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Some Days in the Life - Coffee

Posted 6/7/99

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Coffee and I have had something of a long, strange trip. I like coffee. I like it quite a bit. I like it as much as I could possibly like any hot drink which I only drink because I'm a snob and don't care about it.

Which requires a little backstory.

Growing up, I was exclusively a tea drinker. And I remain a tea drinker. I love tea. I love everything about tea. I love the ritual of tea creation. I love the selection of the tea blend -- from the prosaic orange pekoe cut black teas of Red Rose through the delicate liquor of Darjeeling to the hickory smoke of Lapsong Souchong, tea and I go way back. I know the difference between a black tea, a green tea and an oolong, and which takes milk and which doesn't. I know why honey is preferable to sugar, and which will cause you to burn in Hell.

Tea is, of course, caffinated. This just adds to its charm.

The problem with being a tea snob is I live in America, the land of the free. And Americans -- with the exception of a few Anglophiles and my family -- don't know how to make tea. You order it in a restaurant and you get a cup of hot water with a Salada tea bag on the side. (What Salada does to black tea shouldn't happen to a dog.)

So, I've always claimed that I drink coffee because I'm addicted to the caffeine in tea and need my fix, but I refuse to drink tea made the way most American restaurants, fast food places et cetera make it.

This is true. But it is not the truth.

I continue to drink coffee because of the above. I don't care what coffee tastes like -- I'll drink the most repulsive brews because 'what the heck.' I need my fix and I don't care what I have to go through to get it.

But that's not how it started. And it's not how I got addicted to caffeine. I drank tea all through high school and never had a single headache. No no, I became a coffee drinker out of -- as with so many things in life -- sex. Or specifically, sexual desire.

It all started when I was a worker at the Boston University Bookstore Mall, four floors and more. We're not just a bookstore, we're a mall. That first year, I worked Book Rush and then stayed on to work the textbook floor. And there was a girl on our floor.

She was gorgeous. Lush in figure and lush in feathered hair as only attractive girls in the eighties could be. Her hair was curly and cascaded, blond and healthy. The rest of her matched. She was the sort of girl you remembered for a long time, and wiggled happily about.

I don't remember her name. We weren't close, though we went on one (1) date. We went shopping, and I made appreciative noises as she looked at sweaters and dresses. She was just a part of the landscape, and not a very significant one.

Except. She drank coffee.

"I'm going downstairs," I announced once, before our one (1) date. "Anyone need anything?"

She looked over her shoulder and said "well, I could use a cup of coffee, if you're going to the Cafe Charles."

"Right," I said. "I was going anyway. How do you take it?"

"Cream," she said.

So now I was going to the Cafe Charles, which was a little cafe right in the Bookstore. And I said I was going anyway, so I needed to buy something. But while the Cafe Charles looked nice, it made terrible tea.

Well, buy some coffee. What the heck. I was nineteen years old. It was time to get down to business on some of the basics of life.

I got it with cream, both because that's how that girl took it and how my mother took it. I brought it up, and waved off the girl's money. "My pleasure," I said with a grin, and got a grin back.

Pretty girls must not have to pay for much. At least during college age.

The coffee was 'okay.' And it perked me right up. I enjoyed it. So, the next day, I bought another cup for myself and for the girl. Soon, I was her regular coffee hookup (no doubt why she eventually dated me once). Eventually, she drifted out of the store and I never saw her again. However, the habit of coffee continued.

Somewhere in there (after I went on collegiate hiatus and started working full time in the Professional Reference section) the coffee became the way I started the morning. That role had always been tea's, but I could get coffee at work, which meant I could leave for work as late as possible which meant I got more sleep this way. Sleep has always been important to me.

Then one cup of coffee became two. Especially after I left Boston for Ithaca, and started working in offices. Coffee was social lubricant and highly enjoyable, and made the workday pass so much easier. I started drinking more and more.

During one of my jousts against my weight, I cut the cream from my coffee and started drinking it black. I've never gone back. The pure oil of the coffee bean mingled perfectly with water was now my drug. And I didn't care how it tasted, really. Coffee wasn't there to taste good. It was social, and caffiene.

I remember the first time I had a caffiene headache. I felt like evil spirits were trying to break out of the base of my neck and escape into the world. I suppose there's some truth to that.

Any way you look at it, coffee was a part of my life then, and it remains so now. I'm drinking coffee while I type this. Mm, coffee.

When I went back to Boston for the first time in a decade, not long after getting this job I have now (a day trip), I made a point of going to the B.U. Campus. I hadn't expected to be going down, or I'd have made arrangements to see some of my old B.U. friends who I know are still in the area, but that's all right. It was a chance to see things for the first time in a while with naked eyes. My friend Russ was visiting at the time, so I showed him around and described how different landmarks (like Warren Towers) had entered some of my fiction.

And I took him to the B.U. Bookstore Mall, or where it had been.

Barnes and Noble had taken it over. The basement, which had been stationary and housewares for students (bean bags, mostly) was gone. The Cafe Charles had become a software store. The candy store where I developed an unholy addiction to bite sized chocolate Charlston Chews was gone. I didn't even recognize the textbook floor. It had been gutted and rebuilt, no doubt the Barnes and Noble way.

So, like so much of our youth, I can't get a cup of coffee where I first started drinking coffee any more. And that girl's not there either, and I don't even remember her name. Just her face, her hair and her bustline, not necessarily in that order.

But I still have coffee. And when I drink it, I can still remember that little light that appeared in her eyes the first time I brought her a cup without her asking for it. And maybe that will do.