The Fat Lady was angry. "If one more person stops me on the street and recommends a diet," she was saying, "I guarantee you, there's going to be one hell of a lot of trouble."
She said it in a manner not intended to invite debate. She had had it up to here with those who arrogantly presumed that her goal in life was to be thin.
"The Herbalife people are the worst," she said. "One of them pulled up next to me at a stop light and handed me a diet brochure through the window. Boy . . . "
An evil light shone in her eyes. I could almost read her daydream. She was reaching out and grabbing the Herbalife salesman by the arm. Now she was pulling him out the open window of his VW Rabbit.
Now she was driving off still holding the man by the arm as he bumped and bounced against the side of her car screaming, his Herbalife diet brochures flying in the wind. . . .
Her name is Sheri Fram. I call her the Fat Lady, not out of disrespect, but because that is what she calls herself.
When I asked her about being overweight, she looked me directly in the face and said, "I'm not overweight. I'm fat!"
Fram, who is 39 as well as being fat, is a member of the Fat Liberation Front. In fact, she is one of those who founded the Fat Underground a decade ago.
"By whose standard am I overweight?" she demanded. "By the standard of some anorexic ballerina or by the standard of an industry that makes $50 billion a year by hustling diets, health books, skinny fashions and exercise programs?"
I liked her spirit. We are victims of profiteers who don't give a damn whether or not we are healthy so long as they are selling their product. There's not a thing wrong with being fat.
I found myself getting into the spirit of the thing.
"Tell me, Fatso," I said, "how much do you weigh?"
"Numbers," she said somewhat coldly, I thought, "are irrelevant."
"Oh," I said, and "Of course" and "You're absolutely right," and I didn't called her Fatso again.
Fram is a psycho-physiologist in Westwood where, as everyone knows, a lot of your psycho-physiologists live.
I sought her out because she was mentioned prominently in a story about the National Assn. to Aid Fat Americans, which held its convention recently at a hotel near L. A. Airport.
Sheri and the NAAFA are trying to change the way America looks at its portly people. Portly is all right to use. So are heavy and obese.
"Fat does not necessarily equate with ugly," she said. "And it doesn't mean you are either dumb or unhealthy. And yet that negative image is constantly being portrayed.
"We are discriminated against in employment, education and transportation, and I'm tired of it."
What really got her started being a fat militant was that on the day she was married, her new mother-in-law looked at her and said, "You have such a nice face. It's a shame you don't care about your weight."
I don't know what the Fat Lady said or did to her mother-in-law. I was afraid to ask.
I do, however, know what she means. I am not what you might consider fat in the classic sense, although if you viewed me in profile you might suggest that I tend somewhat to paunch. I have learned to live with that.
A good friend of mine named Sideways Sidney, who used to make book at a downtown bar, taught me that a paunch can be a mark of distinction, and in fact was responsible for creating his own image.
When he was simply Sidney, no one used his services. But the day he became Sideways Sidney, he was headed for fame and fortune. I never saw him directly head-on after that.
Sheri Fram lives in a particularly difficult area for fat people. The Westside, encompassing as it does Beverly Hills, Hollywood and Malibu, is the heart of the Skinny Kingdom. This is where the half-portion watercress entree was born.
But it is not so much health they are worried about as looks. Albert Einstein would have never made it in an area where Morgan Fairchild is the reigning intellectual. Eleanor Roosevelt would have not been invited to parties.
You are measured among the body enthusiasts of Southern California not by what is in your head or in your heart, but by how you look in a bikini.
The Fat Lady is right. God did not intend us to be clones. He said Let there be fat people and skinny people and short people and tall people and people of all colors and all voices and all dreams.
He did not say Let there be Brooke Shields and let it go at that.
Fram, by her candor and persistence, glorifies the differences among us and I, for one, am grateful to the Fat Lady for that.