Building a Better Refrigerator

(This was one of my columns from 11/5/92. Eerily prescient…)

It’s probably too late for me to get in on the $30 million prize being offered by a group of the nation’s utilities to groups of inventors to build a better refrigerator. But I’ll tell you what – if they want my suggestions, I will only charge them a cool million. I have very simple needs.

The first mistake the utilities are making is in asking a group of scientists to design a better refrigerator. What are they going to do – sit around in a windowless room with their atom and molecule models and talk in numerical equations?

I’ve given this a lot of thought. Refrigerators have occupied a very special place in my life. I figure I’ve spent thousands of hours staring into their vast coldness trying to figure out the mysteries of life and whether or not you can scrape the fur off a piece of bologna, eat it, and still live.They should forget the scientists and put a team of housewives in charge of this project. The number-one requirement I would like in my refrigerator of the 21st century is that it talk to me. I know I would lose weight if only there was a feature that said, “Hey, fatso, put back that pint of cookies ‘n cream.” Or, “Listen, thunder-thighs, you don’t really need that pie.”

There would be a special tape for teenagers. “I saw you squirt that Hershey’s syrup straight into your mouth.” Or, “You’ve looked at me 33 times in the last hour. Nothing has changed. Now go do your homework.”

Maybe husbands could have a special recording. “This is the Surgeon General speaking. Drinking four Coronas and topping it off with a pint of rocky road after a day at a sedentary job is a sure way to heart attack city.” Or, “I saw you put that empty milk carton back in here.”

A talking fridge would be great for people who work at home all day. I could use the company.
As a writer who works at home, I make regular pilgrimages to the great white god of the kitchen. I promise myself that as soon as I get my blood sugar up with a Fruit Freeze, I’ll be able to concentrate better. It works the other way too – as a reward. As soon as I write a brilliant paragraph I can have some Cheese Whiz on a cracker.

The future fridge should have a warning alarm that goes off when any of its contents have gone so far past their expiration date that a toxic fungus could take over your home. Now, once a month, I have to take all Tupperware containers out of the fridge, pry the lids off, and hope I don’t get killed in the line of duty.

My general rule of thumb is that if I can’t remember what year I put it in there, then it goes out. It’s funny how some things never get eaten and always end up thrown out. Plain low fat yogurt, cottage cheese, and tofu always end up in the Siberia of my refrigerator, only to be found weeks past their expiration dates. However, if I try to keep a Dove Bar hidden away for later, it gets sniffed out faster than a piece of raw meat by a pack of dogs.

I guess the main goal of the scientists is to make refrigerators more energy-efficient and environmentally friendly. I’ll leave that part up to them. I’m just offering the practical issues.

I still consider two of the greatest scientific advances of my lifetime to be linked to the lowly refrigerator – automatic defrosting and ice cubes that come out of a hole in the icebox door.
My childhood memories are scarred by monthly defrosting sessions with the old family fridge. As oldest, I had to boil enormous pots of water and steam the ice off first, scalding various parts of my body in the process. Then I got out the hammer and chisel. If I didn’t wear my winter mittens, my hands would be bleeding. If you didn’t refill the ice cube tray, no one in the family would speak to you for days.

Okay, here’s my last suggestion, and I’ll only charge an extra million. Make the door of the icebox clear so you can see through it. Think of all the electricity saved by not having various family members standing there staring into the depths with the door wide open, shifting their weight every minute or so.

On second thought, scratch that idea. That would give me one less thing to nag everyone about, and that simply wouldn’t do.

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