I got there early, somehow, and got all the paperwork done.

A chipper nurse named Missy escorted me to a waiting room and supervised the emptying of my pockets, removal of my wristwatch, and the loss of my suspenders and glasses. Then she slid a needle into my right arm and fitted it with a port so they could run some kind of tracing fluid into my veins once they had me inserted into the MRI. I don’t know what it was, but it’s designed to make the veins and arteries in my brain visible.

Because I’ve had a variety of work experiences and have worked around metal grinding and welding equipment and because I once had a bristle from a wire brush stuck in my eye, I had to get my eyes x-rayed before they would give me the MRI. Turns out the magnets in the MRI are so strong, any steel screws, staples or assorted scrap metal anywhere near the magnets gets pulled right out. They said that would hurt. A lot.

A quick note of explanation. I’m not dying, at least, not any faster than anybody else. Without getting into the matter any further, my doc and I figured it might be a good time to check under the hood.

After finishing her plumbing duties, Missy led me down the hallways, she toting a clipboard with my charts and me trying to keep my pants up, down the hallway to a room. She was a little irritated because I had to take an important work-related call and send a quick email before I surrendered my cell phone to the storage locker.

One last turn in the maze and Missy opened a big, thick door.

There it was.

It looked like a gray plastic mausoleum, the burial chamber of somebody important named GE. I looked at the opening with misgivings. It looked like a modernized version of a groundhog’s burrow. Or something very Freudian…the militarized version.

Missy and another woman got me situated on the slab of steel and plastic and fastened something like a cage around my head and jammed foam plugs into my ears. Missy put a rubber bulb in my left hand and said I should squeeze it if I felt like I needed to come out.

“Comfortable?” Missy asked. Except, with the plugs in my ears, it sounded like “cumferubble?”

“What?” I said, as the slab began to slide smoothly into the bore of the MRI machine.

I felt like a shell being shoved down the throat of a cannon.

“You might want to squinch your shoulders in a little,” shouted Missy so I could hear her through the plugs. “It looks like a tight fit.”

I’m a big guy. Too big, to be honest. More than six feet, and a tad over 300. A big tad.

I scrunched. I slid. My nose rested a fraction of an inch from the inside of the tube. My shoulders rolled forward to up around my ears. My considerable gut smooshed up tightly around about three-quarters of the surface, cutting off all the light from that end me. The other end of the tube was open, but I couldn’t see. All I could see was the white plastic two inches from my nose.

I realized suddenly that I would spend the next half hour tucked like a cork in a bottle while loud mechanical noises crunched and crashed all around me and powerful magnetic waves would wash over my poor addled brain cells. Half an hour. A not inconsiderable slice of eternity, from that perspective.

I think I busted the little rubber bulb.

“We haven’t started yet, Mr. Burger,” Missy said.

My reply was perhaps a little brusque.

“Hang on….” She said, as the slab began to slide back the way it had come. I will swear on a stack of bibles that I made a popping sound when my midsection cleared the rim.

I was soaking wet. They had asked me in one of the questionnaire’s if I was claustrophobic. I wasn’t. Not when I was filling out the form, anyway.

NOW I’m claustrophobic.

As luck would have it, they have another machine that does not make one feel as though they have been imprisoned in a giant condom, and the patient scheduled for that machine was late. We went through the same drill. Inside, my nose was no further from the surface, but the sides were open, which I could just barely see out of the corner of my eye.

It was enough. I spent 45 minutes (evidently that machine takes longer) listening to what sounded like robots on roller skates playing racquetball with several old cars, alternately firing laser cannons. Even with the ear plugs, it was quite a racket.

Oddly, I feel asleep several times, awaking with a start when the noise stopped while the technician did something or the other to reset the machine. Perhaps the robots needed more old cars to slap around.

