The Ratios of Joe

The Java Ratio, or not. Ratios are important. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I believe that ratios make all the difference between simple existence, and a rich, meaningful life. If you've ever botched the catsup to mustard ratio on your burger, you already know something about the devastating effects of a ratio gone terribly wrong. But every once in a while—perhaps by sheer serendipity—one arrives at the perfect ratio of elements in the equation, and at that moment life is as close to perfection as it's ever going to get.

I'd be the last to suggest that mustard isn't important, but mustard isn't the staff of life. Coffee is. So when I asked the espresso dude to modify my usual iced mocha drink, it was with the knowledge that I was threatening my own survival. The thing is, milk isn't my friend. It hasn't been for years now, but I've been lulling myself with lies about 2% and similarly weakened versions of the real thing, just so I can have my favorite drink. But no matter how much I want to believe the lie, milk still makes me fart.

Over the weekend, I decided to stop the madness and explore a few alternatives. I'd already tried the usual substitutes, but for me, soy and rice products aren't viable alternatives; they just don't taste like the sort of thing I'd want to drink. Suddenly, the light went on. Where is it written that my iced mocha drink has to contain milk? I mean, it's coffee, not a milkshake, right? Armed with this new insight, I asked Tucker—at the Trail of Turds Coffee Shop, of course—to substitute something else for the milk that normally accounts for most of my drink. Something coffeelike, I suggested. He thought for a moment, then turned to look at the refrigerated case behind him.

With the slightest hint of a smile, he said he had just the thing. The clear pitcher he took from the case contained an opaque liquid that, I thought, looked more like used motor oil than a drink. As he poured the liquid into the cup, I noted its viscosity resembled motor oil, too, but I was too excited to speak. "This stuff," said Tucker, "will stop your heart."

I don't know if I slept an hour or a minute that night. It was as if my mind had been given the order to dump its core and await further instructions, but there were no further instructions; there was only the erratic pounding of my heart as its rhythm degenerated into random blips and bursts. Not unlike a Willy's in four wheel drive, I had thought, giggling into the darkness. Then, grateful I could still laugh at all, I had closed my eyes and watched the patterns dance on my eyelids.

By Sunday afternoon it was clear to me that something had been a bit off. Obviously, Tucker had been careless with the ratios, if he considered them at all. I returned to the coffee shop, determined to improve the equation. But Tucker wasn't there. Instead, Natalie was at the controls, and I immediately wondered how I might communicate the gravity of the situation to someone I hardly knew, someone who might not fully appreciate the importance of the Java Ratios. I approached the counter, and explained what had happened. Natalie listened intently. It seemed she was making mental calculations, adjusting and compensating. A bit less of this, and more of that. Add the missing ingredient. Nudging the ratios toward equilibrium. Then, without a word, she went to work.

The first sip told me everything I needed to know about ratios in a state of grace. It spoke of perfection; it whispered the divine name. The second sip confirmed it: it was the handiwork of the Coffee Samurai. I turned toward Natalie, but she was holding a finger to her mouth, shaking her head. She was right, of course; sometimes words are inappropriate, and even pointless. I left the coffee shop and found a place in the sun, where I sat at length, engulfed in the experience. As the bottom of my cup came into view, I noticed a new clarity of vision. It was as though my eyesight had been amplified; I could make out every detail of the remaining droplets of coffee in my cup. Looking up, I noticed a similar clarity in my surroundings, but all the people were gone. I was alone. Rising to my feet, I walked back the coffee shop and went inside.

All the customers had disappeared. Behind the counter, a robed figure held a sword in midair, as if frozen in time. I blinked my eyes, and every blink produced a flash of lightning that illuminated the sword, which appeared to have some sort of formula etched into its shimmering blade. I tried to approach the apparition, but with every step the lightning became more intense, until finally I was forced to close my eyes. This produced a thunderclap that brought me to my knees, and that's where I lost consciousness.

Some might say it would be dangerous to return to that place; some might even call it madness. That may be the truth, but I know I have to go. Somehow, in some way I don't completely understand, Natalie holds the key to the elusive Java Ratios that are now my obsession, and my life. That she may never divulge the ingredients nor their respective proportions I take as a matter of course; she is Samurai, and so has been entrusted with many secrets. But the path of knowledge is never an easy one, and some day I, too, will wield the sword that separates ordinary coffee from the bliss that results from internalizing the Ratios of Joe.


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