''SOMETHING FOR NOTHING'
by Dinah Lenney
PEOPLE ARE SO fundamentally hopeful, aren’t they, and all the time looking for signs. You meet the one–the fact that your parents, both sets, drank Chock Full o’ Nuts, strikes you as amazing. It doesn’t occur to you that a good percentage of the Eastern Seaboard drinks Chock. Must be kismet, must be fate, your eyes lock when you reach for the same brand high on the shelf (this is back before division of labor: grocery shopping is a field trip; the Laundromat is a night on the town): You grew up on the heavenly coffee? You’re kidding! Me too! The next morning the can, yellow and black, hermetically sealed, makes that hiss when it’s opened, smells like home, and comes with a cute little scoop. And now that you’re playing house–now that you know you drink the same coffee–you buy it three cans at a time, and keep them, of course. The scoops, that is. They accumulate in a wire basket that hangs from a nail over the kitchen sink, eventually spill into the corners of your world, take on lives of their own. It’s a quarter of a century later, having had to search one morning, having found it under a soup pot in the dish-drain–whew–that you realize there is one, but one scoop remaining.
It’s green–a diminutive measuring cup–plastic, translucent, an inch deep, its diameter about the size of a half dollar. Chock Full o’ Nuts, reads the handle: the letter ‘f’ scripted, fanciful; the capital ‘C’ a finger nail shaving, whereas the N for nuts is chunky and bold, like so: N. Apparently made in Rahway, New Jersey–that’s what it says on the flip side anyway – though on the bottom of the scoop, with no trace of irony comes the old slogan: the heavenly coffee.
And now you’re on the prowl. You search drawers, cabinets, under the bathroom sinks, in the playroom for scoops. After all, they could be–they should be anywhere: they were that useful, their overall versatility not to be underestimated. They doubled in their time as dispensers of all manner of apothecary matter (Robitussin, milk of magnesia, boric acid); stood in for toy tea cups, building blocks, and Play-doh molds. These tiny all-purpose shovels could excavate your whole history: met a guy, married him, raised a couple of kids, started every day–whatever happened the night before, whatever was planned or not for the day ahead–with a pot of coffee: two cups per, he took sugar, you didn’t, you went for fat free, he demurred, but every day you filled the kettle, poured the water into the grounds–four scoops worth–this you could count on, this pot of coffee, resolutely measured, sipped, gulped or guzzled; this, at least in part, you realize now–now that there is perhaps but one scoop left to tell the tale–is what got you through. So. You dump bins, baskets, and boxes, ransack ribbons, magnets, dominoes, dice; sift through crayons, colored pencils, and finger-paints; empty old socks full of scrabble letters and poker chips. You retrieve two monopoly hotels, a baggie full of birthday candles, four baby teeth in velvet ring box, three silver dollars, two lobster picks, a marble that looks like the planet Earth, and a rectal thermometer. Not a scoop in the bunch. When oh when did you swoop in, resolved to recycle all things plastic, and how is it this relic survives?
You ask your mother: Do you remember those scoops that came in a can of Chock Full o’ Nuts? She does.
Your mother: They don’t make them anymore.
You: Do you remember the colors?
She doesn’t hesitate. She’s certain they came in blue, green, and yellow.
You: Do you miss them?
Your mother: Not much.
She advises you that a scoop is the equivalent of two tablespoons, or an eighth of a cup. She has the very same measure in stainless steel, don’t you?
Well, yes, of course. It’s aesthetically acceptable–but not practical. The handle is too long. Unwieldy. You can’t leave it alone for a minute. It won’t balance on the counter, tips over empty or full.
Why on earth would you need it to keep its balance? a person might ask. Well, you don’t. Scooping is scooping, a continuous action, and even so, by virtue of the long handle, more than twice as long as the scoop itself, the scooper has less control than she should over the scooped. Whereas the scoops that came for free in every can of Chock full o’Nuts? They were perfectly designed for scooping and balancing, collecting and sorting. They came in primary colors, red included, it comes to you now, red very rare, and therefore coveted, in the way of an especially nifty surprise at the bottom of a box of cereal. Why didn’t you save a red one?
You to your mother: Do you happen to know when they stopped making them?
Your mother: I haven’t a clue.
With hope in your heart, you google Chock full o’ Nuts, to discover it’s presently owned by the Massimo Zanetti Beverage company; you find you can make an inquiry through customer service. You write to ask what happened to the scoops.
Thank you for taking the time to contact Massimo Zanetti Beverage Company.
Due to environmental concerns, we have discontinued putting a scoop in the containers to help reduce solid waste. However we will be most happy to send you some in the mail.
The note is signed by Melody from Customer Service. You’re excited. You type fast and hit send.
Are you actually still making the scoops? Do you, in fact, have leftover scoops? In what colors, please?
Dear Ms. Lenney,
(Now you’re Ms. Lenney -- she’s on to you, suddenly wary, you’re a virtual stalker, lurking and dangerous.)
…there isn't anything in our paperwork that has information you are specifically seeking answers to. The scoops that we currently have available are white ones made specifically for our Hills Bros. Cappuccino and we have yellow ones for our regular ground coffees.
White ones. Feh. And if the company is so worried about the environment why do they continue to make scoops for other brands? Clearly this is the party line, the decision to eliminate scoops made long before Melody came on the scene, and more likely to do with economic than environmental concerns. But how is it you didn’t notice? You’d defected, that’s how. You’d moved on to trendier brands: Starbucks, Peets, Dean and Deluca. Whole beans vacuum-packed in heavy-duty bags. Even when you deigned to buy your coffee in a can, you had your nose in the air. Came home from the market with Café Bustelo, Illy, Medaglia D’Oro, none of whom were offering you something for nothing, but the look of them stacked in your pantry made you feel, what? Pretentious? No! Worthy. Culinarily viable. Besides which, you had plenty of scoops at the time, more than you needed, more than you knew what to do with, taking up room in back of the silverware drawer, accumulating calcium deposits in the bathtub. You just had to get organized, didn’t you? Spring cleaning. Bah.
For the delight of guessing with one eye closed -- the other trained for that first glimpse of color beneath the grounds–for that psychological lift first thing in the morning, you might actually come back to Chock Full o’Nuts. Who isn’t willing to eat the cookie to get to the fortune, right? Who doesn’t buy Cracker Jacks just for the prize? You’d come back if it meant you could open the can–intoxicating–although less to do with the aroma, than with anticipation of something for nothing.
Meanwhile, back at the website, “Throw away the scoop!” says the online catalogue. “Each stay-fresh packet makes one pot (8 to 10 cups) of New York’s favorite coffee! A case contains forty-two 1.5 oz packets.” Are you supposed to believe this idea is environmentally sound? Do you want to throw away your last little green scoop for premeasured packets of coffee? Would you order your scoops in bulk, all white, or all yellow, in the name of ecology? Not a chance.