Hello, friends. This morning we are going to embark on some serious medicalizational examining. Our topic is coffee. Now, you may think I am going to take the steamy, beany conundrum that is coffee, and break it down, or blow it apart, or bust it open with some other doctor/ninja maneuver, but I am not.
I am not going to do this for the simple reason that I can’t.
I can’t do this because I do not understand coffee. I don’t know what the heck coffee is. And I was just now sitting here in this state of not-knowing, when I got an email from a robot of my acquaintance—maybe you know it, its name is Twitter—who sent me this:
“Life is like that. We don’t know anything. We call something bad; we call it good. But really we just don’t know.” — Pema Chödrön
How I love Pema Chödrön, who has two—count them—two umlauts in her name, and she is not even German, like moi.
Anyway, this perfectly timed missive from my robot colleague just upset me further, because if there is one thing doctors fake and really really like, it’s knowing things. That’s why we are always saying stuff like, “Send it to the lab,” and “Let’s get the lab results,” because you know what “the lab” is to a doctor? It’s the Death Star/Mothership of knowing. It’s the be-all and end-all. This is why doctors and labs are, like, blood bros. No, blööd brös. Three umlauts.
But here I am, confused about this thing—coffee—and on one hand I completely don’t know what it is, and my robot friend’s email implies that trying to know is fruitless; and
on the other hand I can just send it to the lab, and then I will be able to tell you what coffee is, Sir, right down to its genomes.
The problem with coffee, though, is that I can’t send it to the lab. I can’t do this because of one stark fact: coffee is my friend.
Coffee, which is not alive, which is an object, which is an object like a robot who tenderly emails me koan-like sayings at the most weirdly perfect times, is my friend, and has been my friend every single day of my life since I was a teenager.
Coffee, how I love you! I love you so much that if I could, I would get onstage right now, at Madison Square Garden, and I would sing a song, and this song would be based on Bob Seger’s masterful power ballad from 1973, “Turn the Page,” only instead of being about my wearying life as a rock star, it would be about my amped-up, regular-person life as a coffee drinker:
There I am, with my large, Dunkin’ Donuts iced
And there I am, with my French press
There I am, completely addicted through the arrival of my children Here I go…
You have probably figured out by now that coffee and I have broken up. It’s been—not that I’m counting—six days. I am hanging out with my new acquaintance, green tea.
Green tea is different.
But I am sitting here, sipping green tea in teeny-tiny sips, because there is no giant, foamy glob of half-and-half in it to cut its heat, and I am feeling confused in the way you do after a breakup, when you see the whole relationship in hindsight, all the twists and turns of it, and it looks like a big, ol’ tangled knot, and you wonder, what the hell was that?
But even that is the wrong question, and also part of the reason why the lab, my hömeböy, is of no use to me now, because the question is not what coffee is. The question has nothing to do with coffee as an object to be examined and broken down. The question is, what is it that I have lost?
And this is why I am falling apart here a little, worldwide web, because I can’t just word my way out of this. I know what coffee is: it is an object, which is a liquid, which was robot-like in it ability to improve and my mental, physical and emotional state. It was also my friend. And I have lost my friend, not because I wanted to, but because it stopped working for me. Which just screws things up further, because when I put it like that, I see that coffee, which is an object, and was my friend, was also my employee.
Coffee stopped working for me. I drank it as I always did, my one giant cup of it, in the morning, in my green, glass mug, but it didn’t even taste good anymore, and I was starting to do weird things like add spicy hot chocolate to it, just to liven things up. And it didn’t make me feel any more awake, or alert, it just made me feel like a nervous person with a furry tongue. Coffee, you robot-friend-object-employee, you’re fired!
I am framing this, however, as if it were coffee’s problem, as if there were some deficiency with coffee that made coffee stop working. I can do this without feeling bad about not taking coffee’s point of view into account, because the general idea is that coffee does not have a point of view.
But I don’t know if I believe this idea anymore, either. Because when I make coffee and the smell of it permeates my home, and it is inviting and attractive and brings with it memories and associations that are lovely and good, coffee is not an object that is working for me or not. It is an energy. And this energy is benevolent, and generous, and it is around and in me as I drink it, as I share it with my husband and guests, and we rejoice in its presence, and in our being here with it, and each other.
Coffee in this sense is not an object, robot, employee, or even a friend at all: it is a god. It is a thing that serves to remind us that we are here; that we are awake and alive, that we are more than bodies, and homes, and green mugs filled with hot, brown liquid. We are intangible. We are boundary-less. We are flying. And as we fly, we are swirling in complex, geometric patterns, and we know this, it is real: our power, and coffee’s power, together, is real, is as confusingly and upsettingly real, as a carton of coffee-milk still on the counter, with the black-and-white picture of the smiling, missing kid on the side.
Coffee, I miss you. I drink green tea and it tastes like an awful soup of hot water with three split peas in it, one for each of my energy-sucking children.
That is all for now, friends. I am going to stand up and do the robot, and then I am going to pick up my children from school.
— Much love, “Dr.” Fusselman