My Refrigerator

Nora Ephron wrote an essay for Esquire called, “I Hate My Purse.” It is a brilliant distillation of the anxieties and frustrations and the complicated relationship she had throughout her life over the contents of her purse. I don’t connect to things that I carry in that same way, I rarely carry anything at all, but I can relate to it. I have the same complicated relationship with refrigerators.

When I moved into the apartment I’ve called home for the past 15 years, I discovered Max Delivery service. I was newly widowed and testing out different personalities. Would I be the type to have lavish dinner parties at home? Or would I dine out every night -- Carrie Bradshaw style? I ordered cartons of berries and melons, mini cans of fruit cocktail, an array of vegetables that I pick by color, yogurts and olives, chicken salad.  Diet Coke. Pellegrino.

Because at that moment in time, this is the sort of refrigerator I think I should have. I call it the “Skinny Single Girl.” I unpack and arrange the food into neat stacks, sort it into bins, make sure labels are uniform and facing out, then I admire it. I open my colorfully stocked refrigerator often in the following days just to see how neat it is.

In my mind, people come to my apartment, and I offer them things from there. A cold drink, a simple plate of crudite. Hummus. In real life people come, and I never offer them anything. I am not a hostess. I am not in any way, shape, or form a housewife. In fact, offering food and beverages to visitors would create conditions that would lengthen their stay and what, it turns out, I desired was a shorten stay.

Growing up, in a house with five kids and little money, there was never much food. In a good week, there was a carton of milk, a few apples, a jar of Jiffy peanut butter, maybe a box of fish sticks in the freezer. One day there’d be a huge box of Corn Flakes, and you had to act quick because two days later it would be gone. I got used to not eating regularly, and that was fine.

If you’ve spent time in therapy at all, you’ve likely heard that adults are constantly reliving their childhood wounds. I can see my empty childhood refrigerator clear as day, and I can correct it. I have the tools to correct the refrigerator of my youth, and yet for some reason even thirty years later, most days find me with that same empty refrigerator. It is a wasteland that is occasionally filled with food no one eats and stocked with alcoholic beverages that no one drinks.

I would have a much healthier relationship with food if all of it had preservatives, because then I know it would stay. Preserved food is a solid relationship. I once had a box of Kraft macaroni and cheese that stayed with me for six years. When I sold my apartment on Park Avenue, I packed it with the other kitchen things and moved it to my lower east side sublet. Two years later, I took it to my new apt. I finally made it a few years ago and it was great. Fresh. You’d think I had just bought it -- that day -- at the corner Korean deli.

Turns out, I like food that can be on a shelf. Take Cup of Noodles. Cup of Noodles is a perfect food. It even comes in it’s own bowl.  A little hot water and it transforms into an aromatic container of chewy noodles and broth, and is perfectly content to wait there for years until you’re ready to commit.

I recently noticed that everything in my apartment is expired. A friend was over who needed an aspirin, and I discovered my Tylenol was seven years expired.  Even my Xanex expires. Speaking of, when I had my fellow Housewives over one night, I served them pigs-in-a-blanket that were three years expired, and not a single complaint. Which is a rarer than a Republican at a Planned Parenthood rally.

I was in Afghanistan, working for ABC News during the war, when I became addicted to MREs. They are the mother ship of preservatives. There was a hot portion, which came in a small separate container that you pulled a pin out of, like a hand grenade, to heat it up.

I stuffed a few in my duffel bag, when I left -- #13, the tortellini with cheese.  It comes with an ice tea packet and a vendor size bag of Skittles. I still have them in my storage unit. It turns out MREs never expire.

It doesn’t occur to me to eat dinner unless I am in a relationship. Relationships revolve around eating.  A great deal of time in relationships is devoted to planning the next meal. My late husband was different than me about food. Each day he’d call me at 5pm, like clockwork, “What would you like to do for dinner?” I didn’t have the heart to tell him, “I don’t care.” It’s not that I didn’t have an opinion, I do. My opinion is “I don’t care.”  He did care. He liked it fresh, he liked it prepared. He did not eat things from a box. I had to sneak my mac and cheese with him. Just as I had to sneak Pringles with my last boyfriend. He was a health food chef and didn’t like to see me eating Pringles. I would eat them out on the street, and on plane trips. Planes always have Pringles. I went to the Galapagos Islands one summer, I had a layover in the capitol of Equador and walked into a store with an entire wall of Pringles, floor to ceiling Pringles, color-coded according to flavor. One of the four pictures I took in the Galapagos Islands was of that wall of Pringles cans.

For a time, I liked blueberries, and blueberries were all I ate. I had a sardine phase, a pickle phase, a beef jerky phase. I still have ten sardine cans in my cupboard. If you put food in front of me, I will eat it, it’s not that I’m picky. But my comfort foods come from a cabinet, not a refrigerator. Which is why I recently gave it up. I down-sized my family-sized Sub Zero. I have a refrigerator drawer now, it’s not a full-sized refrigerator. And in a Norma Desmondian twist, it is now mostly filled with hormone prescriptions. In the back, there is a small monument to the past - a bottle of ketchup, an unopened jar of Grey Poupon and Nutella. Because, condiments, I’m told…never go bad.

Joe Laresca