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Friday, July 01, 2005

Hold the Pickles

I put off going to see a doctor for a physical for 3 years. Before you flog me with irate e-mails, I want you to understand something. I do not recommend avoiding regular physical examinations, especially when you get to be my advanced age. Too many things can go physically wrong with you that a simple physical could have caught in time. I do realize this. That said, I also knew going into the thing that once that nurse got me on those scales, my eating days were basically over.

Unfortunately, I am one of those people who are hungry all the time. I was always hungry as a little kid. It wasn’t that we didn’t have food around. It’s just that, growing up in a backwater East Texas town (we actually had a lower east side), I didn’t get to sample a lot of gourmet cooking. Most of my body is the product of a steady diet of baloney and beans. My sister says this explains a lot of things about me.

In the fifth grade, I landed my first job working a five mile long newspaper route at $5 a week. I bought my very own used metalflake gold Schwinn Stingray bicycle with my earnings. I practically invented motocross bicycling, pedaling the thing like a madman through ragged woodland shortcuts, offroad and on. I weighed 75 pounds sopping wet when I started earning money of my own and with the steady exercise, stayed scrawny. I soon discovered, however, that having your own money gives you actual choices at the candy counter. No more either/or guff from Mom. I was an entrepreneur, a man about town with my own cash and a sugar-crazed junk food junkie. Despite vigorous daily exercise, I managed to put on about 20 pounds in the next year or two now that my beans and bologna diet was being supplemented with peanut butter bars and cheese crackers (they were cheap and available at W.O. Belz’s store where I dropped off five papers for his newsstand every day). I didn’t know what an enchilada was till my sophomore year of high school when my class went to Pancho’s Mexican Buffet. The all you can eat Mexican food place was a revelation. At the time I weighed in around 110 pounds in my skivvies.

Then I discovered pizza and double decker hamburgers. By my 17th birthday, I weighed 155 pounds. That was the summer, I first experienced the joy of carbo-loading. We didn’t actually call it that, but in retrospect, that’s what it was. I had taken a summer job at Lone Star Camp as a trash collector/handyman at $10 per week. It didn’t pay much, even by 1971 standards, but the waterfront girls ran around in bathing suits all day and most of them were unattached and I just happened to be the only acceptable available single guy on the place that wasn’t already going steady.

There were three other guys living in the male staff cabin we all shared. They were okay in the looks department so far as that went, but all of them shared one major (and fatal) flaw. These swarthy Bohemians had all decided that a daily swim in the murky waters of the camp lake sufficed as an adequate bathing regime for anyone and didn’t trouble themselves with the application of soap. Anxious to maintain my boat dock in the moonlight monopoly on female companionship, I allowed them to remain mystified as to why they couldn’t get girls, while I went through a case of soap and three economy-sized bottles of cheap cologne in just over a ten week period.

I was doubly in heaven, thanks to our crusty camp cook, Jack Heiser. Jack cooked plain simple food, heavy on potatoes, cheese and plain vegetables. There was dessert at every meal - something that was almost beyond my comprehension. To top it off, Jack used to save me ice cream bars for doing little favors for the kitchen staff. It’s a wonder we didn’t catch pneumonia. My buddy, Mark and I used to have to stand in the walk-in freezer in our bare feet and wet swimsuits eating our ice cream so that none of the other staff would see us. None of them were ever offered ice cream, because none of them had managed to learn that sucking up to the head cook had major benefits. I put on 15 pounds of hard muscle that summer and was kissed by a girl for the first time in my life. Food was fast becoming inextricably linked with joy. I spent 5 summers at Lone Star, but the food was never better than the two summers Jack was in charge. The man was a culinary genius as far as I was concerned. Then I met Sheila.

