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Original Short Fiction: "Graveyard Whistler on the 'The Coffee Memoirs'" (1)

Original short literary fiction, including satire, remains one of the writing genres in my literary toolkit. I do enjoy creating characters!

Whistling Past the Graveyard

Whistling Past the Graveyard

Memoir 1: Foreword by Graveyard Whistler

The late "Stoney," as I always call him, because he did not want to be identified, went on a journey to quit coffee. It was a bumpy road for him, and he has detailed it abundantly in a series of seven installments. I offer the first one here. Again, I am using his works rather freely, changing what I deem necessary while remaining as close to the heart of the matter as possible. The opening installment details Stoney's attempt to quit the caffeine habit by going off cold turkey—certainly makes me glad I never developed a taste for the brown liquid that keeps the workaday world lubricated. Enjoy!

Cold Turkey

On Wednesday 16 September 1992, I decided to go cold turkey off coffee. My head began to ache around nine o'clock that morning, but I was feeling well enough to teach my eleven and twelve o'clock classes. Then by one o'clock my head felt as if my brain would thump through my skull, and I became nauseated.

I like to think of my life as a spiritual journey, and on any journey we want to find the shortest route but also the most convenient, one that affords comfort and pleasure, but still one that moves us along toward our goal at as fast a pace as possible. On the physical plane we argue about the best route. I remember when my Uncle Abner and his family, who lived in Nashville, Tennessee, used to come visit us just south of Detroit, Michigan. My dad and my uncle would invariably get into a discussion about the route the uncle took to get to us. Usually, my dad knew a better way, but then Uncle also thought his way was better. And that’s how it is with most human endeavors. And that’s why there are different religions: one way does not suit all.

My way is the way of spirituality, whose center rhythmic calming in order to quiet and calm the heart and lungs. Holy Wholistic Scripture tells followers that in order to realize the spiritual realm of being, we must quiet all physical and mental activity—not by force, but gradually with patience and practice. HWS (Holy Wholistic Scripture )does not lay down a bunch of rules; it tells followers how the world works and lets them decide for themselves how they will behave. At the same time HWS does emphasize again and again that its adherents do need to learn to behave.

Stimulant and Calmness Don't Mix

So what has all this to do with coffee, of all things? Well, coffee is a stimulating drink; that’s why it is found in just about every office or place where the work-a-day world is in session. Coffee is the great lubricant that keeps the wheels of the work machine turning. That drink is so engorged in our lives that we don’t think about it; we just take it as a natural part of our day. But I notice it because I have tried to quit drinking it so many times. I want to quit because it is not compatible with my main goal—to calm my heart, lungs, and mind in order to realize the spiritual realm of existence.

I am addicted to coffee just as an alcoholic is addicted to alcohol. And I am writing this series of essays to explore that addiction. I’m hoping that exploration will help me stop the coffee habit completely.

September 16, 1992 Was a Wednesday

On Wednesday 16 September 1992, I decided to go cold turkey off coffee. My head began to ache around nine o'clock that morning, but I was feeling well enough to teach my eleven and twelve o'clock classes. Then by one o'clock my head felt as if my brain would thump through my skull, and I became nauseated. Between classes I dashed to the restroom and vomited. I made it through my two o'clock with my head and stomach rioting, threatening to shut down the rest of my body. After my two o'clock—my last class, thank God!—I rushed to the restroom and vomited again. Then I went to my office and called home, but no one was there; I kept calling, yammering into the answering machine that I was sick and needed someone to come pick me up; finally Edison, my husband, answered and came. He thought I was having a stroke; I reassured him that it was just the effects of not having any coffee. I've always had a very low threshold for pain, so I squirmed and moaned all the way home.

As soon as we got home, I went to bed, and got up only to vomit, or otherwise use the bathroom. Lying in bed was difficult, the headache was nearly unbearable, the stomach finally empty still kept threatening to exit through my raw throat. After much writhing and groaning, I remembered the relief I get from muscle cramps when I simply relax my muscles, so I imagined my head and stomach as tightened muscles, and I began to relax them; I also practiced breathing exercises. These breathing and relaxation exercises did not eliminate the pain, but they lightened it and calmed me down. Luckily, I had no classes on Thursday. And Friday is a fog I cannot remember. I cannot remember exactly how I got through the next few days, weeks, months because I do remember the pain, weakness, and queasiness quite clearly. I had a few tricks that got me through the ordeal: I'd sleep as much as possible, I'd eat as much as possible, and I would use the relaxation and breathing technique as much as possible. So I guess those "tricks" and my strong desire to quit coffee got me through it.

I had tried to quit coffee many times, but it had been thirteen years since the last serious attempt. I had experienced the pain of withdrawal then, but like all the other times it was only headache and drowsiness, not this nausea and vomiting.

May 1979 - An Earlier Attempt to Quit Coffee

In May 1979 after Edison went to Ft. Leonard Wood for basic training for the army, I quit but took to drinking it again in July after we moved to San Antonio and started what was like a four-year-vacation for us; we ate out a lot and frequented doughnut shops and what good is a doughnut without coffee? And Edison was an avid java-hound with no intentions of quitting.

