Life without a refrigerator might seem unimaginable: No cold soda, no ready-to-eat yogurt, no cold white wine or available ice cream. It's definitely an inconvenience and an experience not to be undertaken by the faint of heart.
My old refrigerator started to die about a year ago. The compressor, once virtually silent, began making a rattling sound. The sound range accelerated until the rattle was more like something hitting the house from the outside, or a door being slammed shut. Guests in the living room would jump. "What was that? Who was that?" they'd say, as if anticipating God knows what.
"Death pangs from a dying refrigerator," I'd say. "It's okay."
When the refrigerator finally died a couple weeks ago, I was in a "how am I going to refrigerate" panic until I heard that a neighbor of mine had a used refrigerator for sale. Some people like to devote weeks searching for new mechanical products, but not me. I tend to want a replacement immediately. It doesn't help that I'm the type of person who expects mechanical things to last forever, so when they die I resent having to spend time looking for a replacement.
"Now I have to waste time shopping around for a refrigerator," I told a friend or two.
"Waste time? Refrigerators are essential!" they said.
Later, I'd ask," Are refrigerators really essential?" but I'll get to that in a moment.
I visited the 'for sale' refrigerator up the street and decided that I liked it. Granted, it was a big old thing, like an old Ford car and a little stinky here and there since it had been sitting outside for a few weeks, but this didn't bother me. I'm great with cleaning supplies and Brillo pads. Most of all I liked the fact that the "for sale" refrigerator was just a few doors away from my house, which meant that the move would be relatively painless. No moving trucks and no delivery fees.
I kissed my old refrigerator good-bye, unplugged it, and watched as some local guys carted it away. With anticipation I watched as its replacement arrived on a dolly. The commotion attracted a crowd on the sidewalk as the great "Ford" beast was pulled sideways from the dolly and then stuffed inside the outer door frame. It got stuck, so out it came as the doors to my house were removed, a process that took nearly an hour. The project resumed with new bystanders lending a hand. The great "Ford" beast still wouldn't budge, so its doors were removed. Finally it was placed in my kitchen, reassembled, and plugged in.
"It's humming like a bird," one of the movers said.
"So where's the cold air?" I said, sticking my head into the freezer compartment. Six, ten, twenty hours later I was asking the same question. The beast was not getting cold. Think of the irony: a warm refrigerator delivered during one of the hottest heat waves the city has ever known. I tried to remain positive. "Miracles happen," I said. "It might kick in," all the while dreading another 4-hour dolly/door removal ordeal.
The beast continues to sit in my kitchen to this day, its towering hulk like a remnant of the BP oil spill.
The experience has taught me that few people know the proper way to move a refrigerator. For starters, you never place a refrigerator on its side and let it rest on a dolly for the better part of an hour. This drains the oil out of the compressor area. If a refrigerator has been on its side you must allow it to sit upright for 24 hours before plugging it in. If you plug it in immediately you risk burning out the compressor because the oil has not had a chance to redistribute.
Who knew, right?
This week the beast is scheduled to be removed, and then the search will start for a replacement beast.
In the meantime I've learned to live like my 19th century ancestors, and I'm getting along splendidly, thank you. You might say this is a practice run for some electrical world wide calamity in which all of us will be forced to live without appliances.
What do refrigerators hold for the most part? Ice cream, beer, soda, and cold cuts are foods that one can really live without. It also helps that I go food shopping everyday (like the trusty Europeans), so I cook whatever meat or fish I buy immediately. Since I'm not a big soda, beer or milk drinker (milk isn't good for adults anyway), I can buy these items in small quantities (to be used immediately) when special occasions arise. There's also non-dairy creamer for coffee. Butter and margarine, I've found, have a shelf life of two weeks. Eggs can last in the cupboard one week while honey and peanut butter can last forever.
You can even cook a pot roast and keep it safe and sterile for three or four days by keeping the lid on, only removing it when you want to reheat. Some compare it to the way you would handle a Petri dish experiment in science class.
While I am looking for a new refrigerator, I am coming to the realization that life really isn't so hard without one.
I'm not saying I'm ready to do without, but living this way is not the hardship I thought it would be.
The experience really does make me wonder what else I can learn to live without.