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Black Magic

There is a permanent crook in my right index finger resulting from having held a coffee cup for hours, days, months and years on end.  Anyone who knows me well will tell you that I am a coffee drinker.  Some people might not actually call what I drink coffee.  Motor oil is more like it.  Let’s just say that while I enjoy good coffee that is well prepared, I won’t shy away from more basic fare.

Ok, so I’m addicted. That issue didn’t really start until I joined the Navy.  One of the first things I learned in the Navy is that there is no such thing as sleep. I spent four months at Officer Candidate School without a wink of sleep.  Then six months at Supply Corp School, with forty winks.  When I hit the fleet, night and day were all the same, and sleep was a treat.  Enter coffee. Warm, somewhat tasty, and loaded with caffeine.

On my second ship I served as Food Service Officer.  I tasked my Senior Chief with ensuring that there was always coffee available on the mess decks for the crew.  24/7.  A ship, and its crew, never sleep.  And the source of that coffee was a twenty-five-gallon urn.  You might imagine that the last few gallons in there were well aged.  And getting to be more than a little thick.  Served without cream or sugar that stuff was quite a treat.

So that’s what I learned to drink as coffee.  I was spoiled.  In fancy restaurants and with the dawning of the Starbucks craze I was introduced to much fancier coffee.  But it was always the black mud I came back to.  Six, seven, eight cups a day.  Having it near me was like a security blanket.  If it was hot, that was great.  If it was cold, that was good too.  My mother loved iced coffee.  But she used cream and sugar.  Me, black, black and blacker.

My taste in coffee hasn’t changed, but the way we make coffee has.  The percolator is no longer in use.  I remember the old Maxwell House commercials with the fresh perked coffee. Two-gallon percolator serves a big coffee clatch.  Then came the arrival of the smaller pot.  Now you can make six cups.  And you can even use a special package that has six cups worth of ground coffee prepackaged.  Yielding what someone defined as the perfect brew.

Eventually someone came up with the individual serving.  Little plastic pods that you stick in a machine.  Fill the tank with water, push the button and the water heats up and runs through the pod then pours out into your cup.  Add your choice of sweetener and creamer and voila!  Delicious.  Or like me, drink it black.

On my latest trip I found something new in the hotel room.  A fancy Nespresso machine.  I’d seen the ads on TV.  George Clooney and Danny DeVito.  George as a knight.  The theme is that the coffee from this machine is so good that people will go on an arduous quest to find it.  OK, let’s see what this sucker will do.

Add water. Figure out how to open the thing to insert the pod.  Whoa!  The pod from the last cup just ejected itself!  I don’t have to touch it.  Shoots itself straight into the trash bin! Push the button.  The machine starts to make whirring, bubbling and hissing sounds. And the elixir of life begins to flow. It’s thick and foamy.  And has a strangely creamy color.  I hadn’t added any cream.  As the cup filled with this liquid, the machine began to sound like a jet engine powering up.  To the point where I thought the contraption was going to launch itself into outer space. At takeoff, the coffee is ready. Looking almost like a cup of cappuccino. Creamy and foamy.  Add sweetener and creamer to taste and…yes, it’s pretty damn good.

When I lived in Italy, I drank a lot of coffee.  And cappuccino.  And espresso. The black stuff.  And it was all good.  And concocted in fancy machines made of gleaming chrome and copper.  The more piping, the better the output.  So it seemed.  And it took a real artist to make the machine release perfection.

The Nespresso is good. And convenient.  But the plastic pods, are they recyclable?  Anyway, I’ll take mine black.  I guess I’m a purist.  Or a glutton.

That’s part of my story. What’s yours?


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Blue Paint Spot

Selling my house meant that the basement would have to be cleaned. I remember thinking to myself at the time that such an accomplishment would be equivalent to Hercules cleaning the Augean Stables.

