Pistolette is quitting coffee for a couple weeks, so I thought I’d revisit the topic myself.

I noted back in March that I’d started my eighth coffee reduction earlier than usual this year. Normally I wait until the weather gets hot, but this year I discovered the joy of dandelion coffee: roasted dandelion root + roasted chicory root = delicious.

Dandelion Coffee

(Thanks to Elana for the recipe.)

I was feeling good, everything was groovy — and then something happened. The Harvard School of Public Health announced the result of a study, which indicated that coffee may reduce risk of lethal prostate cancer in men. Among other things, the study found:

  • Men who consumed the most coffee (six or more cups daily) had nearly a 20% lower risk of developing any form of prostate cancer.
  • The inverse association with coffee was even stronger for aggressive prostate cancer. Men who drank the most coffee had a 60% lower risk of developing lethal prostate cancer.
  • The reduction in risk was seen whether the men drank decaffeinated or regular coffee, and does not appear to be due to caffeine.
  • Even drinking one to three cups of coffee per day was associated with a 30% lower risk of lethal prostate cancer.

Well, that took the wind out of my coffee-free sails. After all, cancer prompted my dad to have a radical prostatectomy several years ago, so the risk would appear to run in my family. I’d like to avoid that if possible. If gulping gallons of coffee might make a significant difference, well, why not?

So I got back on the bean, and I’ve been swilling java all summer long.

And you know what? It kind of sucks. I’ve enjoyed taking half the year off from coffee.

Hopefully further research will identify the beneficial components of coffee, antioxidants perhaps, and maybe I’ll find another way to ingest them.

Valerian Dreams

Common Valerian

I’ve been drinking a cup of valerian root tea on occasion when I think I might have trouble sleeping.

Man. Anyone who is skeptical of natural remedies should try this. The stuff works. Most of the time, anyway. The first three times I took it, I felt a strong sedative effect, and had no problem going to sleep early. Last night it wasn’t so effective, perhaps because I didn’t let it steep as long, but when I finally got to bed at my usual time, I slept soundly.

As an interesting side effect, I’ve enjoyed some unusually vivid dreams. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I’ve remembered my dreams more vividly. A few weeks ago I dreamed that Antonie Batiste and Big Chief Lambreaux (characters on HBO’s Treme) were making a sculpture out of tomato paste. This morning I was a soap inspector living in a giant tree.

But last week I remembered way more. I was looking through some old stuff and had my memory jogged about a defunct social network service I had used years ago. It was a minor flash in the pan, similar to Twitter, but before Twitter. It was called Rsslssnss or something equally ridiculous and unpronounceable. I looked it up on Wikipedia and was intrigued to learn the inventor was residing in New Orleans. He was just a teen at the time but now would be a young adult. For reasons I can no longer discern, I tracked down his address and went to pay him a visit.

He wasn’t home, but somehow I gained access to the house (which seemed more California-style than anything around here) and soon found myself perched in front of his iMac looking through his files. He came up behind me and tapped my shoulder and didn’t seem mad at my blatant violation of his privacy. We talked for a while and when it was time to go I discovered my shoes were missing. He loaned me a mismatched pair of shaggy Day-Glo slippers. One was green, the other orange with heel. I thanked him and went on my way.

That’s it. Certainly not the strangest or most profound dream I’ve ever had, but my memory of it was very vivid. Some quick net searching indicates I’m not the only one who’s noticed this effect from valerian root.

Xy will want me to note that the root stinks to high heaven. It smells like toejam. It’s so nasty that I have to keep the tea bags, which are already in a foil packet, sealed inside a plastic bag. Of course I could just buy some sort of encapsulated formulation but where’s the fun in that?

Common Valerian / Willie Angus / BY-NC 2.0

Rites of Spring

dandelion roots 4

Another advantage of sickness — it can be a good excuse to go on a sobriety binge. I don’t know about anyone else, but when I’m sick my desire to drink alcohol and caffeine diminishes severely. I don’t want anything to make my recovery longer.

Actually, let me make a liar of myself. In the first week of this bronchitis, I continued to enjoy a little coffee in the mornings, maybe a quarter-glass of wine at dinner, and a hot toddy (with a shot of Wild Turkey 101) before bed.

But in the second week I tapered off completely, and now I am stone cold sober and decaffeinated as well.

