I recently experienced what can only be described as a watershed moment. A first. An event so monumental I feel compelled to document it in this newspaper and on the World Wide Web, so it will live in perpetuity.
What was this act, you ask? What was the thing that heretofore had not occurred in more than 50 years of my life on this planet?
I cleaned out the entire refrigerator, and I wasn’t even expecting company.
One of the many perks of the empty nest is that your house stays neat and clean.
OK, wait. In the interest of true and accurate reporting, I’ll rephrase: One of the many perks of the empty nest is that your house stays neater and cleaner LONGER than it used to.
No more stinky socks stuck in the sofa cushions. No more candy wrappers clogging the toilet. No more blazing a trail through 16 pairs of shoes just to get in the back door.
To the casual observer, our two-person home appears shipshape. That is, until they look in the refrigerator.
(I’m joking, of course. No casual observer — friend, foe or extended family member — has ever come close to looking in my refrigerator. Not with our motion-detecting alarm system that bellows “STEP AWAY FROM THE AMANA!” when a stranger comes within six feet of the door.)
Sure, the contents of the fridge have changed. There is a noticeable absence of Red Bull, half-eaten burritos and large pizza boxes jammed on top of juice cans. You won’t see any Jell-O pudding cups, individually-wrapped mozzarella sticks or frozen waffles. Also missing are the Styrofoam “to-go” boxes, hand-labeled with the words, “Please don’t eat. This means you, Dad.”
What you WILL see, however, is a cornucopia of rotting produce.
It starts with the best intentions. “We’re going to eat at home every night this week!” I declare, usually on a Sunday afternoon around 3. “I’m going to the market to buy nothing but fresh, locally grown foodstuffs. We’ll have salads and grilled veggies and fresh berry smoothies every morning with soymilk and yogurt. We’ll feel like a million bucks by Friday!”
I’ll rush off to the grocery store and fill my cart high with lettuce, spinach and exotic greens. Red peppers, yellow squash, purple eggplant. Berries in every hue. Non-fat yogurt in assorted flavors and large tubs of low-fat cottage cheese. I’ll leave a small fortune at the checkout counter and skip to my car, reveling in my healthy wonderfulness. That night, I’ll prepare a meal that would make Euell Gibbons proud.
After that, it’s a steady downhill slide. Days turn to weeks and, suddenly, I can’t remember our last home-cooked meal. One morning, I open the refrigerator and detect a faint odor. It’s ominous, yet subtle enough to ignore a few days longer.
Then, on an idle Saturday afternoon, I remove the lid from a container of half-eaten Dannon yogurt and shriek in horror. I realize what I have to do. The gloves come on, the sponge comes out and I’m committed.
Out of the fridge come 92 grocery items in varying degrees of freshness and all the plastic shelves, bins and drawers. I scrub. I scrape. I disinfect, until my 21.7 cubic foot side-by-side is indistinguishable from a new model on the Sears showroom floor. Discriminately, I replace the items that haven’t exceeded their expiration date or are still reasonably close to their original color, wiping each jar and bottle down with a damp towel.
Left behind is a mountain of bags and clear plastic boxes full of decomposing fruits and vegetables. (Who did I think I was shopping for, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir?)
Don’t give me your guilt trips. I feel guilty enough already. I know, I know. There are thousands of starving vegans in China who would give their right arm for bounty like that.
As I hold my nose and let the garbage disposal do its thing, I resolve to do better. Next time, I’ll resist the flats of strawberries and jumbo bags of Vidalia onions. I’ll buy the small container of cottage cheese and pass on the parsley altogether.
But first, I’ve got to invite some people over for dinner. An immaculate fridge like this can’t go to waste.