Ode to Coffee

In keeping with the Spring thing, and what enslavements I need to be liberated from: I would have to say that one of my worst is coffee.  It’s not so much the caffeine – why, I can drink a mug of it and go right to sleep – merely proving that coffee has reached toxic levels in my system and no longer functions as it would/should/could in its role of helper drug.

What actually has me addicted is the thick, rich, sublimity of it: the smell, the taste, the warm cozy feel, especially on a chilly rainy day.  It’s also the ritual: My favorite place to write is in cafés, a habit begun long ago in NYC.  I can barely focus when I’m at home, but give me a seat in a noisy café, a nice cup of joe, thickened up with some half and half, and the voices in the background become a soothing murmuring as I scribble away. Coffee is part of the dark little hole I go into when I have pen in hand: steamy, engrossing, fragrant. Of course I’m sitting here drinking a mug of it as I write.

I’ve been drinking coffee like it’s water for decades.  It started when I was a kid in NYC and hated the lead/chlorine taste and smell of tap water.  I would drink anything but, and when I was old enough, coffee and tea became my constant companions: a cappuccino or two in the morning, and a pot of tea after work.  After dance class, nothing tasted better than a tall iced cappuccino.  Of course, as with so many things as one gets older, the results of this long-term relationship are really beginning to show now: the inside of my mouth begins to pucker dry after about 12 ounces; the lining of my stomach is sharpened and raw.

Coffee is, though delicious, not good for me.  I ingest it daily, which is more than I can say for fruit.  It’s this bizarre choice I make, willingly, cup in hand, about to refill, between Life and slow Death.  Since it doesn’t even grow in this northern climate, I almost hope for the day the shit hits the fan just so I won’t have access to it anymore.  But, like a true addict, if I smell it, I have to drink it:  It’s my default beverage.

Someone recently told me that one of his difficulties with quitting smoking is that cigarettes are part of his self-identity: He imagines himself, and he’s holding a cigarette.  I feel the same way about coffee:  I imagine myself writing, and I’m drinking coffee.  I imagine myself reading, and I’m drinking coffee.  It’s pavlovian: words on paper equal coffee.

Once, after a long and crazy day trip to Mt. Rainier, I got back to Olympia too late in the evening to find a café where I could decompress.  I opted for the back corner of the back room at the old Fishbowl.  I ordered a pint of organic amber and proceeded to write for hours.  This seemed to work just as well as being in a café drinking coffee, but I decided that becoming an alcoholic wasn’t much of an upgrade.

A number of years ago, I’d managed to stop drinking the stuff altogether.  I had actually gotten myself to a dang near raw diet, most certainly Ital (natural, pure and clean: Rastafari).  What happened?  I don’t know.  It’s as if this one familiar thing in my ever-changing life is my only sense of constancy.  It grounds me.

I read in some group health magazine recently that coffee is actually good for you: 2-3 cups a day provide necessary antioxidants!  Imagine that!  And all this time I thought it was rotting my bones and decaying my teeth.  You say, oh, that’s the sugar.  But I don’t use sugar!

It does seem unfair that this one little pleasure should be so bad for my body. But really, it’s the lack of moderation that does it.  Once in awhile would make it a special treat; daily makes it enslavement. Perhaps my dedication to freedom will filter through one day, and with all things I espouse liberation from, I will finally include my own personal daily dose of decay.

Meanwhile, each morning I race downtown on my bike to spend my money on this voluntary contract with my chosen master, a drug that is easier and cheaper to get than anything else, besides sugar.

Water?   What’s that?  Pass the hot acid, please.



published in cooper point journal april 2006

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