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Time to remove the clutter

One of the few benefits of a recent neurosurgical adventure was the downtime that followed my hospital stay — weeks of mandated recuperation, no work, no travel, all the time, and more, needed for an evaluation of life’s basics.

Upon reflection, one of the first things I discovered was the clutter in my mind.

By clutter, I mean the myriad nonsense that occupied my attention over the course of an ordinary day in Siberia With a View, prior to the trip to Brainville.

By clutter, I mean the incredible amount of useless information acquired over six decades.

By clutter, I mean the vast number of ideas and concerns once considered critically important that are, in truth, utterly vacuous.

By clutter I mean the vanity-driven pursuits, the chases after wind (tip of the hat to Qoheleth).

It’s like my refrigerator.

My refrigerator is a mirror of my mind.

If I need a graphic reminder of my mental state, all I have to do is open the refrigerator door.

Or look at the outside of the door itself.

Perhaps you see the same thing in your kitchen.

The front of the refrigerator is covered with crap. Layers of crap, like siding on a cold shotgun house.

The person who invented the refrigerator magnet should be sent to prison, for crimes against humanity.

Oh, sure, the magnets are cute — ceramic bunnies, birdies, gophers and the like – but take note of what they pin to the fridge door: greasy photos of relatives you hardly know, notes about events long past, lists never to be acted on, yellowed motivational sayings, receipts for things purchased who knows when.


I decide to clear the refrigerator door. I tell Kathy this as she uses a magnet shaped like a kitten to pin a photo of one of her cousins I have never met over a note reminding her to buy a birthday card for our granddaughter — two years ago.

She is not impressed. I might have some trouble clearing the fridge door.

But the interior … that’s another story.

The interior of the fridge is mine to work with since it is, largely, my creation and, in a warped nod to Hermes Trismegistus (“As above, so below”) I realize its cleansing is a process parallel to clearing my own mind. Each item cleared from the fridge can accompany the simultaneous removal of a useless item (idea, concern, notion, obsession, illusion) from my consciousness.

I open the refrigerator door, and what I see is frightening.

The fridge is packed front to back on each shelf. Items are stacked atop the other on the shelves with headroom. The three drawers at the bottom of the compartment are filled. With crap.

The perfect picture of my mental state: my mind is stacked front to back, top to bottom, if you will, with crap.

The fridge hosts numerous bottles and jars filled with contents long past their prime, just as I harbor ideas that have served no useful purpose since the ‘60s or before (if they served a useful purpose then).

Out they go: a jar of Chinese hot garlic paste with a use date of February 2006, is discarded along with the vision of a harmonious communal existence, flush with free love and homegrown vegetables.

A tube of anchovy paste (June 2002) is tossed along with a youthful reverence for Jean Paul Sartre and Maurice Merleau-Ponty.

I find a bowl containing leftover steamed broccoli (residue from a dinner prepared two months ago). The mold growth is remarkable. It is thrown away with a fascination for obscure Belgian symbolist painters.

There’s several bags of lettuce (or what I think was once lettuce) in one of the drawers, found next to another bag filled with brown liquid. They hit the trashcan in the company of any genuine concern for local politics.

Old applesauce? Gone, along with a desire to learn auto mechanics.

A six-year–old bottle of sesame oil is ejected simultaneous to the notion I can understand particle physics.

Moldy blueberries disappear in tandem with a career as an opera singer.

I find a fat link of cheap summer sausage, part of a Christmas gift from a relative. Who knows how long it has resided in the meat drawer? Given the load of preservatives injected in the product, the sausage probably never goes bad. But who wants to eat it? Same basic thing with the screenplay I have always wanted to write: timeless themes, but who would want to watch the film?

Salad dressing long gone green?

A world record in the senior power lifting championships?

A half can of tomato paste?


A tub of rotting hummus?

A home in Umbria?

Year-old sardines?

Jet pilot?

On and on it goes. I find things stuck to the shelves at the back of the refrigerator, just as I find ideas stuck in the recesses of my mind. They must be pried loose and sent to the landfill.

Once I have emptied the fridge of most of the clutter, what remains delights me. There are some swell things in there, just as there are some swell things left in my mind.

For example, I discover an unopened jar of Korean spicy black bean sauce. A diamond amidst the lumps of coal.

And in my mind, there remains a clear recognition of what is important to me now. Since my recent brain surgery, I’ve taken an inventory of what matters: my family, my friends, the many people of good will in Siberia With a View who show genuine concern for others, expressing that concern in positive actions, thoughts and prayers.

And I find wine. In both places.

So, with mind fairly clear of clutter, I intend to keep cooking for others, sharing a bit of gratitude at the table. No doubt, now I am back at work, nonsense will eventually refill the reservoir. All the inane crud that passes for critically important stuff here in Siberia With a View will infect me again, as it does all too many of my fellow residents.

And items will begin to take up long-term residence in the fridge, gradually pushed to the back of shelves and drawers, there to rot and function as science fair projects.

In the meantime … family, friends, food.

And a test.

That spicy black bean sauce.

I’ll make a variation on black bean noodles with pork and vegetables.

I’ll need some fatty pork, cubed, marinated in rice wine, ginger and garlic.

I’ll slice a white onion, slice and mash a clove or two of garlic, cube some zucchini and a sweet potato or two. I’ll thinly slice some cabbage.

I’ll cook udon noodles, rinse them in cold water and drain.

Into a hot skillet with a bit of oil goes the pork. I’ll saute it awhile, until it begins to get crispy brown, remove it to a plate then toss the potato into the hot skillet. I’ll saute this awhile then pour in some water, cover and let the potato steam for a bit. I’ll cook off the water and add theonion and zucchini and a bit of oil, if necessary. When the potato is tender, in will go the garlic and the pork. I’ll add a significant amount of the black bean sauce and heat. Last in is the cabbage, on the heat long enough to barely wilt. In go the noodles, the ingredients are mixed and, once everything is warm, it’s time to chow down, with a simple green salad with a red miso and lemon dressing on the side. A smattering of kimchi won’t hurt, and I have a dandy recipe for a quick cabbage kimchi I might whip up if Kathy is not looking.

A meal to test the senses.

A meal to test family and friends. If they are true, they will endure. If they are special, they will enjoy ... or pretend to.

Once the test is complete, I can get to work cleaning the freezer compartment and ridding myself of delusions of grandeur.

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