Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Popcorn Perfume

I'm at the window, sucking air through a narrow 4-inch slit like an absolute lunatic just because I tried to make a simple low-calorie snack.

The popcorn bag, left unattended for four minutes (per cooking instructions), smoked and hissed while its edges morphed into blackened crisps. Shortly after wrestling it into the sink, one of the most putrid smells imaginable emerged from the microwave, weaving its way into every square inch of my small apartment. Even my bedroom--some distance away with its sturdy door closed--smells like burned butter.

This is worse than inadvertently eating ten popcorn-flavored jelly beans and more offensive than waking up in the middle of the night to a strange smell wafting through the window. More nausea-inducing than the near-constant smell of city sewage, this hideous popcorn odor has even infiltrated my skin and hair.

You can imagine, then, how a bar full of people reacted to my presence at their local watering hole. Unsurprisingly, two middle-aged men, one of whom was missing one of his front teeth, made passes at me. Something about my scent must have reminded him of a woman or meal he once loved.

This is not the first...second, third or even fourth time I nearly burned down my residence (with me in it) because of an embarrassing miscalculation. It traces back to high school when I caught myself on fire and was shortly followed by the time I draped a  pashmina over an exposed light fixture, a decision that nearly destroyed a multi-million pound residence in one of London’s ritziest neighborhoods.

Was I, London's biggest fan, destined to start its next Great Fire? Before grabbing the fiery pashmina, running it to the bathroom and drowning it in water, I imagined for a moment what trouble this would cause, never having been particularly prone to trouble-making.

The pashmina scandal would have meant baptism by fire—pun intended—shooting me straight from the front of the class into jail. People would be hurt, maybe killed. Their belongings would vanish, and with them myriad irreplaceable memories. And what would become of me? I watched my dreams of becoming Governor of Texas vanish into wisps of smoke. No self-respecting graduate school would admit an accused arsonist.

Fortunately, a quick reaction on my part precluded harm from befalling anything besides the scarf. I dodged injury on several more occasions, including at a college party when a drunk guy inadvertently lit my hair on fire, but my luck would one day run out.

Back in San Antonio, where it all began, at the hands of a highly potent candle. A gorgeous gift, seemingly harmless, that--once alighted--burned down at an alarming speed. Wax became liquid; liquid became fire; and I became transfixed-- not by the flames that so easily captivate one's attention-- but by an episode of Seinfeld on the downstairs' television, a little too far for comfort from the candle. Having finished the episode, I returned upstairs to prepare for bed when I saw the candle in its latest iteration. A terrifying, blazing, seemingly psychotic version of the benign gift I'd opened mere hours before. 

Previous encounters with fire hazards taught me that fire could be easily quelled with water, so I once again rushed the blazing product towards a nearby sink, but when I turned on the faucet, glass began to break. Wax spewed in every possible direction, marking the ceiling, cabinets, and windows of my childhood bathroom. I was miraculously spared, except for in one place: the top of my left hand, where molten wax imprinted the shape of the Playboy Bunny, a humiliating Scarlet Letter and perpetual reminder of my inept judgment.

Many years and one trip to the emergency room finally led me to conclude that I am ice to fire. You will be happy to know that I now avoid all flammable materials: scarves;  cigarettes; matches; and, most of all, candles.

Except for right now: I don't know how else to exorcise the remnant scent of buttered popcorn.