The refrigerator died Friday.  It had not been a great week to begin with and although a broken refrigerator is not tragedy, I didn’t need the hassle.

Like the immediate hassle of suddenly parceling out what has essentially become the family’s pantry to various neighbors, foods frozen or merely chilled.  Fortunately, we have intimate relations with the folks who live all around us.  Intimate?  Yes, intimate.

The intimacy of the refrigerator is on the spectrum with medicine and liquor cabinets, checkbooks, closets and bookshelves.  Each tells a story about the people in its house.  One day, with no warning, I’m visiting several neighbors’ kitchens, deep in their fridges, moving their stuff around, clearing a space and putting our food next to theirs.  Some fridges are cleaner than ours, some not so much.  Either condition makes me a bit anxious. (“Wow, are we that slovenly?”/”Do I want my food in there?”)  I became aware one neighbor eats healthier, better quality food than we do.  I tucked my half bottle of Hannaford’s brand Worcestershire sauce in the back, hoping it wouldn’t be seen.

Once everything was strewn up and down the block, I barged into kitchens at all hours – another intimate act – every time we needed milk or an egg.  I couldn’t remember where I’d left anything, so I usually had to make a circuit.  One trip, I noticed a neighbor had crammed an open can of dog food in among our vegetables.  (I won’t mention the neighbor’s name.  The dog’s name is Murphy.)

As for Heartbreak Fridge, I should have just done the American thing and junked it.  It’s six years old, after all.  But like I said, last week was a hassle to begin with, so we called the repair guy and by the time he’s out to the house, telling us how much it will cost to fix, I realize we should have just gotten a new one, but since we gotta pay him for the service call, it’s now cheaper (barely) to fix the old one.  A circuit board, of course.

Then he says malfunction caused a mass of ice to build up on the evaporator and we’ll have to leave the fridge off for three days while it slowly melts.  And the drip pan is inaccessible so we can’t empty it, but it will overflow, so we should keep an eye on that.

I shook my head and tossed a credit card on the kitchen table.  “Just fix it,” I said.  (The actual quote had several words I’m leaving out.)  Bottom line(s): I have intimate, indulgent neighbors and I bought my way out of a problem with little more than minor inconvenience.  Between the repair bill, the food we wound up tossing and the abnormal amount of takeout over the weekend, I’m down six hundred bucks.

Which makes me feel lucky.  There are too many families in America this season that would be knocked down by a dead fridge.  If they don’t have a neighborhood support network, they might lose $200 in spoiled groceries and spend another $200 replacing them.  That, plus repair or replacement costs and between Friday and Monday take out they’re down an unanticipated $1,000.

It happens when you’re poor.  Decisions get more extreme.  Maybe you let a bill slide for a few months until you can catch up on the grand the fridge cost you, maybe the gas bill.  It’s spring, right?  If it had still been winter, you could have put the food outside, maybe.

Playing the utility bill shell game is itself a kind of financial cushion.  Another unforeseen domestic tragedy – blown tire, dead battery – and then what?  It gets to a point where minor things begin to cascade, all the little disruptions begin to interact and you can’t buy your way out of problems anymore, if you ever could.

I was either fetching or returning milk Sunday night, the night before recycling on our street, and stopped to talk to Rob.  “Didja notice all the competition tonight?” he asked.

It was true, six different people, some working as a team, had hit our recycling bins, scrounging for cans and bottles to be redeemed for nickel deposits.


© Mark Floegel 2013

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