A few days before Christmas, December 21st to be exact, a disagreement broke out in the Loblaw kitchen. I went for a cup of coffee from our coffee maker and found that there wasn’t a drop to be had. I knew that a pot had just been brewed. In fact, I’d seen my lovely wife sitting and drinking a cup moments before this.
With as much tact as I could muster, I asked about the missing coffee. Had she taken a second cup before I had poured my first, I asked gently.
Why no, she replied.
It would be out of character for her to slam back two cups of joe back to back, true, but it was also out of character for her to make exactly one cup of coffee. She’s not usually one for teasing. We locked eyes and scrutinized each other for signs of an explanation but found only confusion. If we weren’t the problem, what was?
I flipped up the lid of the coffee maker and our answer appeared. The rest of the water destined for the pot has decided to stay put, right there in the reservoir. Apparently our coffee maker had grown tired of continual percolations. Pressing the brew button a second time brought the coffee maker back to life, and a few minutes later I was drinking an adequate cup. “We can hold out until Boxing Day to get a new one” I proposed, and my wife agreed. It was the frugal thing to do.
The next morning I woke and stumbled downstairs, as bleary-eyed as I normally am. I fill my mug with a brand new cup of coffee. It was lukewarm and overly strong.
“Nine times” she said as she stood by the kitchen sink.
“Huh?” I replied. I had come to this morning debate completely unprepared.
“I had to turn the coffee pot on 9 times to get 6 cups of terrible coffee.”
It seemed that our coffee maker had a terminal case of diminishing functionality, and no amount of compromise or begging was going to reverse its downward course. I sighed, and stated my intention to go find a cheap replacement.
“From Canadian Tire?” my wife asked.
I don’t know why I took it as a point of pride to refuse the suggestion, but I did. “Oh I can find a place with a better price on coffee makers than a store full of auto parts and gardening supplies” I said with an air of arrogance about me. Mark this moment in the story as the beginning of my fall.
When the day allowed for it, I left the family warm and secure at home and struck out for my holy grail: The perfect coffee maker. It had to be a coffee maker with a thermal carafe. These aren’t the most popular models, because they cost a bit more, but I was sure that there would still be an ample variety to choose from. My faith was strong, even if it was entirely misplaced.
My first destination was Masonville Shopping Centre. It’s the largest mall in town. With that many stores contained within the sprawling structure I was bound to find all the comparison shopping opportunities I wanted, right?
A thorough search of the entire shopping centre revealed scores of clothing boutiques, more makeup stores than you can shake a stick at, and exactly zero coffee pots. In the perfume aisle of what used to be a department store, I wondered if my memory was playing tricks on me. Had they secretly demolished the floor with their housewares department on it? Or was the escalator to this mythical department hidden by sorcery, like platform 9 and 3/4. Further investigation did not reveal any such escalator.
The mall had failed me, or maybe we had failed each other. It was generously offering me an unlimited supply of free makeovers and tea samples, but not one coffee maker. Wherever the regular shoppers of the mall bought their housewares, it wasn’t in this building. I left the mall.
If you overhear me tell this story in the future and I pause at this part to tell the audience that I was undaunted, please remind me gently of the truth. I was completely daunted. The throngs of frenzied holiday shoppers had sapped my will to continue. But even stronger than my sense of imminent defeat was my stubborn sense of pride. I would most likely fail in my quest to find a thermal carafe coffee maker that day, but I swore to die on that hill, with a package of basket coffee filters clutched tight in my hand.
I drove to the completely opposite side of town, hitting every stretch of terrible pre-Christmas traffic that the city could muster. I passed pairs of expensive cars locked in their post-fender bender embrace as they blocked off entire lanes. I remember shouting at people for all manner of driving crimes and poor etiquette. Luckily, my windows were up and my nattering well contained to my own car.
I arrived at the next location, the smart centre. It’s a strip mall on steroids, a string of massive box stores in the middle of a no-man’s land of a parking lot. My plan was to start on the end and go into every store that might possibly have a coffee pot.
