Burnt Bagels

By Mir
June 7, 2004

During my divorce, just about every item in this house became hotly contested property.

His feeling was, the filing cited “irreconcilable differences,” the law defaults to a 50/50 split in this case, and he was already behind because I was keeping the house. Therefore, he deserved half the items within the house at a bare minimum, and probably more.

My feeling was, I let him leave with both his face and his testicles intact, and he should’ve said thank you. Well, that, and the small matter of his salary being five times mine, while my household would contain three people and his reduced to only one.

And so it went. I cheerfully offered up any items that 1) were his before we married or 2) I didn’t use. I’m generous, that way. Needless to say, he complained–loudly and often–about the inequality of “stuff.” I also learned that I am, bar none, the most selfish human on the planet because I planned to keep the pots and pans I use every day to cook for my family, rather than splitting the set with him–the man who had to be taught to boil water (I wish that was a joke)–so that he could feel better while he took the kids for Happy Meals every single visit. Good times!

Let’s change gears for a minute. I grew up with many, many “advantages” in my life, for which I am very grateful. I grew up in a house with a trash compactor. I grew up in a house with a microwave, when most people didn’t have them. (My children didn’t believe me when I told them that.) I grew up in a house with furniture you weren’t actually supposed to use. Stuff like that. I grew up in a house that had a toaster that pulled out of the wall, then slid back in when you were done with it. I never once thought this was remarkable until I realized that most people’s appliances, you know, just sit there and take up space.

I did not grow up with a toaster oven. That seems odd, now, given all the other stuff we had. But apparently my folks were not toaster oven people. (Please don’t ask me to define toaster oven people.) So yes, I was sheltered… I didn’t really understand what a toaster oven was, or why you might want one.

Fast forward a bit, to a few years ago. Find me standing by an endcap at Target, puzzling over some very expensive toaster ovens which have been marked down to 90% off. For $9.24? 90% off? Well of course I need one! I did the logical thing: I called my friend Marcey on my cell phone.

Me: Hey, it’s me.
Her: Hey. Where are you?
Me: I’m at Target. Hey, do you have a toaster oven?
Her: Yep, why?
Me: Well there’s a whole display here of DeLonghis that are 90% off. I was thinking of getting one.
Her: That’s great, you should definitely get one.
Me: Yeah, that’s what I thought. Only. Ummm. What do you do with a toaster oven?
Her: What?
Me: What do you do with it? I’ve never had a toaster oven.
Her: *peals of laughter* You toast things with it, stupid.
Me: *peeved* Yeah, I know that. But I have a toaster. So why would I need this, too?
Her: *still laughing hard enough to make me feel like an idiot* You can cook things in it… nuggets for the kids, fish sticks, stuff like that. You can make grilled cheese in it. Well, toasted cheese, but same difference… you are joking, right, that you don’t know what to do with it??
Me: KKKKKKK oh, I think the connection is… WHHHHHHH… call ya later.


I bought the toaster oven. I brought it home, and cleared a space for it on the kitchen counter, and spent a while looking back and forth between it and the monster 4-slice bagel-capable toaster that was now looking decidedly grumpy. Oh, well.

The toaster oven and I grew to become close friends. Marcey was right; it was way easier to make grilled cheese in there than to muck around with a pan, and a little batch of nuggets or fish sticks or fries cooked in there much more quickly than in the oven. Sure, I continued to make toast in the toaster, just because it was there. But I was very pleased with my purchase.

Okay. Back to Ye Old Division of Goods. The ex likes him some toast. Or some english muffins. Or any other bready, carb-y substance except bagels, because he is unnatural. Anyway. A 4-slice toaster is–in my reality–a family appliance, but when you don’t cook and have been known to eat a big plate of, well, bread for a meal, a 4-slice toaster makes perfect sense. I magnaminously offered up the toaster for his use.

Here the ex surprised me, with uncharacteristic solicitude. How would I toast things? He wanted to know. What, was I just never going to give the kids toast any more? (I suspect that was his real concern, weird though it was.) I explained that the toaster oven made perfectly fine toast and he was more than welcome to the toaster. Away he (and the toaster) went, and I didn’t give it a second thought.

Several months later, along came Mother’s Day or my birthday or something. I can’t remember which it was. In the interest of good co-parenting, we have a tacit agreement that we will help the kids shop for appropriate holiday gifts for each other. Once they are old enough to shop and pay, themselves, I will do a little dance, but until then, we engage in this niceity for The Sake Of The Children.

While certainly not the chief complaint of my married life–though a problem that bothered me more than I like to admit–was the issue of gift purchasing. Mars and Venus; I get it. Men are different than women. Duh. Okay. But still. I shop ahead; I love to purchase gifts for loved ones; I am excellent at surprises (which is a nice way of saying I’m a great liar); I love to find just the right thing and usually do. And it goes without saying that I manage all of this on a shoestring budget. Then there’s the ex. On Christmas Eve, or the day before my birthday, or the night before Mother’s Day, his face would take on a look of vague constipation. “I have to go out for a while,” he would say. He would be gone forever, then return and shoo me upstairs, where I could listen to the sounds of inept wrapping if I chose to listen in. The next morning? Gifts I had no interest in, or use for… gifts clearly plucked off of holiday displays under signs reading “She’ll Love This!”… and when the credit card bills came, 9 times out of 10 I would discover that my completely useless, thoughtless gift cost way more than a thinking person would spend.

You know where this is headed, right?

Whatever post-toaster Occasion it was rolled around… and the children proudly presented me with… a toaster! Wow! Just what I totally didn’t need! Excellent!

I have a little island-table thingie in the center of my kitchen, and the shelf on the bottom is where that toaster has remained since receipt. I never even opened the box. Occasionally the kids used to ask about it; I would explain that the toaster oven makes toast, and that we’ll open the toaster if we someday find ourselves having some sort of Toast Crisis, but until then we’re saving it. They buy it, though the ex is clearly irked. Then again, he is always irked so it may be unrelated.

Lately, my toaster oven has started toasting unevenly. My bagel comes out burned on one side and still lukewarm on the other. This is probably due to several years accumulation of crumbs and lord knows what else in there, but despite a couple of cleanings and general poking-arounds the problem remains. It still works, and in cooking mode it doesn’t seem to have this issue, but an unevenly toasted bagel is a real problem, you know.

But I can’t. I just can’t! I will not open that toaster. I will never use that toaster. That is the Toaster of Stupidity; the symbol of all that I lost in nine years of marriage to someone who barely knew me and knew he didn’t and just didn’t care. (After multiple arguments over the whole gift thing, I was informed that I was simply ungrateful. I think that was after the year that I was given a stepping-stone craft kit for Mother’s Day and tried to explain that the idea was that he and the kids make me the stone, not that he present me with a complicated gooey craft to make my long days alone with the kids even longer.) It is the Toaster of Cluelessness. Verily, I say unto you, it is a Toaster of Betrayal!!

Black and Decker probably didn’t have that in mind, I know, but what can you do….

So my bagel’s burned a little on the side. That’s okay. And I may be attaching a wee bit too much symbolism to the toaster–maybe–but that’s okay, too. Sometimes a woman’s just gotta take a stand.


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