Back in college I was so painfully shy I was unable to order pizza over the phone, not only denying myself almost 95% of my collegiate nutrients but also leaving me to depend on the help of friends or the likelihood a large with pepperoni would be delivered to my room by mistake.
This, however, was a step up from high school, when I both averted my gaze any time my name was called in class (resulting in several minutes of "Francesco?...Francesco?...I can see you, Francesco...Francesco!...Scott?") and managed to avoid using the bathroom six hours a day for three straight years for fear of bullies or social contact.
And somehow even this was a grand leap from elementary school, when I was so scared to ask for permission to go to the bathroom that I simply thought it easier to pee at my own desk. (The fact that I still wound up on the "Honors" track instead of the "Food Industry" or "Monitored by Scientists" track confounds me to this day.)
To put it lightly, speaking up has never been a strong suit of mine. This fear has followed me well into adulthood, causing no end of delays in professional advancements, personal achievements or even tasting a Starbucks Holiday Latte (which ultimately proved a remarkable letdown to say the least). It has also led me to continue living for years with an inoperative oven, two dead burners, a closet door that does not close and, worst of all, an ancient, malfunctioning refrigerator...
...complete with an equally defective icebox.
While living with what increasingly feels like a prop from The Honeymooners--and having to defrost every 36 hours--certainly has had its quaint charms, I began to long for an appliance that allowed me to keep dairy products over the course of a full afternoon or did not require eight pounds of salt and the torch from Fahrenheit 451 every time I wanted access to a Fla-Vor-Ice.
Thus, when it came time to renew my lease--an act I do year after year despite my ramshackle existence solely because it allows me to utter the phrase "private backyard" (which in New York City is the equivalent of saying, "Would you care to see my griffin?")--a wholly unique thought popped in my head. "What if," I wildly pondered, "I asked for a new fridge...or at least a fridge from this decade...or at least a fridge with working door hinges...or at least a fridge with shelving that does not consist of cardboard featuring cereal mascots...or at least a fridge that does require it's own coal shoveler...or..." It was at this point I cut off my train of thought, for fear I would call up my landlord requesting they replace my refrigerator with a burlap sack resting atop an ice floe.
So after several days of pumping myself with courage--and then having to rest an additional two days after discovering my body can only handle mild pluck, not outright valor or even middling grit--I called my landlord and announced with my boldest squeak, "I would like a new fridge." To which they immediately responded, "No. You already got a new fridge in 2008."
Admittedly, I was not prepared for this response, if only because the very same fridge was in my apartment when I assumed the lease back in 2007. When I mentioned this over the phone--much to my own great surprise--I was informed that I was wrong, that my refrigerator is practically brand new and that it was still under warranty with its seller, P.C. Richards. When I asked if they could send someone over from P.C. Richards to check my two-year-old fridge that was at least three-years-old, my landlord said with not a little annoyance that since it was under warranty it was my responsibility, not theirs, to have it repaired. Then they hung up.
For someone who considers talking on the phone a Herculean effort--and requesting anything a Satanic exercise--this was perhaps the worst outcome I could have imagined. It was as if I had finally worked up the courage to ask a woman out only for her to say, "I'm sorry, I only date men." Ashamed, ashen-face and almost certain I would never be able to keep cheese, I then did what I thought was my only viable course of action--do what a stranger had told me to do and call P.C. Richards for repairs.
Working under the theory that due to the warranty calling P.C. Richards was not so much bothering them with a favor as fulfilling a contractual obligation they themselves had put into motion, I dialed the number my landlord had barked at me and told the store my situation. The store asked for the refrigerator's identification number. The store then said they had no such refrigerator on record. The store then asked me to locate the refrigerator's manufacturing date. The store then asked me to read said manufacturing date aloud.
And so I was embarrassed for the second time in under 15 minutes. Embarrassed that I had bothered an appliance store (though I'm quite certain my chagrin could easily lend itself to any number of retail outfits). Embarrassed that I had not thought to look up the manufacturing date myself. And embarrassed that I had let myself be so easily convinved I was in the wrong from the very beginning.
But something else had happened. In addition to being embarrassed I was also quite enraged. And it was because of this newfound anger that I was able to skip completely over my "Six Stages of Grief over Having to Call a Stranger" (Stage 1: Fear; Stage 2: Panic; Stage 3: Horror; Stage 4: Outright dread; Stage 5: Put off call for eight months; Stage 6: Aneurysm) and immediately call back my landlord.
"Hel...Hello, this...this is Francesco. We spoke earlier...No, no, I know...I know....I know...I'm sorry...I'm sorry, but...but...I called P.C. Richards and they have no record of my refrigerator. In fact, I found out...I know...I'm sorry....I found out that my fridge was manufactured in 1997, and so could never have been delivered in 2008."
Then there was silence, followed by a hushed but hot-tempered exchange in Hindi on the other end of the line and then eventually the following response.
"You must have read the manufacturing date wrong."
Now, I admit that I have never had a facility for foreign languages, but I am quite confident that I have a firm, white-knuckled grip on Arabic numerals. Had the refrigerator been built in Japan and the manufacturing date been written in Kanji, then yes, I would have readily admitted that I could not say with any certainty whether I was reading a year or perhaps the name of a Kanto prefecture. But this was patently ridiculous. And it was at this very ludicrous moment that I realized my landlord and I had accomplished something previously thought physically impossible or only the commodity of feverish science fiction--we were actually communicating across two alternate realities.
In my reality I had a 13-year-old fridge that made such a horrible grinding noise it sounded as if I was milling granite in my kitchen. In my landlord's reality I had a brand new fridge featuring such technological advances as a relentless icebox that could store a single ice tray or King Cone and a vegetable crisper sans drawer, resulting in more of a tomato cubbyhole.
Now, there comes a time when a small child is arguing with his or her parent that the kid will say something so unbelievably stupid in their own defense that even they will be startled by the boldness of their doltishness (ex: "Bunnies WOULD make good pilots!"). This is known as "the point of no return" in a verbal quarrel, the point at which one person is so desperate for a victory that they are no longer concerned about being right but simply about not having to admit that they are wrong. It was this very point that my landlord had reached. So desperate was he to not be made a fool--as well not to have to cough up $600--he fearlessly tried to undermine the very linear nature of time itself. And it was at this very point that I miraculously found my voice, my confidence and my very right to express my needs.
And so I said--not muttered--in a calm yet courageous tone, "Get me a new fridge today."
It's been a few days since that series of increasingly insipid conversations, a period of time punctuated with Fla-Vor-Ices retrieved from my brand new refrigerator with actual freezer. And while the preceding story may seem a small series of inconsequential events to you, dear reader, please know that to me it means if not a grand victory in personal development (at the tender age of 42) then at least a tiny triumph in being able to store and eat leftover pizza I order all by myself.