Coffee, Tool of ‘the Man’

I am about to go to work. My job is to dole out drugs to the crying, needy masses. They cannot make it through the day without me. They have so much to do, the pressure overwhelms them, they must be constantly productive and creative; they must not waste one second of their bosses’ precious time. So they turn to me for assistance. I give them the strength and inspiration they need. I feed them caffeine.

I used to drink coffee. I used to love it, to revel in it. It inspired me. It gave me energy when I was sluggish, helped me write when I was feeling listless, energized and activated my brain, and, above all, made me feel happy. Then I started working at a coffee shop. And I began to understand the dark side of the bean.

Our store opens at 6:30 in the morning, and you’d better believe that the second those doors are unlocked, people swarm in, looking for their fix. Often people are knocking on the door at 6:25.

The history of coffee in America is disturbing. Coffee did not become an American tradition until the onset of office work, where the concept of the “coffee break” arose. Coffee was even advertised to employers as a way to make their workers more happy and productive. It was touted as a way to squeeze more work out of people for the same amount of money.

I like feeling energetic. I like it when my brain is exploding with so many thoughts, I can hardly write fast enough to get it all down. I like having the energy, both physical and mental, to do all the things I want to do. And I’ve always hated that sluggish feeling that creeps up on me sometimes–that feeling of not really wanting to do anything, of just wanting to lie around and shut my mind off. It used to be that when I felt that way, I’d just drink some coffee and presto, insta-energy. But now I’m rethinking my attitude toward those low-energy, bored times. Maybe feeling bored and lazy isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

The problem with coffee is that it’s just a temporary solution to lethargy. It ends up making you more tired, and it screws with your natural energy cycles. In this short-term-oriented society, we see coffee as a solution to the long-term problem of exhaustion. In reality, we should sleep more and pack less into our days–or else change our lives so that we spend time doing things that are truly meaningful to us.

I’ll make no pretense of giving up coffee for good. I’m in love with the feeling it gives me, and I’m easily seduced by the energy I feel surging through me at the first sip. But I also want to know that I can get stuff done without it. And I want to value being a slug sometimes. Subvert capitalism: Take a nap!

From the zine Yesterday’s Fish Wrap Could Be Today’s Oracle. Issues $2 post-paid from P.O. Box 251766, Little Rock, AR 72225. The essay originally appeared in Splatterspleen (#3).

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