On a very uninteresting stretch between Paso Robles and Templeton are two side-by-side billboards. At freeway speeds even without traffic they are almost impossible to read. After several tries I just managed to make out Look, a big purple rectangle !  Today, thinking there might be something of interest in the small print, I took the next off-ramp and drove back. Why the lady on the right is smiling is anyone's guess, but I kept her in the picture because I liked her lovely red lips, her perfect white teeth and her sparkling blue eyes.

I noticed the arrow only after digging through my backpack for the camera. I imagined it had something to do with pointing out the mystical eye of CBS. Did you know CBS owned billboards? But, it must be more complicated than that. With my feet now on the gravel and my eyes no longer on the road, I deciphered its message. At first I thought it might be a straight pin, but no. It's a kind of hieroglyphic that translates, This is you pointing at the billboard.

Pointing at billboards is just such an everyday moment as the text refers to, but what learning it suggests is tricky. Binary color names and geometrical shapes? Obviously, whoever wrote this copy has not raised children. A child too young to recognize rectangles is obviously not one — at 65 MPH — to attempt to engage in quick billboard discussions.

When Amie, about whom I have written many times earlier, was a senior at CalPoly she designed a public service announcement for this very billboard, so I find myself glancing in its direction as I pass. She dressed a girl we knew, a girl about to graduate from high school, in a prosthetic pregnancy stomach, though I suspect that's not the right name for it, tightly covered with a popular high-stretch blouse of the day. For a brief moment, and only at the request of the photographer, this bouncy, effervescent youth forced herself to look troubled and unhappy. In fact, she was bubbling with excitement brought about by all the attention she was receiving. In large print with no hieroglyphics the billboard asked, Friends with benefits? The subtext being, Friends with consequences?

Today's billboard reminds me of two things. First, those terrible ADD or ADHD jokes that have someone trying to say something important about Attention Deficit Disorder while the other says, "Look, is that a rabbit?" Second, though just as deeply psychological, I am reminded of those deceptively difficult memory tests, the ones like:

Also, it reminds me of the first book I read on web design. It warned against using colors to name page divisions. In other words, don't call a purple sidebar #purple or #purple_div, just call it #sidebar, because the moment you use a color as the name of something your client is bound to offer, "Wonderful. I love it. But, this purple rectangle thing on the side here… Can you make that blue?"


And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration. Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.

And the saying pleased the whole multitude and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch: whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them. And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.
  [Acts 6:1–7 KJV]



Wednesday morning I pressed snooze as usual. The coffee starts a few moments before the alarm goes off. It was burbling as I did so. I keep the alarm clock in the kitchen because somewhere along the line I developed the uncanny ability to hit snooze, even to turn the alarm completely off in the dead of sleep. When it rang again, the coffee was going strong. And again. And once more. Finally, I realized something was wrong. Maybe "realized" isn't the right word. Streams of coffee mixed with bladder signals invaded my dreams. Anyway, after the bathroom and a last annoying bleep, the pot was nearing the end of its half-hour cycle. Such puzzles are more easily reasoned after a good cup of coffee. The coffee in question, not surprisingly, tasted like lukewarm water had been poured over day old grounds.

Wednesday night I found a coffee maker near the end of a bank of coffee makers one step up from utterly basic for $19.99 + tax. I was amazed (and relieved) by the price, fearful I would have to pay many times more. I've never once gone window shopping for coffee makers, nor can I remember the last time I actually bought one. Knowing the pot will turn off an hour after I leave the house is worth untold amounts. Having a timer that starts perking just before the alarm goes off — as a boy, I watched my parents add coffee to boiling water and stir as the foam climbed wildly up the pot — is worth its weight in gold, though how much a timer weighs is anyone's guess. Those were my minimum requirements. Those and perkability, I suppose. Yes, there are more complicated machines, coffee makers with stainless steel carafes, things that grind beans and foam milk, impossibly difficult ones with levers and gauges, but I really don't need them.

