Jerry Huckaby's

--Literary Lessons--



The legions of us who are dedicated coffee drinkers--decaf for the wary, full strength for the daring--have one great problem with our drink of choice (notice, I did not say "habit"). No, it's not "coffee nerves" or "caffein blitz"--it's losing our coffee cups. We put them down, turn around to do something--and the cups are gone! We look around suspiciously--no one is there, no one is playing a trick on us, we know we just put the cup down, right there, and now it's gone. An international gang of coffee cup thieves with split-second cunning? Some ancient curse having to do with the ceramic composition of the mug? Some once-in-a-million precise scientific combination of coffee bean and water that has made the whole thing disappear into another dimension of time and space? A mischievous imp from hell sent to plague us? I tell you, it's eerie--as any other serious coffee drinker will attest.

Sometimes, irrationally, I think it's the imp--one who knows how I hate practical jokes. I think it's the same one who used to hide people's glasses, with the extra giggle that they couldn't see well enough to look for them (ugly, ugly)--but that was cancelled out by whoever thought of using a lanyard attached to the glasses and worn around the neck-- brilliant. But you can't wear a coffee cup around your neck, more's the pity. I did once experiment with putting the coffee in an old canteen and wearing it on my belt, but it was cumbersome, tacky-looking, and the coffee had a decidedly tinny taste to it. I even considered, briefly, wearing my coffee cup on a chain around my waist as a sommelier does with his little wine-tasting cup--well, I could guess what kind of injury a swinging ceramic mug might inflict on me.

Some of us, of course, simply misplace our coffee cups--I'm not talking about these absent-minded professors you see wandering around muttering "Let's see -- I did go in the Xerox room: maybe I left it in there." Nor am I concered about the ones who carelessly abandon coffee cups all over the place and just take a clean cup when the caffein mood strikes. I know one woman in a small town hereabouts who leaves her house each morning with a cup of coffee in her hand while taking her two-block walk to work, and always stops to talk to someone, laying her coffee cup down on any available surface, and never remembers to pick it up: once a week her young daughter retraces her route with a cardboard box and collects all the cups, takes them home, washes them and puts them away--and her mother is blissfully unaware of the whole routine.

I once tried to bring the "missing-coffee-cup caper" to a halt by buying a very big bright one--fire-engine red--so that I couldn't possibly overlook it when I set it down to answer the phone, check a file, or do other normal office work. Phhhht. It was gone within a week. Never turned up. I also once tied a line of thick yarn to the handle of my cup (in the privacy of my own office, of course -- some people don't understand these things) and attached it to my wrist. Well, I'm sure you've guessed how that turned out. The first time the phone rang and I reached for it, I spilled coffee all over my desk. So I untied the yarn, cleaned up the mess--and the coffee cup was gone.

I know now that my only recourse is to attach a beeper to my cup and use a pager to locate it when it seems to have disappeared--and in that way to make sense out of the whole thing. I mean, these lost coffee cups have to be somewhere, right? But I'm afraid to use the beeper approach, because what if I can't find my cup, and use the pager, and hear the beep, and go to the spot, and there's nothing there? No, no, I'd much rather think I'm just forgetful. I'll let the imp win his little battles with my sanity, but not the whole damn war.

Copyright 1995 by cns news & features

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