CLIFF AND THE CALORIES
According to Daddy, I'll eat anything standing still or even moving slowly. But Mother said nonsense, I simply have a high metabolic rate.
Daddy answered, "You haven't had it checked, so how do you know? Puddin', stand sideways and let me look at you."
Junior said, "She hasn't got a 'sideways,' " and let loose a perfectly horrible laugh that is supposed to sound like Woody Woodpecker and does, only worse. Of what use is the male of the species between the ages of two and sixteen? Later on, they are bearable, even indispensable - at least I would find it difficult to dispense with Cliff, although Junior may never be an asset.
That's how I went on a diet.
It started with Cliff - most things do. I am going to marry Cliff, only I haven't told him yet. I have never had any cause to doubt the sincerity of Cliff's devotion, but I have sometimes wondered what it was he found most attractive about me: my character, disposition, and true worth, or my so - to - speak physical attributes.
The bathroom scales were beginning to make me think it was the former. Perhaps that should have made me happy, but I have yet to find the girl who would swap a twenty - one - inch waist and a good silhouette for sterling merit. Not that I could hope to be
a raving beauty, but a few wolf whistles never did any harm and are good for the morale.'
I had just had a chance to test Cliff's point of view. A girl showed up at school who was exactly my size; we compared measurements. The point is, on Clarice it looked good - cursive and bountiful but good. Maureen, I told myself, here is a chance to get an honest opinion out of Cliff.
I saw to it that he got a good look at her at tennis practice. As we left I said craftily, "That new girl, Clarice - she has a lovely figure."
Cliff looked over his shoulder and replied. "Oh, sure - from her ankles down."
I had my answer and I didn't like it. Cliff didn't care for my type of figure; divorced from my personality it did not appeal to him. I should have felt a warm glow, knowing it for true love. I didn't; I felt terrible.
It was when I refused a second helping of potatoes that evening that the subject of my metabolism came up.
I went to the library next day and looked into this matter of diet. I hadn't known there were so many books about it. Finally I found one that made sense:
Eat and Grow Slender. That struck me as an excellent idea.
I took it home to study. I got a few crackers and some cheese and ate them absent - mindedly while I thumbed through the book. There was a plan for losing ten pounds in ten days; the menus looked pretty skimpy. There was another for losing ten pounds in a month. That's for me, I said; no need to be fanatic.
There was a chapter about calories. They make it so simple: one ice - cream cone, one hundred and fifty calories; three dates, eighty - four calories.
My eye lit on "soda crackers"; I knew they wouldn't count much and they didn't - only twenty - one calories apiece. Then I looked up "cheese."
Arithmetic stirred in my brain and I had a chilly feeling. I went into Daddy's study and used his postal scale to weigh the cheese that had not already become Maureen.
I did the arithmetic three times. Including two little bits of fudge I had eaten six hundred and seventy calories, more than half of a day's allowance given in the reducing diet! And I had only meant to stay the pangs until dinnertime.
Maureen, I said, this time you've got to be a fanatic; it's the ten - day die - trying diet for you.
I planned to keep my affairs to myself, selecting the diet from what was placed before me, but such a course is impossible in a family that combines the worst aspects of a Senate investigation with the less brutal methods of a third degree. I got away with passing up the cream - of - tomato soup by being a little bit late, but when I refused the gravy, there was nothing to do but show them the book.
Mother said a growing girl needed her food. I pointed out that I had quit growing vertically and it was time I quit horizontally. Junior opened his mouth and I stuffed a roll into it. That gave Daddy a chance to say, "Let's put it up to Doc Andrews. If he gives her the green light, she can starve herself gaunt. She's a free agent."
So Daddy and I went to Doctor Andrews' office next day. Daddy had an appointment anyhow - he has terrible colds every spring. Doctor Andrews sent Daddy across the hall to Doctor Grieb who specializes in allergies and things, then he saw me.
I've known Doctor Andrews since my first squawk, so I told him everything, even about Cliff, and showed him the book. He thumbed through it, then he weighed me and listened to my heart and took my blood pressure. "Go ahead," he told me, "but make it the thirty day diet. I don't want you fainting in the classroom."
I guess I had counted on him to save me from my will power. "How about exercise?" I said hopefully. "I'm pretty active. Won't I need to eat more to offset it?"
He roared. "Honey child," he said, "do you know how far you would have to hike to burn up one chocolate malt? Eight miles! It will help, but not much."
