Coffee. I must have coffee. No, not church coffee in Styrofoam cups from industrial-size silver canisters. And no chestnut colored offering that trickles through a tiny plastic cup filled with grounds with exotic names like Mocha, Mocha Special, Ebony Guinean Roast or Dusky Sumatran Tonic. No thanks, we prefer to grind our own Mexican Dark Roast beans before the morning latte at home.
The caffeine is hot, and so is the steamed milk that joins it in the white mug from the cupboard. There is very little artistic flair on the surface of the floating foam that’s snuggled on the crest of the cup. There will be no swirls, palm trees or the occasional attempt at a marijuana leaf. It’s the caffeine, baby, the caffeine. That is, until the faces start showing up.
The first time I saw a mug in a mug, I was stunned. As kids, we’ve all had the experience of lying in the grass on a hot summer day staring up at the clouds as they drift by. “There’s a horse, there’s a ship,” or if we were lucky, “There’s Raquel Welch!” Most of the time, we were limited by less-than-fertile imaginations. But now, a face in the top of a coffee cup — come on.
Before I took the first sip on that memorable day, I paused, looked up at Sarah and said, “This looks like St. Homobonus of Persia!” This got me a cross-eyed stare and, “You’re weird.”
“No, honest to God, there really is a St. Homobonus of Persia, and this kind of looks like him.”
“First of all, Doug, that doesn’t look like anything other than leftover Mexican Dark Roast dribbled on the froth. Second, I’ve never heard of a St. Homobonus of Persia”
I begged to differ, went to Dr. Google, punched in the revered saint’s name and sure enough, there he was — a 12th century patron saint of tailors and shoemakers. He wasn’t from Persia it turned out, but Cremona, Italy, a long stone’s throw even with a very good arm to Persia, in the Middle East. He lived a pious life as a merchant, devoted to the poor. The discussion of whether good old Homobonus was the Real Deal continues.
On the days when I get up earlier than I’d like and grow impatient for the morning jolt, I’ll tackle the latte on my own. I try to duplicate the heat and foam of the primo coffee maker in the house, but can’t cut it and instead take a shortcut. The java I brew is for practical reasons only — as an eye-opener. I cheat on the white-fluff-making by nuking milk in the microwave. Needless to say, it ain’t the same.
Every morning after I get the News Tribune from the paper box, I’ll sit and read the front page as the cup arrives from the barista and settles on the table next to it. She’ll look at me and say, “So, who is it today?”
Some days, barely conscious, I’ll try to surface a name from my ancient Catholic grade school memory banks and stammer out a saint or two. When I know failure is on the horizon, I’ll reach for St. Drogo, patron saint of coffee.
She’ll say, “You’re slipping. We need to drag out that old saints book and get you a tune-up.”
Doug Lewandowski is a retired counselor, educator and licensed psychologist. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.