Monday, December 14, 2009

Cardio a la Carte

Women don't eat.

That is the premise of O. Henry's story, Cupid a la Carte, and I for one believe it.

For those of you unfamiliar with that story I will provide the highlights. Jeff Peters, a con man who traveled the western US in the late 1800's, stumbles upon Mame Dugan serving food in the family restaurant (a big tent, actually) in an Oklahoma boom town. He falls for her, and begins to court her. But she claims she will never marry. The problem is, she's seen too many men and as far as she can tell, they do nothing but eat:

"Do you know what a man is in my eye? He's a tomb. He's a sarcophagus for the interment of Beefsteak-porkchops-liver'nbacon-hamandeggs. He's that and nothing more. For two years I've watched men eat, eat, eat, until they represent nothing on earth to me but ruminant bipeds. They're absolutely nothing but something that goes in front of a knife and fork and plate at the table. They're fixed that way in my mind and memory. I've tried to overcome it, but I can't. . . ."

"But, Mame," says I, "it'll wear off. You've had too much of it. You'll marry some time, of course. Men don't eat always."

"As far as my observation goes, they do. . . ."

"Don't girls ever--" I commenced, but Mame heads me off, sharp.

"No, they don't. They nibble a little bit sometimes; that's all."

Well, anyway, Jeff and another man vie for Mame's favor, but fail because, as Jeff so eloquently puts it, "For twenty-seven years I had been blindly rushing upon my fate, yielding to the insidious lures of that deadly monster, food. It was too late. I was a ruminant biped for keeps." The other man, Ed Collier, eventually makes some headway by starting a 49-day fast. He makes it six days. As he explains to Jeff, on his way to get some dinner, "Twas that girl. I'd give my life for her, but I'd endanger my immortal soul for a beef stew. Hunger is a horrible thing, Jeff. Love and business and family and religion and art and patriotism are nothing but shadows of words when a man's starving!"

Eventually, Jeff leaves town and offers Mame a ride to a neighboring village. They get lost, get caught in a flood, and spend 3 days stranded with no food. Thoughts of food overtake them both, and eventually, without really being aware of it, Jeff speaks his dreams aloud:

I guess I must have had my conscience pretty well inflicted with culinary meditations, for, without intending to do so, I says, out loud, to the imaginary waiter, 'Cut it thick and have it rare, with the French fried, and six, soft-scrambled, on toast.'

Mame turned her head quick as a wing. Her eyes were sparkling and she smiled sudden.

'Medium for me,' she rattles out, 'with the Juliennes, and three, straight up. Draw one, and brown the wheats, double order to come. Oh, Jeff, wouldn't it be glorious! And then I'd like to have a half fry, and a little chicken curried with rice, and a cup custard with ice cream, and--'

So you see, in the end, Mame realized that men must actually get hungry like that all the time, and Jeff won her favor. It's a great story. You should read it. Everyone should read O Henry, as a matter of fact, but that's another blog entry.

I tell you this because as part of my new health regiment, I am on a diet. Lots of protein (builds strong muscles), limited carbs and fat. (Translation: chicken breast and green vegetables. And protein shakes). So I'm hungry some, and like to eat regularly, and I am quite frankly amazed at how lackadaisical my wife and daughters can be about food. As I am dreaming of chimichangas drenched in chile verde, they put another round in the toaster and are good for 6 more hours. I just don't get it.

A ruminant biped am I, for good and all. More's the pity. I don't think I can do any better in ending this than to quote ol' Jeff:

It shows that the little table with the broken-legged caster and the imitation Worcester sauce and the napkin covering up the coffee stains is the paramount issue, after all, instead of the question of immortality or peace between nations.

Amen, brother biped. Amen.

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