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Zak of All Trades: What's in a mug... besides my coffee?

November 15, 2013

It all started with a trip up and down the aisles at the local Goodwill store — browsing what others had deemed unnecessary for their enjoyment or survival in their own homes.

The purpose of my visit was to stop by and pick up a few extra sweaters — my idea of dressing up for work in the winter — as a few of mine had gone the wayside themselves over the course of a few moves and a few seasons too many having worn them.

So, there I found myself, walking the aisles. I recently moved into a new house, and I love walking back and forth in these sorts of stores, seeing if there's anything I can catch at a bargain that might bolster my own enjoyment of the place I call home.

After the clothing racks were covered, I headed back to the furniture department, where I browsed for an end table that matches the one I already have — at least sort of matches, as I'm not all that picky.

But this particular trip to the furniture department proved fruitless, as the selection included only a few desks and vintage chairs — neither of which I had any room for in my new place.

So, with that, I decided to make my way to the checkout. But as I was en route, I came across a pair of families talking in the main aisle, and not wanting to disturb them, I detoured through the housewares section — one I rarely even swing through.

And there — right before my eyes — was the most beautiful mug I've ever seen.

I'm a coffee drinker — I blame it on my days as a campus minister where I had to learn to keep up with the college kids, but editing and staying on your toes at the paper each night lends to the habit, as well.

I knew when I first saw it that I had to have it — and so, I bought it for a steal of a deal at $1.99. "It" was a mug — with Princeton Tower Club - 1998 — marked on the front.

But it wasn't the insignia that made me pick it up. It was the colossal size. Made to hold what seemed a gallon — and what proved to be four "cups" of coffee — this was just the mug for my morning routine.

You see, I start my day by waking upstairs and running down to brew a pot of coffee in my kitchen. Then, I return upstairs to shower and get ready for my day. Once that's done, I head back downstairs and pour a cup of warm coffee for my morning reading/writing time.

Problem is, when I'm ready for a refill, I've always had to run back downstairs, and that first cup usually lasts about 14 seconds past when it's cool enough to drink.

With this mug in hand, I can now enjoy four different mugs all in one sitting, greatly reducing the number of trips up and down the steps and the chances of spilling coffee on my new carpet during one of those trips.

Something I love about thrift stores is the fact that these items we purchase each have a history. There is nothing new about them,
and they ended up here because they were deemed unnecessary by someone.
Unnecessary, but not useless.

This mug was just what I was looking for to fulfill my morning routine's greatest purpose — even though I didn't know I was even looking for it.

Everything I know about this mug's origins, I learned from Wikipedia:

• And I quote: "Princeton Tower Club is one of the eleven eating clubs at Princeton University in Princeton, New Jersey, United States. ... Tower is located at 13 Prospect Avenue between the university-run Campus Club and the recently reopened Cannon Club; it currently has a membership of approximately 190 undergraduates."

• As far as its history, it was started by four sophomores' idea in 1902 to form the upper class eating club — which is apparently a Princetonian term for private institutions that serve as both dining halls and social houses.

• Only current students can be members of the Tower Club, and members are selected through a process called "bicker" — which includes interviews and is incredibly secretive to "preserve club tradition."

So, I don't know the exact history of my mug. I can assume that the member whose mug I possess was an active student in 1998.

I can assume that the insignia on the mug is actually the insignia of the club.

I can also assume that you couldn't just purchase this mug — or, maybe more appropriately, stein — as a part of a fundraiser. It seems like the kind of thing that would be issued.

But, you know what they say about people who assume, right?

Truth be told, I know absolutely nothing about the history of this mug.

In reality, it could be that the Ivy Club — Princeton's
oldest eating club — made these mugs to mock the Tower Club. I don't know.

All I know is that at this point in its history, it sits on my desk as I type this column.

The items that surround us have history, and oh, the stories they could tell, right?

From where I'm seated, I can see my Tootsie Roll bank — a huge tower that has held my change since high school. It's been marred with stickers I collected over the years and still holds the change despite my disregard for its appearance. Oh, the stories this bank could tell.

I can see the lamp that's been my bedroom lamp since I was a kid. Going on 30 years old, that lamp has seen it all. It has no lampshade left to protect it from the elements, and yet, it provides me with light when I hit its switch. Oh, the stories this lamp could tell.

Then, there's the sweater I bought at the thrift store last year. It's become one of my favorites, and over the past year, it could tell you lots of stories about me. But before that, it had a history with other folks. At least one previous owner is evident in some of the snag marks and the minor stretching around the neckline. Oh, the stories this sweater could tell.

We all have a story to tell. We're all writing a history. If the objects in our lives could tell their stories about us, what would they say?
I suppose we'll never know.

I'm glad I get to tell my stories here.

Zak Lantz is the editor of The Spirit and wonders if the owner of the great mug/stein that inspired this column may actually read this column.

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