the museum of americana

a literary review

Remember Me, Your Travel Coffee Mug?—Humor by Jenny Shank

Hey buddy, wait! Don’t close the cabinet. Remember when you used to take me out every day and fill me with fresh, hot coffee? How long has it been, almost a year?

All you do is stay home. The whole family stays home, and it’s clear you’re not happy with each other. All day, you bicker about whether the new variant is too dangerous for anyone to leave the house. What does that even mean? Has Earth been invaded by roving mutants? Remember whenever you used to need to blow off steam, you’d fill me up, slide me into the form-fitting console in the car and off we’d go, free on the open road. Maybe it’s time to feel like that again. Maybe it’s time for travel coffee? (And say, has the car missed me? Has she mentioned me at all?)

The other day I saw you drinking coffee out of those fancy porcelain teacups with the dainty little handles that you never used to use. They’re weak. They could never withstand the rough-and-tumble life of adventure we used to lead. But now you perform an elaborate ritual, pacing around the kitchen, whirring your hand-cranked burr grinder and then patiently waiting while your pour-over drips through its fussy funnel. And what happened to my compadre, Mr. Coffee? Did you cabinet him too?

I’ve got to ask—how do you have time for this? Isn’t there somewhere you’re supposed to be? There were weeks, in the past, when we barely saw this house. It was just work, soccer game, camping trip, run to the airport and back, out to the pet food store and repeat, day after day. The car and I—well, we got pretty close during all those drives. In the evening, you’d give me a warm bubble bath, rinse me, and turn me upside down on a dishtowel by the sink, and I’d rest while listening to the hum of the dishwasher and basking in the comforting glow of the under-microwave light. And now I’m always stored right-side-up in this dark, crowded cabinet. It’s uncomfortable to sleep this way. And you’re just so sluggish. Do you have a vitamin deficiency? Or maybe you haven’t been drinking enough coffee.

Remember when you used to sneak me into your daughter’s basketball tournaments in gyms with signs that said “No Outside Food or Drink”? We were such rebels. And it could be like that again. Just fill me up, for old time’s sake?

On Tuesday, I saw you hesitate and almost reach for me. But then you said, “Nah, even if I drank it in the car, I might have to use a public restroom, God help me.” I couldn’t parse what you’d said. We used to hit public restrooms all the time. Is there some kind of public restroom crisis happening out there? Have giant squid tentacles started emerging from the toilets?

Look, even if you don’t take me out, could you at least get me my own cabinet? I’m used to riding alone. You’ve got me shoved in the back next to chewed-up sippy cups the kids haven’t used in a decade and three martini glasses filled with dust. It isn’t dignified. Besides, this cabinet is a lie. The kids are half grown, and you’ve never made a martini in your life. But you used to be a trailblazer, roaming the land, fueled by your personal, portable caffeine. Now you remind me of that dog in the learned helplessness experiment.

Are you mad at me? Is it about that time when I kept the coffee too hot because I WAS DOING MY JOB and you burned the roof of your mouth? I just take pride in my work, alright? The way you used to before you stopped getting haircuts and started wearing those ridiculous L.L. Bean house slippers 24-7.

I always expected it would end at some point. I mean, I’m made of titanium, and you’re mortal. I figured one day you’d die and I’d end up in a rummage sale or landfill, with plenty of hours ahead of me to reflect on the good times. But you seemed so reliant on me—I thought we’d keep hanging out until you keeled over. I’ve seen you shuffling around in your bathrobe at noon, moaning about doing “online learning” with the children—is that what they call watching YouTube now? You’re alive, that’s clear. You don’t look well, but you are breathing.

Whoa, hey, you’re reaching for me. That’s it, I’m back here! That’s right, unscrew my lid and—wait, that’s not coffee. Wow, that’s pungent. You’re making kombucha now? Another new hobby—terrific, just what we need.

But you’re actually carrying me to the car! That’s it, buddy, one step at time toward recovery. Ew, the car reeks of off-brand hand sanitizer and her seats are filled with discarded Lysol wipes and medical masks. No, babe, you don’t look fat. I’m sure if you just clean up a little, you know, and take care of yourself like you used to. No, buddy, I’m talking to the car, not you. You can keep growing that gnarly beard for all I care. Where are we headed? To the baseball stadium to join a line of a thousand cars to wait hours for the off chance that someone in a hazmat suit will give you an injection?

Oh, I see what this is. This makes perfect sense. I anticipated that before your demise, there would be a period of sharp mental decline. I didn’t predict these exact symptoms though. I always figured you’d become a cat hoarder. But that’s okay buddy, let’s see this through. Crank up the radio, crack the windows, and let’s hit the road to entertain your latest delusion. Just like old times.

 

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Jenny Shank’s satire has appeared or is forthcoming in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, The McSweeney’s Book of Politics and Musicals, Dear McSweeney’s: Twenty-Two Years of Letters from McSweeney’s Quarterly ConcernThe Toast, The Rumpus, Bust, and The Onion. Her novel, The Ringer, won the High Plains Book Award and her stories, essays, and reviews have appeared in The Atlantic, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The Guardian, Poets & Writers, Barrelhouse, and Alaska Quarterly Review. She teaches in the Mile High MFA program at Regis University and the Lighthouse Writers Workshop in Denver.

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