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Call Me Storm

The summer I first graduated college I moved into a sublet with two college friends, the kind of place you sometimes find near colleges where one group are the original renters but then every few months someone moves out and then another person moves in and sometimes someone else joins them for “a while” but ends up staying and then someone else moves out but they’re replaced by a couple so that sends someone else out and another couple moves in but then the first couple breaks up and one of them moves out and on and on, so by the time the lease ends none of the actual original renters are there any more.  By the time I moved in, in June of 1992, the original leaseholder had graduated in January and was already in Washington on an internship.

We weren’t the best of housekeepers – it was a “first apartment on our own” for all three of us – but what with so many people moving in out (the apartment once boasted six residents, and it was a one bedroom), some home-care tasks were lost in the shuffle.  One of the worst problems was our freezer, which was already lined with a layer of ice an inch and a half thick when I moved in.  We all knew we should do something about that, but we were too intimidated to try, and gradually the ice got thicker and thicker until the entire freezer was filled with a solid ice block except for a small hole we carefully chipped out that was just big enough for a single pint of Ben and Jerry’s.

One night I was bored, and the current pint in the freezer was a flavor I didn’t like – and I decided that I was going to finally Do Something About The Freezer. I filled all our pots with water and set them all to boil, rounded up every towel in the house, and armed myself with the biggest knife we had and got to work.

The knife was more for prying things – my roommate Julie gave me too many warnings about not hacking things lest I “break the freon thing or whatever” – and for the first hour I was mainly just pouring more and more hot water into the cavity, emptying the drain tray with everything that melted and ran out, replacing the drain and pouring in more water, prying ice away as I could, and on and on.  Sometimes I could make headway when I melted enough of it away ,to unearth something else in the freezer (a whole turkey breast, a half a package of veggie sausage, and – and I don’t even know why – a scarf), but it was still pretty slow going.

Then I had the idea that I didn’t necessarily need hot water, I just needed heat.  So I could also use hot air.  Like, oh, from a hair dryer. I got my own out of the bathroom, plugged it in, and thrust it in the freezer, holding it close to one of the particularly big floes at the top of the freezer.  It shrank before my eyes, and after about five minutes, the last chunk dropped from the roof of the freezer with a clunk. I whooped, grabbed and threw it in the sink, and went back to work.

The hair dryer wasn’t super fast on the rest of it, and I was still often having to stop and empty the drain tray and wiggle things out of the ice, which let things re-freeze a little.  But I kept at it for another 20 minutes or so, until I suddenly saw a blue spark near the mouth of the dryer.

Uh-oh.  I took it out and turned it off, looking at it – had I shorted something out?  Turned it on again, and it whirred on just fine, the air coming out was still hot.  Turned it off and on a couple more times and it was still fine.  I shrugged and put it back in the freezer, aiming towards the back.  Five minutes later I saw another blue spark, then another, the last one making a tiny “pop”.

I immediately freaked out and turned the hair dryer off again.  Maybe I’d overdone the thing?  I went back to mucking about with the hot water a while, then picked up the dryer after ten more minutes.  Turned it back on – it seemed just fine.  In fact, it didn’t seem like anything ever had been wrong with it.  So what was that spark coming from?

I cautiously poked my head in the freezer to see if something in the back had sparked – something vague and electrical that I didn’t know was in freezers before.  I ddn’t see anything but the back wall of the freezer, still slicked over with chunks of ice in places.  It was cold enough back there that it stung to breathe, the way that supercold air hurts in winter.  Puzzled, I cautiously turned on the hair dryer again, and was about to stick it in towards the back again.

And then it hit me what had happened.  The supercold air from the back of the freezer was colliding with the much hotter and fast-moving air from the dryer, creating a hot and a cold air current that were both mobile enough to make an electrostatic charge – lightning in miniature.

I had actually created weather in the freezer.

I was nearly done; I just laughed and finished things off and told myself that it was far better to have created a tiny thunderstorm than to find a tiny colony of life in there.

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