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DIET-DRINK BRIGADE SUDDENLY JOINS COFFEE KLATCH

If ever a medical report had an instant effect on people's lives, it doubtless was the recent bombshell that a cup of coffee -- let's see, I want to be sure to get this right -- improved one's sex life.

The news broke on the same day that we were told oat bran was of less importance than an apple a day in extending your life on earth.

Within 24 hours of each other, then, the modern roles of two American staples -- coffee and oats -- were reversed. Among the many libidinous imbibers, long-maligned coffee was elevated as the elixir of romantic pleasures and oats were downgraded as just one more deceptive marketing scheme.

As you must know by now, we've been going through these convulsions with some regularity as more researchers learn to drop their findings into the widening channel of mass communications.

As it happened, we were introduced to the oat report via a TV set just above our booth in a spaghetti-specialty restaurant. We sighed quietly in relief when the news anchor identified oats and not pasta as the center of the latest food controversy. (Our motto is: Eat in peace.)

Coffee, of course, has fallen on hard times since the days when it was America's national drink. Not even assurances from Mrs. Olson that mountain-grown beans were the stuff of physical and mental well-being could overcome some people's fears that even for the healthiest among us, it could be two cups and out.

Medical research variously warned us that caffeine could upset and do still greater violence to our stomachs, drive up our blood pressure, imperil our hearts and, at the very least, keep us awake half the night. There have even been doubts raised whether decaf can significantly offset these threats.

Nurtured in an earlier, enlightened generation that believed coffee poured from the fountain of youth, we have despaired over the abuse it has suffered in the hands of modern research. But we have learned to do with less anyway, not because of the waves of warnings, but because in most instances today, coffee is made so badly -- a condition that grows still worse in plastic cups.

However, if anything can save its image, it is the notion that coffee is an aphrodisiac. Note the word notion. A physician associated with the study, Dr. Ananias Diokno, said this of the finding: "It came as a complete surprise to us. We don't know what it means."

Maybe I can help, doc.

On the day the story appeared in all the papers, several members of the diet-pop crowd were seen around the office sidling up to the coffee urn.

One must be discreet about such things. To leap to the coffee urn when the news broke would betray one's lack of confidence in his or her sexual prowess.

So people made tepid jokes and lame excuses about how they happened to have a new coffee cup dangling from their forefinger with a half-filled Diet Coke can back at the desk.

Strange messages shot back and forth on computer terminals despite the long-standing warning that you shouldn't enter words into a computer that might embarrass you if they found their way into the paper. The coffee klatch had returned to favor!

And then the medical writer reminded us that percolating sex continued to carry the threat of heart failure.

Just like that. Party over.

It's that kind of unfair world.

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