Cold turkey is fine for Wild Turkey, but for caffeine the gradual approach is best. I should know. This has become something of an annual ritual for me. This is my eight coffee reduction in almost as many years.

Usually I wait ’til May for the coffee reduction, but this year I had the bronchitis as an excuse, and it occurred to me that this could be a sort of purification ritual in preparation for the vernal equinox. That seemed somehow appropriate to the spirit of the season. I often get into the spirit of Lent by giving up alcohol, so why not caffeine at the same time?

Just to be clear, for me it’s not an act of penance. It’s about feeling good. I enjoy coffee and other adult beverages, but I also enjoy laying off for a while.

In fact, all notions of penance aside, I wonder if the common practice of abstinence at this time of year doesn’t resonate in part because of some spirit inherent in the season itself, something about the character of spring.

As I write this I’m drinking a cup of roasted dandelion root tea. It’s supposed to promote healthy liver function, but mainly I bought it just because I like herbal teas that taste sort of (for lack of a better word) medicinal. I drank a lot of elderflower and licorice root tea when I was sick, but now I was ready for something different, and the dandelion root caught my eye at the grocery. The liver detox claim is an added bonus.

My boss is also off booze for Lent, so I offered her a bag of the tea. She tried it and absolutely hated it. Couldn’t finish it. I have to admit it is plenty bitter. It’s also plenty dark. As I was drinking this cup I forgot myself for a moment and thought I was drinking coffee. Then it dawned on me — that’s probably why my boss and I reacted so differently. She’s not a coffee drinker. I on the other hand have learned to love the bitter taste.

As I went looking for a photos of dandelion root, I was astonished to stumble across this recipe for dandelion root coffee, made with equal parts roasted dandelion root and roasted chicory, and a little cinnamon. I’m going to have to try that if I can only find the ingredients.

But what really gets me is when Elana, publisher of said recipe, notes:

Dandelion is a fantastic liver cleanser and spring is the perfect season for liver support.

Which bears out my previous ruminations. Maybe there’s something to the idea of spring as a season of purification.

I’m enjoying this hot bitter drink now, but cold bitter drinks are especially refreshing when the weather heats up — which it will soon. Last year our Beltane party confirmed my love of amaro. Might have to do that again.

Dandelion Roots 4 / oceandesetoiles / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Coffee Reduction #7

Empty cup of coffee

It’s that time of year again. Early last week I cut my coffee consumption down to three cups per day, then two, and I’ve been down to one for several days now. Tuesday will be a half-cup. By the end of the week I will be a free man.

You have to step it down like this. Cold turkey is not advisable for coffee addicts. By my count, this is my seventh (almost) annual wean from the bean.

Some questions remain. Will this be an iced-tea summer? Or will I survive and thrive on no caffeine at all? Should I go for a full detox and lay off the booze for a while too? Maybe get back into a regular exercise routine? Zen macrobiotic diet? Where will this madness end?

Photo by Stig Morten Waage


My day started off with a bang. I’d just changed the inner tube on my bike because I ran over a screw the other day. First flat I’ve had in over a year, seems like. I pumped it back up, went to the sink to wash my hands and BANG. Really loud. Scared me. At first I thought the compressor on our new freezer had blown, or something crazy like that. It was the tube, of course. Had I simply over-inflated it?

So I drove to work. Xy didn’t need the car. I’m back on the java junk after six months or so of caffeine free living. But my second cup cooled off a little, so I stuck it in the microwave for a minute and BANG. Half the cup was splattered around the inside of the microwave. I’ve heard that can happen but never experienced it before. Later Janice noticed the microwave was not working any longer, so I unplugged it.

On the way home for lunch I picked up another inner tube. This time I checked the tire for any sharp protuberances. Didn’t find any. Pumped up the new tube. BANG. Again. Something about that loud noise makes the air look like it’s vibrating. I guess it is.

So I took the whole wheel in to my friendly neighborhood bike shop. They diagnose I need a new tire. So I get one, and I’m back in business.

Explosions. It seems like everything I touch today is blowing up.

But these incidents are nothing compared to the news that’s erupting through my computer. An old friend has been arrested. Another old friend’s dad died. Psychic explosions.

When I plugged the microwave back in, it worked.


The Ciprofloxacin is so effective it’s scary. Within an hour or two of taking the first dose, I felt worlds better. As my friend MF noted, you can feel it at work in your body. Rumbling throughout the digestive tract. I feel like I’ve dropped a nuclear bomb in my colon. And I can literally feel my body crying out for water after a dose. Then weird waves of cold and heat.

