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Flippin’ my lid

According to the old chestnut, the best things in life are free, and in a lot of cases that’s true. One look at our scenery will tell you that. Then, too, there’s convos with friends, books from the library, a joke well told, poring over old photos … and on and on.

That said, many of life’s OTHER best things you only get with moolah. And while I’ve always been a frugal guy, I’ll gladly part with my almost gainfully earned shekels for things I feel will improve the quality of my life.

At the top of that list is pets. Adopting a pet is a freebie; caring for them conscientiously is the po’ folks equivalent of owning a yacht. One quick vet visit can add up as fast as a half-day at the slots — without the false hope of ever regaining your lost dinero.

Something else I won’t scrimp on is tools. The simple rule is: Cheap is cheap. Period. Cheap tools never work as well as good ones, and they’ll crap out long before quality ones — all too often in the middle of the job. This is why I have a good fountain pen.

Since I write every day, and everything I write is by hand, a pen isn’t a vanity, luxury or frippery. And it’s not just a tool so much as the tool of my trade. There are all sorts of fountain pens, from the really cheap to the nonsensically expensive. At a hundred bucks, mine is on the low end of expensive. It’s a Sailor, a Japanese pen, and I bought it for several reasons.

First, Sailor is an old and respected company, and their quality is unrivaled. Second, the nib is Extra-Fine, which by itself means nothing, since EF nibs vary widely, depending on the maker. But the Japanese EF nibs make the finest lines, which is the only kind I like. Beyond that, the pen never skips, it’s refillable so I don’t throw out cartridges, and if taken care of, it could last into the next century.

Finally, it exemplifies the essence of good tools. If you think a hundred bucks is too much to pay for a pen, dig this: I’ve had it over 20 years, and it’s still as good as new. Now imagine how much I would’ve spent over those years on disposable pens, and it’d add up to a helluva lot more than a C note — or even two.

The Grail

But even if expensive tools are better than cheapies, there are limits. Believe it or not, fountain pens can cost thousands of bucks. Certainly, among fountain pen snobs, a $300 pen is no big deal. But it is with me, for the simple reason that I doubt a $300 pen writes better than mine, let alone three times better. It may look better, it may have a body covered with Australian opals, and it may impress the bejammers out of snobs, but as far as actually WRITING better, which is what it’s supposed to do? I doubt it.

And so it is with me and luxuries. Ultimately, I have no use for them, and this is especially true with those most transitory of things — food and drink. Yeah, I know that craft beers, rare vintage wines and gourmet foods are all the rage. But they can all rage away without me. Not only can I not tell the diff tween a fine burgundy and a bottle of trashmo plonk, but I don’t care to, either. This is especially the case with me and coffee.

I might be able to differentiate between coffee that costs twenty bucks a pound, as opposed to my six-dollar stuff, and the expensive stuff might even taste better, but I still won’t lay out the bread for it. Simply put, the way I go through coffee, and vice versa, it’s just not worth it to me.

But while I don’t care all that much about the coffee itself, I’m maniacal about my coffee maker. After trying about every coffee maker on God’s green earth, a couple years ago I finally found The Grail. It’s an ancient Corningware stovetop percolator. I found it at the Wilmington thrift store, in its original carton, unused — in fact, untouched. It made coffee exactly how I wanted, and as an added bennie, it filled my house with a coffee aroma that makes my scarred little heart go pitty-pat.

I paid a lordly thirty bucks for it, and every morning for just over two years, it put a smile on my face and a snap in my synapses. Then, three months ago, tragedy struck.

The fail

That morning began as they always do. The dogs and I stumbled downstairs, I took them out, then fed them, and then turned my attention to the real bizness of the day — brewing up my first pot of brain buzz.

The percolator has only three internal parts — a stem, a basket, and the basket’s lid. I’d washed them the night before, and when I fished them out of the drainer, something else drained, namely the blood from my head. I felt myself go weak in the knees and wobbly in the clogs: The basket lid wasn’t there! And to make a very long story very short, it wasn’t anywhere else, either.

Or at least not anywhere else I looked … and I looked everywhere. The lid was as far gone as the crew of the Mary Celeste.

Finally, I figured out what had happened. The day before, after I’d washed out the parts, the lid had fallen off the counter and landed in my metals recycling bag. Which, by no small irony, I’d then taken to the dump.

So now what?

I did what I thought was most logical: I looked on the internet for replacement parts for the percolator. Since that model is about 50 years old, it didn’t take me long to discover that before I’d find a replacement lid, I’d find a bunch of yahoos jackin’ unicorns in the back forty.

Next, I went through the Kubler-Ross Five Step, and after a couple of weeks I finally accepted I’d never find the lid, or replace it. I put away the percolator and remaining parts, and bravely came to grips with the sad fact that the perfect cup of coffee would n’er again be perked in my digs. While I won’t say I knew how the captain of the Titanic felt, post-iceberg, I thought I had a pretty good idea.

The end of the tale

The days dragged by, as did I, in my undercaffinated state. From time to time I’d give a half-hearted look for the lid, in this drawer or that, under these boxes or those, even in the fridge’s freezer compartment, but always with the same result — bubkes. So I put it out of my mind, once and for all, denial being my greatest asset.

But funny thing about denial …

Last week I was looking for a screwdriver in my dreck drawer when I saw something that sent a thousand-volt jolt through my bod. No, it was not the missing lid. But it looked like a possible successor.

It was a kitchen sink strainer — one of those with the plunger in its middle. Could it actually fit into the percolator’s basket … or was I just hoping against hope?

With trembling hands and a hammering heart, I removed the plunger from the strainer. Then I pulled the percolator out of its hiding place, took out the basket, put the strainer on it and — VOILA — it fit perfectly! Or if not perfectly, perfectly ENOUGH. So even if it wouldn’t pass factory specs, it passed mine.

There was only one slight glitch: The strainer’s hole was too small to fit over the stem … but only by a skosh. I figured it could easily be drilled out … provided I had a drill, which I don’t. This might’ve presented a problem to a lesser man, especially a lesser man who isn’t friends with The Dauphin des Drills.

You probably know the Dauphin by his street name — Ron Burdick.

Ron, who can figure out how to repair just about anything and get it up and running, is unduly modest about his skills, always dismissing them with his standard line, “Well, it ain’t brain surgery, ya know.” Thus his drilling a hole in a strainer was a snap. And so, after the drilling, there was only one thing to do — see if my jury-rigged replacement actually worked.

I zoomed home, filled the percolator with water and put grounds in the basket. Next I put the strainer/lid on the basket, the basket on the shaft, the percolator lid on the percolator, and the whole shebang on the stove. Then I lit the burner and waited, my lips moving in silent prayer.

The water boiled, bubbled and burbled, the house filled with the smell of coffee, my mind filled with thoughts of pouring cup after cup of hot, black, perfectly brewed coffee.

And a mere five minutes later, guess what? I poured out a cup of hot, black, perfectly brewed coffee.

Was I surprised, delighted and awestruck?

Surprised, yes.

Delighted, yes.

Awestruck, no.

After all, it ain’t brain surgery, ya know.

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