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By this time next year, coffee will no longer work.
April 10, 2013 11:17 AM   Subscribe

The Secretary of Agriculture stepped forward with a big briefcase. "Sir, I’ve spent years working to develop a synthetic coffee substitute for just such an emergency." He pulled out a big test tube filled with liquid. "This little concoction is the answer. It’s just as good as real coffee."
The room was silent.
"It’s orange," said the President.
"Yes. That can’t be changed."
"Does it have any other shortcomings?"
"It has been known to cause occasional... body-death."
The room was silent.
"But it tastes like coffee?" the President finally asked.
"Moderately so."
Everyone in the room nodded solemnly. It would have to be.

The Day Coffee Stopped Working, by John Bailey Owen.
posted by davidjmcgee (65 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite

 
Man, I've been working on a story where the President has a jester too. Guess it's sort of obvious.
posted by grobstein at 11:20 AM on April 10, 2013


Genius.
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:22 AM on April 10, 2013


It turned out that the scientist had been sent to a black site, accidentally.

It's good that we can laugh about these things.
posted by Going To Maine at 11:23 AM on April 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


That was pretty good
posted by shothotbot at 11:25 AM on April 10, 2013


It's funny, but also when people talk like that about substances, it starts to seem creepy.
posted by DU at 11:25 AM on April 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Almost as funny as their famous cartoons.
posted by Tanizaki at 11:33 AM on April 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's good that we can laugh about these things.

That was okay. The people committing suicide left and right made it for me though. :-)
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:35 AM on April 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


I really enjoyed that. It felt like it takes place adjacent to Slapstick.
posted by dirtdirt at 11:36 AM on April 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


I can relate, because New Yorker articles always make me feel suicidal.
posted by randomkeystrike at 11:39 AM on April 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


That was okay. The people committing suicide left and right made it for me though. :-)

I'd agree. I latched on the black site thing because it seemed strangely novel. Like, I associate jokes about black sites with Bush and Cheney. I don't generally associate them with generic-American-President figures. But here it is in the middle of the New Yorker, so maybe this is the new normal for the American stereotype. (I have no doubt that people could leap in now with dozens of earlier examples in similarly mainstream publications, but this is the one that registered for me.)
posted by Going To Maine at 11:44 AM on April 10, 2013


Almost as funny as their famous cartoons.

The Presidential Cabinet has cartoons?
posted by davidjmcgee at 11:48 AM on April 10, 2013


His Dresses And Skeletons Of The First Ladies is also brilliant.
posted by migurski at 11:49 AM on April 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


This is kind of great.

Also, at the risk of tooting my own horn, it reminds me a little bit of the comment I wrote about an alternate universe in which Al Gore became president.
posted by Greg Nog at 11:49 AM on April 10, 2013


"Even a swear?" Hah.
posted by mean cheez at 11:51 AM on April 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


This reads like the work of the putuative 5 year-old behind the Crimer Show, but at 12 or 13.
posted by hwestiii at 11:53 AM on April 10, 2013


I really enjoyed that. It felt like it takes place adjacent to Slapstick.

Six years tomorrow.

So it goes.
posted by hal9k at 11:53 AM on April 10, 2013


In one of the theater companies I've worked with, for a while there was an actor who'd always show up a little early to rehearsals and brew a full pot of coffee - and everyone else in the cast knew and understood that the entire pot was all for him. And sure enough, he would drink through the whole full pot by the end of rehearsal. Sometimes he'd run out with a couple hours left and make a whole new pot. And he never seemed all wired up either - he seemed a pretty normal guy. One time someone else in one cast asked him, "D, what would happen if you didn't drink coffee?" D just laughed, and didn't say anything. I was too uneasy to press further.

Then there was the time that one of my old roommates - a big, crazy guy that was about 6'4"- had insomnia once before a job and spent the whole day trying to ingest various caffinated substances to wake himself up, drinking one more cup of coffee or eating one more handful of chocolate covered espresso beans when the previous shots hadn't been working. By the end of the day he'd had about 4 cups of strong coffee, 3 shots of espresso, a pound and a half of chocolate espresso beans, and 3 bottles of Jolt.

At 8 that night, all of the caffine hit him all at once. It was one of the freakiest things I've ever seen.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:54 AM on April 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


First time I've seen the wording "nothing worse for the wear." Is that a New Yorker-ism, like coöperation?
posted by gubo at 11:59 AM on April 10, 2013


In one of the theater companies I've worked with, for a while there was an actor who'd always show up a little early to rehearsals and brew a full pot of coffee - and everyone else in the cast knew and understood that the entire pot was all for him.

