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When She Put the Fridge on Ice--a True Story

TIMES STAFF WRITER

After nearly a year of a refrigeratorless existence, I broke down recently and bought one.

Your eyeballs aren’t deceiving you. You read it right. Fridge. Almost a year. Didn’t have one.

“You’re kidding, yes?” dinner hosts would ask when I’d politely decline offers of doggy bags. A great hush always seemed to blanket the dining room. Soon I could hear the whispers:

“Didja hear? Michelle doesn’t have a refrigerator.”

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“Can you believe it?”

“Wonder how can we help.”

Even my cousin offered his two cents. “I can float you a loan,” he said, followed by the unsaid: And I promise not to tell your mother you’ve fallen on hard times.

But money wasn’t the issue. Nor was my intent--as some of my more ecology-minded buds suggested--to preserve the environment for future generations by producing less trash by buying less food because I was cooking less because I was without a fridge.

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Fact is, shortly after Old Fridgy chilled her last leftover chili, I realized I could survive quite nicely. Yes, I was a better person without her . . . and the evils within: ice cream, Maraschino cherries, whipped cream, walnut sauce.

So what made me rejoin the cubic footage set?

Knee surgery, naturally.

I was about to be one with my orthopedic surgeon, and my mother and sister were coming out from New York to nurse me back to health and cater to my every junk food need. Since I come from a family with strong refrigerator ties, I knew they’d never understand.

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When I was growing up in Queens, our mooching, hungry-as-dieting-wolves relatives always knew there was a refrigerator filled with goodies at Mary and Sam’s house, no matter how often they “just happened to be in the neighborhood.” Even now when I go home, to open that refrigerator door is to discover a treasure trove of homemade soups, leftover collards or a chunk of apple pie.

Go to my sister’s house (she’s married to a firefighter with a firefighter’s appetite) and you’ll find much of the same.

So you see, these are people who do not respond kindly to “I don’t have a refrigerator.”

I could just see it: My sister arrives at my house and eyes the empty vertical corner in my kitchen where the fridge once stood. We get to the hospital. She pulls Dr. Steve aside just as he’s about to enter the operating room and says: “Look, there’s an extra 20 in it for you if you do a brain scan while you have her on the table. Don’t know if you know this, but she doesn’t have a refrigerator.”

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Sometime after leaving the nest, my refrigeratored way of thinking changed. I saw them for what they were: a temporary haven for ice cream, wine, SlimFast and leftover Thai beef salad.

But when Old Fridgy finally croaked last summer, I had one of those epiphanies that accompanies most major catastrophic events:

Did I really need to be drinking that much wine?

How about all that former cow and those hot chili peppers in my pre-middle-age innards?

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And perhaps, just perhaps, the time had come to drink SlimFast without the two scoops of Rocky Road.

Since there had rarely been anything else in the fridge (I prefer room-temperature water, I eat salads at work and I’d rather die than eat an egg), I went without.

July, August, September and October went smoothly. Never one to remember my birth date without looking it up, I was amazed at my ability to retain everything take-out: restaurant names, phone numbers, menus, hours of operation, names of deliverers. If I ordered too much, I simply wrapped the remains and made a donation to the homeless of Venice.

Then came Thanksgiving Day dinner at a friend’s house and the inevitable question: “Would you like to take some turkey home with you?”

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Having learned by now that society tends to question the sanity of a person who should have a refrigerator but doesn’t, I explained that I was on a diet. It had finally happened: I had become a refrigerator liar.

But as is the case when you call work on a hot, sunny day and say you can’t come in because your car broke down (and you go to the beach instead) and the next day your car really does break down, weeks later I found I really needed to lose weight to squeeze into a maid-of-honor dress that was obviously a small Size 14.

Suddenly being without a refrigerator had a purpose. I was doing it for Holly. Yeah, that was it. The bride. My pro-refrigerator friends accepted that. The societal pressure to have a refrigerator temporarily let up.

Once the wedding passed, though (and I burned the anaconda-like girdle that enabled me to sit down during the reception), nagging feelings nipped at me. If only I had a refrigerator, then I could have saved that lovely gardenia corsage from the wedding. If only I had a refrigerator, I could have dinner guests over more often (not everyone has a palate for warm Zinfandel). If only I had had a refrigerator, I could have baked Christmas cookies.

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Then came the need for surgery and the need for family and the need for a refrigerator.

I have to admit, it was good to stroll through the refrigerated section of the supermarket again. To sashay up the freezer aisle and wave at the cartons of ice cream. Hello, Ben. Hello, Jerry. Smooches, Dreyer’s. Hug-hug, you Dove bars, you.

I didn’t go hog-wild on my first trip out. My purchase was small: Two cans of SlimFast, half a gallon of milk and a box of Frosted Flakes to go with the milk.

These days, I’m back on the ice cream trail. (Walking to the freezer was very therapeutic for my knee.) And of course, I’m doing the L.A. thing and sharing my tale with others.

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When I felt comfortable enough to tell a friend the whole ugly story, she shook her head and, after a moment of silence, said: “I can’t believe it!”

“It’s true,” I said, hanging my head at the appropriate level of shame.

“I can’t believe it,” she repeated in a chiding, high-pitched voice that knocked at the door of hysteria. “You eat Frosted Flakes with milk! I eat them right out of the box.”

Who needs the brain scan now, huh?

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Having learned by now that society tends to question the sanity of a person who should have a refrigerator but doesn’t, I explained that I was on a diet. It had finally happened: I had become a refrigerator liar.


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