The doc called with the results of my bloodwork. As with most medical professionals, he expressed amazement at my cholesterol numbers and told me to thank my parents. (Thanks, Mom & Dad!) No diabetes, no mono, but (most relevant to the matter at hand) a high white blood cell count. That’s evidence of bacterial infection, and that’s good news, since that was the theory behind taking the Ciprofloxacin.

As for the giant lump on the side of my neck, it hasn’t reduced in size, but at least it hasn’t gotten any bigger.


It still hurts, but a little Ibuprofen helps with that.

About 17 or 18 years ago I had a lymph node on the other side of my neck that swelled up and never went down. Eventually I had it excised and biopsied. (It was benign.) Hopefully this one will just return to normal in good time.

Ten Years Ago

I see Slashdot is celebrating its tenth anniversary. That gave me pause to reflect on an artifact from my life ten years ago, which for various reasons I’ve been re-reading recently.

It’s called Stone Cold 97, and I suppose you could say it was my first foray into blogging. Actually it was a collaboration between my father and myself, on the subject of drugs. I hadn’t heard the term “blog” at that time, nor did I have any handy blogging software. Dad sent his entries to me via e-mail and I posted them online manually. The comments also came via e-mail and I had to add them manually too. You kids today don’t know how easy you got it, with your automated blogware.

There’s quite a bit of text there, but if you’ve got some time to kill, you might find it interesting.

At the Laundromat

Upon our return to New Orleans, we had a bit of laundry to do, so I made my way to a nearby laundromat. This place was flooded, but it finally re-opened during our absence. The proprietor was hanging out in front, listening to Earth, Wind & Fire with his dog. I congratulated him on his renovation. We got to talking and eventually he offered me a cold beer. Then he offered me the remainder of a marijuana cigarette. Then a cop came out of the laundromat and stood next to me. I was nervous, but played it cool, and nothing happened. I guess this is the city’s way of saying, “Welcome back to New Orleans.”

For the record, drinking a can of beer on the street is legal here. Marijuana is not, but believe me when I say that marijuana is not the problem drug here. Heroin, cocaine and, yes, alcohol are our big problems. Maybe crystal meth too.

In the past I would have found this experience amusing and even charming, fodder for a good story. I still feel that way, sort of, but I’m also a little unsettled by the whole experience. Part of me wants to say, “This is why I love New Orleans.” But part of me also wants to say, “This is highly dysfunctional.” I’m caught between these two contradictory responses, and I don’t know how I feel. I can’t find the dividing line anymore.

As a rule I don’t like to drink beer in the morning but in this case I made an exception.

And a Hungover New Year

If I’d tried to post yesterday, It would have looked something like this:

Worst. Hangover. Ever. Can’t. Barely. Type.

This one took me by surprise. I correlate hangovers with drinking too much, plain and simple. But this time around, I wasn’t really that drunk. Not so’s anyone would notice. I might have expected a mild headache, but not this extreme sickness, not this complete incapacitation.

I’ve always scoffed at the notion that mixing the wrong types of alcohol exacerbates a hangover. Now I have to give that theory some credence. It was the champagne, on top of everything else, that really put it over the top. I knew that champagne was trouble when I drank it.

Man, I haven’t had a hangover this bad since the Great Gin & Tonic Debacle of ’92. Dry heaves. All day.

Now that I think about it, there has been one other common factor in my last three hangovers. His name is Tony Limjuco. So I’m blaming it all on him. That man is a danger to my health and safety. Someone needs to take him out.

New Year’s Eve was a lot of fun, what with the Orleans Avenue Bonfire and the Hoppin’ John and so forth. But New Year’s Day was a humiliating low point in a lifetime which has had more than its share of humiliating low points.

Resolved: Never again to drink champagne at 2 AM in the presence of Tony Limjuco.

At the Spellcaster

I’ve heard of the 9th Ward hipster scene, but I never checked it out until this past Saturday night, when Mr. Quintron and Miss Pussycat re-opened the Spellcaster Lodge. I’d never been there before, but I’ve been a fan of Quintron ever since I heard his Satanic croaking organ cover of Lesley Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me” (mp3). On the bill for the Grand Re-opening: Black Lips, Quintron and Pussycat, Uncle Flim Flam and DJ Jubilee.