Coffee is something I look forward to before I get dressed. If I lived, God forbid, next to a Starbucks, I'd consider having someone run next door for coffee first thing, but I would not consider getting dressed to do that myself. I use a Mexican espresso blend stepped on with something less intense. I like the old-fashioned coffee aroma that cheap coffee gives mixed with the darker flavor of espresso. My Mexican espresso doesn't cost much either. If there were cans of aerosol coffee smell… Anyway, my needs are not complicated. In the morning I want coffee. After I've had a cup, I might consider warming up an espresso machine or grinding beans. Until then, I just want coffee perking as the alarm goes off.

In some ways, the coffee maker I found Wednesday night on the way home is the apotheosis of the Manufacturing Age. It has a familiar American name stamped boldly on the front and a sticker on the underside saying Made in China. Of course, the jobs lost to emerging nations have been replaced with other jobs. I know this because my government has explained it to me. With that in mind, a good math question might be, How many Vente Caramel Mocha Frappuccinos can you buy if all you have is $19.99?

As a young man, I believed strongly that if Detroit built MGs using their vast industrial knowhow and capacity, then we could all zip around with the top down for almost nothing. MGs would become the $19.99 coffee maker of my post-pubescent youth. Only the slightest altruistic impulse would be required. My optimism, of course, was matched only by my ignorance. If Detroit built MGs — it seemed so reasonable at the time — they would end up costing whatever the market would bear and be replaced the moment anything more profitable came along. Also, and this took years of hard won maturity even to suspect, if everyone zipped around in convertible MGs, even they would become unbearably ordinary.

This morning (Friday morning) nothing called. I lounged around in bed for a time listening to the rain, smelling the loamy, autumnal smell of dead and decomposing leaves. There was no coffee gurgling because there had been no reason to set the alarm. I measured out six cups of water, three scoops of pre-blended Café La Llave, pushed the coffee maker back to the wall, and pressed start. Nothing happened. I checked the lights. I checked the outlet. I pressed all the unrelated buttons. I hit both sides, lifted and bounced it a few times. Cursed it. Nothing.


Your MR. COFFEE® Coffeemaker has been carefully designed to give you many years of trouble-free service. In the unlikely event that your new coffeemaker does not operate satisfactorily, please review the following potential problems and try the steps recommended BEFORE you call an Authorized Sunbeam Service Center.

POSSIBLE CAUSE: The appliance is unplugged.

I made one test pot Wednesday night and another automated one Thursday morning without a hitch. I was impressed by how quickly and how silently it raced through its cycle, and by how clean and uncalcified the pot was. Of course, if you have something to do and only have to do it twice, you can afford to put all you have into it.

Another math question might be, If you paid $19.99 for a coffee maker…


There is a misconception about springtime. In countries that have seasons, and in parts of this country, the first stirrings of new life follow the frigid snows and icy winds of winter. In the southwest, where the arrival of fall is oftentimes postponed for record high September temperatures, it is the heat that kills us, not the cold. Yes, the light recedes and the days become dismal. Winds, gentle winds, rip the final leaves from barren branches. But, let the clouds accumulate, allow the rains even for one blighted weekend to soak the earth and before the 21st of December has arrived, the world is green again.


This is my friend wading into it. Last year I knocked down these same weeds — at least an earlier version of them — while it was still an even fight. I filled a large wheelbarrow over and over again with this moist profusion. My friend stretched out in the bottom of each wheelbarrow as I heaped it full, a game of her own devising. She rode to the green waste container as a secret emissary, and once revealed, ran back for more. I'm not convinced she's a cat, but she is my friend.


A few steps away is this more perpetual world. A bucket nestled among evergreens under a canopy of live oak. My friend often drinks from this bucket. Now the water lasts longer and moss has begun to grow. In T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets he wrote, "Midwinter spring is its own season..." He wrote that while living in London where they have seasons and a definite sense of what comes when. What would he have said, I wonder, about the springtime leading us to winter?