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  Texas : Features : Humor : Column - "A Balloon In Cactus"

The Ten Years Are Up.
It's Time to Clean the Refrigerator

by Maggie Van Ostrand
Maggie Van Ostrand
Everybody's familiar with the Seven Lively Arts: Architecture, Dance, Drama, Literature, Music, Painting and Sculpture. But there's an unsung eighth Lively Art: Homemaking. If making a home out of a mere house is not an official Lively Art, it ought to be.

Like Erma Bombeck, who said "My second favorite household chore is ironing. My first being hitting my head on the top bunk bed until I faint," I don't enjoy taking care of a house. Besides, it's very expensive to rent the back hoe necessary just to clean the den.

"You can clean everything with vinegar," my mom said, "So don't be spending your money on store bought cleaners." She's right of course, but I always forget her homemaking lessons and buy high tech. I have wipes for wood, formica, marble, glass, the car, and just about everything, except I'm still waiting for them to invent one to take out the oil stains on the driveway. At the moment, I spray on something called "Gunk," because I don't want to end up like my mom, who was forced by fluid-leaking vehicles, to Brillo the entire driveway. "If you want a job done right," she'd say, "do it yourself." Sure, mom.

Author Peg ("I Hate To Housekeep Book") Bracken, accurately refers to people like me as "Random Housekeepers." I do it when I have to and not a second sooner. I've been known to open the back and front doors simultaneously, hoping a cross breeze will blow out the dust dinosaurs and I won't have to vacuum.

Peg Bracken gives much more practical advice than fancy-schmancy Martha Stewart. "Don't put a dust cover over your toaster. It's useless," Peg says, adding, "Did you ever see a piece of dusty toast?"

I don't even care that Queer Eye for the Straight Guy would doubtless consider my house a "feng shui nightmare."

Unfortunately, none of these wise people was in my kitchen when I opened the refrigerator door yesterday to find no room for anything except a single wedge of Laughing Cow Cheese. (Lite. I'm on the South Beach Diet.) Short of brushing off a piece of parsley from an inner ledge last Christmas, I haven't cleaned out the refrigerator since the day we bought it. If God wanted a refrigerator to stay as clean as the day it was born, he would have had someone invent a self-cleaning one, like He did with ovens, right?

Who can remember what's way in the back? Why don't they make refrigerators with mirrors on the inside walls? I certainly would not have put that cheese so far from the front, if I knew it would be a few years before I ever saw it again. I may have the hips of an elephant, but I sure don't have their memory.

And where are you supposed to put the contents while you clean out the darned thing? The countertop? Okay, but first, you have to clear off the countertop to make room for everything. This thing was becoming a miniseries for the mentally challenged.

Before I could clean off the countertop, I had to move all the stuff on it into the sink which means I had to wash the breakfast dishes on the same day they were used, a first at our house. Also, I had to remove from the sink a big bowl containing cold water and a red made-in-China shirt which has to be first soaked, then washed by hand since the color runs. While I was at it, I just washed the darned thing and threw it into the dryer, forgetting that, when wet, it stains everything else it touches in the dryer; otherwise I wouldn't have put it in with the white sheets. Now they're pink.

When all the ancillary chores had been completed and I was back to my original goal, I began with items located on the interior door shelves. There I found cheese that had been in there so long, it was milk when I first bought it.

Refrigerators wouldn't be so hard to clean if they didn't have corners. Why don't they make them round? I found duplicate jars of things like horseradish, flax seed oil, and capers, ingredients you only use once or twice in your life. I found a jar of leftover mint jelly used when I had a leg of lamb for dinner in 1989. I have a habit of buying, then forgetting I already have it and buying it again. I can't bring myself to throw any of it out, even though I know I'll never use it a second time.

I found old, forgotten lipsticks I had stuck in the refrigerator to harden when they had been melted by the summer heat. I haven't worn that shade of pink in seven years.

After that, I tackled the main interior shelves. The manufacturers are wrong when they tell you to clean frequently with warm water and mild detergent. What you really need is a chisel and a flamethrower.

I couldn't identify the dark, sticky matter adhering to the glass shelves but, judging by the amount of fuzz on the top, it had reached puberty.

It was at this late stage of the job that I realized each shelf could have been removed and washed in the sink. With warm water and mild detergent.

Homemaking is truly one of the Lively Arts, but I agree with the anonymous person who said that her next house would have no kitchen, just vending machines.
Copyright Maggie Van Ostrand
"A Balloon In Cactus"
Pubished November 28, 2003
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