Laura C J Owen
The first travel coffee mug I ever bought was long and springy and it glowed a little, in colors of brown and gold. It was made of a high-tech plastic, designed to keep warmth in, and that plastic gave a little when you squeezed it, in a manner that suggested an erect penis: hard and soft at the same time. The shape, too, was phallic—long with no handle—but the design had several undulations, ripples that bulged artistically in and out, so in that sense it resembled no penis, unless there are certain key variations on the penis shape that I'm not familiar with (this seems possible). At the time of buying the travel mug, when sexual imagery like this would occur to me, I would feel cut through with despair, I'd feel as if I had been sliced in half with a scimitar (also phallic in shape, now that I think about it). I have a strange capacity to work up nostalgia for even the most unpleasant memories, and sometimes I miss that feeling of despair: how powerful sex seemed to me, then, how capable of slicing you in half.
When I bought this travel mug I was going through a bit of hard time. I had been abandoned.
I bought the coffee mug in one of those moments when it seemed possible to go on. Something, some object—a coffee mug, a jewelry rack, an appointment calendar—would steady me, and I could glimpse a new life for myself, a life in which I carried coffee on the bus to work, and nailed a jewelry rack to the wall, and sparkled this rack with earrings, and kept track of my appointments in a book. Just for a moment, when I gripped the coffee mug and thought of the theoretical warmth inside, it all seemed possible, until a moment later, when it all seemed impossible again.
This was the first travel mug I ever bought and I lost it, soon after, on the bus on the way to work. I can't ever seem to hang on to a travel mug. I've lost them all. Some I can remember in detail (the metal one that made everything taste of caramel; the blue one that shattered) and others I'm sure I've forgotten, wholesale.
I always feel sad when I see an abandoned object. A napkin, covered in important-looking scribbles, left on a restaurant table. A natty pair of sunglasses, sitting by a bathroom faucet. I hope there is a person out there who sees my lost travel coffee mugs, waiting patiently on top of truck stop napkin dispensers or on the scratched surfaces of public bathrooms, these stately, smelly travel coffee mugs sure that they have only been left behind for a moment, that I will be back soon to fetch them. I hope this person, this travel coffee mug observing person, feels sad, feels sorry for these abandoned containers, who only tried to help. A terrible thought: to hope that you are increasing the amount of sadness in the world. They say that the devil is in the details, maybe because details are so awful, awful in the original sense of inspiring awe.
Why did you leave me? I've despaired at this question, and it's what I imagine my anthropomorphized travel mugs would ask, once reality sunk in, once they realized they were not to be a partner in my everyday routines, as I had given them every reason to believe they would be. We always look for this reason, upon abandonment—what did we do wrong, what was so terrible about us? Did we hold too much coffee, not enough coffee, did we leak too much liquid, did we cool too quickly—why aren't we enjoying quiet, daily companionship on the bus home from work—why are we left alone forever, in this fucking truck stop bathroom, with the unflattering, flickering fluorescent lights? But the truth is, it doesn't seem to matter what my travel mugs are like. I abandon them all. To feel despair upon abandonment—to blame oneself—is to overestimate one's own uniqueness and to underestimate the capacity of others for pure carelessness. Sometimes we just leave things behind.
But I don't stop buying travel coffee mugs. I grip the handles, black or blue or silver, I wrap my hands around the metal or space-age plastic—designed to keep the warmth in, but not to scald you with excess heat—and I every time I think This is the accessory to my new life. This is my new life. And this one I will not lose I will not lose it I will manage to hang on I will manage to hang onto it I will somehow hang on.
There is a brand of travel mugs by a company called Aladdin, the name making each travel mug seem like either the magic lamp which will grant wishes, or the actual wandering adventurer out to find a fortune. They make my favorite travel coffee mug, favored because it is large and thus holds the most coffee and also sort of looks like a beer stein. For a year, I bought coffee at a local coffee shop and put it into this travel mug because it was the perfect size for a large to-go cup of coffee and my boss assumed that I was bringing coffee from home and not buying coffee and thus congratulated me daily on my new thriftiness, which was of course not a real quality I had developed but rather a small but elaborate deception I was perpetuating. However, I never lost the travel mug so that is progress of a kind.