Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Just Say No To Coffee

When I was a child, I was taught to stay away from drugs. I was warned repeatedly -- by my parents, by my teachers, by my favorite TV shows -- that I should never, under any circumstances, use illegal drugs. Drugs are dangerous, they said. They could harm you. They could kill you. They are really expensive. And so on.

It really didn't take much to convince me that I shouldn't touch the stuff. I recall watching a television commercial in which the toxic effects that drugs have on the brain were compared to an egg being dropped into a frying pan. You probably remember this ad if you were raised on 1980s TV, as I was. It had a profound influence on me. Because of that commercial, I haven't eaten an egg in two decades.

My elementary school came up with an even more creative anti-drug campaign. It assembled all of the students into the gym, where we were greeted by five or six people dressed as real-life professional wrestlers. They told us to stay away from our studies and do hard drugs. No, that's not it. They told us to stay away from drugs and study hard. And then we all participated in an impromptu battle royal.

I was a pro wrestling fan back then, and I knew the sport was scripted, but I usually had no problem suspending disbelief. But the idea of having 1980s-era "pro wrestlers" lecturing kids to not use drugs...well, that was a stretch, in my opinion. The message would have been more believable had it come from, say, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, who, in another memorable commercial, advised me to "GET OUT OF THERE!" if a kid were to offer me a drug. (Walk up to any man in his early 30s and say, "I'm not a chicken, you're a turkey!" He'll understand the reference immediately. Trust me.)

I make light of these campaigns, but they obviously worked, because I don't use illegal drugs now. I don't even consume much caffeine. It's a drug. It can be harmful in large doses. And I've never seen a pro wrestler or a Ninja Turtle ingest caffeine. So aside from the occasional soft drink, I'm caffeine-free.

The same cannot be said for my friends. They are absolutely hooked on caffeine. They are caffeine junkies, always looking for their next score.

The caffeine cycle begins the moment they wake up in the morning. They're tired, their eyes are red, and they desperately need their fix of caffeine; specifically, they have to have coffee. And they're very open about it. "I didn't get much sleep last night. I can barely keep my eyes open. I need something to perk me up, something to keep me going for the next few hours. I need...COFFEE."

This is typical of a caffeine junkie. Not only are they addicted to coffee, but they're addicted to telling other people that they need coffee.

I feel uncomfortable around coffee addicts, to be honest. They give me the third degree when I tell them I don't drink coffee. They can't even comprehend such a thing. "You don't drink coffee?!?!" That question is asked with the same incredulous inflection as two other inquiries I hear often: "You're not married yet?!?!?!" and "You've never seen a Godfather movie?!?!?!" On my bucket list, drinking coffee to stay awake ranks somewhere in between watching The Godfather and tying the knot. I'll let you figure out the exact order.

But that's so typical of coffee drinkers -- they act like I'm the one who has the problem. They can't even bring themselves to admit they have an addiction. "I don't have a coffee problem. I can quit anytime I want." Mind you, they'll say this as they're holding a 32-ounce tumbler filled with piping-hot coffee.

Aside from the fact that caffeine can be addictive, I find the idea of consuming a very hot drink for the purpose of keeping alert to be counterintuitive. There's an immediacy to coffee, because you need it to stay awake, but you can't drink it right away, because you'll burn your mouth if you do. You have to sit there and blow on it repeatedly, willing it to a lower temperature. Take a small sip...blowwwww...take another small sip...blowwwww...get annoyed that it's still hot...blowwwww. That's a sign of addiction if I've ever seen one.

You could argue that pizza is also very hot and can burn your mouth. But you can afford to let a slice of pizza cool off for a few minutes. And pizza still tastes pretty good when it's cold, doesn't it? No one drinks a cup of cold, day-old coffee for breakfast.

Bottom line: Don't be a coffee addict. You'd only be hurting yourself. If you're one of those people who has to stop at Starbucks in the morning before going to work, seek help. If you're one of those people who refills your mug with coffee every hour, seek help. If you really believe that the best part of waking up is Folgers in your cup, seek help.

And if someone ever offers you coffee and a fried egg, GET OUT OF THERE!