Notes On A Robert Duvall Thanksgiving

Oh, keep those sidelong glances to yourself–this can come as no surprise: After all, for years I’ve threatened something very much like what’s come into focus this morning.

And certainly, there can be no kind of shock: Tiffany has those blue boxes, Warhol had that platinum wig and when you think of Miles Davis, you can’t help but see The Stare . . . And as for my personal brand, well, there’s the constant, bone-deep loathing of the period beginning a week before Thanksgiving and ending at 6:00 AM on New Year’s Day.

Grim, yes–but also Deeply True.

This morning as I prepared for the imminent descent of the relatives, friends and near-strangers who have made Thanksgiving a cross between a legally required Tweet-up and a death march, I . . . snapped. But again, I always snap during this week. The confluence of recipes, food shops, logistics, and the whole Fawlty-esque bed-and-breakfast thing is designed to drive me over the edge. Then add to all this the fact that beyond the dreaded feast day itself is an escalating number of pre-emptive holiday parties, the culmination of which is Thoroughly Awful And Unavoidable Christmas . . .

It’s a quarter to nine in the morning and I’m wondering, under these circumstances, if a splash of Jameson’s in my coffee can be seen as the crest of a slippery slope.

In previous years, I’ve toyed with a variety of strategies that might allow me to reach that first New Year’s Day mimosa more or less intact and emotionally unscathed. I’ve considered putting myself into a medically induced coma until Janurary 1st, building a time machine and fast-forwarding to the new year and, of course, faking my own death–only to miraculously reappear six weeks later, right next to the champagne and orange juice.

But this morning it occurred to me that the sheer complexity of my previous plans kept me from executing them. What was needed instead was a breathtakingly simple solution: minimum preparation, maximum escape. It was then that The Idea arrived, immaculate and complete . . .

This year I’m holding a themed Thanksgiving gathering to honor the 50th anniversary of the film version of To Kill A Mockingbird. You know those Agatha Christie weekends? The ones where participants role-play through a country-house murder? Well, that’s in essence what I want to do on Thanksgiving–reenact To Kill A Mockingbird. But with this very, very, very important proviso: No matter how the roles are divided up, I get to be Boo Radley. Which means I’ll be barricaded in my office through Thanksgiving and most of the weekend, only to emerge as everyone is leaving (and even then I get to hide behind a door).

Here, let me say it for you: This, my friends, is a genius idea, and so it follows I must be a . . . well, you know.

I’m already working out the details: iTunes informs me that I have 21.2 days of music available in my office, so no problem there. I will, of course, be moving all of the single-malts in with me (but not to worry–in my role as a not-so-good host, I will graciously leave the Dewars for the guests). I’ve placed a ladder under one of the office windows for my coming and going, and I’ve fashioned a basket-and-pulley system to get the sushi and pizza deliveries up here. Check and check again. And there’s a bathroom and shower off my office, so that’s handled.

In terms of my guests, I’ll be arranging for this year’s Thanksgiving dinner to be completely catered–and whoever they decide is Atticus is more than welcome to do the carving. During the meal, the swirl of dark conjecture and wild rumor about my absence will perfectly play into the Boo Radley thing. Younger nieces and nephews will earnestly ask if I’m some kind of monster lurking behind my office door, and the adults won’t shush them because they understand that the truth is so much uglier . . .

I now feel as if a great weight has lifted from me–in fact, I’ve even put away the Jameson’s. And depending on how well my Boo Radley Thanksgiving goes, I can foresee a Christmas gathering to similarly honor The Third Man. There, of course, I’ll have a lock on the role of Harry Lime. That way, I can briefly appear by the neighborhood storm drains to hand out presents and sly epigrams about cuckoo clocks before blessedly disappearing again.

Yes–another genius idea . . .

The Last Chair I’m Gonna Need

It’s just, when you buy furniture, 

you tell yourself, that’s it. 

That’s the last sofa I’m gonna need. 

Whatever else happens, 

I’ve got that sofa problem handled.

Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club

If there was one thing I learned from my parents, it was not to go in for cheap furniture–even if it meant the much slower assembly of a fully furnished household. To be clear, we’re not talking about deeply expensive, limited-edition Italian furnishings, but neither are we referring to the unpronounceable particle board that’s found on IKEA shelves. Let’s just call it furniture that’s not irreplaceable and also not disposable: Stuff that, with proper care, might sturdily (and with a righteous exercise of taste) last a few decades . . .

I mention this because four days of last week were spent in pursuit of a new chair–my first in slightly more than 20 years (so yes, the parental lesson really did sink in). And by my, I mean the place where only I sit–the place that is never offered to visitors, the place that even the tyrannical cats understand will never be theirs. This, however, is not a quest story because I knew exactly what I wanted. In the end, it was merely about concentrated persistence–the visiting of stores and the terrorizing of sales staff unprepared for a shopper who came armed with a detailed sketch of what he wanted. And–spoiler alert–on the fourth day of my retail walkabout, I finally found exactly what I was looking for. It was just a matter of time.

But what’s been on my mind since this morning is not just this new, on-its-way chair–I’m also pondering the old, outgoing one. And almost certainly I’m doing so because of its soon-to-be gone intimacy; because it’s been my home within my home for more than two decades now.

Over the past 20 years, a great deal has happened in that chair: happiness, insights, sorrow, the climaxes of novels, mourning, planning, notes, innumerable films, uncertainty, resolution, conversation, world-shaking news and of course jazz–so much of it that the chair’s atomic structure must certainly vibrate Miles, Coltrane and Bill Evans. As Lou Reed once sang, “Someone died and someone married”–and through the years, I received word of it all sitting there. My old chair was reupholstered three times and its cushions were restuffed four. But no matter how serially different it looked, much like the Time Lord in Doctor Who, it was always still recognizable; it always clearly remained mine. And in this there was a continuity that came to be reassuring.

However, now that my old chair is finally going, it hits to me that everything which has occurred in it will more authentically become memories–no longer simply in the past, but also made forever placeless by an irrevocably changed household topography.

Add to this Proustian consideration something else, something bleakly fast-forward: My old chair’s length of service suggests that, given the care with which I’ve selected it, the new one will be similarly long-lived. But this time around I’m no longer middle-aged–even by the most charitable of measures–and the prospect of a new 20-year chair unavoidably forces me to consider that it could very well be my last. And so this morning over coffee, it occurred to me that, like Palahniuk’s protagonist, whatever else happens, I’ve got that chair problem in hand, only this time–gulp–probably forever . . .

This too, it seems, is also a matter of time.

I write this with a lunch-time sandwich by my side, waiting for the furniture store’s delivery. I sit here marveling at how unaware I’d been while choosing the front row seat for my own final act, and suddenly the addition of a beer sounds like a good idea. It had been that forest-for-the-trees thing, but on the most personal level. In a space of probably less than 15 minutes, a new phase of my life will arrive and an old one will suddenly disappear. I’ll be asked to sign and then initial–here, here and here. Then the truck will be gone, taking my old chair with it, leaving me to take stock of where–and more importantly, how–I’ll be spending the next 20 years or so.

And in all likelihood, I’ll wish that I had another detailed sketch of what it is I want–but this sort of planning sadly resists the meticulous addition of details. The future, after all, frequently lacks any sense of proportion and it’s impossible to measure. So, for a while at least, it’ll be my turn to be unprepared because, as Reed further sang, “It’s the beginning of a new age . . .”

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Sorry, Bruce: A Better Shoulda / Coulda

I’ve been soldiering through Bruce Springsteen’s Darkness On The Edge Of Town box set for the last 24 hours, and I’m here to say there’s there much to love about the release–from its design to its sonics to its supplementary material. 

But one thing has been bothering me: In his liner notes, Springsteen notes that The Promise–the two discs of additional songs from the Darkness sessions–“. . . Could have / should have been released after Born To Run and before the collection of songs that Darkness On The Edge Of Town became.” Frankly, I don’t know if I’d have gone there if I were Springsteen–it forces the listener to assess The Promise not as a breathtaking collection of brilliant cast-offs, but as a retrofitted second act in a Born To Run / Promise / Darkness trilogy. But there it is, right there on page two of the package–an after-the-fact statement of Bruce Intent that unavoidable colors the additional songs . . .

