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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 after The Olds plugged in the percolator for their first cups of coffee.  I don’t know the name of the brand, but in those pre-dawn hours I would have preferred the rich 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 built into the grounds to melt the spoon.  They loved the stuff.  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.  That would have been disrespectful, so I kept my great ideas to myself.
    I firmly held to that belief when my university roommate, then in the Navy ROTC program proudly refused to ever so much sprtiz a little water to rinse out his cup.  “Navy coffee!”  He proudly affirmed every time I made the suggestion to apply water, soap, and elbow grease.  “Navy men NEVER was their cup.”  One year I cheered on a group of protestors by signing their petition to stop the sale of coffee from Brazil.  Someone was getting over-paid, they claimed, and it was not they mythical Juan Valdez who picked the beans.
    I changed my tune one day when Pat and I were on vacation and there was no water to be had for love or money.  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.  And then three more.  I have been pouring it down ever since.
     For a while, it looked like a whole new world was opening up with all the different flavors and additives that could be put in the coffee.  Soon, it was “no thanks.”  Somehow a cup of coffee infused with Essence of Wild Lavender and Taragon did not seem right.  It still doesn’t.  I refuse to add milk or sugar.  Nor did I yield to the temptation of different expensive brands from Sweden, Seattle, or anywhere else.  I went straight to the least expensive grocery store to buy cans or bags of dark roast.  Friends suggested I experiment, but for me, the more bitter the better.  I explained I don’t drink coffee for the flavor or the experience of what the French call, “Café Culture.”  The one and only thing I want is the caffeine.  I want the effect.  If four or five cups in the morning doesn’t sufficiently make me bright eyed and bushy tailed, I’ll find some chocolate covered espresso beans for a chaser.
    Forget the solemn medical advice from the old dinosaur doctors who said coffee was bad for you.  I advise you to ignore 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 pulpit pounding killjoys of the 1600s who feared the effect of coffee, almost as much as they did witches.  Their nemesis, 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.  A few 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, we know it as Lloyd’s of London.  Other insurance and business ideas quickly followed, giving full employment to young office boys who proved their worth as ‘gophers’ – go or some coffee, and could work their way up to the Board Room.
    Many American writers have been asked about their favorite drink.  A lot of them made mention of alcohol in one form or another.  F Scott Fitzgerald was a hard tippler, including absinthe.  Hemingway was something of a hybrid.  He said one should 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 may make it possible to hang around here longer.  If we get extra credit for never washing out our favorite cup, I will do even better.
     Then again, on the whole, 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 percentage points above 100%.  Following that line of reasoning, it looks like I’ll be rivaling old Methuselah for the longest life record. 
     Just keep in mind, you can do it, too.  All you need to do is start drinking coffee in a mug that is never washed.
     Ben Franklin is credited with writing that “Beer is proof that God loves and wants to see us happy.”  I think he got it wrong. It is coffee – dark, thick, strong – that makes us even happier.

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