SHELLY'S WORLD: Refrigerator Magnets and the End of Civilization

By Shelly Reuben
Shelly Reuben
Shelly Reuben

Last week, I tried to give a birthday present to my friend.  I was certain at the time that it was both practical and thoughtful.  

I was wrong.

My rejected (humph) gift was a collection of butterfly-shaped refrigerator magnets. They were pretty, eye-catching, and destined –- or so I had thought -– to be useful.   Kitchens, after all, have become our offices of sorts, and within these “offices,” our refrigerators have become something in the nature of … secretaries.  

Imagine if you will, your own beloved refrigerator -– current or past.  

In no particular order, you are probably seeing variations on a theme of magnets, ranging from slogans to business cards, to cartoon characters, all of which are holding up:

Brightly colored Crayola drawings by children with absolutely no artistic merit.

Mug shots of assorted family members, lovers, and friends.

Invitations to weddings, baby showers, and your brother’s first one-man show (he makes wind chimes      out of old Mountain Dew soda cans.)

Shopping Lists.

Emergency telephone numbers.

Calendars with appointments scribbled into boxes for the appropriate day, such as: Dentist 11:00      a.m.; drop off dry-cleaning; Pick up Mom at airport.

Attempted delivery notices for items waiting at the Post Office.

Telephone messages.

TO DO lists.

Now, I will tell you why my friend rejected my gift.  

Because … are you ready for this? … she has a stainless steel refrigerator.  

What I did not know then but I know now is that stainless steel is antithetical to magnets.  You can no more affix one to such a refrigerator than you can thread the tip of the Chrysler Building (also stainless steel) through the eye of a needle.   

Why is this important, and why might it cause the end of civilization?

Stay with me while I project a perfectly plausible scenario.  

You are the personal secretary to the President of the United States -– a theoretical president, not the one who is currently in office.  You are an old-fashioned kind of a secretary who knows all of her boss’s secrets; makes all of his appointments; and has the codes to all of his secure telephones.  Unlike a Secretary of State or Secretary of the Interior, you hold real power.  You buy his wife’s anniversary presents, have the combination to his “nuclear football” briefcase, and book all of his flights on Air Force One.

Because Internet correspondence can be hacked and/or subpoenaed, the Commander and Chief always whispers his most sensitive instructions into your ear.  You, in turn, write them down on index cards, which, after you have carried out his orders, you destroy.  

You put these 3” x 5” cards into your purse, bring them home, and affix them with magnets to your refrigerator as reminders of what has to be done.

Now … here’s the glitch.  As a surprise for your birthday, your husband had bought you a new stainless steel refrigerator.  

That very same day, our nation is faced with an eminent nuclear threat from a Jihadist lunatic in the Middle East.  The President of the United States is emphatic, and his instructions to you are unequivocal: 

First you are to go to the post office and retrieve a confidential letter addressed to his private P.O. Box; you are to open it, memorize the contents, burn the letter, and make a call.

Second, you are to contact your American Automobile Association’s White House Travel Agent and book a flight on Air Force One to the destination indicated by the voice on the telephone when you called.

Third, you are to contact the President of the Russian Federation to set up a date for him and your boss, ostensive to play miniature golf, but actually to hold a secret anti-nuclear weapons conference.

Conscious of your responsibility, not only to your boss, but also to your country, immediately upon arriving home, you hand the index cards to your nine-year-old son Auggie.  For the past two years, it has been Auggie’s job to attach the cards to the refrigerator with his collection of Tyrannosaurus Rex magnets. 

Auggie is a good boy and he always does his job.  You are a good secretary, and you never forget to do yours.  

This time, however, when Auggie tries to attach the cards to your refrigerator, all three cards, as well as all three T-Rex magnets, instantly fall to the floor.  Just as he is about to pick them up and try again, the telephone rings.  Clarence, his best friend, is shouting into the receiver that his father’s car is parked in the driveway, they are running late for their Little League game, and he has to come outside NOW.  

Forgetting the fallen magnets and cards, Auggie rushes out the front door with his baseball mitt.

Meanwhile Cleopatra the cat, noticing the treasure trove on the floor, thinks that it would be great fun to push all of it under the stove, which, using nose and paws, she promptly does.

You, private secretary to the President of the United States, not seeing your index-card-reminders on the refrigerator, forget to follow your boss’s instructions and go to bed.  

Since all of my readers have good imaginations, there is no need for me to itemize the calamitous consequences of the confidential letter not being picked up; the telephone call not being made; the Air Force One reservation not being booked, and the summit conference on the miniature golf course not being held.

Other than Auggie hitting a home run on that theoretical (but inevitable) day in the future, no good came of these omissions.  Why?  

Why indeed!  

Go now.  Right now, to your kitchen.  Look at your refrigerator.  Do you see crayon drawings of demented-looking cows?  Do you see unflattering photographs of family members, TO DO lists, menus, invitations?  Are they attached helter-skelter by magnetized butterflies, dinosaurs, and super heroes? 

If “yes,” breathe a sigh of relief.  

If “no,” I caution you to be afraid.   Be very, very afraid.

Not only are you risking nuclear havoc, you also risk your button-down shirts remaining forever at the dry cleaner; your teeth falling out because you missed a dental appointment; and your mother-in-law waiting days, years … forever … at the airport because, not seeing her itinerary affixed to your stainless steel refrigerator door by a magnet, you forgot to pick her up.


Copyright © 2014, Shelly ReubenOriginally published in The Evening Sun, Norwich, NY -  HYPERLINK "" \o "" Shelly Reuben’s books have been nominated for Edgar, Prometheus, and Falcon awards.  For more about her books, visit  HYPERLINK "" \o "" www.shellyreuben.comLink to David M. Kinchen's reviews of her novels "The Skirt Man" and "Tabula Rasa":  HYPERLINK "" \o ""

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