“Etta James died.”
“Yeah, I saw that. What a shame.”
“One of the greatest. She did some of the best stuff I ever heard. I put her on the same pedestal with Aretha, for sure.”
“She had diabetes.”
“She had diabetes. One look at Aretha tells you she is probably in the same boat. And, if you’re not more careful, that’s what’s going to happen to you.”
“Diabetes. Remember? They did all those tests when you had the tumor taken out of your noggin. Remember? They said you were pre-diabetic. The way you’re going, you’ll be meeting Etta James any time now, and I’m not sure there’s a lot of sugar where you’re going.”
Here I am, mourning the loss of one of the great blues and torch singers of all time, and Kathy is using it as an occasion to lecture me on my diet and drink habits.
I shouldn’t be surprised: Kathy uses any excuse to berate me about such matters. She says it’s her “job.”
I dread watching television or listening to radio news with her — she’s bound to see or hear something that reminds her of how lax I am, how mindless of my well being.
“Look at the size of that guy the cops are putting in handcuffs. He’s a flab bucket, a heart attack waiting to happen. I’m surprised he hasn’t dropped. Look at how he’s struggling to catch his breath. That reminds me: Have you been doing at least forty-five minutes of cardio every day?”
“I can’t believe that statistic on the news: the percentage of Americans who are obese. That reminds me: You need to lose at least thirty pounds. So, what have you been doing about it?”
“That’s what I hate about watching these cooking shows with you. Look at the amount of fat that’s in that dish — all the butter and cream. No wonder the chef has to ride around the kitchen on one of those motorized scooters. He cooks like you: fat, fat, fat. Any idea what a motorized scooter is going to cost us? Not to mention the oxygen bill.”
She cruises the perimeter of our kitchen when I cook (which is nearly every night of the year), like a shark scouting a seal breeding area. If I lay a hand on any one of a large number of forbidden products, I immediately hear about it.
“What are you doing with that sugar?’
“I’m making a drink.”
“What kind of drink?”
“A cocktail. I want to make a whisky sour and I need a bit of sugar to make simple syrup. I had a tough day and I want to drink a cocktail and relax.”
“That’s what alcoholics say, you know. ‘I had a rough time, so I need a drink.’ You have a problem; you’re having a drink nearly every day. You’re like Amy Winehouse, and look what happened to her, buster. And that sugar. Don’t you know alcohol is basically sugar once it is in your body? And, now, you’re adding sugar to sugar. Do I need to remind you that you’re pre-diabetic? And an alcoholic.”
“Have you seen me drunk, incapacitated in any way?”
“That’s a sure sign of an alcoholic.”
“Alcoholics often have a high tolerance level, especially the country club variety. You were raised at country clubs, so you know this. You can drink and, for a long while, you don’t show the effects. But, I tell you: you’re in trouble. I’m on the verge of calling family members and arranging an intervention. I wonder if Doctor Drew makes house calls?”
It goes on, and on, and on.
“Is that pasta? What are you doing?”
“Is that cheese? What are you doing?”
“Is that beef? What are you doing?”
“Is that pork. What are you doing?”
“Is that cream? What are you doing?”
“Is that butter? What are you doing?”
“Is that wine? What are you doing?”
Kathy hears news that Paula Deen, of Food Network and racism fame, revealed she has Type 2 diabetes.
“Paula Deen pushed herself over the edge with her atrocious diet. All that sugar, all that fat, all that fried food. She ate enough fat in a single day to keep a Sudanese village in business for a year. It’s no wonder she’s sick. And you’re not far behind, are you?”
Well, I’ve been trying … really, I have. I’ve cut back on the saturated fats; I’ve trimmed the red meat to nearly nothing. I indulge few refined carbs. I’ve tried.
But, I am also conscious of something my relentless wife is not as intimately aware of: I have only so many days, hours and minutes left to live. I’ve been to too many doctors to think otherwise.
I am not going to sacrifice any more of those days, hour and minutes than is necessary to goofballs, cranks, political nonsense and events about which I could care less.