"How long do I keep this up?" - I asked faintly.
"Until you reach the weight you want - or until your character plays out."
I marched out with my jaw set. If a girl doesn't have a figure or character either, what has she got left?
Mother was home when we got there. Daddy picked her up and kissed her and said, "Now you've got two of us on diets!"
"Two?" said Mother.
"Look." Daddy peeled off his shirt. His arms were covered with little red pin pricks, some redder than others, arranged in neat rows. "I'm allergic," he announced proudly. "Those aren't real colds. I'm allergic to practically everything. That one" - he pointed to a red welt - "is bananas. That one is corn. That one is cow's milk protein. And there is pollen in honey. Wait." He hauled out a list: "Rhubarb, tapioca, asparagus, lima beans, coconut, mustard, cow's milk, apricot, beets, carrots, lamb, cottonseed oil, lettuce, oysters, chocolate - here, you read it; it's your problem.
"It's a good thing that I went to the campus today and signed up for an evening class in domestic dietetics. From now on this family is going to be fed scientifically," Mother said.
That should have been the worst of it, but it wasn't. Junior announced that he was training for hockey and he had to have a training - table diet - which to him meant beef, dripping with blood, whole - wheat toast, and practically nothing else. Last season he had discovered that, even with lead weights in his pockets, he didn't have what it took for a body check. Next season he planned to be something between Paul Bunyan and Gorgeous George. Hence the diet.
By now, Mother was on a diet, too, a scientific one, based on what she had learned during the two weeks she had actually attended classes. Mother pored over charts and we each had separate trays like a hospital, the time I broke my ankle playing second base for the West Side Junior Dodgers. Mother says a girl with my figure should not be a tomboy, but I said that a tomboy should not have my figure. Anyhow, I am no longer a tomboy since Cliff came into my life.
Somehow, Mother found things that weren't on Daddy's verboten list - stewed yak and pickled palm fronds and curried octopus and such. I asked if Daddy had been checked for those too? He said, "Tend to your knitting, Puddin'," and helped himself to more venison pasty. I tried not to watch.
Mother's own diet was as esoteric, but less attractive. She tried to tempt Junior and me with her seaweed soup or cracked wheat or raw rhubarb, but we stuck to our own diets. Eating is fun, but only if it's food.
Breakfast was easiest; Daddy breakfasted later than I did - he had no lectures earlier than ten o'clock that semester.
I would lie abed while our budding athlete wolfed down his Breakfast of Champions, then slide out at the last minute, slurp my glass of tomato juice (twenty-eight calories), and be halfway to school before I woke up. By then it would be too late to be tempted.
I carried my pitiful little lunch. Cliff started packing his lunch, too, and we picnicked together. He never noticed what I ate or how much.
I didn't want Cliff to notice, not yet. I planned to make him faint with the way I would look in my new formal at graduation prom.
It did not work out. Cliff took two final exams early and left for California for the summer and I spent the night of the prom in my room, nibbling celery (four calories per stalk) and thinking about life.
We got ready for our summer trip immediately thereafter. Daddy voted for New Orleans.
Mother shook her head. "Impossibly hot. Besides, I don't want you tempted by those Creole restaurants."
"Just what I had in mind," Daddy answered. "Finest gourmet restaurants in the country. You can't keep us on diets while traveling; it isn't practical. Antoine's, here I come!"
"No," said Mother.
"Yes," said Daddy.
So we went to California. I was ready to throw my weight (which was still too much) in with Daddy, when California was mentioned. I hadn't expected to see Cliff until fall. I put thoughts of bouillabaisse and Shrimp Norfolk out of mind; Cliff won, but it was nearer than I like to think.
The trip was hardly a case of merrie - merrie - be. Junior sulked because he wasn't allowed to take along his lifting weights, and Mother was loaded with charts and reference books and menus. Each time we stopped she would enter into long negotiations, involving a personal interview with the chef, while we got hungrier, and hungrier.
We were coming to Kingman, Arizona, when Mother announced that she didn't think we could find a restaurant to take care of our needs. "Why not?" demanded Daddy. "The people there must eat."
Mother shuffled her lists and suggested that we go on through to Las Vegas. Daddy said that if he had known this trip was going to be another Donner party, he would have studied up on how to cook human flesh.
While they discussed it we slid through Kingman and turned north toward Boulder Dam. Mother looked worriedly at the rugged hills and said, "Perhaps you had better turn back, Charles. It will be hours before we reach Las Vegas and there isn't a thing on the map.