Tony and I stopped first at the Saturn Bar for a beer, then made our way across St. Claude. The Spellcaster is the lower floor of a house, and you could easily miss it because the entrance is in the rear. But eventually we found our way in. I don’t know what the place looked like before the flood, but they redecorated in high kitsch, complete with bubbling water-filled “porthole” lights and sparkly-shaggy wallpaper and little display cases with tableus of pinecone people. The place was filling with a mix of interesting folk of every description. I started to get a real David Lynch Blue Velvet vibe. I think the drugs were kicking in.

Though their website said “we now have air conditioning” and “ventillation,” as the grew it got hotter and hotter inside. I heard one person refer to it as the “Spellcaster Sweatlodge.” Another person said the heat was making him hallucinate. I swear it must have been up to a hundred degrees when I went to the bar.

And who should be working behind the bar but Antoinette K-Doe, widow of the late Emperor of the Universe himself. It was so hot I was worried for her health.

Fortunately it was very nice outside, but even the back yard was getting crowded. Soon Tony and I adjourned to the Saturn. I never even got to see any of the musical acts. But never fear, there was an interesting crowd at the Saturn now, overflow from the Spellcaster perhaps. Tony and I perched on the balcony to drink and talk and watch the crowd. I found it a fascinating spectacle, even though I felt a bit like an anthropologist. I saw plenty of people I recognized from living in New Orleans for the past seven years.

It reminded me of the microscene back in Bloomington, Indiana in the mid-90s (which continues to this day, as I confirmed during my evacuation). But there were a couple of key differences. Here there was more diversity of age and race. And back in Bloomington I knew most everybody’s name.

I think they must mix ’em strong at the Saturn, because I woke up Sunday with a killer hangover. Thankfully this motivated me to get some more work done on ROX #94. It’s almost finished.

Update: Slimbolala has pix and illustrations.

Crime Prevention

I’ve been thinking a lot about crime and violence lately, because it’s clear that it’s coming back to New Orleans. This point was made in dramatic fashion Saturday morning, when five teenage boys were murdered. The story is making international news but it’s indicative of a problem that’s been plaguing urban America for decades. It’s in all our cities, but in New Orleans it has been just about the worst.

Sometimes a mugging will get violent, and that’s always big news here, but the vast majority of our violent crimes are related to the drug trade, and were so frequent pre-Katrina that they often didn’t make the front page.

When I mention “drug trade” it might conjure images of deranged addicts, so let me be clear: These slayings are about drug money and drug “turf” and the blood feuds that arise from these issues.

If you live in the inner city, this is an undeniable truth: The black market for drugs is lucrative, violent and unstoppable — and attractive to disadvantaged youth.

I know in my heart that the vast majority of violent crime would go away if we got rid of the black market in drugs. Anyone who lives in New Orleans could tell you that.

People have always done drugs and prohibition doesn’t work. The only way to end this reign of terror is to legalize drugs and destroy the black market.

But we can’t do that, because it’s a matter of federal law. People outside of the inner cities tend to have a different perspective on the drug trade. I’m afraid racism raises its ugly head here: Too many suburbanites regard violence as the curse of racial and ethnic minorities. It’s something that happens to “those people” in the inner city, and it’s tragic, but that’s their lot in life.

If we legalized drugs, I do believe drug abuse would escalate somewhat, for a while. But I also believe violent crime would plummet. In the long term, relatively benign “soft” drugs would become more popular than the more harmful “hard” drugs which are so lucrative for criminals now. Ultimately, society would be better off.

I never could have understood this so clearly if I hadn’t moved to the inner city. The rest of the country, non-urban America, will never let us end prohibition. They certainly don’t want their sons and daughters having easier access to illicit drugs.

So what can we do to end this madness?

Good & Bad Friday

Nice to have a holiday. I have Maundy Thursday and Good Friday off — an advantage of working at a Catholic institution. It has given me the opportunity to reflect on how close to “normal” our lives have become, despite the devastation that surrounds us.

We planned to meet some friends at the recently reopened Finn McCool’s for some drinks, to break my booze-fast and make it a Good Friday indeed.

But as we got ready to ride our bikes over there, we discovered that Xy’s bike was missing.

Stolen, apparently!

Xy was mad as hell, and of course our thoughts harkened back to that guy sniffing around our back yard.

