Tag Archives: Coffee

Four Years of the Incredible Shrinking Brain

Have you ever walked into a different room of your home, stopped, and suddenly realized you don’t remember why you walked into that room?  Maybe it’s the kitchen, and you’re standing in front of the open refrigerator, beer and milk and butter staring back, and you think, “What was I just doing?”

What about standing in front of the refrigerator and thinking, “What was I just doing…for four years?”

I’m not in front of a refrigerator, but in a coffeehouse in Austin, TX, and in three days I will turn twenty-nine years old.  I moved to Austin on my twenty-fifth birthday, and looking back, this latter half of twenty has possessed an unimaginable momentum, a speed proportional to gained years, but a mindboggling speed nonetheless.

English poet and essayist Charles Lamb once wrote, “The young man till thirty never feels practically that he is mortal.”

Which is to say:  Yay!  This feeling of immortality has life left in it yet!  368 more days of mindless, unbound, electric youth!  I can swig booze and maraud the midnight streets with immunity, engage in jittery fistfights with the sunrise after an all-night coffee and writing binge, digest entire taco stand inventories with nary a spark of heartburn, and swagger beard-first through Ladytown like I’m the muscled mayor of their every fantasy.

But let’s be honest with ourselves here.  The last four years have been a gradual slipping, an encroaching entropy.  Thirty won’t be a flipped light switch that plunges me into darkness, where I’m alone in a room and staring at projections of arthritis and memory loss on the wall.  It’s more of a dimmer switch, with age-related susceptibilities slowly coming into focus, ears gradually tuning to the frequencies of recommended prostate exams.  (How exactly does one reconcile rectal realities?  Does alliteration distract enough from the probing physician?  Let’s heartily hope so.)

At this point in the blog, those already into their 30s, 40s, and beyond are surely muttering, “Oh, woe is you.  Weep for your dying youth,” and not without a merited sarcasm.  But, allow me my pity party.  I already suffer the pains of my greatest gustatory loves, pizza and coffee.  The heartburn, or possibly serious acid reflux, eats away my insides; flames lacerate their way up into my chest and into the bottom of my throat.  I love pizza and a mean caffeine buzz, and I’d like to imagine myself bravely marching from barista to pie-maker and back again for decades, but that march will likely come with a bandoleer of Rolaids and a Maalox mustache.

Oh, and these coffeehouse girls, obvious undergrads increasingly too young for me.  I overhear them studying biology, words like “eukaryotic” and “mitochondrian” affirmed by their partners as right answers.  They multi-task with a mental bandwidth that’s panoramic and fluid – studying cell structure from a textbook while playing music from their laptops while sending texts while Instagramming their entire coffee table tableaux.

As their biology terms mix with descriptions of boys in their class, I go into a haze of half-listening, and I begin to dwell on biological facts of a more depressing and personal nature:

The brain peaks in size at 25, after which it begins to shrink, lose weight, and fill with fluid. 

The heart continually becomes a less efficient pumping machine.  Joint function steadily declines.  The lungs become less elastic; you can’t fill them as full or empty them as completely of stale air. 

You simply can’t take in as much of the world, and you can’t let go of that you’ve absorbed.   

I may need something stronger than an iced coffee.  Something with whiskey.  Maybe nothing with whiskey, just whiskey.  And yet, even my capacity for drinking seems diminished.  I’m reminded of a recent, embarrassing memory:

The scene opens to tunnel vision, with fuzzy edges around a too-slowly-receding perimeter.   I see pale, fuzzy knees sticking out of shorts, and the depth of field shifts allowing me to see flip-flop covered feet around the same time I feel them splattered in vomit. 

Localization is gradually determined:  this planet, this state, this city, this patio, this lawn chair, this hunched over body.

Those puke-covered feet. 

My feet. 

I’m on the rug-covered patio belonging to people I’ve only recently met.  The friend who brought me here is missing.  In fact, I’m alone – the only person filling a chair in a circle of chairs previously populated.  It’s dark except for the light of two mosquito-repelling candles.

I’ve either just woken myself up vomiting, or I woke up just in time to vomit.  I’m not sure which one is more ridiculous, but I am sure contemplating the distinction isn’t going to make this any easier to explain.  So, when I find my friend in the kitchen, I don’t.  I just suggest we bail, and I end up passing out on her living room floor next to her cat. 

I never once, through high school or college, was the person who threw up in a socially unsanctioned location.  “How does someone just puke like that?” I used to indignantly wonder.  I wish I hadn’t found the answer.  Blackout puking is for the young.  I mean, I have dental insurance – I’m too old for this shit.

I need a bagel or a muffin or a –

With age, muscle mass declines, metabolic rate slows, and caloric intake should be subsequently reduced.    

Ugh.  I should probably get out of this coffeehouse and go for a walk.  Do I have the right shoes for it?  I should probably stretch first.  Can I even touch my toes anymore?   It’s dark out; I should wait til daytime.  But it’s so hot all the time.  Maybe go to a gym instead, with air conditioning and treadmills.  They have TVs in there.  I could make a running playlist to encourage me.  Yeah, that sounds good.  I’ll start on my birthday.  Yeah.  Research for a few days, build that high-energy playlist.  Start walking, then jogging.  Maybe even look into yoga classes.

Exercise is known to help brain function.  Perhaps I can hinder or offset the shrinking of my brain.

That way, maybe I’ll have a better answer when I’m 30 and in front of the open refrigerator, staring back at prune juice and almond milk and light margarine, and asking, “What was I just doing…for five years?”

But right now I just remembered I wanted a chocolate chip, banana bread muffin.  And I should probably go ahead and pop an antacid before things get carried away.

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