For nineteen years the basement had been the repository for a million and one items to be stored. Some of which I never looked at during those nineteen years. And then there was my tool bench. Covered with tools and bits of metal and jars full of nails and tacks and innumerable goodies that I knew I would need at some point in the future. Even if I had to view the future in the way that the universe sees progress. Then there were the treasures, memories and other “junk.”

I could put it all on one thirty yard dumpster. But I need all of it. Orr most of it. Some anyway. So I got to work packing boxes and crates and whatever I could use to hold these testaments to my past, present and future.

Sweeping the floor I noticed a spot of blue. Kind of a dark royal. It was paint. Marine paint that I had spilled while I was restoring a sailboat in the basement. I didn’t build it in there so in spite of the images that floated in my head of having to cut either the boat or the house in half to get the thing out, it fit nicely through the double door.

It was an older, classic style Moth racer. Designed for one person, it had a main and a jib and was sixteen feet long. My neighbor had recently moved from California and brought the boat with him. He hadn’t sailed it in years, and no intention of starting now. I think his wife talked him into getting rid of it. And lucky me, I got it. No cost, but I had to promise to restore it. Gladly!

The hull was intact, but had a lot of spidering cracks. The boom, tiller and part of the dagger board were teak. All in need of refinishing. The standing rigging was missing and the running rigging was rotten. It needed new pulleys. And paint.

Kind of a mess I realized when I got into it. What had I signed up for?! A deal is a seal and I knew it would be a lot of work, and fun. I rolled up my sleeves and got started.

The mast could stay outdoors, but everything else needed to come inside to be worked on. The basement. I brought in the boom, the rudder and tiller, and the dagger board. And then I set up a pair of sawhorses to rest the hull on. And then I headed to West Marine to shop for supplies. What’s on the list? Bondo, sandpaper, steel wool, metal polish, teak stain, lines for the running rigging, cable for het standing rigging, three colors of marine paint, and a special tool designed to crimp the cable to assure that it held the mast up properly. And a pirate pennant.

Six hours and three hundred dollars later I was back in the basement. Ready to restore. The teak was easy to sand down and refinish. I polished the brass bolts and wing nuts on the tiller. Stainless steel screw heads along the top of the hull were all polished up to a bright shine. And I polished up the thirty pound steel dagger board. Check. Check. Check. Now for the hull and standing rigging.

Classic car enthusiasts prefer original parts. And real metal. I was working with a fiberglass hull so I decided Bondo would be OK to fill cracks and scratches and dent and dings. It was all getting painted anyway.

Bondo. Sand. Bondo. Sand. When I was satisfied that the entire hull was as smooth as glass I was ready to paint. The hull would be royal blue. The deck a cream color. And the splash rail a bright red. And inside the cockpit I was planning on some sort of arrow design.

Since the hull was resting upright on the sawhorses I painted that first. Three coats. With a brush. And not a single brushstroke showing. Took a week.   Then I hit the splash rail with a couple of coats of red. Just a splash of color! Ha-ha.

Enlisting some help from my daughter, we very carefully flipped the hull over and set the deck side down on now padded sawhorses. No scratching!!!

And then the blue. Five coats of it. With a brush. Long strokes. And nary a brush mark. It looked brand new. Fabulous.

Flipped over again I taped of an arrow on the floor of the cockpit and painted it blue. Pointing forward. Thataway to the finish line!

It was ready to go back outside to have the mast set. New halyards port and starboard. And then a new forestay. That one had to be custom measured. Add the rudder, tiller, dagger board, and boom and viola!, we have a sailboat.

I had the sails. Once the battens were slipped into their pockets I could hoist the sails. And the pirate pennant. All in my backyard. I took lots of pictures. And then I sold it.

I had sanded, bonded, sanded more, stained and painted. And on the floor of the basement was that blob of blue paint I had spilled. It would stay there forever as a reminder to me of the sailboat I had reborn.

Of course the new owners of the house would have no idea what it was. And would probably never guess that a boat had been there. But I know. And now I’m looking for another boat to restore.

That’s part of my story. What’s yours?

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