DEAR SUN SPOTS: Thanks for a great column. Keep up the good work. I have a couple of questions:

What is the significance of the phrase “birds on a wire”?

Is there an antidote for caffeine? For example, if you drink coffee late in the day, can you eat or drink anything to counteract the effect of caffeine so you can fall asleep?

Thanks! — No Name, Lewiston

ANSWER: Sun Spots was not happy with most of the answers for bird on a wire she found online. Several websites quoted the phrase from the 1968 Leonard Cohen song, “Bird on the Wire.” This post was on

“Certainly it is not a free bird, sitting on a telephone wire. … The Leonard Cohen lyrics: ‘Like a bird on the wire, like a drunk in a midnight choir, I have tried in my way to be free.’“So this suggests freedom. But the next line, ‘Like a worm on a hook,’ suggests the opposite.”

Wikipedia offers this:

“In the 1960s, Cohen lived on the Greek island Hydra with his girlfriend Marianne (the woman depicted on the back cover of ‘Songs from a Room’). She has related how she helped him out of a depression by handing him his guitar, whereupon he began composing “Bird on the Wire” — inspired by a bird sitting on one of Hydra’s recently installed phone wires, followed by memories of wet island nights.”

But Cohen was quoted as saying it referred to a gorgeous unobtainable woman he knew but whom he could only touch with his mind.

Other readers referred to means of capturing or controling birds. At’s message board:

“Off the top of my head I think it is something to do with the practice of putting lime on wire fences or creating wire perches in order to trap songbirds — their feet stuck to the lime. Hence the image of something fragile struggling in vain to escape. I think the technique originated in the Middle Ages, but I’m not sure how long it continued.”

Another post referred to the practice of restraining birds with a piece of fishing line or other string or “wire” so they could not fly away.

The silliest posts talked about it being a metaphor for being able to see a long way. Sun Spots thinks a bird’s-eye view has that meaning covered.

There was also, of course, a move called “Bird on a Wire” with Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell. Even though it’s a comedy and hardly meaningful, Sun Spots thinks it’s closer to the mark.

She likes the idea that the phrase refers to how taking a wrong step turns the bird’s safe perch deadly (electrocution). For people the phrase might mean that even if you are in a good place, you should mind your next action.

Readers, what do you think?

As for caffeine, it is a funny drug, bothering some people dreadfully and others not at all. Mr. Sun Spots can drink a cup of coffee and fall sound asleep the next hour. Others would be up all night.

You could, of course, take over-the-counter sleep aids or antihistamines, such as Benadryl, that make you sleepy to counteract the effect. (One website suggested flushing out your system with water, but then you’d have to get up several times to use the bathroom!)

You don’t want to get in the habit of counteracting one drug (a stimulant) with another (a sedative). It’s not as dangerous as the pharmaceutical uppers and downers that film stars (Judy Garland comes to mind) became addicted to while making movies under tight schedules, but it’s not good for you.

Why not just keep some decaffeinated coffee in your freezer for those times you want the taste but not the side effects?

No Name had more than two questions, but Sun Spots ran out of column. She will address those question later this week.

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