The Kelvinator


Upon arriving at my funky little lime-green Shackteau out in Coral Bay, St. John after what had been sixteen hours of grueling car/plane/boat/taxi travel carrying with me a few guitars, a PA and enough clothes to last three months, I crawled out of my tired old Hyundai rental car My arms loaded with luggage and guitars I stumbled down the dark path and kicked open the weather-beaten white louvered door to the shack. It was nearly midnight. I was exhausted. The delicious, old 'home again at last' feeling of relief and joy that I usually experience upon my arrival to my island retreat quickly dissolved when I turned on the light and saw what was standing there to greet me. 

There stood the Kelvinator. The ancient, stained, rusted apartment-sized refrigerator loomed like a miniature Stonehenge pintle, smack dab in the middle of the room. Its door precariously yawned open, revealing a worn out door gasket, presenting like the pale, flaccid lips of an old crone. Inside were two small glass shelves - one cracked and covered with the detritus of age and abandonment. A freezer box way larger than anyone could reasonably expect to reside within the belly of such a diminutive refrigerator dripped moisture. A short, crusty electrical cord trailed behind, like the naked tail of a tree rat. 

“Well, this is certainly a treat,” I muttered. “What in hell am I supposed to do with this?” I asked no one. 

Part of the plastic Kelvinator name plate on the dented door had been broken off between the letters 'n' and 'a'. The 'ator' section evidently had disppeared, leaving “Kelvin” stuck to the door like an eponymous afterthought. 

“Forthwith I shall name thee 'Kelvin'” I decreed, guessing that perhaps I wasn't the first to have done so. Kelvin leaned forward significantly, as if in deference to my arrival. However, further investigation revealed that poor Kelvin's small feet - certainly way more tired than mine - had actually disappeared up through his rusted bottom plate, thus disallowing his door to remain shut. Not a desirable feature for a refrigerator. 

“Why are you here?” I mused to Kelvin. That I thought a refrigerator would be able to answer such an existential question is beyond me, but he actually transmitted a response: “I am here to be of service to you. And you are here to be of service to me.” It really had been an awfully long day of travel. 

I needed the floor space in my small room and I'd decided that Kelvin was a bit too tall for an ottoman or night table. He offered nowhere near enough room to be a useful dresser. It was evident that Kelvin's filthy little self would not be welcome anywhere inside the Shackteau, so I pushed and shoved and dragged him from the middle of my small room out onto the porch. “I don't know how you got here, or what I'm supposed to do with you, Kelvin, but I'm too tired to figure this out now. Goodnight!”, and I dragged my own self off to bed. 

I was awakened early the next morning by a gentle knocking on my door. It was Percival, the sweet, venerable church deacon from Dominica who owns my shack. “A very good mahnin', to you Mr. David, and welcome back to deh island.” 

“Thank you, Percival, and it's also very good to see you again,” I replied, somewhat embarrassed to be wiping sleep from my eyes at 7:30AM. I knew that Percival had likely been awake since 4:30, tending to his own duties before heading off for his job as groundskeeper at Estate Concordia. 

“I spec' yah see deh 'frigerator dere? Wan' yah know yah can use it if yah wan'. Jes' plug he in. But he door nah stay close...hafta use dis tape to keep he door close',” Percival said as he handed me a roll of duct tape. 

“Ah, thank you, Percival,” I said, taking the tape from him, imagining chilled food and cold beer spilling out onto the floor each time Kelvin's door was 'untaped'. “I was wondering how it got there and what your plans were for it. I thought it was going to the dump!” 

“Nah, no dump for he,” laughed Percival. “He got life in he yet. Yah bes' use 'im! Have a blessed day, Mr. David, and again, welcome back!” And off he went, whistling into his day, having made it quite clear that the dump was not an option for Kelvin. Now my first round of business for the day had been ordained: Figure out how to make Kelvin useful - without making me insane! 

I tipped Kelvin back and leaned him against the porch wall. Sure enough, his two front feet had painfully retracted through his rusty floor and were protruding reluctantly only about half an inch. His back two feet, however, looked fine. I went out into my yard and rooted around until I found two small scraps of wood about an inch and half thick. I placed these scraps under Kelvin approximately where his front feet should be. Voila! Kelvin's new prostheses worked like a charm and allowed him to stand straight up again! And the best part? His door remained closed! 

“Now we have to do something about your door gasket, Kelvin,” says I as I got a bowl of soapy water and a sponge. “And while I'm at it, you shall receive a thorough, all-over scrubbin'!” 

I spent the better part of the next hour removing years of filth and grime from Kelvin, being very careful not to further damage any of his fragile gasket material. I removed his shelves and scrubbed his copious freezer compartment until he positively gleamed, inside and out. Well, sort of. At least as good as an ancient, well-worn apartment-sized Kelvinator of undetermined origin can be capable of gleaming. Bits of duct tape were enlisted to hold Kelvin's door gasket reasonably in place. 

