THE ICE BOX COMETH
by Clarence Brown
American Reporter Correspondent
SEATTLE, Wash. -- When my children were young, they used to think it amusing to hear their old man call the fridge "icebox." But I still do. When I was their age early in the last century, the chunky little oaken cabinet on the back porch was just that, the icebox.
The ice man would come round in his wagon, hitch the horse to a lamppost, and, with huge tongs, rassle a block of ice from the back, throw it onto his leather-clad shoulder, and come round to the back porch to install it in ... what else? ... the ice box.
[ Later on we had an electric refrigerator, a GE, with a huge cylindrical thing on top that looked like a wedding cake with louvers. When it would surge to life in the middle of the night, one longed for the old block of ice, which melted away in stoic silence.]
Question: What did you do with ice cream? Answer: You ate it. Or if there was any left, you put it in the icebox and later on enjoyed the forerunner of a slushy.
These recollections are triggered by the trauma through which I have lived for two days now.
The old fridge, the one that came with the house and was of unknown antiquity, finally gave out. It still kept things cold, but duct tape and I had done all that was possible to hold together the interior arrangements, so we decided that the time had come to buy a new ice ... refrigerator.
Typically, the night before this momentous step, I was visited by a nightmare: the men bring the new box, set it up, take away the old, and wish me luck. I open the new thing and find inside the body of Jimmy Hoffa.
The actual process of buying the new box was less spectacular. We carefully measure the space, above all that needed to open the door of the dishwasher, which cleared the old fridge with two micrometers to spare.
We go the store, find one that looks as if it might fit (the space and the pocketbook), and has internal arrangements that we think we might master in a matter of weeks.
Then comes the question of color. The old one was of a now historic deep chocolate hue which I always took to be a part of the general idea of insulation. The new one must be anything but white. We opt for bisque, having been shown a sample of this on another appliance.
The momentous day arrives. The truck arrives and I see the men take a fridge from the back. I go out at once and say that it is white, but... No, says the driver, it is bisque. Bisque can fool you when the sun is right on it. (And, I silently think, when one is three times your age.) They bring it in, managing with a skill that I will never understand, to maneuver a thing measuring 36 inches through a pocket door with an opening of 30 inches.
When they leave, I open it, meaning to restore at once all the food sitting about getting warm. No Jimmy Hoffa, thank God. What I see is a clutter of shrink-wrapped plastic and glass bits, which you assemble with manuals written in English, Spanish, and Aramaic. By the time I am done the food has spent another hour defrosting.
Inside, out of the blazing sun, the thing still looked white to me. I telephone the manager. He tells me to put a piece of white paper against the thing for comparison. He is right. It is bisque acc. to the Gospel of St. Whirlpool.
For revenge I am going to disclose the secret formula for this color. To 10 gallons of white paint, add an eyedropper full of India Ink.
Clarence Brown is a cartoonist, writer, and Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature at Princeton University.