I was sitting in an Italian restaurant in Beverly Hills the other night dining on cotoletta d'agnello alla milanese con rapini allaglio when two things occurred to me. No. 1, I didn't know what the hell cotoletta d'agnello alla milanese con rapini allaglio was and, No. 2, I realized it was the second time that evening I had eaten dinner.
The first revelation disturbed me not at all. I am possessed of an eclectic appetite and will eat almost anything set before me, with the possible exception of an animal I have come to befriend or one that is able to speak, however primitive the effort might be.
I do not, for example, eat parrots.
The second revelation, however, made me realize how close I had come to the brink of gluttony and madness, two conditions that increasingly characterize the holiday season. I was eating myself to death to satisfy those who allegedly wished me well. I was out of control at the cookie counter.
I am not the kind of person who dines. I eat. Sitting down at a table to consume the food before me is no big deal. I do not turn the simple act of slicing a roast into a religious celebration, or the condition of sipping wine into sexual symbolism.
I generally subscribe to the Culver City manner where dinner has come to be known simply as chow.
That is not to say, however, that my entrees consist only of tacos and pepperoni pizza. I like good food, but I am not going to fall to my knees before a plate of fish, say, regardless of whatever name the chefs of Europe or Asia may give it.
This detached attitude, if nothing else, allows for a certain nonchalance when it comes to eating. I can stand back and view a lemon pie, for example, without emotional involvement, even though lemon pie was practically the national food of East Oakland when I was a kid.
Ronnie Enos, who lived next door, was badly beaten by a burglar when he tried to prevent the wretch from stealing his mother's lemon pie, and Lefty Lyons is reported to have traded his sister for just one bite of pie when everyone on the block felt she was worth at least two.
But I digress.
Something happens during the holiday season that distorts one's ability to reason when it comes to eating. "Let's have lunch" assumes ritualistic importance ("Let's do lunch" if you work in television) and dinner takes on a tone of tribal feasting.
Despite my tempered attitude toward food the rest of the year, I join right in with the gluttons when Dec. 1 rolls around. It is as though I am trying to get into the Guinness Book of World Records by eating more chocolate peanut clusters than anyone else in human history. I don't even like chocolate peanut clusters.
That's what I mean by losing control. Suddenly I am eating everything within reach and, by Dec. 15, everything in sight.
If you thought you saw me at Hamburger Henry's trying to open my mouth wide enough to accommodate a monstrous hamburger while envying snakes their ability to unhinge their jaws in order to swallow a whole calf, you did.
If you thought you saw me at the Belle-Vue spooning down the potage a la tortue and savoring the coq de bruyere and then grinning to think I had come that far from flour tortillas and refried beans, ditto.
You also saw me at the Casa Vallarta, Dan Tana's, Bob's Big Boy, Carmine's, the Ritz, the Chronicle, Bimbo's Burgers, Canter's Deli, Ah Fong's, Ah So, Ah Yee's and the Yagura Ichiban.
By Dec. 18, I had gained eight pounds, thereby matching a seasonal high, and by Dec. 19, I had ingested enough fruitcake to top even that.
There is an old Spanish proverb that says, in effect, "Women, melons and cheese should be chosen by weight," but it says nothing about men. Men ought to be trim and sleek and, above all, never waddle.
It struck me the other day after plowing through a mountain of pork spareribs with a side of sour cream (no one in his right mind spreads sour cream over spareribs) that while I had not yet reached the waddling stage, I was swaying dangerously far from side to side as I walked, creating the fear that I might at any moment throw myself into the gutter.
That would pain me not only because it would appear extremely, well, un-Times-like to have hurled myself over the curb, but it would be exactly where my stepfather predicted I would end up someday. Betrayed by my own stretched stomach to fulfill his odious prophecy.
It was on that very same evening at a restaurant called Celestino that, while diving into the entree, I realized it was my second dinner that night.
Enough was quite enough.
I rose to my feet, announced to the waiter I had taken a monastic vow never to eat again, paid my bill and walked out the door.
While at some stage I might once more nibble on a macaroon or share a spinach quiche, I will never again pig out on lake tung ting shrimp, glazed duck with a peppercorn sauce, pork chops, German chocolate cake or shoo-fly pie and apple pandowdy.
And to hell with cotoletta d'agnello alla milanese con rapini allaglio too.