Cascading Catastrophes

Coffee Maker

I need coffee in the morning.

Not only do I need it – but the cats need it, my wife needs it and hapless drivers on the road, all need my coffee. 

I am worthless and dangerous without it.

So yesterday, when I removed the coffee maker basket to pour in the grounds, it slipped out of my hand.  No worries, it is made of durable plastic and will probably outlast me.

Maybe because it was so tough, it bounced.  It then hopped across the kitchen tiles and skidded through the basement door, briefly visiting each step on its way down the stairs. 

Desperate for coffee, I chased after it.

The last glimpse I caught of the basket was of it making a mad dash for the junk pile.

Let me explain this pile.

THE PILE IN THE BASEMENT is where everything goes when we have nowhere else to put it.  Consequently, THE PILE is where most of our stuff is. 

It’s huge, it’s chaotic and it’s where the coffee maker basket chose to hide.

It is always like this.  Things do not just go wrong for me; they go catastrophically wrong.  They also have an uncanny knack for choosing the precise instant when I am the most vulnerable – like in the morning.

System designers know all about this – it is called Cascading Catastrophes.  This is a riff on Murphy’s Law. 

Nature not only sides with the hidden flaw but gleefully uncovers every one of a multitude of flaws hidden by the first.  It is why computers crash, airplanes drop out of the sky and an ex-wrestler named Jesse Ventura was elected governor of Minnesota.

It is something that only a God with a wry sense of humor could create.

When things go wrong, especially for me, like dropping the coffee maker basket, it is the things that come after that are catastrophic.  Like the skittering across the floor toward a door left open – which leads to a stairway – whose purpose is to funnel all object ricocheting down it toward the biggest junk pile in the history of basements.

So what to do?

I couldn’t risk the lives of countless pedestrians by driving to the nearest coffee shop. Nor could I ask a neighbor for coffee because in our rural area, the nearest neighbor is too far away to get to without coffee – and besides, the way locals make coffee around here, you have to add water to thicken it up.

I suppose I could have dialed 911 – but lacking coffee, I also lacked the ability to punch three digits into my cell phone.


I methodically moved everything from THE PILE to ANOTHER PILE.  When I was done, I still hadn’t found the coffee maker basket, so I methodically moved everything from THE OTHER PILE back to THE PILE but this time, I made it a point to open every box and thoroughly search the contents, least the coffee maker basket be hiding – and it was.

I found it tucked inside a cookie jar, a jar with a lid on it.  How that happened is beyond mortal reasoning.  Suffice it to say though, I found it and was able to brew a pot of coffee.

A little while later, I was driving on a stretch of road that narrows through a bottomless peat bog affectionately known as the Minnesota Mosquito Refuge – when a fawn stepped onto the road, a big green combine backed out of a drive-way and something went THUNK deep in the bowls of my truck’s engine compartment.

Oh….., but that is a story for another day.

Author: Almost Iowa

33 thoughts on “Cascading Catastrophes”

  1. I am still stuck on how it managed to get into the cookie jar? Like how did that actually happen.
    Currently my whole house is your pile. We are renovating and it’s just crazy.

  2. Well, at least all that happened AFTER you found the coffee maker basket and so were able to drink your coffee first! It would have been even worse otherwise…..

  3. I don’t have a pile any more; I’ve gotten it down to a closet. Still, I understand the experience of cascading catastrophes, and despite my laughter, you have my sympathies. As for coffee: I grew up among Swedes who clearly believed that it’s coffee flowing in our veins, and keeping the supply topped off is critical. Maybe that’s why I love this song as I do. It could be your morning anthem.

  4. There is no morning without ‘good’ coffee first and foremost. I would have chased that basket down if it rolled outside, went through the veggie garden to the perennial bed, and right into the middle of the raspberry row thorns and all. I wake up, put my feet on the floor, and the coffee in the basket. 🙂 Now, I’ll be waiting to hear all about Bambi, the combine, and the thunk, but I’ll finish my afternoon coffee first. 🙂

    1. I can just picture it.

      Neighbor: Whatchya doing, Judy?

      You: Chasing a coffee maker basket.

      Neighbor: Hey, I’m missing the lid to my mixer. It was here just a minute ago. You think they eloped?

      You: Until I have had my coffee, anything is possible.

  5. I would have never looked in a cookie jar. I think you must be clairvoyant, Greg. Glad you got the coffee. Can’t wait for the avoid the fawn story.

  6. I feel your pain. Not the lack of coffee pain because I don’t drink it.. but the pile pain. We (make that the husband, I’m not taking credit for his crap) have a cellar pile, a garage pile, a baby barn pile, a woodshed pile, a den closet pile and an entire top floor of the Barn Mahal pile. Piles. They multiply at an alarming rate.

  7. It’s good you had your coffee for that drive, Greg. And congrats on finding the basket in the pile! I think most of us have a pile if we have the space to amass one. 🙂 🙂

    1. There is the ultimate question, one that has driven my career as a system architect.

      Do we build capacity knowing that all systems eventually exceed any capacity we build….. or do we diet?

  8. This is proof of not only God’s sense of humor, but also of Junk Pile Imps who steal what skitters toward them and hide it in a cookie jar.

  9. I have had days like this. Everything goes wrong all at once. We have a junk pile on the back porch since we lack a basement. I keep the door securely closed to avoid searching for an escaped coffee maker.

  10. At least you had your coffee before swerving into the combine to miss the fawn. The accident would have been bad enough but try to image being carted off to the ER without coffee.

  11. Ask not on whom the pile pulls, it pulls on thee…or something like that. I have similar cache spots in my own basement.
    Your fawn reference made me think of ‘Bambi vs Godzilla.’ It’s on YouTube, and was a smash hit in my college days. 🥺

    1. IMHO “Bambi vs Godzilla.” was the greatest film of all time. Bambi’s role was nuanced and brilliant while the part of Godzilla was a smashing success.

      I don’t know if you remember the late Al Milgrom, known as the Godfather of the Twin Cities’ film scene, but back then I worked for the University AV department, how is that for being a geek?

      Anyways, for various reasons, Al was banned from the building and late one night when I was working alone, there came a knocking on a window during a torrential rain and there was Al, soaked to the skin, “I just need something light, say 5 minutes in length.”

      I don’t know if I gave him “Godzilla” but probably something like it.

      1. For a brief moment, I thought you were gonna tell me you opened the window and a raven flew on. Quoth the raven….

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