Rating the Fridge

What can an icebox say about your personality?

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click to enlarge DO YOU KNOW THE MUFFIN PAN? The disgusting contents of the author's refridgerator; J.R.'s tasty artichoke appetizers are on the middle shelf. - Scott Harrell
Scott Harrell
DO YOU KNOW THE MUFFIN PAN? The disgusting contents of the author's refridgerator; J.R.'s tasty artichoke appetizers are on the middle shelf.

My mother keeps a very clean refrigerator.

I suspect most moms do; a neat fridge seems like a pretty familiar symbol of the previous generation's nuclear-family nicety and order. As a kid, the vast majority of my friends' parents had an admirable icebox thing going on as well — always stocked with snacks, dinners-to-be and cold juice (rarely soda; I think I was a member of that last wave of children whose folks strictly regulated their cola intake).

The refrigerators of our forbears were immaculate reflections of their respect for discipline, of their belief that cleanliness was indeed next to godliness, of their unshakeable faith in the righteousness of a still-vital American Dream. There's comfort in that Frigidaire.

So what does it say about me, then, that I can't even open my fridge without first donning a gas mask?

I'm neither a college student nor a heroin addict. So why does the inside of my refrigerator resemble a cross between a giant Petri dish and the dominion of someone who hasn't cared about eating since the early '80s?

It wasn't too bad in the early days of my adulthood, simply because I never ate at home. I ate in the restaurants where I bussed tables or washed dishes or prepped salads or delivered pizzas, or wherever a sympathetic friend worked. My fridge held only beer and condiments, my freezer containing empty ice-cube trays, one never-to-be-eaten microwave dinner and a forgotten, half-full bottle of Jaegermeister growing a beard of frost. It wasn't exactly the icebox of my mother and father, but it had a certain utilitarian efficiency, and only the mustard was out of date.

But oh, how the times and the state of the fridge have changed. I have lived with several women; their respective fridges varied from prim to terrifying, but those were never really mine.

I began cooking at home instead of for a living, which, in my case, turned out to be an excuse to habitually buy a lot of groceries that would go bad before I could turn them into meals. I made bigger dinners than I needed to, thinking about taking leftovers to work, and discovered that, black beans and yellow rice and fried chicken aside, I don't really like eating the same thing two days in a row.

I've lived alone in the Seaside Shack for 10 months now. And there is food in my refrigerator that has been there for 10 months. In fact, there's food in my refrigerator that's been there longer than that — the Shack's previous inhabitants didn't quite take everything with them when they left; their freezer-burned tub of ice cream and jumbo-econo-pack of bologna remain.

Which isn't to say I haven't made it infinitely worse.

There's a muffin pan full of uncooked artichoke appetizers J.R. made for me a few months ago — the mold has actually sealed the cling-wrap to the metal. There's a jar of pickled okra I bought in November at some food market — it's really weird how I suddenly got sick of pickled okra when there was just one more piece left floating in the brine. There are five or six disposable food-storage containers full of different meals I've made and not finished over the last half-year — the invention of those cheap Tupperware alternatives is the worst thing to happen to my fridge since I bought a crock pot.

There's a fucking cheesecake in there from my birthday two months ago — it's hidden under foil; I'm not looking.

My refrigerator mocks my parents' decency, their quest for cozy security, their whole way of life. It's a blackly comic, potentially health-threatening art installation mirroring my slovenliness, my inattention to detail, my lack of motivation. It's a window to the why-make-the-bed hopelessness that lies near the bottom of my heart, well below my love for puppies and just above the burning hatred for bad comedy that fuels me.

My mother would be ashamed, and rightly so. I have reluctantly assumed a handful of the qualities of maturity over the years, but the kind of longing for stability and assertion of control over one's existence displayed in a neat fridge are not among them. As I have gotten incrementally better at being an adult, the state of my refrigerator has gotten exponentially worse.

But maybe that's the thing. Maybe I need my icebox to be a swampy, fetid no-man's-land of spoiled food and expired mayonnaise and taco sauce packets that somehow got sticky on the outside so that other, less tangible areas of my life can be clean. Maybe it's the last place I can put all of my irresponsibility, a disgusting little corner of my life that serves as a repository for my negativity.

Which is fine — we all need a place to store or express those more antisocial elements of our humanity.

But, holy shit, it smells awful.

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