"You look like you're the kind who had trouble with those gooey, chocolate-covered cherry things."
My colleague, a permanently bemused man known for ironic observations on the human predicament, peered over his glasses and gave me the once-over.
Yes, yes, I confessed. Sometimes, it was the gooey cherry things dipped in heavenly chocolate and dispensed to thousands like me in candy machines across the country. At other times, it was the Heath bars, the Chunkies, the Nabs, Milanos, Fig Newtons, syrupy soft drinks, pork rind and chocolate milk, Kraft caramels, gum. Yes, once I even bought a whole box of Lorna Doones to secret about (extremely tasty when dunked in tea, coffee or hot chocolate). But the worst times were the holidays.
My colleague shook his head. He understood. It is just the season when you dream nightmares of yesterday's excess, the time of year when perfect strangers unburden their sugar-plum guilts on each other. The season to be jolly is also the season to get fat.
Everywhere you turn, calories assault. Acres of fruitcake. Mountains of brownies. Endless sugar cookies. Sweet glazed hams and plump turkeys with loaves of bread nestled nearby to glop with mayonnaise and mustard in the construction of mouth-breaking sandwiches. And refusal to tast all these fraternal fruits of the season is the zenith of rudeness. So you nibble. And nibble and nibble. And nibble.
You eat turkey. You eat stuffing. You eat cranberry sauce. You sop up hog jowls and blackeyed peas with cornbread. You eat cake. You glop on ice cream. You crunch candy. You glug eggnog. You drink whiskey. Your mouth come unglued. You insult friends; you praise enemies. You take liberties with the boss' wife.
And now, as the doomcloud ifts and the past floats vaguely into last year, you resolve to resolve the sins of the flesh. You face the mirror. You are fat. Fat-fat-fat. You must repent.
Some, like my colleague, profess to never grapple with such angst. And his desk, a cache of temptation, reflects a quiet mockery of holiday Portnoys guilt-ridden with Caloricus Complex. In drawers sit jars of pecans and salted almonds. Next to "Mastering Herbalism," a book, rests a dish of sugared lemon rinds that resemble the jaundiced tentacles of octopi. (In a rare flirtation with fitness, he is eating an apple.) My colleague never worries about getting rid of adipose tissue after the holidays. But he knows others who do. Just look around the room, he says. And, lowering his voice, he nods toward someone who regularly succumbs to the season's goodies and lives to regret it. "But it wouldn't do you any good to ask her to tell you about it," he says. "She would lie."
When it comes to dealing with the dilemma of holiday indulgence, Larry "Fats" Goldberg applies his year-roun strategy. Five days a week, he eats modestly. Salads, fruit, lean meat, fresh or boiled veggies and no more than one bagel. The other two days, Wednesdays and Saturdays, he stuffs.
Once Goldberg weighed 320 pounds. Classmates dubbed him "Fats" in the third grade; and even though eh waved good-bye to half of himself 19 years ago when he dieted down to 160, he has yet to shake the nickname.
Fats, 43, now a skinny, six-foot-one-inch Big Apple pizza prince, is not just remarkable for losing the weight; he has kept it off all these years. The personal achievement has made Fats a legend to fatties the world over.
The administration is especially strong after the holidays, when countless others parade their self-image before mirrors and try to conjure up the courage Fats Goldberg mysteriously found in Chicago on May 1, 1959, the day he went on his diet. He whittled his waist from 50 inches to 34, but claims it didn't require any special brand of courage. "I was just the horniest 300-pound man in the world."
"Cold turkey" is the way he describes the feat; but Fats insists he's no superman, that inside the now skinny frame still rattles the soul of a fatso.
I phoned Fats in New York the other day, it being that time of year, to inquire into his coping mechanism for holiday gluttony. He answered the phone at Goldberg's Pizzeria on Second Avenue, one of two Parlors that crank out his famous SMOG (sausage, mushroom, onion and green pepper) pies. You could easily imagine Fats smiling into the receiver as he pulled a SMOG from the oven. It was a Wednesday.
