That’s college. Down to the lounge to the only oven open to a hundred students, and there is my one lonesome burner free. I am smart enough for an honors school, but not smart enough to get a bag to carry the burr grinder, the whole bean coffee, the moka pot, and my spoons. I’m too bleary for it to matter. That is what I say, though the real reason is that it isn’t part of the ritual. You have to be careful what you do, lest it become part of the ritual. That’s true of anything. That’s how hard cider and chocolate became a healthy breakfast, and why I light candles for Elsa every January 3rd.
There is a meditation in balancing my items in arms too small to hold them all, and tottering down the concrete stairs barefoot every morning. There is something entirely present here now in depressing the door handle with an ass cheek, and leaning the steel door inward.
I unpack on a small section of counter that I have to clear with a knee. It’s mostly hippie food grown over with mold, stacked on paper plates.
I refuse to make my coffee in an unclean kitchen, so all the food has to be air lifted into the trash. I have to run up to my room on deer’s feet to grab a rag for the counter. No one ever leaves cleaning supplies in the lounge.
Once the sweep of my arm and the smell of the soap has almost made the space usable, the real ritual begins. I set the grinder finest. Three scoops of beans once ground will fill the middle chamber. Three scoops a day sustains me.
I have forgotten my espresso cups. Another trip, bird’s feet on tile, and up to rummage and back flying wings down to my lonely coffee tools. There is a hippie at them, diaphanous skirt swaying under the AC vent, her nose in my beans.
“Hey!” I snap.
“It’s in the lounge,” she says.
“Because I brought it here to make.” These turf wars are never fun.
“Geeze, you don’t have to be so mean.”
I brush her aside, and fill the lower chamber with tap water. It is pure shame that fills me. Tap water is unworthy of my beans, but it’s what I have. It will have to do. And there is the ritual to mind. It would not do to change it.
The burner lights, coil rising to glow one shade at a time. I have but to screw the upper chamber in place, and place the pot on stove, step back and wait.
Books are good for this, but they are not part of the ritual. I watch my pot boil. It is not like grass or paint, because there are tiny changes to note.
First, the pot reflects the glow of the coil. Second, there is a sound that steam pressure makes. I cannot tell you what that sound is. You must hear it for yourself. Third, the bubble comes. It is glorious. It’s like the rumble of a train from far away. It’s like the purr of a cat when your head rests on its belly.
When this stops, the next phase of the ritual begins. You need a potholder, or your hand may burn. There is never a potholder in the lounge. There are sometimes dish towels that smell rank, and sometimes a hippie’s shirt discarded on the floor. The ritual calls for one of these in a potholder’s place.
It must be an espresso cup. It must have a saucer. One must pour slowly enough to enjoy the beauty of the crema that pours out; even stove-top espresso has crema.
Here is where the ritual may change. It all comes down to this deciding moment. Now with the coffee made, I can do many things. Today, I will pile my supplies on the lounge counter and walk slowly back up to my room to stand on my dorm’s double balcony overlooking the volley ball net, the swing set, and underbrush and live oaks. I will stand in the gold morning listening to wind chimes and sip my espresso standing. Tomorrow, I may sit on the lounge floor with Scrabble tiles strewn about connecting archaic cuss words, or maybe outside under the bottle brush, my back bark abraded. But for today, this. Gold is out of the ordinary enough.