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DIET PLAN HAD FAILURE BUILT IN

The weekend was nearly over and the four of us were in lawn chairs, sipping iced drinks and gazing at the lazy river in the afternoon sun. My older brother sat up a little straighter, struck with a thought.

"Say, girls." He addressed his wife Valerie and me.

"Umm?"

"What do you say to a proposition?"

"What kind of proposition?" We were wary but interested.

"Well, the thing is _ now don't get all bent out of shape _ both of you are a little overweight, wouldn't you say?"

My husband, being of sound mind, decided not to get in the middle.

"Okay. Well, I was thinking if the two of you were motivated to lose the weight, you know, get down to the ideal for your heights and ages and everything, I'd be willing to sponsor you to a three-day weekend in New York. Your choice of transportation, hotel, all meals, Broadway shows _ everything but any clothes or gifts you decided to buy."

Boy, were we interested. "Okay. We can do that, no problem. So what's the catch?"

"Well, my friend here, the good doctor, shall decide exactly how much each of you needs to lose and how long it'll take to lose it. Okay?"

Val needed to lose 11 pounds, and I needed to lose nine. We would have 30 days to do it and _ here was the big caveat _ if either of us failed to lose our assigned weight within the assigned time, neither of us would win the trip.

Val and I agreed to check with each other every Sunday. We plotted our trip, restaurants, Broadway shows, the Waldorf Astoria, all at my brother's expense. The 30 days were marked off on a calendar.

The Sunday before our time was up, Val happily reported she'd met her goal, 11 pounds evaporated, and she was ready. Was I down to my assigned weight?

Well, not exactly, so I lied. I told her yes, I'd lost my nine pounds, and we both yelled in delight. There was only one hitch - I had one-half pound yet to lose.

On the last day, despite all the shrimp cocktail dinners, lettuce and iced tea (a wonderful diuretic), not one more ounce dropped from my body.

What was I to do? I couldn't knock Valerie out of this wonderful trip, and I surely didn't want to forfeit it myself. My husband told me not to worry; he'd get that half-pound off in no time. Meet him in the bedroom.

"Okay, this is it. Strip down to your underwear. Stand up, I'm going to wrap you in Saran Wrap."

Saran Wrap? "Now you are going to put on your girdle. Yes, your girdle! Dayle, go get the Saran Wrap from the kitchen, and get Tom's sweat pants and shirt too."

I was just about in tears, embarrassed and chagrined. Imagine what I looked like, wriggling into that girdle over layers and layers of Saran Wrap from my knees to my armpits. But there was more. Into the sweat pants and shirt, and then Hank led me outside.

Oh, no! We were standing in the garage, in an open bay with one humiliated woman in the middle. I am not a woman who sweats easily. I just get sick and red and pale.

"Okay, now, Judy, you start here and run around the house until you work up a good sweat. Just keep running and that Saran Wrap'll do the trick. I'll be right here to make sure you're okay."

Hank stepped back, satisfied he'd solved my little half-pound problem. I, on the other hand, could barely twitch, virtually paralyzed. I looked at the house through misty eyes.

"Come on, Judy, get going. It's the last day, you've only got a half-pound to go."

By now our kids had gathered. I heard the snickers, and I was mortified. But I had lied to Val, and the only way to redeem myself was to make the lie true. I couldn't let Val down. I shuffled off, hoping to heaven there were no neighbors out and about. By the time I crossed the driveway and broke into a very sloppy jog, tears were running down my face.

Around and around the house I ran. I didn't look up. I stared at the ground and wiped my eyes with the arm of Tom's sweat shirt. The tears never let up, and neither did I until I felt the Saran Wrap slipping. I was so slick with sweat it was sliding down my body and gathering in a huge wad around my hips. That was it. No more running. I would just go to New York one-half pound heavy and lie about it forever. I limped into the back door of the house and sneaked into my shower.

Hank couldn't wait to get me on those scales. I wasn't making eye contact. I certainly wasn't speaking to anybody. Bearing my public disgrace with what dignity I could summon, I stepped onto the medical scales in our utility room.

Hank gave a triumphant WA-HOO!!! I had lost my half-pound and more, almost a full pound. Hank swore it was the Saran Wrap. I'm still sure it was the tears.

Verified and certified, Val and I pictured every goody we could fit within our ground rules, including room service, and, Big Brother, you had better watch your wallet!

New York offered us everything, and we wanted it all. We shopped Saks and Bonwit's, Tiffany's and Bloomingdale's.

We ate salt bagels and cream cheese on the corner and shouted in the noisy deli for corned beef on rye, which arrived 5 inches high.

The smallest New York strip at Gallagher's Steak House could have fed us both, and Tavern on the Green produced plates decorated in yummy-rich sauces beside a single carrot curl and a pair of fresh green beans. A fake monk with a matching accent served us at L'Abbey, where an entire wall displayed freshly baked breads, butter, spreads and cheeses _ help yourself. We did.

We came home to Maryland like conquering heroes, until our two men politely asked us to step on the scales. Oh boy.

Who ever heard of gaining nine pounds in three days? New York in all its glory had the last word _ and, coming full circle, Valerie and I had only the last pound.

Judith Harris Carter is retired. She lives in Norfolk, Va.

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