Toxic Cleanup 

But it’s surprising what can emerge from the dark regions of a fridge that’s been kept in what we thought was pretty spiffy condition.

Perhaps it’s a hangover from some time I spent in Russia, back in the bad old days, when it was perfectly acceptable to make a hearty soup stock by boiling the napkins that were used at a previous meal. People might dunk their tea bags at least four times and then dry them and save them in a glass jar for a day down the road when times get really tough. Nobody knows how to hunker down like a Russian.

In that spirit, most of us grabbed the good stuff from the fridge — the steaks, the shrimp, the chicken breasts — and dropped it all onto a grill before everything went south. But there comes a point when the power’s been out so long that nothing can be salvaged.

At our house, that point came Sunday. Days earlier, I’d dumped the obvious stuff that would raise a stink if the power went out for just a few hours. The leftover chili sauce from some hot dogs. The leftover filling for some chicken enchiladas. The sour cream. All that sort of turbo-toxic goo.

But it’s surprising what can emerge from the dark regions of a fridge that’s been kept in what we thought was pretty spiffy condition. Just how long had that half-tube of anchovy paste been in there, anyhow? When did we buy creamy dill Dijon mustard, and why did we think we’d ever want some again?

Just how poisonous do you suppose a 5-year-old bottle of Thai fish sauce might be? If we loosened the lid, might it prove to be the very weapon of mass destruction that “W” is looking for?

The freezer side proved even more mysterious. My wife hoisted a 2-gallon Tupperware container in front of me and asked, “Do you have any idea what this is?” It was a reddish-brown mass of frozen something-or-other, and it was beginning to melt at the edges. It had lumps and chunks in it, some of which looked like meat, some of which looked like nothing I care to see again in my lifetime.

“I dunno,” I said. “It could be chili. It could be beef stew. Or it could be parts of Jimmy Hoffa that had been divided up and shipped to remote locations to keep the cops off the mob’s trail.” We threw that one away without bothering to salvage the container.

If there’s a silver lining to the mess we’re in, it might be that more than a million refrigerators in the region are getting a well-deserved clean-out, a fresh start from the burden of chilling condiments that haven’t been used in years, cookie dough left over from premillennium Christmas parties, and lima beans that last saw sunlight during the Reagan administration.

The police, the fire department and the power company crews get a lot of well-deserved credit for working beyond the normal limits of endurance in times like these. But the real heroes of the Hurricane Isabel cleanup might be the folks driving the garbage trucks.

If you see ‘em prowling your neighborhood, give ‘em a one-handed wave. But keep the other hand clamped over your nose. S

Dave Addis is a columnist for the Virginian-Pilot.Contact him at (757) 446-2726, or dave.addis@cox.net

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