After it was all over, Missy led me back to the changing room, removed the plumbing from my arm, and told me I could re-load my pockets and person with all my assorted hardware. Still shaky, it took me awhile to sort out my suspenders and get them back in place without any knots.
I don’t know the results of the test yet. I like to think if they found anything interesting – my father’s cameo ring I lost when I was 12, or any of that stuff I memorized in the eighth grade – they would have called. So I’m not too worried.

The next night, I went to dinner with friends. We had wine. When the bottle was empty, I picked up the cork and started to put it back in the bottle for some reason. I stopped, pulled it back out and left it on the table.

© 2010 Marsh Creek Media, Gettysburg, Pa.
Burger to Go” is a product of me and my company, Marsh Creek Media and, as such, I am solely responsible for its content.
Check out the two “Burger to Go” blogsites:


It was not going to be a typical cup of coffee.

I sat in Cafe di Luna, an intimate little coffee shop at 1004 N. Third Street in Harrisburg’s evolving midtown neighborhood, waiting to sample the world’s most expensive coffee.

A word of explanation. I’m a coffee guy. Given a choice in a restaurant, I will almost always have either coffee or water, or both.

But I’m no connoisseur. I spent a lot of my life swilling down inky liquids in truck repair shops and can honestly say I’ve choked down some of the worst java on the planet for the sake of the caffeine.

To your good health.

But I prefer the good stuff. Just plain coffee, usually with cream, thanks. None of this sugary, dressed-up stuff for me, thanks. This is not a stance of machismo. I just have too much respect for the bean.

It’s all about the bean, says Ambreen Esmail, the radiant owner of the shop. She can, and sometimes does, go on at great length about the differences and similarities between what turns out to be hundreds or thousands of different kinds of coffee.

All this to a guy who thought there were only three: regular, decaf and instant. (Instant, in my book, is to be used only the way a first-aid kit is to be used, when something has gone wrong and there are no bullets on which to bite.)

So, the coffee was brewing. The coffee is called kopi luwak.

In one sense, it comes from Indonesia. In another sense, it comes from somewhere else. More on that in a moment.

Did I mention that it’s the most expensive coffee in the world? Try about $150 per pound. Give or take. That works out to about $10 a cup.

Feeling awake yet? That’s what I thought.

Now, the really interesting thing is where kopi luwak comes from. Yes, I know. I said it comes from Indonesia. I meant “where it comes from” in a somewhat more intimate sense.

The kopi luwak is made with the help of paradoxurus hermaphrodites, or the
Asian palm civet, a creature known in the native lingo as the luwak. Did I hear an “uh-oh,” out there?

The luwak is a cute little thing, sort of like a cross between a ferret and a monkey, and about that size. I don’t know if they make good pets.

The luwak eats fruit. Apparently, its favorite nom-nom of all is the fruit of the coffee tree or bush or whatever it is. The coffee fruit is called a cherry, because it pretty much resembles that fruit. The luwak eats the cherries because it obtains nutrition from the fruit pulp. Its body has no use for the pit of the fruit, which we think of as the coffee bean.

You see where this is going, right? Take a flashlight. It’s dark down there.

Anyway, the coffee cheery wends its way through the luwak’s little gut. The fruit pulp gets digested and the pit doesn’t. It does get changed, mind you; digestive enzymes seep into the beans and do some things that would only interest a chemist.

And then, the beans, um, see daylight again.

The luwak emissions are then collected by somebody who I would guess is fairly low on the coffee plantation’s pecking order, washed, dried in the sun, roasted lightly, packed and sent off to coffee connoisseurs around the world.

First, let me say I am probably thinking the same thing that you are. Who, in the name of all that’s holy, was the first to look down at a hot little pile of luwak doo and think: “Hey, I’ll bet that would make a good cuppa joe!”

I think whoever it was may have been related to the first person who looked at artichokes and lobsters and uttered similar words. In their native conditions, the one has the shape and general hardness of a fragmentation grenade, and the other looks like a large bug with entirely too many legs and a fondness for dead things it finds on the sea floor. But, cooked right and dipped in drawn butter…oh, my.

Surprisingly, the same is true of the kopi luwak, without the butter.