The problem is that, as complied by Springsteen, The Promise in no way functions as a believable act two connecting Born To Run and Darkness OnThe Edge Of Town--it’s much too representative of the multiple futures that confronted him at the time. It feels more like the genius odds-and-sods collection that’s The Beatles’ White Album. Which is a very good thing, as long as that’s the context the artist wants it to be judged against–and, clearly, this isn’t what Springsteen wants.

And so I’ve been thinking about a different cut of the 21 songs that comprise The Promise that would better position it as a long-lost second act.

Here are my basic assumptions:

First, Act Two wouldn’t have been a double set–it is, after all, a trilogy, not a tetralogy.

Second, Act Two needs to bridge the full-on Spector sound of Born To Run and the starker sonics of Darkness. Similarly, it needs to clearly transform the romantic hope of Born To Run into the hopelessness of Darkness.

Third, Act Two should reflect the vinyl LP reality of the period in which it would have been released. This means a 38-minute to, say, a 42-minute running time that’s structurally divided into first and second sides–with each of those sides beginning with a radio-friendly, potential single.

Fourth, Act Two wouldn’t have been called The Promise–it’s much too quiet when stuck between dramatic titles like Born To Run and Darkness On The Edge Of Town. (This is also why no one ever refers to Star Wars as A New Hope.)

And so, with the same hubris that allowed me to “fix” The Beatles’ Let It Be, I carved out something called One Way Street from the musical yard sale that is The Promise.

One Way Street, the shoulda / coulda second act between Born To Run and Darkness On The Edge Of Town, is a nine-song collection structured thusly: 

Side One
1. “Rendezvous”
2. “Because The Night”
3. “Fire”
4. “Wrong Side Of The Street”
5. “One Way Street”

Side Two
6. “It’s A Shame”
7. “The Brokenhearted”
8. “Breakaway”
9. “The Promise”

Its total running time 38.1 minutes, which makes “act two” a minute shorter than Born To Run.

Am I saying that One Way Street completely works as the thematic and musical connective tissue between Born To Run and Darkness? Of course not. But I do maintain it’s contextually more successful than the 21 songs programmed as The Promise.

Again, I wouldn’t have ever suggested that The Promise was a shoulda / coulda “missing” album. But Springsteen did. And, well, something needs to be done in order for that statement to make sense. And, for me at least, One Way Street is it . . .

Hirsute Hope Springs Eternal

Welcome to what’s probably my 80th beard. And, of course, these days I’m thinking: “80–that’s a very lucky sound number if ever I heard one.” Because, like someone with a gambling problem, my urgent need to believe makes everything seem like, well, An Auspicious Sign.

What I so passionately embrace is that this time, this beard will make me look like exactly Sean Connery. I’ve even wandered around for days speaking in a thick Scottish burr to encourage the growing whiskers. 

So much, then, for belief–because what I actually know to be true is that any day now I’ll catch my reflection in a window and see that once again I bear a striking resemblance not to Sean C, but Eddie, the Jack Russell on Frasier. (See chart below.) So much so that I’ve seriously considered boot-blacking my nose and going trick-or-treating this year.

But let’s pause for a moment and think about this: My eightieth beard. Really? You might think this implies that those other 79 runs at Sean-dom which ended in Deeply Jack-Russell-eques ways have taught me nothing. And you’d be right.

Here’s the thing: Where anyone else would recognize obsessive-compulsive behavior and seek help (me–I’m Kulturhack, and I can’t stop growing a beard; them–Hi, Kulturhack, welcome!), I see a touching, very American belief in perfectibility–even in the face of enormous odds. Deep in my heart, I just know I can bootstrap my way to Sean Connery, if only I keep at it and blindly ignore the facts.

And further, I think I should be forgiven this naivety. After all, I’ve watched the Palins, Angles, Bachmanns, and even O’Donnells attempt to will themselves into high office in spite of the overwhelming facts. I dream of being Sean Connery; they undoubtedly want to be president–and the fact that at the end of the day we’re all Eddie has never slowed them–or me–down . . .

Put another way: The day Sarah Palin takes the oath of office as president of the United States, I’ll be Sean Connery.

