Tales from the Coffee Pot

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic



You don't have to be Norwegian to understand Lawrence Welk, but apparently it helps.  The other night I had my trusty mug of coffee in one hand and the tv remote in the other,  scanning the channels man-style for something to watch.  You know what man-style channel surfing is like- give each channel exactly three nanoseconds to prove itself worthy of a stop.  Sad to say, partial nudity does play a part in the decision-making process.


I took a few sips of strong, dark courage and eventually settled on the red-headed stepchild of the free broadcast world- PBS.  In defense of public television, may I say how fun it would be to watch a show like Fear Factor have to beg for every nickel it needs, while the Antiques Roadshow gets a million dollars per episode.  But I digress.


There on my screen stands bandleader Lawrence Welk,  fronting a band outfitted in what can only be described as early Paintshop Explosionwear.  I understand that color television was a new and wondrous thing in Welk's day, but couldn't they have limited the clothing scheme to colors that exist in nature?  I managed to catch some episodes from the early 60s, and I must say the boys looked mighty sharp in their tailored, thin-lapeled suits with the Cuban boots.  Then all of a sudden the spirit of good taste and restraint passed right over the studio door.  The result was a collision between a Day-Glo paint truck and a circus train.


Even more disconcerting than the clothes were the performers themselves.  I had no idea you could actually airbrush a live human being.  Maybe it was the coffee talking, but I started to feel like I had tripped into the Stepford Wives Comedy Variety Hour by mistake.  All that was missing was a surprise appearance by the Pointer Sisters and the comedic stylings of Mr. David Brenner.


You know, it's a funny thing about nostalgia.  Dylan might have been onto something when he said 'what looks large from a distance/Close up ain't never that big', but when it comes to the Lawrence Welk show and all of its apparent corniness,  perhaps it's we who have gotten smaller somehow.  Enna one, enna two...




As I began writing this essay, the news of Ann Lander's passing had just arrived.  This unfortunate turn of events got me to thinking about our collective need for solid advice, and the lengths we are willing to go in order to find it.


For many of us, advice has become a double-edged sword.  We want to hand it out freely, but painful experience has taught us that most people don't want it.  We've resorted to asking for permission, which to me is just one notch below signing a legal waiver:  "Do you swear or affirm that the advice you are about to issue will not in any way cause irreparable harm to the recipient,  (insert name here)?"  Sign here, and here, and initial there, please.  Thank you.  So, do you think I should invite him to the wedding?


Of course, the original and best source for advice continues to be the kaffeeklatsch.  There is no problem large enough to stump 12 middle-aged women armed with strong coffee and blueberry danishes.  Solutions will come flying out fast and furious, and cover everything from Barbara's divorce to Sue's bursitis to the inherent shortcomings of the Monroe Doctrine.  If you really want a problem solved and solved right,  find your local Klatsch representative and just let the magic happen.  Word to the wise- poundcake.


I admire anyone who can give advice year after year and not lose every friend they own.  Ann Landers did that for over 40 years and did it well.I hope she's sitting in a Heavenly Kaffeeklatsch right now, sipping gourmet coffee and answering some very interesting mail:  "Dear Ann,  What if I was all wrong about that gravity thing?  Do you think anyone will notice? Isaac N., England".  "Dear Ann,  I'm having a party for all of  my royal subjects.  Should I serve punch or just let them eat cake?  Marie A., France".  One thing's for sure, Ann Landers will never run out of things to do.




The other night I asked a bartender to do something I would probably never ask a plastic surgeon or auto mechanic to do- just surprise me.  She came back with a drink she called a Nutty Monk- part coffee, part Frangelico and part Irish Cream.  I said to myself this has got to be the most adult beverage I've ever tasted.  The hazelnut flavor of the Frangelico mixed perfectly with the dark coffee, and the Irish Cream mellowed it all out.  Absolutely delicious, I must say.


But if a Nutty Monk was the most adult beverage I'd ever tasted, then what would be my choice for the best childhood beverage?  I had the usual suspects (chocolate milk, Nehi sodas, Chillee Willees and milkshakes), but I finally settled on the perfect drink of my earliest childhood- Fizzies.


