Requiem for a Microwave

It May Want to Kill Me, But... Burritos.

By Jason Kettinger | Posted at 10:57 AM

I don’t want to step on Mr. Powell’s toes, or encroach upon his territory as OFB’s crackpot-at-large, but I’ve got a splinter in my brain, and we’re going to talk about it. I’ve had one of those 1200-watt microwaves for ages. I used to call it “Satan’s microwave,” because if I followed the instructions on any package of food, I would be waiting 5 to 7 minutes minimum before I could reasonably attempt to eat whatever I put in there. You can adjust the cooking time, as is often advised, but you are playing with fire, or ice, as the case may be.

Recently I have started to notice that the cooking times re approaching normal, or even that I must cook something longer. I wonder if this is the end for my microwave. I’m not happy about it, definitionally, because I am a bachelor. There is another one in my closet which has never been used, but for all I know, it doesn’t even work.

And that is not to say that our relationship hasn’t been fractious at times. We all know about the food cooked to the temperature of Mount Vesuvius in the middle, but cold on the sides. And the frozen burritos were obviously designed by the same people who designed the temperamental microwaves, because those things really are trying to kill you.

I’m pretty sure the taste buds I lost in the Great Burrito Battle of 2019 have not been restored. I don’t think I can get new ones with our stimulus money.

Somebody could say to me, “Well, you could just learn how to cook.” I’ve got an Instant Pot, and an air fryer. I don’t know if that counts, but sometimes I just want to stuff a burrito in my mouth while I watch the game. Am I the only one who decides what he eats based on how much effort it will take to make the food? I’m not going to match knives with Bobby Flay, tonight or any night.

If this is the end, I feel like there should be a Bach piece suitable for the occasion. How much does a microwave cost? I got this one from my family. For all we know, Bill Clinton was president when this thing was manufactured. And purchasing a used microwave on Amazon or something strikes me as a bit of self-hatred, beyond the necessity for a microwave. I don’t want to end up in this same position again in a few months.

As mundane as it is to use a microwave on most days, have you ever thought about how bonkers it is that we have a device in our houses that shoots x-rays at our cold and frozen food, and then we eat it? I already assume that everything I eat is a carcinogen. I also assume that the long-lamented media wants to scare me about it. Yet I am also forced to conclude that I would have an even larger measure of existential dread, if I knew everything the smart people were failing to tell me.

I read an audiobook once— really sort of an audio play— about the scientist Marie Curie. Curie died because she carried one of those radioactive elements around in her pocket, without fully knowing the ramifications of doing so. It seemed unfortunate and a little sad, but then, I probably wouldn’t have a microwave without her. I note with some amusement those people who go on about other people who have made “sacrifices for science,” and I wonder, “To whom are they being offered as a sacrifice?” I wonder if people even think about the implications of the phrases they use.

That is an interesting philosophical inquiry, which will have to wait for another time. On the other hand, do you have credibility to ask a philosophical question of any kind if you stuff your face with microwave burritos? Do you think Alasdair MacIntyre eats microwave burritos? I wonder what Alvin Plantinga eats, when he’s in a rush?

On the other hand still, those seem like the kind of guys who have absorbed the first lesson of philosophy: its purpose is to make one wise. How wise can you be, if you eat too quickly and your chef is a microwave? Maybe I’m being too hard on myself. The person who invented the microwave burrito is rolling in the dough, if he or she isn’t dead.

The other gripe I have with the microwave is the turntable, which is supposed to rotate the food so that it cooks evenly throughout. Mine doesn’t turn. I feel like it’s taunting me. Or maybe that the guy who designed it failed physics and geometry in school.

I love popcorn, as most sane people do, but the popcorn button is an abomination unto the Lord. Have you ever seen it work? Why is it even there? As a side note, every decent person knows that you would rather under-pop a bag of microwave popcorn than overcook it. But to get it right is an arbitrary and unfair experience, because it’s a bag of popcorn, not a Paul Hollywood recipe. If you’re off by 10 seconds, it smells like General Sherman’s march to the sea. Let’s just say that the effort is not always matched by the payoff.

In the end, I need a microwave, even if it’s gruff, and temperamental. It’s a bit like Bernie Sanders: you’re not sure you have the energy to argue with him, but at the end of the day, you are glad he’s there. How else will I heat up those murderous burritos?

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Re: Requiem for a Microwave
My toes are untrod upon, and I agree with you. I'm now on my fourth microwave oven. The first was a gift from my mother, who feared I wasn't eating (had she seen me she'd have known otherwise) in 1980. It worked perfectly at least until 1999, when I gave it away. It had an actual mechanical timer, no trick "popcorn" buttons or anything like that: set the time, push start. I replaced it with a decent name-brand one in 2001; that one lasted until about 2012, when one day it just up and died. Its replacement, ordered from the brown-smiley-box temple of doom, made it six whole years before it began making bad noises and sparks, though its overly complicated membrane control pad had been failing bit by byte for two or three years. I went that afternoon to a local retailer, got a house-brand 1000-watt machine for $89, and it has worked just fine -- no fancy controls and the ability to turn off all its blue LEDs when it hasn't been used for 10 seconds. There's a lesson in here somewhere. Two interesting microwave factoids. The first is that a microwave that has been off and unplugged for *days* can still kill you, because it contains a monstrous capacitor that can unload on you if you happen to short it, so don't try to fix or dissect a microwave machine unless you know what you're doing and it has been out in the garage doing nothing for a few weeks. The second is the reason why you'd ever take one apart -- don't worry, you can't fix it -- which comes in the form of the two powerful donut magnets inside. They're a real pain to remove even from a fully discharged machine, but if you succeed you'll end up with two cool and useful magnets. (Though the only real uses I've found for them came when i'd put one at the bottom of a broomstick and drop the other down the broomstick. It would get repelled by the one at the bottom and bounce up impressively. The other was when the septic tank guy dropped his favorite pliers into the tank while working here. I put one of the magnets on a strong nylon string and gave it to him, and he was able to fish the tool out of the .. well, you know. I let him keep the magnet and string.
Posted by Dennis Powell - Apr 06, 2021 | 1:35 PM

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