Follow by Email

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Can O' Coffee

The other day my Lovely Bride came home from a trip to the Super-Dee-Dooper Mega Acres Exclusive Warehouse Shopping Club. I am struggling with the concept of “exclusive” when it appears to me every time I go there as if everyone and their dog is a member. 

I have a definite love-hate, approach-avoidance relationship with our Mega Acres warehouse. I detest the crowds, I detest the fact everything comes in Infantry Battalion sized packages, I detest rummaging through empty boxes in search of the perfect one (not too big, not too small, not too flimsy, not too laden with spilled jelly) in which to pile our stuff.

I do like the fact they have the best dog food we have yet to find. I do love their Sharp Cheddar cheese. And the samples. I love the samples. One can dine rather well on a Saturday just on the samples. One day, however, I chose to stay home.

I was busy doing the sorts of things husbands do while LB went to the cavernous store. You know, things like stare out the back window, pet the dogs, fiddle with the little pond on our patio; all those mystical “guy things”.

When she returned, I somewhat halfheartedly  watched as she unloaded this, put away that, and kept up a narration of the wonders of the store. Suddenly, she withdrew from the appliance sized box she had loaded stuff in, an actual honest-to-goodness can of coffee.

Sure it was the Club brand, but I didn’t care. I was mesmerized. An honest, full three pounds of coffee steel can. Who cares if it said “Such and such land” brand?  That guy with the big hat, moustache and his donkey are on the front, so it has to be good. This, dear reader, was the real deal.

The can sneered at the little, under-weight plastic “flavor saver” tub of coffee in our pantry.  This bad boy does not have any ergonomically molded handle on its side. No siree, Bob. You grasp this with two hands, reveling in the full 48 ounces of caffeine bearing goodness within. Your fingers nestle easily, naturally, into the five indented grooves circumnavigating the can.

My mind raced back to my earliest memories of coffee cans. 

Every garage, barn, shed and work bench had a random collection of old coffee cans being used (the new politically correct word is “re-purposed”) to hold nails, screws, nuts, bolts, springs, and the ubiquitous dried out paint brush; hardened into a permanent curve.  Invariably, these cans also would contain a spider or two, maybe some dead flies, and bits of unidentifiable dust and debris that came from God only knows where. They were glorious in their ignominy.

However, prior to being relegated to the various shops and sheds, they once proudly served to convey coffee to the kitchen tables of Americans far and wide. These were heavy steel, the type used to stamp out the hoods of Fords and the fenders of Chevys.  The only way to get at the dark treasure within was with a can opener. There was no easy-peel piece of ultra thin foil for a lid. This took an old fashioned, press-the-handles-down, hand-cranked can opener.

Now, there was a unique bit of whimsy associated with opening a can of coffee. Even back in the dark ages of the 1950s, the cans were sealed under a vacuum. This would elicit the most hilarious “PFFFTTT” when the can opener began to do its job; the end result of which would be a case of the giggles for me.  

And, the aroma…nothing compares to the aroma of a freshly opened can of coffee. Regardless of one’s age, or the time of day; try to resist inhaling deeply, and exhaling with an “Ahhhh”, followed by a smile.

However, opening a can of coffee posed hazards that would give the willies to a Consumer Product Safety inspector in today’s world. The vintage cans did not have an easy snap on-snap off plastic lid to contain the coffee once the can was opened. Therefore, the object was to open the can sufficiently to access the grounds, yet leave a portion of the lid unscathed to serve as a hinge.

One would attempt to open the now jagged, razor sharp edge of the can without slicing a finger. The standard procedure was to hook the end of a fingernail under the edge, and pry the lid back upon the hinge. For its part, the lid would raise about a third to half the way, then slip off the fingernail. In its descent, the serrated edge would commit all manner of atrocities upon the unwary fingers.

Following the application of mercurochrome and a couple bandages, one would then remove a butter knife from the drawer, repeat the hook-lift-bend maneuver, and gain access to the object of their desire. Upon making a pot of coffee, the lid was then pressed in place over the coffee. Invariably, after several of the open-close cycles, the hinge would succumb to metal fatigue and the lid would snap off. Now, the blasted thing would drop into the now half filled can, doing nothing more than to provide a booby trap to inflict injury when someone tried to fish it out.

It was with such a degree of nostalgia that I eagerly awaited the “Time of the Opening”. That ridiculous little blue tub seemed to take forever to become empty. I was beginning to feel as if I were living with the Miracle Tub Of Coffee; akin to the widow’s oil and flour, or the loaves and fishes.

Finally, the time came.

The roaster/packager of the new can did make an outward concession to the 21st Century. A glossy plastic lid was firmly in place atop the can. I gingerly placed the un-defiled can upon the kitchen counter. I extended the hand-cranked opener to my Lovely Bride, asking if she would like the honors. Graciously, she declined; allowing the pleasure of the “PFFFTTT” and initial burst of fragrance to be mine.

