Percolating with ‘the guys’

I work with federal inmates at an institution in central Alberta. And of all people, you would think they would know how to make coffee in an old-style coffee percolator. You know the ones … you put your coffee grounds in a round metal filter and place it onto a spigot that sends boiling water up and over top of the filter? Please tell me you do.

I don’t drink coffee myself, anymore, but I always take those little Keurig coffee containers they put in the hotel rooms when I’m on business trips. (I’d had a bad experience, on a hunting trip, involving a homemade filter, my hunting partner’s sock and a batch of mouldy coffee. But that’s another story.)

Though we’re not technically allowed to give anything to the inmates, I bring things like those coffee canisters in. I figure the government paid for my hotel room, so why waste all that good coffee. Not only that, but I take the tea bags, sugar, creamers, shampoos and soaps back inside with me.

I always like to make a little game out of it. So I give each of the guys a handful of goodies and we play a good-hearted game of poker, just to pass time and liven things up. Boy, you want to see a guy get excited about winning a handful of sugar—it’s priceless.

But, back to the coffee percolator. A bunch of the boys were standing around looking at this percolator like it was a piece off the Sputnik International Space Station.

“What the hell is that?”

“Hey, I remember those, my grampa had one. What is it?”

“Is that like some kind of torture thing they used to use?”

I couldn’t believe my ears. Has technology moved that fast? Or is “stupid” just moving faster? Not only that, but I told them to open those little coffee canisters and dump the coffee into the filter. And they didn’t know how cause there was no tab to pull on. All they knew was you put these things in a machine, close the lid, push the button, and a few seconds later, wha-la, coffee! These are guys who crack safes and commit internet fraud. I was aghast. It was like trying to teach a kid how to tie his shoelaces. Painful. But we got it going and, in 15 minutes, the unmistakable pungent aroma of percolated coffee wafted through the room like a commercial, dream-like and intoxicating. The guys slowly got up off their chairs.

“Is that … coffee?” one guy asked, as he walked trance-like toward the perculator.

One of the guys playing crib dropped his cards, a 22-hand, to boot, and held out both hands, as if he were seeking life itself. They poured the rich caramel-coloured coffee into cheap plastic prison-issue cups, inhaling the thick, delicious vapour.

They sipped the coffee as a connoisseur would cognac, almost lapping it.

“It’s … it’s … indescribable,” one offered.

[email protected]&#, that’s good coffee,” yet another proclaimed. “I’ve never had anything like it,” as if he’d just snorted his first line of cocaine.

When the last precious cup had been poured, one of the guys took his finger and ran it around the top rim of the coffee pot and licked his fingers, like he was licking cookie dough.

“Could we do this again?” he asked.

“I don’t have anymore coffee,” I apologized. And in a place where a pound of coffee can get you killed, they all offered to bring their own stash next time. They all thanked me, personally, as they filed out of the room to head back to the units for count.

“You know, that kinda makes me want to be a better person,” I overheard one of them tell another.

“Yeah, that was like, real old-school. I think I’ll call my gramma when I get money on my phone card again. See if she still has my grampa’s … what they call that thing again?”

“I forget. I think it’s a … pearly gator … or something.”


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