No mortal has a central nervous system like mine. Jumpy by nature, alarmed by every little noise, I have the nerves of a cheetah. My fuse is always lighted, my heart flits from branch to branch. As a kid, I was banned from zoos for upsetting the primates.
So I never should’ve started drinking coffee. And I never ever should’ve started up with a smartphone. I am the devil’s plaything — at least where those two raw-nerved obsessions are concerned. Coffee turns me into a frantic puppy. When my smartphone rings, I bark. Pavlov’s dawg.
I quit them both last week because I felt they were getting the best of me. Not cold turkey. More like warm turkey. I lapsed here and there. I slurped down a half cup of the sauce on Tuesday, another on Thursday. I took my smartphone with me on errands and answered a couple of important work calls.
Sure, of all the addictions out there, I suppose you could be addicted to worse things — daytime television or sex, neither of which appeals to me very much (except for sex). If you had to be addicted to something, wouldn’t coffee be less disastrous than most fluids? Better than firewater. Better than Red Bull. And what’s so frightening about a simple gadget, warm and comforting, a smoking six-gun of human connection?
My weeklong sabbatical from caffeine wasn’t exactly full of revelations. As expected, I missed coffee from the very start, missed the feel of the hot mug in my mitt, the sound of a metal spoon tap-tap-tapping against the side of the porcelain cup. Mostly, I missed the bugle call it sent to my bloodstream at 7 a.m. each morning.
The phone sabbatical was more complex, for it dealt with the back-and-forth rhythms of modern life. We’ve come to rely on phones for so much. If you took my car away, I could Uber my way home. It’s not a problem if you snatch my TV — websites and sports score services are now my news.
And Twitter ... dear, delectable Twitter. ... Here’s how my workweek progressed without sending messages on Twitter:
Day 1: I hide the phone in a desk drawer. I take it out of the desk drawer. I sniff it, as you would a good Cabernet. I put it under my shirt, as you would an abandoned kitten. So far, so good.
Day 2: Under terms of my armistice, I can still use my computer, from which I send a note to family: “FYI, ditching cellphone for a week beginning yesterday. Don’t miss me too much.” One kid responds: “Ha ha OK,” which I take as affirmation that she will miss my constant musings. The other family members don’t respond at all.
Day 3: I hide my phone in a golf bag at the far end of the garage. I take it out of the golf bag at the far end of the garage. Feeling guilty, I take my phone to lunch, at a rather nice French place on the edge of downtown. When lunch is over, we kiss.
Day 4: In a weak moment, I take out the phone and tweet, “Day 4 of no coffee, no Twitter. Oops.”
Day 5: To be honest, I miss Twitter a ton, coffee only a little. With Twitter, I miss the action of the interaction, the back-and-forth, the mirth.
Shockingly, I trend toward wise guys — Albert Brooks, Sarah Silverman, Andy Richter — whose quips are sly and timely. Or wise-guy civilians like my buddy Tom, who tweets: “Just filled up for $2.78 a gallon in Columbus, Ohio. Thank you, Saudi America.”
For the uninitiated, that’s all Twitter really is: a quip fest, a runaway cocktail party that goes all hours. It’s full of mundane stuff, but once in a while the party gets raucous and wonderful. Dorothy Parker would’ve owned it.
Marshall McLuhan would’ve feasted on this too, right? All the way back in the ‘60s, he defined media as the technical extension of the body and warned, “The future of the book is the blurb.”
“With telephone and TV, it is not so much the message as the sender that is sent,” he once said.
But my favorite McLuhan quote has always been this: “People don’t actually read newspapers. They step into them every morning like a hot bath.”
So for a while longer at least, I’ll still see you in the tub. And on Twitter.