The Quest for the Holy Coffee Mug
A story inspired by a colleague at work.
By Brandon Blake Varnell
I would like to say that it was just another day in the office. That I came to work, opened up the pharmacy like normal. That I gave customers their prescriptions, or the flu-shot, or even just advice for people who wanted over-the-counter medicine for any number of ailments. I would like to say that, but I can't. It would be more accurate to say that my day was absolutely awful, horrible in every sense of the word.
It all started this morning when my baby woke me up with his crying. My newborn son, Ericson Frederrin Bauer V (technically, his name was Kevin Bauer. My wife did not like the name I wanted to give him. Personally, I thought she should just be lucky I didn't go with my first choice in baby names for boys, Optimus Prime) was only a few months old. He was therefore prone to much crying.
On my way to my babies crib, I ended up stubbing my toe, twice. Ericson (Kevin) kept me up for two hours before going to back to sleep, and I was nearly late for work. To top it all off, I couldn't find my coffee mug.
That last one was the real reason my day was going so poorly. I could deal with crying babies, stubbed toes and a lack of sleep. My coffee mug going missing was another thing entirely.
The coffee mug in question was not at home when I searched for it. It was not in the cupboard where I usually kept it, nor in any of the other cupboards my wife might have put it in. At first, I had merely thought that I had simply left it at work yesterday. It's not a mistake I usually make, not with this coffee mug, but even I am only human. Therefore, the first thing I did upon opening the pharmacy was search my work space for my coffee mug.
It was not there.
I began to panic. My coffee mug was missing, and it was not in the pharmacy. It was not in the pharmacy, it was missing, and I did not know where it was.
Where is my coffee mug!?
“Okay, calm down,” I told myself, speaking out loud. I ignored the customer trying to get my attention for some menial reason. Couldn't they see I had more important things on my mind! “Just take a deep breath. There's no need to panic. Breath in, breath out. In. Out. In. Out. That's it. Now. Think.”
And so I thought. I thought about what I should do to find my coffee mug, and I thought about all of the possible places I might have left my coffee mug. It had to be somewhere inside the store. The only places I ever took my coffee mug to were my house, my car, and Safeway. That was it. I didn't bring it anywhere else, which meant it had to be somewhere around here, inside the store.
With those thoughts in mind, I managed to conceive my first destination.
I ignored the man on the other side of the counter, screaming at me. I was now on a quest; a quest to find my coffee mug, and no two-bit customer was going to stop me!
The first destination in my itinerary was Star Bucks. It was the most logical place I could think of. I got my coffee from Star Bucks, so it would only make sense that I left it there. Right?
“I'm sorry,” the woman behind the counter, Griselda, said after I had told her about my missing coffee mug and asked if she had seen it. “But I haven't seen it this morning. Are you sure you haven't just misplaced it? I saw you with it yesterday.”
“No,” I shook my head, “I would never misplace my coffee mug.” Then again, I would have never forgotten my coffee mug either, so that didn't mean much. “Are you sure it wasn't left here? Maybe one of the other employees put it in one of the cabinets or the fridge or something.”
“I could look.”
Doing just that, Griselda checked all of the fridges and cabinets inside the little Star Bucks stand. She even checked the storage room, where all of their cups and other supplies were stored.
When she came back, I was met with disappointment.
“Sorry, but it doesn't look like we have it.”
I tried to keep from panicking. I really did. Unfortunately, I didn't quite succeed. I could feel the anxiety and apprehension creeping into my gut. I needed that coffee mug. I couldn't have my coffee without it!
“You could still get a coffee and just use one of our cups,” Griselda suggested.
“NO!” I exploded. Griselda stumbled backwards in shock, though whether that was due to my anger or something else was uncertain. “I will use that coffee mug and no other! And if I cannot use it, then I will not have any coffee!”
“Why is it so important to use that mug?” Griselda asked tentatively. I get the feeling she was scared of something, but I couldn't fathom what.
“That mug has been in my family for generations. It was used by my many times great-grandfather back in world war II and is a historical artifact of great significance. To use any other mug would demean it's value to my family.”
“Is it really?” Griselda asked, looking both skeptical and surprised.
“No,” I admitted, shrugging. “I made all that up.” Griselda twitched. “But it was the first gift my wife gave me.”
“I... see...” Griselda looked like she had something to say, but visibly held back. “Well, good luck finding your coffee mug.”
“Yeah.” I sighed morosely. “Thanks.”
Customer Service Desk
The next place I thought of that might hold my coffee mug was the customer service desk. That's where all lost and/or misplaced items went. Maybe someone had found my coffee mug and brought it up there. At least, that was my hope when I walked up to the customer service counter.
