I only have two fears in my life. Oh sure, we all have aversions to familiar things: heights, creepy bugs and other slimy critters, drowning. The list goes on. But the ones I’m most afraid of are not of the ordinary nature: one of them being Coke Zero. But the one I really want to discuss with you today is my fear of pierogies. Laugh if you must, but let me explain.
Thirty years ago I was a pierogie connoisseur. My semi regular routine was to pan fry each little doughy, cheese and potato filled manna in a half-gallon of vegetable oil, drown them in salt and then make a bee line for the couch to watch TV and indulge. My average intake was between six and eight during a binge. I did my best work solo. And I was immortal. But that all changed very quickly one particular Sunday afternoon.
It was a hot summer day at my Mom’s house. I was still living with her as dead beat sons often do when home from college. She had driven with my brother and a few other people to the NASCAR race at Pocono Raceway. I decided to stay at home to watch the race and partake in Pierogie-Palooza.
I followed my customary routine of pan frying eight pierogies and drowning them in the aforementioned salt. Filling a large glass with Diet Coke (as I had not yet progressed to Coke Zero, but that is a story for another time), I sat on the couch and turned on the race.
I couldn’t tell you about the race. All I recall was the wonderful combination of carb, fat and salt as it hit my tongue. The smell of golden goodness. The taste of empty calories and the age mass that would eventually haunt me in the years to follow. I finished them all, then fell into a pierogie high. It was true Zen.
Suddenly, there was another smell that infiltrated my sacred space. It wasn’t one I was familiar with and for a second I thought about just ignoring it, but quickly realized I could not. A feeling of helplessness washed over me as I knew my world was about to change. Because that’s when I saw the smoke coming from the kitchen.
You see, in my haste to reach the ninth plane of starch and fat heaven I forgot to turn off the pan containing the half-gallon of vegetable oil that cooked the pierogies. I managed to get to the kitchen in time to put the fire in the pan out. Disaster averted. That was a close one I thought to me self, but then I looked around the kitchen…
The smoke from the grease fire had painted a nice black film on the white walls and cabinets in the kitchen.
Oh shit…..she’ll be home soon!!!
That’s when the humorous side of my brain made light of the situation. “Well Son, at least you’re not a young kid anymore or you would have gotten the ass beating of your life for this one”…..Ha-ha. That humorous side….I love him sometimes….But this was serious. And for a moment, I really did wonder if Mom would beat the shit out of her 21-year-old son. (looking back now, I think I could’ve taken her but at the time, I didn’t want to find out). I had to clean this up before she got home. I could do it. Clean it all up. She’d walk in and it would be like nothing ever happened.
I grabbed a bucket and filled it with water and some cleaning agent. I think it was the second or third pass on the wall when reality really hit. This shit on the wall was NOT coming off. And then I rationalized why this was happening to me. Could this be payback for the time I “accidentally” put my car in neutral and rolled it into our house on South Side? Sure, everyone was glad I was ok afterwards but I never really got punished for it. My heart started racing.
Oh yes, this one was going to be my legacy. The joke of family events for years to come… “Jimmy almost burned the house down cooking Pierogies”….Pierogies and Jimmy were going to go together forever. I thought about going on job interviews and being asked about my pierogie ordeal. Getting married and every one throwing pierogies at me instead of rice….And worst of all, I just knew my Mom was going to have the Mrs. T logo put on my tombstone.
So, what did I do? I dumped the water bucket in the sink and opened the windows to let the remainder of the smoke out. Sat back down on the couch and finished watching the race. Haven’t touched a pierogie since. I can’t look at them without going back to the helplessness of that day. Yes, I AM afraid!
Rightly so I am still the butt of jokes at family get togethers. But I’ll never forget the look on Mom’s face when she walked in and saw the end result. There was so much I wanted to say, but all I could muster was:
“So, how was the race?”….