Fizzies were produced by the fine people who brought us Alka-Seltzer, and after a few Nutty Monks I have begun to appreciate the irony.  Fizzies came in the standard cola flavors, like orange, grape, lemon-line and a sort of coca-cola, but my favorite was the root beer.  All a kid had to do was plop, plop and wait patiently for the fizz, fizz to die down.  Few of us ever waited, which left us with that indescribable feeling of half a seltzer tablet sliding down our gullets.  But oh, the flavors that would just burst out of the glass.  A day without Fizzies was like a day without sunshine, so we would make sure that mom included them on her shopping list.  I can still taste the last Fizzie I ever had.


Alas, Fizzies met an ignoble fate at the hands of modern science.  The only sweeteners capable of withstanding the mysterious Fizzie manufacturing process were cyclamates, which were banned from use in American products around 1969.  The last Fizzie plopped unceremoniously into its last glass of tap water around 1971 or so.  I would like to think of that time as the day the bubbles died.  I have found other beverages to replace Fizzies in my glass, but I haven't really found one to replace Fizzies in my heart.  Maybe someday I'll ask a bartender to surprise me again, and he'll hand me a Rootbeer Fizzie on the rocks.




If I were to slap a title on this essay, it would be 'Dead Hotdog Walking'.  Many years ago,  I attended a church which featured a youth service on Friday nights.  We would play bible-centered versions of Charades or Twenty Questions, then perhaps have an object lesson on the wages of sin or the prospect of immediate Rapture.  You know, the sort of topics that keeps impressionable twelve year old boys awake all night.


Following the service, we would all move to the Youth Center, which in our case was a refurbished tool and die shop.  The adults would all grab a cup of coffee from the avocado green percolator and huddle around a communal table.  The youth would play ping-pong, bumper pool or foosball.  The more ambulatory amongst us would sneak off to the frozen custard stand and pig out on milkshakes.  It was a good time to be alive and young in the frozen tundra of Northeastern Ohio.


But there was one part of the ritual that remains seared in my memory.The 70s were a time of great food experimentation- microwaves were common, hot air popcorn poppers were all the rage and I even remember a pre-George Foreman hamburger maker that did a great job with grilled peanut butter sandwiches.  But the scariest thing of all was the hot dog cooker we used at the church.  Talk about the most Vietnamesque way of cooking food.  The cooker featured two sets of ominous looking spikes.  The idea was to impale one end of a hot dog on a spike, then gently arch it over to the other spike.After the appropriate amount of convicts had been loaded onto Old Sparky, the warden would throw a switch and the hot dogs would be electrocuted to a turn.The lights would dim briefly, then we would pay our fifty cents and grab a dog or two.  I believe cooler heads (or a few lawsuits) prevailed, and by the 80s we bid adieu to the scariest food preparation device in recent memory.  I'm not sure, but I think there may be an object lesson on capital punishment in there somewhere.  Who's up for a milkshake?




I believe we need to listen closer to our rock legends.  Recently some linguists managed to compile a "Keith Richards to English, English to Keith Richards" dictionary and it turns out he was actually saying something important during interviews.  Keith recently suggested that horses basically saved civilization as we know it.  Consider all the important battles whose outcomes depended on the skills of men on horseback.  Think about all the contributions draft horses made to improving labor.  How far would we have gotten in the Old West if it hadn't been for Old Paint getting us there?  I believe our beloved Rolling Stone and rehabilitation icon may be onto something here.


But what other discoveries or ideas can be credited with saving civilization from extinction?  I got to thinking about that and came up with a few ideas of my own.  First off, I think the creation of walls certainly changed things for the better.  Dividing ourselves into smaller and smaller social units probably saved our collective sanity.  Communal living might have protected early man, but walls provided a sense of 'self ', which in turn promoted the formation of towns and cities.  Of course you do have the problem of walls failing to live up to expectations- the Great Wall of China, Hadrian's Wall, the Berlin Wall, etc.  Perhaps Frost was right when he wrote in his poem Mending Wall: 'Something there is that doesn't love a wall'.Some walls are good at uniting, while others are bent on division.