“Liz!” I called out to Elizabeth Hartz, nicknamed Liz because it was much easier to say then Elizabeth.
The woman in question turned around from whatever it was she was doing. As her eyes landed upon me, her mouth opened up to speak. She was likely going to give me some kind of greeting. That was what I suspected anyways. I don't actually know what she was going to say because I spoke up before she could.
“Have you seen my coffee mug!”
Elizabeth paused, then closed to her mouth. She stared at me for a full second, sending me a queer look that I couldn't quite understand.
Finally, she spoke.
“Are you talking about the white one with yellow dots on it?”
“Yes! Yes! That's the one!” I nodded my head emphatically. I leaned forward, placing both of my hands on the table. “You've seen it?”
Liz looked like she wanted to take several steps backwards, but quickly stopped herself. After a second or two, she shook her head. “Not since you had it yesterday.”
“Dammit!” I swore. Where could my coffee mug have gone? How long would it take before I found it again? Would I ever find it again?
No! I shook my head. I couldn't think like that! I would find it! I would! I had to! There were still more places in the store to search! I would just have to search them all, regardless of how long it took!
I took off running, my next destination clear. Liz shouted out to me, saying something about custards, or something like that. I couldn't quite hear her, namely because I was no longer paying attention. I needed to find that coffee mug, and any time spent idly chatting was time wasted.
My next stop was the break room. I didn't come in here very often, or stay for very long. This is where I logged into work, but I never spent more then a minute or two a day in this room at most. Still, having not had any luck finding my mug at Star Bucks or the Customer Service Desk, this was the next logical place to look.
The room was mostly empty of people, save a single young man with combed back brown hair and equally brown eyes, sitting at the table with a tablet of some kind in front of him. He was typing away on a small keyboard.
“Brandon,” I called to get the young man's attention. Brandon was another colleague working at Safeway, a courtesy clerk. He was a bit odd. He was always cheerful and friendly when working, but whenever he went on break, he would shut out the outside world completely and focused solely on whatever was on his tablet. His book, most likely. I knew that Brandon was writing a novel which he hoped to get published, which would explain his focus.
Brandon looked up at the sound of my voice and turned his head. For a second, I thought I saw a hint of unbridled rage flash in his eyes, but it was gone so quickly that I shook it off as a trick of the light.
“Oh, hey Matt!” The younger man said in a cheerful voice, complete with that friendly smile he always wore while working. I shook my head and smiled back. Yes, it must have just been a trick of the light. Brandon was always so cheerful.
“Hey, Brandon,” I greeted my younger co-worker. “Listen, have you seen my coffee mug?”
“Coffee mug?” Brandon tilted his head, a quizzical expression in play. “I haven't seen any mugs today. What's this coffee mug look like?”
I went into a quick description of what my coffee mug looked like. Brandon nodded his head several times as he listened, 'mhmming' and 'ahaing' every so often. After I finished giving my description, Brandon shook his head.
“Sorry, but I haven't seen anything like that,” he told me, much to my disappointment. “Are you sure you left it at Safeway?”
“There's no other place I could have left it,” I declared, my manner completely assured. This convinced him that I was pretty serious, or so it seemed, as he gave me a small shrug.
“Well then, good luck finding your mug.”
As I turned around to leave, I couldn't help but feel a sense of dread well up inside me, one that had nothing to do with my current quest. There had been something... off, about my interaction with Brandon, I couldn't help but feel like I was missing something.
I shook my head. Enough of this procrastinating! I needed to find my mug!
And thus, my search continued.
After leaving the break room, I realized what I needed to do. I couldn't start my day without my coffee, and I couldn't get my coffee without my coffee mug. Therefore, I decided that the only thing I could do was look for my coffee mug until I found it. I couldn't stop searching, not even for a moment.
It would be a long, hard journey, I suspected. But that was okay, even if it meant traveling to the far corners of Safeway and the backroom itself, I would not stop. I would find my coffee mug, come hell or high waters.
My next stop was the deli department. While I didn't come to this area very often, I knew some of the people who worked there in the morning also got coffee at Star Bucks. They may know what happened to my mug.
“I'm sorry,” Desiree said apologetically after I had explained my situation to her, “But I haven't seen a mug like that. Are you sure you left it here? Couldn't you have accidentally left it at home?”
“No.” I shook my head. “I would never leave it at home when I have work the next day. And I looked everywhere for it at home before coming to work, so I know it's not there.”
“Well, maybe you left it somewhere after you got off work? Like McDonalds or something.”
