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Charlie Hatton
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I'm on a bit of a hiatus right now, but only to work on other projects -- one incredibly exciting example being the newly-released kids' science book series Things That Make You Go Yuck!
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Scheme and Scheme Alike

There’s a certain art to living with another human being. Whether you’re sharing a room with a roommate, a cell with a cellmate or a marriage with a…er, marriagemate, there are certain rules you follow and games you play to keep life copacetic between you and your fellow living quarters sharer. It’s a complicated dance.

(There are perhaps other, less ‘complicated’ dances that happen with cellmates.

We’re not talking about those today. Or hopefully, ever.)

“That ‘love is patient; love is kind’ crap isn’t helpful. How about somebody tells us ‘love will totally eat your leftover curly fries when your back is turned’?”

Nowhere is the delicate balance between selfishness and altruism more pronounced than in the icebox. Specifically, wherever leftover food is involved. There are three distinct kinds of leftovers recognized by the Universal Domestic Cohabitation Council, Subcommittee on Refrigerated Foodstuffs:

No touchy!: In the case where one roomie has ordered a ‘private’ meal of some kind — either alone in the house, or out at a restaurant — and stashed the remainder in the fridge for later, these remnants are deemed to be OFF LIMITS to the other household member, unless expressly stated otherwise.

In writing. Preferably as part of a blood oath, on camera and with a notary public present to witness. Accidentally — or ‘accidentally’ — eating someone else’s half a birthday enchilada or special chicken wings has started more roommate feuds, fights, brawls and splits than perhaps any other factor known to roomiekind.

(Honestly. He-Man once snarfed half a salami hoagie Skeletor was saving for dinner one afternoon. That’s how the whole thing started. True story.)

Leftovers may also be prescribed as ‘no touchy!’ by virtue of a special writ, usually consisting of a snarky passive-aggressive Post-It note to the effect of ‘MINE! MINE! MINE!‘ attached to said leftovers. Should these notes appear more frequently than once per quarter, the Anal-Retentive Overpossessive Asshole clause of the mutual housing agreement may be triggered.

(Or you can lick everything that shows up in the fridge with a note. No jury would convict you.)

Owner’s dibs: On certain occasions, leftovers are deemed to be ‘shared’, but priority for first choice of the remaining morsels clearly belongs to one person. Usually whoever paid for the pizza or subs or moo goo gai pan in the first place. The ‘second chooser’ is free to partake, but if he or she doesn’t offer first choice to the payer, then they’ll be paying for their own damned food next time, that’ll teach ’em.

This is also known as the “moochers can’t be choosers” rule.

First come, first nosh: In most other cases — splitting a pizza pie, ordering Chinese food together, lugging home half a jumbo bucket of greasy chicken skins from the southern fried poultry joint — all bets are off. Whoever raids the fridge first gets the first pick of the spoils — or all the spoils, if there’s only one serving left. Save the special cases, private meals and prissy note labels above, roommate leftovers generally fall into this category.

And it’s the only rule in play for a married couple.

This married couple, anyway. If I want the last slice of double-pepperoni, then I’d better get to it first. Doesn’t matter where it came from, who brought it into the house, who paid for it, or what kind of exclamation-laced note might be attached. All’s fair in love and war, and the contents of the fridge are fair game in marriage.

(These are things they should tell you during the ceremony. That ‘love is patient; love is kind’ crap isn’t helpful. How about somebody tells us ‘love will totally eat your leftover curly fries when your back is turned’?

That’s the shit you need to know going in. They couldn’t have shoehorned that into Corinthians somewhere?)

Most of the time, this isn’t a huge concern. We often wind up with enough leftovers for a full meal apiece, so timing isn’t so important. Or one of us saves something the other doesn’t like much, so we’re in the proverbial gastronomical clear. She can store any dish with raw tomatoes in the fridge as long as she likes, and I’m not getting near it. Likewise really spicy food or raw onions for her. She might sprinkle holy water on it or poke it away with an oven mitt. But eat it? No chance.

Then there are the more difficult times — when planning and conniving and yes, outright scheming are required to guarantee an uninterrupted supply of slowly-aging but delicious food. Like the last slice of pizza, or that half a box of fried rice, after the rest of the dishes are gone. These are the lifeblood of the non-cooking husband — another meal accomplished without turning on a stove, reading a recipe or tipping yet another delivery person.

(You think I’m kidding. I’m sending the pizza guy’s kid through college. When he shows up one day and pulls our order out of a brand new Bentley, I’ll know that maybe — just maybe — we’re calling just a tad too often. Maybe.)

But how to maximize my refrigerator meal payout? Ah — that’s where the scheming comes in. What needs to happen to avoid sorting out an actual fresh meal? I just have to get to the leftovers first. And there are three strategies for that:

1. Be nimble; be quick: Sometimes getting there first just means getting there first. If that means eating dinner at five-thirty like a beshawled dottering grandma, then so be it. Dinnertime is what you make it — and if you want dinner to include leftovers, then I might have to make it the middle of the afternoon. That’s called striking while the iron is hot.

Or while the tandoori chicken is cold. Whichever you prefer.

2. Salvage the dregs: The key here is to leave leftovers unappealing enough that my wife wouldn’t want to eat them. So even if she hits the fridge first, she’ll find nothing but pain there — plain white rice, half a sad wilted salad or four lonely French fries.

That’s when you swoop in and reap… well, the same pain, actually. There’s nothing pretty about this solution. But food is food, and heating leftovers is still better than making food happen any other way, so it works in a pinch. I’m not too proud to eat three-and-a-half old pizza crusts and call it a meal. Are you?

No. Don’t answer that.

3. Suck it like a vampire: Sometimes, it’s not about being hungry. it’s just about the food. Maybe that last egg roll looked too good to pass up, or those nachos have been in there a few days already and nobody really wants them, but you can’t bear to throw away food. So you eat it not because you want to — but because it has to be done. At three in the morning.

Why three in the morning? Let’s face it — these are not decisions you want to make, or to follow through on, in the light of day. If you’re going to scarf the rest of that cheesesteak sub because you promised you’d finish it, or choke down fourteen stale fortune cookies just so they don’t go rancid(-er), you don’t want any witnesses. Including yourself. Pick a dark corner of the kitchen, retrieve your burden and make it disappear. It’s for the best.

I’d say you’ll feel better in the morning — but who are we kidding? If you’re lucky, the raging heartburn will drown out the pangs of regret. But at least the leftovers will be gone. And you’ll have plenty of agonizing time on the john to congratulate yourself about that. So — ‘yaa-aa-ay?

All of these strategies work well enough around here — or did work, until recently. My wife finally caught on, and put the kibosh on my conniving ways. She’s the one who puts the leftovers away most times, and she’s taken to chopping a layer of nasty inedible fresh tomatoes on top of whatever she wants to fight for.

I can’t even look at it straight until she comes in and takes the top layer, leaving — if I’m lucky — some untainted bits of deliciousness underneath. In one icky swoop, she’s undone nearly two decades of scheming and strategy development. Clever girl, that one. And she leaves me no choice.

I’m going to start leaving Post-It notes. That rice pudding I’m after might be covered in tomato yuck, but dammit, I’m still claiming it as my own. ‘NO TOUCHY, YOU!!!

Don’t know what the hell I’m going to do with it, since it’s clearly inedible. But I’m claiming it. I might starve to death around here, but I’ll go down scheming. It’s all I’ve got left.

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