Artificial Intelligence

All his life, Shop Boy’s been the coffee guy.

When I was 10, it was my job to boil water and make instant coffee, with milk and sugar, walk it upstairs and wake my dad for work. Five days a week. Not until I left for college was it somebody else’s turn. All those mornings, I never complained — and also never spilled a drop on the carpeted stairs.

It became a game: How many stairs could I take at once without spilling? How quickly and quietly could I run the stairs without losing a drop?

Dad was a nut about being present and being punctual as an employee. He never missed a day of school in his life, and very rarely missed a day of work. I’m sure this kind of thing really sat well with his co-workers. Four days out of five was not close enough for my dad’s kind of government work. Maybe it was that he knew staying home meant facing seven hungry, constantly warring kids. But we’re not here to judge, folks. He just needed to be awake and at work. So, without fail, little Shop Boy brought the coffee.

My own favorite memories of morning coffee are from Mary and Shop Boy’s first year in Denver. East 11th Street. One block away was a fancy pants gourmet supermarket. One block the other way was a lithium house whose porch was always populated by drooling zombies. Our first week there, as I left for work, a wet, completely naked young woman came running up the alley toward me. I asked if she was OK, if she’d like my jacket to cover up with. She said thanks, but she needed to go kill somebody — the guy I’d seen tucking money into his sock a moment or two earlier, apparently. She grabbed a few things off a nearby clothesline and never looked back. Poor guy. We moved shortly after the white supremacists rented the house across the way. That was an interesting neighborhood.

Back then we had a coffee pot that you could set like an alarm clock to automatically turn on in the morning. Tell you what: There aren’t many things better than waking up to the smell of chocolate-raspberry coffee. And so it was. Shop Boy would get up, pour himself some chocolate-raspberry coffee, add cream and sugar — candy bar in a cup, that was! Then I’d clean the coffee pot with soap and water, get the other coffee bean grinder and make a stiff pot for Mary, untouched by any of that fruit-flavored nonsense. Mary drinks her coffee black.

“Would you like something in your coffee, miss?”

“Yeah, how about a little more bitterness?”

Once, at a Colombian restaurant in New York, Mary asked for coffee. The proprietor said, essentially, that the brew was a bit too rough for non-natives of Colombia. That was it: Mary was having that coffee. The dude brought a teeny cup over, suggesting that Mary add cream and sugar and warning again of the substance’s dark nature. Whereupon Mary slugged it down, declared it delicious and informed the flabbergasted proprietor that she’d like another.

Same deal in Miami’s Little Havana, where the sign above one of the little coffee vendors read, if Shop Boy remembers his Spanish: “Attention, Gringos! If you drink this, you will die in agony!”

Mary grabbed Shop Boy’s hand and in we went.

Me? “Light and sweet.” Most mornings Shop Boy is neither, but my coffee’s got to be. So I get up at 6, mumble and stumble toward the shower, dress and put on a pot of strong coffee for Mary. Depending upon how quickly — or whether — I emerge from the a.m. fog, I’ll carry a cup to Mary and let the rich smell wake her up. She drinks the whole pot.

True story: Shop Boy was on a two-week tryout at a big newspaper in New Jersey, hopeful of landing a job a bit closer to Mary, who had moved to New York City. My shift started at 4 p.m. or so. The first night, my supervisor walked in carrying two jumbo Dunkin’ Donuts thermoses full of coffee. He finished them before 6 p.m., then went to the vending machine for two more cups of that filth. At break time, around 9:30, he went to Dunkin’ Donuts for refills. By 11 p.m., it was like The Exorcist.

Better yet, think Beavis, Butt-head and … “Cornholio.”

Shop Boy was offered, but did not take, that job.

Around the corner from the Brooklyn apartment we ended up in was a little bakery/coffee shop called Faith’s. The bagels were dynamite — Eyyyyy, it’s New Yawk, fella. Try to find a bad one — and the coffee was so rich that a little oil slick formed on its surface. Every morning, Mary would poke me in the ribs and ask, “Where’s my coffee?” Shop Boy would drag himself the 100 paces or so there and back, set breakfast on the table and — now wide awake from two sips — bounce into the bedroom, pronouncing in my most rubust superhero voice: “I am Coffee Man! Defender of the Faiths!”

OK, weirdo. (But I still do it sometimes.)

Another time, Mary was walking through a park in New York carrying her scone and a Faith’s coffee. A woman approached, clearly a heroin addict, and asked Mary for money. As the woman was shivering, Mary offered her the hot coffee. “Does it have sugar in it?” the woman asked. No, Mary answered. “Well, do you have any sugar to put in it?” the lady asked. Mary did not have any sugar. “No thanks,” the woman said. “What have you got in the bag? Something sweet?”

Nope.

“It’s a scone,” Mary said.

The lady harrumphed and continued along in her search for money and a sugar fix.

Mary: “It was a perfect scone, too. Light and delicious and …”

Shop Boy: “… dry as a bone. It’s the breakfast treat refused by more heroin addicts than any other.”

Now Mary harrumphed.

Anyway, we don’t have a coffee pot at Typecast Press. Heck, we didn’t even have potable water for a good long while. (You drink that stuff that comes out of the factory tap.) But now that we get water delivered, we’ve been thinking about what we could hook up to save us the additional two bucks we usually spend on a cup of takeout java.

Mary uses a french press sometimes, but the stuff that thing creates is too chewy for Shop Boy. And most of the modern brewing machines that seem really cool require that water be piped directly into them. Again … ewwwww. Since most of the stuff we do at the printshop is old-timey, my vote is to stay simple: two separate coffee makers and coffee grinders, segregated bean supplies (harsh for her, wussy and flavored for me), probably two different filter sizes, bags of artificial sweeteners (sugar just doesn’t quite get me there sometimes, you know?), half & half in the fridge, favorite coffee cups that never shall be shared or touch one another … and maybe a moisture-tight lockbox for the scones. I won’t need the key.

Does all that seem like too much of a bother just for a cup of joe?

Don’t worry. I’ll make it.

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