2:00am Firefighting, All For A Cup Of Noodles

Toilet paper and toasters don’t mix

Time To Read: 4 mins | February 20, 2017

Like all epic stories start, I wanted to make a Cup of Noodles.

I’d had a tame night out at a few bars, and the only food stuff in my kitchen was a styrofoam bowl full of ramen, dried veggies and questionable spices. Which sounded delicious at 2:00am.

The obstacle – not including sobriety — was my kitchen. I’d rented an Airbnb in Bocas del Toro, and had this place been on HGTV, they’d have branded it as, “a real fixer upper.”


There were four walls and a roof; the amenities ended there.

Panama’s expensive. They use the US dollar which, for reasons I don’t fully understand, means everything costs more. Certain things are still cheap – a beer at a proper restaurant shouldn’t run you more than $3 – but food and lodging are comparatively pricey. As such, I couldn’t invoke my usual plan of low-end apartment rentals; I’d had to stay in hostels for most of the week I was there.

But 7 days of sharing a toilet with half a dozen people was 6 days too many, so out of desperation for a private poo, I’d booked the only apartment on the island within my price range. And because this town’s expensive, my budget didn’t earn me the mediocre level of comfort I’m used to.

The floor of my bedroom hadn’t been swept since Forrest Gump was in theatres. The ceiling was decorated with delightful swirling patterns of water damage and mold. The shower has just one temperature – arctic — and one spray setting — laser beam.

But those quirks weren’t bothering me that night; the under-equipped kitchen was.

My first issue was the lack of a microwave. This, as you might guess, makes cooking microwaveable noodles difficult. But I reminded myself I’m actually a half-decent chef, and pulled a very solid C+ grade point average in college. I could figure this out.

I filled the styrofoam cup with water with the noodles still inside. This was to confirm I had the ratios correct before moving forward. I was actually quite proud of this bit of logic.

Next was finding a heat source. I had a pot with a top and a gas stove, so really, this shouldn’t have been too tricky. Except, after toying with the stove’s controls for a couple minutes, I realized they didn’t have an ignition. Which meant 1) the apartment was now full of propane, and 2) I’d have to spark it manually.

That would be an easy task for a smoker, or an incense enthusiast, but I don’t carry a lighter with me and, try as I might, can’t yet breathe fire. So I’d need to create an open flame.

I mentally ran several scenarios that included light bulbs before realizing that I had a toaster. Bingo.


I’ve been burning white bread for years – that talent for destruction was about to come in handy.

I grabbed a handful of toilet paper out of the bathroom and rolled it into a roughly dildo-ish form. I turned the toaster on, pushed the button down, waited for the coils to turn orange, then shoved the paper in.

— I’m fully aware that this is how many insurance claims start, but it was 2:00am and I was hungry. Back off.

After maybe 10 seconds, my two-ply torch caught fire, and promptly burned the shit out of my right hand. So I let go and dropped the entire wad of paper into the toaster.

My first reaction was to check for a smoke detector. While that could be heralded as clever, in reality, it was idiotic. This apartment barely had electricity – the locals likely hadn’t even seen a proper smoke alarm before.

It was only as the flames reached my eyebrows that I decided the best bet was to simply unplug the toaster. Then I grabbed a spoon and tried to scoop the flaming wad of ass tissue out of the machine. This was also ill advised, as it turns out metal spoons conduct heat extraordinarily well. I dropped the spoon into the toaster just as I received my second first-degree burn of the night.


At this point, I looked for chopsticks. I’m not sure why.

By the time I’d realized that a Central American kitchen lacking basic supplies was unlikely to house far-east utensils, the flames had gone out. It’d left the 50 square-foot kitchen full of smoke, and a considerable amount of ash on the counter. Meanwhile, my Cup of Noodles was still soaking in cold tap water, exactly as far away from edible as it’d been 10 minutes ago.

I put the noodles in fridge and took out a beer instead. Eating late at night’s bad for you, anyway.


photo: this skeleton is my spirit animal. outside a bar in playa del carmen, mexico

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Malcolm Freberg
Malcolm Freberg
American writer living permanently on the road. Believes rye whiskey is superior to bourbon, Belle is the best Disney princess, and that selfie sticks should be snapped in half on sight. Hosted a travel documentary for AOL & played Survivor a few times.

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