My darling wife to be was schooled in the culinary arts by her grandmother, a brilliant Louisiana-style country cook and later by my own beloved grandmother, an equally brilliant Texas-style country cook. She soon surpassed them both and since we married in 1974, I’ve gained about a hundred pounds. The woman has prepared meals that would be illegal in most Northern states. I’ve seen stray dogs kill each other fighting over stuff she’s thrown out because it "wasn’t any good." I know because I participated in several of those dogfights myself and I’m not ashamed. She practices some sort of kitchen voodoo. Her homemade whole wheat dinner rolls need no butter. Her mashed potatoes have inspired no less than 31 marriage proposals. Most of the guys were friends of mine and I was sitting right there at the table when they proposed. There are several respectable deacons in my own church who are just waiting for me to die so they can make their move. One of them keeps jumping out at me from behind things and shouting, "Boo!" and then asking me, "How’s your heart?"

When the doctor got a load of my weight, he said what I knew he would say. "You need to lose some weight." I had expected it, but hearing the actual words almost broke my spirit. For, though my wife hates to see any creature go hungry, she really hates the idea that I might die and not be around the house to fix broken stuff and rub her feet. I started my diet the same day.

It’s one of those no carbohydrate, high protein diets that’s designed to really screw up your metabolism and make you lose weight in a hurry. Now I’m right next to a vegetarian. I live on carbs. My two favorite things in the world are mashed potatoes and homemade rolls. So, here I am stuck eating eggs and sausage, pounds of salad and snacks like fat free turkey breast lunch meat rolled around a cheese stick. I am not really hungry and I eat a lot of food, so it’s not too bad. It’s working too. I lost ten pounds in ten days, but boy howdy am I getting tired of eating the burger part out of the middle of a Whopper and throwing away the bun.

I went to a fast food place the other day (I won’t mention which one) and I asked for a Big Jack. Now I looked all over the menu for the one that looked like it had the most lettuce, tomatoes, onion and pickle and that’s the one I ordered. Now, being wise to the ways of advertisers, I told the disembodied voice in the box that "I want the veggies well-represented on my hamburger." This seemed a simple request and I confidently drove up and paid the teller at the first window. I have discovered why they take your money first. That’s so you have less leverage if they screw up your order. Anyway, I got my burger and before I drove away, I took a peek.
The double meat had been replace by one fat patty. Hiding under the bun was a couple of shreds of lettuce, a transparent slice of tomato, two onion pieces and an anemic looking pickle. Cheese drooled over the whole mess and glopped over the top was a nondescript pile of some pinkish brown substance. "What’s this?" I asked the girl at the window.

"That’s the extra dressing you asked for," she smiled sweetly.

"I didn’t ask for any extra dressing," I told her. "I wanted all the vegetables like on the picture on the sign.

"We don’t make them quite like that, sir," she explained.

"Well I’m on a diet and I’m cranky and I wanted the big hunk of lettuce and the thick tomato slice with the purple onions and half a jar of pickles like it shows on the sign."

"I’m sorry, sir, but I thought you wanted extra dressing."

"What did you think I said?"

"Didn’t you say you wanted the wedges with salad dressing into the burger?"

"Does that make sense to you?"

"Not really?"

"Then why didn’t you ask me to clarify what I said?"

"But sir, we do care if you said..... uh, whatever it was you said."

"I’m beginning to see the error in my approach..."

"Sir, we have this restaurant sprayed for roaches twice a month..."

"Never mind, miss. I really haven’t time for this."

"About 3:30, sir."

A person could lose weight just trying to make this gal understand relatively simple English. It is now my practice to only use exact words and phrases which are printed on the menu as these are the only words on the register buttons. It’s pretty dull, but it gets you something vaguely resembling what you want. Any extended attempt at lively conversation with one of these speakerphone goddesses can get you stuck with the deep fat fried pig’s feet and a diet cola. Most of these ladies seem to be working at their maximum capacity already and your attempts to be literate and scintillating will not likely be appreciated.

What’s really scary is that these legions of pimply faced teen-aged drones are providing the bulk of the monotonous fast food that our nation consumes in such frightening amounts. Why are we gaining weight, then? Are our adolescent children deliberately stuffing their unsuspecting parents with calorie laced junk food? If so, why? Do they want us to croak off early so they can get all our money?

Is it a plot to make us all unattractive in order to prop up their fragile pubescent egos at our expense? Coincidence? You decide!

(c) 2005

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