"Am I the only one worried about how unhealthy the people who work in health food stores look?" I said to my wife the other day. I described a clerk I had just encountered in a health food store -- his sunken chest, his quivering hands, his ominous pallor, the dun-colored tint of his wretched little whispy beard.

"Calm down," my wife said.

"Why isn't there a Whole Grain Defense Committee working to put some meat on their bones?" I said. "I'm beginning to think those syndicated kvetches are right about how uncaring Americans have become. Dozens of customers a day see this quasi-cadaver and not one of them is willing to get involved even to the extent of calling 911."

"What were you doing in a health food store anyway?" my wife asked. "You're always saying that health food makes you sick."

"I was on a mission of mercy," I said. "A friend of mine who lives in a place that lacks the shopping resources of this great city had run out of soy waste."

"You know very well there's no such thing as soy waste," she said. "Why do you keep going on about soy waste."

"Soy waste, granola dust, pure extract of balsa wood -- what's the difference what they call it?" I said. "Judging from the condition of the clerk, it obviously isn't enough to keep a human being alive."

It happens to be true the health food makes me sick. In fact, health food stores make me feel a bit queasy even if I don't buy anything -- partly, I think, because they always smell like capsules that have been in the medicine chest since the Nixon-Humphrey campaign.

"The children said you made a scene in the store," my wife said.

"Not a scene really," I said. It is true that, as I poked around the aisles looking for the soy waste, I suddently heard myself shout, "Help! I'm trapped in a bottle of Coricidin!" That isn't really a scene though. I think of it as more of an outburst.

"I think you're becoming a crank," my wife said.

"This is pure science we're talking about here," I said. "If bumblebee leavings and stump paste are so good for you, why can't any of those guys grow full beards? Isn't there some public health law that says people who are shopping for food don't have to be reminded constantly of the last days of Howard Hughes? These health food store people look even less healthy than runners."

"What do runners have to do with this?" my wife asked.

"Plenty," I said. "I'm glad you brought it up. Did you get a look at those guys who ran in the New York Marathon? They look like they make their living as male models for refugee relief ads: 'You can either send this lunatic a Mars bar or you can turn the page.'"

"I see now that this is not crankiness," my wife said.

"Support from home is always welcome," I said. "Even if it comes a bit late."

"What it is," she went on, "is a devious attempt to justify a style of life that is based on sausage-eating and sloth."

"Which reminds me," I said. "Am I the only person who favors a law mandating life imprisonment for anyone who performs in public as a mime? Where is everybody else on these issues?"

"Don't try to change the subject," she said.

"Who's changing the subject? I've been talking about this for years." It happens to be true that it has been several years since I pointed out to my wife that everybody in the world -- way down deep -- has a response to mimes that is reflected in the Woody Allen line about watching a mime who was "either blowing glass or tattooing the student body of Northwestern University." Certainly, my early commitment to the cause was demonstrated to anyone's satisfaction in 1978 when I attempted to place some mimes who were performing in Sheridan Square under citizen's arrest."

"Picking on mimes has --"

"I hope you're not going to drag out that tiresome business about the First Amendment," I said. "It is perfectly obvious that the right of free speech has been waived, de facto, by people who have a policy of not saying anything."

"I gather from this conversation that you suspect I might have discovered the gumbo with andouille sausage you smuggled in from Louisiana and hid in the freezer," my wife said.

"And speaking of border crossings," I said, "who is it in the State Department who persists in granting visas to Marcel Marceau -- a man who advertises in the newspaper that he intends to commit middlebrow felonies before middlebrows all over the country?"

"You're simply going to have to control your eating," she said. "I promised your mother I would --"

"I suppose you're going to bring up the fact that Oct. 26 was Mothers-in-Law Day," I said. "A testimony to the imagination of the American cut-flowers industry. I assume they'll be having Landlords' Day next -- some date at the end of a cold month, when most evictions occur. Then Life Insurance Salesmen's Day."

"Also, a little exercise wouldn't do you any harm."

"Customs Inspectors' Day," I said. "Then a day for sending posies to the hard-working folks who dun for your Diners Club bill."

"Now I think you should throw out the gumbo right now," my wife said.

"Am I the only one who thinks foreign movies are for sissies or are the others just not saying?" I said.

"I take back what I said about crankiness," my wife said.

"Thank you."

"You are, in fact, a crank," she said. "A sausage-eating, slothful crank.