How a caffeined-up Al Pacino threatened my home

The following is Part III and the conclusion of the espresso machine that never should have come into the home.

To read Part I click on: How Espresso nearly destroyed a family

To read Part II click on: How my marriage survives caffeine-fueled mania

Editor & Publisher

As I snuggled next to my wife, I felt a sense of accomplishment. It was like a caffeine-fueled Odyssey in which I now had my espresso machine — all 9 square feet — front and center in the kitchen.

I thought of how my wife would wake up and when she saw the morning sunlight sparkling off the Made in Italy emblem, she will melt.

I thought she may wake me up to see if it works.  The working part of the equation was still far off.

I will do that tonight I reasoned. I thought I better work hard all day at the newspaper and catch up and then tomorrow night I will hook up the 220 electric and run a drain and the water. And it sounded that easy in my head.

I noticed the time was now past 4 a.m. Melissa would be getting up in a couple of hours. I saw the time change to 4:01 then 4:02. I could not sleep. I stayed up reading on my cell phone all about the right gauge wire to use for a 220 appliance that draws 13 amps. I pictured the circuits in the kitchen like a page out of Grey’s Anatomy.

Why can’t I take the neutral from the dish disposer, convert it to a hot lead and connect both to a 220-amp circuit with an isolated ground I asked myself. I sold myself on the strategy.

In the morning as I stood in the shower I saw my wife approaching through the mist. She had a concern.

“I see you made it home with that piece of restaurant equipment. That thing is huge; where is it going to go?”

I thought about her choice of words — “restaurant equipment.” I thought I would trump and redirect at the same time.

“Yeah, it is commercial grade and that is why it is so big and expensive and well made.”

“It dominates the entire kitchen,” she said.

“Thank God its so good looking,”  I said.

“Seriously, do you have a strategy to try and offset the size of that thing? It needs to go in the corner…”

Suddenly, I felt like my wife was IPOC and I was presenting the Key Club redevelopment.

“Okay honey, why don’t you figure where we can put it, but not in the garage and I am not installing it at the office in the Centre Shops.”

And of course my wife picked a corner far from any water supply wanted to place it at the end of a long line of counter top outlets.

I was pissed. I tried to argue for my spot in the middle of the kitchen near the sink and the disposer where I could actually imagine hooking the thing up.


Stuck in the 1980s

Of course I lost that battle, and then my wife lodged an insult that went right to the core of my masculinity.

“It is kind of 1980s looking; not that that is a bad thing.”

So now I have the Miami Vice backdrop espresso machine in my wife’s eyes. But long ago I have learned to persevere despite criticisms of reasonable people. I looked at the machine and saw the height of espresso engineering and sexy Italian design work. Kind of like a good Mercedes diesel from 1984 or 1985, which I also happen to own.

Then I thought of how I collect guitars that were hand built by Kramer and Fender with West German hardware — they were made in the 1980s. Then I thought about how I graduated high school in 1986, had my first wild nights of love in the 1980s and fell in love for the first time in the 1980s. Suddenly I thought my wife might have accidently made a compliment — “Hell yeah, this is the Eddie Van Halen of espresso machines — what does Melissa know anyway?” I thought almost out loud.

Well it turns out my wife knew quite a bit.

First, later that night, I had a revelation. I do not need to convert anything to 220 I thought. There is the air condition handler right in the corner through the wall. I checked the amperage draw of the air conditioner and calculated that their was plenty of capacity to add a disconnect box with a fuse.

Then I realized I could run a  T from the air conditioner drain line and then I realized there was a faucet through the wall outside of the house.

So just after the children were in bed, I started in on the project. Unfortunately, my wife was not thrilled when I walked past her with the hammer drill at 11 p.m.

“Do you have to do that now?” she said.

Again, looking back, I was on an irrational quest, driven by some need to get the espresso machine up and running and complete this project. And when I say I had to do that, I mean I will work on a project like that until I am done or it is done.

I told my wife, “Five minutes of drilling — max.”

Well the hammer drill worked great but the bit only made it 8 inches through the blocks and not quite enough. After drilling and tapping and wrestling and spewing concrete dust I finally broke through.

Once the noise was over, my wife went to bed and I spent the night running the electric, the water and the drain. I even caulked and repaired the drywall and installed conduit covers.


Problem solving

The problem is I had no clue how to even begin to operate the espresso machine. I hit the power button and waited. I saw two levers and realized one filled the pressure tank and the other was designed to bleed off pressure. I saw the pressure gauge. I filled the tank and it hissed and steamed as it warmed up.

Finally, I hit the steaming wands and steam flowed profusely. I turned the spigot and hot water poured out.

I went to the pantry and found the last of some Café Bustelo and poured a couple of espresso shots.

The first tasted a bit harsh, but by the second shot it had a good head of crema.

“I am a barista” I thought. I made two shots more of espresso and steamed some milk. I then started running numbers in my head. Every cappuccino I make saves us three dollars off Starbucks I reasoned.

I though of our six children and my wife and I working the machine for tea and coffee and hot chocolate all day every day. We will save thousands — this will be the best coffee we can get I said to myself.

I left the machine humming and noticed it was nearing 4 a.m. I was so hopped up on coffee I went to that all night emporium for the socially marginalized — Wal Mart.

And that is when I started buying coffee the way America is buying ammo these days.

I bought Café Bustelo Supremo and Pilon espresso and I ground up two bags of Joffrey’s beans and then I bought two bags of Gevalia and some Hawaiian Kona beans and something that said Jamaican Blue.

When I got home I started experimenting with the various brands and grounds. I even reground some at the setting the man who sold me the grinder insisted I use: “Estevo  — put the grinder on 11 for espresso —only 11 works.”

So by 6 a.m. my wife awoke to a scene that can only be described as something akin to a strange landscape of a construction zone with tools and pipes and electrical wire and connectors strewn all over the counters and a crazed demonic-eyed husband.


Kitchen coffee seizure

I sat at the head of our 10-foot long dinner table with all the bags of coffee and little piles of coffee and notes and espresso cups everywhere. It looked just like the way drug seizures are shown with narcotic squads proudly laying our the bales of marijuana and cocaine. That is how I was when my wife came out in the morning — like Pacino in Scarface except bags of finely ground black espresso powder lay everywhere.

“Honey, you are insane. Were you up all night working on this?” she said.

“Off and on,” I replied.

And although I was tired, I drank six or seven shots of espresso and went out the door to the Longboat Key Town Commission meeting. I found myself full of thoughts and ideas as the Commissioners spoke.


Commission problems, solved

Cell towers — that’s an easy policy I said to myself. And the Colony — why does the Town not offer more clarity — it is simple I thought.

Oh, and Phill Younger and Gene Jaleski are running against each other I said at the time and scripted ad campaigns for each of them.

A commissioner made a disparaging comment about the newspaper. I wrote a counter editorial in my head.

But a strange thing happened. By the end of the meeting all those bright thoughts vaporized. My mind went into some sub-lucid state where I could barely set a lunch date. It was clear I needed to get home and have a few nice espressos.

And so life continued at this pace for about four days. I would have an impossible project each night to tackle and drink dozens of espresso shots and each night represented a major accomplishment.

I became an idea monster. I called friends all manic and said things like:

“I want to create a new marketplace where people can bet on the outcome of events in the news. The outcomes would change, as would the odds. For instance, will Pistorius be convicted? Will Tiger win another major? We can create a site that has the outcomes positioned as market futures and avoid the gambling laws.”

I then told my wife about my idea for virtual graves where people could record videos and leave messages and play them at gravesites. You could go hear and talk to grandpa when his gravestone has a retractable screen. My wife started to grow worried.


Mania continues

On the next night I converted all of our customers to a new digital customer service management database. “It will be much easier,” I told my wife.

Another night I continued to learn a Van Halen Solo on guitar I have been trying to play for 25 years.

But soon the caffeine and the sleeplessness and the mania took its toll.

My ideas grew stranger and stranger. I started to pitch ideas about voice recognition software that works in the background and then will be able to make calls and perform tasks in your voice using your speech patterns throughout the day. Basically a virtual you.

My wife told me to quit caffeine.

Then by day four or five a little switch went off and I grew argumentative and very protective of the coffee maker. I started saying accusatory statements.