I removed the plastic lid. With nearly trembling hands, I lifted the opener. What’s this?

The hermetically sealed steel lid had been replaced by…. I don’t know what. It was silvery, had a metallic appearance, but was flexible. Upon tapping, it went “doink, doink”, not a solid metal “tick tick”. Then, I saw it. A little pull tab on one edge of the covering. Dejectedly, I placed the opener back in the kitchen tool basket. I grabbed the tab. I tugged. There it was; that satisfying, giggle producing “PFFFTTT”, that heavenly whiff of fresh coffee.

I continued to pull the tab. The faux-lid came free, curling upon itself. Then, about halfway across, it stopped moving. I tugged. It stayed put. I tugged harder. It stayed put. I let my inner Neanderthal come out. I grasped the flimsy metal with one hand, crumpling it together. I gave a mighty tug. I emitted a mighty shout as the scalpel sharp edge of the covering sliced through my finger.

While I was staunching the blood flow with half a roll of paper towels, my Lovely Bride calmly completed the task.  After administering anti-biotic cream (I have not seen mercurochrome in decades. Is it still made?) and a bandage, I reflected upon the can of coffee.

While it may not say it is good to the last drop, or better coffee a millionaire’s money can’t buy; the packaging  from Super-Dee-Dooper Mega Acres Exclusive Warehouse Shopping Club did meet the criteria for a proper can. It is constructed of steel. It made a giggle inducing sound upon opening. And, perhaps most critical to nostalgia; it rendered a dandy slice upon my finger.

Long live the good old days.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Old Man on the Mountain

Hemingway has his Old Man and the Sea. Vermont had their Old Man in the Mountains. Heck, I have even heard there is supposedly no country for old men. 
This is nothing on me. I am the Old Man on the Mountain.

About two weeks ago, my buddy Jim O. and I journeyed to Northern Pennsylvania. We were meeting my son-in-law Eric, his Grandfather Cliff, and Eric’s life-long buddy Chris at the cabin. The cabin is a nondescript place at the very edge of the Allegheny National Forest, and is now going into the fourth generation of Eric’s family.

I was looking forward to a Friday off of work, a long weekend in which to get a lot of writing done. Between working on an “as told by” biography of a local luminary and businessman and re-writing our church’s Christmas drama, I have a lot of writing to do.

The cabin, nestled near the summit of a mountain, provides the nearly ideal combination of solitude, nature and quiet which super-charges creativity.

The others were looking forward to preparing firewood for the Winter, honing their marksmanship skills, and getting away from the 21st Century for a few days. There is no phone, Internet, satellite TV, or Wi-Fi on the mountain. In order to get sporadic cellular service, one has to stand out in the meadow on the summit.

Saturday dawned clear, crisp, and glorious; as only an early Fall morning in the mountains can.  I settled in with writing pad and pen in hand; the words flowing as freely and clear as the spring behind the cabin.
Then, it began…..

A little voice saying Get outdoors. You can write anytime.”  No, I countered. I need to get this done. You need to get some exercise. Enjoy the forest and nature.”  Well….maybe. “You haven’t been here for over a year. Get some fresh air.” Alright, alright; let me get my boots on.

So it was that I found myself trying to assist with the firewood project. I met Cliff and Chris in the side yard with their little trailer load of freshly cut wood behind the lawn tractor. Grabbing a few pieces, I turned toward the wood pile.

Feeling the toe of my right boot catch on a log, my first thought was “This ain’t good.” The ground was covered with long, soft grass, scattered with new fallen leaves. I pitched forward. Wisely, I chose to use the edge of a freshly split log to break my fall. My right femur absorbed approximately 95% of the impact, with the balance being un-equally divided between my left femur, knee, and hand.

“Golly gee, Fellows! I seem to have fallen!” I exclaimed. Any reports to the contrary are pure fabrication and vain attempts to besmirch my reputation.

Gathering up the pieces of my dignity, I arose to a standing position. Yanking up the leg of my pants, I was relieved to see I had not torn my camo hunting pants. I was nearly as relieved to see I didn’t have a hunk of broken bone sticking out of my skin.

Hobbling into the cabin, I assured the others I would be fine. Some backwoods first aid of soap, water hydrogen peroxide, and antibiotic ointment on the scrape was applied.  I found I could put my weight on the leg (with the assistance of the table), therefore it must not be broken.  The remainder of the weekend I spent with my leg elevated, applying cold compresses, watching it change colors and swell, as well as writing. I also felt a good bit like a fool.

Come Monday afternoon, after a fun day of Show and Tell at work, I limped into my doctor’s office. Yeppers, it was infected alright. Take this anti-biotic and put this ointment on the scrape. Keep an eye on it and keep them posted.