The research I did on the bean said the changes wrought in the luwak’s little gut made the coffee made from the beans much less bitter, though passing through the gut of a tree-dweller would probably leave me pretty doggone bitter, to say the least.

So, back to the tasting.

Ambreen brought out a variety of mugs – I don’t think she has two that are exactly alike – and served everybody their first cup of kopi luwak.

It looked like – dare I say it? – coffee. Sort of reassuring and disappointing at the same time, if you know what I mean. I had smelled some of the roasted but unground beans earlier, and they had smelled…good. Not exactly like other coffee beans, but not terribly unlike, either.

The kopi was lighter than the dark roasts I prefer, but not as light as the weak brews one gets in most restaurants. I picked up my mug. The people in the room were making jokes about the “monkey butt coffee.”

I sipped.


I sipped again.

Not bad.

In fact, quite good. Aromatic, more gentle on the taste buds than the coffees I prefer, but, even so. Not something I’d order regularly – not at 10 bucks a pop — but definitely a great cup of java.

Everybody in the room was nodding, smiling.

Not to be ignored is the “cool” factor, of course. Whenever anybody reads about kopi luwak and mentions it, we can all say, “oh, I’ve had that.”

But, honestly, I left the little shop on Third thinking I’d love to have just a little of it with me on my next trip to Maine. A good steaming cup of kopi, a nice lobster and a side of artichoke.

Oh, my.

It was September in Key West, well past midnight and quite warm.

The pier on which we sat stretched out pale and luminescent under a clear sky and a full moon, far out into pale jade water. The lounge chairs creaked now and then as one or the other of us shifted our weight.

We rarely spoke, there at the southernmost tip of our country, while hell raked Cuba, 90 miles away.

The sky glittered cloudless overhead. The southern horizon, however, glowered an inky, impenetrable black, laced throughout with lightning. From east to west, as far as vision could follow, a constant curtain of lightning, a steady growl of thunder filled the air, a continuo under the quiet lapping of the water and sighing of the wind. We sat, transfixed, for hours.

I never hear thunder that I don’t think of that storm, and the eerie, jeweled spot from which I watched it.

This week has been one of storms where I live now. Some pretty good ones, too; lots of wind and rain, lightning and thunder. A little flooding here and there, branches and wires down.

Not the biggest we’ll get, mind you. Those will come mid-summer, real Old Testament howlers that come down from the Appalachians and stomp around like God in a royal snit.

I love storms. I don’t like the damage they do, but that sort of comes with the territory. I’ve been lucky over the years and avoided being injured or having a lot of property damage. Well, there was the time when parts of a mobile home I was living in wandered away during a big winter gale about 25 years ago. To tell you the truth, the morning after that storm, I was a little bit surprised when I looked outside that my home hadn’t changed ZIP codes.

As I said, I love storms. As a kid I used to climb a pine tree in our back yard and ride the wind-bursts. Obviously, my parents knew nothing about this. Just as obviously, the tree wasn’t in a place that attracted lightning, or this column would be a lot shorter.

I think I like being reminded that humans are really not as in charge as we’d like to think we are. Few things do that as well as extravagant weather. Simple-minded evangelicals like to use bad weather as proof of our iniquity, that God is punishing us for our sins. But they miss the point entirely. So much preaching comes down to ego, when you come down to it. The universe, in that world view, was created as a stage for us to conduct our little morality plays. It’s all about us.

We really need to get rid of that whole idea. Storms are random. Nature itself has its own purpose, its own dance to perform. And we’re caught up in it, an integral part, to be sure, but only a part. I am an atheist, but I sometimes like to imagine God up there, rolling storms down off the east slope of South Mountain like so many atmospheric bowling balls, just to see what happens.

© 2010 Marsh Creek Media, Gettysburg, Pa.
Burger to Go” is a product of me and my company, Marsh Creek Media and, as such, I am solely responsible for its content.
Check out the two “Burger to Go” blogsites: