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…