It’s become my job to clean up the kitchen at night before I go to bed. This requires completing a bunch of sub-jobs like gathering and dealing with the dirty dishes, clearing and wiping down the countertops, vanquishing Satan’s hairballs,1 scrubbing bloodstains off the ceiling, sending hookers home, and all manner of other standard stuff.
Except…we tend to keep a pretty clean kitchen, meaning that most nights all I have to do is tidy up the island, load the dishwasher, hand-wash anything stubborn or baked on, and set our trusty old coffee machine up for the next morning.
Sounds simple, right?
Well, sure, but then our coffee machine died. My wife picked us out a new one—GOD DAMN ITS EVIL SOUL TO HELL—and we unboxed it and put it on the counter and more or less forgot about it. And I think that was an error. I think it felt abandoned and grew angry and lashed out. I say that because just now when I was dumping the used grounds in the trash, I found that half of them were stuck in the filter. And whaddaya do, folks, when used grounds are stuck in the filter? You give the bastard a harder shake.
So when I gave aforementioned bastard aforementioned harder shake, THE GROUNDS REBOUNDED OUT OF THE TRASH CAN AND RAINED DOWN ALL OVER THE ENTIRE KITCHEN!
I stood there in disbelief, my mouth hanging open, gazing around to verify that, yes, the catastrophe had indeed occurred. Presently I resigned myself to reality, slumped my shoulders, hung my head, and commenced the journey across the kitchen—crunching wet coffee grounds underfoot the entire way. Finally I reached the sink and tossed the filter into it. I glared at the misbegotten thing. It glared back.
Then I took a deep breath and held it and opened a gateway into the godforsaken industrial wasteland of cleaning products that lives in our under-sink cabinet.
I’d gotten my flu shot that afternoon, so I had to lay in wet grounds on my sore shoulder while I felt around for the Simple Green. It was in the very back corner. As I fished it out I caused our vast collection of plastic grocery bags to avalanche out onto the floor. I shook the grounds off them as best I could and stuffed them back into the cabinet and shut the door quickly to ensure they wouldn’t spring out again.
Sisyphus never had it any rougher. But several rounds later, when I’d at last door-slapped the bags into submission, I stood and brushed grounds off my clothing and gave the spray bottle an experimental squirt.
The wretched trigger was of course non-functional. This required me to leave the house and make my way to the crawlspace, where I opened the door and squatted and duck-walked into the crawlspace and found the tote in which we keep spare spray bottles and opened the tote and rummaged out a new bottle and replaced the lid on the tote and duck-walked back out of the crawlspace and returned to the kitchen.
Next I began the job of unscrewing the new spray bottle, finding a funnel, inserting it, and filling it with the Simple Green that remained in the old bottle. I had to do this because the two bottles were threaded differently, such that I couldn’t just switch over the new sprayer head. I had the presence of mind to perform this operation in the sink, but shortly thereafter I discovered that the new spray-bottle had a furious leak. It was cracked along the bottom seam, which once again required me to leave the house and etc., etc.
Shit-fire. It was exhausting. And I still had to wipe up each and every one of the billions of wayward coffee grounds. I say “wipe” because the vacuum cleaner was never an option. Too loud.
Which was a ball-breaking tragedy, because one does not easily wipe up coffee grounds. Each ground is a discrete particle, a wet one, and water serves as an excellent adhesive between organic matter and smooth surfaces. And on the subject of smooth surfaces: we have intricate parquet flooring in the kitchen, a legacy from Some Guy who did a shit-ton of weird stuff to this house fifty years ago.2 Said parquet flooring has easily a quarter-inch of polyurethane finish applied to it. So, yeah, the grounds were pretty much glued down.
But even in the first place, the term “wiping up” is misapplied to the whole process. You don’t wipe the grounds up; you simply push them around without making any meaningful progress. A few stick to the rag, but those grounds are the weak and puny; the cowards who have given up the fight. The rest are out to kill you by sheer apoplexy.
I was five minutes into this miserable process when I remembered the plastic snow shovel. So I went back to the crawlspace a third time.
The beauty of the snow shovel idea was this: if all I was doing was pushing grounds around the floor, I could at least do it efficiently. While taking great care not to scratch the floor, I could bulldoze the grounds across the kitchen, working from left to right in straight lines and methodically creating one long dune against the baseboards. Then I could once again bulldoze the grounds along the baseboards and down to the end, where they’d form a little heap I could shovel up into the trash can with a spatula. I’d deal with any stragglers afterwards.
It was a complete failure. The bottom of the blade had dozens of little nicks and notches in it from shoveling snow off concrete. Each one left a line of grounds behind it. I was essentially grooming the scattered grounds into a zen pebble garden, which was nice, but leaving it there would unquestionably provoke a reaction from my wife the next morning. She’d accuse me of coming unhinged, like Richard Dreyfuss sculpting the Devil’s Tower in mashed potatoes.
And so I bowed my head to fate and knelt and picked up the rag and wiped up coffee grounds for the next hundred thousand years. At long last I returned to the sink, washed the filter, crossed the kitchen, set up the coffee machine, gave Satan a good petting, returned the snow shovel to the crawlspace, procured my keys, went out to my van, drove to a mental institution, and checked myself into the PTSD ward.
I gave my psychiatrist the following post-disaster report. Warning: physics ahead.
Unlike our old basket-filter machine, the new one’s filter is conical. Since the bottom of the cone is essentially a single point, gravity dictates that the brewing process should pack wet grounds towards said single point instead of distributing them equally throughout the filter. This creates a sharp-ended mass of coffee particles with considerable cohesion, almost a crystal, instead of a big loose disc like a traditional basket filter would make.
So when I gave the filter a harder shake, this conical projectile short forth into the quarter-full trash can with a great deal of forward momentum and struck an empty milk jug.3 The milk jug, being made of stiff yet flexible plastic, exploded the projectile of coffee grounds into its component particles and bounced them right back out into the kitchen…whereupon gravity once again took over and caused the particles to settle across every horizontal surface available.
But you want to know the worst of it?
I WAS HIGH WHEN THIS HAPPENED! EXTREMELY! TO THE POINT WHERE EVEN BREATHING WAS COMPLICATED! And I was like: why has the Buddha forsaken me? Am I really down on my hands and knees wiping up a trillion coffee grounds? Why am I weeping? Is the election over? Did we make the right choice? Will no one comfort me? Like perhaps that one girlfriend of mine from college? Should I creep her Facebook page and message her and ask if we can go out for a drink? Platonically, of course? Or would my current state frighten her? Is it better to do it tomorrow after I’ve come down from this extraordinary state of marijuana intoxication?
The answer was no. It’s been thirty-six hours since I spilled those fucking grounds, and although I’m still traumatized by the experience, I’ve refrained from calling her. It’s probably for the best. And besides, my wife would be PISSED…much more so than if I’d left the calamity for her to clean up.
- Uh, Satan is our cat.
- Ask me sometime about the little room with the five-foot ceiling that’s built into the furthest corner of the crawlspace from the entry.
- Yes, there was a milk jug in the trash. Yes, we recycle. On my list of sub-jobs is inspecting the trash can to ensure no recyclables have been incorrectly disposed of.