Cooking With Gas

We now live in a house whose stove is fueled by gas. There’s nothing unusual about this–it’s just different, that’s all, and requires a bit of getting used to. Things heat up more urgently, somehow, altering my cooking routines and confirming one saying while debunking another. I can now appreciate that when you’re “cooking with gas” things are truly proceeding apace. And the “watched pot?” It really does boil. Quickly.

The whole stove, dials and all, gets hot from one lit burner. Pots have to be lifted off with oven mitts. I can light a cigarette beneath them.

It casts me back to my college days, the only previous time I grappled with a gas stove, when I shared a ramshackle two-storey seaside hut with two pals. But all I really remember about that kitchen was the disgraceful state it was perpetually in. We were champion slobs. One day I disentombed a desiccated mouse carcass from some towering countertop detritus. I took this as a sign to finally clean the whole place up.

Of course, the sink was full, countertop real estate was unobtainable, and we were permanently out of soap. What to do?

The crafty bachelor cooks with gas.

Which in this case meant that, since it was a Sunday morning and there was no class, I could enjoy a lengthy shower. And wash all the pots, pans and dishes simultaneously.

When you live with any bunch of bachelors, a maneuver of this sort tends to confer instant–and lasting–authority.

The thing about authority–and I have this on good authority–is that it has to be good. Benign, I mean to say, and not arbitrary or self-serving if it is to be respected. I’m not talking about obedience, necessarily, but respect.

I don’t, for instance, respect people who throw their weight around. They’re called bullies where I come from.

For the first 51 years of my life I remained free of any legal imbroglio whatsoever. But in the last two years my wife and I have been sued twice by her father and his second wife, for an eviction, and now yet again for an ag land sale whose paperwork we’ve already signed. Not only are there power and control issues, it is exhausting for us. And it’s all so unnecessary. As I’ve said–we’ve signed the papers.

I suppose, though, this is the sort of thing that happens when someone refuses to speak with you for more than three years.

On my wife’s side of the family we’re the only ones with kids–and what all this has done to them is incalculable. Off the top of my head, after three lawsuits, two moves and an eviction, I’d say they feel expendable.

I can’t help but wonder why the events of the last two years have even transpired. Each day has been spent shepherding every facet of our lives through, first, a rejection, and then the myriad details of lawsuits and moving house. And because these details never seem to diminish, lingering in the back of my mind, the bigger picture tends sometimes to be shunted aside. I try to focus on the task at hand. Baby steps.

Still, as my wife says, we’ve hung together and survived. This sounds melodramatic, I know, but I can assure you of the trauma involved.

We were presented with a purchase agreement and told to sign it within a week–or else. The “or else,” of course, was that we’d be sued. We took some time to read the fine print and, after twice consulting our attorney, reluctantly signed. They had filed before the ink was dry.

Your guess is as good as mine as to what, exactly, the fulcrum of their suit might be.

The irony is that it might ruin the deal. By filing against us, the transaction has entered into the realm of public knowledge. And this violates any confidentiality the buyer might have been expecting. Their attorney should have appreciated this and counselled against filing. But maybe they don’t talk to him, either, so much as command. Or maybe he’s fleecing them–which would constitute financial elder abuse, a charge their lawyer leveled against us during the eviction process.

I’ve now received a second offer to represent us from the Los Angeles headquarters of an international law firm, who say they “learned of the…lawsuit that has recently been filed in the Tulare County Superior Court.”

The plaintiffs might think they’re cooking with gas, but really they’re full of hot air.

Joseph Oldenbourg

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