The Coffee Cop

 This column originally appeared in The Jambalaya News on November 3,2011.

Like many people, I work in an office, and like most offices, we have a coffee pot.   The coffee pot is essential to the functioning of an office; without one, there would be no office gossip.  And without office gossip, there would be no reason for coming to work, except for to steal pens from the supply cabinet.  (Note to employer: I do not steal pens.  High-speed, color printers, maybe; but not pens.)

Despite the advantages, I often wish that my office didn’t have a coffee pot.  Sure, it would give me a good excuse for sleeping on the job, but that is not all.  What’s worse is all the rules of coffee pot etiquette that no one seems to know but everyone is expected to follow.  Try asking a co-worker about it.  It’s as useless as trying to get a straight answer about the Tax Code from the IRS help line. In the latter case at least, I could look it up myself, and within enough time to avoid a late filing penalty that would instantly solve the nation’s debt crisis.  This is not so with the Office Coffee Code.  What we need here is for Juan Valdez to descend from the top of some Andean mountain, bearing in hand the Ten Commandments of Coffee, neatly inscribed on an interoffice memorandum.  Then maybe we could all get some work done instead of complain about who used the last of the creamer without informing whoever is responsible to buy more.  (And who is responsible, anyway?  Doesn’t the creamer just spontaneously materialize?)

Even the simplest rule is not so simple when you really break it down.  Take, for instance, what most would agree should be the First Coffee Commandment: “If thou doth takest the last cup, thou shalt make a new pot.”  Sounds pretty straightforward, right?  But what if it’s 4:30 in the afternoon?  Surely, there must be a cut-off time, but when?

Finding answers to such grave questions is difficult.  Office workers spend so much time grieving over them that they barely have time to update their Facebook status.  This is why every office needs what we had at my workplace back in Yankee Land- namely, a Coffee Cop.  The Coffee Cop is a co-worker, always self-appointed, based on his extensive knowledge of the full, unwritten Coffee Code of Ethics.  He will gladly enlighten you of its precepts- once you have been found in violation.  And don’t worry; he will find you, for a greater sleuth has never been conceived in the history of crime literature.  Our Coffee Cop could sense when the pot was as much as a half-teaspoon short of a full cup, even if he was out on vacation.  In no time, the kitchen would be cordoned off, evidence carefully gathered, and a full investigation launched.  He would personally visit the office each suspect, feeling every mug to see which is the warmest.  He would never fail to get his man.

Most of my co-workers despised the Coffee Cop, but I tried to learn as much as I could from him, if only to get my picture off of the mailroom bulletin board.  And although I never accomplished that goal, I did attain some degree of enlightenment into the arcane world of coffee pot protocol.  So, as a service to my faithful readers, I’d like to share some of what I’ve learned, in the following “Dang Yankee’s Rules of Coffee”:

  • If you don’t know how to operate the coffee maker, then learn.  Ignorance is no excuse if you are below the level of a vice president.  If you are a vice president, then don’t bother.  The VP at one company where I worked once screwed up the coffee maker so bad that the security guard wouldn’t even drink from it.
  • Only use the office’s standard brand of coffee.  Just because you like some exotic variety that smells like it came from the bottom of a stagnant peat bog, it doesn’t mean your co-workers will enjoy it as well.
  • This one is for offices that use a shared spoon in lieu of stirrers.  If the water in the spoon cup looks like the scene of an incident involving BP, don’t wait for someone else to change it.
  • Oh, I almost forgot; the true cutoff time for making a new pot is when the Coffee Cop stops checking.  Don’t ask when that is exactly.  It depends entirely on how his day is going.

If these rules seem so utterly confusing that you just want to forget it and buy your coffee, you are by no means alone.  What do you think causes people to spend the equivalent of a Porsche payment every month at Starbucks?

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