Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Espresso Apocalypse, or don't you envy my kick-ass foo-foo bachelor lifestyle?

On Monday, I did a foolish thing. I didn’t have to work and I had no social obligations to attend to, so I planned to spend the whole day working on a short story. To do this adequately, I needed pep. So, late in the morning, I traveled to my friendly neighborhood latte dispensary and ordered myself the biggest one they made. As I gulped its milky deliciousness down, I wrote a brief blog post which helped elucidate complex world affairs while also bringing forth profound truths about the human condition. Yet I hoped this would be merely the warm-up to an entire day of fevered, intense authoring. Suitably caffeinated, I went to the organic co-op to get myself some groceries, all the while fantasizing about the mighty sentences I’d soon be hurling forth, projectile-vomit style, onto the page. I couldn’t wait. I put my milk and my breakfast cereal away in a mad rush so that I could break out my legal pads and my medium-tip ballpoint pens all the quicker.

But there was a problem. With a triple latte in me, there was no way I would be able to write at home. I’d be too fidgety, too easily tempted to call all my friends or goof off on the internet. I needed to go somewhere. It was a nice day, so I considered strolling down to the park and doing my writing al fresco, but I decided against it. The sun was too bright for me tastes and I hate it when my rough drafts get dirt and crushed bugs all over them. Clearly, another cafe was in order. I’ve recently discovered one about a mile south of my place that I like, so I headed there. Because it’s considered bad form to go to a cafe and not order anything, I asked for a double espresso. I’ve found that too many lattes in warm weather make me logy, whereas I figured I can kick back the espressos like so much bitter, tarry water. With my dainty cup in hand, I settled in to the age-old and glorious battle with the blank page.

But there was a problem. This was Labor Day, and the place was closing early. They were already rolling up the carpets and wrapping up the pastries. Sipping my espresso with undue speed, I did my best to weave literary gold. I don’t well under time constraints, though, and I found myself flailing around with hesitant phrases and lame ideas. It was frustrating. I finished my drink and stomped out of there, endlessly distressed by the American holiday schedule and by my own creative failure. You may laugh at me, but I get agitated when I don’t write as well as I think I should. I don’t take many things in this life seriously, but you’d never guess that if you saw me in the middle of a bad stretch of sentences. Clearly, I needed to prove my worth to the word gods. There was another cafe a few miles away. They treated their workers like crap, so I was sure they’d still be open. I raced over their, bought myself yet another double espresso, slammed it back, and prepared myself to do whatever it took to salvage my lit snob dignity.

But there was a problem. I had neglected to eat anything for lunch and, while I’m a veteran caffeine fiend, seven shots of espresso in less than three hours on an empty stomach is still a bit much. I began to quietly freak out. From the curious chemical heat roiling just beneath my skin, I knew that my flesh must be flushed, giving me the look of giant, not quite ready to eat man-lobster. I could feel my heart hammering so hard it was a wonder my chest didn’t get all bruised up. I suspected that my eyes were bugging out also. I must have been quite a sight. I caught a brief glimpse of myself in the bathroom mirror during the first of what would inevitably be dozens of pee runs, and I was not looking my best. Sweaty, twitchy and hot pink, I had become—in appearance, at least—the creepy guy I was always railing against.

I went shaking back to my tiny table, determined to exploit this rare state in my writing. I was a professional, after all, I could turn my intoxication to my advantage: the energy that was driving me to gnaw on my pen, for instance, could be transmuted into a scene of unusual power and drive. Balzac did that. Voltaire did that. Those wily Frenchmen, they both drank something like fifty cups of coffee a day.

I’m not Balzac or Voltaire, though. All I was able to do was stare down at my empty sheets of paper and guess at how many minutes it would be before I had to pee again. Usually it was more than six, but less than ten. In the intervals between my trips to the toilet, I sometimes jotted down the occasional word and sometimes crossed an occasional word out. Most often, however, I chose to steal glances at my fellow coffeehouse patrons, so as to make sure they weren’t staring at me. I didn’t want to be stared at. I was in a delicate state, and I didn’t need gawkers attending my struggle.

It was like this: imagine yourself standing on a conveyor belt, being pulled slowly along while on either side of you life goes on as normal. Suddenly, some gear somewhere slips and the conveyor belt starts going faster and faster and faster, until everything stretches out into a great, sloppy blur. The rushing air gives you windburn and the thrill of it makes your guts plunge, but all the while you’re paranoid that someone will throw a wrench into the busted apparatus and send you flying untethered into the void. I’m being a tad overdramatic, of course, but play along with me here.

Suffice to say, I didn’t get any writing done. I stayed for as long as I could bear, then I ran back to my car, sped to the nearest pizza place, ordered myself a slice and drove home in a fog of espresso and grease. There, I plunked myself down on the couch, left several of my good friends very strange voice mails, and waited until the sun went down and the world stopped spinning around me.