We are told not to judge others, but the truth is, we do.  We judge people by their appearance, the clothes they wear, the car they drive, and whether they watch Fox News or CNN.  If we’re going to judge another human being, we need to do so on more appropriate criteria.  And a very good place to start is their coffee tables and the stuff they pile on them.

First of all, what exactly is a coffee table?  We normally think of it as a parallel plane on four legs that is slightly lower in height than the seat cushions of our sofa or couch.  It often reeks of lemon-scented Pledge as it is usually the most dusted and maintained piece of furniture in one’s home.  That is, if you have a maid or a housewife—a term endeared only by those women born prior to 1950. 

Coffee tables come in all shapes and sizes.  Though most are rectangular, others are oval-shaped, round, or square.  No matter the dimensions, most of them have knife-like edges that, when struck by a shin, often break the skin and the silence and promote unmentionable profanity that is heard by faraway neighbors on crisp, clear nights.

My coffee table is not really a coffee table at all.  It is a 12 inch by 1inch board cut to a 4-foot length and teetering on four legs which are reinforced by a 2 by 2 inch piece of wood between each leg.  Just another one of my great purchases from the Yard Sale-o-rama they used to hold across from the Scottsville Shopping Center parking lot.  Judge me as you may, but after two coats of maroon paint from the Colonial Williamsburg Historic Collection, it has become a very respectable place to rest a cup of coffee.

But does anyone really drink coffee while sitting on a sofa in front of a coffee table?  I doubt it.  Who has that kind of frivolous time?  Coffee is usually consumed while scurrying about in the morning preparing for work.  I usually rest my cup on the counter in the kitchen, then the back of the toilet while I shave, and then the dresser in the bedroom while I pull on my pants, shirt and mismatched socks.  Inevitably I forget about my cup of java until I return home at the end of the day and discover the milk-colored ring it has produced on the dresser.

So why do we continue to call these shin-injuring fixtures coffee tables?  Perhaps when more affluent citizens entertain other affluent citizens, they possibly serve coffee on their well-polished tables.  Needless to say, when you have cappuccino with the well-to-do, there is rarely a place to set your cup because of all the strategically placed coffee table books with their glossy covers.  I can’t believe some of the off-the-wall names of some of these coffee table books.  Aztec Influences in the Structural Development of Modern Society.  Organic Gardening without Manure.  The Undiscovered Wonders of Cheese.  Poems to Read While Sipping Coffee.  Who reads this stuff?  I am certain those having coffee don’t since it would be rude to peruse such interesting passages while conversing with the garden clubbers over coffee.

On the other hand, in an average household, the coffee table is a receptacle place for those items which have no permanent home in your home.  At any moment, a coffee table can be cluttered with as many items as it can support without collapsing under the strain.  On the average day you can find two or three overdue library books you have frequently thought about returning, but failed to do so, a box of Purina dog treats, the plastic box of a favorite DVD, an out-of-date issue of Sports Illustrated and Southern Living, a half-filled cup of Sunny Delight, a hair brush, a stack of folded Downy fresh clothes, and the ever-present channel clicker.  On another day, you might find a completely different menagerie of homeless items

So, the next time you are judging someone by the color of their skin, the brands they wear, the square footage of their home, or whether or not they watch Masterpiece Theater or Jerry Springer, you might just need a cup of reality.  Whether your guests are having General Foods International Coffee over a well-Pledged table on which there is arranged a bowl of potpourri and a glossy three inch thick book entitled The History of Wrought Iron, or guzzling Sanka near a more makeshift table with an ensemble of items such as Disney’s Frozen coloring book, crayons, an empty Dr. Pepper can, an 8-track tape of Johnny Cash’s Greatest Hits and a basket of clothes pins, be cautious of your situation.  Your coffee drinking companion just might be passing judgment as he or she scrutinized your coffee table and its contents. 

You laugh, but I believe that the past and present history of our ever-critical world has many examples that prove that men, woman, and children have too often been judged by even more ridiculous criteria than a shin-high piece of furniture that sits in the middle of our living room like a monument to our existence.      

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