I also believe the cultivation of coffee has done a lot to define civilization.  Coffee is a lingering reminder of the Ottoman Turk empire, which nearly conquered Europe 500 years ago.  The exportation of a single coffee plant from France lead to the dominance of South American coffee growers in the world today.  Coffee helped to equalize the economic playing field for many smaller countries struggling to find a viable commodity.  Coffee was a staple item for settlers and pioneers, not to mention our fighting soldiers.  Coffee became a nearly-universal beverage long before Coca-Cola and Pepsi.  I'll even bet that coffee fueled more than a few late-night jams featuring Mick, Keith, Ronnie, Bill and Charlie.  So it all comes full circle- horses, walls, coffee and Keith Richards.I just know there's a future Jeopardy question in there somewhere.




I notice that it's now the 21st century and our beloved country is still blatantly non-metric. Oh, we have the occasional two-liter soda bottle or the schizophrenic rulers marked with both inches and centimeters, but for the most part this is a metric-free zone.  Look at it this way- entire countries in Europe have converted their money systems to Euros already, and we still have farthings, hectares and fathoms on our books.  If nothing else, consider the fact we are about to be lapped by the Canadians on metric conversions.  Doug and Bob McKenzie from the Great White North are closer to world unity than we are, eh?


What strikes me as particularly funny is how fast we Murkins converted to coffee-metrics.

Twenty years ago, coffee came in two sizes- small and large.  For whatever reason, small was always TOO small and large approached Super Squishee proportions.  Mugs, of course, were one size fits all- that is to say, bottomless.  Then came the great gourmet coffee explosion of the late 80s and early 90s.  The same Americans who had resisted speaking meters and liters into existence could suddenly order short, tall and grande coffees, without even once questioning the etymology.Heaven forbid I should pump three liters of gas into my tank, but give me a grande half-caf skinny soy mocha latte to go please. 


I don't know if we'll ever go fully metric in this century, but I think it would be a great cosmic joke if all the gourmet coffeeshops agreed to change their ordering system to something out of the Wizard of Id comic strip.  I would just like to hear one person order, in all seriousness, a 'frippin on the jimjam, frappin on the krotz'.  I have this sinking feeling I'll hear that long before I know how many kilometers it is to Disney World.




This should teach me a little something about the pitfalls of nostalgia.  I decided I would brew me up a nice pot of coffee, sit down in front of the tube and watch Saturday morning cartoons.EEEEEK! (ahem)


There was no Scooby Doo, no Bugs Bunny, no Laff-a-Lympics.  Hell's bells, there wasn't even a Hong Kong Phooey.  I found myself deeply mired in the muck and sludge that is Saturday morning cartoons today.  I watched helplessly as anonymous bug-eyed heroines fought valiantly(?) against even more anonymous villains.  Thankfully, I only had to endure about an hour of this onslaught until the networks decided I needed to watch sports or buy real estate at 10 am on a Saturday.


When I was a child, we were drawn to Saturday morning cartoons like hyperactive moths to a sugar-fed flame.  We looked forward to seeing that genius Coyote set up his Rube Goldbergian house of cards in search of fresh Roadrunner meat.  Apparently they just handed out genius cards to any old creature who wanted one, considering his abysmal success/failure rate.  I actually remember keeping score during the Laff-a-Lympics, rooting for anyone who could wipe that smug grin off Snidely's face.


Now here's the plot to every cartoon on television:  A band of cute Speed Racer look-alikes live in Harmonyville, USA.  A heavily armored,  gravel-voiced villain with anger management issues decides he wants to mess up their idyllic playground.  The slowest of the good batch is either injured or captured by mindless henchmen.  Only through teamwork and the aid of powerful laser technology can Cute triumph over lukewarm Evil, and said bad guy is promptly dispatched with extreme prejudice.  Cute dolls sold separately, batteries not included.


I can understand that more mommies and daddies want to see news instead of Captain Kangaroo these days,  but I sincerely hope cartoons make a glorious comeback in my lifetime.  I've got serious money riding on the Coyote if they do.

Submitted: February 05, 2021

© Copyright 2021 Michael Pollick. All rights reserved.

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