August 24, 2021
They don’t call it Powdered Coffee. Neither is it E-Z coffee, nor Lazy Guy’s Coffee, nor Idiot’s Coffee—meaning, so simple an idiot can manage it. Nope, the preparation in question is known far and wide as Instant Coffee. You want some Joe, do you? Well, *poof*, here he be! A slight exaggeration, but still. And with some hazard or danger, you know, because of the caffeine.
In the morning, my wife brews a carafe from freshly-roasted beans, acquired from small-time deserving farmers in Nicaragua or Guatemala, via politically-aware channels. The coffee is always delicious and a great way for the two of us to start the day. But late at night, when I’m by myself and laboring intensively at the usual nonsense of my job, what I want is coffee RIGHT NOW. Thus I delve into the Instant Coffee, that most American of beverages, and thank God for it.
The four-year old has acquired mastery of the Thomas the Tank Engine books. He knows all of the trains by color, number, size, and shape. He recognizes the perils and pitfalls of being a train, such as cows straying onto the track and forgetting to load up on water for making steam. He mostly ignores the one human character in the stories: the railroad overseer Topham Hatt, who is a bombastic, tuxedoed, cue-ball domed popinjay who spends his time barking orders and chastising the trains for their foibles.
A few weeks ago, Nathen and I* decided that Sir T-H’s signature catch phrase—“Always be a useful engine!”—is boring and unnecessary. So, we have replaced it with something different, which is…
“Somebody get me a cheeseburger.”
Nathen thinks this is a very funny and wonderful command for Sir Topham Hatt to proclaim. He often riffs on the notion by adding fries and a milk shake to the order, and specifying the restaurant (either Five Guys or Moo Yah), and sending more than one train to do the job.
Years in the past, I visited one of the ancestors, recently a widower, and the cat had just died. He ushered me toward the small garden by the side of the house. Planted there was a cross—meaning, a crucifix cross—made from a couple of sticks.
“The cat,” he told me, “was a Christian cat.”
I think at the time, and certainly in retrospect, I knew exactly what had been going on his mind.
The deceased cat should rightfully have been taken to a veterinarian or pet hospital for cremation, but such treatment was expensive, plus the Ancestor was in no mood emotionally for the errand. No, the economical and more facile option was to bury the cat on the property, and the garden was the best spot. He did the deed, by himself—but the cat was a fine and well-loved pet, and a favorite of the late wife, and it’s just not right to bury the remains and walk away. A marker was in order, but what exactly? A Star of David, that’s awfully elaborate and difficult to construct. A cross is much simpler, so that became the choice, and he built and erected one. And thus, the decision, retroactively, to proclaim the cat as a Christian. A little humor, on top of everything else, to ease the loss.
I assembled the sentences of the previous paragraph for the first time just now. But I think the gist of it struck me all at once, right at that very moment, standing with the old man and overlooking the make-shift gravesite, and listening to the wry joke about the Christianity of the cat, as if identifying that faith was the reason for erecting the cross, and not vice versa.
The teenager is now home from sleep-away camp, and he announced that he played a lot of chess there. And…yes…he now wants to play chess with me! WOO-HOO! We played a game just now which was quite entertaining, and which I won. Because he’s a teenager and I’m not throwing games to him, as I did when he was 6 and 7, and which may have been a mistake even then. I told him, “You keep losing to me, and next year you’ll be the best chess player in camp.” I think this impressed him.
The re-integration of the teenager into homelife has gone extremely smoothly, but it’s hard not to notice the divergence. Maxwell has been regaling us with stories about skits and songs, hikes and swims, the friends he made from all over the country, the worldly counselors and their exploits in places like Senegal and Burkina Faso. In return, we regaled him with the highlights from his absence, among them buying a new lawn mower, which quickly got returned to the shop because of an errant rock. One night we went out for hamburgers. And, um, well, that was about it.
I am, if I may say so, pretty darned good at chess. I got good by losing to my late brother Danny, who was EXTRAORDINARILY good, and could have been a true master had he had the stamina and desire. Danny was so good he could play blindfold chess, meaning he could play only via speaking and listening to the standard codes for the moves. I remember the true weirdness and exhilaration of those games. Sometimes I won, but big deal, I beat a guy who couldn’t see the board. And if I lost, that was truly humiliating. My little brother was making moves that I didn’t anticipate even though I was the only one who could see the board!
We are approaching the last four months of the year, a span of time that I always think of as a roller coaster. Each month has its own hill to climb: the Jewish holidays in September, my birthday and wedding anniversary in October, Thanksgiving in November, and the Christmas/New Year break at the end of December. I avoid real roller coasters, because I have suffered bouts of dizziness in the past and don’t want to repeat them in the present. The teenager liked amusement park rides in his younger days, and might still like them now. But I expect the four-year-old is going to really like those rides, and for a while at least, one of the adults is going to have to accompany him. That adult might prove to be me, or it might be his older brother or mom or someone else. I guess we’ll see.
So that’s what I got for y’all. You having steak sauce with your entrée tonight? Enjoy. Enjoy the day. And the days ahead.
*Well, mostly just me, but still.