Karl the Curmudgeon Hates Decaf Coffee

"Hey Kid, did you order yet? I'm famished." My friend Karl slid into the booth across from me. We were meeting at Crack An Egg a few weeks ago for breakfast, before the whole pandemic shutdown had started.

No, not yet, I said. I just got here. Our server — Megan, her name badge said — set down a couple menus and some water glasses, smiled brightly, and said, "What can I get you to drink, Sweetie?"

Well, I'll have—

"Hold it there, Kid," Karl interrupted, "she was clearly talking to me."

No, she was clearly talking to me because she said 'Sweetie.' If she had said 'Grumpy Old A-Hole,' then she would have meant you.

Megan's smile cooled a few degrees. "I really don't care," she said. "I've been on my feet since five this morning, and my shift ends in two hours."

"Fine, then I'll have a coffee and a large orange juice," said Karl.

"How do you take your coffee?" Megan asked.

Black, like his heart, I said. Megan's smile brightened again. Then I added, I'll have the same, but make mine a decaf.

Megan whisked away before we could pull her further into our nonsense.

"Decaf!" growled Karl. "Who drinks decaf?"

I do, I said.

"Why would you do that? How do you even function?"

With grit and determination, I said. How do you?

"With a hot cup of strong coffee. Not with no namby-pamby decaf."

Not with any namby-pamby decaf, I corrected.

"Shut up. I said it that way for effect." He took a drink from his water.

You mean you can't function without regular coffee?

"Of course not, no one can. Every good writer needs coffee in order to function."

So why do you drink it? I asked, and Karl waved his driving finger at me.

Megan returned with our drinks. "Two orange juices, one coffee, and one—" she paused, the disdain thick in her voice "—decaf."

"See, even she thinks it's unnatural."

Whatever, I said, pouring some half-and-half into my coffee as Megan held her pad at the ready.

"What'll you have, Sweetie?" she asked, looking unmistakably at Karl.

"Denver omelette, sausage on the side, and whole wheat toast."

"And you?" Megan looked like she smelled something bad.

Southwest omelette, sausage, and hash browns, I said.

"Turkey sausage, I'm guessing," Megan said.

Eww, no. Why would I want that?

"Why would you want decaf?" she said

You're sure being judgmental about someone who's leaving you a tip.

"And you're sure being mouthy to someone who's going to be alone with your food." I waved my napkin in surrender and she stalked off.

She's not very forgiving about the decaf thing.

"Well, it's just plain unforgivable," said Karl. "Coffee is a rite of passage we all go through as kids. We drink that first cup of coffee somewhere in our teens and something magical happens. We feel wonderful, like we're floating on a cloud of love and wonder."

Yeah, and then that feeling goes away after a few weeks. Believe me, I remember those days. And then pretty soon you just need that stuff to function.

"I was barely functional before I had this cup right here," said Karl. Megan returned to top off both our mugs and lingered for a moment.

In other words, you drove your 1-ton pickup over here while you were still addle-minded and foggy?

"No, I—"

You chose to operate a motor vehicle at highway speeds even though you were functioning at half-capacity?

"That's not—"

And you can't bring that razor sharp wit to bear on a story, let alone use the toilet properly, unless you consume a foreign substance?

"No, that's not it."

But you just said you were barely functional without your coffee, and that this was your first cup.

"Alright, alright! I may have been exaggerating for effect. But I just don't get how you can function without it. It's not natural."

Like I said earlier, Karl: With grit and determination. How do you think I get up in the morning and go through my day without caffeine? How do you think I stay up late and function the next day on five hours of sleep?

Of course, I love caffeine. I still drink Coke and have a regular coffee once in a while. But if I have too much, I get stressed out and grouchy. So I limit my regular coffee intake to only about one latte per week so I don't explode from anxiety.

Megan patted my shoulder in sympathy and left. She returned a few minutes later with our breakfasts, plus a little something extra for me: two pancakes with a smiley face made out of whipped cream.

"There you go, Sweetie," she said to me, and then she shot Karl a look and left.

Is there any maple syrup? I asked Karl.

"Just the little packets of brown corn syrup," he said.

Well, poop, I said. I need maple syrup. I just can't eat pancakes without it.

Photo credit: John Gillespie (Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0)

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