Last week, I referred to my coffee as “as life giving plasma that propels me forward”(1) Critical to that life support is the means by which I can transport said plasma to and from work.
As you’ve already deduced, the container I speak has to be a vacuum bottle. So ever hopeful you’ll remember me the next time you’re on Jeopardy, here’s a fun little factoid I picked up along the way to this week’s posting.
“The invention of the vacuum flask in 1892 (by Scottish chemist Sir James Dewar [not of the whiskey Dewar’s] does not rank high among mankind’s most remarkable inventions, but its longevity relies on being a steady companion. The first gas-operated motor vehicle debuted in Massachusetts the following year. In an era before disposable containers, the vacuum flask came along at exactly the right time. Now, people could travel long distances of their own accord and drink a hot beverage along the way. In the 1890s, the road trip was born.” (2)
So rather than spell checking vacuum bottle all day long, let’s just agree to call my bottle a thermos. And what a thermos I had!
Rest her soul, Rick’s mom knew how to buy the best presents. They were always practical, but exactly what I needed and they were never just barely good enough. Belts, wallets, slippers…like her son that survives her, she always knew how to go over and beyond.
As desperately as I’ve tried to find an early photo of my thermos, I have not been successful in conveying pictorial evidence of her beauty. Instead let me instead describe my Precious. She was metal, done in a lustrous wood grain finish. She was curvy…almost sensuous in the way the body of the thermos gently indented near the center to provide just the right ergonomic balance. She fit my hand like a glove. With a 2 oz. screw-on cap doubling as a cup, she made me feel like I was doing coffee shots; not enough to qualify as a cup of coffee, but enough to deliver the guilty caffeine jolt I needed, when I needed it. And even though Elsie died almost 5-years ago, the thermos has doubled both as a vessel for my plasma and as a talisman/memento of her innate sense of who I was and what I needed.
So having poured out my ode to her, the thermos, let me move forward to the other day as I was walking out to the car after work. It was an arctic day here in Chicagoland. Balancing my satchel, my water bottle, the thermos and digging for the car keys, the unimaginable happened. In one of those strange slow-motion moments, I saw the thermos slip right out from grasp and plunge to the frozen asphalt below. As I heard the dull ping-ping of her bouncing, the unmistakeable crack heralded the cap splintering into three or four pieces as the shards went dancing around my feet. My reflexive roar not only caught the attention of my exiting co-workers, but it also snapped my out of my cinematic freeze-frame as I dropped to my knees to gather the precious pieces. “…I’ll rush these right home and apply the super glue…hang on…”. But despite my pleas to rewrite what had just happened, the thermos – my thermos – was dead. Rightly or wrongly, I kicked myself all the way home, arriving inside our front door acting like a beloved pet had died. While it’s true I could have been far more careful with the car key fiasco, I hadn’t. And now, there was nothing to be done than pull the sheet over my battle-proven vacuum bottle and her now lifeless wood grain skin. Yet, I kept thumping myself like a bad V-8 commercial.
On the drive home, the thought had crossed my mind to pull into my 24-hour Walmart and pick up a new one, but the very thought of buying a new thermos seemed like a betrayal. I mean, after all, her body wasn’t even cold. And after all, isn’t keeping things hot the purpose of the thermos to begin with? Now granted, over time, I’d grown accustomed to the coffee inside being a little more than room temperature after an hour or two, but it had served me well. I’d had it for a long time. It was mine and I was hers. So I stayed loyal. Accommodating her lessened ability the years had inflicted, I adapted, drinking my coffee early in the shift while enjoying the privilege of it all. What can I say I loves my coffee and I loved drinking it of that thermos.
On other fronts, another component was already at work in my Soul. There was now the confessional element beginning to rise up in my mind’s eye as I got close and closer to home. Long known for not being the most graceful guy on the planet, no one has ever mistaken me for a gazelle and here I was…about to deliver more evidence to the one person who matters more than all that the stark assessment of those that love me is, in fact, true. Ouch.
My clumsiness, my loss and feeling like I had played right into the hands of one of my traits (e.g., non-gazellesque) all conspired to put me in a combative mood before I was even inside the front door. While intellectually I knew I needed to reel in my rage over something that could not be undone, I didn’t want to. Besides, isn’t one of the best defenses to feeling stupid to adopt an argumentative offense. And all of this was happening in less than a blink of an eye. Amazing. Even by my standards.
