On my first day, I drove past my favorite Dunkin' Donuts shop and gave a sad canine-like eye to the giant white cups being handed out the drive-through window. One of those cups surely had my name on it.
I arrived at work and started doing some e-mail triage and realized after two hours that I had not said anything - no small talk, no chatter, nothing. I had only uttered a few glottal grunts, the sounds that early Neanderthals made while hunting wooly mammoths. My brain was unplugged. My senses worked but my cranium had crashed. Normally I could reboot it with a large cup of coffee, but I had vowed to try to make it without stimulants.
My eyes were puffy and I looked as if I had just flown in from Sarajevo. Later in the day, I felt otherworldly, as if I were a giant manatee slowly sinking, sinking in a deep lagoon off the Keys.
I had to admit that I was calm but my stomach acid had turned to something akin to borax. Normally, it was awash with fluids that tried to neutralize the coffee tsunami that by this time of morning usually was welling up somewhere near my pancreas.
But I couldn't write or speak or connect with my wired colleagues, some of whom must have started drinking coffee before dawn.
Somehow, I made it through the day working at a pace 50 percent my usual hyperkinetic zoom. No one seemed to notice that I had gone cold turkey. They just thought that I must have something very important that I was writing or editing because I hadn't moved from my computer screen for hours. I also found my normally clipped, can't-talk-now telephone manner was replaced by a quiet listener. One caller must have thought I was the most considerate editor he knew as I listened to a nine-minute-long discussion about an event that was scheduled to be held three months from the present date.
Other callers might have well have been talking to the image of Theodore Roosevelt on Mt. Rushmore.
After work and after dinner, I found myself nodding at the TV.
I greeted the second day with a pounding headache. The blood vessels in my brain had contracted. I found myself moving in such slow motion that I couldn't remember why I had gotten up out of my chair. "Oh, yes, now I remember, I need to check the fax machine."
On the third day, my fellow workers started to notice that I seemed "reserved." One even asked me if I had taken an antihistamine because I seemed groggy and dopey. "No, no. Just doing without coffee," I said. This was the wrong thing to say. I then had to sit and listen to other people's tales of withdrawal and ultimate failure. These folks weren't supportive of my efforts at all and had all presumed (rightly as it turned out) that I would fail to conquer the need for a coffee connection the way they all had.
On Day Four I had trouble staying awake on the drive to work. I opened the windows, played the radio at rock concert-decibel level, but I still drifted from side to side in my lane. That was it. I circled the parking lot and headed to Dunkin' Donuts.
"The usual?" the woman behind the counter asked. "Yeah, thanks," I said and left her biggest tip she would receive all day.
Five gulps later, my cranium clicked on. "Houston, we have lift off."