Lift the cup, warm in my grip, the cool smooth clay, shaped and glazed somewhere in China — so the well-engraved letters state on the bottom of the cup. The cup contains the slush of deep, deep brown and steam lifting into the air and ignored. The cup, so stated in my first communion held a liquid that puckered my lips and made me cough no matter how hard I fought it. This cup is a shock of hot liquid and my nerve endings smooth out.
A picture of my young mother in the house that I grew up in, pouring my first cup of coffee, soon after my first communion. Don’t slurp your coffee, if you want some, drink it right. But drinking it right was a conquest all my own, nothing I could be taught. So I taught myself to sip not to slurp and I drink coffee to this day and try to remember my last cup of communion. I take another sip, puzzled, and feel the heat move down inside of me. I notice the local newspaper sitting on the table. Yesterday’s news. I pick it up and throw it away since I’ll get another one today.
Coffee in my hand. I use both hands and sip, not slurp. I move my lower lip up and down the smooth curve of my cup, thick and white. I searched hard to find just the right cup. I wanted the greasy spoon diner appearance that my mother would never allow. I watched actors on stages, being filmed, sipping coffee not slurping, not remembering a word of their black and white drama but remembering their non-descript coffee cup. My daughter moves into my sight and looks at me for a moment, contemplating me contemplating my cup. Summer break, hair on end, she reaches into the fridge and pulls out the milk. I smile, she grunts, and she walks to the counter and prepares her cold crunchy breakfast.
Looking at my watch I wince. Just time enough to fill my insulated cup and go.
I tip the pot and try to ignore the aroma.
My brother and I in our grandmother’s kitchen. We are not allowed coffee, too young, but we watch her fill the pot; water on the bottom, grounds on top. The smell, we pull in with our still button noses and think – heaven, heaven in a smell. We watch and watch that pot on her old electric range and shout, when the liquid, jumping into the glass knob on top of the coffee pot, starts to change color. Coffee color. So I pour from my drip coffee maker. I pull the glass pot high and watch the coffee waterfall into the narrow mouth of my travel cup and think, I still have aim. And also think of my grandmother all those years drinking coffee alone.
Damn, it’s hot for seven thirty. I walk quickly to the leather interior of my car and the radio that just plays classical music all the way to work – no shop talk, no car dealers telling me I could do better and no coffee commercials. My coffee fits just so in the cup holder, sippable and the faint smell of yesterday’s ride home fills the air. A touch and the engine hums and the AC blows out the stale smell of yesterday’s air conditioned yet breathable musk.
I smell my coffee.
And my Dad is there, three years in his grave this month. The old, gray, plastic, lunch box that he used to take to work every day and the gray, and the lighter gray and the darker gray thermos that snapped up into the lid of his old gray lunch box. The thermos bottle that held his coffee until one day his doctor told him decaf was the only thing he should drink. Told me when I was away at college that the only thing he smelled in his thermos after that was piss. I smiled thinking of my dad, drinking pissy, smelling coffee, because his doctor told him so. He never listened to me.
I remembered when dad died; it was quick, it was sudden, a cup of coffee in his hand – that’s how mom knew, she heard the cup drop and crash on the kitchen floor. It reminded me of a poem I read by Charles Bukowski but I couldn’t remember the name of the poem. And for months afterward when I thought of my dad I thought of that poem. I found a novel by Charles Bukowski, in a used bookstore, “Ham on Rye,” and I bought it and I keep in my leather, accordion briefcase. I carry it with me everywhere and someday I’ll read it; “Ham on Rye.”
Out of the driveway and out of the well-manicured subdivision I’m on the road and have at least a mile before I merge onto US 20, so I reach for the insulated coffee cup and have a sip and think of the times my administrative assistant has had to help me cold water scrub coffee stains out of my tie.
“Why don’t you wait until you get to work to put on your tie?”
“Then I’ll get spots on my shirt.”
I remember her shrugging while scrubbing away at my silk tie, just before a board meeting. I looked through her lacquered gray hair and the wall behind her was fascinating between different and random lines of gray. She caught me staring, looked behind her like something was there, shrugged and muttered something about the smell of coffee on silk ties. I’ve been very careful ever since.
My favorite part of the day, merging onto US 20, leaning back and switching on the autopilot in this four-wheeled leather coffee cup holder. I knew when I bought the car, the only reason I wanted it was because the headrest fit my neck to perfection. Yes and every morning I take my foot off the gas on US 20 and the car goes down the road anyway. I feel relaxed enough to pick up my coffee cup rigid and stiff and manufactured somewhere in India. And careful not to drip on the tie, I sip. The sunrise is behind me and the road to South Bend before me. The traffic on this death trap keeps driving interesting enough.
Sip, and I feel on my lips the ridges and curves of my Indian made insulated, coffee cup. I smile at the smell and think, thank God decaf is out of favor during my trip to work. I put the coffee cup back and feel more than smell the aroma fill my car, I’ll smell that in the evening during my ride home and it won’t be so bad. I’ll think of my morning ride, the sun coming up, the heat of July on the road, the shimmer of humidity in the deep, dark, green, trees so distant from the highway. My tie will be loose around my neck and no doubt the top button of my shirt will be undone and I’ll be thinking of something that needs to be completed tomorrow during the ride home. Right now the coffee scent is real, the music soft, making the leather seats look too plush for a car. I can hear my wife complain that the leather is too hot for her short skirt and makes her legs burn and I squirm just a little when I think of her taking my hand and making me feel the heat of the leather between her legs.
So I look down for my cup of coffee.
Never seeing what it was that suddenly blurred my vision or lifted the two wheels of my car up. But I do remember this. I felt the lid of my insulated coffee cup come off, pushing my two fingers up and away. I remember the spray and the burn across my chest and thought no saving the tie or the shirt, no feeling hot leather between my wife’s legs or thinking of drinking decaf in my older days.