Ah well. Perhaps our homeowner’s policy will cover it. In any event, we made it to Finn McCool’s and I broke my fast with a Guiness, a whiskey and coke, a gin and tonic, a whiskey sour and a tequila sunrise. And, upon our return home, a fine bourbon cut with mineral water.

All very nice, but I’d rather have Xy’s bike back.

Holy Hell Week

I haven’t consumed an alcoholic beverage since Mardi Gras. A number of my friends “kinda sorta” gave up alcohol for Lent, but they all gave up on giving up some weeks ago, and they look at me with a mixture of amazement and annoyance.

Instead of alcohol, I’ve mostly been drinking mineral water. After sampling a number of different brands, Gerolsteiner is my favorite, no question. I think I like it because it’s so highly carbonated.

This is the last week of Lent. For my final act, I am going off coffee as well. I’ve been tapering off all last week, and today is my first caffeine-free day. Slight headache, but not to worry. I know what I’m doing. This is my Fourth Annual Coffee Reduction.

I’m looking forward to several days of blissful drug-free sobriety before I break my boozefast on Good Friday. Then I will descend back into a vortex of drunken depravity.

Self-Induced Sickness

They say people are drinking more in New Orleans these days, and I believe it. I’ve certainly been doing my part. I’ve been drinking plenty. I justify this by telling myself I’m stressed out, and that a drink or three will help me relax and temporarily alleviate the anxieties associated with living in a disaster zone.

I wouldn’t say it’s become a problem — at least not yet. But I’ve been keeping an eye on it. I always feel the need to check myself periodically, so I was planning to give up alcohol for Lent, like I did last year. Just after Mardi Gras, which is just around the corner. It’s hard to give up drinking just before Mardi Gras, after all.

But last night I was a little shocked to realize that I put away almost half a fifth of Wild Turkey 101. And a glass of wine, too. Just in one evening.

The good news is today I’ve got a creeping hangover. Not so bad when I first rolled out of bed, but getting worse throughout the morning. Headache and nausea. I actually had to go home from work for a few hours and sleep it off. A couple hours napping, then I was feeling almost normal, and back in the office right after lunch.

I call the hangover good news, because if I didn’t have a hangover after drinking that much bourbon, it would mean I have built up even more of a tolerance. And increased tolerance is one of the measures of addiction. Furthermore, the hangover also puts me on notice: I can’t wait until after Mardi Gras to check myself. I need to back it off now. And the hangover actually makes that easier, because right now the thought of alcohol is somewhat revolting.

But it’s quite embarrassing that this interfered with my ability to perform my job. I feel foolish and ashamed. I should probably keep this information to myself. Certainly I shouldn’t post it to my blog. After all, my boss reads my blog. I sure wouldn’t want him to read this confession. That wouldn’t do. Wouldn’t do at all.

Bouncing Back

Woke up yesterday morning feeling much better. I don’t know how to put my finger on it exactly, because many of my symptoms persist, but somehow it seemed the worst had passed. Since then I’ve had the feeling that I’m getting better rather than I’m so sick.

I went to the doctor yesterday morning, and her diagnosis seemed astute: This is probably a virus. We don’t know that for sure, but it hasn’t yet revealed itself conclusively as a bacterial infection. (Bacteria, of course, can be treated with antibiotics, whereas virii must simply run their course.) So, she wrote me a prescription for an antibiotic (Z-Pack) but instructed me not to take it unless I got worse over the next few days. I thought that was cool.

Xy thinks we should have the prescription filled just to have an antibiotic on hand for some future scenario.

The doc also gave me some freebie Z-Cof tablets. They contain 800-odd mg of guaifenesin and 30 mg of dextromethorphan.

I’m intrigued by guaifenesin. Seems it’s the synthesized version of guaiacum, which is a preparation made from the bark of the lignum vitae tree. It’s been used to treat rheumatism since 1580! And apparently it also thins the mucus, so it’s now used as an expectorant to break up the phlegm in one’s lungs.

Friend John Byrne of Indianapolis writes:

There’s a fairly major head/lung funk going on ’round these parts and I’m currently hosting its vestiges in my very own chest.

I keep hearing the same down here — there’s a nasty bug going around. Seems I hear this every time I get sick. Well, of course, it could be that a nasty bug really is going around, but it makes me wonder — perhaps there are always nasty bugs going around, and I only hear about it when I’m sick because that’s the only time I pay attention or engage in such talk. On the other hand, if it is for real, could it be the same bug up there that people are talking about down here?