I just know it.

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Cocktails Outside The Tardis

Those songs to me don’t exist, you know?

“So What” or Kind of Blue–

I’m not going to play that shit; those things are there.

They were done in that era,

the right hour, the right day, and it happened.

It’s over; it’s all on the record.

–Miles Davis

Last night I attended a benefit / premiere for a film written by a friend-of-a-friend. Given a choice, I’d have hunkered down and dealt with some difficult book revisions. But these were unavoidable circumstances that required both my presence and a game-face, and so I resolutely strapped on the old public persona and drove myself downtown.

Normally, most social obligations are easily survived: The trick is to understand their ritualistic context and not mistake them for communication. Social obligations are a kind of profane high mass–dependent on all parties knowing when to respond, when to stand, when to sit and, yes, when to take the wafer–because in most instances we really are breaking bread. And if there’s one thing all those Jesuits taught me, it’s how to cruise effortlessly through ceremony on undetectable autopilot.

But social obligations involving time-travel force me to disengage automatic; they make me keep my eyes on the instrumentation and improvisationally react. Put another way, a social obligation involving time-travel is a genuine bitch–faux communication that insists I remain in the moment and also be hair-trigger, like an adrenaline-flushed cast member of Who’s Line Is It Anyway? It forces me to be fully engaged in my own boredom instead of having a carefully disguised out-of-body experience in which muscle-memory passes watercress sandwiches while I’m light years away with, say, Tilda Swinton. How else to explain this? It’s like having a tooth filled with not quite enough Novocain–the constant anticipation of discomfort is as bad (or worse) as the discomfort itself.

But I’m getting ahead of myself with this time-travel thing. I’m referring to social forced marches with people from one’s past who have no connection to one’s present. Archeology, but with light hors d’oeuvres. The benefit / premiere meant wading waist-deep into a cast of characters from what actually is another life–or as close to one as possible without playing the reincarnation card. And, difficult as ever, nostalgia is among the many things I don’t “do.” This, however, isn’t simply a taste call–I really don’t have access to my previous selves, and, in truth, I’d be profoundly disturbed if I could readily tap into a 13-, 21- or 35-year-old edition of myself.

The usual conceptual model we use to explain ourselves as we meander down the corridor of time is metaphoric evolution. It allows us to be as we were even as we’re changed. It’s an integration model: Nice. Comforting. Continuous. But is this most-favored model the only one? What if moving through time is, well, disruptive? What if time doesn’t slowly accrete a coral reef around us? What if time is a mutagen? Faced with time, what if we’re more reasonable versions of Goldblum’s BrundleFly, and not Tandy’s Daisy Werthan?

This is why I absolutely avoid official reunions and carefully gauge all other social gatherings for their potential reunionosity. Again, It’s not merely the need to conjure-up a one-inch deep, road-company version of Former Me–it’s that I no longer have the script.

Fittingly, I once observed Tom Baker, the actor most famous for portraying the timelord on Doctor Who in the 1970s, interacting with fans decades after his last show. He politely but very uncomfortably was wearing someone’s scarf for a photograph and, as this was happening, someone else was asking him about an obscure plot point is the eighth episode of the third season. And I understood completely: The brittle stance, the furtive look in his eyes as he pretended to remember; the layer of courtliness that was designed to disguise the desire to be somewhere–anywhere–else.

Last night, I stood there with a rictus smile, holding a drink and pretending to remember an obscure photo shoot for a magazine cover I genuinely didn’t remember, even though I’d designed it. And I must have been good, because more than one former associate from 20 years ago gave me that most horrifying of complements–Hey, man, you haven’t changed! Can you imagine? Two-decades of stasis packaged like it was a good thing.

The irony in that meeting of Tom Baker and his fans is that the Doctor doesn’t remain the same–he literally regenerates into someone else. Which is as disruptive of one’s past as it gets. And last night that conceit certainly would have come in handy–me simply shrugging and reminding my former associates that this is my sixth regeneration; that I’m no longer a mid-80s editor-in-chief. Or a ’90s-style publisher. Or a columnist. I’m the equivalent of David Tennant, the current Doctor, and not Tom Baker–and I would have loved to point out that Tom left the set years ago.

