The three men scoured the menu like nearsighted vultures.
“Cindy always ordered that chicken Oriental salad, but I’d be starving in an hour if that’s all I had,” Randy said.
“What about the grilled salmon?” Brian suggested.
“No way,” Randy said. “We’ve gotta stay away from red meat.”
Steve pointed out that the grilled salmon had a little heart next to it, but Randy was adamant.
“Just because it’s ‘heart healthy’ doesn’t mean it’s not fattening,” he insisted.
“How about the broccoli quiche?” Brian said.
“What are you, nuts?” Randy scoffed. “That’s got eggs and cheese! We can’t eat either one of those. Man, you single guys don’t know squat about dieting.”
“Hey, you’re single now, too, buddy,” Brian reminded him.
“Yeah, well, 16 years of marriage to a diet freak kinda made me an expert,” Randy said. Steve was tempted to point out that Cindy weighed about 30 pounds more now than when she and Randy were married, but he chose to hold his peace.
Brian looked morosely at the tempting photos of bountiful meals displayed on the big plastic menu. “Remember those huge cheeseburgers we used to eat at Louie’s?”
“Oh, yeah,” Randy recalled happily. “And the cheese fries were killer, too.”
“We ate like pigs in those days,” Brian said. “How come we never gained weight then?”
The other two shrugged and sadly shook their heads. The injustice of it all suddenly seemed unbearable.
Then Steve suggested that perhaps their once-a-week lunch get-together was not the best time to start a diet. “Why don’t we just try to cut back during the rest of the week, and then we can splurge a little on Fridays? I mean, we’ve gotta treat ourselves once in a while.”
The other two agreed this was sound logic. After all, they only needed to lose about 20 pounds each, and surely that didn’t require constant dieting.
“I’ve got an idea,” Steve said. “Let’s get together tomorrow morning and go shopping for diet stuff that we could have for lunches. You know, those frozen-entree things. Lisa says they’re pretty good these days.”
“Yeah,” Randy said, “I see people in my office eating those all the time.”
So they all agreed that was an excellent strategy. The waitress arrived and took their orders: a 1/3-pound cheeseburger with fries, a patty melt with fries, and a fried-fish sandwich with onion rings. Oh, and three diet Cokes.
They met at Steve’s house and rode together to the Wal-Mart Supercenter. On the way, Brian told the other two about how his fiancée, Dawn, had lost 15 pounds on the Weight Watchers program.
“But that’s just for women,” Randy stated. “I don’t think guys can do it.”
“Well, Dawn said we could.”
“Yeah, well, do you know any guys in Weight Watchers?”
The motion failed for lack of a known participant.
“I don’t really see why we need to lose weight anyway,” Randy complained. “I’ve read that most women don’t care if their men are a few pounds overweight.”
“Lisa’s worried about my ticker,” Steve said. “Her dad died of a heart attack when he was 57, so she’s convinced I’m gonna croak if I don’t get in shape.”
“And Dawn’s all freaked out that I’m gonna look like a walrus in a penguin suit at the wedding,” Brian said.
Randy laughed. “I’m glad I don’t have to listen that crap anymore.”
“That’s true,” Steve said. “But those chicks on the meat market are looking for filet mignon, not a rump roast!”
They all laughed but then fell silent for a few moments. The mention of beef was a seductive distraction.
Steve broke the reverie. “You know, I was thinking we might wanna give ourselves a little more incentive by putting a little money on this. We could, like, each put in 10 bucks, and then we could weigh ourselves—say, once a month—and whoever lost the most weight that month would get the money.”
“Hmm. OK, I’m in,” Brian said.
“Me too,” Randy agreed. “But let’s say whoever wins has to buy the losers a round of beer.”
“That’s cool,” Steve said. “Of course, it would have to be light beer.”
“Oh, of course,” Randy concurred.
“What about exercise?” Brian asked.
“What about it?” Randy said.
“Well, if we wanna lose weight, we gotta exercise.”
“Oh, I get plenty of exercise on the job,” Randy said.
Steve guffawed. “How does a Realtor get exercise on the job?”
“I’m out showing houses all the time!” Randy said. “Some of those babies are huge, and I have to walk ’em through every square inch. You desk jockeys don’t have a clue.”
“I suppose I should start using that stupid treadmill,” Steve said. “Lisa was so sure I’d lose weight if we got it, but the only place that damn thing’s ever caused me to lose weight was in my wallet.”
Brian said he was going to use the poor-man’s treadmill.
“What’s that?” Steve asked.
When they arrived at the store, they each grabbed a cart and started in the produce section.
“We want lots of high-fiber stuff for snacks—apples, bananas, that kind of thing,” Randy instructed.
“Nah, too much sugar,” Steve said. “I think we wanna stick to stuff like carrots and celery.”
“Yuck,” Brian said.
Then Steve pointed out that baby carrots were pretty good with French onion dip.
Brian and Randy agreed, so they each grabbed two bags of baby carrots and headed for the dairy department.
