Coffee Ma’am


“I’m the coffee man,” I say to my wife.

We’re sitting in the kitchen, enjoying our view of the snow. It’s mid morning, a single digit above zero out there, which is bad; but also bright sun on new snow, a brilliant cloudless blue sky, which is good. We’re well into SAD season, long stretches of short gray days, then dark. Sun is the best antidote to seasonal affective disorder. When I mentioned that to a friend the other day, I said sun or red wine. He smiled and said Florida is the best antidote.

Later today we’re flying to Shanghai, to visit our kids. We’re both a little off balance (cranky), nervous about the long flight (about 14 hours), the time change (12 hours), and the bad air in Shanghai. It will be cold there, damp, gray Chinese cold. China will be almost as SAD as Michigan. Maybe SADDER.

“I’m the coffee man,” I say again, trying to lighten the mood.  I tell her she could call me that.

She shakes her head.

I take a cup down from the cupboard and show her. She gives me an approving nod.

“‘Hey, coffee man.’”

She looks away. “I won’t say that.”

“Try it. ‘Hey, coffee man.”

I press a button, our machine groans, and I get a nice espresso.

coffee man

“Don’t forget,” she says, “I need toothpaste.”

I remember.  Later today we’re going to her dentist to pick up a tube of toothpaste. Tizi and I have his and hers toothpastes. I’m a traditionalist. Whatever Crest is on the shelf, I buy it and use it. At Costco you can buy a five-year supply of Crest at bargain prices and never run out.

Okay, Crest is like the Gallo of the toothpaste industry. But still, I mean, toothpaste.

Tizi, on the other hand, is non-traditional.  She uses a healthpaste she gets from her holistic dentist. I don’t knock it. I just don’t understand it.  It’s toothpaste.  Unlike Costco, her dentist doesn’t do bulk. More than a few times she’s come up short and had to use the default industrial paste, which she finds abrasive.

Last night we had a shouting match about toothpaste. Not shouting in anger. Shouting across a distance.  Because she talks to me from wherever in the house she happens to be at that moment and I should be able to hear her. She says I’m getting deaf (true); I say where in the house are you talking to me from right now?

I was in the kitchen washing a dish when I heard her say something, from a bedroom upstairs, at a far end of the house. It’s where I pile stuff before I pack, on our son’s bed.  I thought she said why did I get the new toothpaste.

I yelled up at her: “So I can brush my teeth in Shanghai.” I knew just the sight of a tube of Crest would irk her. I thought I concealed it in the pile next to some socks.

She says, “What about me?”

“What about you?”

“What about me?”

“You can use some if you need to brush your teeth.”


“I said you can use it.”

“Where did you get it?

“I got it at Kroger,” I yelled back.

“At Kroger?”

“I bought it at Kroger, where they sell toothpaste. Remember last night I went to the store for milk. Well I bought milk, toothpaste, and Benadryl.”

I hear her coming down the stairs now.  She says, “Why did you need a new suitcase?”

“Suitcase? I thought you said toothpaste. It’s toothpaste for Shanghai.”

“But the suitcase.  Isn’t that a new suitcase?”

No, it isn’t.  It wasn’t. But the tube of toothpaste was new. I didn’t hear clearly.  Or she didn’t speak clearly.

At her dentist later that morning, while she stocks up on one tube of toothpaste, I look at some holistic medical literature the dentist has on display. This stuff kills me. One particular flier is for a product called “Olive Gold 03.” It’s a lotion, “the result of Research, Refinement and Development Accumulated over 125 years.”  Wow, that’s a long time.

Olive Gold 03 (why not just 3 instead of 03? Is 03 a year?), it’s available in a 4 ounce container, with a pump. There’s a list of ingredients, and this blandishment: “A touch of the Garden of Eden and the Fountain of Youth!”  Also this: “It’s Like Having an ANGEL in a BOTTLE.” A few publications are cited to validate the science: Textbook of Medical Physiology, Journal of Experimental Medicine, and Flood Your Body with Oxygen.


On the reverse side in 9 point font, is a full page of testimonials–useful in some branches of science and the healing arts, especially in the absence of data.  My favorite: GREAT for PETS! CRUELTY FREE! HAS A REFRESHING SCENT TO!

Sitting by the cashier window is an old couple, both of them wearing pink sweaters against the cold cold day. I want to ask them if they color coordinate every morning. They have a few years on me and Tizi, but I know that’s where we’re heading.  Old. In sweaters. Definitely not matching. If we can’t do “coffee man,” there’s no way we’ll wear matching sweaters.

The flight is long. We depart four hours late. Once they dim the lights Tizi leans into the window and sleeps. It’s a little bit of chivalry on my part, giving her the window.  But also I’ve never been able to sleep much on a long flight, maybe cause I’m not seated next to the window. Out over the ocean, wide awake, I entertain myself by watching other people’s movies. Look, there’s Kate McKinnon.  On another screen, Jane Fonda. On another, Meryl Streep in Mamma Mia. She’s bouncing on a fluffy bed, acting so girlish and gleeful I have to look away. Some guy is watching Ant-Man.

When I check the flight tracker, we’re flying at 40,000 feet over what must be Siberia. It’s 72 below outside. The only city shown is Yakutsk. Which must mean something like Yak-ville. I wonder how SAD it is down there.

Without a Benadryl assist I drift off for a short sleep, only to awaken to a flight attendant saying to my wife, “Coffee ma’am?  Coffee ma’am?”

Tizi is awake.  She declines the coffee, but I say yes, I would love some. I turn to Tizi, think about saying who I am, then decide against it.




  1. Wonderful sense of humor, my goodness thank god for that canceled flight from Paris to NYC and for the much longer flight time of that connecting flight from Detroit, I would have never have met you and read this blog! it is fantastic! I am full of similes in a cold and sunless Switzerland!


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