Tuesday, I spent primarily in bed; fending off fevers, chills, and really, really weird dreams. I was flying an old WWI era bi-plane (a pretty little craft; robin’s egg blue fuselage, yellow wings), and it was growing dark. All I had for instruments were the fuel gauge, the airspeed indicator, and a hand held compass. Oh yeah, and a flash light. No matter where I tried to land, there was some reason I couldn’t; barbed wire fences across fields, swampy areas…weird.

But, I digress.

Back to work the remainder of the week.

By Sunday I was cooling my heels in the local Doc-in-a-box office, my leg the color of a Red Delicious apple, swollen to the size of the Stay-Puft Marshmallow man’s leg.  By this time, I was wishing I had recorded the first telling of my miss-hap; it would have saved a lot of breath. The doc came, took a look, ordered X-rays and blood tests. “Well, you have this going on. Stop the prescription you are on, and take this one. Take these water pills for fluid in the leg.” (Note to self: do NOT take Lasix before going to bed, unless you enjoy waking up every stinking hour!)

I stayed home on Monday, due to not sleeping on Sunday night, and a ridiculous amount of pain. I also made up a song; I fought the log, and the log won. Promptly forgot how song goes.

Went to work on Tuesday, listened to the oohs and aahs, milked having people get coffee for me as much as I could. Come Wednesday, there was still no sign of improvement. Only now, it felt as if I had taken a Rory McIlroy three-wood swing to the calf. There was also a collage of purple, black, red, and yellow extending from my knee to my toes. I hobbled into the doctor’s office again. REALLY wished I had recorded the first account of my little miss-hap. For entertainment’s sake I was considering tossing in a wrestling match with Sasquatch; but opted not to.  This time, the doctor ordered new blood tests and an ultrasound-STAT-of the leg.

By Wednesday afternoon, we know what it was not; it was not broken, it was not a staph or other bizarre infection, and it was not a blood clot in the arteries or veins. All in all, it was not bad news. Oh yeah; another day from the office.

Come Wednesday evening, I received a call from my doctor’s office. While talking with the lady, I was amazed by the phenomena of her voice becoming a deep, manly bass in an echo chamber announcing: “You have a Deep Tissue Hematoma.Da-da-da daaaaa.
A Deep Tissue Hematoma” she repeated, this time without the musical accompaniment

I was then made to understand my leg had bled a good deal. Except, it had bled internally; the blood seeped into the tissue and fibers of the muscle. This explained the interesting discolorations, the other-worldly swelling, and incredible pain.  She told me to stop the medications, except for the Lasix if it swells.

I learned a couple of things during the past fortnight. One involves the use of prescription pain medications.

Just prior to this time, my trusty beard trimmer began to act up. Naturally, being a guy, I knew I could fix it. (Another note to self: “No User Serviceable Parts” means just that.) Following the repairs, my trimmer had magically transformed into a puller/pincher. I quit using it. My beard refused to quit growing. I was beginning to feel like a ZZ Top tribute band member. I bought a nifty new trimmer. I commenced to trim my beard.

My Lovely Bride noticed one side was shade longer than the other. I took a pain med.

Here is where I would like to advocate for a change in labeling of medications. The forms always state, to the effect; “Do not operate motor vehicles, heavy machinery, or command a nuclear powered submarine until you know how this medication affects you.”

Well…I am here to call for the addition of “or use electric beard trimmers” to the list.

See, I went upstairs to prepare for bed. I decided to even up the facial hair while I was in the loo.

I removed the new clipper from the storage bag, switched it on, and took a swipe at the somewhat longer area.

It was only when I saw a fleece of salt and pepper hair cascade off my face that I noticed my slight oversight.
My old clippers had the correct length trimmer attached to the head. My new ones did not. There, on my right cheek, was a nice, new valley shorn in the middle of the whiskers. Boy, did I feel silly.

I slapped the shortest comb on the new clippers and tried to minimize the damage. It had the net effect of hiding the Cumberland Gap by trimming the trees.

This was all due to the mislabeling of prescription pain medications.

I have learned a couple empty copier paper boxes stacked up under my desk make a passable support for my leg while at work.

I have learned to not wear socks when swelling is going on, unless you like the indentations in your leg.

I am constantly reminded that a Bulldog ramming his head into my leg is not conducive to pain management. It does, though, offer plenty of opportunity to practice patience and long suffering.

I have gained a deeper respect for what my Dad dealt with; a painful leg injury from the Battle of the Bulge.  It finally stopped  hurting upon his death.

I would like to state I feel great now. My doctor, the Stent Guy, informed me this is going to be a long process, with good days, and bad days.

But, as I told my Lovely Bride this morning; today is a Genesis Chapter Two day.
In response to her quizzical look I chortled; “It’s the best it has felt since before the fall!”

Some people just don’t get a good theology joke.