Brewing Up A Pot of Trouble.

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When I was in the Navy, I took my turn as night clerk in boot camp headquarters — the midnight to 0800 shift.

The duty officer told me he was going to grab a few hours of sleep.  Ordered me to have a  “strong, hot” pot of coffee ready when he woke.

Having come from a household that did not drink coffee, I did not have the slightest idea of how to make a proper pot of coffee, strong or otherwise.

So I improvised.  Used the ol’ noggin,’ as we used to say.

Decided to make the coffee by guess ‘n’ by golly, something else we used to say.

Remembering that my strict orders were to make the coffee “strong,” think I must have used about a cup of ground coffee per cup of water.

Something like that.

Remembering that my orders were to have the coffee ready when the duty officer woke, I turned on the burner under the coffee pot early.

The coffee boiled a good while. Figured that would help make it hot and strong.

Sure enough, the duty officer was up and at ‘em bright ‘n’ early.

I poured him a cup of coffee.

Noticed as I poured that it had the appearance of a cross between bulk oil – which service stations displayed out front in glass jars in my day – and asphalt, used to “hot top” roads.

Looked strong to me.

Must be about right, I thought.

Felt rather smug.

The duty officer took a big gulp.

He lost his breath.

He coughed.

He choked.

He spit.

He turned ashen.

Maybe even the color of the coffee in his cup.

I’m sure it burned all the way down.

Probably sideways, too.

Must be hot, I thought.

“Damned,” he finally was able to exclaim.

“Strongest coffee I ever drank!”

He said nothing else, turned, walked into his office and slammed the door.

I had night clerk duty at boot camp headquarters a few times after that.

But never again was I ordered to make coffee.

Just another reminder that it pays to be a strong, strong believer in following orders.

Aye, aye, sir. Been following — and saluting — that reminder ever since.

Roger Summers is a journalist and essayist who spends time in Texas, New Mexico and England and in a world of curiosity and creativity. He can be reached at [email protected]

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