An idea was taking shape in my head, a Big Idea, about the plot to destroy America. I'd been piecing together the evidence for months, observing, taking notes, thinking hard, ordering another latte and thinking some more.
Here's the problem that provoked my efforts: Despite all the warnings, the investigative news reports and the calls for government action, we Americans just keep getting fatter and fatter and deeper in debt. Plus, we're completely dependent on a particular hand-held gadget.
We've known for a long time that there's something seriously amiss, but no Grand Unification Theory on the American quagmire has emerged.
This is what I was working on, from the overstuffed chairs of various coffee dens, and I felt I was really close. The source of the problem, I'd recently determined, is an American corporation with an outpost on every block and grasping tentacles reaching ever farther around the globe.
Yes, the culprit is Starbucks. Its over-priced, caffeinated, syrup-added water is the reason we're getting bigger and poorer and more conformist by the day. The hand-held gadget we're addicted to isn't a Palm Pilot or a cell phone, it's an adult-size sippy cup.
That's what I was thinking, until Sir Paul McCartney went over to the dark side.
After great success marketing other labels' music to a nearly captive clientele (incapable of independent thinking due to the post-sugar-rush letdown), Starbucks has just launched its own label and snagged Sir Paul, the Best Remaining Beatle.
This move sparked a wave of bad headline puns, as in "Let it bean." So close to a launch myself -- the exposure of this vast brew-wing conspiracy -- I had to stop and ask myself, if they can get Paul, can they be so bad?
Or is this further evidence of their nefarious plans? You know -- not content with domination in one marketplace, Starbucks enlists the help of a figure who already conquered this country once.
Starbucks' pernicious influence is evident all over our college campuses. Young women no longer announce their pre-childbearing status with svelte waistlines. Their guzzling makes the homesick freshman's overeating of my era look like small potatoes. Or a piece of cake, or a picnic, or ... what I really need is a non-food-related metaphor.
Anyway, kids today are getting chunkier and staying that way, and it's because they're imbibing 500 extra calories per day via a "vente double-mocha-whipped-cream-cappa-frappacino."
It's amazing, really, that wild-eyed conspiracy theorists continue to focus their rage on Wal-Mart. Apart from the occasional landslide at their deforested building sites, all Wal-Mart's doing is getting life's necessities to market at a lower cost than previously imaginable.
And they do this without setting out tip jars.
Starbucks, on the other hand, has stealthily persuaded us that a 25-cent cup of coffee is worth $4.69 once you add a meal's worth of calories to it. That's why the "Zits" cartoon spoofs the caffeine empire as "Four Bucks," the NBC sitcom "Scrubs" mocks it as "Coffee Bucks" and my family calls it "Big Bucks."
The $25 per person per week that could be paying off the nation's personal debt instead goes to waist-expanding, nutrition-free drinks. And now Paul's presence is supposed to reassure us that everything's OK, that we should keep sucking down the brew and sending all our financial assets to Seattle?
No. I can't "let it bean." I have to say something -- though it's not without cost.
The last time I took on a corporate juggernaut was when I suggested a few years ago that the greatest contributor to modern paper recycling is the weekly and very weighty catalogs of the Anthropologie fashion-and-home-decor enterprise.
Since writing that, I have never received another Anthropologie catalog, even though I, repentant, keep buying stuff in their New York and Columbus stores using my information-rich credit card. Nada. Zip. I have been blackballed.
So it's possible that Starbucks' barristas will no longer be allowed to make my tall cafe latte with a half-shot of mocha. This could force me to complete purity in practicing what I preach -- patronizing locally owned restaurants and coffee houses.
It's hard to lead a righteous life, but if I do, I'll save a lot (since coffee anywhere else is cheaper than Starbucks), I'll drink fewer syrupy drinks and drink less often (since independents aren't as ubiquitous as the Seattle chain), and I'll probably lose a few more pounds. Darn the luck.
And it's all because I love my country. Wake up, America, and smell the coffee -- somewhere else.
Ruth Ann Dailey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1733.