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ESPRESSO IN THE BACKYARD /Photo by Carmela Cunningham

I love my wife, but she does this thing that drives me nuts. Her birthday was coming up and she says, “you know what it would be nice to have? An espresso machine so we can brew our own espressos and lattes.” And I say, “that’s great honey. Why don’t you go and buy one?”

But that’s not good enough for her. She wants me to buy an espresso machine for her. I just don’t get it.

We don’t have separate bank accounts. My money is her money and vice versa. But, she wants me to go out and buy an espresso machine for her. I’m not only supposed to buy it, I am also supposed to pick it out, purchase it, then wrap it up in festive paper and give it to her on her birthday.

I don’t even want an espresso machine. And, since it’s her birthday, shouldn’t I be the one to pick out the gift – no matter how lame it might be? And that’s kind of the point. I do pick out lame gifts that she kind of looks at, politely smiles, and shoves in a drawer someplace never to see the light of day again. But, I love my wife and if she wants an espresso machine, I want her to have one.

So this year, I give in. I shop around online and buy an espresso machine – determined to get something that will please her, even though I’m not really a huge fan of coffee, much less espresso.

What I could have gotten her was the Mr. Coffee 4-Cup Steam Espresso System with Milk Frother, EMC160 for $35.99. Obviously not good enough for my baby. What I finally settle on is the DeLonghi ESAM3300 Magnifica Super-Automatic Espresso/Coffee Machine. It was fancy, sleek, Italian, and many times more expensive than the Mr. Coffee 4-Cup Steam Espresso. But that’s OK, if it makes my baby happy.

It was a complicated transaction.  Since I couldn’t have it delivered to our house, I had my niece Bailey order it and have it delivered to her house. And she very kindly agreed to wrap it for me, since when I wrap gifts they end up looking like some wadded up mess of tape and paper that you find in the back of a hoarder’s closet. And being a good niece, Bailey even bought a gift of her own – a set of two glass espresso cups – elegant tiny little things from which one might sip while sitting at some outdoor café on a narrow street in Roma.

The instructions that came with the machine consisted mostly of little tiny pictures. Some with a circle and a line through it, meaning don’t do this. I hate little pictures like that. It’s like don’t brew an espresso with the machine balanced on the rim of the tub while you’re taking a bath. It may sound old fashioned, but I come from a generation that actually read words rather than tiny hieroglyphics.

Luckily, the machine also came with a 28-minute CD containing a video.. This means I had to watch the entire video in order to figure out how to work the machine and how to program it. Push down one button to put it in a program mode, push another one to set the program, then a third one according to how hot I want my espresso.

In order to make the experience as excruciating as possible, the video is backed by one of those computer-generated music scores – the kind of thing that can suffice either for an instruction manual on fly fishing or a porno film in which the pool cleaning guy seduces a lonely housewife. The secrets of the machine are explained by a monotone narrator who talks like an elementary school teacher trying to explain vowels and consonants to a muddle-headed third-grader

After hours of study, I was finally able to make an espresso, which I think tasted bitter and disgusting, but which my dear wife found delightful. And really, that’s all that mattered.

Next step: cappuccinos, café lattes, café macchiatos, café mochas, and café Americanos.

And one more thing. After all the frustration and work to get my baby’s Magnifica Super-Automatic Espresso/Coffee Machine actually working, I’ve decided that I’m going to become an espresso drinker myself.

I’ve got too much invested not to.

George Lee Cunningham

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