Tradition! Tradition.

Posted on: October 25, 2011

Thursday night I performed the annual Breaking of the Coffeepot While Doing Dishes, a tradition begun unexpectedly last year at this time when the delightful 1-cup French Press I had been using decided it could no longer bear the strain of daily washing and shattered just as I had delicately jammed my hand inside it. Though this week’s reoccurrance was just as unexpected as the inaugural event, the ceremony itself has been upgraded somewhat in the past year; one improvement was in the size of the sacrificial vessel – this time around, it was a six-cup French Press that broke. But the greatest breakthrough came through the deploying of implements : after last year’s Grand Shattering, I invested in a bottle brush; thus, though glass still broke, this year at least, my hands were in the clear and no blood flowed.

Probably the only thing stranger than breaking a coffeepot exactly one year after having broken your previous coffeepot is noticing that it’s been exactly one year since the last time your coffeepot broke in your hands, but my circumstances at this time last year were quite reduced from what they are today. I was, on the eve of the Boston Book Festival, well into my fourth month of unemployment, and what had seemed like such fun during the summer was becoming bleak indeed the further it stretched into fall. While I was excited to see one Miss Myla Goldberg the following day at the BBF, it was more and more difficult each day to follow the rules of unemployment I had set up when I’d been unemployed for a brief 6 weeks the previous summer, the very first of which was Make Sure You Leave the House Every Day. While I was unhappy to be learning that sometimes, there is no joy in Pajama Day, once my hand went through the French Press, all of my concerns became focused on one bright and suddenly relevant problem : I had no health insurance.

Well, that’s not entirely true. I did, in fact, have health insurance; I just didn’t know it yet. I hadn’t wanted to apply for the state health insurance when I first became unemployed, but as the months went on and I realized that, somehow, despite my positive outlook, unflagging belief in my own excellence, and disdain for the news, I was actually being affected by the recession and the poor job market; the public option was looking more and more like my only option, so in early September I broke down and applied. My application had been approved, but since the wheels of bureaucracy turn sloooowly, I wouldn’t find that out for several weeks. In a lovely bit of irony, I actually got the letter informing me of my approved status, retroactive to the date I’d applied, two days before receiving the offer for the job I have now.

I didn’t know that at the time, though, so as I stood over the kitchen sink watching the blood from my slashed hand run down the drain, I pondered : Should I be running my hand under hot water, or cold? Should I be elevating my hand above my head? What is the best way to dispose of all this broken glass? Should I get stitches? and decided on the following:

  • cold
  • eventually
  • wipe it up with a damp paper towel, put the paper towel in a paper bag, and put the bag in the trash
  • probably, but no.

It was not just financial considerations that influenced that final decision. Many, many, many years before, around the time I was in the second grade, I cut myself with a serrated knife. It was a cheese knife, to be specific, and instead of slicing through the fancy cheese my mother had set out on the good cheeseboard to serve as an appetizer at the dinner party she was hosting that night, I sliced right across the knuckle of the index finger on my left hand.

I know there was blood – possibly spilling over onto the crudites – and definitely crying, but what I remember most is the immediate aftermath of the event : my mother having hustled me upstairs with an unaccustomed quickness; the two us stood in front of the sink in her bathroom, holding my hand under cold water, and her saying “You’re lucky; most parents would take their kids to get stitches.”

One very fascinating thing about being a child is that it often takes children a long time to discover when something is off. Especially within their own family; for a long time, their family is the only family they know, and so they assume that everything that happens inside their family is happening to every other family in the world, and, since it’s normal, there’s no need to really take note of or be alarmed by any of it. As that child grows, however, they inevitably discover that some things about their family don’t quite jibe with other families. These discoveries can be innocuous – not every family has a housekeeper, for example – or they can be slightly more unsettling – not every family has a housekeeper who got fired because their mother was convinced the housekeeper stole the cat’s blood for use in Korean voodoo ceremonies, as another example.

This, however – the idea that I was somehow fortunate not to be getting medical attention that others would consider routine – immediately struck me as abnormal. I may have said as much at the time, but it’s much more likely that I just went on crying, as I have no recollection of an explanation from my mom. Probably she was equally influenced by the dinner party she couldn’t abandon, the crazy that is her nature, and the precept of all doctor’s that their children do not get sick*.

It turns out that, in the long run, she was right – I was lucky. Because, 30-odd years later, as I stood in a very similar position, this time in front of my own sink, I knew that while most people in this situation would get stitches, I didn’t have to. I did not have to worry about the possibility of bleeding to death, or any other undesirable outcome; I knew first hand if all I needed were stitches, I would survive without them. And so, after I got bored with the cold water, I wrapped my hand in a paper towel and kept it resting on the elevated back of the couch while I watched tv. At the book fair the following day, between the morning event with Steven Almond and the afternoon event with Miss Goldberg, I scouted around Copley Square for the best possible bandage (which, in retrospect, would have been the butterfly bandages) and considered myself lucky to be out on a chill fall day, keeping my hand from bleeding all over famous authors, rather than waiting in an emergency room for unnecessary stitches.

This year, however, though I was sorry to have to work through the Boston Book Fair, when my coffee pot shattered, I learned that, health insurance or no, real luck is not not needing stitches, but not cutting yourself in the first place.


*I have twice in my life gotten stitches, and once, my mom took them out in the living room in the morning before I went to school. So, yeah – I don’t like to get stitches.


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