May 12, 2018


Until one week ago, I had never knowingly heard a percolator.  So the Universe decided to throw a bit of synchronicity my way.  It does that when it's bored.

I had a vague notion that a percolator was a kitchen thing that had something to do with heating liquid, probably water, and that bubbled or something.

I had dinner with my best friend last Saturday and she dragged me over to a counter in her kitchen and showed me her new prize possession after dinner:  A stainless steel percolator.  She explained that there was always one going in her grandmother's house, and she found the sound incredibly comforting because she associated it with the quiet peace of that house and their slow, deliberately paced activities.  Sometimes, it was the only sound heard.

So she poured in water and fit a stem just-so inside it and poured some coffee grounds into a holder at the top, and closed the lid and turned it on.  Almost immediately, the sounds came, and they did sound familiar.  A restaurant my own Grandma took me to in childhood?  Someone's house when I was too young to be aware of the ambient sounds?  This is how they made coffee?  I started drinking coffee a few years ago, just as pots gave way to the ubiquity of Keurig machines.  And my own Grandma's apartment was littered with empty tins of International Coffee instant mixes that she must have thought would be useful some day.

So that's a percolator.  Huh.

Three days later, I voted.  I drove to my polling place because I hold a fundamental opinion that Americans have been sacrificed for and fought for and bled for solely so that they can continue to enjoy democracy, and that they therefore need to get their asses to their designated locations and vote.  I expected a queue, but there wasn't one, so I walked in through the old door on the side of the church that is badly in need of paint, with the brass handle that always sticks.  The large room held four women, each at a table, with stacks of forms sitting in front of them.  There were no other voters.  It was ... spooky.

"Looks like I came at just the right time," I joked.  "No," said the first woman, as she checked my address and asked for my signature.  "We've not exactly been ... overwhelmed today."  I looked at the top of my ballot and saw "053" there.  I was the fifty-third voter, and it was already evening-after-work, so that includes the whole day.  Fifty-three people.

"Seriously.  Only fifty-two other people have been here today to vote.  You've got to be kidding me."

"We're glad you're here."

The room suddenly grew tense.  We shared an anger that would have taken so many words to express that we said no words at all.  And that's when I heard the percolator quietly bubbling and hissing in the tiny church kitchen at the back of the room.  "Is that a percolator?" I asked.  "Yes, hon, it sure is.  We need some coffee to stay awake," said an elderly black woman closest to the kitchen.  I said, "I just heard my first percolator a few days ago.  I've lived forty-one years and had never heard one before, and now I've heard two."  "Mmmmmh," the woman said.  She was smiling at me gently.

"Mmmmmh."  Where have you been, sugar?  It's a percolator.  Coffee and comfort belong together, she was saying.

I voted.  And if I had spent a day in a room voluntarily exercising hours of futility, like these women had, I'd want the comforting sound of a percolator, too.

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