OVALTINE TO THE RESCUE. 2-14-11
Robert Sperling had to put in ten-hour workdays regularly to keep ahead of his ever-rising expenses and that often included Saturdays. Most men who had to follow that brutal schedule would want to relax on Sundays but Robert was so driven that he knew that the only way that he could keep balanced was by filling every hour of his day off with any and all activities except ones that called for the use of a computer.
His wife, Mavis, liked to be active too but she began to flag around lunchtime and so her husband had to find a companion elsewhere to go for a hike; go swimming in the Y; play pool; or whatever else. She often remonstrated with him about overdoing it but he couldn’t find it in himself to change.
That continued until their children started coming along and they were both appalled at the amount of work that just one of them generates no matter about three, which is the number that they ended up with – the last one was accidental even though her mother always insisted that she’d been the one who was mainly responsible for its existence because she’d kept on at Mavis as to how every family needs to have children of both genders in its make-up.
His wife gave him a party for his thirty-fifth birthday and one of his best friends congratulated him on getting to the mid point in his life and the phrase stuck with him and brought some gloom into the festivities but he got over that by imbibing more than his usual amount of Bourbon. However, the next day, when his headache had abated somewhat, the phrase came back and made him examine his position in life.
Sure, he told himself, I’ve got a wonderful family and a nice house and lots of friends and plenty of convivial, if somewhat distant, acquaintances and my colleagues at work are friendly enough and I’ve got a bright future but by working so many hours I rarely get to spend quality time with my family and, increasingly, I’m beginning to feel that I’ve heard everything and seen everything before and so can it be long before this angst builds up and overwhelms me and then what?
Christmas came around soon after that and it was easy for him to put aside his misgivings and get into the spirit of the season and so three whole weeks passed in a non-stop series of partying and in a blur of alcohol and tobacco fumes and food, food, food on top of food.
On the second day of January his depression came back at him in full force – his hangover had abated, somewhat, by then and he no longer had to limit his thinking to generalities – and he decided that he had to do something about his life style and so he looked into several of the myriad ‘cures’ that are advertized all over and he found that he wasn’t much impressed with any of them so, figuring that only he could come up with something that might be halfway viable as regards his own circumstances and his own physical and mental make-up, he took time to think it all out on a purely personal basis and he eventually came up with a plan that he liked.
It was that he should, on the first day of every coming month, give up something that was injurious to his health and wellbeing.
He decided that he would stop smoking on the 1st of February and he’d give up drinking alcohol on the 1st of March and he’d no longer eat meat after the 1st of April and it would be fish’s turn to be eschewed in May and it would be coffee and tea’s turn to be dropped from his diet in June and carbonated drinks would no longer pass his lips from July on and anything that contained sugar would be spurned in August and in September he’d – well, he decided to wait until it got to be the end of August before thinking of something to do without in September.
He kept to his program and although he felt much fitter after every step it proved to be at the expense of becoming estranged from his family and friends.
His family went along with him at first but, after trying it twice, they refused to eat any more beef stew without any beef in it and his oatmeal patties were never a bit popular – and so on as regards the various items that his self-imposed diet restricted him to – and then, and even worse, as the weeks went by they began to make him eat alone in the kitchen because if he was sitting with them at the dinner table he’d bore them with non-stop comments about how well he was feeling because of his diet and about how bad for them most of the items on their plates were. He generated so much animosity that eventually they got together and insisted that he was to fix his own breakfast and eat it and leave for work before it got to be their own breakfast time. Similarly, on weekends and holidays they wouldn’t so much as enter the kitchen if he was preparing something in there.
Because of all that he felt like a boarder in his own house and when, out of pique, he decided to sleep, alone, in the spare room his isolation was near complete.
As for his friends: the luxury and the convenience of having a permanent designated-driver at hand lost its edge after a month or two because he’d be the only sober person at the parties that he’d drive them to, and from, and he’d kill the general conviviality stone cold dead time and time again by questioning details in descriptions of events and he’d insist that actual facts be stuck to in all anecdotes or stories which effectively doused the humor that had been, painstakingly, built into them. All of that added up to his becoming a pain to be around and so, before long, he wasn’t invited anywhere any more.
At work he soon learned that it was best if he went off to eat lunch alone – he got to know all the local Vegetarian Restaurants well and he’d read a book so as to not have to look at the concoctions that were brought to him in the name of food – because no one takes kindly to having someone sitting with them who can’t keep from moaning every time that someone at the table orders a meal that has meat in it and who makes rueful faces every time that they put a forkful of it into their mouths.
When August had nearly gone he decided that he’d give up television in September and that gave him lots of time for reading and so he subscribed to several publications and one night he saw, in a “We-are-what-we-eat” magazine, that a new vegetarian/vegan group was being started at a place that was only a little way across town from him.
