Private Ice Age

Once again, I’m close to a dilemma. The icebox in my refrigerator is rapidly narrowing and soon–very soon–I will have one large ice cube. Still, it’s really not a surprise; two or three years ago I had the same problem.

Defrosting my refrigerator honestly doesn’t frighten me. This task, though supposedly routine, has achieved the status of a frustrating puzzle. My refrigerator teases me with its riddle every time I open the door and see the icy tundra closing like a fist around what few frozen food packages I can fit into the freezer box. Today, I can barely squeeze two thin frozen pizzas and two minature pot pies (beef, chicken) into my little cave. It’s time to defrost, and yet I can’t help but remember what happened last time.

I’d been living in my tiny apartment for about two years when I made the first attempt at The Big Defrost. Everything went smoothly in the beginning, of course–setting me up for the fall, I see now. I figured I could guess the steps involved in the process: turn off unit; remove contents; melt ice; replace contents; activate unit. Pretty cut and dried (or should I say, freeze-dried). I was even (in a small way that would later dwindle) proud of myself for handling this household duty.

First, I yanked the plug. All it took was emptying out much of the walk-in closet, since that’s where the back of the refrigerator sits. Perhaps I should give you a quick sketch of the small layout for my small apartment. Picture one main room, eighteen-foot square, with three rooms along the east wall: kitchen, closet, and bathroom. The kitchen is barely large enough for my size 13 feet (as long as I don’t move them), the refrigerator (on my right), the sink (straight ahead), the stain-left steel stove (straight ahead, to the left of the sink), and the kitchen window (to my left). There are a couple cabinets above the stove and sink, and above the four-foot tall refrigerator I’ve hung pots and pans on plastic wall hooks. To save space, the refrigerator was built into the wall it shares with my closet.

At this early stage, the unit was deactivated (and now I had boxes from the closet piled on my room’s floor, ready for “block and stumble” duty). Next, I cleaned out the refrigerator, which is ridiculously easy for me to do; living alone, I don’t store much food that can’t keep for less than a dozen years. I’m really making progress, I thought to myself. Leaving the door open to accelerate melting, I even noticed the handy little plastic tray suspended beneath the metal icebox, ready to catch the melted ice.

Then I waited.

Several hours later, I wandered into the kitchen (actually, it’s so small you can’t wander into it so much as you wander NEXT to it and then take one step in). Aha, I thought, the tray is full–in fact, up to the brim with the chilly water. I started to slide out the tray… and came face-to-face with the appliance conundrum that still plagues me today. You see, the refrigerator door is hinged on the left and only opens some 90 degrees because at that point it’s up against the sink. And those oh-so-useful compartments on the inside of the refrigerator door (compartments I had formerly praised for their handiness, for their ready availability of my butter, my mayonnaise, my ketchup)–those compartments were willfully standing in the projected path of the water-full tray. The tray would only slide out about a third of the way; I could pull out more, but it would require angling up on the tray to avoid the door. Obviously, I couldn’t convince the water to stay for the ride when the ride went uphill. So, I’m standing there on the cold kitchen floor, watching more ice tauntingly drip into puddles inside the refrigerator. I considered my options as my hands grew numb. Scooping out the water seemed a good gamble… until I tried it. The tray (less than an inch deep) was too shallow for me to gather any appreciable amount into a cup; the water sloshing onto the floor (and my bare feet) didn’t help, either. Next I tried ladling the fluid–but it was technically “spooning” since I don’t own a ladle, and your average size spoon isn’t much help in situations like this. If I could tilt the tray down, I might capture the water with a bucket or a bag (or, realistically, with the floor and my feet), but the only leeway I had was in tilting the front of the tray up, which tended to dump water into the refrigerator. Hmm, I thought: there MUST be a way to do this. After all, it’s evidently been defrosted before (though not by me), and I can’t see obvious signs of water damage here in the kitchen. I continued to experiment: pushing water into a pot (I think it’s fair to say that you cannot push water with any degree of accuracy); using a siphon (if I had possessed enough insight to stock my kitchen with a siphon, then perhaps this entire tragedy would have been averted–and I might as well open my psychic hotline service to the general public); even using a plastic garbage bag to capture the water (another victim of logistics: it seemed that it might be just as easy to build a series of aqueducts leading to the sink as it would be to blanket the volume of my refrigerator with sufficient bag coverage in order to contain the melted ice). Finally (just like in Driver’s Ed), I came to the Point of Decision, which leads inevitably to the Point of No Return.

I had decided upon the “clean-jerk-up-and-over” strategy. Ultimately relying on the natural viscosity of water, I planned to pull out the drainage tray quickly and smoothly, following an inclined path, and turning the tray away me, toward the sink, and down the drain. One big plus: my earlier experimentation had succeeded in lowering somewhat the level of water, though now it was on the floor. One big minus: my goal (the kitchen sink) was blocked by that ever-recurring hindrance, the refrigerator door. By this time, my feet were as numb as my wet hands, and I figured I might as well go for broke. I made the call: “Tray out!” Sliding back the plastic incarnation of evil, I “quickly” and “smoothly” (which may have appeared to seem “wildly” and “thrashing”) moved it out (Yes!), then over the door (Great!), and finally into the sink (Fine! Sure!). Luckily, some of the water accompanied the tray on its journey. The rest–in obvious panic–visited every wall in the kitchen, splashing on the cabinets, me, the stove, the floor, and–a definite insult–inside the freezer.

Yes, the ordeal was over, and despite the cold truth that I had indeed reached my main objective, I still shiver at the thought of engaging my refrigerator in another wintry battle. Maybe all I need in the freezer is ONE pot pie, after all.