But the one thing that has remained constant throughout the years are my manners. Though you’d never guess from the snarky blather here and there across the InterWebs, my manners are sterling. (Think Hannibal Lector without all that nasty serial-killer stuff–even though I do frequently wish I could eat the rude.)  And so last night, I posed for photos and attempted to answer questions about the eighth edition in the third volume of the magazine. I even managed to maneuver around all the last names I’d forgotten.

And all the while, I kept playing with the car key in my pocket–the thing that would open the door to my own German-made TARDIS parked outside, ready to whisk me back into the present after my breathtaking escape . . .

The Thrum Of Brooding Strings

First things first: I hate the effing squirrel. And thinking about this once more, it occurs to me that I’m pissed at his relatives too–each one of those fast-learning, extended family members without benefit of cute nicknames. But let’s be clear; Chewy–the name I’ve given my squirrely nemesis–is only incidentally cute. Because it’s as literal and descriptive a nickname as I’ve ever managed (and if not the king of nicknaming, I’m certainly the prince-consort of the practice).

Chewy, he chews things–all manner of things: the tops of stockade fences, the edges of roof gutters and the associated down-spouts, terra-cotta pots, railroad ties, adirondack chairs, garden hoses, the lids of plastic trash cans, begonias, entire flats of pansies, the occasional lupin, and especially jack-o-lanterns. But, remarkably, he ignores the impatiens–which are seemingly squirrel Kryptonite.

And as long as we’re in waist-deep background, there are three other things to understand about Chewy: First, the locust-cum-termite behavior isn’t a seasonal thing, and it’s certainly not squirrel-business-as-usual: Big C is a non-stop gnawer without precedent. And I should know, because prior to the Coming of Chewy, both my house and I had managed to peaceably coexist with countless generations of squirrels. Second, Chewy is a genius–at least among his scatterbrained peers. But that’s not accurate: Chewy is an Evil Genius; he is the Moriarty of squirrels. Third, the other members of his circle, the ones who also live on my property, are learning from the little bastard. It’s one thing to have a gifted squirrel breaking bad, but quite another when he shows a talent for teaching. It’s a bit like one of those deliciously creepy sci-fi moments, when it’s determined that somehow the perimeter has been breached, and the deadly virus has spilled into the outside world. In my case, it’s Chewyvirales Omnivorous–unstoppable and eating through a neighborhood near you . . . (Cue the dark, brooding string arrangement.)

Throughout this year, Chewy and I have been playing chess with my house and landscaping. For instance, this past autumn I set out a pumpkin, and Chewy’s countermove was to start to gnawing on it. I then turned the ripped skin toward the house and poured half a bottle of tabasco over it. Chewy’s response was to signal his approval of Southwestern cuisine by tunneling inside the five-alarm pumpkin and then out through the top–pretty much the way James Caan tackled that vault in Thief. Prior to this, in the spring, Chewy bit through my garden hose and I repaired it with duct tape. The next morning he returned and, to make a point, once again chewed through the hose, about six inches down from the repair. After a week of this parry-and-thrust over my right to water the flowers, the hose had morphed into 50 feet of duct tape, which made me conspicuous in the front yard–as if I’d forgotten to put on my tinfoil gardening hat.

Then in summer, some coyotes emerged from the park and claimed my backyard as part of their temporary territory. Transfixed, I watched them in the moonlight doing their collective and surprisingly cliched Coyote Thing, and the next morning I dutifully informed my pet-owning neighbors. But even in mid-Paul-Revere, I kept thinking, well, if Chewy doesn’t realize Wile E. and his family have moved in, then, well, youknow–Nature Sadly Taking Its Course; a briefly violent National Geographic Moment. After which I’d have a moment of silence for the late Chewy T. Squirrel, PhD, and then go off to confidently purchase a new garden hose.

