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Cleaning Out the Refrigerator: A Different Horror Story
by Marjorie Dorfman

Why do we always put off cleaning out the refrigerator? Learn how to deal with food that's left over from the Jurrasic Period in your house. At least develop the right attitude and smile!

Watching a horror movie about a giant vegetable devouring everyone in your hometown except your in-laws is one way to spend a quiet evening. It’s quite another to become acquainted with the weird intruders that have invaded your home and nested very comfortably and rent-free in your refrigerator. They live a lush life among those of us who live alone, cook a lot and have many leftovers. My seven cats don’t care for "human remains," and as I usually cook for twelve people at any given time, I often have much to store in my trusty, dusty fridge. It takes the same effort, same amount of pots and the same time as if I was cooking just for myself; so why not pretend there’s a party? Sometimes I eat the leftovers the next night; sometimes the night after that. Other times, I just freeze them. (After all, you never know when the Army, Navy or Coast Guard may stop by for a snack.) I’m no Boy Scout, but no one can say that I am not prepared!

One of the problems with leftovers is that after a day or two I forget they are there. They are only brought to my attention if I am searching for something in the fridge and I happen to fall upon something that looks a little strange or hear a little muffled cry from the wilds of the back shelf. If I feel brave, I unwrap the foil. I am always amazed that the smell alone has failed to notify me of its presence. How can I accept the fact that penicillin has already been discovered and that is not likely I will grow another miracle drug from the back shelves of my frigidaire?

I don’t mean to do it; I really don’t. It’s almost as if one hand cooks and the other puts the uneaten food away. I can’t say why I wait so long to clean things out either. It’s a new and different sort of tunnel vision, except there’s no tunnel. It goes something like this:
If I don’t see it, it’s not there. If it’s not there, I don’t have to clean it up!

About a month ago I was looking for a carrot in the vegetable drawer (It was either the vegetable drawer or a new and undiscovered rain forest.) and I found this shriveled greenish thing with flaccid appendages lying under the bag of carrots. It turned out to be a very old head of lettuce, but for a while there I was thinking about The Thing That Ate Cleveland and where he or she was living these days. It was squishy and yucky and I almost threw up when I threw it out. How could I be this way? Do I lead one, two or even three lives? If I do, at least two of them have to be inside the refrigerator!

Perhaps another obstacle lies in the fact that appearances are deceiving. The refrigerator always looks so clean from the outside. (My tunnel vision again.) Most of them are white as the driven snow, but even the other colors are always so shiny and sparkling. (Mine was white, but drifted, as Mae West once said. Now it’s black.) Why clean something that already is or at least looks like it is? The answer, alas, lies within. For it is there where the vegetation has gone awry but not away and the sandwiches converse with you as they did in that television commercial for orange juice a few years back. But that fridge is so clean. The shelves sparkle and shine and everything’s so neat and organized that the food smiles back. One thing is certain. That refrigerator is not in my house!

Let’s put our heads together and see if we can come up with some resolution. The first question has to be: How do you know when it’s time to clean out the refrigerator? It will let you know is the answer. Trust me on this, for I know little else. One clear indicator is when the door will not open or close easily. If you ignore that sign from the refrigerator deity, things will only get worse. Soon friends and neighbors will notice vegetation where there used to be enamel and porcelain. The huddled green masses now yearning to breathe free are not anywhere near The Statue of Liberty. They are reproducing in your kitchen!

To solve the problem at hand, use your five senses. (They’re not doing anything anyway.) We’ve already covered the visual aspects of the refrigerator door and surrounding environs. The power of smell cannot be excluded from this impromptu, albeit insignificant, study. We all know that the subject never was roses, but smell along with sight will never fail to direct you to the problem areas in your refrigerator. Try to do it gently or your nostrils will never be the same. Talk to the smell and assure it that it will be in its proper home very soon. Then be strong and throw the item out. Whatever it was, it’s garbage now.

The power of touch can be under-rated. Feeling suspicious items can be a bit more adventurous and is not recommended for the faint hearted. There is no guarantee that whatever is inside won’t feel you back and you might not like that. Proceed at your own risk. If you must touch, stroke gently, but throw out anything suspicious immediately if you feel any sort of pulse. Better yet, flush it down the toilet where it can’t come back and hurt you. Sometimes, it’s every feel for itself in this selfish world of ours.

Try to find a way to identify the older items in your refrigerator. One cannot ask their age as that is improper, but one can employ other techniques that can help us do so. Different colored foil; use it even if it hasn’t been invented yet. Use green for items wrapped in April, red for December, orange for October etc. etc. This way, one can spot at a glance the old from the new (but not the borrowed from the blue). Labels might be of some help, but that’s only if they can be seen. The writing wears off as the food gets older and gunkier, waiting for you to notice it. Once you get everything neat and clean and organized, you will be so proud of yourself. This only happened to me once. It lasted but a minute or two, until I realized I was in someone else’s house!


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