the Sweet Smell of Burning Fur (plonq) wrote,
the Sweet Smell of Burning Fur

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A very Plonqy vignette

I stopped digging for the earlier version of this little vignette and recreated it from scratch. It bears thematic similarities to the original, but I took it in a slightly different direction. It's a bit unpolished because I wrote it at work, and things are a little busy at the moment so I've had to squeeze this in while I wait for things to compile and run.

Without further ado, here is my little story about a coffee crisis.


To the casual observer, it almost appeared that the snow leopard was hard at work; he had a spreadsheet open on both of his visible screens and he was sitting forward in his chair, ears half-cocked in deep thought with his muzzle resting on his left palm while he tapped the tip of his wet nose with an index finger. The spreadsheet to his right was filled with tables and charts, and the one to his left had an indexed list. He stared at the chart-filled spreadsheet for a moment and moving nothing but his right hand, he clicked on a cell in one of the tables and changed the number. All of the graphs shifted slightly.

If one had moved in close enough to read the text on the spreadsheets, they would undoubtedly have changed their opinion of how busy the cat really was, but Plonq counted on the innate habit of his co-workers to give a wide berth to monitors that appeared to be displaying boring work. The main chart displayed a rolling thirty-one day window on its horizontal axis, and its vertical axis was labelled, "Number of Times I Have Modified This Chart". The occasional dips on that axis indicated days on which the feline was too busy with real work to update his pet project. The other charts showed month-to-date and year-to-date averages, along with median and mean deviations with predictive trend lines. Plonq shook his head slightly and sighed. If he didn't hear back from the primary stakeholder on his CLM report soon, then tomorrow looked like it could be a record day for updates.

The other worksheets in his spreadsheet were identified by such names on their tabs as "NHL Playoff Predictions", "Lottery Pool Results" and other trivial, non work-related topics. He turned his attention to the spreadsheet on the left screen and re-read the entries.

- Plonq has done no measurable work today. Possible reasons:

1) Lack of motivation
2) Lack of coffee
2a) Investigate casual relation between items 1 and 2
3) Require approval and sign-off before proceeding on 4 projects. See also #1
4) Itch in a place I'd rather not scratch in public.
5) This list. Also see #2
6) Update charts.
7) Lack of coffee

A common theme in the list drew the small cat's eyes to his coffee mug. The mug was not only empty, but gleamed in a manner that could only be achieved by having a muzzle jammed into it and a raspy tongue run repeatedly over its interior. The mug had long since passed empty into a deficit of a deficit of coffee. He lifted his head from his hand, moved the cursor down a couple of rows and began to type.

- Solutions:

1) Coffee

He paused, and then quickly pulled his hands back from the keyboard again. One thing at a time; there was no point in getting ahead of himself. Plonq picked up his mug and inspected it critically to see if he had missed any molecules of residual coffee, but if even a single coffee particle remained in the cup it eluded him. He slammed the mug back into its customary coffee ring on his mouse pad, skipped down a couple of rows and began typing again.

Problem: Plonq's mug is empty.
Desired solution: Plonq purrs because he has fresh coffee.
Speed bumps:
- Plonq only has $3.14, which may be enough for coffee but not enough for a tuna-crème fritter, or a glazed coddie to go with it.
- There might not be coffee made in the north break room.
Mitigating factors:
- Plonq is fat and does not need a doughnut.
- Plonq is capable of making more coffee if the break room is out of coffee.
Aggravating factors:
- Coffee politics.
- Plonq is lazy.

He sat back again and recounted his paw full of change, then revised the figure to $3.18 when he noticed he had miscounted a nickel as a penny. Intellectually, Plonq knew that he really did not need a doughnut. His stomach and saliva glands expressed their disagreement, and he had to swallow a couple of times to avoid drowning on his own bodily fluids. The cat had been behaving himself lately; didn't he deserve to reward himself for such good behaviour?