I shook my head again. “I don't eat McDonalds, and I know it's not somewhere else. I never bring my coffee mug into a store or restaurant anyways. The only places it could be are Safeway, my car, and my house. It's not in my car or at my house, so it has to be here.”
My logic was impeccable, and Desiree found that she could not disagree with it. That still didn't mean she had any idea of where my mug might be.
With one last apology, Desiree walked back behind the deli counter. She had work to do, so she couldn't spend much time talking.
Sighing, I wondered where I should look next, even as I ignored someone making an announcement over to intercom. I thought I heard my name being called in that announcement, but played it off as me hearing things.
After all, I'm a pharmacist. They never call for us over the intercom, ever. So it couldn't have been me.
I was passing through the liqueur department, on my way to the Bakery, when I ran into a problem.
Namely, there was a customer who was looking for some kind of wine. The customer, a little old lady, was looking for a wine called M-something or other; it was a really long name that I couldn't remember. It didn't help that I wasn't really paying attention to anything she said. I had more important things on my mind.
Like my coffee mug.
“Look, ma'am,” I told the lady as patiently as I could, “I can't really help you. I don't know anything about wine.”
“But you work here, right?” The way she said that made it sound more like a statement then a question.
“Yes,” I admitted. “But that doesn't mean I can help you. I have no knowledge of wine or alcohol.”
The old lady stared at me for a long moment, her dark eyes hidden behind wrinkly skin flashed and sparked with something that I couldn't identify. Whatever it was, though, it caused a shiver to crawl up my spine.
“Are you telling me that you cannot help me, young man?” The old lady asked. The hair on the back of my neck began to stand on end.
I opened my mouth to speak, but the old lady began talking before I could even get a word out.
“I have been going to this store for over thirty-five years, you little ingrate!” I took a step back, my eyes bulging in shock as the little old lady began screeching at me. “Thirty-five ― Bleep ― years!” I blinked. “I am not going to ― Bleep! ― put up with this ― Bleep! ― you ― Bleep! Bleep! Bleep! Mother ― bleep!”
“I-I'm sorry,” I said, “But did you know that you just bleeped, like, several times?”
“Did I?” The old woman frowned for a moment, her wrinkly face literally sagging to make her look like some kind of ugly hybrid between a pit bull and a bullfrog. “How strange...”
A moment later, her expression, which could have only been due to some kind of deep contemplation, cleared up.
“Ah, it must be The Author,” the old lady said with a small nod of her head. “He doesn't really like swearing that much, unless it moves The Plot along in some way. I guess he just decided to sensor me.”
I stared at the old lady some more. I was beginning to think she was crazy. “I'm sorry, but, The Author? Move The Plot?”
“Never you mind, sonny,” the old woman cast me a withering glare. I got the feeling that she had not forgotten about the reason she was so angry in the first place. “Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to find someone who'll be more helpful then you were.”
I withheld a wince as the old lady walked away. That had not been a pleasant conversation. Still, with the old lady now gone, I was free to continue on my quest to find my coffee mug, and really, that was all that mattered in the end.
After checking the bakery and finding out from the woman manning it that my mug was not there, I found myself beginning to lose hope.
In desperation, I decided that I was going to check each isle individually.
If I were begin honest with myself, I couldn't see my mug being in any of the isles, but I was nearing my wits end. I had to find that coffee mug, and if I had to search every single isle of this store, then by god I was going to do just that.
Isle 2, otherwise known as the dairy isle was, as the name might suggest, filled with dairy products. Cottage cheese, cream, butter, yogurt, Greek Yogurt, pre-made dough for bread and rolls and croissants. If it had something to do with dairy, you would find it here.
On a side note, the dairy was also where people bought beer. I never understood why we had beer being sold on the adjacent racks within this isle. It just didn't make sense.
Anyways, this was the isle I had decided to come down and check to see if I had misplaced my coffee mug somewhere in the store. I walked down the isle slowly, looking at the racks and shelves where each of our products were sold, making sure to be extra thorough in my search so that I didn't miss anything. I didn't want to pass over anything and come to find out that my coffee mug was there and I just didn't look hard enough.
It was because I was concentrating so hard on searching through the isle that I completely missed the puddle of water on the floor until I had already slipped on it and was sent crashing to the ground.
As I lay there on the floor, staring up at the ceiling while I tried to regain my breath after having all of the oxygen expelled from my lungs in a rather violent manner, a shadow crossed over my vision. I blinked some as the person casting the shadow stepped further into the light and appeared within range of my eyes.
“Looks like somebody took quite the spill,” said the voice I recognized as belonging to Mike said.
