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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.

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