I struck out at the Home Depot, as you would expect. The Homesense 3 stores down had complicated and almost completely ornamental manual coffee pots. I gave them a half-point for trying.
In Bed Bath and Beyond I had a glimmer of hope. Deep in the Beyond, there were a modest selection of coffee makers. Most were well out of my price range, and included features I neither understood nor wanted. I rooted around in growing desperation and found, tucked down below a shelf of returned merchandise, a coffee maker of the very type I wanted. I hoarse cheer escaped my parched throat.
My elation was short-lived. The box appeared to have been viciously molested by an enraged shopper, torn and mangled. As I inspected the package for any sign of a price tag, the lid flopped limply open. The interior contents were jumbled together, like the coffee maker had been hastily repacked by a fugitive as the police showed up at their door. Further inspection revealed that there was no carafe at all in the box, which made the whole thing pointless. I decided against the purchase.
The search of the rest of the plaza came up empty. As I trudged back to the car, I looked across the street to the Canadian Tire store sign, and sighed in my first act of acknowledging defeat. Too tired to soldier on, I would go to the store my wife had first suggested to buy the coffee maker, even though it would silently proclaim to my wife and the whole world the three words I was loath to speak: I was wrong.
There was a peacefulness to surrender. I walked calmly into Canadian Tire and turned to their kitchenwares section. There were 4 coffee makers for sale. None had a thermal carafe. I left Canadian Tire carrying only my growing sense of despair.
In a daze I staggered down to the massive grocery store beside the Canadian Tire, a store that carries my own family name. I begged the store, from one Loblaw to another, to have a thermal coffee maker for sale. My pleading fell on deaf ears.
Standing in the frozen food section of the Loblaws I resigned myself to perpetual failure. This was my life now, roving from store to store in search of the unattainable. I considered buying a roasted chicken to eat in the car as I prepared to continue my coffee maker death march, but decided against it due to the high likelihood of getting chicken drippings all over the interior of the car.
The sun had set while I had been inside the grocery store, much like hope had settled below the horizon of my heart. I drove on. I pulled through a parking lot of a furniture store, on the off-chance that the housewares store that used to be beside it had somehow been rebuilt and reopened since last I looked. It had not.
In the growing dark I felt the crushing weight of desperation on my shoulders and I made my final act of surrender. I drove to Wal-Mart.
Every time I find myself in Wal-Mart I swear that I will never return. Shopping at Walmart is like drunken sex with an ex-lover from a particularly dysfunctional relationship. It starts off as a bad idea and ends with everyone feeling cheap and demeaned. And yet, there I was again. Shoulder to shoulder with the miserable people of Walmart, staff and shoppers alike.
I was now one of them, broken by my own shopping hubris. A woman asked for directions to the in-store McDonald’s, because this Wal-Mart was different from her regular one, and I helped her out. I was useful to my new people.
I stepped around the employee leaning on the frozen food freezer with the haunted look in his eyes and I turned down the small appliance aisle, avoiding the woman yelling into her cellphone about bread. I walked slowly down the row of coffee makers. Each step took more time, because I had no other plan past this one. What would happen if I reached the end of the row and there wasn’t a thermal carafe coffee maker to buy? I feared the answer.
I didn’t reach the end of the row. Sitting proudly in the middle of the line of coffee makers, gleaming in the flickering buzzing light that is standard Wal-Mart issue, was the Black and Decker 12-cup thermal programmable coffee maker. I crouched down to check the shelf below the display model, or maybe I fell to my knees in grateful prayer. Looking back at it now, it’s hard to tell. I snatched the last Black and Decker 12-cup thermal programmable coffee maker from the shelf and ran like a man possessed to the checkout. I resisted the urge to give high fives to the cashiers and my fellow shoppers as I paid for the coffee maker.
I returned home with the coffee pot held high over my head, like a great trophy of a grueling ordeal. My wife came into the kitchen as I steadied my trembling hands and placed my now-prized Black and Decker 12-cup thermal programmable coffee maker on the counter.
“That took you a while” my wife said with a sense of understatement.
“We have a new coffee maker” I replied. “Now let’s never speak of this again.”