An Addict's Lament

By Alexandra Toumanoff '06 / July / August 2005
May 3rd, 2007

My whole life, I despised coffee: vile, stagnant cups of black sludge that looked and tasted like car oil but smelled deceptively delicate and sweet. It smelled like lies.

Every morning while I was growing up, my father would stumble downstairs like a crazed beast, hair flying every which way, shirt untucked, and hands reaching blindly. He was like a chimpanzee trained to say only one word: coffee.

“Good morning, Daddy,” I’d say.

“Coffee!” he’d rumble. “Would you like the paper, some eggs, perhaps some arsenic?”

“Mmm. Coffee,” he’d agree.

After bringing the evil mud to his lips, he would straighten his spine like a wind-up doll and grow a suit and hair that lay flat. Watching, I resolved never to shackle myself to the malevolent liquid.

Meanwhile, chains of Starbucks sprang up like pimples across the landscape. I regarded Starbucks as an evil corporation that couldn’t be bothered to offer a quality espresso brownie. It looked like chocolate decadence but tasted like a brake pad. More lies.

I avoided coffee successfully until junior year. A 9 a.m. class was my downfall. My first two years at Brown, I’d refused to take classes before 11, but an early class tempted me and I thought, I’ll wake up. But to do so I found I had to have coffee. I became a swamp beast, pawing my way to Starbucks every morning. As soon as I smelled that deceptively sweet aroma, I perked up.

When my turn in line came, I bellowed: “One tall breve latté with four Splendas and extra foam,” feeling like I’d mastered a new language. Oh, how the mighty had fallen.

“Three dollars and nineteen cents,” the Starbucks worker said. Was that all? He could have my soul.

At first, it didn’t occur to me that I was spending quite a lot. It felt almost as if the bills I spent on coffee in the morning haze were Monopoly money. Nonetheless, my wallet felt suspiciously light.

“It’s all the coffee,” said my friend, as I nursed a cup one morning. She whipped out her phone, which doubled as a calculator, and punched some keys. “You’re spending roughly $22 a week on coffee, which is $90 a month.”

I gaped at her. That couldn’t be right. Could it?

Over the first few weeks, I worked myself up from the smallest size, “tall,” to full-octane “venti,” which, for those of you who haven’t sold out yet, is Starbucks’ largest. I went to the ATM more and more. Still, I was in denial.

About halfway through the semester, my mother visited. At my request, we went to Starbucks. “A breve venti decaf latté with two Splendas, please,” my mother ordered. “Easy on the foam.”

“And I’ll have a breve venti caffeinated latté with four Splendas—with foam and whip.”

It took a few minutes for the employees to translate our orders. I realized then that I had a problem. Once you manage to confuse the Starbucks staff, who are practiced at interpreting pre-caffeine braying animals, you know you’re an addict.

With the end of my 9 a.m. class, I made some adjustments. I allow myself coffee just a few times a week, and won’t drink anything larger than a grande (medium). But there is no going back to hot cocoa. Now, when I smell coffee, I don’t smell lies; I smell adulthood, and all the vices and responsibilities that come with it.

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July / August 2005