Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Germany 6: The Great Coaster Quest

I have been on a quest for a while now. Ever since SH and I met.

Wait. No. Before that.

This is a problem that predates SH. This is the eternal Coaster Problem.

Let us start with a philosophical question. I always like to define the framework of the discussion before I get into the specifics, which makes SH nuts, because he wants to pin me down on a particular issue, then generalize it to show that the Polka Dot Party is Bad. I want to argue from the general to the specific and show how the general application of a philosophy is the better action.

Here is the question.

What is the function of a coaster?

Sounds easy, I know.

The function of a coaster is to protect your furniture by keeping liquid off it.

If that's the case, why is it so hard to find a coaster that will do that?

There are lovely coasters available that will enhance your decor but will not protect your furniture. A marble coaster is pretty but liquid rolls right off it.

Let me interject something here. Those of you in dry climates are maybe scratching your head asking, What on earth is she talking about? The liquid is on the inside of the glass!

In an ideal world, yes, the liquid is contained to the inside of the glass.

In a humid, Memphis or Milwaukee world, fluids have a way of accumulating on the outside of the glass as well and then rolling down the outside of the glass where they pool on the coaster and then run onto the end table you bought for five dollars at the Salvation Army store, relieved of its gloppy yellow paint, then sanded with #140 sandpaper before covering with the sheerest coat of varnish, allowing the loveliness of the maple to glow.

Water + maple = bad.

Stated more broadly, water + wood = bad.

So why is it so hard to find a coaster that will prevent the condensation from spilling onto the furniture? I have been looking for years.

A few months ago, SH and his friend Tom came home from a tour of the old Pabst brewery. "Look!" he announced. "Coasters!"

He held up some thick paper coasters emblazoned with the Pabst logo.

"Cool!" I told him as I rubbed them between my fingers. "A coaster that will actually absorb liquid! I've been looking for something like that forever!"

He snatched the coasters out of my hand.

"Those aren't to USE!" he gasped. "They're ANTIQUES! They cost two dollars each!"

"Then shouldn't we at least get some use out of them?" I asked.

He hid his hand behind his back. "Don't touch them," he hissed.

But now I knew what I was looking for. I like to sit in the living room and read a book and have a glass of water. But I don't want to ruin my furniture. Decent absorbent coasters would solve the problem.

My first afternoon in Munich, I wandered through the Viktuelenmarkt (that may or may not be spelled right - it's a giant outdoor market/beer garden). As I wandered, I gazed around me. My gaze fell to the ground. Where I saw three paper coasters.

It was like a sign.

A sign that I was supposed to have coasters. With German beer logos on them.

I picked them up, dusted them off, and put them into my purse. Finders keepers.

That night, we ate at a biergarten. This is the place that wouldn't let me have free tap water and where there was a tip lady sitting outside of the bathroom. I had to share SH's beer even though I don't like beer just because I was thirsty and then I was supposed to pay to unload the beer that I didn't even like.

There was a stack of coasters on the table.

It was a second sign. That I was supposed to have two more German beer logo coasters.

Reader, I stole the coasters.

Yes I did. I stole the coasters. And not only did I steal two but I stole four. Then, as we were walking out of the restaurant, SH handed me two more that unbeknownst to me, he had slipped into his pocket.

Oh how sad it is to see someone slip over to the dark side and how frightening it is to know how easy it is to cross that line.

Then I had to pay. Literally. The next day, I went into a small shop with cool German stuff. Not touristy, souvenir stuff, but cool things that happened to be German. Including thick - 3/8" - felt coasters in bright colors.

Oh I hearted.

But they were 2.80 euros each, which is almost $4.20 but not quite but I don't feel like doing the math GARY.

Spending almost $4.20 apiece on coasters seemed just wrong.

I left the shop.

I walked around. I took photos. I bought lip gloss at a drugstore because I had forgotten my chapstick. I looked in a bookstore for my friend Jeff Abbott's new bestselling book. I bought three small rolls at a bakery and took one of the pizza samples, which had some very chewy, gristly bacon on it that I had to spit out after I made sure nobody was watching me. I would have put the gristle into a trash can but there were none to be seen and I could not bear to keep that stuff in my mouth.

The whole time, those coasters haunted me.

Four coasters would be about 16 dollars.

For coasters. Coasters!

But. They were German coasters. Special. They would be imported. I could brag about them. Not that I would be obviously bragging. It would be more subtle. When my book club friends would come to my house, someone would say, "Cool coasters! I've never seen a coaster like that before."

I would say, casually, "Oh those? Yeah, I picked those up the last* time I was in Munich. Would anyone like some more Memphis Junior League onion dip?"

See how that works? You just slip it in.

And then there was the fact that I had been seeking coasters for years and had been foiled over and over again.

Fine. I was going to splurge. I was going to get the coasters.

I marched back to the store. Threw down my cash because of course they would not take a credit card. The clerk carefully wrapped my cherry-red felt coasters in paper to protect them from the air and handed them to me. I slipped them into my bag and left, $16 poorer but four coasters richer.

When SH and I went to Andechs Abbey, we found more paper coasters. If that wasn't a sign that we were supposed to have German beer logo coasters, I don't know what. We had found our destiny.

* Because I go to The Continent so frequently, you know.


Jennifer Fitz said...

We registered for, and received, bunches of marble coaster with cork on top. I see looking at one that it is slightly carved out on top, so the drink sits in a 2mm depression, so liquid doesn't drip away.

Work great. Great enough that if you drop one and it breaks into three pieces, it becomes a puzzle-coaster. No sense throwing a perfectly good, some-assembly required coaster.

Dorrie said...

coasters are so common, I forgot they could be special to someone. But I actually bought some souvenire ones in Prague a couple of weeks ago (I used to collect bracelet charms but they don't exist anymore, coasters will have to do).

Coasters are used at restaurants/beer gardens to keep track of the drinks....the waiter jots down the drinks ordered on them.

If you would REALLY like some original German coasters, I could possibly send you tons! ;-)

John0 Juanderlust said...

My solution is to get very rugged furniture which doesn't flinch at the touch of liquids. But then there was a time I didn't know good salt from bad, so maybe I am not a good source of domestic solutions

John0 Juanderlust said...

Wow, you're pals with a real novelist who gets paid and everything. I have to read his books. His interview was interesting on NPR. I'll bet his books are good, too. Hope I can find them at the used book store. If not maybe I'll pay in the way any author would prefer.

Class factotum said...

Jennifer, see, I am not the only one who has considered this problem. BTW, have you thought about selling puzzle coasters?

Dorrie, perhaps you could hold on to those coasters and I'll get them the next time I come.

John, this is the Good furniture. And yes, Jeff's books are very good. I prefer the more recent ones as opposed to his earlier Whit and Jordy novels, even though they are set in Texas, which is nice.