This...is not everyone's relationship to caffeine?

That was great. “In the end, I mean. 3.7 per cent?”
posted by psoas at 12:02 PM on April 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


"All the cabinet members had these awesome mini-swords now. The President had given them as presents, for team building." made me giggle.
posted by BungaDunga at 12:04 PM on April 10, 2013


“What about tea?” he said. “Maybe tea still works!”

Everyone looked at him for a second. Then they went right on talking.


As someone, who after four or so decades on this earth, just started drinking tea in a building full of coffee drinkers, I can attest that this is pretty much spot on.

And when this end comes, I will strap on my hockey mask Lord Humongous style, expand the boarders Free Tea Territories knowing I made the right choice.

"...Just walk away. Just walk away from the boiling water, and we'll let you live."
posted by quin at 12:04 PM on April 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Oh God, yes, I love New Yorker cartoons. This? Decent satire, but not quite there. There's a confusion between "coffee will be around but stop working" and countries (territories) invading each other before their "coffee ran out" ... which is it?!

Making Dandelion Coffee

First time I've seen the wording "nothing worse for the wear." Is that a New Yorker-ism, like coöperation?

No, I'm pretty sure that's all author. "No worse for the wear" is an acceptable variant of "no worse for wear," imo. It gets 912K results on Google compared to 5.3 million for the latter. "Nothing worse for the wear" gets about 95K. I'm pretty sure I include the "the."
posted by mrgrimm at 12:06 PM on April 10, 2013


WAIT...THERE'S SOMETHING WRONG WITH THE COFFEE?
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:07 PM on April 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh, I like this. It has a vaguely Achewood-y, "Philippe tells a story" kind of flavor. guys who wants to move to New Buttland, I think they're gonna win
posted by en forme de poire at 12:09 PM on April 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Like, I associate jokes about black sites with Bush and Cheney. I don't generally associate them with generic-American-President figures.

That's cute.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:14 PM on April 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


At 8 that night, all of the caffine hit him all at once. It was one of the freakiest things I've ever seen.

You cannot end the story there. Please continue.
posted by fungible at 12:21 PM on April 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


Oh God, yes, I love New Yorker cartoons. This? Decent satire, but not quite there. There's a confusion between "coffee will be around but stop working" and countries (territories) invading each other before their "coffee ran out" ... which is it?!

I think you're confused. I don't think it's supposed to be an allegory.
posted by shakespeherian at 12:21 PM on April 10, 2013


> "But it tastes like coffee?" the President finally asked.
> "Moderately so."

Better than instant, then.
posted by jfuller at 12:22 PM on April 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


All coffee is made by harvesting the coffee plant. Caffeinated coffee is made from the coffee bean, decaffeinated coffee is made from the dirt.
posted by Strass at 12:27 PM on April 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


mrgrimm: "No worse for the wear" is an acceptable variant of "no worse for wear," imo. It gets 912K results on Google compared to 5.3 million for the latter. "Nothing worse for the wear" gets about 95K.

Whereas "none the worse for wear", which is the phrase I'm familiar with and assumed it was THE version, gets 1.5 million Google hits. Go figure.
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:37 PM on April 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


I know this is my hangup and I ended up enjoying the story, but holy carp that whole story had not one woman in it.

Even Dr. Strangelove, which I really see this calling back to (especially the War Room scene), managed to incorporate a female character into the storyline. I get that the author wanted to call back to a specific stereotypical 'when old white men made stupid decisions' mindset but it's really weird as a reader to realize that you and who you represent are just not even in the landscape of the author's imagination.

Like I said, my hangup and judging from the author's website not an issue he would normally be accused of (I like the First Lady Dresses story, f'ex), but it sure bugged me.
posted by librarylis at 12:55 PM on April 10, 2013 [8 favorites]


For us caffeine addicts, coffee actually does not "work" the way it does for non-addicts. The only reason we drink it is to stave off withdrawal symptoms. It has absolutely no effect otherwise. I can drink a strong cup of black coffee at 8 pm, sleep like a baby, and wake up later than usual because my body isn't about to go into withdrawal like it normally would after 20 hours without caffeine. There is science behind this, which I know from reading this book (highly recommended).
posted by drinkcoffee at 12:57 PM on April 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


In college I had a girlfriend who was actually put to sleep by caffeine. Midday cup of coffee or mug of tea->immediate lethargy followed by nap. Addiction is strange.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 1:02 PM on April 10, 2013


"None the worse for were" gets 787 hits on the Google. I am going to use this from hear four words on till it gets over 1000. Then I will move on to some other undiscovered indie expression.
posted by srboisvert at 1:04 PM on April 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


So what happens to the people who don't drink coffee?