But I guess it makes sense—here I was, forty-six years old, and I'd been drinking coffee since I was about twelve years old. The habit was thirty-four years old, and it had no intention of letting go easily.

So with this latest attempt to quit the java habit, I didn't drink coffee again for a whole year, and then October 1993 I decided just to have a little, and I did, and soon I was hooked again. But not quite so tangled up on that hook as before the year's abstinence. Since October 1993 I've quit several times. I did experience another withdrawal in October 1994. I had begun to drink it regularly everyday in August and continued the practice until October, and sure enough I experienced the headache and vomiting and the sickness was nearly as bad as the one two years before. I stayed off the stuff until this past spring of 1995 when once again the temptation overcame me, and I started to take it every couple days or so. And once again by the start of school I was downing it regularly every day. And also once again I quit. On 24 August a Thursday—a day I didn't have classes—I abstained. And I had been drinking it every day since the end of July. But this time I did not experience the torture that I had the other two times. Oh, sure, my head felt a little bothered, but I had no nausea at all. I abstained until the 4th of November when I had a cup in the library snack bar. And I have now been having a cup from time to time during November. In order not to get completely hooked, I've avoided it on days I teach—Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays—and I've avoided having it two days in a row. Except last weekend. Downed it both days.

Thanksgiving Day, 1995

Now we are on Thanksgiving break—today is Thanksgiving Day 1995, and I am having a cup. I did not have a cup yesterday, even though we didn't have classes. I had some Tuesday. Twice.

So there has been an evolution in this attempt to quit coffee. Each time is easier physically. It's the mental addiction that I am fighting now, and that one is harder. When I first go off the stuff, I feel clean and good about the fact for a while, but at the same time I have a continuous drowsiness about me that I know a cup of coffee would clear up. I am also quite sure that if I'd just let enough time pass, it would clear up itself. So there is more to it than the physical.

In addition to the physical and mental addiction, there is an emotional attachment. I like drinking coffee. I like making it. I have a great automatic-drip coffee-maker that brews up eight great cups in three minutes. I also have another automatic-drip coffee-maker, but I don't use it; it takes longer, and makes a lot of noise; I really don't know why I bought it. I also have a four-cup dripolator that I used before I turned electric automatic drip. I have owned percolators also, both electric and non-electric. And for a time I have even relied on instant coffee, regular and freeze-dried.

My Mother's Cup of Joe

My mother was a java hound; she had a cup of joe with her all day long, as she moved through the house and through her day, and she liked it strong. She had a special cup that she always used: it's a thick china mug, and on its bottom is inscribed, "Wellsville China, Wellsville, Ohio" with an outline shape of the state. I also have a special cup, lifted from a monastery in 1977. I didn't actually steal it, but I was an accomplice, if a shyly unwilling one. A poet-friend and I were there visiting a friend of his, and we somehow ended up in the kitchen, where a big table filled with cups and saucers, bowls, and spoons and forks offered itself. My poet-friend started stuffing cups and saucers, bowls, and spoons and forks into my big book bag, and there I was—a thief. But when I finally parted from this friend, I took with me only one cup. And I have cherished that cup knowing that it was sipped from by the lips of a monk.

As I move through buildings on campus, I smell coffee. On TV I am told, and I assure you I believe, “the best part of waking up is Folgers in your cup.” And although I am not much of a social person and almost never do it, I love the idea of “let's go for coffee sometime.”

Funny thing—now Edison is drinking only decaf. He went off rather gradually, and he did experience headaches for a while, and he has been tempted to go caf again, but so far he has taken regular coffee only on two occasions—in 1994 and 1995 in May the mornings before running the Indy Mini-Marathon. He even drinks decaf Cokes. I know it hasn't been a cakewalk for him, but he doesn't seem to suffer from the obsession as I do. His habit isn't as old as mine; he didn't start drinking it until he was seventeen, and since he's eight years younger than I am, his coffee drinking habit is thirteen years younger than mine. He happily drinks his decaf every morning and doesn't complain.

But decaf just does not satisfy me. It tastes close enough to the real thing, but it does not supply the buzz of the real thing. And that buzz is the main reason for my addiction—for me caffeine is the most addictive substance I have ever consumed (abused?). I smoked cigarettes during the years 1972-1973 but quit about mid-year 1973 without even thinking about it. Then I took up cigarettes in autumn 1976 and quit again by summer 1977—again, without giving tobacco a second thought. I can drink beer, whiskey, wine, and not get hooked. Only marijuana would come as close to hooking me as coffee. When I smoked pot, I loved it also, and if it were not illegal, and so expensive, I might be writing this about weed instead of coffee. I do have some addictive behavior with food—especially sugar, especially chocolate—but that's a different essay.

Pouring Coffee

Pouring Coffee

Afterword from Graveyard Whistler

So, Stoney has gotten us off to a smashing start with his little foray into habit breaking. I'll add the next installment as soon as I can. I'm still plodding along with my PhD dissertation for my degree, hope to finish by the end of the year—I'm just reluctant to say which year!

Literarily yours,
Belmonte Segwic
a.k.a Graveyard Whistler

Some good whistlin' goin' on!! Enjoy

© 2019 Linda Sue Grimes

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