Calamitates materfamiliae

RANGE: First apartments, charming old houses, quaint summer cottages,
experimental solar living modules, completely remodeled kitchens, dens that
need some work, unfinished basements, north-lit studios, semi-equipped lofts
and secure subterranean bed-sitters.
HABITS: In any household with which you are unfamiliar, there you will
find the Household Unfamiliars. Be it your first apartment or your last
nursing home, these devilish sprites are there with a litany of liabilities:
Putting the light switch on the wrong side of the door, mysteriously adding or
subtracting a step from the stairs in the dark, blowing the bathroom door
locked behind you, shifting ankle-breaking furniture while your attention is
elsewhere, jamming windows open or closed, exchanging handles on the
shower controls, breaking knobs off in your hands, and stacking pyramids of
head-thumping canned goods on unstable shelves in innocent looking closets.
All these pranks and more are the work of the Household Unfamiliar—
but his special province is the refrigerator, where he moves as soon as you
start to feel at home. Ostensibly, his job there is to turn the light off when you
open the door and on when you close it, but he further diverts himself by
lending to your costly imported beer a skunk-like odor, tempering your
cheese to a gem-like hardness, and spilling dill brine into the yogurt. He
specializes in unscheduled defrostings and freezer burns.
Old wives’ tales have it that open boxes of baking soda and herbal
bouquets deter the Household Unfamiliar from his activities. But as any
housekeeper can tell you, you are just as likely to find a spilled box of baking
soda and a broken bouquet of herbs commingled on top of the mousse.
HISTORY: As might be assumed from the Household Unfamiliar’s
preference for the chilly regions of the refrigerator, this creature came to us
from Scandinavia, a direct descendant of that Nordic domestic pest, the
Kobold. Thus, however neatly you box, store, cap, and wrap your foodstuffs,
these “frigidaredevils” believe that what you wish to find when you open the
door is a smorgasbord.
During the course of the Household Unfamiliar’s food scattering
experiments, that great American dish, chow mein, was invented.
SPOTTER’S TIPS: In the fridge: green spots on the bread, ketchup spots on
the ice cream, and gravy spots on the lettuce. In the rest of the house: brown
spots on the bathroom ceiling, yellow spots on the mattress, and indelible
spots on the laundry.


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