“It shouldn’t be this difficult,” I mutter, between clenched teeth. Then again, this is my first time attempting this trick alone. In my car. During a late spring thunderstorm that is making life beyond my rain-streaked windshield as nebulous as life under Storm COVID-19.
“Why bother trying!” I exclaim. But no one is listening, neither the steering wheel nor the passenger’s seat.
Stupid me. I am trying to do the impossible – dunk the corner of a round Old-Fashioned donut into a steaming cup of regular coffee balanced ever so tenuously on my trembling right thigh. Again, why bother? Because the inside of Dunkin’ Donuts is closed, due to the virus, and I need to do something, one thing, that feels normal among myriad signs that life itself is abnormal.
Yes, dunking donuts has become my vaccine to the ramifications of COVID-19: wearing an ill-fitting protective cloth mask that rides up my nose, under my eyeglasses, and into the cornea of my eye; trying to canoodle with my wife from opposite sides of the bed, thanks to social distancing; dubbing waffles retrieved from the basement freezer a takeout meal; realizing that I just exhausted the last roll of toilet paper.
I’m from a family of historic donut dunkers and not even a pandemic would prevail over my will to pay homage to my two primary donuteers: Gramma P. and my daughter Brooke, aka Commander B.
When I was a kid, Gramma P. introduced me to the sport of donut dunking. Gramma was a hardened, yet often dubious gal who, along with my Grampa, worked long hours in a textile mill in Woonsocket, R.I. She worked hard, and she dunked harder. Gramma’s unique coffee concoction was brewed (not percolated) from hard water fished from the slick, fishy Blackstone River, with black beans imported from Nicaragua (so she said). The product? Two-hundred degree coffee as black and as bitter as burnt engine oil.
She proudly poured the searing liquid into a special titanium mug sprayed with an ablative material that absorbed and diffused the unbearable heat of the coffee like a NASA space craft’s heat shield deflected 3,000-degree heat during reentry.
To that tongue-punishing liquid went three ounces of extra creamy milk from Bert’s Dairy and three rounded spoonfuls of real sugar to create a concoction not since replicated by even the most skilled and sadistic barista.
Gramma completed the donut-dunking experience by grasping donut morsel between thumb and forefinger and very slowly lowering said pastry and digits into the lake of café-au-lait.
So, it was with this accompanying memory that I sought to complete my personal dunking experience, but from the front seat of my car.
While reminiscing over Gramma, I had gotten to the third quarter of my own dunking game: now, I had to dip the sweet clump of dough into my three-quarters-filled coffee cup (with coffee beginning to cool).
Do not wiggle the wrong way, I think. That’s when another patron, driving a black Mercedes Benz, passes my parked car and BEEEEEEEEPPPP, lays on the horn.
As if in slow-motion, I see my right hand stab at the coffee cup now wobbling upon my thigh, like a precious vase does during an earthquake. I watch in a suspended state of horror as the first three ounces of beige fluid erupt into the air and begin a slow waterfall toward the carpeted floor.
I shrug, pull out a stack of napkins, and do my best to sop up the spilled liquid. I take the now half-filled cup and place it securely into the console cup holder. Then I stuff into my mouth the remainder of my first donut and bid goodbye to the memory of Gramma and her famous donut dunks.
Enter Commander B into my mind’s eye.
In her mid-twenties, Brooke has never dunked a donut; I don’t think she has ever been to a DD, even. Still Brooke has become New England’s Donut Czar, operating a donut cartel reaching from Old Saybrook to northern Massachusetts.
Her product: Kane’s Donuts of Saugus, Mass.
Most casual donut consumers are familiar with the area’s best gourmet donut shops: Flanders Donuts, Dixie Donuts, Beach Donuts, etc. All produce very good donuts. Kane’s is for the serious donut imbiber, however, and for a few reasons. Its selection of gluten-free donuts is unmatched, a boon for Brooke, who cannot digest wheat. Second, its donuts are so big, one might think they are baked with growth hormones. For instance, a simple coffee roll is the size of a manhole cover. To the best of my knowledge, no human has eaten more than two at a single seating without exploding. Meanwhile, one requires a serving spoon to scoop out the sweet berry jelly from a standard jelly donut.
Not surprisingly, fans travel from around the globe to sample Kane’s award-winning products. Brooke, herself, has driven the 110-mile distance a number of times to return with Bloomingdales-sized bags stuffed with boxes of treats.
And by sharing a few samples with friends, today people place advance orders with her the way a horse gambler places bets with his most trusted bookie.
Now, with restrictions on interstate travel, Commander B is earning big bucks for stealthily crossing state lines to procure donuts for her sugar-starved customers.
Hopefully, neither the state police nor the FBI will descend upon our home and discover the 32 boxes of donuts held in storage, in our basement freezer. A respected second-year teacher, Brooke does not need “Donut Laundering” on her resume.
So, Brooke is making dough off of Kane’s baked dough. Me, I’m still trying to dink and dunk in my automobile. I may never succeed. Still, on this rainy morning, I am happy to enjoy a piece of normalcy, for it is the little things that count.
I ponder my future as a donut aficionado as I start my car. Then I don my protective mask. It’s time to go to the front lines, to serve mankind, and hope that I live another day. To dunk another donut.
Post Script: Big News! My wife Deb says she is joining Brooke and me on the “Donut Train.”
Bryan Ethier is a veteran freelance writer, former editor of the Main Street News, and author of four nonfiction books. He possesses a BA in Journalism from the University of Rhode Island and a PDD (Professional Donut Doctorate) from Chocolate Cruller University. Email him at email@example.com if you’d like to join the Donut Train.