Adventures in a Crippled Kitchen


Chapter 6: The Conclusion

Twice a week or so, a notice would be slipped under the door from the apartment building’s managing agent, bragging that some progress in the no-gas situation was about to occur. It would say something like, “Be in your apartment from noon till 4 pm today, when an inspector from the city will arrive to inspect your gas pipes,” or “the plumbers will be here tomorrow, so be prepared to let them in your apartment between the hours of 8 am and 2 pm,” or “The super needs to get in your apartment on Friday,” with no explanation why, but with the subject line on the memo reading “Re: Gas Shut-Off.”

The utter randomness of these notices was appalling, since they implied no sequence in which events relating to the restoration of service had to occur. Even more appalling was the fact that the visits predicted in the strident notices almost never occurred. Not that some progress wasn’t being made. During the third week of gas shutoff, for example, a couple of guys in dungarees had knocked, then slouched in the doorway as they told me in thick Slavic accents that they needed to do something with the gas meter. As I stood watching, they removed the gas meter from the wall, unhooking it from its telescoping pipes. They set the massive meter in the middle of my kitchen floor, surrounded by its attaching hardware. And then left. Forever.

By the sixth week of gas cessation, there were some positive signs that someday the gas might be reconnected. There was a flurry of white memos, boasting of diverse events about to occur. There was a pattering of feet on the stairway several times a day that I could hear from my perch in the living room, almost like mice running around inside the walls.

The apartment where the actual gas leak had occurred was being worked on, that’s for sure, and one day a guy sat in front of the building on a shitload of copper pipes. I assume they were destined to be installed in the vertical line of apartments that had suffered the gas leak. But did they have to replace the gas pipes in all the lines of apartments, including mine? This had been threatened as a “worse case” scenario. And were there other flaws as yet undiscovered in various other gas pipes that ran through the building like purse snatchers?

One day a very short stranger presented himself at the apartment door looking just like Luigi in Mario Bros., green cap and all. He seemed to be a deaf mute, because he didn’t say a word, but slid past me, went into the kitchen, hoisted the heavy gas meter with incredible strength, and re-affixed it, almost without using any tools. (OK, he whisked a small spanning wrench out of his pocket, and with a few quick twists, put the meter back in place.)

Two days later, without ceremony, a couple of guys claiming to be from Con Ed, but not wearing any uniforms, marched into my apartment at 3:25 in the afternoon. It was a cold sunny day outside with a temperature of 18 degrees, but they had no coats. The pair first turned on all the burners on the stove to the self-lighting position, so there was a staccato click-click-clicking that sounded like a percussion symphony. This went on for five minutes. I was cowering in the living room. I began to feel a wave of heat emanating from the kitchen.

I went into the kitchen and the guys had mysteriously disappeared. The kitchen window was open. Had they jumped into the air shaft? But then my attention was drawn to my tiny tenement stove. All four burners were burning! Flames were shooting skyward at a pressure I’d never experienced before. It was like a beautiful monumental sculpture. A tribute to all the fallen cooks who had gone before me, with four eternal flames. The oven was on, too, going full blast. But why had they left everything burning and disappeared. Had they been real people, or had I just experienced a miracle?

Not missing a beat, I ran to my computer and began inviting friends for a celebratory dinner the next day. I was going to celebrate my gaseous liberation by slow-cooking a beef brisket all day, Texas style.

I invited a half-dozen friends, and the next morning went to the Western Beef in Chelsea. I picked the fattiest brisket I could find–weighing in at 12.81 pounds and costing $30.62. Not wanting to have leftover brisket for the rest of my life, I cut the meat in half, and put the balance in the freezer for later (maybe to make a corned beef).

I rubbed the half brisket all over with an even mixture of kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper, and mild red chile powder (you can substitute paprika) a friend sent me from Hatch, New Mexico. Then I popped the thing in the oven for ten hours at 200 degrees. And here was the result, a fit accolade to my newly operational stove:

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on January 23, 2009


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