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Suffering For Cappuccino

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How hard is the economy hitting home? Let us count the espressos.

Intelligentsia, the coffee drinker's coffee emporium, greeted the new year by raising the price of their two-shot, six-ounce "traditional" cappuccino to $3.59 with tax, up from $3.04. That roughly translates to $17.95 for a five-day work week, up $2.75; $71.80 for a month, up more than $16; and a whopping $933 for a year, up $143.

And digging into our pockets even more, Intelligentsia said sayonara to its buy-10-drinks-get-one-free cards. "The free drink deal has become a little unwieldy and costly for us on an annual basis," wrote company CEO and founder Doug Zell in an email whipped with condescension. "The quality of our coffee and service should bring you back to Intelligentsia, not because it's free."

I'll leave it to industry analysts to determine how costly the freebies were for Intelligentsia and how much more good will Zell's austerity moves will cost him on top of his unpopular elimination of 20 ounce drinks (as well as single-shot cappuccinos!) last year in the name of reasserting quality standards. All I know is, factoring in an additional $90, for the drinks I used to get gratis, I'll now be spending more than $1,000 on cappuccinos on an annual basis. I don't spend that much on my daughters' schooling!

What's an espresso man with Zeillian, anti-Starbuckian standards to do? What has to go so the cappuccinos can stay? (Don't waste your breath suggesting I cut back on coffee. You'd be better off arguing I cut back on pizza, but don't try that, either.) Surely, there are some lifestyle adjustments that can be made with only a modicum of remorse. What about, for example, eliminating home delivery of the New York Times, which approaches $700 a year? To hold in your hands or not to hold, that is the question. Would reading the thing online - and downloading the crossword puzzle - be such a terrible sacrifice?

Well, yes. I suppose you could take your laptop into the bathroom with you for quality reading, but who would want to? And the minute you start downloading crossword puzzles - you join the Sudoku crowd: you become a gaming geek. Plus do you really want to be one of the people who helped bring about the death of printed newspapers by forsaking them? Who risk having the ghost of John Peter Zenger wake you from your sleep with an admonition of "Et tu"?

What about phones? Does my family really need land lines when we've got four cell phones competing for adaptor space? Does my self-employed wife really need the separate business line? A little Jaws music, please: The monthly cost of all these phones is $250 and rising. Leapin' long distance! Even if we got Citizens Utility Board-smart and cut unneeded features from our service plans, we'd still be looking at a dumb expense. More and more people are living without "real" phones. Why can't we?

I'll tell you why: Fear. Paranoia. Trepidation. What happens if there's an emergency and cell phone usage is disrupted? What if a hurricane, or worse, hits, and we're stuck in our basement without being able to dial out? How would we call for help? How would we order the pizza? No, we can lose AT&T's "linebacker" insurance, but we've got to keep at least one land line.

Which brings us to the increasingly angry battle zone of TV. With the robber barons of Comcast shamelessly hiking their rates for cable, for DVR service, for movie rentals, for everything, it's getting ridiculously expensive to keep up with Bill Maher, "Big Love," Elvis Costello's "Spectacle" and "Taxicab Confessions." How do you justify spending nearly $200 a month (including high speed Internet) on entertainment that increasingly, I'm told, can be accessed online?

You can't. But think about your eyes, for once: Do you want to come home from a hard day at the office and sink into your easy chair only to spend more time staring at a computer screen? Is "Lost" really worth it? And for those techno sophisticates who watch the Internet on their TV screen, all I can say is this: No Facebook image is worth it.

All this parsing of lifestyle choices is too stressful. I feel my diastolic level going up just writing this. Clearly, the sacrifices we need to make are going to have to occur in less sensitive areas. Like energy. Do we really need to run the washer and dryer more than a couple of times a month? Can't we sleep just as comfortably with the thermostat at 58 or 60? Call me Ozzie and my wife Harriet, but we're completely into the idea of washing the dishes by hand.

Saying stuff like "Honey, I'll dry" and "Pass the detergent" is taking our marriage places it's never been. And who knows, when these bad times are over and happy days are here again, we'll be able to save up for that $7,000 espresso machine Intelligentsia is featuring - and, of course, that $300 grinder - without breaking a sweat. In the spirit of the old Zell, we'll give away every 11th drink to a friend or neighbor. One shot or two.