Coffee test is a rush to the last twitch

September 05, 1996|By Kevin Cowherd

Recently an experiment was conducted to gauge the cumulative effects of coffee on the central nervous system.

The experiment was conducted at this reporter's home as he sat at the word processor recording all relevant data. The coffee used was Maxwell House automatic drip, selected because it was on sale at Safeway. One packet of Sweet N' Low was added to each cup.

These are the events that transpired, to the best of my recollection: 7: 30 a.m.: Well, this is it. I'm excited, but nervous, too. As with all experiments, there's an element of danger here.

Will all this coffee eat a hole the size of a lime quarry in my stomach lining? Will I wig out from caffeine and have to be taken away by ambulance, strapped to a stretcher as a burly paramedic readies IV sedatives and whispers: "Shhh, we're almost there"?

We're about to find out. The first cup goes down smoothly. Somewhere in the dim recesses of my brain, millions of neurons groan to life.

8: 01: Two cups have now been ingested. I feel as if I've just received a brisk scalp massage from an efficient shampoo girl at the Hair Cuttery.

8: 34: Just knocked back my third cup. I look out the window of my office: the day is sunny and glorious. The world presents itself in all its infinite possibilities.

God in heaven -- did I say that?! I never talked like that in my life! What's in this stuff, Wild Turkey? Maybe that explains the mild buzz I'm feeling.

9: 02: Was going to wait 45 minutes for cup No. 4, but what the hell. Let's pour that baby right now!

That's odd right leg's jiggling up and down furiously. Can't seem to keep it still.

Oh, well, what's the worst it can be? A major fast-twitch muscle group rebelling against the hideous overload of a powerful stimulant and granulated sugar substitute? Hey, I got lots of other muscles in my legs.

Suddenly I feel the overwhelming urge to vacuum the house. Might make a few beds while I'm up there, too.

9: 28: Hoo, boy. I'm vibrating like a gong. Just downed my fifth cup. Maybe I'll go out and change the transmission fluid in my car. Or get the chain saw out of the shed and tackle that big oak in the back yard.

I don't want to hear any nonsense from the tree-huggers about this oak, either. I know it's been around for 75 years. But I gotta do SOMETHING to work off this energy.

10: 10: Is it me or is it hot in here?

As I sip my sixth cup, certain physiological changes are beginning to manifest themselves, to wit: beads of sweat forming on my forehead, hands shaking on the keyboard, an inability to concentrate, hands shaking on the keyboard. Or did I already type that?

11: 03: Just downed my seventh cup, which means we're in pTC uncharted waters here. This is a new personal record. Three and a half hours into the experiment, I'm jittery, tense and nauseous, sweating like a dockworker.

But other than that, I would say things are going along well.

12: 15 p.m.: I'm sipping my eighth cup when suddenly there's a knock on the door. It's my neighbor who also works from home occasionally. He wants to know if I want to go out for lunch.

"HOW CAN YOU EAT AT A TIME LIKE THIS?' I scream and slam the door in his face.

Steady now. Deep cleansing breath. It's all right, it's all right. I make a mental note to apologize to Skip when this is all over.

Twenty years from now, we'll both be able to laugh about this with our shrinks.

1: 09: Nine cups down. Is that the phone? There's this ringing in my ears. Geez, maybe prolonged consumption of coffee brings on tinnitus. Is that how you spell it?

I'd look it up in the dictionary, but I'm shaking so badly I can't make out the words.

1: 48: Pacing furiously around the office with 10 cups of coffee swirling around in my gut, I'm forced to confront this fact: some sort of breakdown is definitely occurring.

God, maybe it's not the coffee! Maybe it's the Sweet N' Low!

Look, it says this right on the back of every packet: "Use of this product may be hazardous to your health. This product contains saccharin, which has been determined to cause cancer in laboratory animals."

Terrific. Here you have white mice dropping dead on their little treadmills after ingesting a couple of grains of this stuff. Me, I've gone through 10 packets.

2: 27: Sadly, after 11 cups of coffee, the experiment must come to a close, due to the fact that the room is now starting to spin.

As for the results of the experiment, I would say they are inconclusive.

Although if someone asked me if massive consumption of coffee causes vertigo, I would have to say yes.

Pub Date: 9/05/96

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