Running on Coffee Fumes

Photo © 2008 Javier Benek CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

This past week has been the busiest writing week in a long time.

Each day, I got up early, drove my Firstborn to school, and camped out at a local Starbucks all day with my laptop. I didn’t even have time to drive home, and good thing, too, because if I had done so, I probably would have fallen asleep on the couch.

And after months drinking mostly decaf, to combat caffeine headaches, this week I turned back to the high-test, just to stay awake and alert.

And the verdict is in: my brain has officially turned into mashed potatoes. (But at least that’ll go good with the chicken and stuffing at dinner.) I actually turned off my alarm this morning thinking it was Saturday. I so wanted it to be. Every part of my being told me Saturday morning had arrived. But no, I actually needed to get up and drive my Firstborn to school, again, and then post this week’s #FridayFlash Favorites, and then come up with something for this blog.

And now I’m rambling, so I’ll leave you with an amusing piece—true story—that I wrote several years ago, all about my favorite drink, which keeps my brain and body running on Fridays that ought to be Saturdays and on lazy Tuesdays after sleepy long weekends…


February 17, 2004

Do you know what’s the worst thing that can happen in the morning? That one thing that can take a great morning, like today’s was, and all but ruin it? And this morning was indeed great. Yesterday was President’s Day, and a lazy Tuesday morning is what that particular holiday is good for. It was a delightful, easy start to a short week after a long weekend. I felt relaxed and vibrant, even if my head was a still little achy.

Not from a hangover. You see, the down-side to long weekends is that I invariably miss a few doses of caffeine. Yes, I do own a coffee pot, and I even have beans with which to use it. But on weekends I’m a lazy bum, especially on Sunday, and half of the time I can’t find my favorite mug, and most of the time I need first to fill the water filter and wait interminably for the clear liquid to trickle through, and after all this the final brew tastes and looks like radioactive waste, because the pot is dusty and dirty, and the funnel needs to be washed, and the grounds are stale. And I can’t even muster the will to traipse to Dunkie’s down the street; besides which, their coffee is almost as bad as mine. Fortunately, on Sundays we visit my parents, and I can always bum a cup off them.

What irony! You’d think a coffee freak would be a master of the brew. Indeed I possess all the requisite skill and talent, frequently expounding on the art to my coworkers in the company cafeteria. I can tell dark-roast from light merely with a deep breath. With a sip, I can tell you when you ground the beans and how long the pot has been sitting there. Once, my parents picked up an extra can of coffee at the grocery store–it was on sale. They offered it to me. Coffee in a can, I wasn’t sure whether it was a gag gift. (It wasn’t.) All of this is true. I take my caffeinated beverages very seriously. But when it comes to weekends, I’d rather bear the withdrawal than get up off my butt.

Anyone who’s experienced the withdrawal knows how big of a bum this makes me. Now, I don’t drink much. Only a couple cups a day tops. I take it in half-cup doses, because any more and by the time I get to the bottom of the cup, the once-steamy liquid would be cold. (And we can’t have that.) Still, by 3 o’clock Saturday afternoon, I’m feeling it, the symptoms. And I have little excuse. A mere hundred milligrams of caffeine would chase away that little guy nailing his pictures to the inside of my skull. I wouldn’t forever sleep that twitch-filled sleep. I could actually get my laundry done. By yesterday afternoon, I was taking Ibuprofen and microwaving tea (Earl Grey, hot).

Therefore, last night I actually slept, and I awoke this morning–good news–with little more than a sinus condition. On top of that, today was the little one’s first day of preschool and the first time since we moved in that the wife and I had the house all to ourselves. And love in the morning is my favorite kind. So I came into work this morning feeling good. And I knew I would soon feel better, because our coffee machine is better than the ones in some restaurants.

Then I encountered that one thing that can wreck the day after President’s day. Taking a cup, I drew up a measure of black liquid from the thermos, added just enough half-and-half (no sugar). The cup burned in my hand; the pot had been freshly brewed. I took a gentle sip, slurping between puckered lips. And now I’m gagging.

How often do I have to tell these people? It’s so simple? What kind of lazy idiots do I work with? How often do I have to tell them to rinse out the pot? That battery acid is at least 20% left-over from Friday. Damn. If there’s one thing worse than weak coffee, it’s week-old coffee. Of course, they probably can’t even tell the difference, the plebeians.

So now I’m standing with a cup of what appears to be the waste product of some mutant alien fungus. And what to do? Do I dump the pot and start again? And waste what’s in there? No, the philistines will drink the swill, so I can’t waste it.

Do I use the other thermos? The other thermos is empty. That is, it hasn’t been used since Johnson was in power, and it has a dark, grimy slime sloshing around in the bottom with brown flakes peeling from the sides. It definitely needs to be washed and scrubbed.

Or maybe I should just choke down what’s in my hand. After all, sometimes we all have to make sacrifices.

What am I talking about? No! I allow myself only a couple of cups, and I’m gonna enjoy them!

So I do it up right. Grab the bottle brush. Not that one; it smells funny. Use the other brush. A little dish soap. Lots of hot water. Scrub, scrub. Scrub some more. Rinse thoroughly. Twice. (The only thing worse than four-day old coffee is coffee flavored with a pinch of dish soap.) While I’m at it, I’ll wash out the funnel too. A dry paper towel to wipe the grime out of each little crevice. Then with soap and water.

Now for the coffee bean. We get pure Arabica pre-ground in sealed bags (metalized plastic). It comes in a variety of roasts and blends and lasts long enough for us to go through it before it goes stale. At least I get to choose what kind I want, something on the lighter side; the lighter the roast, the more the caffeine. I believe we have a nice breakfast blend. Hmm. Let’s see. Sumatra. Kenya. French roast. We’re going in the wrong direction here. Here’s some straight Columbia Supremo (roasted medium). I guess that’ll do in a pinch. Digging deep into box, I pull out some more. More of the same. For crying out loud! Hold on. Here we go! I probably got the last one. Coffee filter. Coffee grounds. Coffee maker. Push the button. It magically dispenses just the right amount of filtered water, pre-heated to just the right temperature, forming a dark, aromatic liqueur that dribbles into the pot.

I stand by the window with my arms folded. I stand and stare, hypnotized. Finally, the machine beeps at me. I place the spout into the thermos, close the lid, prime the pump. I take a deep breath and dribble about 6 ounces of the ambrosia into my cup. I add just a little half-and-half. I blow over the hot liquid. The delicate fragrance entices me. I sip. It works its way into my mouth and through my olfactory passages. I sigh.

Finally, nirvana.