There's more than just me, right?
posted by DynamiteToast at 1:04 PM on April 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


I know this is my hangup and I ended up enjoying the story, but holy carp that whole story had not one woman in it.

Not one woman who was identified as a woman, anyway. Saying that there were no women may be filling in a bit too much detail.

Known Male:
Scientist
President
Secretary of Treasury
Secretary of Agriculture
Jester
Secretary of State

Known Female:
None

Unknown Gender:
Police Officer
Attorney General
Secretary of Transportaion
Secretary of Labor
Secretary of Energy
Chief Of Staff
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 1:07 PM on April 10, 2013 [6 favorites]


At 8 that night, all of the caffine hit him all at once. It was one of the freakiest things I've ever seen.
You cannot end the story there. Please continue.


Lemme elaborate on the guy a bit first - tall, big, CRAZY-ass fearless LARPer. He and I were ushers for an off-Broadway show at about this time too and he was the one we sent to deal with the people who were taking stealth video of all the shows because he could glare impressively. I once talked to him after he'd done a line of coke and hadn't noticed any difference.

I also hadn't known that he was trying to ingest all this caffine through the day on the day this happened - all I knew was that "E is somewhere at work and won't be home until later." I was on our shared computer in the living room that evening, minding my own business and in a chat room with a mutual friend of ours, when suddenly the front door BANGED open and E was there, wide eyed and pupils FULLY dilated. He took a deep breath and then said the following:
"omigodican'tbelievehowweirdthisfeelsihavehadsomuchcaffinebecause ofallthecoffeethismorningandthenallthejoltrememberjolt?allthesugartwicethecaffinewoooooocaffineisgooooooodbutholyshititididn'tkickinuntilalljustnowandihavehadsomuchwhatwiththejoltandthecoffeeand
ohyeahialsohadchocolatecoveredespressobeansandthisfeelssoweirdohwaitareyoutalkingtosandi
tellsandihiomigodican'timaginewhatyou'retellinghernow'HELPMEMYROOMMATEISFREAKINGMEOUT'butcaffineisyourfriend-"
and on and on for a good three straight minutes, and then he finally stopped, drew another deep breath, and then giggled manically for another solid three minutes. And then he stopped, drew another deep breath, and then weakly said, "I think I need a sandwich or something." And he made himself something to eat and then sat on the sofa picking at it, vibrating faintly, for another twenty minutes or so before going up to his bed.

I had long since retreated to my room and was debating locking the door.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:09 PM on April 10, 2013 [17 favorites]


So what happens to the people who don't drink coffee?

The coffee supplies are only going to last so long. After that we rule the 'effin world.

Think of it as a world where we all have slow moving zombies as slaves. Ones that don't bite, at least not contagiously.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 1:10 PM on April 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


In college I had a girlfriend who was actually put to sleep by caffeine. Midday cup of coffee or mug of tea->immediate lethargy followed by nap.

It's an opponent process overshoot. Basically too much caffeine results in the body attempting to damp down arousal. In some cases it goes to far. It happens to me all the time.
posted by srboisvert at 1:26 PM on April 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


I get that the author wanted to call back to a specific stereotypical 'when old white men made stupid decisions' mindset

For what it's worth, I'm reading the narrator of the story as being kind of intentionally-blinkered bizarre manchild who has only the tiniest inkling of how the world works.

I think that the narrator gendering all the characters as default-male is kind of equivalent to a five-year-old boy playing with action figures, and that the decision to not identify the characters as female is less about John Bailey Owen than about the voice of the narrator, who is himself a somewhat-dim character being created by Owen.
posted by Greg Nog at 1:48 PM on April 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


Think of it as a world where we all have slow moving zombies as slaves. Ones that don't bite, at least not contagiously.

Except for 0.1%, who will EAT YOUR LIVING FLESH AND WEAR YOUR SKIN!
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:55 PM on April 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


Except for 0.1%, who will EAT YOUR LIVING FLESH AND WEAR YOUR SKIN!

Hey now; around these parts we call that "Tuesday".
posted by quin at 2:09 PM on April 10, 2013


I went through the entire cycle of addiction with caffeine. Of course, the severity of the problem wasn't as bad as it might have been with other drugs, but the basic outline was the same.

1. Tried coffee once. Got enjoyably wired and thought it would be good to drink it "every now and again."
2. Started drinking it a couple of times a week.
3. Started drinking it every day.
4. Started drinking it twice and sometimes three or four times a day.
5. Tried and failed to quit when I discovered that I would suffer fairly unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.
6. Had a "rock bottom" moment (being told by my doctor that my blood pressure was so high I might explode at any moment).
7. Quit, and started using drinking methadone decaf.