Plonq shuddered at the seductive line of thought because he knew how it would end. Today it would be a single trout cruller, and then tomorrow he would buy himself a few coconut mackerels as a reward for his restraint today. Before long there would be naught left of him but a quivering blob of furry lard, giggling maniacally in the middle of a ring of candied eel wrappers. He quickly pocketed his change and decided to take his chances on the break room.

With a mug full of nothing but resolve clutched firmly in his hand, the little feline locked his workstation, swivelled his chair toward the break room and leapt purposefully to his feet. "Get in, get coffee, get out," he chuffed under his breath like a mantra. There was the outside danger that there was no coffee made, and if anybody saw him heading into the room with a coffee mug in his hand then it would raise unfortunate expectations that he planned to make more. It was a risk that he would have to take if he wanted to escape the siren call of doughnuts. Mmmm, doughnuts. His mouth began to water again, though his saliva tasted suspiciously of spite this time.

When he rounded the corner into the coffee room, his worst fears were not realized; sort of. Both carafes contained coffee if one was very charitable with their definition of the same. The carafe on the left had a puddle of bubbling coffee tar, and the other had a solid one-centimetre thick coffee disc on the bottom. Plonq noted sardonically that somebody had shut off the element under the solid coffee. For a very brief moment Plonq considered scraping some of the sludge into his cup, but his survival instincts quickly suppressed the thought before he could act on it.

In normal circumstances - that is, circumstances that were exclusive of the situation in this office – the natural reaction would have been something other than the triggering of one's natural fight or flight reflex. A mewl of despair escaped from the back of the feline's throat as he came to the realization that he was going to have to make fresh coffee. One might be excused for wondering at his distress, since to most normal folk the process of making coffee entailed little more than filling a basket with grounds and pouring water into the top of the machine. While that might have been true from a purely mechanical aspect, it ignored the politics of the beverage.

One of Plonq's ex-managers had once wryly observed, "If you put any dozen of the coffee drinkers in this office in a room and ask them the right way to make a pot of coffee, they will emerge with thirteen opinions because at least one them will change his mind out of spite." Plonq admitted that he had his own pretty strong opinions about how to make good coffee. First you started with a paw full of green beans – well, that wasn't really an option here, was it? There was a sign taped to the wall over the coffee machine with instructions on how to make a perfect pot of coffee.

The sheet included little pictograms showing five level scoops of coffee being added to the basket, and a full carafe of water being poured into the machine. Conspicuously missing from the pictograms was a disgruntled vixen squatting over the pot and adding her mystery ingredient. She had been voluntarily making the coffee for over a month before she was caught. Naturally she got escorted off the company property by the police and was charged with tampering. Once everybody had gotten over their disgust and betrayal though, they grudgingly lamented that it was still the best coffee that had ever come out of the break room.

That had been a couple of years ago, but people were still suspicious of any coffee that seemed "too good". Plonq had brought in fresh ground beans from home on more than one occasion, but most of it ended up sitting until it was too stale to drink because people thought it smelled too delicious to be safe. He stopped bringing fresh beans entirely when he overheard a muttered comment one day about "Plonq's special brew." The little snow leopard sighed and reached for the can of Manxwell House coffee. "Good to the last dribble," proclaimed the star-blazoned endorsement on the side of the can. In finer print it crowed that it was made from "... the husks and sweepings from the FINEST ROASTERIES of New Jersey!"

"Yum," he muttered darkly under his breath. He cracked the lid and used it to hastily fan away the dust and fumes that escaped from the can as he exposed its contents to clean air. He set it aside and pulled the basket out of its holder. To his amazement, somebody had emptied it and put in a fresh filter. Plonq speculated that a coworker must have been going through the motions of making fresh coffee before the sorry state of the carafes drove them to abandon the project. Ah well, at least it saved him a couple of steps. He plunged the coffee scoop deep into the can of ground awfulness and then paused.

