I just wanted a cup of tea. How could I have known that this simple desire would lead to such utter chaos and destruction?
I was staying with a friend's parents while traveling in Oregon. They were kind enough to feed me dinner AND dessert. They cheerfully complied with all of my food-allergy demands. They let me sleep on their vintage leather sofa without a protective bed-sheet underneath my filthy, drooling head. And I destroyed their home.
I knew that I had to leave very early the next morning. I would need caffeine. I should have just gone to a gas station, but I didn't. That night, I asked my hosts if I could brew some tea before I left in the morning. My friend's mother showed me how to work the immaculately crafted and expensive-looking marble stove. There was a teapot sitting inconspicuously on the counter. I assumed that it was the vessel in which I was to heat my water. Seeing no further need for clarification, I bid my warm and friendly hosts goodnight.
4:00 AM: My cell phone heralded that fateful day with a salsa-inspired ringtone. I groggily shuffled into the kitchen, turned on the stove and placed the teapot upon the right rear burner. I didn't turn on a light because I wanted to be as unobtrusive as possible. I sat down at the kitchen table, waiting for the telltale whistle of my boiling water.
It was about 4:07 when I first noticed the smell.
My sleepy brain slowly began to realize that there was something wrong. "Burning plastic is not a normal household smell..." it thought to itself.
I got up to investigate the source of this noxious odor, thinking that maybe the oven had just been cleaned and I accidentally turned it on instead of the stove. Oven cleaner can sometimes smell like burning plastic.
When I got closer to the stove, my theory about the oven cleaner was thoroughly debunked based purely upon the raw strength of the smell. This was no ordinary scent. Something epic had occurred to produce this vile trespass upon my nasal passages.
I probably should have turned on a light, but I didn't want to alert my hosts to the presently unidentified disaster in their kitchen. I figured that I would identify the disaster, act quickly to control the problem and clean up any evidence before I went merrily on my way with no one the wiser.
Except that's not how it happened. Because I didn't turn on the light, I had to rely on my sense of smell to locate the source of the problem. Unsurprisingly, it turned out to be the teapot.
"Oh," I thought, "it must be a new teapot. Maybe they didn't take off the price sticker and now it is burning."
If only that were the case.
I went to grab the teapot off the stove. When I lifted it up, a plume of chemical vapors erupted into the air. At this point, I was thoroughly confused. What the hell? Why was this happening? I was starting to panic.
I turned off the stove and poured water on the chemical-spewing teapot because I figured that the problem was most likely burning-related and water fixes burning. I thought I had the problem solved.
When the cloud of toxic fumes responded by growing in magnitude, I began to grasp the severity of the situation.
The adrenaline coursing through my veins finally succeeded in waking up my brain. I opened the microwave to cast some unobtrusive light upon my predicament.
Holy sh*t. Nothing could have prepared me for what I saw.
The teapot had been reduced to a smoldering lump which was presently oozing outward in all directions, destroying everything in its path.
I picked up what used to be the teapot by its cord and threw it in the sink. If you were paying attention, you may have noticed that I said "cord." The teapot was not meant for stovetop use. It was a plastic plug-in teapot. "Was" being the operant word.
I don't know what this f**king demon of a teapot was made out of, but whatever it was, it had a remarkable capacity to keep burning despite my best efforts to put it out. Also, adding water seemed to simply exacerbate the gaseous cloud that was beginning to form in the kitchen.
I took the object formerly recognized as a teapot outside.
By the day's first light, I could finally see the consequences of my actions clearly. The charred relic of a teapot dangled limply by its mangled cord, winding in and winding out on itself as if it was shaking its head disapprovingly, saying "look what you did!"
I set it in the grass and hurried back inside. I opened all the doors and windows. I turned on the fan. I quietly closed the door to my hosts' bedroom.
I could then turn on the light (why hadn't I done this earlier??)
I died a little inside when I saw that the previously immaculate stove was covered in a tarry, bubbling layer of super-plastic. I stood, eyes transfixed on the spectacle before me, contemplating my escape options.
I could leave right then and let them try to figure out what happened.
I could tie myself to a chair and pretend that marauding anti-teapot extremists had ravaged the now-defunct piece of kitchenware as I watched helplessly.
I began frantically searching the kitchen for an answer. I found a spatula. I used the spatula to scrape off the worst of the mess. It didn't really work. I just destroyed the spatula too.
Applying my knowledge of chemistry, I began rifling through the bathroom drawers, looking for something that would dissolve plastic. nail-polish remover! Acetone will dissolve plastic, or at least loosen its grip on other substances.
I took the nail-polish remover into the kitchen and applied abundant amounts of it to the charred remains of the teapot. (I don't even want to know what kind of damage my lungs were suffering form all these noxious vapors.)
It actually worked fairly well. The stovetop was devoid of any stuck-on plastic. If I tilted my head just right, I couldn't even tell that it was irreparably damaged.
I cleaned up the rest of my mess, and packed my things.
It was a Saturday, so I felt even less keen about waking up the proprietors of the household I had so nearly destroyed.
I opted to leave a note:
"Dear J_____ and J_______:
First of all, thank you for opening your home to me. I truly appreciate your hospitality. I am sure you are wondering what that smell is. I regret to inform you that your teapot has perished at my hand. I didn't realize it was an electric teapot and I put it on the stove. I googled "burning plastic fumes" and, luckily, you guys should be okay as long as you don't get a really bad headache or start throwing up. If you do, go to the doctor immediately. I tried to clean up the stove. I had to use nail-polish remover to get the plastic off, so that is why your entire house smells like acetone. Don't worry, it'll burn right off when you turn on the stove again. The remains of the teapot are out back, airing out. I checked to make sure it hadn't set your yard on fire before I left. Enclosed, please find $20. I know that the damage I have caused to your stove is far more costly than this meager amount could ever hope to atone for, but it is all I have. It should at least be enough to buy another teapot. I have some stuff that I could sell, so I should be able to pay you back in full at some point. Once again, thank you for your hospitality and I am sorry that I destroyed your teapot and stove. Please forgive me.
My friend's parents are wonderful people with a good sense of humor. They said that they understood, and his mother actually blamed herself for not telling me where the real teapot was. She said she was impressed with my ingenuity in regard to cleaning up after myself. Sadly, all the ingenuity in the world cannot make up for a total lack of foresight.