Like all other appliances, I’ve only bought microwave ovens in a flash of desperation.* This past fall, I was reheating my morning cup of coffee for the seventh time when our microwave started growling and hissing, then popping and throwing sparks. And not those little purring sizzles, like when you microwave an AOL startup disc “just to see what happens.” This was serious microwave lightning, like the mighty Zeus himself was fighting his way out of a Hot Pocket.
Since electricity is the only element that I both fear and respect, I hustled to the nearest big box store to buy the third-cheapest replacement microwave in stock.
Pssst … the only difference between a cheap and expensive appliance is the volume of pre-programmed Dummy Buttons. One of my fondest childhood memories was squeezing a can of frozen orange juice into the family blender, and methodically pushing each button to discover its purpose. To my horror, I saw that grind, shred, mash, liquefy, chop, mix, whip, puree and aerate were simply just synonyms for blend. And coincidentally, the names of some sweet dance moves.
When it comes to making smoothies or hitting the dance floor, Americans like to think we have choices. And the only thing better than having choices is getting to name them.
So when I unpacked my new microwave, I was horrified that the Dummy Buttons didn’t reflect my family’s lifestyle at all. How dare Black and/or Decker assume we like popcorn, potato, pizza, or dinner plates? How do they know I eat dinner off a plate, and not out of, say, a martini glass, an ashtray, a flower pot, a satellite dish, or old paint can?
It was finally time to reclaim my microwave buttons, and reheat leftovers on my own terms. Here’s how to do it:
1. DATA COLLECTION: First you need to examine your lifestyle. Keep a diary of everything you microwave for two weeks. Hang a list next to the appliance to encourage compliance. To protect the integrity of the data, the whole family must participate, and you must include drunk, late night, or secret eating. The microwave doesn’t judge. You can do that later.
2. DATA ANALYSIS: Enter your data into a spreadsheet to identify your most frequent microwave needs. A colorful chart makes it more official. Require mandatory participation in a slide show presentation at dinner to discuss the results.
3. CREATE CUSTOM BUTTONS: Count the number of Dummy Buttons on your microwave (we have six). Identify your top six (or whatever) most microwaved food items. Ours were COFFEE (34%), BEANS (17%), WATER (13%), PEANUT BUTTER (13%), BUTTER (4%) and CHOCOLATE CHIPS (4%).
Buy or borrow a label-maker. Print a label for each of your new lifestyle buttons (lived or aspirational).
BONUS STEP! Before you embark on your own microwave customization journey, try it out on unsuspecting pals: Not the kind of friends who make you wash your hands before you touch their dog; I mean the kind of friends who buy bras at the thrift store or let their kids eat Pop Tarts they found on the playground. I tested the Dummy Button Hack on our dear friends Cherubim and Seraphim (not their real names). After a casual Friday night dinner at their house, I offered to clear the table but instead of cleaning anything, I stuck new labels to their microwave. They didn’t notice until the next morning and haven’t disowned me yet.
After successfully testing the concept on other people, it’s time to reclaim your microwave. Wipe the Dummy Buttons clean, apply your custom labels, then sit back and relax with a cup of steaming hot butter.
* Studies show microwaves are the most common appliance bought after a breakup, which is why the boxes are plastered with photos of attractive single people having fun with dangerously hot liquids.