“Hun, has someone been screwing with the grinder settings? Did you overfill the pressure tank?”

Then my Polish Mother who visits Sarasota in the winter shows up and innocently asks one morning, “Stephen, if you say this thing is worth so much and you only paid $250, then why don’t you turn around and sell it and spend the money on something that I am sure would be a lot more practical for the family?”

My wife smiled as I listened. I almost exploded.

“This is a family heirloom,” I said.

“It is a coffee maker — why do you need such an elaborate coffee maker?”

I resented the simple sentiment felt sorry as I relegated my mom to someone who could not get inspired by such a perfect piece of machinery.

After she left I told my wife, “My Mom has all the Catholicism of a Pole mixed with the pragmatism of Stalin — I guess Russia did take its toll…”

“I mean I worked my ass off getting this machine — driving across the state, hooking it up all night and I treat everyone to these great drinks and acquire this incredible asset and this is the result — ‘Why don’t you sell it?”’


Blowing a gasket

I saw my face reflected in the mirror that looms in the foyer by the kitchen. I was tired, unshaven and looked like a derelict George Clooney in the final scenes of ‘The Perfect Storm’ before the boat goes under.

“Further,” I said, “you don’t seem to be into this machine either and I was just trying to…”

Then Melissa, sensing I was setting off on some caffeine-fueled tirade about lack of appreciation, interjected:

“This was your idea. You went all-out on some crazy quest just like that BMW and the commercial property and the rental houses and the trip to Las Vegas and ….”

Then, as if it wanted to join the argument, the espresso machine made a strong hissing sound. Steam started to not emanate, but rather pour out of the top. Suddenly water streamed down the granite lip and ran down a whole row of kitchen cabinets and ran across the floor.

“What the hell is wrong with it?” my wife asked.

She talked about it exploding and I stared to look closer. A gasket seal had blown and the machine was leaking.

It still made coffee, but as it heated and the pressure rose, the machine leaked like a bad catheter all over the kitchen counter.

I put a plastic plate under the machine to catch the water, but the plate could not keep up.

In defeat, I turned the machine off, cut the 220-power supply and turned off the water connection.

I not only had no espresso maker humming in my life, I could not even make a cup of coffee.

I drove off to work and stopped at 7-11. I felt like a loser as I filled the green cup with the oxymoronic “Regular Exclusive Blend” written in script on the pot.

As if to make matters worse, I had to drive to visit Dottie Rutledge, our paper’s graphic designer.

She was a bit upset because in all my manic running around I owed her a paycheck.

As I greeted Dottie, she asked how I was doing and wondered if I could use “any of this stuff I am going to donate to Goodwill?”

Then as if a miracle of miracles — as if a chalice from the Gods, I see in her brown box a brand new French coffee press. It is the simplest device: you pour in water, pour in coffee and hand press.

I took the French press and thanked Dottie profusely. She had no idea what the timing meant.

In fact, it was at The Longboat Key Club with Michael Welly that I had French Press coffee for the first time years ago. I was in love then and was excited to be taking this simple device home. It was as if I was trading a high maintenance pain in the ass relationship for a simple and honest and reliable method of meeting my caffeine needs.

So to this day, the espresso maker sits in the corner waiting for its repair. Meanwhile, the French press has normalized my life. I drink about three cups a day and have gotten off the 20 shots of espresso way of life.

Now, I can appreciate the Longboat Key Commission meetings and realize that I too have few ideas that will straighten the island out or anyone or anything else out for that matter. And my family is happy to have me back.

Still, rest assured— I will never sell that espresso machine. They can fold me in half and bury me in it, but do not ask me to sell my treasure from the heart of Italy.





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3 Responses for “How a caffeined-up Al Pacino threatened my home”

  1. William Kary says:

    Steve, if you visit the Olive Oil Outpost at 401 Pine Avenue in Anna Maria I am sure Kelly or Tom would be more than happy to provide some instruction. They (according to the locals) do have the very best coffee on Anna Maria.

  2. spencer ross says:

    Steve, try Lavazza Super Crema a bit expensive (about $25 for a small bag) but worth every penny

  3. William Kary says:

    Your best yet!

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