I was sitting around the other day discussing triglycerides and complex carbohydrates with my wife when it occurred to me that chamomile tea would probably never replace the simple martini.
The reason we were on the subject is that I have undertaken a special diet which, it is said, may add 10 years to my life. I am not sure, however, it will be the kind of life worth living.
I have entered the program not to join the parade of skinny old men shuffling through Santa Monica, clinging to life by a thread as tenuous as a strand of linguine, but to get my heart back into the shape it ought to be.
There is nothing like the fear of death to draw one's attention to good nutrition. So follow along as we witness the pathetic decline of a lusty gourmand into the gray world of plain gelatin and buckwheat flour.
The diet basically reduces to a minimum the fats and cholesterol-causing foods at my table. Should a cow accidentally wander into the kitchen, I am to kill it instantly and burn the carcass.
Cows in any form, to hear my dietitian tell it, are a part of my past.
A typical dinner menu under the prevailing stringent conditions, for example, will allow me the following for a lip-smacking meal:
One-half cup of skim milk, three small servings of vegetables, one small apple, one ear of corn and 3.5 ounces of fish.
If I am still hungry after that, as surely I will be, I may indulge in "a fun little rice cracker" for nutrition and, I suppose, for laughs.
I have managed to avoid that so far, sparing myself fun with a rice cracker until a more desperate time.
My metabolism, meanwhile, is fueled by a precise blend of proteins, complex carbohydrates, fruits, vegetables and fat-free dairy products in such fine balance that I am afraid to tamper with it.
I don't know what would happen, for instance, if I had two complex carbohydrates and no fruit at one meal. I might explode.
The possibility is haunting. The other day I was about to sit down to a bowl of delicious cardboard-flavored vegetarian chili and lima beans cooked in rain water when I suddenly began to wonder, God help me, if my chili was clashing with my lima beans.
It's sad to see a grown man accustomed to the hearty enjoyment of poitrine de veau abruptly in a panic over his vegetarian chili, but there I was going down a list of food-exchanges on a card from my pocket to see if the nutritional balance was proper.
"Easy," my wife said, when she noticed I was beginning to perspire.
"Easy, hell," I said. "I may be creating deadly chemistry in my body by mixing chili and lima beans."
"You're over-reacting to a simple program of nutrition."
"There is nothing simple about this diet," I said. "I am supposed to have green sapsago cheese and no sorbitol or manitol." I leaned closer. "I don't even know what sorbitol and manitol are."
"Poor dear," she said.
I have committed myself to this Spartan existence for a month and have pretty much abided by the unforgiving menu, with the possible exception of last night when I said to hell with my triglycerides and drank a dry vodka martini. Well, actually, two. And I didn't feel the least bit guilty about it.
My poor attitude strikes at the very core of the program.
I was warned at its outset that the most important part of the regimen is a positive mental approach.
"That," my wife said later, "is going to be your Achilles' heel."
Possibly. For example, I am emotionally incapable of carrying a can of unsweetened baby food or a "grain beverage," whatever that is, to a restaurant in order to maintain my program of good nutrition while dining out.
I am further incapable of "speaking up with appropriate restaurant suggestions when in a group," insofar as those suggestions might encompass a cheerful call for cooked Wheatena or another round of unsalted eggplant.
I'd rather eat coyote than eat eggplant.
However, I do understand the importance of good food at this faltering stage in my life, so a plate of Chinese cabbage, cooked celery and unflavored broccoli will do me no harm, though I must remember to go easy on foods containing oxalic acids.
There is no point in a healthy heart if I OD on beet greens.
Nevertheless, I have, as I mentioned, remained reasonably true to my health program with that one slippage into the ugly swamp of vodka and vermouth.
We were in the bar at the Beverly Wilshire hotel.
"You're ordering a martini?" my wife asked, surprised.
"Right," I said. "But, and this is important, no olive. The olives are deadly."
"Booze is deadly."
"All right," I said, "I'll have a martini, you have chamomile tea."
She thought about that for a moment and then said, "One margarita, with salt, hold the straw."
We had such a hell of a good time, we skipped the rice crackers.