What with artificial energy shortages, growing corporate sleaze and an unexpected proliferation of killer dogs, these United States have been rolling down a decidedly bumpy road in recent weeks.
I firmly believe we can survive all these difficulties. What I’m worried about, though, is our ability to survive our morning coffee.
I used to bemoan the fact that the average American appeared to be losing such basic skills as the ability to safely pick up a firearm or start a chainsaw.
As the 1980s began to melt into the 1990s, it seemed like more and more suburbanites were lopping off limbs and shooting themselves in the feet for no apparent reason. Even seasoned gang members were having trouble hitting their rivals during drive-by shootings.
Then one day a motorist ordered a cup of hot coffee from a fast food restaurant and the hot coffee actually turned out to be, er, hot, and the unsuspecting motorist was scalded during a series of events which are still somewhat unclear to me.
Fortunately there was an attorney nearby to render assistance and the case of the hot coffee that actually was hot and therefore dangerous to people ordering hot coffee was entered in the annals of civil law.
And suddenly everybody was being victimized by coffee. For awhile there it seemed like bands of malevolent restaurant employees were prowling the streets just looking for hapless citizens to sadistically scald with vats of seething java.
(“Hey, buddy – warm that up for ya? Bwah-ha-ha-ha-ha!”)
What it all comes down to is the fact that Americans have somehow lost their ability to recognize hot coffee and to safely handle it once they’ve got their mitts around a cup.
It would seem a simple enough intellectual process to receive one’s steaming cup of coffee and think “Aha! Here’s the hot cup of coffee I ordered. I didn’t order iced coffee, therefore this must be hot. It’s radiating warmth and there’s vapor rising from it. Whoa! Must be really hot. I should exercise reasonable caution because hot liquids are quite capable of causing first- and second-degree burns if one is not careful.”
Instead, your average consumer today grabs that cup of hot coffee, swerves back into traffic, reaches for his or her cell phone and begins directing an imaginary orchestra with both hands.
This delirious dance invariably ends with a prolonged shriek of agony, the hissing of scalded flesh and “Hel-loooo, law offices?”
The latest wrinkle in this national debacle is consumer concern about recycled coffee cup caddies.
These little cardboard holders are designed to keep the unwary from searing their fingers on – you guessed it! – hot coffee containers that, presumably, contain hot coffee.
Unfortunately, some folks in Berkeley have discovered to their dismay that many of these disposable coffee caddies are being reused.
Apparently fearing the transmission of ebola and breakbone fever, health conscious coffee consumers are crying foul and calling for one-use cup caddies. Their environmentally-conscious brethren, though, point out the importance of recycling the little carriers. And everybody else continues rolling around on the sidewalk with first-degree burns.
Sorry, amigos, but it may just be time to kiss civilization good-bye…
Originally published April 7, 2002