Coffee is everywhere.

    Just for instance, coffee is right here in my coffee mug, a mug which I’ve come to regard as more or less a permanent apparatus of my arm, a mug which I treat like a gas tank. Even if it’s halfway full, I refuel, because Lord only knows where the next service station might be. I’ve been doing this for the past four years more as a matter of habit than as a matter of custom.

    Photo by johncpeck on Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons.

    But now, with graduation crawling closer, my coffee drinking has become a habit I’ve subjected to conscious hyperawareness, in an effort to establish a kind of collegiate status quo. It sounds silly maybe, but I’ve convinced myself that as long as I don’t start drinking coffee the way adults do – guardedly, nostalgically, on a schedule – even if I’ve graduated from college, I might not have to graduate from the collegiate pathos. This is crucial because it seems now, more than ever, I have the cognitive equipment to tackle a world I don’t fully understand.

    Coffee is everywhere.

    Take a finite landscape – say Evanston, Illinois, USA – and do your best to imagine just how many mugs might be filled, at any moment, with the aggregate reserves. (Quite a few.)

    And because senior year is a package deal that comes with the compulsion to anthologize, I’ll get more specific. The thing is I happen to have a pretty stellar memory for the places where I’ve had a cup of coffee around here. Like most people who value their personal pasts, I parcel my memories and label them for future access, and because I’m always trying to get my hands on more coffee, I need those memories at pretty close recall.

    For example, Willard, Allison, Hinman, Plex and Sargent have coffee which has a thinness to it, a vaguely caramelized aftertaste and comes in those Styrofoam cups whose lids never quite latch properly. Café Mud and the Italian Coffee Bar have zero bona fide coffees, only espresso drinks that come in heavy cups fatter than they are tall, and a criminal allure feebly veiled. At Market Fresh Books and the Hilton Garden Inn, coffee is free.

    Coffee is everywhere.

    That is, everywhere in my body and in my blood. The conventional wisdom is that it carries you through the all-nighters like some honorable sailboat. Grab a cup at quarter to twelve and you won’t be able to sleep, is the promise/warning. But then there’s the next afternoon, when all you want to do is die, when the body manifests its deepest frailties and seems to yelp not for sleep but for liberation from a totally insolvent form – the muscular temple which seems so sturdy and unshakable and yet fundamentally cannot withstand 24 consecutive hours of being naught more than alert.

    At that point, when the nausea sets in, one more sip is poison. It’s slick and ammoniac on your tongue. Swallowing the stuff – what has become an oil – seems the very antithesis of joy.

    But swallow we must. Recklessly and dauntlessly we must. Swallow and continue to swallow gallons upon gallons of perilous, eye-rattling portions of what will forever be an elixir. Coffee is that mystifying potion which keeps us, at hours sensible and business and wee, awake.

    Woe is the day when I order decaf at 4 p.m. Woe is the day when I roll my eyes like the man who treats my mug like a villain, and says “good luck getting to sleep tonight” with a snigger, as if getting his eight hours makes him a more superior individual. This man, of course, in an essential way, is a moron. His mistake is assuming that I’ll be trying to get to sleep tonight at all.


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