But as noted, Chewy is a genius. Within four days, the coyotes had disappeared. County animal control said that it had nothing to do with it, that they had planned to swing into action at week’s end. It was assumed Wile E. and family had simply returned to the park, but oddly, no adjacent neighborhoods subsequently reported seeing them. And the next time I saw Chewy–gnawing on a cast-stone relief hanging on the fence–he gave me this weirdly knowing, Tony Soprano kind of look; a hey-I’m-just-a-member-of-the-rodent-family-but-I-don’t-think-they’ll-be-back-because-it’s-kind-of-dangerous-out-here-if-you-know-what-I-mean stare. For weeks afterwards, every time I saw an overpass under construction, I’d stare at its newly poured concrete supports and wonder about the coyotes.

Given my history with Chewy, you’d think any cartoonish, Acme Company misfortune that might befall him–oversized sticks of bright-red dynamite; chunky, hurtling anvils; that can of paint that makes a solid wall of rock look like the entrance to a train tunnel–you’d think that this sort of assisted intervention of fate vis a vis Chewy would be something I’d welcome. And just three months ago you’d be right.

But what if the aforementioned Fate-With-Assistance wasn’t cartoonish? What if it was disconcerting, brutal and sad? Because here’s the thing: The oak trees around here have stopped making acorns. Let’s hover on this point so we’re completely clear about this: There are no acorns. Not fewer acorns, Not smaller acorns. There are no acorns at all. The oaks (and hickories, too) have simply stopped making nuts. They’ve ceased to propagate. Thousands of trees, all at once, all in one season. You can literally walk through miles of oaks and not see a single acorn.

If you’re waiting for the proverbial second shoe to plummet, forget it. No one understands why the oaks and hickories have shut down nut production en masse. And yes, of course scientists have mumbled their way through various esoteric theories–but, bottom line, there is no answer. Na-da. Frankly, this has spooked me–which in itself should be cause for alarm, because I don’t easily spook. The situation is beginning to feel like a particularly disturbing episode of Fringe playing out in Real Life. I keep thinking about frog die-offs and honeybee hive collapse syndrome and, unavoidably, the apophenia clicks in.

I’m not saying the disappearance of acorns is a portent, but the problem is that no one can assure me that it’s not. And so we arrive back at that deliciously creepy sci-fi moment; when it’s determined that somehow the perimeter has been breached, and a mysterious something has spilled into the outside world: The sudden and complete disappearance of acorns–inexplicable, and possibly moving toward a neighborhood near you . . . (Will you cue the dark, brooding string arrangement, or should
I?)

In these circumstances, the brutal, natural equation is succinct: Take away acorns and squirrels die. They starve, but before that, they do crazy, desperate things to get food–things that make Chewy look well-behaved and reasonable. And while there’s no love lost between him and me, I find his starvation unacceptable. Because deep down I can’t shake the feeling that this isn’t just Nature taking its course; it’s the unintended consequences of thoroughly crappy human interaction with the planet. It isn’t about the not-me of coyotes or the third-party agency of the Acme Company. It’s about us.

And so these days I’m feeding the squirrels–you’d probably be shocked to know how many unshelled peanuts I’m distributing. These days, even though I still glare at him, Chewy is getting room service care of yours truly. I wish I could say that a dramatic and suitably seasonable life lesson is lurking in this story–like Scrooge’s transformation or the Grinch turning the sled around–but I can’t. I still genuinely hate Chewy and, come spring, when it’s time to plant flowers and use garden hoses, I plan on hating him even more. But right now, it’s about evening-out the Zen. Because as much as Chewy has fucked around with my house and yard, there’s no proof I haven’t been complicit in his starvation–which is a much worse way of screwing him back. Thus, for the next few months I’ll be busy with peanut delivery as I trying to ignore his triumphant, sneering little face.

Small steps. It’s best, I think, not to squint too far into the future. Because if I push the predictions past spring, chances are I might end up thinking about next fall and whether there will be acorns. Which, of course, no one can say with certainty anymore. How strange it is to write that.

Zipless Caffeine

A few days ago my coffee-maker went to kitchen appliance heaven, and in retrospect, the gurgling finale of that final pot sounded exactly like a death-rattle. This could have been a huge problem because coffee is my drug, my life, nectar for my creativity, and the fuel that I convert into words. Indeed, post-coital coffee has always made more sense to me than a cigarette. So yeah; the sudden absence of a coffee-maker could have been massively problematic in a DTs / detox sort of way: Me, fetal-positioned in a corner, imagining coffee beans swarming across the walls. Indisputably nasty business.

