Bleary-eyed, I staggered into Java Cat, the coffee shop at the very top of Monona Avenue, at seven-thirty this morning. I had stumbled in my duties as the maker of the coffee and allowed our home supply of beans to run out so, for my penance this morning, I rolled out of bed into a pair of trousers and hit the road almost before I had started thinking, certainly before I could see anything. I had to navigate my way up the road completely by feel until my eyes stopped tearing up and I could see more than a blur.

I could have made a quick, fifteen-minute trip to the corner grocery store to get the beans, but I’d much rather spend my money at a local merchant’s place than at a corporate chain store. I guess that sounds snotty but I don’t care. The people who own and operate Java Cat live right here in Madison. Chain stores can blah blah blah all they want about giving back to the community, but when the owner of the store is part of the community it means a little more to me, whether or not that makes sense. Thank you, I’ll get down off my soap box now.

There were only two people on the counter but one of them was working the drive-up window, leaving the other to serve walk-ins. There were just two people ahead of me, and the one at the front of the line was paying as I walked in, so I felt pretty good about my chances for getting out of there in less than five minutes. I remind the reader that, because of the very early hour, my brain cell had not even begun to fire at a frequency that would support rational thought. Had I been capable of putting two and two together, I would have recalled how long it takes to prepare a pair of double-shot ultra creamy venti caramel lattes and I would have more accurately calculated my time at something like ten minutes. Such is my life.

The young lady at the counter, a woman wearing many many piercings and only tight-fitting clothes so black that light itself could not escape from them, got busy loading ground beans into the latte machine before she commenced to pulling levers and boiling milk, while the woman at the window, who wore a tattoo like a cap on her bald head that would probably take a whole book written by Ray Bradbury to explain, gave all her attention to the long line of cars in the parking lot. This went on long enough for me to fall asleep standing up at least twice, but I was already half-asleep when I walked in, so my ability to stand in line was handicapped from the start.

My somnambulism was the prime reason I was taken completely by surprise by the woman with the tattooed head when she turned away from the window and announced she could help the next person in line, namely yours truly. If I had to name another reason, it might have been her smile, which was warm enough to melt all the frozen moons of Saturn. I don’t know why, but I harbor an assumption, unfair I suppose, that tattooed people are generally gruff and grumbly. She was neither. When I slid the bag of coffee beans I wanted across the counter, she very thoughtfully asked if I wanted them ground, and when I said no, thanks, she added that I was entitled to a free cup of coffee with the purchase of a bag of beans. That woke me up.

“I … I get free coffee? Right now?

Her smile rays brightened by an order of magnitude as she answered, “Yes. Would you like the house blend, Wake The Dead, or Arriva?”

I sank to one bended knee and answered, “I want to marry you!” Or I would have, if I weren’t already married to the perfect woman, but I am, and I am so monogamous you couldn’t turn me with a pipe wrench, so instead I got a grip on myself, asked her for a cup of Wake The Dead, my favorite roast from the Just Coffee Cooperative (another local merchant – ahem!) and glowingly took it from her, a gift the likes I have not received from a stranger in many moons. How does one even begin to put a value on the gift of free coffee? I can’t fathom it, not even after my brain cell fires fast enough to cast an incandescent light on the idea.

And that’s my morning so far. How’s yours?

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