The Perpetual Mug

Every morning, I start my day with a cup of coffee, and every morning I think of Vic Bobb’s famous perpetual coffee mug.

[I wrote this a few years ago to commemorate the retirement of one of my favorite professors.]

Every morning, I start my day with a cup of coffee, and every morning I think of Vic Bobb’s famous perpetual coffee mug.

I assume that Vic’s continued survival through his retirement means he gave up the perpetual mug—or perhaps he self-inoculated himself from all manner of bacteria over the years. But it’s the reason I reach for a clean mug in the morning, and another clean mug in the afternoon.

Vic’s perpetual mug was the best sort of writers’ fantastical justification for ongoing laziness. He would drain black coffee from the dark chalice and then refill it, as any good writer would sensibly do. As the story went, this sequence recurred for years.

Please pause and note the absence of any step that reads, “and then he cleaned the mug.” It was simply reused.

Staring into it was like archaeology, black layers of strata and sediment connecting one cup of coffee to the next and the next. It was impossible to know how much had accumulated at the bottom—how much less did the cup hold compared to when that first coffee was poured?

To this undergraduate at the time, who was only just discovering the magic of coffee (poor-student mochas, consisting of scoops of hot chocolate powder mixed with the least-expensive French Roast ground coffee from a can), the science seemed sound. If the coffee was dark enough, strong enough, and hot enough, it would be impossible for harmful bacteria to grow in such an environment. Each fresh cup was a cleansing fire of kona and caffeine.

Clearly, I didn’t major in science or math.

I do hope that Vic has moved on to a new mug, or perhaps has been compelled by the Department of Health to use clean cups regularly. He’s going to need them while enjoying his post-Whitworth days coaxing words into existence. Meanwhile, it’s about time to brew my own afternoon java—in a clean mug.

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