I am, likewise, not going to sacrifice precious time to austerity. I want as many of those minutes to be pleasurable and productive as possible.
I realize Kathy is monitoring my behavior for a good reason. She loves me and cares about me (usually), but I am not going to make course corrections based on nagging. I know where I am heading, and it is not pretty. I want to make the most of the trip.
In truth, she also hounds me because she has discovered the correspondence between what I need to cut back on and what she doesn’t like. This is handy: she can plead compassion and concern while, at the same time, advancing her own agenda (little or no meat, no dairy, no pasta, little or no alcohol, no herbal entertainment, etc.).
I’m not giving in. I am not relinquishing my limited remaining minutes to privation. I am not a monk.
True, some of my habits, were they to get out of control, would shorten my time appreciably. But, where I once ran amok, I am not now out of control. I am not Cyrenaic, I am Epicurean.
A Cyrenaic soul would overindulge at every turn, take the pleasure to the max, put the pedal on the Funmobile to the floor. I tried that when I was younger. From what I remember, I had a pretty good time, but it takes the tread off the tires in quick fashion.
Now, I engage the world as an Epicurean. The goal is still pleasure, but with an eye on that line beyond which pleasure becomes pain. Indulgence is one thing, overindulgence is entirely another.
I figure as long as I have the wherewithal to feel pleasure, I will do so. The nature of pleasure changes, the agents of pleasure change and, it is likely, a time comes when pleasure is no longer an option. Until that time: bring it on, in reasonable doses.
Cheese? Yep. As many kinds as possible, raw milk if possible. On weekends.
Red meat? Now and then. Beef, pork, elk.
Fried foods? High-grade oil, flash frying, minimum grease absorption, maximum flavor.
Intoxication? By all means, a serious buzz, if you please. A whiskey sour, a G and T, a negroni now and then. A bottle of a great red blend whenever possible.
Pasta? On occasion.
Sugar? When appropriate.
Pizza, my pal Ronnie’s chile con queso and the like? You bet, when a party calls for them.
Obesity? Not morbid, but a bit of flab comes with the territory. Absent my contracting a wasting disease, you will not call me “gaunt.”
Diabetes? I’ll keep an eye on the lab results but, if I play my cards right (I am not a fan of dessert) I should be “pre” until I do the big fade for another reason.
With this in mind, I intend to indulge this Friday. I’ll keep the line in sight, but I will end the evening satisfied, glad to have made the trip. We are entertaining BFD and GB. I will produce a meal washed in irony as well as pleasure. It will be the “Depression Meal” — a rendition of what we would be eating were the second Great Depression to follow the Great Recession.
If the financial roof fell in, we’d be eating boxed mac and cheese and fried Spam. Producing a post-modern take on this meal will provide oodles of pleasure, thematic and gustatory.
For the mac and cheese, pasta with five cheeses. I’ll make a béchamel and add grated sharp cheddar, grated jack, grated mozzarella, shaved Parmesan and, in a nod to hard times, cubes of Velveeta. I also add some smushed garlic, salt, pepper and ground nutmeg. The mess is mixed with small elbow macaroni, cooked on the stiff side of al dente. Into an oiled casserole it all goes and the mix is topped with panko that’s been mixed with olive oil and grated Parmesan. Into the oven at 350 for an hour, and all is well.
For the protein: Spam tonkatsu —a quasi-Japanese treatment for good old Spam.
Thick slices of Spam are coated with seasoned flour, dipped in egg wash then covered with a coating of seasoned panko breadcrumbs. The slices are sautéed in neutral oil until the coating is golden crispy good. The slices are served with Bulldog tonkatsu sauce and kecap manis (we can’t completely omit the sugar, now can we?)
I will temper this extravagant nod to trailer park cuisine with brown rice and steamed veggies.
And I will wave at a wheezing, sweaty Paula Deen as she drives to her next doctor’s appointment, wishing her as much pleasure as possible from this point to the finish line.