Moldy Oldies

May 15, 2009

The other day I heard a news story about a woman who decided to clean the refrigerator in the office where she worked. She took all the old, rotting stuff out and set it on a table and started scrubbing. And then people in the office started getting sick and some had to go to the hospital. My first thought was, where the heck does this woman work? If it’s at the Centers For Disease Control then that makes sense. It is a bad idea to take containers marked, "Danger-Anthrax" out of the refrigerator and set them on the table where somebody might mistake them for a salt shaker. What was in that refrigerator, and how long exactly had it been in there that it was making people sick? It had to be something really bizarre because, let’s face it, even though Larry in accounts payable has left that tuna fish sandwich in the refrigerator for six years, the thing has come pretty close to growing legs and is going to make a break for it before it before it hurts anybody. Is it really possible that stuff left in the refrigerator could be so toxic it would make people sick that quickly? And, if so, maybe they need help.

Things like the swine flu are serious because they’re new diseases that no one’s ever encountered before, but if you’ve never been exposed to what grows on a leftover potato salad that’s been in the refrigerator for a week, maybe you should get out more. I remember in biology class the teacher told us that sometimes bread would start to grow mold in it long before it would become visible, and that we all probably ate mold on a regular basis. And when we all started screaming, "Ewww!" and some of the girls threw up in their backpacks, the teacher said it was okay, that the small amount of mold we ate was like penicillin. It was pumping up our immune systems. In fact I worry about kids today being constantly kept inside and sprayed with antibiotics constantly. I remember when I was a kid and we’d go out and roll in the mud. I’d find a dead bird and pick it up. Once I found two dead birds and was carrying them around in both hands and then I found a third one so I picked it up with my mouth. Why was I carrying around dead birds? Because I was curious. It was the only chance I’d get to really look closely at a bird because most of the time they were either flying or way up in trees. I was studying them. I even had this crazy idea that I could put together a museum because I’d been to the museum and seen dead birds there too, although they were stuffed and behind glass. When my mother found me carrying a dead bird of course she got upset and said, "Those things are full of germs!" Which was, really, the point, even if I didn’t consciously know it. And my mother also showed me how mold grows on a piece of bread by putting a piece in a jar and putting it under the sink, which fascinated me and made me less squeamish in biology class. It fascinated me so much my mother had high hopes I’d grow up to be the next Jonas Salk, although it was really just preparing me for a job as museum curator. Or a guy who cleans out refrigerators.

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