Boswell's Cafe:1

The fruits of a writing exercise over cream tea and scones (in which we chose three random objects from our purse and the table and wrote about each one for ten minutes). . .

Curiously Strong Mints

Not just any kind of mint, but "curiously strong" is how the refreshingly green, tin box defines its contents. And I wonder, as any curious person wonders, where did the idea for breath mints originate?

I picture a stately, English gentleman, dressed in a tweed overcoat and twirling a handlebar mustache. He has just escorted his lady friend to her home and they are situated awkwardly under a square doorframe holding square books that smell of dust. She's dressed in silk and he reaches out to finger the material that brushes against her wrist. He begs her affection with a gaze, leans in, closes his eyes, and in the moment of apprehension before the ecstasy he is surprised by a gasp! She jumps back in disgust, eyes wide in despair.

"But sir!" she cries with the womanly air of discretion. "Your mouth!"

"Whatever is wrong, my sweet?"

"It's your breath, not the books, not the grimy doorframe or the soddy streets. It's your pungent, rotten breath that has given me this unbearable headache!"

And she gathers the folds of her heavy skirt in her hands and escapes through the door.

With a sob of anguish, he rushes home and concocts the greatest love potion of all time: the curiously strong breath mint.

Germ X Hand Sanitizer . . .

. . . every OCD's dream. . . except that many people who truly suffer from the psychological condition have no need of the sanitizer since they wear gloves in public places, or otherwise find ways to prevent their skin from touching public objects like bathroom handles and subway rails that have the remains of snot, sweat and other bodily liquids left from years of stranger's fondling.

Blech. This is why I use hand sanitizer--because I am not OCD and do not wear gloves, and yet still want to do everything I can to avoid contracting public illnesses through the pores of my skin. It's also nice to have on hand (no pun intended) after I use the public toilet. Most of the time public facilities offer the very least that they're required; ice cold water in the dead of winter, bars of soap that last for months and collect dirt in their deep crevices (making my hands worse than they were before the use of the toilet), reusable cloth towels, and hand dryers that barely provide enough of a breeze to blow my small knuckle hairs. So I pull out my trusty hand sanitizer and am saved from the horrors of public toilets.

But I must confess, I haven't pulled it out as often as I would like, even when I acknowledge all of the above benefits. And why, you may ask? Because I fear that people will hear me open the stall door and walk out of the toilets without turning on the water or using the handryer. They'll think that I am one of "those people"--those people who don't wash their hands--because they won't know that I used the hand sanitizer instead!

So when I leave the stall I feel a strange urge to try the subtle approach and yell, "I am so glad I can use my hand sanitizer now!"

Pepper Mill

When I see a pepper mill I don't see the one that's physically in front of me; instead I see a mill that's tall, translucent, lean and full of brightly colored beads, the one that sits on our family table planted firmly next to the salt shaker. Around the pepper mill and salt shaker I enjoyed meals, conversation, devotions and laughter with my family of six in Colorado. It's where we savored mom's strawberry pie, homemade pizza with Valentino's style crust and colorful pasta. It's where we celebrated Christmas with brunch and ate cheese-braid and breakfast pizza. It's where I learned to like grown-up stuff like coffee and wine and mushrooms and pepper. And it's where I learned to like grown-up conversation when relatives and company came over, and my three brothers left the table to play like boys downstairs, and I remained seated with the adults, priding myself on my maturity.

Today the pepper mill and salt shaker still sit on our family table. The two companions exist on an ever-evolving oak tabletop, sometimes flanked by fresh flowers and sometimes by piles of mail or newspapers or left-over breakfast dishes. Placemats and napkins have regular places, but even they're evolving. Instead of the original six placemats there are now four, and there will soon be three when my middle brother goes off to college in August. And then, quicker than we realize, in two years my youngest brother will forge his way into the world, leaving only two placemats.

But no matter how the oak table top revolves, the placemats, like the pepper mill and salt shaker, are constant companions, situated caddy corner to each other, close enough for knees to touch, glasses to clink, and meals and life to share together.

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