The catch of the day lurked behind the refrigerator

Every home has an area that's ignored, a place you never think about until some event brings it to your attention. For me, that area was the space behind our refrigerator. When a precious homegrown orange, the last of the season, rolled across the fridge top and fell into the five-inch gap between the back of the appliance and the wall, I became suddenly acquainted with that area. It shows that one can live in a home for years and years and still find new frontiers.

I won't dwell on who caused the orange to fall by toppling a fruit basket. In our society there are protections against self-incrimination. Suffice it to say, I found myself holding a flashlight, my stomach pressed against the counter, my neck and shoulders twisted, trying to see a glint of orange in the unfamiliar chasm.

The harder I tried to see, the more I molded myself into a shape uncommon for human beings, a shape that twisted and curled unpredictably like a Chinese noodle. Yoga books that include the Bow Posture and the Cobra Posture do not include a Chinese Noodle Posture, but if they did, the authors would describe it as a strenuous position to be attempted only at times of monumental necessity - such as when the last orange of the season drops behind the refrigerator.

My reconnaissance complete, I straightened up and set down my flashlight. I resolved to pull the refrigerator forward until it was out of its niche, allowing me access to the orange. For 45 strenuous, red-faced seconds I tugged and pulled, but with no result. The utter lack of movement convinced me that the appliance had grown roots that extended hundreds of feet into the ground.

I recalled that, when moving into our home, I'd reached this conclusion: There are two objects that you do not try to move, the piano and the refrigerator. You build around these objects.

Of course, the supervisors of this world, while asking you to move their anvils a little more to the left, develop their own theories. For instance, I was told that the little rollers under the piano indicated mobility. "If I attach training wheels to the Rock of Gibraltar, does that make it portable?" I replied. "Those piano rollers are just for show. They are like the painted-on control panel of an amusement park ride. Not functional."

Having discarded the idea of moving the fridge, I grabbed a pair of salad tongs. I sat on the counter and extended my left arm into the gap, feeling around with the tongs. The experience evoked memories of those carnival booths in which you work a grabbing device, attempting to lift a prized object from a table. Usually something that you don't want adheres tenaciously to the grabber while the gold watch that you do want acts as if it's welded in place.

My salad tongs did not grab the orange; nor did they pull up the ever-elusive gold watch. All they brought up was a dust bunny. Because it was not composed of fluffy carpet fibers but of grimier, more sinister dust, perhaps it was not a "bunny." Call it a dust weasel.

As I extended my salad tongs behind the refrigerator for a second attempt, my neighbor, Sebastian, entered through the front door. I had left the door open hoping to let in a cool evening breeze, but Sebastian was equally welcome. He had been given some of our homegrown oranges in the past. He knew how sweet they tasted, and he instantly saw the necessity of rescuing the fallen orange from the custody of the sinister dust weasels.

The only thing that bothered me was this: Seeing me with my hand behind the refrigerator, he appeared to interpret the scene as a kind of major-appliance ventriloquist act. That is, while I explained the situation, he looked only at the fridge, as if expecting the freezer section door to flap like jaws and create the illusion of speech.

Sebastian applied himself to the citrus-rescue problem. His solution was to get his fishing pole. He loves to fish, and his solution to almost any problem, including the national debt, is to get his fishing pole. In this case, however, the pole had possibilities.

Sebastian doubled up a piece of duct tape and attached it to his sinker, sticky side out. He extended his pole above the gap behind the fridge and carefully lowered his line. I sat on the counter and reached into the space with my salad tongs, guiding the line so it would rest atop the orange. It was a delicate procedure. The lowering phase was successful, but, as I had feared, the sinker lacked the weight and adhesive strength to pull up a heavy orange.

Seized with an idea, I searched through several cupboards until I located one of our retractable marshmallow forks. When fully extended, the fork was about three feet long. I could reach with the fork, pierce the fruit with the prongs, and lift it from the troublesome space. It nearly worked, but the weight of the orange kept the prongs at a downward angle, allowing the orange to slide off and fall back to the ground.

Sebastian suggested a modification. "We'll tie my line to the marshmallow fork," he said. "After you puncture the orange, I'll reel my line in slowly. That will keep the prong end up, so that the fork will be kept roughly parallel to the ground and the orange won't slide off."

It worked. Through patient and careful teamwork, we recovered the fallen orange. I was glad that Sebastian and his fishing pole had played a key role. Later, we peeled, divided, and ate that orange, and it tasted every bit as sweet as we expected it would. "The best-tasting catch I ever made," said Sebastian. "It's orange roughy, without the roughy."

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