I was the Drew Barrymore of the science project.
I rose up quickly, winning my first science fair in 3rd grade by
constructing a flawless Pascal Vase and then again the next year
for making a gyroscopic hard-boiled egg using the properties of
friction and slippage. Along with all the accolades; the ribbons,
the medals, etc., I was also treated to clandestine doses of caffeine
from hangers-on and sundry other science aficionados. "Congratulations
on your project. Quite fascinating. Here, have a Coke. Maybe you'd
prefer Pepsi, eh?"
At home, my parents, both children of the '60s, eschewed the "evils"
of caffeine in lieu of wheatgrass shakes and soy milk slurpees.
However, thrust into my newfound fame, I fell full-bore into the
lifestyle. Birthday parties to which I would have previously never
been invited, candy bars, and enough dark, fizzy beverages to occupy
Disney World. At first, I could handle it. Just two Mr. Pibb's before
breakfast, one at lunch and two after dinner, occasionally savored
alongside a Milky Way. But you know the story. Way leads on to depraved
way and the next thing I know I'm ten years old, slashing open discarded
Pepsi cans to lick the remnants of any caffeinated globule that
might have adhered itself to the inside of the can. I spent the
better part of my nights and early mornings in my room with our
cat, both of us pawing furiously at the vertical hold on my Apple
My 5th grade science project was a total calamity. I aimed to probe
the effects of length on the musical pitch of organ pipes and calliope
whistles but, overcome by caffeine mania, the day of the science
fair I endeavored to deposit my little sister Yvonne in a bowl of
macaroni and cheese while pouring sodium hydroxide over her little
The science fair a shambles, my family humiliated and any semblance
of scientific credibility I once had now dashed, I resolved never
to touch caffeine again. And I flourished. I steered clear of the
sciences, hesitant to stir up any unpleasant memories, and began
my tenure in the humanities. Caffeine-less I really thrived. I hadn't
touched caffeine in over twenty years. I procured a cushy appointment
on a tenure track teaching German Idealism at a local college. And
most importantly, I reconciled with both my parents and my sister
who, instead of jabbing me with a makeshift trident every time we
met, would kindly put her withered, bubbly arm around my shoulder
and muse, "I think hair and skin are sometimes really just
overrated." Life was good. Then bad.
Similar to the downfall of so many academicians, mine came at the
hand of a graduate student. A second year PhD. candidate who must
have seen in me a weakness for Hegel's criticism of Marx's moral
philosophy and large breasts, Belinda X (as we'll call her) had
me at danke. I would finish my lecture on Feuerbach, all
the time straining to avert my eyes from Belinda, who would sit
in the back of the classroom spelling out "Achtung!
I want it now" with semaphore flags, her unbuttoned blouse
revealing a perfect Euclidean geometry of canyonesque cleavage between
those fleshy orbs. "That's it for today, class," I'd say.
"But professor, what about the Spinozistic immortality of reabsorption
"What about it?"
"You said we would be covering it."
"Well, it's like scurvy—but in Germany and extremely
rare. We'll skip it."
Belinda and I would retire to my small cottage for the weekend,
locked in horizontal ecstasy; making pillow talk, biting pillows,
and wearing pillow cases over our heads like sweaty harlequins.
This bliss continued on for weeks until a particularly awkward episode
in which I asked to be asphyxiated with quiche Lorraine left me
in a brief coma. Belinda saw to my convalescence daily and even
went so far as to teach a number of my classes, set up an office
in my old office, and acquire power of attorney over my estate.
I felt healthy, but the old vim and vigor had left me. I spent my
days in quasi-consciousness, unexcitable, finally melting into a
state of general exhaustion by lunch time.
"Maybe you have the Spinozistic immortality of reabsorption
in nature," Belinda would ask.
"No, no. I'm just tired."
"Well, here. Take some of this." Belinda handed me a
small can, no more than eight ounces. "Drink it," she
said. I took a small sip of the viscous, medicinal liquid and lay
my head back down on my pillow. I felt nothing for a few minutes,
then a kind of attentive warmth. "I'll take another sip of
that," I remarked. She handed me back the innocuous-looking
little silver bullet can and I disappeared it down my gullet.
"That's it right there," I said. "That's the stuff."
"Yeah, it's an energy drink. It has taurine or something they
mine from bull testicles."
"Whatever it is, let's have some more of that." Belinda
brought me another can and within twenty minutes we were going at
it as if nothing had changed.
"Bull testicles?" I asked later, incredulously.
"Yeah, that and caffeine, I guess."
"Aargh!" I exploded with anger, explaining to Belinda
my previous dependency issues with the little brown devil.
"No! Caffeine, goddamnit." Belinda felt horrible, but
how could she have known? And besides, after a few moments of rumination
I thought to myself, "You're older. You've grown up. You can
For a while, Belinda put up with my addictive reprise. She laughed
nervously as I would sit atop the ceiling fan, spinning languidly
while reciting the second part of Kierkegaard's Either/Or.
She served as my proxy (my incessant jittering had caused me to
gnaw my own lips off in a fit of pique) in front of the disciplinary
committee after I was put on probation for my attempt to carry the
school's chemistry building on my back all the way down US 401.
Belinda beseeched me time and time again never to "caféflip,
or mix cans of Full Throttle, Red Bull, Pimp Juice, Rock Star and
Sobe No Fear to create a truly Edenic experience--assuming your
idea of Eden is a pinball game of electromagnetic radiation in a
spotty vacuum. I paid neither her nor my colleagues and associates
any mind, which is perhaps why toward the end of this month long
debauch, I kicked Belinda out and turned my cottage into a "Fidgethouse."
Perhaps you have seen these things on 60 Minutes. Well, it's worse.
The multitudes of tinkling aluminum cans strewn about the floor
resemble a cacophonous plague of shiny morning stars, screeching
Venus before dawn. Cosmic nuisance. The people zipping in and out
of corners (and the abject sadness of the crash, the delinquent
who spends his last quarter for a piece of used guarana root), and
the tremens! The horrors, shakes and rum-fits of the garden variety
drunk can't even be touched by the agitation of the caffeine-head.
After pawning my first edition of Hegel's Phenomology of Spirit
for a Yoo-Hoo and bogus xanthine seed, I blacked out for a period,
then saw myself as I was: totally nude, standing in the middle of
a monster truck rally and howling for Heidegger to get out of my
armoire. I was broken. I had done it again. I sought out help, but
with Belinda gone, my colleagues a distant memory, my family's compassion
run dry and not a dime to my name, I was without hope.
After a near-fatal caffeine crash in which I spent three days
stuck in a smokestack inside Los Tios Mexican Restaurant, I arrived
at the door to a clinic to which I had been referred by a man who
once spent a week at my Fidgethouse. When he was "high,"
he would only break from his ingestion of high-potency caramel macchiatos
to douse his head in a plate of sweetwater oysters with mignonette
sauce for protein. But sober, he seemed level-headed. Even kind.
The man approached me as I tried to engage my microwave oven with
other dogs at the local dog park, and handed me a card with the
address of the clinic, giving me an understanding smile. I scoffed
at the time, but now I was ready for help. I ambled my heavy heart
and my heavy soul up to the old, dilapidated building. I knocked
on the door and was met by a curious man with wise eyes. He looked
me over from head-to-toe, then remarked affectionately but sternly,
"I'm sorry, sir. It's just too high a risk. I mean, how can
we even admit you with that chemistry building on your back?"
I lit a cigarette and trundled on toward the dumpsters behind Starbucks.