For about three days last week, I smelled something strange in my house. It was an odor I hadn’t smelled before, and it was like a cross between something moldy and something that had curled up and died somewhere. The strange thing was I couldn’t really tell where it was coming from.
Visions of something like a dead mouse wedged behind the stove or underneath the refrigerator sent me sniffing in those areas, but I honestly couldn’t detect anything. Of course, the fact that my sinuses had been clogged up for most of that day didn’t help – or maybe it did, because the plugged sinuses at least provided me with some temporary relief from the mega-stink.
My dogs were no help. I figured that they, because they usually were attracted to stinky things, would lead me to the source of the odor, but they probably were enjoying it too much – kind of like the canine version of Chanel No. 5 – to think anything was wrong.
Finally, on the third night of the mysterious odor, I decided to take some chicken out of the freezer so I could make soup the next day. I opened the freezer door, which is at the top of my refrigerator, and my face nearly melted from the odor that jumped out and smacked it.
The freezer was completely warm…and so was all of the food in it. The mystery was solved.
Panicking, I opened the bottom part of the refrigerator. I had been using things from that section all week and none of them had been warm – or at least I hadn’t remembered them being warm - which didn’t make sense because I recalled once being told that the cold air from the freezer was what cooled the bottom part of the fridge. That’s when I noticed that the thermometer I kept on the shelf in the fridge was reading nearly 50 degrees.
“I’m going to die!” I clasped my chest and said to the dogs. “I think I’ve been eating bad food without even realizing it!”
The dogs just sat there staring at me as if to say, “What’s all the fuss about? We’ve knocked over a few trash cans in our time and have eaten out of those, and then washed it down with a drink from the toilet, and we’re fine.”
When I bought my fridge seven years ago, it was the first one I’d ever owned that had a self-defrosting freezer. Up until then, I had spent 35 years hacking icebergs out of the old freezers or attacking them with a hair dryer. It was a task I always saved for a really hot summer day. It also was a task that incited me to spew a bunch of four-letter words I rarely used.
But last week, I found myself wishing I still had one of those old freezers – one that built up so much ice inside, it looked as if the hull of the Titanic might pop out at any moment. The problem with self-defrosting freezers is if they lose power, they don’t have anything to keep them cool – no thick layers of ice or frost inside. So the food in them spoils much faster.
I ran around like a madwoman, checking circuit breakers, moving the fridge and unplugging it, then plugging it into a different socket. Nothing helped. The refrigerator just sat there, getting hotter…and stinkier. Finally, even though it was late, I called my cousin, who’s somewhat of an appliance expert.
“I can’t afford a new refrigerator!” I cried when he answered. “Even the cheapest models are $600, and they’re so basic, they’re not much better than the picnic coolers you bring to the beach!”
“So what’s wrong with your fridge?” he calmly asked me.
“It’s warm, really warm.”
“How old is it?”
“When was the last time you cleaned the condenser coils?”
He groaned. “You’ve never cleaned the condenser coils in seven years?”
“Um, what do they look like?” I asked, picturing a bunch of bedsprings.
“They’re either on the back of the fridge or behind a snap-out grid at the bottom on the front,” he said. “Why don’t you go check and see if you can find them while I stay on the phone, okay?”
I decided to check the bottom front first because I wasn’t in the mood to drag the refrigerator out from the wall again so I could look behind it. I found a plastic grid-like panel and snapped it off. I gasped.
“What’s the matter?” my cousin (I’d put him on speaker phone) shouted.
“I can’t see any coils under there,” I told him. I was lying on my stomach on the floor, a flashlight in my hand.
“What do you see?”
“About 10 pounds of dog fur!”
Again, he groaned. “I’m surprised it took this long for your fridge to die.”
“Then it’s a lost cause?” I asked, mentally calculating which bank in the area would be the easiest to rob.
“No, not necessarily,” he said in tone that wasn’t even remotely convincing. “Try cleaning out all of the fur and dust and see what happens when you give the coils some breathing space again. Oh – and be sure to unplug everything first, before you do anything!”
It took me 20 minutes to get rid of all of the solidly packed fur and finally see the coils under there. I could have stuffed a bed pillow with all of the fur I vacuumed up. I then held my breath and plugged in the refrigerator.
When I heard it kick on and start running, I nearly danced a jig. I immediately called my cousin back and shouted, “It’s running!”
“Don’t celebrate yet,” he said. “Wait a few minutes to see if it starts getting cold.”
To my relief, the fridge did get cold. I figured it was nothing short of a miracle. All I had to do after that was find some way to de-stink it.
“Thanks SO much!” I said to my cousin. “You’re a life saver!”
“Well, because you have dogs, I’d recommend that you clean the coils at least three times a year,” he said.
“Three times a year?” I repeated, frowning. I had hoped it was something I wouldn’t have to suffer through again for at least another two or three years. The thought of having to move the fridge to unplug it and then stretching out on my stomach on the floor and cleaning out dog fur didn’t exactly appeal to me.
I’m thinking maybe it would be easier to just shave the dogs.
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