It's a hell of a drug.
posted by The Card Cheat at 2:14 PM on April 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


"None the worse for were" gets 787 hits on the Google.

"When he transformed back from his wolf shape in the morning, Larry's mouth tasted of woodland animals, but he was otherwise none the worse for were."
posted by Grangousier at 2:16 PM on April 10, 2013 [13 favorites]


Hey, as long as Diet Pepsi still works.....
posted by Lucinda at 2:19 PM on April 10, 2013


And he never seemed all wired up either - he seemed a pretty normal guy. One time someone else in one cast asked him, "D, what would happen if you didn't drink coffee?" D just laughed, and didn't say anything. I was too uneasy to press further.

Yeah, I've never understood the big deal, exactly. I used to go through a 2L (or more) of Coke/Mt Dew per day and it didn't get me all wired either. I eventually decided it couldn't be doing me any good though and cut it out. I had 2 days of hell, but other than that...caffeine does nothing for me. I can drink it right before bed and have no problem at all.
posted by DU at 2:27 PM on April 10, 2013


D just laughed, and didn't say anything.
the front door BANGED open and E was there

IT KICKED HIM UP A WHOLE LETTER.
posted by davidjmcgee at 2:32 PM on April 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


I MEAN OTHER THAN THE FACT THAT THEY WERE TWO DIFFERENT PEOPLE.

/switches to decaf
posted by davidjmcgee at 2:33 PM on April 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've always stayed away from caffeine because I'm extremely sensitive to its effects. One cup of coffee at brunch and I'm up until 2AM, cursing the world. If I need a boost, I'll have a cup of caffeinated tea, and that will wake me up or help me concentrate. Caffeine is fun but not to the point where I need it to function.

So, I guess this is how I see the rest of the world.

"We need coffee!"
Why?
"BECAUSE COFFEE!"
Why?
"Because if I don't drink it I'll fall apart and hate everything!"
Why don't you stop?
"Because I need it!"
posted by Turkey Glue at 3:06 PM on April 10, 2013


"I can drink it right before bed and have no problem at all."

Same here - only way I really know I've had too much caffeine is relentlessly sweaty palms.
posted by stenseng at 3:42 PM on April 10, 2013


BTW, I sort of assumed the Secretary of Energy was female because she asked if they could name the new territories using swear words. This may just be a reflection of the women I know though.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 4:33 PM on April 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Good ol' caffeine, we hang out twice a day via my coffee cup.

As for No-Doz, the only time I tried it I finally fell asleep, and later woke up on a pillow soaked in blood because my nose had been bleeding for...well, I don't know how long. Luckily, the young lady next to me didn't wake up.

Had to throw out the pillow.
posted by wenestvedt at 4:40 PM on April 10, 2013


I'm suprised that no one has linked cstross' excellent alternate reality yearn about coffee, Extracts from the Club Diary.

Coffee; it can make or break the world.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:06 PM on April 10, 2013


Coffee’s effectiveness, the scientist said, was declining because of global warming.

Not as whimsical an idea as one would like... Previously:
Specialty coffee production in many Central American countries is already threatened by abnormal weather patterns
posted by BinGregory at 5:14 PM on April 10, 2013


I love how this is story is apparently actually about global warming but people make it all about the coffee, and the discussion thread is almost entirely about people talking about coffee, and only just now (on preview) any mention of global warming.
posted by The otter lady at 7:17 PM on April 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


What would you have us say? Global warming is real. Legislators refuse to deal with it, because they are constrained by selfish, short term thinking. That sucks. We should continue to advocate vociferously for a sensible, scientifically sound approach.

Did I miss anything?
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:42 PM on April 10, 2013


“It’s like an Agatha Christie novel in here, except with suicides,” said the President’s jester. The room was silent. They hated that the President had gotten a jester.

This whole thing was hilarious, on the face of it, but I really liked how it was developed. You're reading along to see about what sort of lunacy these silly politicians are going to do in order to keep coffee around (even if for themselves) and then you see that it's being tied to the current inability of the power class to do anything or care anything about global warming.

And it makes sense, like coffee and dirt bikes and Motley Jacks, why they don't give a shit about the global warming: because it's not actually going to hit them personally. Not like missing coffee would. I mean, even if 3.7% of the population gets killed in a particularly bad storm, that's not really a problem because it's no one they know.

Besides, why would they care? "Fuck you, got mine (coffee)".