“Oooo, these little French yogurts are good,” Brian said, grabbing one.
“No, no, you want the no-fat brand,” Randy said.
“That stuff tastes like sour milk,” Brian whined.
“Not if you add some sugar.”
“Doesn’t that defeat the purpose?”
“No, because you control how much sugar you add,” Randy explained. “One tablespoon of sugar has only 15 calories.”
“Isn’t it one teaspoon?” Steve said.
“Oh, teaspoon, tablespoon, they’re about the same,” Randy said.
“Why not get the one with artificial sweetener?” Steve suggested.
“Sure, if you want an extra arm, go right ahead,” Randy quipped.
Steve thought about all of the diet soda he had seen Randy consume recently and decided to quietly await the arrival of the new appendage.
They were forced to go down the snack aisle on their way to the frozen foods, so they stopped to ponder some of the low-fat offerings.
“Wow!” Brian said. “This package of four brownies has only 150 calories!”
“Uh, I think that’s probably per serving,” Steve pointed out.
Brian read the label more closely. “Crap,” he muttered, tossing the package back on the shelf.
“Hey, these potato chips only have one gram of fat per serving,” Randy said.
Steve picked up a bag and looked at the label. “You’re right.”
“I’m gonna stock up on these,” Randy said, putting four bags into his cart.
Then Steve noticed the fine print: Excessive consumption may have a laxative effect. He debated whether to point this out to Randy, but then decided this was probably some kind of Darwinian thing he should not interfere with.
When they reached the frozen foods department, there was a little crowd of women busily mining the low-fat entrée section. The guys patiently waited their turn, feeling a little out of place while also trying to discreetly take note of what the popular choices were.
As the crowd began to thin out, Randy explained that the brand in the blue boxes was higher in sodium, but they also tasted better, according to his sources.
Brian pulled one out and looked at it skeptically. “God, these sure are small.”
“Oh, you have to eat at least two at a time,” Randy said. “They make ’em this size for women.”
Steve began to wish they’d wagered more than $10.
Brian read the front of one container. “So what’s really more important, fat or calories?”
“Nobody counts calories anymore,” Randy declared. “It’s a lot better to keep track of your fat grams, and it’s easier, too, ’cause the numbers are smaller.”
“So how many fat grams can you have in a day?”
“Um,” Randy thought a second. “About 200, I think.”
Steve heard a couple of young women giggling behind them. Cruel witches, he thought. They could set us straight, but nooooo. Then he began to think about life-expectancy rates, and all of those rich widows who had cooked all of those high-fat meals… coincidence, or brilliant conspiracy?
He was losing it, he realized. Probably that damn fat-free bagel Lisa had fed him for breakfast.
Steve’s big master bathroom became pretty tight quarters as they all removed their jackets and shoes for the first official weigh-in since they’d begun dieting a month before.
Brian got out the little notepad he’d used to record their beginning weights. “OK Randy, you were 194. Let’s see where you’re at now.”
Randy stepped on the scale, looked at the weight and immediately got off. “That can’t be right.”
“I just adjusted the scale,” Steve said. “See, it’s at exactly zero. Get back on.”
As Randy did, Steve read the scale and started laughing. “How the hell did you gain weight?”
“I don’t know,” the red-faced Randy said as he quickly stepped off. “I’ve been starvin’ myself.”
“What was it?” Brian asked.
“196,” Steve said, thinking they could use a little of that kind of starvation over in Africa.
Brian recorded the figure. “You’re next,” he told Steve.
Steve stepped on and looked down at the dial. “Crap. I only lost one pound. And I even walked on the treadmill twice this week!”
“At least you’re goin’ in the right direction,” Randy said. “OK,” he looked to Brian, “your turn.”
Brian handed the notebook to Steve and stepped on the scale.
“OK,” Steve said, “you were 182, and now you’re…”
“176?!” Randy wailed. “How could that be?”
“Wow,” Brian said quietly.
“That’s six pounds!” Randy said. “How could you lose six pounds in one month?”
Brian shrugged. “I just didn’t eat as much.”
“Are you on one of those low-carb things?” Randy asked accusingly.
“No, I just ate smaller meals and cut out candy bars and stuff.”
Randy was skeptical. “You’ve probably been workin’ out a bunch, huh?”
“Well, Dawn and I have been going out for walks more often, but that’s all.”
Randy folded his arms and shook his head, still unconvinced. Then he squinted. “You joined that Weight Watchers, didn’t you?”
Brian chuckled and shook his head. “No, I didn’t join Weight Watchers.”
“So what you’re saying,” Steve said, “is that you lost six pounds just by eating a little less and exercising a little more?”
“Well, yeah. Basically, that was it.”
“Son of a bitch,” Randy shook his head. “Who’da thunk it?”
In the real world, Kathy Maeglin is special projects editor for the Indianapolis Business Journal. In the fiction world, she’s a struggling neophyte who dreams of getting carpal tunnel syndrome from too many book signings for her smashingly successful first novel. E-mail: kmaeglin[at]aol.com.