The Doomsday, or Coffee, Device

BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.

I was rather absorbed the other week with the idle thought that it would be terrifically annoying to be a “narwhal,” those arctic whales with the horns protruding out of their heads. At first the idea of a sharp, calcified horn protruding from my face might be an interesting one. There is no better way to get whatever is in front of you moving than to jab it with a sharp proboscis. No more crowds on the subway. No more lines for the movie theater. No more waiting for a drink at the bar. I’d have all the space I would need if I were a theoretical, walking, land narwhal. Good conversation piece, too. People would be like, ‘What is that?’ and I would be like, ‘It’s a big huge spear jutting from my head,’ and people would be like, ‘Cool, what do you use it for?’ and I would be like, ‘Hell, what don’t I use it for.’

BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.

But then I had cause to reconsider. They swim in packs, these narwhals, and I suspect that leads to constant, inadvertent jabbing anywhere they turn. Anything fashionable eventually gets oversold, and would I be ready for packs of people with narwhal horns stabbing me every which way? It’s bad enough that people have mouths for noise pollution, much less a tangle of dangerous shofars in all directions.

HEY DUMMY! I SAID, BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.

Clearly I am not equipped to handle disaster notifications like the one that Hawaii had to contend with the other week. It takes me awhile to pull myself out of being a narwhal, and put myself back into me, and then there is the matter of finding shelter for an imminent nuclear attack. Realizing I have no escape plan for an imminent nuclear attack, I would end up running through the house to find a decent travel cup for my coffee, and my favorite hat, and my keys, and my MP3 player so I can blast the playlist, “Songs to Flee to,” which has a lot of Motorhead and Slipknot on it, and by the time I emerged from my house the rest of the neighborhood may have already been turned into a barren, moon-like expanse of charred desolation, ruining not only my town but the resale value of my property.

Happy was I to hear that the imminent nuclear threat was a false alarm. But then came the secondary, real alarm. That is a helluva wrong button to push. Maybe it wasn’t an accident. Maybe some bored systems manager had decided to give everybody a nice morning jolt. After all, Orson Welles reported on a Martian attack in New York and New Jersey and was rewarded with one of the biggest movie deals in RKO history. Without his terrifying hoax we wouldn’t have the masterpiece, Citizen Kane.

A young Mark Twain, given his first job as a copy editor, had this to write in the top heading of the Hannibal Journal.
TERRIBLE ACCIDENT
500 MEN KILLED AND MISSING
(“We had set the above head up, expecting, (of course) to use it, but as the accident hasn’t happened, yet, we’ll say… to be continued.”)
*
Twain went on to be one of the greatest literary icons in American history. Unfortunately for posterity, to pull a stunt like Twain and Welles these days would be to land in jail. There is an unwritten rule that is profoundly American, and it is this: Do it before it becomes illegal.

As such we may have been robbed of the Hawaiian Mark Twain, as he has been relocated to a supervisory position that requires no thought whatsoever, which, lucky for him, are quite plentiful in any government structure.

But then I heard the news that it was all a mistake. In fact, I had received a transcript of the actual conversation leading to the perilous error that had occurred between the supervisor and the impetuous tyro, the negligent button-pusher.
To wit:
“Okay,” said the supervisor, “here is your work space. I’ll give you a quick tutorial of the bank of buttons in front of you. First, if you want a coffee, we are in Kona country after all, if you want a coffee just hit button B-125 and it will be brought to you.”
“What about button B-126?” said the tyro.
“Push B-126 if you want sugar in your coffee. Press B-127 if you want cream and sugar, and B-129 will get you a coffee with only cream.”
“What type of coffee do I get if I press B-128?” said the tyro.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa. B-128 is the general text alert in the case of an imminent ballistic missile strike from a hostile country. Don’t press that button unless you see bright arcs on the big screen heading right for our little island.”
“Got it. B-127 is coffee, light and sweet. B-128 is just creamer, and…”
“No, no, no. B-129 is coffee, with cream, no sugar. B-128 is an all-points warning of a nuclear explosion.”
“Fair enough. What happens if I accidentally hit B-128?”
“It’ll ask you if you are sure.”
“But doesn’t the coffee button ask me if I’m sure, too?”
“Well, yes. After all, we don’t like to waste coffee around here.”
“Why are the buttons for a beverage so close and so similar to the one that warns of a nuclear attack?”
“Budget constraints. We can’t go ordering fancy buttons for things. The public will accuse us of misappropriation. We’ll lose what little funding we have. We are facing a government shutdown as it is. And anyway, the point is moot. Just hit the right button and it won’t matter.”
“All this is making me tired. I think I’ll order a coffee.”
“Go ahead. I’ll be asleep in the custodial closet.”
More Alembics to come.

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