The Old Scout

How Coffee Mitigates Life's Daily Grind
August 30, 2005

Now that medical science has established that coffee is an important source of antioxidants that help prevent cancer, heart disease, diabetes and stroke, you and I can get on with our lives. A cup of coffee is what starts our engines and saves us from torpor and lassitude. We always knew this. Starbucks was built on the idea that there is no such thing as an overpriced cup of coffee. Yes, I know people who have quit coffee and who will tell you in their small tremulous voices How Much Better They Feel and goody for them but to me living without coffee is like trying to climb up the outside of your house using suction cups. Why not just use the stairs?

I wonder if the president is getting enough coffee. He seems like he's just not that into being president. I don't mean this to be critical in any way, but there is a dimness about the man that suggests a need for caffeine. It is not enough simply to refrain from adultery and tax increases and make the occasional trip to Idaho to announce that we are winning the war in Iraq. It's the French who take the whole month of August off, Mr. President. That's not us. Americans are not idlers and layabouts and feather merchants, we're strivers and pluggers and we welcome adversity, so long as we have coffee. Its bitterness is sweet to us.

Back in olden times, youngsters, back before people walked down the street talking on telephones, we were engaged in the Cold War and had nuclear holocaust to think about, and then the enemy collapsed, which left us feeling oddly bereft, so now we have embraced the War Against Terrorism, which nobody believes in - there is no rush to enlist - and yet the concrete barricades and the platoons of security at the airport do give us a sense of danger, which is satisfying.

In Minnesota, we have winter, of course. A blizzard gets us all ginned up, the one day of the year that sort of justifies having four-wheel drive so the moment the highway patrol issues a travel advisory, we reach for the car keys and think of a plausible reason to go somewhere. We return a few hours later, faces red, snow in our hair, snot frozen in our nostrils, happy to tell about our adventure. We live here for the same reason other people climb Mount Denali, for the sheer thrill of it.

Pure dumb happiness is the death of conversation: it's narcissistic and infantile. Is this not so? People sitting around eating big tossed salads and talking about how good life is ever since they gave up caffeine: this is torture. How much more enjoyable for your friends if you can tell how you spent a king's ransom on your vacation only to get a bad case of swimmer's itch which comes from a parasite in goose droppings and gives you a rash much like chicken pox and drives you berserk. "More coffee?" says the host. "Yes," you reply. "Black."

Once, at the Metropolitan Opera, I saw a soprano keel over near the end of the first act of Strauss' "Die Frau ohne Schatten," the first really dramatic thing to happen onstage in more than an hour, and the audience suddenly woke up. She lay in a heap on the stage, not singing, which also was gratifying, and the peasants ran over from their huts and a man in a brown suit walked in from the enchanted forest, it was great. She was OK, as it turned out, but there was a long intermission while they located a sub, meanwhile the patrons were in a festive mood, reminiscing about other operatic swoons and collapses they had seen. As I recall, I had a cup of espresso.

And now the phone is ringing and it is Anne our neighbor calling to say, "The plumber is at your back door." I let him in. He had knocked and knocked and was about to go away. Our water heater went on the fritz overnight. Without hot water, a person has a whole new lifestyle in which he must take sponge baths in the men's room at the gas station or else use disinfectant for a cologne. I am grateful for the plumber but if I had to do without hot water, I would, and so would you. So long as we have coffee, we will be OK.

© 2005 by Garrison Keillor. All rights reserved. Distributed by Tribune Media Services, INC.


From the Desk of Garrison Keillor

Garrison Keillor
Photo by Cheryl Walsh Bellville


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