Posted by: jevcat | August 13, 2010

End of the Ice Age

When I moved into my apartment, the refrigerator had already seen better days – and that was 25 years ago.  It has not improved since.  We could request a new one from the landlord, but he would then (perfectly legally) raise our rent in perpetuity for the privilege; we object to this on principle.  If we had money (which we don’t), we could buy a new one ourselves, but then would have to leave it if we ever moved or let the landlord take it out of the deposit (see above).  So we put up with it.

Being an older model, the freezer inside my refrigerator is not only not frost-free, it does not even have a separate door.  This means that every time the refrigerator door is opened, air gets at the freezer, and the more humid it is, the faster the freezer acquires frost.  I live on an island.  In New York City.  It is almost never NOT humid, especially in summer (a friend recently posted a plaintive query as his FaceBook status:  “Is air supposed to have texture?”). 

To make matters worse, my Beloved and I both like iced drinks and we both like to cook.  (I have never understood, when visiting someone, when they open their fridge to reveal a carton of juice, a bottle of wine, and a small container of non-dairy creamer; what do these people eat?!)  Since the available space in the kitchen will only accommodate a small fridge, this means that it can take some while to find any particular item, requiring a fair amount of rummaging, all of which lets in still more humid air.  (It also means that some things vanish entirely for months, only to re-appear resembling one of the more lethal experiments from a microbiology lab.)  It is impossible to keep anything but ice in the freezer for very long, and a few years ago we scraped together the money for a small stand-alone freezer, in which we keep things that actually require being kept frozen solid.

That still leaves the refrigerator’s internal freezer, building up frost at a rate that would lead one to believe no one need worry about global warming.  The manufacturer’s notice on the freezer door recommends defrosting as soon as ¼” of frost builds up; in summer, that would require defrosting almost daily.  So mostly we ignore the frost until the freezer door won’t close tightly.  Then we start discussing the need to defrost, which neither of us wants to do.  At some point, usually when the freezer door is forced so far open it begins to become difficult to close the refrigerator itself, my Beloved, the retired engineer, takes a small hammer and whacks at the ice until enough breaks off that the door can close again (a few months ago he broke the handle of the original hammer; we now use a slightly larger one).  The dents in our freezer’s aluminum walls testify to both the frequency and efficacy of application of this method.  We then agree that we really must defrost soon and life continues.

The cycle generally repeats a number of times before one of us finally breaks down and defrosts the freezer, by which point it has become a mammoth task.  I use the term advisedly, as, looking in the freezer when it has reached this state, I would not be surprised to find the remains of one.

My Beloved has been away for a month, during most of which time temperatures and humidity have hovered near triple digits.  He returns next week, and, yesterday having been the coolest day in months, I decided to be noble, and defrost as a welcome home present.  For reasons that escape me, however, I didn’t actually start this until 4:00.

I spread newspapers everywhere to absorb melt water, removed all from the fridge, disposing of anything unidentifiable or furry (oh, that’s where that went), placed the most perishable things in coolers, all else on the dining table, and inserted two pots filled with boiling water into the ice cave that used to be my freezer, and shut the door. 

For the rest of the afternoon and evening, I alternated between searching job listings on the computer and returning to the kitchen to re-heat the water, meanwhile chiseling chunks of ice off into a bucket, which then got dumped in the bath tub.  A couple of hours in, my bathtub began to look as though the ice shelf that broke off Greenland last week had wandered south faster than expected.  Around seven, my Beloved made his evening check-in call as I was hacking off a particularly impressive chunk.  After listening to the background noise for a minute, my Beloved (who in our youth was a mountain climber) observed, “It sounds like you’re attacking K2.”

The trickiest part is the unreachable ice that forms between the back of the freezer and the inside wall of the refrigerator.  Whacking here must be done carefully, as Freon tubes run in back (a friend, helping her husband defrost a refrigerator of similar vintage, once got a frostbitten finger when he missed with an ice pick and she instinctively did the Dutch Boy thing to try to plug the leak until he could get some duct tape on the hole – one reason I don’t use ice picks).  If however, one does not get it all, the re-frosting process is accelerated.  This means it’s time to break out the blow-dryer (my lifestyle being what it is, defrosting is almost the only time the blow-dryer gets used).

Finally, with only one broken nail (maybe a record), the last bit of ice is gone, the inside of the fridge washed and dried, all food replaced.  I sat down at 9:30 to a dinner of a formerly frozen individual Lean Cuisine mushroom pizza.  A friend had given it to me because she didn’t want it, and it hadn’t fit in the “real” freezer.  At least it did not require cooking.

This morning when I got out my juice, I noticed the top of the freezer, visible in the space between its roof and the ceiling of the fridge.  There was about ¼” of ice there.



  1. that was a great post! Talk about a thankless task. Man!
    You ROCK for just doing it, though, you know? Kudos for that.

    • Thanks. I usually don’t have posts so close together, but after last night, I sort of couldn’t resist.

  2. When we were first married, we put up with a refrigerator that sounds like it could be yours cousin. As newly weds, still getting to know each other, my husband was first appalled and then amazed as I took my hairdryer to the frozen junk in there. It worked beautifully, went quickly, and I continued to do that until we got a “real” refrigerator/freezer

  3. I used to have a freezer like yours. You are noble, indeed, to tackle such a task!
    Re: “What do those people eat?” (The people with juice, non-dairy creamer and wine in the refrigerator; I mean). There a lot of folk (by no means all wealthy) who never cook a single thing. Their entire diets consist of take-out and restaurant foods.
    Unlike you, I’m neither a skilled nor enthusiastic cook. To me, “cooking” is throwing together a salad, scrambling some eggs or heating a can of something. Still, I can’t imagine living on NOTHING but take-out…

  4. I am proud of you. It was a job I hated. We all had that kind of fridge at sometime in our lives. Last year on vacation we had one in our hotel room. It looked like it had never been deforsted. Hang in there.


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