Personal Essays

I Am Not Your Average Family

When cleaning out your refrigerator, you may encounter a number of unexpected items at the back. But please note: It would be wise to leave unopened the jar labeled “catharsis.”

The other night I had insomnia, and I lay there, bereft and despairing. Too tired to read, too tormented to sleep. Tormented by what exactly, I can’t tell you. It was just general 3 a.m. torment, of the kind Fitzgerald alluded to when he wrote “in a real dark night of the soul it is always three o’clock in the morning.”

The next day—or rather, later that same day—attempting to revive myself, I went to my local café and purchased something called a “Red-Eye,” which is three parts American coffee and one part espresso. (On the periodic table, it might read AC3ES.)

I took it home with me, and after drinking this potion I experienced some kind of caffeinated psychotic break from reality. I suddenly looked about my apartment and realized that my denial as to the state in which I lived could no longer be denied. My domestic laziness, I decided, had reached catastrophic proportions.

Things stuffed in filing cabinets and closets and under chairs and the bed, it was a mess that could no longer be contained—I’ve been alive too long. But due to the deranging influence of the Red-Eye, I thought I might try to clean the place up.

Like an intrepid, though slightly manic, Arctic explorer, I began with the refrigerator. A recent female visitor to my apartment had casually mentioned to me that my icebox was “disgusting.” So I opened the door to that chilly closet and I gasped. It was like emerging from a coma after six years—the length of my tenure in this apartment—and seeing the world anew. And a very ugly world, at that!

The only object left uncorroded in my refrigerator was my Brita water jug. I couldn’t remember when I had last changed its filter, but, miraculously, I found the box with the extra filters in a dish cabinet and saw that I had scrawled on the box July 26, 2005 . That was about six months ago, but I now read on the side of the box that “for the average family” filters should be changed every two months. I rationalized that I was not the average family and so six months for one carbon filter probably wasn’t so bad. And wasn’t I away for two weeks in July? That had to count for something, giving the filter time off like that. Anyway, I promptly inserted a new filter and felt very good about myself.

Continuing my mission of renewal, I hastily grabbed a plastic bag and began to fill it with the contents of the refrigerator. When I had two bags loaded, I thought I should write down what I was throwing out as a sort of warning to my future self not to let this happen again.

So I emptied the bags onto my kitchen table, and here, listed chronologically and with commentary, is what I discovered:

1. Imported Non-Pareil Capers, circa 1998/’99, which were left behind by these two French girls who lived in this apartment from 1998 until I took over the place in September of 1999.

2. Grey Poupon Mustard, ca. 1998/’99. (French girls.)

3. Baby Sour Gherkins, ca. 1998/’99, with an expiration date reading: “Enjoy by 4/28/01.” (French girls.)

I went to the bathroom and threw some water on my face—that Red-Eye really had my nerves on edge.4. Roland Silverskin Anchovies, ca. 1998/99. This bottle of anchovies, I have to say, was rather unnerving. To think that those anchovies had once been alive, probably in about 1997, was a bit much, and the liquid they were encased in had the filmy complexion of formaldehyde. (French girls.)

5. Bainbridge Blackberry Jelly, ca. 2002, given to me in Memphis, Tenn., as part of my press packet when I was there covering, as a journalist, the Mike Tyson/Lennox Lewis fight.

6. Bainbridge Crisp Sweet Pickles, ca. 2002. (Press packet.)

7. Westbrae Natural Stoneground Mustard, expiration date 1/25/04, therefore probably purchased in 2002 or 2003.

8. Zinc throat spray, ca. 2003. I had the flu that year.

9. Echinacea, ca. 2003. (Same flu.)

10. Crazy Richard’s Chunky Peanut Butter, ca. 2003.

11. Muir Glen tomato sauce, expiration date: June 2004.

12. Tofu steak, ca. 2004. This was brought over by an ex-girlfriend and then never eaten and then never thrown away for sentimental reasons.

13. Briannas Vinaigrette dressing, ca. 2004. (Same failed relationship.)

14. Chewable acidophilus, ca. 2004. (Same failed relationship.)

15. Year-old, half-drunk bottle of Fiji Water.

16. Year-old, half-drunk bottle of Perrier.

17. Eight-month-old, half-drunk bottle of alcohol-free Martinelli’s.

18. High Lignan Flax Oil, expiration date May 23, 2005, purchased during a short-lived heath-kick sometime that year.

19. Two half-filled coffee-cups from the café, date of purchase unknown. I had intended to reheat them, probably only about four-months old.

20. A dozen three-month-old carrots, bought to save my eyes.

21. Three-month-old plastic container of olives. (Bought with the carrots.)


* * *

List completed, I went to put everything back in the plastic bags and spastically knocked to the ground the never-enjoyed, seven-year-old Baby Gherkins. The glass didn’t break, but the metal cap was so fragile and old that it split apart, and the Gherkins crawled out and at first I thought they were the anchovies—they seemed to be swimming—and I screamed like a schoolgirl and ran out of the room.

I went to the bathroom and threw some water on my face—that Red-Eye really had my nerves on edge.

I returned to the kitchen and with some napkins I cleaned up the Gherkins, but the black dirt on the napkins from my kitchen floor—the Gherkin-juice was acting like a cleaning agent—was wildly demoralizing.

Then I thought I should empty the old bottles so I could recycle them. I opened the Martinelli’s and the cap flew off with explosive force—the gas must have been building up for six months and there was a noise like an air gun—and I was shot in the middle of my forehead, right where my third eye should be, if I had one.

Having nearly blinded my spiritual eye I had reached my emotional tipping point, and took to my bed. The caffeine had run its course, and I passed out for two hours.

When I awoke, I was back to normal—that is to say I had no desire to do any more cleaning. But I was rather pleased with myself—I had an empty fridge! And it has stayed that way for several days now. I’m almost tempted to go buy some food, but it’s probably best to leave well enough alone.