Saturday, December 13, 2014

Cleaning up

The apartment was his junk drawer.

He’d been through the Great Depression, and done all the usual things—hauled bottle caps for trade-in for metal value, fished for the family dinner, and on and on. He decided to try to live off as little as he could. Every year of the past dozen he gardened in a city plot, and canned the results. He hunted up remainder bargains, and canned or froze those. He had a freezer set to max in his apartment, and it was chock full of mostly unidentifiable plastic bags of food. (The only way to figure out what something is is to thaw it, and then you’re stuck with it. I used a rod and mallet to knock packages loose from the bed of frost.) Between the 600 odd cans of food he’d made and the contents of the freezers, he could have fed himself for a year given only water and electricity to run the freezer and his hot plate. Yes, he told other people he was expecting the food supply to collapse. He was generous with his produce, encouraging one neighbor with ankle pain to eat lots of pickled jalapenos to mitigate the pain (she liked jalapenos and thought he was funny), and handing out jars of other confections freely.

Some of the dates on the jars are from 2006, but mostly the things are fairly current, so I think he was eating his own preparations all these years. We’d never visited his apartment before, because he told us his enemies were watching him and he wanted to keep us safe.

We ate his cooking once at his sister’s home when she was out. I suppose it had nutrition. Even my weirdest bachelor culinary experiments tasted better. His version was kin to the Asterix the Legionary “legionary’s rations”: “Corn, cheese, and bacon, all cooked together to save time.”

He didn’t have enough shelving for the store-canned goods he bought, so he created a narrow shelving unit tied to the wall by picture hangers. The 7x3 unit used nails to hold the bottom together, but he wasted no nails in the rest—it was held together by the weight of the canned goods. When we disconnected it from the wall the shelves fell like dominoes. Jars held up shelves which held up other shelves. Ceiling tiles nailed to the walls became cork-boards, and in lieu of a queen-size mattress he used a twin mattress and strips of foam wrapped in a blanket. When we entered to begin the cleanup, there was a 1-foot wide path to the bedroom, bathroom, living room, and kitchen. Part of the bath stall was set up with plant lights for seed starting.

He was one of the quartermasters on the Finback, and was brilliant at squirreling away bits and pieces of things in original places and creating ways to house more. That carried over into civilian life (at least when I knew him), and his van and apartment were wondrous things. He bought gear he’d never use, but could trade for things he could use if things went south. But as he got older I think he started to lose track of what he’d hidden where.

He always laid down rolls of paper to protect the carpet or counter from his superstructures, and when these were removed the original surfaces were generally immaculate.

I found a children’s guide to a museum screwed up inside an otherwise empty spice jar. I suspect it was meant for a hide-and-seek game that never happened—he had just the offbeat sense of humor for that. He kept that sense of humor to the end.

Next to his Bible was his “second Bible”—the CRC handbook, worn to a frazzle.

1 comment:

The Mad Soprano said...

Chef Short would have had a heart attack if saw the kitchen area.