Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Coffee and Its "Side Effects" - Feature or Bug?

In my line of work, coffee holds a position similar to food and water...that is, it's non-optional. I remember when I first discovered the virtues of coffee. It wasn't during college. I never really studied or attended classes in college, so there was little utility in being alert in the morning. I was introduced to the wonders of caffeine when I got my first job after college. I worked for a crappy little telecommunications reseller called Allnet. Allnet, despite being a tiny and generally insignificant little company, dubbed itself one of "The Big Four" telecommunications companies -- AT&T, MCI, Sprint...and Allnet -- affectionately known, in the Atlanta office where I was located, as Y'allnet.

It was at Y'allnet where, while still living the post-college, party-like-a-rockstar, come home at 4 in the morning lifestyle, I was required to report to a 7 a.m. sales meeting in the office, before I hit the streets of suburban Atlanta to begin peddling my wares. In the first few days of this, I suffered silently through the sales meeting, hanging like a bat, and praying I wouldn't be called upon to participate in any of the ludicrous "role-playing" training we were forced to drill over and over, and that was supposed to prepare me for my workaday encounters such as:

ME: Good morning [look at desktop name plate] Darla, my name is Rob and I'm with Allnet of the Big Four...and I'm here to speak to the person who handles your telecommunications needs. Would that be your CEO?

DARLA: Blah blah blah.

ME: I can appreciate your desire to protect Mr. Turnipseed from solicitors, but I'm sure he'll want to speak to me...I can save you big money on your long distance bills.

DARLA: Blah blah blah.

ME: Well, even IF your last bill was $14.50, I guarantee I can shave at least $2.5o off of does that sound?

DARLA: Blah blah blah.

ME: No need for security Darla...did I mention that Allnet is one of the Big Four? Maybe I could just get a business card to show my boss I'm out here working? No? Hey, have a great day Darla...I'll swing by next week to see if Mr. Turnipseed might [dodge flying stapler]...bye.

At this point in a normal encounter, I would proceed to the elevator, hit the buttons for all odd numbered floors, take the stairs to an even numbered floor, go into the bathroom, lock myself in a stall, stand on top of the toilet, wait to hear a huffing and puffing security guard come in looking for me. I distinctly remember wishing I was the UPS guy...everyone seemed to love that doo-doo brown sonofabitch. I hereby resolve never again to be jealous of someone outfitted cap-a-pie in brown poly blend.

Anyway, in those early days, I noticed all of my sales compadres gulping corporate coffee as fast as possible, complete with half a cup of sugar and three single serving containers of non-dairy creamer (remind me later to do a post on "non-dairy creamer"...revolting.) It seemed to work for them, so I gave it a try. What a discovery! Instant energy and alertness! I noticed, however, a significant side effect, which is the actual topic of this post. Within 15 minutes of ingesting my first cup of coffee, I was bolting tantivy for the nearest bathroom. Coffee, it appeared, had a laxative effect. Back in those days, that was clearly a feature, not a bug. It gave me some time to read the paper, relax, reconnect, delay venturing to my vile job, and stay as regular as a Swiss train. Joy!

Today, some 15 years later, a few factors have arisen that may have conveted this erstwhile feature to a significant bug. They are, in no particular order:

- back then, bowel movements were, while not a rarity, far from the hobby they have become. I have (sadly) reached the point where, like many fathers, my children marvel and comment loudly and embarrassingly about not only the frequency of my bathroom visits (often several in one morning), but also the average duration of those visits (which has ballooned from an efficient 5 minute range to the better part of a half an hour. What can I say. I read.)

- Longing for my attention (or more likely, giggling about how much I am in the bathroom), my children have taken to hovering outside the bathroom door while I am in there trying to focus intently on whatever reading material I was able to grab on the way to the bathroom (I prefer Outside magazine or the Economist, but will settle for anything over staring at my feet, even if it's Martha Stewart Living, or the side of a Cocoa Puffs box.) Now, I am not a terribly modest person, but I must admit to a modicum of embarrassment at the explosion of giggles outside the bathroom that follows each audible "event" inside the bathroom. Oh the indignity.

- Finally, I am not sure whether toilet paper has gotten more abrasive over the years, or whether my hind quarters are somehow deteriorating and becoming more sensitive to repeated swabbing, but I have to temper the enthusiasm with which I approach the wiping task, or risk a bleeder. Once, in a pinch, I was forced to utilize a sock for this task (my own, I should note) and to my surprise I found it quite pleasing, and greatly preferable to TP. I briefly considered stocking a shelf in the bathroom with clean new tube socks, but quickly concluded that disposal was a problem - not being able to dig a hole in my bathroom the way I had in the aforementioned pinch.

My solution? Hell if I know. No way can I give up coffee, but the deleterious effects are stacking up. Maybe I should lay off my morning routine of two bran muffins and a cigarette before coffee?


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