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Life as Performance Art

    Growing up, I had no need for an alarm clock ringing in my ears.  I was awakened by the hideous stench of The Olds plugging in the percolator for their first cup of coffee.  I don’t know the name of the brand, but in those dawn hours I would have preferred the aroma of a well-ripening roadkill skunk warming up on a stretch of black top in mid-August. They drank it black, with enough acid in it to melt the spoon. Even so, my parents constantly gave the dire warning, “Don’t touch my coffee.  It will stunt your growth.”   If they didn’t want to share their coffee, that was fine with me.  Keep it for yourselves, but please, make it outside, and preferable upwind from the kitchen door.  And drink it out there, too, and I don’t care if it in the midst of a winter blizzard.
    I firmly held to that belief when my university roommate, then in the Navy ROTC program proudly refused to ever so much as rinse out his cup.  “Navy coffee!”  he proudly affirmed every time I suggested to apply water, soap, and elbow grease. “Navy men NEVER was their cup.”  I cheered on a group of protestors, asking me to sign a petition to stop the sale of coffee from Brazil. Someone was getting over-paid, they claimed, and it wasn’t they mythical Juan Valdez.
    I changed my tune one day when Pat and I were on vacation and there was no water for tea. It was coffee or dehydration.  I held the little cup of double espresso in one hand, mightily exhaled, and tossed it back in one swallow. A few minutes later the caffeine kicked in, and I felt like the top of my head had exploded.
     “That’s good stuff,” I told Madame Dewey.  I held out my empty cup for a refill.
     For a while it looked like a whole new world was opening with all the different flavors and additives that could be put in the coffee.  Soon, it was “no thanks.” Nor did I yield to the temptation of different expensive brands from Sweden, Seattle, or anywhere else. I went straight to the cheapest grocery store canned of dark roast.  Friends suggested I experiment, but for me, the more bitter the better. What I wanted was the caffeine. I still don’t drink coffee for the taste – just the effect.
    Forget the solemn medical advice from the old dinosaur doctors who said coffee was bad for you.  Or the neo-Puritans who warn of the great spiritual dangers from caffeine derived stimulation.  I am an Episcopalian where the third (albeit unofficial) sacrament is Coffee Hour. Like Lutherans, we take coffee after church seriously.
    It wasn’t just the killjoys of the 1600s who feared the effect of coffee. King Charles I of England was worried, and for good reason.  For centuries Englishmen had imbibed, sometimes heavily, in alcohol, usually in the form of ale or lager. After a few rounds they were muddle-thinking and sluggish. Sometimes they would break out in song, even if the lyrics were lost in a haze of beer fumes.  The moment coffee became popular, they were wide awake, and it wasn’t long before they started talking about politics, finances, and then revolution.  That came in 1645.  Four years later, King Charles was beheaded, and I am sure it was all because of the revolutionaries who drank coffee.
    Coffee, at least when drunk at the London coffee houses, also led to some truly good thinking.  A group of merchants and ship captains used to get together every morning for a cup or two at Lloyd’s joint. One day they came up with the idea of creating a mutual insurance company to share the losses and profits.  Today it is known as Lloyd’s of London.  Other insurance and business ideas quickly followed.
    Many American writers were asked about their favorite drink.  A lot of them made mention of alcohol in one form or another. F Scott was a hard tippler, including absinthe.  Hemingway was something of a hybrid. He said to write with alcohol and edit with coffee.  From what we gather from his friends and his four wives, he didn’t exactly follow his own advice about the coffee side of things.  However, he was drinking coffee when he edited out three quarters of The Old Man and the Sea which earned him the Nobel Prize for literature.
    Far more important for all of us, the news is just out from the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology that drinking coffee may extend one’s life.  Drinking three to four cups of black coffee lowers the risk of death by 21% to 27%. Decaffeinated coffee is just slightly more effective than a glass of water. I’ve never heard of this group white-coated stereoscope wearing medicos, but I whole-heartedly endorse their line of thinking.  Caffeinated coffee will make it possible to hang around here longer.
     Then again, overall, I’m a little worried about all of this because I might outlive my pension and Social Security. I keep reading that eating green leafy vegetables (kale and its ilk), having a sense of creativity, having a sense of intellectual curiosity, and a bunch of other things all move the life-extension meter up a few more percentage points.  Brushing one’s teeth, going for walks, having a creative mind, spirituality, and social connections all factor in.  You can even earn points for being sarcastic and able to appreciate puns.  I totaled it all up, and I figure I am a few points above 100%.
     Following that line of reasoning, it looks like I’ll be rivaling old Methuselah for the longest life record. 

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