And then came the moment of truth: Time to plug Kelvin into the wobbly wall socket! I grabbed his electrical cord (considerably more flexible and less ratty since his tubbin') and plugged it into the wall, fully expecting the primitive, low-amp Shackteau wiring to heat up and blow. But it didn't. Kelvin woke up, rattled a little and then hummed to life. Within an hour, I had a fully functioning 'fridge! And as an added bonus, Kelvin's top was exactly counter-height, so I could use his top as a work surface to prepare food. 

“Excelsior!” I shouted. “Hooray and huzzah for Kelvin!” 

Days turned to weeks, then to months, and Kelvin kept humming along nicely. I decorated his door with “I Got Baked In the Sun” and “Skinny Legs” stickers. I returned the unused roll of duct tape to Percival who was quite pleased to learn of Kelvin's well-being. Kelvin happily cooled a few gallons of milk, six coconuts, countless vegetables and fruits, chilled more than a few ginger beers and kept a bottle of rum icy cold in his freezer...all with no problems, no issues. Except one. 

Remember Kelvin's copious freezer? It may be that Kelvin had a really cold heart, or was simply cold-blooded, but that damn freezer frosted up like a Greenland glacier in rather short order. It got so chock full of snowy, frosty ice there was no room for the ice cube tray and the rum bottle became buried in snow! 

Perhaps Kelvin might have been trying to remind me of what I'd been missing back in New England? Adjusting his fully-functioning thermostat did little to remedy his glacier-making abilities, so every two weeks - if not sooner - Kelvin needed to be defrosted. One time Percival happened to pop his head around my porch door just in time to see me sweeping some of Kelvin's snow and ice off my porch floor with a broom. “Don' yah use deh shovel to do dis back north?” he queried with a smile. 

Once, I neglected Kelvin's defrosting schedule for over a month. So I decided to multi-task, using the time not only to spend writing my How-to-Play the Cigar Box Guitar book, but also to defrost Kelvin's freezer. I figured that I would do this first thing in the morning because the sun shone strongly on my porch at this time. That would hasten the defrosting process considerably and give me time to visit the beach before I had to play my gig that evening. 

I shut Kelvin off and opened his door to allow the warm sun to work its magic on the permafrost inside. I removed the food and beverages and placed them in the shower stall, covered with a towel to preserve whatever cool I could from the Caribbean heat. Then I set to writing and waiting. And waiting. 

After about an hour, audible dripping noises told me the process was definitely underway. I took my knife and chipped away at the ice cap. Small chips fell to the floor, but there remained so much frost and ice that I could not yet remove the drain tray; the rum bottle was only barely visible. So I went back to my writing. 

A little while later I heard a small chunk of ice fall away. A miniature iceberg, calving from its mother glacier, fell not into an arctic sea, but onto my tropical porch floor. I got my knife and began chipping away again. This time more ice fell and I swept it into a dustpan and heaved it over my porch railing where it fell into the street below where it sat for a few seconds before evaporating away on the sun- scorched pavement. A large grey thrushee, a garrulous and curious bird who'd been sitting in a nearby genip tree watching me all morning, occasionally chirped his interest - or criticism? - in my activity. He would cock his head and let out a loud Ta-WEET?!? that definitely had a question mark attached to it. I returned to my writing. But not for long. 

The solar-thermal defrosting process had been achieved, the tipping point reached. Large chunks of snowy ice began to rapidly fall onto the floor from Kelvin's chest cavity. It was all happening rather quickly now. I enlisted my knife to remove the remaining snow and ice and again retrieved my broom and dust pan. I wondered again 'Why in hell would such a small fridge have such a large freezer?'. There was now way more frozen fallout than I could fit in a single dust pan scoop. I needed a bucket, but didn't have one. Taking my cue from Percival, I repeatedly shoveled the slushy stuff into my dustpan and quickly flung the contents off the porch onto the road below. 

I don't normally do this sort of thing. I like to believe that I think things through. But this time, I needed to get rid of the glacial material before it melted all over, flooding my porch floor. But in my haste to remove it, I was not cognizant of one important fact: The road was below my porch. It was used for vehicular traffic. It was decidely not a snow removal zone. Useful Factoid: 'Snow Removal Zone' is a totally irrelevant and unknown concept in the Caribbean. At least until today. 

I hurredly piled the last of Kelvin's sloughing ice onto my brimming dustpan, quickly raised it up and let it fly. About midway through its icy arc from porch to road, I noticed a shiny, new, red rental Jeep approaching on the road below. “Good lord!” I exclaimed, sucking in my breath. “No! No! Please, God, don't . . .” 

