August 17, 2010
I’m sitting here alone, except for Orion, Pleides, the impetuous Cygnus (the Northern Cross), and the rest of a waning-yet-brilliant night sky. I know this because I just got back from a short stroll with my friend Joe as in "cup of Joe."
My writing process has long involved early mornings and coffee. Cups of coffee. Mugs of coffee. Even pots of coffee but that was back before the realization that I just might be harboring a caffeine addiction.
Actually, whether I’m engaged in writing or reading or some nefarious form of arithmetic, all my mornings feature coffee as a necessary component. Since I very seldom dabble in soft drinks or "energy" concoctions, coffee is by far my medium-of-choice for ingesting caffeine.
So, when the day came that I conducted an intervention with myself, the result had me coppin’ to a two-cup-a-day limit before noon. If the truth be known, however, I never really cared one way or the other about the caffeine. It was the by-product, being able to fall asleep at night, which provided the prime motivation.
And, mostly, I’ve remained faithful to those vows. Mostly! The other morning when the Perseid meteor shower found itself in the process of peaking, I did opt to haul the entire pot out on the deck. Hey, it was dark and sorta chilly in shorts and T-shirt and no telling how many shooting stars one might miss by running in and out for refills.
Now I may be wrong or just attempting to rationalize my relationship with the brewed roasted bean of the Coffea Arabica bush, but I find the ritual itself to contain addictive properties all its own. The ceremony of holding the warm mug and bringing said mug to mouth turns my crank, as it were.
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Obviously, there is a dependence factor at work here. They say that tossing back as little as a cup a day is enough to produce withdrawal symptoms if you were to abruptly cease that particular behavior.
I suppose that in the past when I found myself for whatever reason without a fix, that discomfort and maybe even a bit of drowsiness might have set in. But irritability? Never! Admittedly, however, I have witnessed just such a reaction in others.
I remember this one platoon sergeant from my Army days who enlisted a few of us in his weekly bridge, poker, and pinochle games. He drank coffee quantitatively like the rest of us drank other beverages more usually associated with military life.
One evening amid the routine shuck-and-jive that often accompanies GI card games, the rest of our bridge foursome chipped in and bet him sixty bucks he couldn’t go cold turkey until payday, which was still a couple of weeks away.
The moral of this story is that one should never prompt any sort of behavioral change that might serve to increase anxiety in one higher up the food chain and responsible for assigning KP and guard duty and assorted other menial chores among one’s peer group. One would do better to cease feeding a rottweiler. We ended up paying him not only to resume but, as they say in bridge, to redouble his coffee intake.
Obviously we know that there just might be a bit of downside to the strung-out coffee drinker, but the overriding question, of course, is, "Does coffee help?" Does it have an upside? I would answer in the affirmative whether or not it is caffeine that is responsible. With me it’s more like receiving communion at the "church of self medication." There is a spiritual component.
Then there’s this bunch that does research and writes for the official publication of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology (you can’t make this stuff up). They did this study whereby 379 people were deprived of coffee for 16 hours. The phrase "cruel and unusual" comes to mind.
Upon gradually administering the corrective, they found that it took habitual coffee drinkers 250 mg of caffeine before they reached the alertness level of non-coffee drinkers. Hmmm? They seem to be saying that, for us true addicts, a cup or so only serves to remove withdrawal symptoms. I kind of figured as much.
But they also said that the non-coffee drinkers in the test reported absolutely no change to their alertness after consuming caffeine. This would mean that the drug doesn’t work for anyone. So, you kids out there: Don’t start. But, for the rest of us: Drink up! Take your friend Joe for a walk. Sip slowly. Savor the ritual.
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and a free-lance writer with a background in commercial and community radio, among other pursuits. He has been a columnist and feature writer for various Park City publications going back to 1973.