in me the feeling that this has all been a very nightmarish dream. With thumb and pointer, like a self-aware crustacean, I pinch myself in the forearm-fat and pop awake instantly.
Milo, the seven year old bengal we found panhandling outside the United Skates of America skating rink several Fourths of July ago, is dragging his scratchy tongue across the mounds of my interred eyeballs and Wife is calling excitedly from the kitchen.
When I arrive on scene, the oven is off, humming with the percussive subtlety of a recently obsoleted household item, and golden-brown pancakes sit on the table patiently waiting my consumption. I sock-slide through the room and slide a folded flapjack down the syrup-river of my throat. Everything is fine in the world. Everything is — “What’s wrong with Milo’s tail, hon?” my beautiful Wife asks. “It looks . . . burnt.”