I liked this.
posted by barnacles at 8:19 PM on April 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


To answer the question of "a world without coffee," I read the Ivory trilogy book by Doris Egan. In the middle book, "Two-Bit Heroes," a band of brigands basically blackmail the government into freeing them all by stealing every bit of coffee-substitute beverage they can get their hands on and not giving it back until they get a pardon.

I really wish I liked coffee. Everyone raves about how good it smells, how yummy, the heavenly yum-yum good taste. Plus, it gets you awake! And/or possibly hyper! Every morning, 90% of any office is all, "I haven't had my coffee yet!" and "Yum, my coffee" and "Let's hit Starbucks!" You are left out of the world when you don't like the stuff, plus you're forced to stay awake on your own recognizance or resort to lesser beverages. Plus the awkwardness of being asked out for a coffee date and you're all um, um, I don't like it...no, I don't want to go to Peet's, their tea sucks too.... Argh. I get so tired of it. I think coffee and chocolate are the main mandatory foods that everyone has to like in order to fit into society, and it's super damn awkward if you don't like one or both of them.

Meanwhile, to me coffee tastes like burnt bitter dirty socks stuffed in the mouth and smells overpoweringly burnt and foul and no, I can't drink the espresso, whateverchino, coffee ice cream or coffee candy either. I tried decaf because I was told that would make it less bitter and it still tasted like burned-ish dirty socks. I tried specifically "de-bittered" coffee in Hawaii and couldn't tell the fucking difference.

Why is it so good? I'll never know and I don't understand why everyone loves it. I get that they love the caffeine boost, but beyond that, finding it genuinely tasty? HOW?!?!?
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:36 PM on April 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


So what happens to the people who don't drink coffee?

The coffee supplies are only going to last so long. After that we rule the 'effin world.

NO WE WILL KILL YOU BECAUSE WE HAVEN'T HAD OUR COFFEE YET FOREVER
posted by DyRE at 1:02 AM on April 11, 2013


@jenfullmoon your feelings toward coffee describe my feelings toward pop (soda, cola p, fizzy beverage). Tastes bad, all kinds. I get funny looks as though I have committed some terrible social crime when I admit I don't like pop.
posted by Gadgetenvy at 6:44 AM on April 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh, man, I just remembered - when I was about 22 and still a bit spottily-employed, I was working on writing a short story and decided I was going to pull an all-nighter because I really wanted to finish it. So I brewed myself a whole pot of coffee, put my "writing music" (Peter Gabriel's Passion) on my Walkman and started working.

I was doing fine for the first hour, going straight for a new cup as I finished each one. But somewhere about 1 am my focus started to drift a bit. I kept typing, kept listening to the music, but kept getting more and more distracted until about 2 am when I got up and danced wildly in the apartment in the dark to A Different Drum and then threw up. I took that as a sign I should stop and go to sleep, and despite the caffine I actually managed to. When I got up the next day to read what I'd written, after a certain point it was wholly unreadable and I was freaked out enough to swear never to try that again.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:13 AM on April 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


finding it genuinely tasty? HOW?!?!?

Mostly with milk and scads of sugar. Think coffee-flavored ice cream.

I drink it mostly for the caffeine, but black coffee is an acquired taste, much like alcohol.

And chocolate? Chocolate is almost as good as an opiate.
posted by mrgrimm at 4:08 PM on April 11, 2013


Why is it so good? I'll never know and I don't understand why everyone loves it. I get that they love the caffeine boost, but beyond that, finding it genuinely tasty? HOW?!?!?

I had to start with girly, barely coffee coffee drinks. Then lattes. Then coffee with a little milk. Then really great just-ground-ten-minutes-ago coffee brewed right in front of me. Only then was regular coffee bearable.

But if you're talking about crappy office/cafeteria coffee, I have no idea how anyone drinks that stuff either.
posted by topoisomerase at 8:58 PM on April 11, 2013


But if you're talking about crappy office/cafeteria coffee, I have no idea how anyone drinks that stuff either.

*raises hand.

I drink it every single day. I like gas-station coffee OK too. At my first job, the employees had to pay for coffee. Are you kidding me?

Anyway, I started drinking it black, from Krispy Kreme in the late '80s, right before the whole Starbuck's thing took off. I never got that. It seems really overpriced. Coffee should be like $1 a cup.

It's for the CAFFEINE, people.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:50 PM on April 11, 2013


It's for the CAFFEINE, people.

Exactly. Yes, well-made coffee is tasty and all that, but for the vast majority of people, coffee is just a caffeine delivery system.

You wanna know why so many theater people are perpetually carrying coffee cups? Do you know how early rehearsals are sometimes????
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:55 AM on April 12, 2013


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