I’ve been in love with coffee since I was 25 years old and had the misfortune of being put on the graveyard shift at an all night talk-radio station in Los Angeles. Like most lovers, I have to admit, I have not always been faithful and the sight of the new Starbucks in the CCC commons dining hall brings back more than a little chagrin at my most memorable transgression against the beautiful brown bean.
Coffee is an addiction. I know this – even as I genuflect every day in front of my coworker’s Keurig® Platinum Brewing machine praying she does not step into traffic, find reason to hate me, or is somehow reposted giving cause for her to dismantle her coffee altar. And I am not a prolific drinker of coffee either. I start my day with one cup, that’s all, but in 1995, my doctor suggested that I give up all caffeine. I stared at her, stunned. How could she even fix her face to insist I give up my daily mug of motivation? I was at a loss for the words that would make her see the importance of my needing to stay up past sundown and read to my son or grade 50 student essays. I left her office more prepared to get a new doctor than a new drug. But, by the time I got to the market, I thought of all the events of the previous week – a week filled with an extreme crankiness that forced students and co-workers alike to tiptoe on conversational eggshells in my presence. So, in total capitulation, standing in a coffee aisle that fairly buzzed with the delicious fragrance of ground and un-ground coffee beans, I reached for my Kryptonite – Postum.
By the time that summer rolled around I was experimenting with all manner of (legal) herbal energizers. Finally, I settled on liquid ginseng. I remember that first morning I poured it into my coffee substitute. I was not disappointed. My body began to hum and my pulse-rate increased along with my energy. I was going to be fine and that summer was going to be my most productive one yet. And to a degree it was until the day I awoke feeling the unexplainable urge to meet a self-imposed deadline. So, covering all possible areas of distraction, I checked on my eight year old son and some neighborhood friends who were playing in the side yard before bringing in our ailing and aging dog and getting her settled in the kitchen. I poured another cup of my juiced-up Postum. I was free and alive and awake to enjoy it! Freedom lasted 45 minutes before one neighbor child began screaming for help. Startled, I jumped up from the computer and, in pushing my chair back, pulled the cords from the wall outlet. The loss of all that I had just written should have been a warning to me. I dashed down the stairs with the frantic screaming of all the children now ringing in my ears. Tearing through the hallway, I cursed the dining room chair that had fallen over in front of me. In retrospect, I’m glad it was there to slow my progress. I opened the kitchen door to find that my dog had become sick all over the floor. Shutting the door, I fell to my knees retching and gagging. I stopped when the screams from outside, again, became loud and insistent. I jumped to my feet but by the time I got to the side yard ‘joyful’ laughter was all that I could hear. “Hi mom, we’re on a desert island and taking turns screaming for help. Is lunch ready?” They were hungry. I was ticked. I stood at the back door suddenly remembering what lay on the other side. By my watch I had 50 minutes to clean the kitchen floor, fix peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for three dirty kids then drive them 12 miles to soccer camp. If I didn’t take time to retch or pass out I could do it. I had the energy. Everything went well with the clean up until I heard a faint knock at the cellar door off the dinning room. I should say here that my cellar is a dark and dank affair, sometimes home to frogs and other unmentionable vermin at certain times of the year. Why anyone would want to walk into this cellar from the outside entry for anything was a mystery to me. “Who is it? What do you want,” I shouted from the kitchen. It was the furnace cleaner stammering his wish to clean the furnace. “Just a minute,” I yelled. I slammed lunch down on the patio table before marching back into the kitchen totally lost in consideration of how I was going to maneuver my old pet out of the house. Her forelegs were in fair condition leaving me with the business end of what was a very large dog with very little control over her sick bowels. I got her upright while ignoring more faint knocking from the cellar. And just as I was about to shove the last of my dog outside, another, more insistent knock came from the man behind the cellar door. As if the pounding on the cellar door was her cue, my dog released her own pent-up ‘frustration’ before pulling her hindquarters fully through the doggie door. Angry and soiled, I was too far gone to even cry and the hammering inside my head was the only thing that kept me from screaming. I left the kitchen to answer what was now definite pounding. I snatched at the doorknob opening the door to see the beleaguered furnace cleaner looking at his watch. “What do you want?” I shouted. “M’am, I’m on a schedule here. Could you please turn your thermostat on so I can check…” “Listen you,” I interrupted. “You got a schedule? I got a dog here who thinks my kitchen is her private toilet, three kids to clean, feed and get to soccer camp and a kitchen that stinks to high heaven. So let me tell you what you can do with your schedule…” I slammed the cellar door, looked at my watch, before cleaning the kitchen floor. I jumped in then out of the shower, collected the soccer gear, pushed the kids into the van before throwing a carton of wet towelettes at them. “Here, clean yourselves.” I stepped on the gas and made it to practice with thirty seconds to spare. The children, faces streaked with peanut butter and fear, jumped out of the van and dashed into the gym without looking back.
I took a deep and shameful breath. I looked at my hands draped over my steering wheel. They were shaking – hard. I was wired. I stopped at the little café at the end of Main Street and ordered a small cup of coffee hoping for some mathematical – caffeine plus ginseng – canceling out process. I waited for calm to overtake me before beginning my trek home. Once inside, I flopped down on the sofa. For the first time that morning I could exhale and close my eyes. And then, a soft knocking from the cellar caused me to scramble from my couch slapping my forehead in disbelief. The furnace cleaner was still in my basement! I opened the door and there he was, the man with “a schedule…” sitting and lightly rapping his knuckles on the bottom step. I was ready to give my biggest apology ever but, instead, I said nothing. I went into my kitchen and pulled the coffee maker out of hiding in preparation for one of society’s most humble of peace offerings – real coffee.
Updated, reposted: 9/7/12