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The diet is cast; an overweight wife decides to cut calories, and Greek-god hubby has to suffer.


I'm not sleeping well these days (or nights either, for that matter). I can trace the reason directly to the woman who took me--for better or for worse, I might add. Half my nights are devoted to stomach rumbles. I'm not talking about ordinary, after-tea musical gurgles; these are genuine bed shakers.

It all began when my wife ducked into the Spencer library to escape the rain. Thanks to her entrapment at the library among all those women's magazines, she came home all charged up to go on a diet. That was the good news: The bad news is that she was taking me along.

It began the next morning. I was sitting at the kitchen table and eating a dish of prunes--my drivethru breakfast, as I call it (I'm not strong on eggs because you never know where they've been)--when she delivered a statement that set a record for profundity.

"The secret of longevity,' she said, "is growing old.'

It seems she was leading up to this three-day Cleveland Diet. As best she could remember, blood has to travel 18,000 extra miles for each pound a person is overweight --not only 18,000 extra miles but up hill, down dale, around lumps, and over humps. The route of one who adhered to this diet would be shortened by something like halfway around the world. She wasn't quite sure of the figures.

Although I've never had much confidence in a skinny cook, it was fine and dandy if she wanted to shorten the route of her blood by dumping a few pounds. And if she should shed enough pounds that my glasses wouldn't slip to the end of my nose every time she sat down beside me on the sofa, so much the better. But I failed to consider that when the wife goes on a diet it doesn't matter that her hubby's physique is the envy of the country-club locker room--he must face the same grapefruit-and-cottage-cheese fare of his overweight frau.

On the brighter side, Lois had already had more false starts than a greyhound race with a turpentined entry. The only way she could stick to a diet, I consoled myself, would be to have her taste buds removed. I gave her three-day diet a day and a half.

We bought the table upon which my wife now serves our normal evening mess (you can kick this around if you like; I'm in enough trouble as it is) when Shari was finally old enough to join Michael and Nikki in refusing to eat her spinach. It would nicely accommodate a banquet for King Henry VIII, dogs and all. And everything she served on the table that night would have easily fit into a sandwich bag.

"If you don't mind, I'll skip the hors d'oeuvres and get right to the nitty-gritty,' I said. "Where's my knife?'

"This is the nitty-gritty,' she responded. "And you won't be needing a knife.'

She was right: Beets and green beans don't require a knife--nor does the "three full ounces of tuna' she pointed out. Three full ounces! No kidding? And here I had mistaken it for a plate decoration.

In an attempt to add gaiety to the situation I told her about the waiter who asked his customer, "How did you find your steak?' The diner replied, "Oh, I just looked under the parsley, and there it was.' Her laughter, thank heaven, fell short of shattering the windowpanes.

Regaining control of herself, Lois reminded me that it was only a three-day diet. "It won't kill you,' she said. I told her if she would get more exercise she could lose weight without running the risk of killing me. She said she was getting all the exercise she could handle just by letting out the back seam on my pants. I pointed out that a few incidental pounds had in no way affected the swashbuckling properties of my youth; that the only difference between Errol Flynn (her hero) and me was that I didn't drive a Chevy coupe with a rumble seat and pick up high-school girls. I said further that if and when my swash began to buckle I might subscribe to a diet. She then mumbled something about my swash standing out in the crowd like a white cat in a blizzard. This led me to remark . . . but you're probably busy enough with your own arguments without listening to ours.

After completing the beet-bean course I peered into my cup and (my good nature resored) said, "I'm afraid you didn't wash this cup very well, light of my life.'

"That's your ice cream, dear,' she replied. "A full half-cup.'

"I usually spill more than that, dumpling,' I reminded her. "Are you sure you copied the diet correctly?' Only you who have spent the night listening to your stomach rumble will appreciate how eagerly I awaited the scrapedtoast wake-up call the next morning --but instead of toast it was half a grapefruit. And the piece of resistance turned out to be an egg, hard-boiled to the point I could have dribbled it to the barn and back without leaving a dent--if my dog hadn't intercepted it on the way.

Not content with subjecting me to her starvation kick, Lois had decided that even Brutus was "too fat for his own good.' Her cat, a perfect stand-in for Garfield, was just right, of course. Brutus, now on half rations, began begging for my egg in that cute way of his, putting both feet on my shoulders. I tried to explain to him, loud enough for all to hear, that my life already lay in the balance. I hadn't realized that a dog would eat grapefruit rind.

Recurring visions of a substantial Sunday dinner helped me make it through Saturday, the second day. Surely even the most stringent of diets would make some allowance for Sunday dinner.

"I'd better not go to church,' I said weakly the next morning, after my half grapefruit and two full ounces of peanut butter. "My internal organs will surely drown out the preacher.'

"Maybe he'll preach on how man doesn't live by bread alone,' Lois wiseacred.

"Or how that crowd of 5,000 ate bread and fish until every last one was satisfied,' I countered.

Too late, I've figured out that wives don't go on diets merely to lose weight. There's the no small matter of labor involved. How much sweat does it take the little(!) woman to prepare a feast consisting of a cup of cottage cheese and five crackers? So help me, that was it--five whole-wheat crackers and one lousy cup of cottage cheese!

"My mother used to cook a moose for Sunday dinner, for gosh sakes!' I announced over the roar of my rusted innards. "With a bushel of potatoes, 15 baked squash, and 22 heads of cabbage made into coleslaw. Dessert was a two-gallon freezer of ice cream, or a washtub full of glorified rice. And that was just her Continental Plan.'

It must be that a person can gain weight from thinking too hard about food. When we hit the scales Monday morning, Lois had dropped from 154 to 146. I didn't do quite so well. My 175 pounds had decreased to 183.

"How much did you lose?' Nosy asked, checking the mirror for confirmation that her girlish figure had been suddenly restored.

"According to this Prudential Life insurance chart you've tacked on the wall, my weight is right on target,' I said. "My height may be off just a little, that's all.'

She said I'd been cheating. I said I had had to put on my glasses to see the scales. If they weighed eight pounds I hadn't gained an ounce. And she said. . . .

But never mind--you probably haven't finished your own argument yet.
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Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Stoddard, Maynard Good
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Mar 1, 1986
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