The instruction sheet on the wall showed a picture of five rounded scoops lined up next to an empty basket, but somebody had drawn a black X through the fifth scoop and written, "Only use 4 or it's too strong," underneath. An arrow in a different colour pointed to that and said, "That just makes it thin and bitter like you. Use 5 and shut up." Someone else had crossed out the 5 and replaced it with a 6. "That overflows the basket, asshole," admonished another hasty scrawl, followed by, "bite me." The exchange would slowly grow over a few days until it either started becoming too personal, or somebody drew a penis. In either case, the office manager would invariably replace the instruction sheet with a fresh one when it reached that point.

Plonq wondered if she threw out the old sheets, or kept them in a drawer. In his opinion they were a worthy bit of office lore that either belonged in a shared scrap book, or even in a "Post Secrets" type of travelling exhibit. He even had a good name for the show: The Coffee Wall of Vitriol.

He sighed and acknowledged to himself that he was stalling. It really did not matter how many scoops of coffee he added, nor how much water. He could add a pinch of salt, some dried egg shells, a dusting of cardamom – really, it did not matter what he did to the coffee. Everybody would hate it and curse his name with each sip.

Of course there was always the cop-out drawer.

He left the scoop standing in the tin and carefully pulled open the drawer with his pinkie claw. There they were, lined front to back and three deep; exactly nine coffee filters with pre-measured scoops of coffee in them.

At some point a misguided perfectionist had decided to take matters into his or her own paws and had measured out what he or she considered to be the perfect number of scoops. Nobody knew how old the pre-measured filters were because nobody would admit to using them. Were they being replaced daily? Were the older ones being rotated to the front? He shuddered and pushed the drawer shut again, gently lest he disturb the evil coffee and anger it. As far as Plonq was concerned, the coffee drawer was one of those mysteries best left unanswered – sort of like how his favourite sports team could finish top in the standings year after year and bow out in the first round of the play-offs. It was a Wookie on planet Endor; it transcended rational explanation.

"Five and one-quarter scoops," he said emphatically. There, he'd made a decision and now he would just have to deal with the consequences. Before he could second-guess himself, the cat quickly measured scoops of the vile powder into the basket and slammed it home into its holder. He snatched the carafe with the baked-on coffee and topped it up with tepid tap water. He had considered rinsing out the pot with the bubbling sludge on the bottom, but his reasoning was that if he could not make good coffee, then at least he could make character coffee.

When a badger rounded the corner into the break room a couple of minutes later, drawn by the smell of fresh coffee brewing, he caught the snow leopard red-handed with his mug under the basket, with the sludgy pot dangling lazily in his other hand. "What the heck do you think you're doing?" demanded the badger angrily. "That's a clear violation of break room etiquette!" The snow leopard's eyes darted down to his coffee mug, then to the coffee pot in his other hand and back up to the badger. It was clear to the badger that he had caught the other in an inappropriate act, and he decided to press his advantage before the feline could concoct any self-serving, halfway plausible denials. "Well, speak up! What do you have to say for yourself?"

The little snow leopard was clearly panicked now. He quickly pulled his nearly-full cup out from under the basket, spilling coffee on his shit shirt in the process. In what seemed almost an afterthought he slammed the coffee carafe into place. "I…" he stammered.

"You what?" demanded the badger. He sensed his dominance in the situation and stepped forward menacingly. "I'm all ears."

"I... ack!"

"I learned an important lesson today," said Plonq later that evening as he applied a stain stick to his shirt.

"What, that you shouldn't try to game the coffee system because you might get caught?" said Giblet without glancing up from his smart phone.

"What? No!" said the feline indignantly. He waved the stain pencil for emphasis. "I made the coffee. If wanted some of the good stuff it was completely within my rights to take some off the top!"

"Well then, pray tell me what important lesson you learned today," said the otter distractedly. "By the way, my sister is a bitch. I don't know why I keep her friended on Muzzlebook. I just wanted to get that out there."

"I learned," said the snow leopard thoughtfully, "that a well-timed, projectile hairball supersedes almost any awkward situation."
Tags: coffee, story
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