adventures from the homefront, COVID-19 edition, episode 2: toaster death

Today I woke up lazily and checked the clock. 8 am. Perfect. The house was already warm, thanks to our timed thermostat. I walked into the bathroom and flipped on the light, peed and flushed the toilet, brushed my teeth with my trusty sonicare and placed it carefully on the charger, and used my special pokey hairbrush to brush my hair and scratch my scalp. Awake.

I changed into yoga pants and a sweatshirt and trotted downstairs. Anthony had already taken the dogs out and boiled water in the kettle. I made coffee while Anthony gathered Nick’s breakfast – microwaved sausages, Weatabix, strawberry yogurt. I pulled milk out of the fridge for my coffee. Nick had been awake since 6:00 and was entangled in the PS4. Jesse was still fast asleep under a vast pile of blankets. Anthony and I checked emails and the news on our iPhones.

Time for breakfast. I pulled sliced bread out of the freezer and put two slices in the toaster.  I pushed down the lever. It wouldn’t click on. I pushed it again. And again. And again and again and again in an exponential acceleration. I paused. I tried extremely slow pushing and then explosive pushing. Nothing. I shook the toaster. I held it up and stared inside it. I looked over at Anthony in despair.

A tide of grumbling panic rose in me as I marched the toaster out to the garbage can. The apocalypse is truly here! My toaster is broken! Technology is crumbling before our very eyes!

I want toast.

My thoughts raced.  Where will I find a toaster? Are shops still open? Can I justify going out for a toaster? How important is toast? Is a toaster an essential item that Amazon will still deliver to me? Can I fry my bread instead? What if our gas stops working, because the apocalypse? Is our propane tank full so I can use the camp stove? Does broiling work to make toast?

I decided toast matters to me.  I decided to go to our local Ace. Anthony said it would be fine, because they’ll be on a skeleton staff and it’s early and I don’t have to touch anyone. I ran out to the car and turned on the engine, and then I had my first smart thought.  I opened google maps on my phone and found the Ace; I gave them a call before I pulled out of the driveway.

“Do you sell toasters?”

“No ma’am, we don’t carry toasters.”

My heart quailed as I choked out the words, “thank you,” and hung up.

More than four decades ago, my dad taught me that an Ace hardware will have literally everything you might ever need, when he took me to our local Stockton Ace to buy… a toaster.  I passed this lesson on to Anthony three decades ago when I took him to our local 17th Street Ace in Washington, D.C., to buy… a toaster.

If my local Ace doesn’t even carry toasters, maybe the apocalypse has been with us for longer than I knew.

I walked back into the house, dejected.  Anthony was starting to make a sandwich to pack. I mumbled that he could use my frozen bread slices, which were laying abandoned on the counter.  Being an amiable, helpful sort, he replied that there was plenty of other, not-frozen bread available. He looked at me with kind, smiling (and possibly mocking) eyes as he pointed to it.  I sighed sadly. “No, you should use these.  Because I can’t make toast.”

I took a breath. If humans could turn the entire North American continent into the hardcore capitalist dream that is the United States today, despite a expansionary frontier mortality rate of 90% (at least, that’s what Nick tells me based on his recent 4th grade Oregon Trail unit, though he also explained that the number might be lower depending on who’s talking), then surely I can adapt to an absence of toast.

I scanned the kitchen. I saw my last packet of Nongshim Shin Ramyun. With a sinking but grateful heart, I decided to eat it for breakfast.Screen Shot 2020-03-18 at 10.02.14 AM.png

I ran water into the saucepan from the sink, fired up the gas range, and got the noodles ready in less than 10 minutes. As I waited, I stared out the kitchen window into the back yard, where buds are forming on the trees and crocuses are already up and songbirds are very busy hunting food.  Everything seemed fine.

The scent of the boiling soup reminded me of Korea, where in my early childhood my brothers and I survived measles, mumps, chickenpox, and my grandma’s pit toilet; where grandma recovered from polio with only a little bit of paralysis and my family survived Japanese occupation and two wars. I realize that my people were the lucky ones, not just the strong ones.  So many people did not make it.

The noodles were salty and hot, and I savored every bite as I kept the apocalypse at bay in my heart.