"I still mainline Malomars," he said. "I'm a Chunkie junkie, a crappola eater. I love chili dogs, the greasier the better. A long time ago, I found out there's no such thing as will power; the first three letters of the word 'diet' are 'die'. You just can't look down the long road of life and never eat a hot fudge sundae."
Fats was especially happy because he had started the day with a smoked turkey tortilla laced heavily with cheese, onions, lettuce and jalapena sauce. On the way to make pizza for P.S. 3 in Greenwich Village, he had stopped off for a sandwich at the apartment of New Yorker writer Calvin Trillin, an old friend who has become sort of Fats' Boswell. Next, it was over to the Gaiety Deli in Times Square, where he scarfed a pastrami and combeef omelette, an order of fries, toasted bagel with cream cheese and three cups of coffee.
Later, he dropped off two SMOGs at a Macmillan Christmas party, where he stayed long enough to wolf down half a pound of Jarlsberg cheese, two pieces of cheesecake, six cookies, five brownies, a quart of Coke, a bowl of peanuts, four crackers topped with cheese spread and two slices of his pizza. Some of the publishing house guests congratulated Fats, not for the gourmand's gusto, but for his new book. "Goldberg's Diet Catalogue" (Macmillan, $14.95). It is Fats' own listing of diet spas, diet books, scales, diet medication, diet groups and diets.
Afterwards, Fats popped into a newstand and shamelessly bought a bag of Doritos. He washed them down with two more Cokes on route to his pizzeria, where he was busy plotting the rest of the day's ecstasy when the phone rang. It was 4 p.m.
"It's a good thing you caught me," said Fats. "I was just on my way over to Bloomingdale's to have a piece of apple pie with a wedge of cheddar cheese and a Coke. I always plan an hour or two ahead. Now tonight, I'll stop off and get some cashews at Carter's Nuts on 42d Street on the way to a party on 38th Street. I don't know what the party's got, so the nuts are insurance. Afterwards, I'll eat my way to bed. I'll put on six pounds today."
Fats, who lives to cheat two dyas a week, is the first to admit his diet may not work for everyone. "You have to find out what works for you," he says. "You've got to lead yourself down the road. To lose weight, you just have to eat less and exercise more."
The way Fats squeezed the glorious round of Christmas day pig-outs into his regimen this year, since Christmas fell on a Sunday, was to swap it for his anything-goes Saturday. It meant holding out an extra day, but Fats says it was worth it.
"I don't drink or smoke," says Fats. "Food's the ticket."
I understood people like Fats. I was a fat kid, too. In the 7th grade play, I sauntered constage as a fierce Viking warrior, sneezed and popped my belt. I blushed in the wings until my mother arrived with reinforcements. At 15 I turned to weight-lifting, and, overnight it happened. Girls. It was the heyday of "Beach Blanket Babylon," straight-forward panaceas, an era when girls loved muscles. Now it is running. I run so I can eat, dabble at this diet and that. And, though everyone is always sneering. "But you're not fat," I feel as pocky as Fats Goldberg ever felt.
I have followed Fats' way of eating for years: penance in advance. You starve so you can stuff. It brings on a self-righteous glow and makes the food taste better. Most mornings I jog four miles to make up for what happens later. In matters of great importance, I am an extremist. Once I start, I cannot stop.
This year I tried fasting and lost five pounds. For two day, I only drank water, tea or Knox gelatin in water. It was, overall, a horrible experience. The first night I dreamed of bagels, hot and buttery. The second day I felt weak and dazed, bitched and growled and briefly enjoyed a stretch of sub-cosmic euphoria reminiscent of sitting back and letting Benny do the driving.
Anent of sitting back and letting Benny do the driving.
Anre we are, burp, again.Welcome to the club. Fatso.