Daddy gripped the wheel and looked grim. Daddy will not backtrack for less than a landslide, as Mother should have known.
I was beyond caring. I expected to leave my bones whitening by the road with a notice: She tried and she died.
We had dropped out of those hills and into the bleakest desert imaginable when Mother said, "You'll have to turn back, Charles. Look at your gasoline gauge."
Daddy set his jaw and speeded up. "Charles!" said Mother.
"Quiet!" Daddy answered. "I see a gas station ahead."
The sign read Santa Claus, Arizona. I blinked at it, thinking I was at last seeing a mirage. There was a gas station, all right, but that wasn't all.
You know what most desert gas stations look like - put together out of odds and ends. Here was a beautiful fairytale cottage with wavy candy stripes in the shingles. It had a broad brick chimney - and Santa Claus was about to climb down the chimney!
Maureen, I said, you've overdone this starvation business; now you are out of your head.
Between the station and the cottage were two incredible little dolls' houses. One was marked Cinderella's House and Mistress Mary Quite Contrary was making the garden grow. The other one needed no sign; the Three Little Pigs, and Big Bad Wolf was stuck in its chimney.
"Kid stuff!" says Junior, and added, "Hey, Pop, do we eat here? Huh?"
"We just gas up," answered Daddy. "Find a pebble to chew on. Your mother has declared a hunger strike."
Mother did not answer and headed toward the cottage. We went inside, a bell bonged, and a sweet contralto voice boomed, "Come in! Dinner is ready!"
The inside was twice as big as the outside and was the prettiest dining room imaginable, fresh, new, and clean. Heavenly odors drifted out of the kitchen. The owner of the voice came out and smiled at us.
We knew who she was because her kitchen apron had "Mrs. Santa Claus" embroidered across it. She made me feel slender, but for her it was perfectly right.
Can you imagine Mrs. Santa Claus being skinny?
"How many are there?" she asked.
"Four," said Mother, "but - " Mrs. Santa Claus disappeared into the kitchen.
Mother sat down at a table and picked up a menu. I did likewise and started to drool - here is why:
Minted Fruit Cup Rouge
Pot - au - feu a la Creole
Chicken Velvet Soup
Roast Veal with Fine Herbs
Yankee Pot Roast
Sweet Potatoes Maryland
Asparagus Tips with Green Peas
Chicory Salad with
Artichoke Hearts with Avocado
Beets in Aspic
Miniature Cinnamon Rolls
Sherry Almond Ice Cream
Pêches Flambées Royales
Peppermint Cloud Cake
Devil's Food Cake
Angel Berry Pie
Coffee Tea Milk
(Our water is trucked fifteen miles;
please help us save it.)
Thank you. Mrs. Santa Claus
It made me dizzy, so I looked out the window. We were still in the middle of the grimmest desert in the world.
I started counting the calories in that subversive document. I got up to three thousand and lost track, because fruit cups were placed in front of us. I barely tasted mine - and my stomach jumped and started nibbling at my windpipe.
Daddy came in, said, "Well!" and sat down, too. Junior followed.
Mother said, "Charles, there is hardly anything here you can touch. I think I had better - " She headed for the kitchen.
Daddy had started reading the menu. He said, "Wait, Martha! Sit down." Mother sat.
Presently he said, "Do I have plenty of clean handkerchiefs?"
Mother said, "Yes, of course. Why - "
"Good. I feel an attack coming on. I'll start with the pot - au - feu and - Mother said, "Charles!"
"Peace, woman! The human race has survived upwards of five million years eating anything that could be chewed and swallowed." Mrs. Santa Claus came back in and Daddy ordered lavishly, every word stabbing my heart. "Now," he finished, "if you will have that carried in by eight Nubian slaves - "
"We'll use a jeep," Mrs. Santa Claus promised and turned to Mother.
Mother was about to say something about chopped grass and vitamin soup but Daddy cut in with, "That was for both of us. The kids will order for themselves." Mother swallowed and said nothing.
Junior never bothers with menus. "I'll have a double cannibal sandwich," he announced.
Mrs. Santa Claus flinched. "What," she asked ominously, "is a cannibal sandwich?"
Junior explained. Mrs. Santa Claus looked at him as if she hoped he would crawl back into the woodwork. At last she said, "Mrs. Santa Claus always gives people what they want. But you'll have to eat it in the kitchen; other people will be coming in for dinner."
