16 September 2005

Black Gold : The Search for Spark

The eastern sky is just starting to turn a light indigo. I look westward out the window of my second floor office into the kids' playground. There is a purple shading to everything - no doubt from the fast advancing daylight. I turn and look at the clock. It says 4:47am - 30 minutes until daybreak. - Ugh.

I cannot think of anything. I don't know what day of the week it is. I don't know the date, what is going on today, what errands I have to run, what bills are due. All I know is that I just woke up. I wonder if psychiatrists have come up with an appropriate Latin name to describe "my ass just woke up and I don't have a clue." If I had to guess - it might be something like hypnogogic circumambulation amnesia.

My knee creaks as I take the first step down the stairs which will lead me to the kitchen. In my addled state, the darkness of the stairs is almost more than a hindrance. For just a moment I think, "How will I ever get down these." Of course, the thought is just a flash - I know that I'll be just fine but, I am wiped out. The two cats decide to make my journey downstairs an even faster one by weaving in and around my legs. I think that they do that just to drive the point home that they were bored. During the night they must sit there and ponder how they'll celebrate my awakening. One says to the other, "You step in front of him while I distract him by incessantly meowing - it'll be cool!"

I squint down into the dark morass of mewing shifting shapes and put a tentative first step upon the top stair. Whew! - 26 more to go. I ease down and shift my weight as I lumber on in my slow descent. With each footstep I am vigilant about stepping on one of the cats. I do love them but, even in this foggy state I know that soft, warm fur is not what our carpets feel like underfoot. Even though the makers of Berber would have you believe otherwise. They certainly charge for their product as if it were made from long-hair Persian Cat.

I get to the bottom and turn to the right - cutting through the dining room and lunging into the kitchen - my heart beat picks up a little as I view the black Krupps coffee maker in the corner. The luminous green little clock zooms in on me.
"Hello darling," it says seductively.

"Have a nice rest? Why not have a steamy cup of dark roast espresso - you know you want it. Naughty boy," it purrs.
It knows me too well.

I love coffee. And, before you jump to any conclusions about this being a one-sided, unrequited romance, let me reassure you - it loves me too!

That's right. This is no one night stand; no sweaty, fumbling-for-the-
bra-hook first date; this is the real deal. The one where you completely forget about "all the others" and settle down and commit. This is it.

Start shopping for that wedding ring, that house in the suburbs and that top of the line coffee maker because the skies are afire with the crackle and burst of pyrotechnics. Lightning is raining down from Olympus. Apollo's chariot is ascending the sky with the sun in tow. And the coffee machine is churning out dark, rich, smooth, frothy melanges of espresso.
Espresso - what a word. It brings to mind the sights and smells of Milan. Cobble stone streets, beautiful olive skinned women floating past you in sheer white cotton dresses, the smell of baked bread wafting to you from the corner baker, street vendors in open air kiosks, feeling the warm sunlight shine down on you as you lift the tiny porcelain cup up towards your lips - "Introibo ad altare Dei." There is a small tray of biscotti - grabbing one of those you whisper "corpus christi" as you take the first bite. It is a religious experience.

I open the fridge and solemnly pull out the bag of Starbucks Dark Roast espresso (whole bean, of course). Opening the top of the bag I feel the faint scent of the black coffee beans grab me. I know there is no going back. Pouring the beans into the Salton grinder, I know just how much to put in to get the optimal amount of coffee grounds. Putting them into the small steel cup, I fill the machine with water--and wait.

The cats are looking up at me; waiting for me to march downstairs with them in order to feed them. What? Walk away and leave the machine? Take a chance that I'll see a big fur ball downstairs in the family room and, bending over to pick it up see another one. Pretty soon I'm so distracted cleaning up dust bunnies that I'd forget that the coffee machine is going and I'd miss my "steaming" window. You can't have a proper cup of espresso without a hot, foamy, steamed whole milk libation to go into it. Never. Sacrilege!

So the kitties will have to wait. They go through this every morning, anyway, I muse. They should be used to my routine by now.

Stupid cats.

I bet that that is how a heroine addict feels when he's about to shoot up. Nothing else matters. Not food, sex, commitments, job or pets. They won't starve waiting 5 more minutes to nibble on their IAMs, I rationalize. A little pang of guilt wallows up as I look down again and see their little faces framed against the dark grains of the wood floor. They're still staring at me. Wondering, "when." They know that all I have to do is make a move in the direction of going downstairs and they turn and run like Saxons galloping off into the crusades.

The sound of the Krupps grabs my attention. I can hear it gurgling and bubbling and I know that the heating element inside is getting the water almost to the boiling point. Any minute now.
I pour a splash of cold milk into my glass 'Loyola University Class of '97' mug. It's inscribed with the Latin motto of the Jesuits - "Ad majorem dei gloriam"-"for the greater Glory of God." How appropriate. I feel at one with the universe as I see the blood of the savior issue forth from the spigot of the machine and languidly accumulate in the Holy Chalice. My atonement will soon be at hand.

I flick the switch and set it to steam and heat up the milk. A horrific whine is made by the machine as super hot vaporized water is blown into the milk. I toy and tease the mug so that a thick foam builds up on top. You have to pay attention as you do this. Your mission at this point is two-fold: heat the milk AND manufacture foam. They are two essential sides to getting this right.
My focus is absolute. My mind at peace. I follow the sight of the coffee now as the milk is done and the rest of the water is pumped through the fine mesh basket, extracting the essence of the Arabica bean.

It is done.

A little sugar into the milk, a quick stir and then the coffee is joined with the milk. A Perfect union.
I make the sign of the cross over the Holy Goblet and intone "In Nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti." Mass isn't just for Sundays, you know.

I walk over to the table and sit down facing the patio doors that give me a view of the playground. I put the glass to my lips and sip. A small piece of sugar is stuck in the foam and my first taste is of crunch sugar, then the languid mix of milk, coffee and sugar hit me all at once. Wonderful.

All is well in my world.

The cats are still desperate to get my attention and have resorted to head butting me in the legs. I wait for the hot liquid to seep down my gullet and warm my insides. I take a deep breath and start to feel the internal engines begin to warm up. My spirits rise immediately.

The last lines from Joyce's "Portrait of the Artist" come to mind.

"Amen. So be it. Welcome, O life! I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.

Old father, old artificer, stand me now and ever in good stead."

It's time to feed the cats

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