Sunday, September 20, 2009

Trouble Brewing

It's nearing the end of the year, bringing with it the annual family pile-up of birthdays, anniversary and a little thing we Christians like to call Go Broke for Jesus.

Over the several hundred years Sharon and I have been together - or, counting only this incarnation, forty - we have boiled our gift-giving down to a no-surprises-left policy; unless and until we park one of those bow-topped luxury cars in the driveway, we play it low-key and open.

This year, the score is this: Sharon gets a Mac and an HDTV/DVD combo; I get a single-serve coffee-maker. And therein lies the story.

The aforementioned coffee-maker, a Keurig from Costco, if you must know, makes it waaaaaaaaaaay too easy to overindulge in a substance best consumed in moderation.

Heretofore there were natural impediments to breaking the caffeine piggy-bank: either you had to put on actual clothes and make the arduous 0.10-mile trek to one of about a dozen neighborhood Starbuckses, or you had to indulge in the time-consuming ritual of grinding and brewing a cuppa at home.

No more. With this miraculous machine, you simply pop in a little plastic gizmo, push a button, and in about a minute you enjoy a nearly-perfect cup of coffee.

Since I tend to be a very late-adopter, it's likely you've had one of these units for years, and the awe and wonder I describe is analogous to my discovering how amazing it is to have opposable thumbs. But this is my show, so work with me.

The particular model I got from Costco comes with a grand total of 72 of the little coffee pods, which smokes the 12 that come with the unit elsewhere. This seems like a great value, until you realize that you actually only want three of the 72: a decaf coffee, a hot chocolate and an herbal tea. The other 69 pods contain various varieties of caffeine-laden beverages, the consumption of just one of which can cause me to perform unbelievable feats of strength and stupidity.

But I feel duty-bound to take advantage of the value - especially since there are less fortunate souls in remote parts of the world who went for the twelve-pack and are thus 60 pods short.

So, after unpacking, cleaning and setting up the unit, I brewed my first cup of coffee - a tasty Newman's Own Organic Fair Trade blend. It was so easy to do that I had downed the entire portion before realizing how much caffeine it contained. That, coupled with the Thai tea I had at lunch and the free sample of Red Bull they gave me outside Trader Joe's, gave me enough energy to power a small country.

Now, several days later, as I work through the K-cups that came with my coffee-maker, I feel like Julie Powell, who cooked all of Julia Child's recipes in a year. But at the rate I'm going, it'll take me less than two weeks to exhaust my stash.

At this point I feel good. Invincible, even. I'm negotiating with California Edison to hook myself up to the grid; my contributions will make me wealthy enough to afford a constant stream of caffeination. After a few more weeks of convenient joy-joy beverages, I will be the grid.

Where Were You Last Monday?

Probably sampling Leno’s “new” show, along with 17 million of your closest friends.

I have to admit that my respect for Leno has grown over the years, as a result of seeing his show live … seeing his very different standup routine (he doesn’t work blue, but he’s edgier) … and seeing his consistent, consummate professionalism.

I like and watch Letterman, but I respect Leno.

That said, I found his new format to be surprisingly low key. I expected more show-biz razzle, but instead saw the video equivalent of comfort food. Nothing was knocked out of the park, but Leno’s relaxed amiability wears well.

Interestingly, his opening monolog, which ran about 13 minutes on his 11:35 show, clocked in at only ten – an interesting choice, given that his routine tests well and that his 10 o’clock show is billed as a comedy hour.

The set is suitably cool, but these days it’s hard to be visually distinctive. The simple two-chair setup is fine for his one-on-one interviews, but it smells a little of a “we don’t need no stinking desk” denial.

Bottom line: I’m not above checking in from time to time when CBS is running a repeat of a weak episode of Criminal Crime Scene Numbers Investigation, but Leno is unlikely to be a prime-time habit.