Before I could finish my thought, the load of snow and ice landed in a perfect, slushy heap on that scarlet Jeep's hood. The combined velocity of Kelvin's falling frost with the speed of the moving Jeep made for quite an interesting, and certainly alien, sound upon impact – Shhhhplaaaaaatttttttt!!!! 

The Jeep's tires screeched. The thrushee squawked and flew off like a missile. Miss Lucy's goats and chickens who had been happily scrounging the adjacent roadside for edibles shot off into the bush like livestock grenades. I stood dumbstruck as Kelvin's icy avalanche and the Jeep both came to a rather abrupt, soppy, stop about thirty feet from where I stood, immobilized, above them on my porch. 

Inside the Jeep a tourist family, obviously from northern climes as evidenced by their pallid, opalescent skin tone and matching baseball caps emblazoned with a “NY” logo, sat stunned. The tattooed, mustachioed man with a shaved head and no neck sat macho-style in his 'wife-beater' t-shirt, gripping the steering wheel.  Next to him his bejeweled, bottle-blonde wife was sporting oversized sunglasses, cosmetic breasts and a goofy sunhat. Plopped miserably in the back seat looking as though they'd rather be having a root canal slumped two sour-looking, gum-chewing adolescent girls, wrapped in beach towels and serious 'tude. Their big hair was crowned by backwards ball caps; one with the “NY” logo, the other with a “Hello, Kitty” graphic. This bunch, no doubt relieved to be away from the absolutely brutal winter conditions back in the States, stared wide-eyed and slack-jawed in momentary silence as I stood above them, paralyzed, on my porch. Then like a hornets nest smashed with a large rock, they all exploded! Everyone was hollering their best Bronx curses, shaking their fists and giving me furious middle finger salutes. 

“Yo, crazy man, what the f**k you think yer doin'?” roared the man. Wife shrieked something unintelligible and the two teens glared and each gave me their best double-handed middle finger salute from the Jeep's open windows. One stuck out her tongue. 

Mortified, I momentarily feared Poppi just might feel the need to demonstrate his machismo by springing out of the Jeep, leaping up the high walled embankment in an adrenaline-fueled rage and nailing me to the porch wall. I probably deserved it. 

“I am so, so sorry,” I sincerely apologized. Trying to lighten things up a little, I smiled, “Bet you thought you could get away from all those blizzards back home, eh? See, I was defrosting my refrigerator and...” but before I could finish my explanation they'd roared off, shiny fenders dripping cold water and windshield wipers flapping wildly. I thought I could still hear shouting - “You crazy sumbitch” - and I am fairly sure I could make out a couple of middle finger salutes through the Jeep's blacked out rear windows as they tore off towards Salt Pond. 

* * * * * 

Last night I had a dream. It was about Kelvin. Like a kitchen Frankenstein, he had been brought into this world cursed, from some dark, gothic factory hidden somewhere deep in Albania. Dark forces had installed a demonic component inside of him that made him behave in mysteriously untoward and sometimes evil ways. Kelvin looked normal alright, just like all the other Kelvinators of his vintage: white, boxy, smallish and rectangular – the perfect size to fit inocculously in an apartment under the counter. 

But Kelvin was different and odd things happened to the people with whom Kelvin resided. Things like routinely blown electrical fuses, broken water pipes resulting in ruinous floods, spoiled food and strange nighttime noises. Peculiar, localized meteorological disturbances frequently accompanied these events. Each successive owner of Kelvin began to wonder whether perhaps it was that weird little 'fridge of theirs that may have had something to do with the disturbing, annoying events in their homes. Each, in turn, got rid of him. And lucky for them, too, because things were steadily going from bad to worse with Kelvin. 

Just before Kelvin was sent away for the last time to the Salvation Army where an enthusiastic church pastor from the outback would eventually pick him up to be used in their parish commissary, the poor family with whom Kelvin had last resided found themselves in a terrible state of unconsoleable grief. The family had several small children and their youngest daughter, a aweet little girl of three, had mysteriously disappeared a few days ago - without a trace. There were no witnesses, no clues. The authorities were stumped. 

“One minute she was on de floor playin' wit' her toy animals, de nex', BAM! she jus' gone!” 

A few days later, the distraught mother went to the village's old wise woman for consolation and sage advice. 

The old wise woman sat silently in her tiny wooden shack upon what had once been the front seat of a Jeep. She slowly fingered a length of old electrical cord like a string of worry beads. Her long, snowy hair flowed in snake-like braids down around her waist as she sat staring with ice blue eyes out of her open door to the high mountain peaks visible in the faraway distance where, despite it being summertime, snow and ice could plainly be seen.

After a long while sitting in a transcendent state, the old woman turned slowly to the tearful mother, opened her wrinkled mouth and solemnly uttered, “Kelvin ate her.” 

Then I awoke.  I think I may need to go look for a new refrigerator.


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