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If Fridge Is ‘Empty,’ Let ‘Em Eat Cake Mix

The boy is hanging on the refrigerator door, weak from not having eaten in 20 minutes, his legs beginning to wobble.

“There’s nothing to eat,” the boy moans.

To him, there’s nothing but junk left in the refrigerator. Vegetables. Fruit. Meat. That sort of thing.

“I’m gonna starve,” he says.

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His two sisters join him in the kitchen. They peer into the refrigerator like Ally McBeal, wondering whether this crisis is real or imagined, their own home filled with nothing but healthful food.

“He’s right,” my lovely and patient older daughter says. “There’s nothing to eat.”

In our house, the refrigerator is considered a separate room. The kids spend hours there, standing at the door, leering at the food, winking at the Twinkies, grabbing at the ice cream.

Only rarely does the refrigerator door actually close, usually at night when people are sleeping or when we go out of town. Otherwise, the refrigerator is open almost constantly, like an airport or police precinct, never taking Sundays or even holidays off. The most popular room in the house.

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“What are we supposed to eat anyway?” asks the little red-haired girl, also weak with hunger.

“Go a little crazy,” I say. “Have an apple.”

They look at me like I’m trying to poison them.

“An apple?” my lovely and patient older daughter asks. “Do people, like, really eat those?”

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The groceries arrive every week, 15 or 20 bags in all. Sometimes we bring them into the house in a fire line, passing them from person to person to prevent the fatigue and dehydration that can result from kids having to carry grocery bags more than 10 feet by themselves.

Their mother is careful about what she buys. But always, there are a few treats. Cookies. Cupcakes. Just for laughs, a box of Ho-Hos.

The kids wash them down with big glasses of cold milk filled to the brim, glasses of milk they carefully sip while carrying them to the table.

And in a day or two, the easy snacks--and the milk--are all gone.

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“The milk’s gone,” one will say mournfully, as if announcing an untimely death.

And that’s when the complaints start. That’s when they stand at the refrigerator waiting for miracles.

“What’s wrong?” my wife asks, entering the room and seeing the kids huddled at the refrigerator.

“There’s nothing to eat,” the boy moans.

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“There’s plenty to eat,” my wife says calmly. “You just have to fix it.”

The kids’ eyes grow wide whenshe says “fix it.” The two girls cover their ears and scurry away, afraid that she might be talking to them directly.

“What if we don’t fix it?” the boy says, standing at the refrigerator rubbing his empty stomach.

“Then you don’t get a snack,” his mother patiently explains.

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At this point, the boy has nothing to lose. It has now been 30 minutes since he last ate. And his strength is almost gone.

“OK, I’m going to fix something,” he finally says.

“Like what?” his mom asks.

“Like . . . a cake,” he says.

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And so the boy bakes a cake, tasting each ingredient as he goes, checking for maximum freshness the way the great chefs do, making sure his boxed cake mix is the finest available.

He adds chocolate syrup to the mix and maybe a Snickers bar if he can find one, all the little touches that distinguish his chocolate cakes from the millions of others.

“Got more chocolate?” the boy asks as he dices up the Snickers bar.

“Not anymore,” his mother says.

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The boy stirs and tastes for what seems like hours. Tasting, stirring. Stirring, tasting. Sometimes he tastes so thoroughly that he uses up some vital ingredient.

“Mom, we need more frosting.”

“You ate it all?” his mother asks.

“I didn’t eat it all,” the boy says, his little lips coated with frosting, his tongue so thick with frosting that he can barely speak.

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In fact, DNA tests would show that there is a one-in-10-million chance that anyone besides this boy ate the frosting. Yet, he will insist that he did not. He will stand in the kitchen and swear under oath that much of the frosting evaporated. Or that the frosting was defective to begin with. Or that the LAPD somehow mishandled the frosting.

And he’s pretty sure that a jury of his peers would back him up on this. A jury made up of 12-year-old boys who really like frosting would acquit him of all cake-related charges.

“Guess I’ll go get more frosting,” I finally say, putting on my shoes.

“Thanks, Dad,” the boy says, still tasting and stirring. “And don’t forget the milk.”

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* Chris Erskine’s column is published on Wednesdays. His e-mail address is chris.erskine@latimes.com.


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