Knowing I am never a nice man when I’m in that frame of mind, I eventually (with outside help) took steps to calm down [FOCUS: breathe. Repeat]. I was still in a state of denial about the demise of my old wood grained friend, but was giving myself some credit for at least looking in the cupboards for other thermos product we had in inventory. But when it was all done and said, there wasn’t a single contender that fit the bill as well as the bottle I’d just killed. So in true martyr fashion, I decided I’d forego coffee for awhile. I think it was my humble version of Lent and penance – all rolled into one. If I’m nothing else, I am efficient.
The very next day while I was sleeping, Rick went out for some things we needed and returned, surprising me with a gleaming stainless steel thermos. I felt bad not being more excited, but I was in more mourning than my morning had belied. But acts of kindness are acts of kindness, so I acquiesced and graciously agreed that I’d be taking coffee to work later that night. Thank you.
Now here’s the kicker:
A little before 1AM, I had my first shot. ‘Ummm, coffee is really hot. Nice.’
And then again around 2:15. ‘….still hot. That’s cool.’
And at 3:30. ‘This is new. The coffee is really good or is it just that it’s still hot. Still hot? That’s new.’
And at 5. ‘…still hot! Wow, this is a really good thermos!’
Yes friends, over the years it turns out I had seduced myself into rationalizing the lack of thermal performance by substituting a healthy display of walking-around loyalty to an idea. It was my allegiance to what had become routine for me. You might even call what passed as my routine, my norm, for a habit I had no intention of leaving until cruel fate had splattered my habit on a parking lot floor.
The next morning after work, I was pleased to be walking in our front door with praise on my lips for what a good thermos he’d selected. I extolled him with the time-line, my new found appreciation for the new vacuum bottles’ clean and modern line, its metallic shine and most of all, its amazing performance at doing what it was designed to do. Who knew?
That’s when the real gift hit me. In this move to night-time hours and all the tweaking of routine and pattern I’d been doing to make lemonade out of what I’d first thought were lemons, might there be other habits who had outlived their original purpose or intent?
The hard part was hearing the part of me that can’t/won’t lie to me saying, ‘Why yes, I think there are. What about Habit A or rote emotional reflex B?’. What if they were nothing more than a once sexy or effective thing for their time? What if the train had long since left the station with me still clutching to what used to work for me? I told you. This was heady stuff. And all of it springing up from the shards of the thermos looking back up at me through its lifeless plasticized wood grain eyes. Amazing.
So here’s where I’m at. The best memorial I can offer to my dearly departed thermos is to let it go and adopt a new and better one. That goes for my habits too. I’m wearing a rubber band around my wrist this week so I can gently snap myself when the selected habit rears its ugly and unconscious head. Nothing that really hurts, just something that helps me minimize and re-direct the old with the added perspective of the physical reminder. Am I nuts? Probably. But then again, you already knew that.
So lift your mugs up high as I toast a coming week of retraining my brain to adopt new and far more appropriate emotional responses to stimuli I know are coming. With my new gleaming thermos as talisman for my ah-ha moment, I hope you’ll join me in picking just one knee-jerk thing you do and then, doing something about it. It probably isn’t working all that well for you anyway. Time for a new one. People will notice. Join me in being really diligent about this all week and those around you will being scratching their heads as to what’s different. And when curiosity gets the best of them (and it will), they’ll ask you what’s going on? Don’t you love it when you do you?
Smile and tell them you’ve decided to like it hot.
MUSICAL JEM of the Week: Please enjoy my benediction.
Click on the Pic of Blind Pilot singing “Half Moon”
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More about the band @ http://www.alchemicnoise.com/summer-2012/half-moon-by-blind-pilot/
PHOTO CREDITS and ATTRIBUTIONS: Cowboy Coffee – Source: armstrong-roberts-cowboy-kneeling-by-campfire-pouring-coffee.jpg @ http://pinterest.com/alexanderkalab/coffee/; (1) Night School (January 20th issue) : https://dan4kent.wordpress.com/2013/01/20/night-school/; (2) American Thermos Co. Ad and History: http://theboweryboys.blogspot.com/2011/12/thermos-building-keeping-it-hot-and.html; Broken Thermos: http://haiku-koo-koo.blogspot.com/2010_12_01_archive.html; Stainless Steel Thermos: http://www.motivators.com/images/products/Promotional-16-oz.-Stainless-Steel-Thermos4.jpg; pouring-coffee: http://poemsprayersandponderings.wordpress.com/2012/12/13/1am/pouring-coffee/; Good Pour – Source: http://nomnompaleo.com/post/23286428518/paleo-eats-5-17-12; Thermos-of-delights: http://yakima.com/roadtrips/road-trip-tools-35-coffee-to-go/
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