E-mail the author or send us feedback.

Other stories by the author

  • Hermann Hates: Rude People
  • Hermann Hates: The Daily Routine
  • My AIDS Ride Diary
  • Blast @ is an online magazine presented by Exploding Can Productions, a digital media and Internet company.

    Copyright © 1995-1998 Exploding Can Productions. All Rights Reserved. No part of this Web site may be used without permission.

    To report any problems or if you have any questions, please write to or For advertising, please contact

    home | about blast | who we are | editors' note | feedback | sitemap | press | user feedback | links

    I used to be a morning person. I used to be one of those insufferable people who could bound out of bed at the alarm clock's first beeping, cook myself an omelette as I checked the box scores, shower, throw clothes on with blinding speed, and be out the door with a spring in my step and a song in my heart.

    Then there came a new addition to my morning routine: coffee.

    Now, after hitting the snooze alarm five or six times, I finally drag myself into a semi-vertical position and stagger gingerly to the kitchen. My head at this point feels like it's stuffed with used Q-Tips, but somehow my hands recall the ritual involved in preparing a fresh pot of joe. While it's brewing I go to stick my head under the shower and drag a toothbrush through my mouth. When I return that familiar rich aroma has filled the kitchen and I drift dreamily through it to that first steaming hot cup, which I suck down greedily until the last of the Q-Tips is cleared. If I overestimated the dosage, I may top off my cup, and if I'm feeling really inspired I may even pour a bowl of cereal to go with it. Only then am I ready to muster the creativity necessary to pull together a presentable outfit from the contents of my closet.

    After years of battling my addiction to caffeine, I have to confess that the caffeine is winning. A recently acquired new job has prompted me to fall off the wagon again in a big way. It requires me to be in by 8 a.m. and to be boundlessly enthusiastic between the hours of 9 and 4:30, which I spend teaching po-faced administrative assistants how to use word-processing and spreadsheet programs. I suppose the programs and the po-faced peons are more inspiring to work with than, say, cadavers and embalming fluids, but not by much. Fortunately, however, the company I work for makes really good coffee. So of course, when I get there, I drink more, and thereby achieve a fairly high level of artificially induced boundless enthusiasm, which usually lasts me till about 4:30, at which point I crash into surliness or sonambulance or both.

    As bad as this sounds, I used to be worse. I really bottomed out, as many people do, in grad school, when I always kept one of those 20-ounce plastic travel mugs, usually full, somewhere on my person. I seem to recall even sleeping with it, though that may only be some caffeine-induced lucid dream. In any case it was not unusual for me to drink three or four travel mugs worth of coffee in one day. I don't have my fluid measurement conversion chart handy, but I believe that translates to a fuck of a lot of coffee. Plus I'd throw in a Coke and a few cups of tea for good measure. The health center wrote out my pulse in scientific notation. My pupils were the size of hockey pucks. My sweaters fluttered with each heartbeat as if I was standing in a light breeze. And still I slurped down cup after cup.

    A couple of times, when I had caught up on some sleep, I would try to skip my morning fix. But that would inevitably lead to headaches and crabby moods and even outright panic attacks in which my caffeine-starved brain would lose track of everything I had going on in my life and start screaming, "There's something you should be doing RIGHT NOW! Figure out what it is, quick! There must be something! Hurry!" Usually I would decide that what I needed to be doing right now was getting some coffee. So I would.

    Finally, about three years ago, my body rebelled against this systematic abuse. I got some kind of stomach virus and it lasted for two weeks. During that time one of the things I couldn't hold down was caffeine in any form -- coffee, tea, soft drinks, not even chocolate. For about two days a big caffeine-withdrawal vise clamped itself around my skull, but on the third day I found I could wake up and feel almost normal. And when the virus finally left I felt positively fantastic. For the first time in years my thought patterns were entirely caffeine-free and I was astonished at how clear and focused they were. And, for the first time, I saw clearly that I had been genuinely addicted.

    I suppose most junkies live in denial, no matter how obviously deadly their substance of choice may be, but I think it's particularly easy for us caffeine addicts to ignore all the signs. Caffeine, after all, is such a benevolent, socially sanctioned drug--how could those cuddly polar bears in the Coke ads, or Fred, the avuncular Dunkin' Donuts guy, be pushers? So for all my obvious inability to function without frequent java infusions, it hadn't occurred to me before to think of my dependence in terms of an addiction. Besides, as every true caffeine junkie knows, you can't really O.D. on the stuff. After a certain point caffeine actually has a reverse effect -- ingest too much, and it simply knocks you out. That last cup of Earl Grey before bedtime is sometimes the caffeine junkie's only guarantee of a decent night's sleep.

    I decided to go cold turkey for about a month, after which I slowly reintroduced coffee to my diet, but only one cup at breakfast and one cup to get me through that mid-afternoon energy ebb. Once in a while I'd treat myself to a double latte. Tea and soft drinks I resolved to avoid, fearing that mixing caffeine sources might make it difficult to regulate my intake and thereby lead to further addiction.

    But let's face it, I was still hooked. Like many dope fiends, I had simply domesticated my addiction under the guise of connoisseurship. Leaving the Mountain Dews and Snapples to the less sophisticated set, I made my move to Kenyan Aa and Guatemalan Antigua. I began experimenting with my own blends: Espresso and Vanilla Almond, Hawaiian Kona and Irish Cream, and my personal favorite, French Roast and Hazelnut. I got my own bean grinder. I still haven't made the move to an espresso machine or a French press, those caffeinehead equivalents to bongs and bowl pipes; I prefer to leave the preparation of the hard stuff to the professionals.

    My morning coffee ritual is every bit as elaborate and fetishized as any smack addict's. I have my gear: the grinder, the drip maker, the filters, the milk, the sugar, the mug, the spoon, and of course the coffee beans themselves, which I keep in the freezer to preserve the flavor. For one mug of coffee I measure out exactly 3/8 of a cup of beans; grind them for 8-10 seconds, depending on type (French Roast grinds faster because it's oilier; the flavored beans tend to take longer); pour just over two cups worth of filtered water into the coffee maker; insert a fresh filter and pour in the grinds; brew; pour into a mug; add milk and sugar to taste. I'm perfectly capable of performing this entire operation while half asleep. And I rarely clean up after myself immediately because I'm too busy enjoying the high.

    I've often pondered why it is that certain drugs, like coffee and alcohol, remain part of the fabric of society while others, like pot and, increasingly, nicotine, are outlawed and demonized. I think it's because we all have a need, and society has an interest in allowing us, to wind up and wind down occasionally. I think most of us have days where we would never be able to leave the house without some chemical intervention. Some mornings it just doesn't seem worth it, and in fact it's probably not, but there's a paycheck or a degree waiting for us out there, so we zap ourselves to life with our stimulant of choice and fling ourselves out the door into the maelstrom of modern life. And after a week or so of this our ids have been squeezed down to maximum density and the quickest release valve at hand is usually a six-pack or a tequila shot.

    At least I find this is how my life works. It's not the healthiest way to live, I suppose, but it's better than smoking crack, and it gives me that boundless enthusiasm I need to pay my bills. And pay for all that coffee.