Saturday, August 28, 2004

Brown beans won't make you blue

Like it? 
Begging your pardon in advance if I slow down. I can't recall if I've had my coffee yet today.

And I do need coffee every day now. It's become my thing. Since coffee entered my life, I have a thing now. Got to stay sharp! Slow-roasted of mind! Finely ground of step! Vigilant to the last drop!

I wasn't always a regular coffee drinker. I recall it only vaguely, but mom and dad tell me that at one time mornings would see me squinting at bright lights, gauging the stubble on my chin as I reeled groggily into the kitchen for a bottle of bracing, warm baby formula.

I worked my way up to soda. As a boy I'd sit at the kitchen table for a breakfast of chourico and eggs, grunting something graceless at my sister by way of greeting, and whack an empty sippy cup on the table. I'd say, "Pepsi. Black."

When I was young, I tried a sip of coffee from my mom's mug. It tasted like old trees. I hated it and vowed to stay away from coffee for good. That sweet young lad is dead to me now.

Somehow, I managed to make it through four years of college--including early morning classes on three hours of sleep--without coffee. Students I knew and teachers I studied with would bring to class Dunkin' Donuts cups the size of champagne buckets. Instead, I lived on a strict diet of ice water and chocolate bars, keeping my body's energy furnace at a constant simmer.

Even when I began working for this newspaper, I didn't start drinking coffee right away. I held out for years, even though everybody else was chugging it, mostly to stay awake while writing deadly dull City Council stories.

Afternoons in the newsroom were often like this:


Scene: This newsroom. The reporters are typing away at old-fashioned Royal typewriters, muttering things to each other like, "Gee, what a scoop!" and "Say, Smitty, how's about lending me a sawbuck for the ponies?" The copy editors are busy drawing the next day's cartoons, and Dan is playing three-card monte with a group of Boy Scouts that has dropped by to see how journalism works.

DAN. (addressing audience) All the names have been changed to protect our identities.

(Horace, who was sneaking the names of people still alive onto the Obituaries page, stands up and cracks his back.)

HORACE. Say! I'm going out for coffee. Anybody want in?

ROSCOE. Large black, and make it qui-- (falls asleep)

MORTIMER. Octuple espresso.

PERCY. Iced IV drip with cream and two sugars.

CARY GRANT. (around a mouthful of half-chewed coffee beans) Gimme another 1-pound bag. I'm starting to blink again.

DAN. Can I have a hot cocoa?

(The typewriters fall silent. Somebody snickers. Then another. Pretty soon everybody--including the Boy Scouts--is pointing and guffawing.)

HORACE. Whipped cream on that, Sally?

DAN. (miserably) Yes.


But recently, I've begun to acquire a taste for coffee.

It started because my wife, who was a hardcore tea drinker, found that the tea wasn't working anymore.

She was on the green stuff, so she moved on to black tea. Then on to chai tea. When six cups of that daily wasn't keeping her alert anymore, she bought a coffee maker.

"Does it make cocoa in that thing?" I said when we first plugged it in.

"I don't know," she said, rifling through the box. "Let's see if I can find the baby instructions."

After an hour or so smelling the rich, Colombian aroma, I caved in and made myself a half a cuppa, heavy on the milk and sugar.

It was delicious. The next day, I made a little more. The day after that, I had a little more.

The next week, I gave Dunkin' Donuts coffee a whirl and liked that.

The week after that, I tried Starbucks and liked that even better.

I had gone from nursing a simple half-cup of coffee until 6 p.m. to sucking down one of those large Dunkin' Donuts iced lattes in seconds.

The caffeine started to get to me.

"You know what? You know what? You know what?" I said to my wife one day. "You know what? You know--"

"Yes! What, honey?"

I brandished the iced latte I was drinking at her, eyes bulging from their sockets. "The ice! Takes up too much room! In the cup! Room that could be taken up by more coffee!"

I began to foam at the corners of my mouth. She sipped at her own coffee and politely said nothing.

"These so aren't worth the price. But I can't stop. If I don't have my caffeine every day, I get awful headaches. Also, if I have too much caffeine, I get awful headaches."

She rubbed her temples. "Welcome to coffee addiction. Like me."

"I'm not an addict."

"Admit it and get it over with, honey," she said.

"I can quit any time I want," I said, running my finger along the bottom of the cup and popping it into my mouth.

In fact, I tried going off coffee one day this week. I was just fine, thanks. I woke up, had no coffee whatsoever, and then took a long nap. I woke up, had lunch, and then curled up on my favorite chair to sleep off this monster migraine that suddenly came upon me. I was conscious for a few minutes around dinner, and took a snooze before bed.

I slept for about 14 hours that night, and dreamed that I had a giant light switch planted in my forehead, but it was stuck in the off position.

The next day was warm, so I refreshed myself at work with an iced coffee. Horace handed it over with a tip of his cap.

"Thought you were giving those up, Chopper," Horace said.

I felt the smoky flavor slide down my throat, and all sorts of neurons in my brain started firing like crazy. A headache that had begun to throb behind my sinuses suddenly faded away like a bad dream. My eyes cleared, like milk swirling in a dark mug, and I floated in an ecstatic cloud of percolated bliss.

"I could, Horace old chum," I said. "We'll try again tomorrow."

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