A Hot Time in the Old Town on Saturday Night

It was an exciting Saturday night in Rapid City. We indulged in one of those rare, once-every-few-years experiences.

We cleaned the oven.

Just to be clear—I have cleaned ovens before. Several times, in fact. Maybe up to a dozen times. After all, I have moved a lot during my lifetime, and sometimes a clean oven counts toward getting your deposit back.

But I’ve lived in this house for four years now, without ever cleaning the oven. My partner has lived in this house for 30 years, some 20 of those as a single guy. He refused comment on whether the oven had been cleaned during this period, confining himself to a noncommittal statement about “eating out a lot.”

At any rate—and with no blame implied—it was obvious that the oven hadn’t been cleaned in a long time. It was impossible to see through the window. The sides were a deep brown. There were enough layers of baked-on black gunk on the bottom to keep archeologists busy for years analyzing the various periods of occupation.

Clearly, drastic action was called for. We rose to the challenge, one step at a time.

Step One: Buy oven cleaner. I was surprised but pleased to find some lemon-scented stuff that promised “no fumes.”

Step Two. Scrape off the loose top layers of charred material from the bottom of the oven. Never mind that this destroyed the potential for several Master’s degrees in archeology.

Step Three: Read the directions on the oven cleaner. This can had two sets of detailed instructions, one for “two-hour” cleaning and one for “overnight” cleaning. They were identical in their requirements about using it only on a cold oven, their advice about wiping off the softened gunk with a wet sponge, and their cautions about ventilation and not spraying oneself in the face. The only difference was that one version specified leaving the cleaner to work for two hours, while the other specified leaving it overnight. Why not simply say, “leave cleaner for two to ten hours?” Unless, of course, you’re being paid by the word.

Step Four: Begin spraying the oven. This step was a reminder not to believe everything you read. “No fumes,” my asphyxiation. True, the stuff did have a faint undertone of lemon. But the top notes consisted of classic oven-cleaner aroma in all its caustic glory.

Step Five: Open windows and set up a fan. Finish spraying, covering mouth and nose whenever possible and trying to keep one’s head out of the oven.

Step Six: Wait two hours, and start wiping the gross brown gunk out of the oven. Use lots of water. Change water often. Keep fan running. Remember why cleaning the oven, like having a tax audit or a colonoscopy, is one of those things not to do any more often than absolutely necessary.

Step Seven: Do a second application of oven cleaner on several resistant black spots.

Step Eight: Wait two hours. Try to wipe off resistant black spots. Decide said spots have archeological significance and should be left undisturbed.

Step Nine: Cover newly cleaned bottom of the oven with aluminum foil.

Step Ten: Discover that it’s possible to see through clean window in oven door. (Or, at least, it would be if the light worked.) Open door and admire gleaming oven—from a slight distance, to avoid the lingering traces of the “no-fumes” cleaner.

Step Eleven. Decide to go out for Sunday dinner. After all, when you have an oven this clean, you don’t want to mess it up by cooking in it.

Step Twelve: Bask in the glow of your achievement. Savor the sense of having triumphed over adversity. People who clean their ovens every few weeks will never know this feeling of accomplishment.

All right. We’re on a roll here. Next Saturday night, maybe we’ll clean the garage, organize a couple of closets, or recaulk the bathtub.

Or maybe we could just go to a movie.

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