But the thing is, I never much liked my recently deceased coffee-maker–in truth, it’s annoyed me for two years now. (Yes, I actually wore the thing out in 24 months, so you’re right in slightly stepping away from me.) It was a brushed-chrome Cuisinart with retro-cool Thomas Dolby gauges: vague ’30s Modernism with a Steampunk undercurrent. And, of course, this is the problem–even now, after having pulled the plug on the Cuisinart, I’m still describing it in terms of aesthetics, which is more than a little dodgy since it should be all about the distillation of a caffeine-delivery system.

I admit it, Dear Visitor–I was seduced: I should have been thinking about how it would function on the chosen countertop location. I should have anticipated whether the inherent demands of the thing would rankle over time. But I didn’t. Its glowing, brushed beauty spoke to the lizard-brain that routes around the assessment of good industrial design. There in the showroom, I fell victim to its siren song; it was like a tall, slim blonde making deceptively interesting conversation. I was smitten. I boldly picked it up and took it home with me, where we spent the weekend together. And, come Monday, well, it was still there on the counter and, still infatuated, I saw no need for it to keep its box and styrofoam packing.

Over the next two years, however, I began to learn that most cliched of lessons–that sometimes beauty is only chromium-skin-deep. The Cuisinart set the agenda–my interactions with it demanded I move it to the edge of the counter, even as I struggled with what turned out to be a too-short power cord. The hinged top was always banging into the microwave suspended above it. The thing also required that water be poured in from the top and just next to its right side–in the ensuing months, I became resigned to wiping up the counter every other pot. And then there was the daily cleaning of the mesh coffee grounds basket and also the quarterly changing of the water filter (because the Cuisinart insisted on practicing Safe Brewing ). To be fair, the coffee the Cuisinart made was very good, but ultimately not good enough to out-weigh my daily, awkward dance with it.

Looking back, I’m certain there was no commitment problem on my part; during our first weekend together, I’d been very clear about what I was looking for–excellent coffee with minimum effort–Zipless Caffeine, if you will. And the Cuisinart had kept a diplomatic silence that seemed to signal agreement, even as the halogen lights from the range hood glinted provocatively across its Dolby-esque dials, distracting me with the desire to sing a few choruses of “She Blinded Me With Science,” or maybe even “Leipzig.” I guess that, despite what happened later, we’ll always have that weekend of infatuated coffee-making . . .

But now the Cuisinart is gone and, as grim as this sounds, it’s probably for the best. Had it not expired, I’d have dumped it. Harsh, I know, but true. We were only going through the coffee-making motions, the Cuisinart and I. It was becoming progressively difficult and I was increasingly impatient and, yes, ogling other coffee-makers. Sleek, low-maintenance beauties that wanted what I wanted: toe-curling, hair-tossing, shudder-inducing Good Coffee. And why not? I’m still young enough; my coffee-drinking days certainly aren’t behind me.

Caution, though, is indicated. I’m determined not to get into a rebound relationship. I want to play the field for a while; check-out my options. It’s hardly surprising, then, that for the near-term, I’ve gotten back together with an ex-coffee-maker. In the recycling bin, the housing of the Cuisinart was hardly cold before I’d loped down to the basement to reconnect with my old Chemex. The Chemex and I had been together for quite a long time in my youth; we’d even gotten experimental with our coffee-making–how to say this discreetly?–the roasting and brewing practices of Other, Exotic Lands sometimes entered into our sessions . . .French Breakfast, need I say more?

So yeah, the Chemex and I currently have a good thing going: lab glass, unbleached filter paper, boiling water, fresh-ground beans. End of story. Good for the Chemex and certainly good for me. We’ve established an open relationship, meaning I can have dalliances with other brewing systems, while it’s free to participate in any basic lab work it wants and even more exotic things, like heating milk for mashed potatoes. Though I’ve no idea where all this going, I can see always having a little Chemex on side–I’m anxious not to repeat the quiet desperation of the past two years. Sorry, Cuisinart, but I’m so over you . . .