Raise your hand if you’re friends with caffeine. Me too. Like most people I know, I’ve sipped it for years. Not coffee — I just don’t like the taste. But tea, hot and iced, most certainly; and Diet Coke (more so when I was younger), yes. In fact, the only person I know who doesn’t indulge now and then is B. He doesn’t care for coffee and his beverage of choice is always water. He’s a purist — it’s not even sparkling water. Just plain, no-bubbles, no-flavors-added H2O.
What’s funny is that, unlike most of us who enjoy that cup of coffee or tea or caffeinated soft drink partly because of the bit of buzz involved, B. is high-energy all the time. I mean any time of day. Whether it’s at the start of his 8 a.m. class or at the end of his evening class (9:30 p.m. or so), he’s equally brimming with energy. Annoyingly so. And while you might reach for a latte or I a Diet Pepsi (I’ve got no side in the cola wars), he doesn’t. He’s just naturally caffeinated, I guess.
But being naturally energized all the time doesn’t mean you can handle caffeine. I’d been telling him that for years but I guess he didn’t believe me — until that one fateful night. One that shall forever be known in our lives as The Affogato Incident. To wit:
It happened during what had been a very mellow vacation for us in Portland, Oregon. We’d rented a house in the artsy Hawthorne / Belmont district for a few days and had fallen in love with the area, particularly the natural beauty of the Columbia River Gorge and Mt. Hood, just a short drive away from where we were staying. After spending the day amidst the waterfalls and lavender farms, we returned to the city for a late dinner at a small neighborhood place. Portland is renowned for its Northwest cuisine using farm-to-table ingredients in innovative ways, and this restaurant did not disappoint. And, it being the last day of vacation, we decided to treat ourselves to dessert. (Who am I kidding — we have dessert most days on vacation. Come on, it’s vacation.)
That’s when B. spotted affogato on the menu — homemade Madagascar vanilla gelato topped with a pouring of hot espresso. I did my best to dissuade him, knowing that the result would not be a pretty one.
Me: What about coffee gelato? You love gelato, and the coffee flavor will be sweet. (Attempting to steer him in an alternate direction — anywhere away from the espresso)
He: No. The affogato has vanilla gelato in it. How strong can the espresso taste be?
Me: Pretty strong. And it’s way caffeinated. And it’s late.
He: Nope, I want to try it. Everyone in the movies always orders espresso. I want to see what the fuss is all about. I can handle it.
Me: You can’t handle the truth.
And a few moments later, when the waiter took our order:
Waiter: (to B.) You want the affogato with decaf espresso, right?
B: (proudly) No. Full-on espresso, please. I want the whole experience.
Waiter: (to me, sympathetically) Good luck with that later on.
Dessert arrived (I had opted for the always decadent, always safe crème brulée). The waiter ceremoniously poured the small cup of espresso over B.’s vanilla gelato and walked away. I may be wrong, but I thought I heard him snicker as he went.
The fact that B. didn’t love the affogato (“Wow, this espresso is bitter!”) didn’t stop him from finishing it, of course. Every last spoonful. And to be fair, it seemed to have no effect on him as we left the restaurant, walked to our car, and drove back to the house rental. It was about 15 minutes later when all caffeinated hell broke loose.
All of a sudden, it was like someone turned on a switch. If you’re old enough to remember the early 1980s, you might recall the classic FedEx commercial with the fast-talking actor speaking at a rate that would rival that of a speeding bullet. That’s what B. sounded like.
Ranging from subject to subject, his monologue covered our vacations (current and past), our friends (high school to present), our families, our cars, our dog, the last concert we’d gone to and all the ones he wanted us to go to in the future, the Lakers (by decade), the state of the union (ours and the country’s), the last five books he’d read, the last ten movies we’d seen, and on and on. Non-stop. No joke. For more than two hours. All I could do was sit back and watch (attempting to respond was useless — he was on to the next topic before I could get a word in).
And then, one second he was planning our next vacation in excruciating detail, and the next he was out. Like a light. Thankfully.
I woke up at about 2 a.m. to find B. missing from our bed. Thinking he was in the bathroom, I called out in that direction. “Honey?” I asked. “Here,” came his voice from the opposite direction. There he was, sitting in the dark in an armchair on the other side of the bedroom, his face bathed in the glow of his phone, eyes wide, wide open, playing solitaire. Over and over and over again. While that first tsunami of caffeinated energy had faded, causing him to pass out in exhaustion, now he was just wide awake, to the tune of a few more hours of solitaire playing.
The next morning, I couldn’t help myself.
Me: Sleep well?
Me: Still think that affogato was a good idea?
He: (halfheartedly) It wasn’t that bad.
Me: Compared to what? You made the Energizer Bunny look lazy.
He: (half smile) Yeah?
Me: It was entertaining — for the first five minutes. But maybe next time just go with the gelato.
He: (considering) You mean no pancakes and coffee before we leave town?
Me: (glaring at him)
He: Too soon to joke?
Me: Read the room.
My husband is amazing at a lot of things. Handling caffeine just isn’t one of them.
©2021 Claudia Grossman