Mike was the dairy department manager. He was a big guy, with short brown hair and eyes. Mike was also one of those people who tended to just go with the flow, never really getting upset or frustrated by anything, unlike me.
“Are you alright?”
“I'm fine,” I mumbled as I took Mike's outstretched hand and allowed him to pull me up. “I don't think anything is broken...” I checked myself over a bit, just in case. My back was pretty sore, as was my tailbone, but that was to be expected after taking a fall like that. I imagine I would have a lovely bruise on my rump first thing next morning.
“You should be more careful,” Mike chided. “You were so focused on everything else that you didn't even see the wet floor cone.”
“Wet floor cone?” It took me a second to realize what he meant. Only after Mike tapped on the large, conical yellow sign that said 'caution, wet floor' did I understand. “Ah. My bad.”
“Not a problem,” Mike said, “Just be more careful from now on, kay kay?”
“Right. By the way, you haven't happened upon my coffee mug, have you?”
“Coffee mug?” At his questioning tone and glance, I went about giving him the same description of my coffee mug that I gave everyone else. When I finished describing the item I was questing for, Mike shook his head. “Sorry, haven't seen anything like that.”
“I see...” was all I said. I had honestly expected that to be his answer, but it didn't make hearing it any easier for me. Despite this, I still expressed my gratitude towards my compatriot at Safeway. “Well, thank you anyways, but I really must be going now.”
Ignoring the sound of Mike's voice as he shouted something out ― he was probably just talking to another customer ― I left the dairy isle to continue my search. I must find that coffee mug!
I would like to go into a detailed rendition of my quest for my coffee mug, but I felt that would be kind of redundant. And so, after searching through nearly every isle with little to no success, I eventually found myself in isle 16.
Isle 16 was the baking and cookware isle. It was the isle that had items used for baking such as flour, sugar, cake and pancake mix, boxed jello and pudding packets, seasonings, cooking oils, baking powder, and various chocolate chips and chopped/crushed nuts. This isle also had cookware and table ware. You know, like plastic cups, plates and forks, Tupperware, tinfoil and baking sheets, plastic bags and even items like spatulas and can openers. If you were a baking nut who loved to cook, this would be your isle.
It was just as I was turning down the isle that I ran into my next obstacle in my quest for my coffee mug.
My next obstacle was a person, actually, one that I ended up bumping into, causing them to drop the glass bottle filled with olive oil onto the floor. The bottle hit the ground and shattered with a loud 'cccrrrccchhhh!' sound, sending glass everywhere and causing the oil to spill all over the floor.
“Oh shit!” The person I crashed into, a man of average height with short brown hair and wearing the standard black pants and khaki shirt combination of Safeway, stared at the ever increasing pool of oil with something akin to horror. “Look at this mess!” He then looked up and glared at me. “Look at what you made me do!”
“I'm really sorry about that,” I tried to apologize, but the man, Steven, interrupted me before I could finish.
“You're sorry? Sorry isn't going to clean this mess up! If everything could be fixed by simply saying sorry, then people wouldn't have to worry about pink zebras flying into their homes and stealing their babies!”
I opened my mouth, then just as quickly closed it. I had no clue how to respond to that, so I didn't.
Meanwhile, the shorter male continued freaking out.
“Oh man, just look at this mess!” He bemoaned, gripping handfuls of his hair, which I feared he might begin pulling out due to how hard he was yanking. “Look at it! Dammit! What am I going to do now!”
“Look,” I tried to help the other man again, “why don't you just calm down and ―”
“Calm down? Calm down!? How can I be calm when there's a large spill and glass all over the floor!?” Steven looked back down at where the oil spill was. The nearly clear liquid had already spread over quite a bit of space, and the puddle was continuing to increase in size. “Oh man, what do I do? Look at that! Just look at how big that is! This mess is almost as bad as that time my fat cow of an ex-girlfriend knocked over a bottle of olive oil!”
“I know it looks bad, but it's really not as bad as you think,” I said slowly, trying to be patient. It was difficult, being patient, that is. Steven was interrupting my quest for my coffee mug over a silly little spill, but since I had bumped into him, I knew it would only be right that I helped him calm down at least.
It wasn't like I had any other choice. I needed to check this isle anyways, and I doubt Steven would let me do that while he was freaking out over his silly, little spill.
“It is as bad as I think!?” Steven pointed an accusing finger at me, then pointed down towards the spill. “Do you see how big it's gotten!? It's larger then a pink elephant with Dumbo ears!”
I really didn't understand this guys constant need to reference pink animals, so I did what I do best. I tried to ignore the crazy things spewing forth from Steven's mouth and get this entire affair sorted and over with so I could continue looking for my coffee mug.
