Next I'll try sideburns

Posted by jdg | Tuesday, August 19, 2008

I made it almost three decades before I tried coffee. What 5:00 a.m. high school ice hockey practices, late-night undergraduate typing marathons, law school, and four years as an associate in a big law firm couldn't accomplish, parenthood did. It was my nocturnally fickle spawn that finally drove me to the evil bean. It started with a sip here and there from the 7:00 a.m. lattes I would get my sleeping wife with my infant daughter who woke up at 5:30 a.m. every day. That led to the occasional late-afternoon double espresso if I had something to do at night other than pass out watching Ghost Hunters.

Now that I'm no longer working, the highlight of every day has become devising what kind of combination of ground beans, dairy and sugar I'm going to use to deliver caffeine to my central nervous system. Even though my wife definitely lets me sleep more than she does, it doesn't matter: I'm officially addicted now. Without morning coffee I get The Headache.

I don't know why I never consumed coffee before now. I have never liked the idea of being addicted to something. I've never smoked a cigarette either, but at least that makes sense: absolutely everything about smoking cigarettes is fucking disgusting. I know smokers claim nicotine makes you feel great, just as coffee drinkers always tout the virtues of caffeine. Coffee tastes pretty disgusting too, but at least you can order it at Starbucks as a milkshake. If someone were to come up with a way to deliver the pleasure of smoking a cigarette in milkshake form, I'd probably try it.

My resistance to coffee was really just another of my stupid youthful abstentions, along with alcohol and sideburns and everything else those Mormons I hung out with back in high school told me was wrong. I viewed the local independent coffee shop with suspicion: it was a smokey place where people played chess and pretended they'd read Nietzsche. Now I look back on all those years and wonder about what I could have accomplished if I'd had the good sense to grow addicted to this wonderdrug.

It probably didn't help that I've always associated the taste of coffee with the burnt smell of my mom's morning Folger's crystals. I'm not some kind of coffee snob. I've never lived in the Pacific Northwest. I don't stand around in line at the Gourmet food store debating whether to hand roast a pound of green Guatamalan El Injerto or just buy some Fair Trade Kenyan AA for my Jasper Morrison coffeemaker. Our neighborhood coffee shop went out of business a few months ago and some people were pressuring me to take over the failing business ("After all, you're not doing anything. . ."), but my taste for coffee is pretty much the same as my wife's taste for alcohol back when we first met: this was a woman who would plug her nose to do six shots of vodka and then chug a Jack Daniels Lynchburg Lemonade through a beer bong. Any coffee shop owned by me would only serve sugary ice cream drinks blended with three (or more) shots of espresso. So with the only coffee shop on the near east side of Detroit (a Starbucks) slated for closure, we have actually been going there several times a week, certain that the next time we drive past there's going to be plywood over the drive-thru window and crackheads pushing shopping carts filled with twisted espresso machine parts towards the nearest scrap metal yard.

But the last few times she's made Starbucks run, my wife has refused to order my drink of choice. "What's wrong?" I ask her.

"When I order your Venti Java Chip Frappaccino Light but with Whipped Cream and the chocolate drizzle I feel like such a girl."

I have had no problem ordering one for myself. Have you ever tried one of those things? But the other day I saw her point. After getting my morning frap I was rolling with my homies Steve Inskeep and Renée Montagne when I pulled up to a red light right next to a road worker resting up against a large piece of yellow construction equipment. He was holding a simple styrofoam cup into which he delicately poured one of those little paper thimbles of cream and then a single sugar packet. A styrofoam cup of Joe for a regular Joe. I sat there and sipped crushed ice through the straw of my Venti Java Chip Frappaccino Light but with Whipped Cream and the chocolate drizzle.

I felt like Liberace in a Volkswagen.