Morning Coffee

The pellet with the poison’s in the flagon with the dragon;

The vessel with the pestle has the brew that is true.”


(I’ll get to that.)

Being working stiffs, we aren’t always able to jet off to exotic islands whenever we like.  This year, as it happens, was a year devoid of a tropical island vacation.  I’m not trying to garner sympathy by saying that – just saying.

It is fair to mention that we did in fact have a fantastic week vacation on Block Island just this past September, which is not shabby by any stretch, so again – not complaining!  I fully recognize that the fact that we didn’t get to have a week or more on a sunny Caribbean island this year, soaked in sunlight, rum, and coconuts will not rise to the level of tragedy by most reasonable standards, but oh well – when life is good sometimes we must find our own hardships to anchor us!

Mrs. Working Stiff and I have enjoyed collecting odds and ends from our travels and have filled our house with visual reminders of places we have enjoyed or even better, moments we have enjoyed.   Our first-floor bathroom has a large framed photo of Trunk Bay on St. John which is beautiful enough and with rich enough colors to make any normal person assume that it is some sort of professional and enhanced picture!  (It is not.)  The half bath, also on the first floor, sports framed photos from Paris, London, and from the desert in and around Twenty-Nine Palms, California.  Brief trips all, yes, but memorable, and recorded for posterity here in suburban bathrooms.

As we have gotten older, we have become more guarded about collecting “stuff” that we know from experience we will just be throwing away at some time in the distant future.  One trinket we enjoy, and allow ourselves to pick up now and then, is the coffee mug.  We like our morning coffee, and we find pleasure in sipping it from a mug that reminds us of a favorite Bahamas restaurant or Block Island cafe.  We much prefer mugs from a specific place that we have been to and which harbors happy memories for us, as opposed to a mug emblazoned with a big “Bahamas” or “FLORIDA” such as you might find in your basic airport last-minute store.


We have a luxurious routine, Mrs. Working Stiff and I, of having coffee in bed each morning before we need to log on and start work for the day, or commence errands, or whatever it is that that constitutes “starting our day”.  Perhaps peripheral to my duties as chief cook, shopper, and meal planner, it is my routine each night to prepare the coffee maker so it is ready to just “push the button” in the morning. Part of this awesome responsibility is the Mug Choosing Ceremony.  Really it is just about 30 seconds or so each night but I do in fact give serious thought to picking out the mugs that will be so crucial to starting the next day.  There are only the two of us in the house and there are probably at least 30 mugs in daily rotation (with easily 100 more packed away in boxes), so there is some room for consideration!  So for example I may say to myself, “I think I’ll have Block Island and the wife will have Bahamas”, or maybe “she can have the New York subway map, and I’ll have the Ugly Mug mug from Cape May”.


Which brings me to the seed that has grown into this story.

The other morning, something strange and very unusual occurred in the household of The Working Stiff.  Not as unusual as lightning striking me (that has in fact not happened yet), but still unusual.  What happened is that my wife got out of bed before me, went downstairs to start the coffee, and brought it up to me while I was still in bed!  I was struggling to shake off the morphine-like grip of my early morning sleep cycle when a mug of hot coffee appeared bedside!  You see – the routine is that I go down and get the coffee each morning and bring it up to her.  My first thought was to cry out to this coffee-bearing, robe-enrobed, dream smasher – “where is my wife and what have you done with her!?”  – But in the end I just woke up gradually and enjoyed the coffee, and it was good.  The cats soon joined us to sit on their custom window shelf and gaze out at the birds in the nearby tree, as it is their own custom to do each morning.

cat shelf

After a while and a few stabs at my crossword puzzle, I got up to get us a refresher and only then realized that the mugs had been reversed!  She must have forgotten that I always set the mug chosen for her to the left and mine to the right!  Oh woe is me!  I informed her of this grievous error and she muttered something about not being able to pay attention to which mug is on the right or the left or some such.  I was briefly amused by the idea that – “yikes – now I’ve been drinking from the poisoned mug!”

mugs1Which brings me at long last to the lines that open this blog entry, spoken by Danny Kaye in the 1955 film “The Court Jester”.  I haven’t seen the movie for years but it is good fun if you are able to catch it.  In the movie, the rightful boy-king has been deposed by the evil Roderick, who installs himself on the throne aided by the villainous Sir Ravenhurst, played by Basil Rathbone.  Somehow Hawkins, a poor performer played by Danny Kaye, gets drafted into an effort to pose as a court jester as part of a plan to get rid of Ravenhurst and the false King Roderick and restore the rightful heir to the throne.

At one point the “good guys” have put some knock-out drops into some wine and it falls to Hawkins to serve the wine such that the evil Ravenhurst ends up with the drugged cup.  This begins a zany “who’s on first” sort of a sequence where Hawkins is trying to remember which cup is drugged and which is good, aided by the lovely Maid Jean.

I’ve got it!  The pellet with the poison’s in the vessel with the pestle, the chalice from the palace has the brew that is true.”

Maid Jean informs him that there has been a critical change because the chalice from the palace was dropped at the last minute and had to be replaced with the a flagon that has a picture of a dragon, and which now has the poison pellet!

Hence – “the pellet with the poison’s in the flagon with the dragon, the vessel with the pestle has the brew that is true!”  And so Hawkins goes off carrying the tray and muttering all this to himself.

I’m not sure what transpires after all that but since we are talking about Hollywood in 1955 let us assume it is a happy ending.


My brother and I both love a good joke or pun.  As a matter of fact, we also love bad jokes and puns and regularly inflict both on unsuspecting folk.  Whenever there is a family get together and I happen to be serving coffee or some other beverage, I take the occasional opportunity to say “the vessel with the pestle has the pellet with the poison”, and my brother will quickly take up the cue and retort “the flagon with the dragon has the brew that is true”!  A misquote perhaps, but invariably this exchange causes all present to be consumed by the utmost sense of amusement.

Or at least my brother and I.


The Working Stiff

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