“It's only gotten so big because you haven't cleaned it up yet,” I told him. “Look, why don't you go and get the mop. I'll get a wet floor sign and ―”
“No!” Steven shouted, cutting me off with a violent shake of his head. “How can you expect me to clean that up? Just look at how huge that spill is!”
I looked at the spill, then back to Steven. Then to the spill again. Then back to Steven.
“It is a bit large,” I admitted. Of course, the only reason it got so large was because Steven had been too busy freaking out to grab the mop and start cleaning it up. Not that I would tell him that. “But it's not as bad as it looks.”
“But it is as bad as it looks!” Steven insisted.
I was beginning to wonder if he was just arguing with me for the sake of arguing, rather then because he actually believed any of the things he said. Or maybe he just didn't want to clean the spill?
“Okay,” Steven began again, “let's just calm down and think this through. Calm down! Just calm down!”
I raised an eyebrow. “I am calm, you're the one who needs to calm down.”
“Look, just calm down, alright!? I got this! We'll, um... we'll... uh... hmm... I think we should...”
“Why don't you just call Brandon?” I asked, having finally grown tired of watching Steven try to figure out a solution to what should have been an easy problem.
“Brandon's on lunch!”
I froze as I heard this. “Lunch? But Brandon doesn't go on lunch until 10:00!” I knew this because Brandon's schedule was pretty much set in stone. He always did certain things at a certain time. I suspect the young man has OCD or something.
“What time do you think it is, doofus!” Steven shouted at me. “He's been on lunch for, like, 10 minutes already! Now stop bothering me! I've got to get this spill cleaned!”
Though I heard his words, I was no longer listening. It was passed 10:00am. I had been searching for my coffee mug for nearly two hours straight. Not only had I been searching for my coffee mug for two hours straight, I had left the pharmacy completely unattended.
I rushed back towards the Pharmacy, my mind in a panic. I really, really hoped that we didn't have many customers to deal with and that I wouldn't get in trouble for not being at my station.
In the end I did get in trouble with my manager. Thankfully, I got off with a warning, but I was told that the next time I did something like this 'corrective actions' would be taken. I don't know what 'corrective actions' meant, but it did not sound pleasant.
I didn't manage to find my coffee mug either. Despite looking around the entire store for it. I bet someone found it on the shelf and simply decided to take it with them, no good, thieving coward.
Feeling defeated, I arrived home in a slump, something my wife picked up on.
“Is everything alright, dear? You look like your cat just died or something,” my wife said as she held our son in her arms.
“Yeah, I'm fine...” I released a heavy sigh as I walked further into our living room. My wife followed after me, little Ericson Frederrin Bauer V gurgling away happily in her arms. I was glad to see that someone was happy. “It's just... I can't seem to find my favorite coffee mug.”
“You mean the one I gave you during our first Christmas as a couple?”
“That's the one,” I confirmed.
“Did you check the dishwasher?” my wife asked. “I did the dishes last night, and I saw your mug lying in the sink.” She gave me an accusing look. My wife did not like it when I left dishes in the sink. It was an even bigger pet peeve for her then me leaving the toilet seat up. “I put it in the dishwasher with all the other dirty dishes.”
“The... dish... washer...”
My mind almost went blank. Surely, it couldn't be that simple? I just spent nearly two hours searching for that mug, and another eight lamenting the loss of my mug. There was simply no way I could have missed it because of something as simple as my wife placing it in the dishwasher.
I rushed into the kitchen. With frantic hands I opened the dishwasher. It was there! My coffee mug! It was there, sitting in the dish washer against several other mugs, ceramic ones.
I couldn't believe it. I just couldn't believe that after all this time, all that searching, my coffee mug was at home, in the dishwasher of all places!
My vision began to get fuzzy. A culmination of the days events and my own angst over my coffee mugs whereabouts were catching up with me. I thought I heard a scream from behind me, but I couldn't be sure. The last thing I saw was that coffee mug, sitting there in the dish washer, looking so smug. And then my mind went blank.
Several miles away, Brandon, the young man that Matt had spoken with in the break room, leaned back in his comfy, leather seat with a satisfied smile plastered on his face.
“There!” He said cheerfully. “It's finally done.” He looked at his monitor and basked in his newest accomplishment. “My first short story. I think I'll call it 'The Quest for the Holy Coffee Mug'. What do you think, Bruno?”
The giant, fictional mutt that only existed in this story named Bruno, raised its head to look at him. It whined, then put its head back down on its paws and went to sleep.
“Yeah, I think it's a good name too.”