“If the fire alarm goes off, it’s my fault,” I say to my friend Elizabeth. I am holding my tray of food, hovering over a table of my classmates in the dining hall during our MFA residency. “I think my toast is catching fire.”
I usually like to think of myself as anxious for no reason yet calm and reasonable in a crisis. Once, in college, I steered out of three successive skids on an icy road. But here I am, running away from burning toast.
It is one of those industrial toasters, the conveyor kind, and in my defense, the labeling is distinctly counter-intuitive. I mean, if you saw a dial that said “speed,” wouldn’t you think that higher numbers mean it goes faster, i.e. lighter toast? Speed is measured in miles per hour or feet per second, not minutes. Minutes are for time or duration. And why not label the ends of the spectrum as fast and slow or dark and light?
Moments after I placed the delicate bread on the conveyor, I saw they were already getting too dark and they’d barely begun their long trip through Hades. There were no tongs around and as I watched the raisins incinerate and the toast surface turn evenly black, I didn’t have any inclination to stick my hand in there and charbroil myself. So I turned the dial to the direction I thought would make it go faster. Instead, the charcoal squares halted entirely. I stared in helplessly. Smoke began to curl from the ashes of the former bread and up towards the smoke detectors. Then I went back to my table to tell my friends to be prepared to evacuate.
Elizabeth, voice of reason, asks, “Did you tell somebody?”
Right. I run back and find a cafeteria worker, who manages to pull out the carbon piles just in time before my toast interrupts everyone’s lunch.
When I return to the table, my writer friends are looking at me in surprise. I seem like such a high functioning person and yet, faced with a toast emergency, I choked. Fortunately, I have friends to help me out.