Amerika

Coffee

“Give me just a moment, and I’ll join the executive board meeting,” said Frank Overstone, CFO of the multinational corporation in whose offices this exchange was taking place. Fifty-three and with silver-grey hair over bright blue eyes, he stood slender and strong in his tailored suits, looking every bit the responsible, experienced business leader that he was.

Frank stopped when his secretary offered him a file. “For the meeting,” she said, and he mouthed a thank-you because he was already on the phone, ordering several relevant subordinates to the office. Someone else handed him something to sign; he read it, then wrote his swirling scrawl across the bottom. Finally he made it into the office, set down the folder on the other documents he needed to bring to the meeting, and reached for his desk.

He lifted a two-foot glass bong to his mouth and, lighting it with a Dunhill silver desk lighter, began to slowly draw the thick white smoke into the tube in a column of compressed air. As the first taste of it reached his mouth, he set down the lighter and whipped the removal bowl from the glass tube, then shotgun inhaled its contents.

Frank was blowing out slowly, filling the room with a sage-wintergreen scent, when Doug Palmerston popped his head in the door. “We’re almost ready, Frank,” he said.

“I’m on my way,” Frank said. “Just needed to refresh my energy. Long days, long nights.”

“Don’t I know it,” said Doug. “Hey, mind if I take a hit?”

“No problem,” said Frank, handing him the tube. Together they walked into the meeting where they would decide the fates of billions of dollars in industry and the people dependent on it.

***

Sound far-fetched? Substitute coffee for the bong and you have the modern office. That much seems uncontroversial.

Whether coffee is as much of “a drug” as marijuana is harder to calculate. Certainly it has intense mental effects, but drugs have vertical (intensity) and horizontal (“symptoms” of intoxication) properties, and so it is hard to directly compare them. Heroin for example might have the same vertical as methamphetamine, but users are able to be more functional on a daily basis.

However, much like methamphetamine, coffee creates the illusion of not being exhausted. There is no evidence that it improves the output of its workers qualitatively but certainly coffee keeps them in the game and going through the motions longer, and allows them to work longer hours and sleep fewer, even if the quality of their mental health declines as a result.

The Mormons, if memory serves, view coffee as a drug alongside alcohol and tobacco that should be avoided. Perhaps they have it backward: alcohol and tobacco may have more positive effects because they are recreational, but caffeine acts as a subsidy for unhealthy living which enables it to be profitable and seem like a good idea, and that sets the standard the rest of us must emulate.

Modern society seems to thrive on drugs that we do not admit are drugs. Caffeine, painkillers, Valium, anti-depressants and Viagra are among some of the many band-aids applied to a lifestyle that many survive but under which, few thrive.

It is worth thinking about, at least for the duration of this cup of tea.

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