"Oke," agreed Junior.
"Now what would you like, honey?" she said to me.
"I'd like everything," I answered miserably, "but I'm on a reducing diet."
She clucked sympathetically. "Anything special you mustn't eat?"
"Nothing in particular - just food. I mustn't eat food."
She said, "You will have a hard time choosing a low caloric meal here. I've never been able to work up interest in such cooking. I'll serve you the same as your parents; you can eat what you wish and as little as you wish."
"All right," I said weakly.
Honestly, I tried. I counted up to ten between bites, then I found I was counting faster so as to finish each course before the next one arrived.
Presently I knew I was a ruined woman and I didn't care. I was surrounded by a warm fog of calories. Once my conscience peeked over the edge of my plate and I promised to make up for it tomorrow. It went back to sleep.
Junior came out of the kitchen with his face covered by a wedge of pink striped cake. "Is that a cannibal sandwich?" I asked.
"Huh?" he answered. "You should see what she's got out there. She ought to run a training table."
A long time later Daddy said, "Let's hit the road. I hate to."
Mrs. Santa Claus said, "Stay here if you like. We can accommodate you."
So we stayed and it was lovely.
I woke up resolved to skip even my twenty - eight calories of tomato juice, but I hadn't reckoned with Mrs. Santa Claus. There were no menus; tiny cups of coffee appeared as you sat down, then other things, deceptively, one at a time. Like this: grapefruit, milk, oatmeal and cream, sausage and eggs and toast and butter and jam, bananas and cream - then when you were sure that they had played themselves out, in came the fluffiest waffle in the world, more butter and strawberry jam and syrup, and then more coffee.
I ate all of it, my personality split hopelessly between despair and ecstasy. We rolled out of there feeling wonderful. "Breakfast," said Daddy, "should be compulsory, like education. I hypothesize that correlation could be found between the modern tendency to skimp breakfast and the increase in juvenile delinquency.
I said nothing. Men are my weakness; food my ruin - but I didn't care.
We lunched at Barstow, only I stayed in the car and tried to nap.
Cliff met us at our hotel and we excused ourselves because Cliff wanted to drive me out to see the university. When we reached the parking lot he said, "What has happened? You look as if you had lost your last friend - and you are positively emaciated."
"Oh, Cliff!" I said, and blubbered on his shoulder. Presently he wiped my nose and started the car. As we drove I told him about it. He didn't say anything, but after a bit he made a left turn. "Is this the way to the campus?" I asked.
"Never you mind."
"Cliff, are you disgusted with me?"
Instead of answering me, he pulled up near a big public building and led me inside; it turned out to be the art museum. Still refusing to talk, he steered me into an exhibition of old masters. Cliff pointed at one of them. "That," he said, "is my notion of a beautiful woman."
I looked. It was The Judgment of Paris by Rubens. "And that - and that - " added Cliff. Every picture he pointed to was by Rubens, and I'll swear his models had never heard of dieting.
"What this country needs," said Cliff, "is more plump girls - and more guys like me who appreciate them."
I didn't say anything until we got outside; I was too busy rearranging my ideas. Something worried me, so I reminded him of the time I had asked his opinion of Clarice, the girl who is just my size and measurements. He managed to remember. "Oh, yes! Very beautiful girl, a knockout!"
"But, Cliff, you said - "
He grabbed my shoulders. "Listen, featherbrain, think I've got rocks in my head? Would I say anything that might make you jealous?"
"But I'm never jealous!"
"So you say! Now where shall we eat? Romanoff's? The Beachcomber? I'm loaded with dough."
Warm waves of happiness flowed over me. "Cliff?"
"I've heard of a sundae called Moron's Delight. They take a great big glass and start with two bananas and six kinds of ice cream and - "That's passé. Have you ever had a Mount Everest?" "Huh?"
"They start with a big platter and build up the peak with twenty - one flavors of ice cream, using four bananas, butterscotch syrup, and nuts to bind it. Then they cover it with chocolate syrup, sprinkle malted milk powder and more nuts for rock, pour marshmallow syrup and whipped cream down from the top for snow, stick parsley around the lower slopes for trees, and set a little plastic skier on one of the snow banks. You get to keep him as a souvenir of the experience."
"Oh, my!" I said.
"Only one to a customer and I don't have to pay if you finish it."
I squared my shoulders. "Lead me to it!"
"I'm betting on you, Puddin'."
Cliff is such a wonderful man.