Monday, April 17, 2006

Which is, quite frankly, why she screwed horses

Wherein I'm quoting a book not by Neal Stephenson...huzzah

I had promised an anticoffee rant from Mark Helprin's Memoir From Antproof Case. It is below.

I'm more of a tea drinker, myself (darjeeling), but I'm not against coffee and even have the occasional latte. Actually, coffee itself tastes like burnt water, while I don't have this issue with espresso drinks. But like Oscar in Memoir From Antproof Case, I am highly annoyed by coffee drinkers automatically assuming everyone else drinks coffee. Hey, freak, don't put your addictions off on me.

Memoir From Antproof Case is the one novel I've probably recommended the most over the last decade. It's a lyrical and moving, often times hilarious accounting of the life of Oscar Progresso. We meet him as an old man hiding out in Brazil and writing his life story - which he keeps in an antproof case. Why he is in hiding and why he hates coffee are eventually revealed, along with why he was in a Swiss asylum, a pilot in WWII, and married to a billionairess.

She affectionately said my name. And then she said, "You're insane."

"On the contrary" I stated. "People who drink coffee are insane. Insane and possessed and, what is worse, willing to be possessed. Most people in asylums drink coffee. If you let them stop drinking it, they would regain enough equanimity to leave. But, no, they don't stop. In fact, they drink more and more, and they get crazier and crazier. They're dehumanized with every single goddamned drop, and although they sense it, they're like lemmings, or buffalo who jump off cliffs. People drink coffee and it makes them insane.

"Must you drink coffee? Why not cocoa, tea, cola tea, mate, yoco infusion, or guarana? Why caffeine? Why not theobromine or theophylline? I have had an occasional square of chocolate. It is the cause of uncontrolled ecstasy, but, afterward, you sink into Promethean despair.

"Note," I demanded, "that caffeine was introduced to Europe in the seventeenth century, post-Renaissance. Why is it, do you think, that the art of the Renaissance and the classical period has never been surpassed? The great heights were reached on angels' wings, not via a filthy corruption brewed from a bean that poisons its own tree.

"Yes, coffee plants are self-poisoning. The beans drop on the ground and, after ten or twenty-five years...sayonara! Don't tell me that firtation with an addictive poison is salutary. I suppose you haven't heard of the coffee adulteration scandals of the early nineteenth century. You know what they put in ground coffee to bulk it up?"

"What?" Constance asked, her eyes wide.

"Roots, nuts, acorns, rocks, baked hirse liver, clays, ground peanut shells, copra, sisal, feathers, and pig shit. And no one knew. How would they have known? They were already zombies who professed allegiance what? To a king? To a messiah? To a belief? TO what? Not even to a false messiah or to a usurping pretender, not even to a wrong idea or a hypnotic creed. But to a bean, a bean, a bean, bean, bean!"

"What would you do, outlaw it?"

"Why not? De Valera tried to ban tea in Ireland. Why did he have to stop there?"

I went on, defending the light against the overwhelming darkness. "Caffeine, Constance, is similar to the gentic code."

"It is?"

"Yes, C8H10N4O2. 3,7-dihydro-1,3,7-trimethyl-1H-purine,6-dione. As you know, DNA duplicates itself, but caffeine interrupts this holy process like a typhoon blasing all the punts in the River Isis, and explodes the genetic system. Caffeine replaces adenosine at the receptor sites of the neurons, causing the neurons themselves to fire at untenable rates. This usurpation and its unbridled effects, its attack upon the balance of nature, its liberation of the fire and light that serve as the battering ram of the soul, is a sin of the highest order.

"It causes sterility in insects" I declared.

"What about humans"? Constance asked. "HUmans are not insects."

"That's correct," I told her. "In fact, to be honest, in making sperm more motile, it actually promotes human fertility. Is this fair?"

"Why not?"

"Only the dullard sperm, the caffeine-using sperm, the addiction -prone sperm, get to use outboard motors. The viral sperm that that won't accept the outboard motors don't get to the egg, and since the outboard motors, so to speak, are left outside the wall of the egg, what is it that gets in? A weakling, a dullard, a dunce, a non-swimmer, a tailless basket case a slovenly jerk that got upstream because it had an Evinrude strapped to its back. Spengler missed this point entirely in understanding what ails the West."

"My dear," she said, "my dearest one..."

"The greatest per capita consumption of coffee in the world is in Finland. True, they held back the Russians, but they're the most nervous people on earth, no one understands their language, and the beat themselves with branches. The average American drinks seven hundred and twenty gallons of liquid a years, of which approximately half is coffee. That is, one gallon, or sixteen cups, per day. Three percent of the population drink fifty cups a day, and fifteen percent drink forty. Sixty-seven percent of American adults and twenty-three percent of children are dependent on caffeine or various coffee acids."


"Catherine the Great used one pound of coffee to f our cups of waterm which is, quite frankly, why she screwed horses, and, look, five thousand milligrams of caffeine by mouth is fatal. Someone once committed suicide by means of a coffee enema. Don't you see? What if you lost count of your cups of coffee? You could die. And all this has been known for ages, ever since its introduction. Way back then, William Corbett called caffeine 'a destroyer of health, an enfeebler of the frame, an engenderer of effeminacy and laziness, a debaucher of youth, and a maker of misery for old age.'

"Constance, listen to me. Trust me. I know whereof I speak and, in this, I assure you, I am totally unbiased."


Blogger reader_iam said...

Actually, coffee itself tastes like burnt water, while I don't have this issue with espresso drinks.

LOL! Bill, the bit about coffee being burnt water is precisely my husband's stance. In fact, he's said that exact thing.

When I first met him, he didn't drink any coffee product (and has family isn't a coffee drinking one; apparently, it never was). He got "turned on" to espresso while working in Italy a decade ago, and it was a revelation to him.

Great coffee rant, btw. I'll cop to insanity and possession, at least sometimes, but not to the dehumanized part. And I've never had the desire to--engage with a horse.

Rest assured, despite my life of coffee, no one would ever have a problem getting a cuppa at my house, since we maintain a good selection (loose leaf and bagged, "real" and herbal).

For that matter, no one would ever have a problem getting a good single-malt scotch or beer around here, either, but that's a different subject.

4/17/2006 02:25:00 PM  
Blogger bill said...

Gotta admit it's a great headline. How can you not read what follows?

4/17/2006 03:57:00 PM  
Blogger reader_iam said...

Hah! Well, after two years, most of that still stands up, except that due to economizing, you're less likely to get a **really** good beer or single malt scotch around here than before ... and my husband will now sometimes drink coffee, as long as it's at least quadruple strength.


(Can't beat that headline: That sure stood the test of time.)

2/28/2009 03:45:00 PM  
Blogger reader_iam said...

Yikes! Make that almost 3 years.

Must all the caffeine.

2/28/2009 03:47:00 PM  

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