A few days ago, I decided, after careful reflection, that it was time to wantonly destroy a scientific and archaeological resource of unparalleled interest and antiquity.
In short, I decided to clean my oven, disposing in the process of a layer of baked-on grunge and general guck apparently dating back to around the 3rd century BC. No more hacking away at the accumulated crud in a vain attempt to clear a space large enough to slip in a baking tray every time I want to cook, no more mysterious cooking smells from whatever I cooked in it the year before last.
A fresh start, a new leaf, a clean oven.
I reviewed my options. Two hours on my hands and knees with a chunk of wire wool and some hot soapy water? Strictly for the birds. This is the 20th century, and if it doesn't come in a can, I'm not interested.
So, down at the local supermarket, I picked the meanest-looking can of oven cleaner I could find. I wasn't looking for something with new miracle ingredients, I wanted something with attitude, and preferably, with a police record.
Eventually, I decided on something which had a childproof cap (one of those complicated things that are deliberately made so difficult to open that you end up having to get the local seven-year old to do it for you) and a gratifyingly lengthy set of warnings, approximately as follows:
"Switch off main power to your house and hide the matches four streets away. Wear an air lock detox suit. Do not inhale, heck, don't even look at it cross-eyed. Cover the floor with lead sheeting. Do not use near living organisms or in populated areas. Shake can frequently. Praying doesn't hurt either. Avoid contact with skin, eyes, clothing, and anything you'd like to see again, including your oven. Will definitely cause severe irritation, corrosion, lesions, bleeding from orifices and sterility. And that's just for starters.
After use, hose down with water and bury under a mound of boron and cement rubble. Do not fold, spindle or mutilate. Avoid breathing while using the product and for four days afterwards. Remember your atropine injection. Remember to make your will. Make one for your neighbors while you're at it. Wash hands and exposed skin after use. It won't do any good, but it'll give you something to do while you wait for your limbs to drop off.
If inhaled or swallowed, contact a priest immediately. Risk of serious damage to just about anything you care to mention. Risk? Hell, call it a virtual certainty - we don't mess about. Toxic, mutagenic, carcinogenic. Use of this product in warfare has been declared illegal by all signatories to the Geneva Convention. Contains several chemicals whose names you can neither spell or pronounce but which sound pretty darn nasty anyway. Your statutory rights are not affected.
In short, it sounded like just the kind of thing I was looking for.
So, bravely ignoring every single one of the sensible precautions that they advised me to take I let rip on the oven. In a matter of minutes I had filled it with so much white foam that it looked like arctic tundra.
OK, so it looked just like ordinary shaving foam, but I knew better. I knew that while I went about my business on the far side of the country (just to be on the safe side), its powerful ethanalomine cleansing action was busy scouring the hard-to-shift grease and dirt from my oven. I knew that when I came back (and once I'd got clearance from the National Radiological Protection Board and the Ministry of the Environment to re-enter my kitchen), my oven would be so clean that I could practically cook my dinner in it.
Well... the stuff is absolutely useless.
Experimental wiping at an exposed surface has revealed that when it comes to shifting dirt, it's slightly less useful than a soiled napkin. It has made not one whit of difference, and my oven is now full of crumbling white fluff and flammable toxic fumes which will turn my kitchen into a cheap remake of the Challenger disaster if I so much as switch the lights on.
I'd been had.
Nothing else to do but eat out for the rest of my life!
Hmmm...maybe I never had it so good??
This article was published in the June 5, 1998 issue of The Shore Journal