He called the given number and when he’d answered some questions satisfactorily, and was found to have the right motivation and attitude, the woman on the other end of the phone invited him around to her apartment the following night.
Charlotte Maulding turned out to be a very thin, very attractive woman of around thirty.
She told him that she hadn’t eaten meat since she was twelve years old and hadn’t worn leather – nor fur, of course, but that didn’t merit mentioning – for almost as long and she was on the brink of embracing the lifestyle of a full-out vegan and the reason that she’d started her Group was to find like-minded members who would pass on their experiences and would help her to achieve her ambition and stay healthy too.
When it was Robert ’s turn to speak he trotted out the details of his program and she was so impressed with the concept that she determined, there and then, to follow it too.
She was already nearly up to speed with him except for eating seafood and watching TV so she determined, there and then, to give up on both of those – she showed how enthused she was with it by emptying her freezer of all sea-food and dropping it down the garbage chute and then she sat down and wrote a note to the Super: “This TV works well. Please dispose of it as you see fit.” and then she scotch-taped it to her TV set and she asked for Robert’s help to take it to the elevator and down to the basement where they left it in a corner but in plain sight – and thus she got to be on level terms with him.
The new Group didn’t get off the ground because all of the other would-be members – three of them – were rather weird, or had a ‘take-charge’ attitude, and because of that Robert and Charlotte saw a lot of each other, alone.
They decided to hold their meetings – three of them every week – in her favorite restaurant and, because that kind of behavior tends to encourage closeness, they soon found that they’d gotten such a wonderful rapport going that on their second General Meeting, when they’d eaten, she said, “Let’s have an after-dinner drink in my place and then write up the minutes.”
From then on it became their regular practice, on leaving the restaurant, to go up to her place and have a mug of Ovaltine before going to bed together.
Towards the end of September they spent much time, at their meetings, thinking about what they should give up in October.
Because of the support that each of them was giving the other one they found it easy to come up with suggestions – for example, they both agreed that tearing up the ground to extract vegetables was far too violent and so they put carrots and potatoes and parsnips, and the like, on the list. Charlotte opined that when it came to comparing the ripping of a root vegetable out of Mother Earth with gently lifting a nice ripe squash, that was just sitting there on a bed of straw, into her basket she knew very well which one she’d want to do.
The next item to come under scrutiny was whether they should carry out an extensive study of seemingly innocent additives to food growth, and its preparation, and decide if any of them merited being added to their list.
Charlotte came up with a really valid question and that was should they seek out products that have been made with milk that has been extracted gently by hand from cows and not forcefully sucked out of them with uncaring, brutal machines?
At their meeting on the last day of September they both knew that they had to choose an item from the list before leaving the restaurant and Robert was disconcerted to find that Charlotte was unusually subdued and when he suggested that root vegetables should be next she merely nodded affirmation and so, seeing that all of the Officers on the Board Of Directors were in agreement, the hammer was brought down and the motion was carried.
Robert did most of the talking all through the rest of their dinner and then they went up to her place and she surprised him by breaking protocol and taking him to bed without offering him any Ovaltine.
In bed Charlotte was very tender and loving and then very enthusiastic and when it was over she held him close for much longer than was usual.
When she’d kissed him in the special way that she’d taken up to signal that it was time for him to get off her she sat up too and said, “Robert darling, I have something very serious and sad to tell you. First, I want to thank you sincerely for bringing your marvelous program into my life. Your idea of progressive self-denial to eliminate all of the toxins from our bodies is exactly the discipline that I’ve been searching for over these many years.
“Well, as you must know by now, Ovaltine is very important to me. Without it I simply can’t function properly. I can’t concentrate at work if I haven’t had a mug of it for breakfast and at lunchtime I can’t face my salads without it and at night I can’t sleep if I haven’t had some.”
A sob escaped her and she needed a moment to compose herself before going on, “Well, this morning, I don’t why I did it but I read the list of contents on the box and Robert” – – – here she let out a cry of anguish – – – “It’s got sugar in it! I’ve deceived you. I’ve ruined your noble resolve and there’s no way that I can excuse my stupidity and my deceitfulness.”
Robert tried to placate her but she’d have none of it, “No, no. I’ve felt really terrible all day. You are being kind as always but, oh, how well I know how badly you must be feeling inside. I feel terrible about it, as I’ve said, and I couldn’t go to work this morning because I needed time to think about what I have to do to put it right for you and for me and for us!”
She pulled her nightgown on and did up the buttons all the way to the top and then she said, while avoiding his eyes, “So, this is what I’ve decided has to be done: Knowing full well that I can’t live without Ovaltine and knowing that I’ll never be able to drink it in front of you again – nor, indeed, can I ever drink it at all while you continue to be my guru – I’ve decided that the only way I can deal with my dilemma is by making my choice of what I must give up in October, which, I see from the clock, starts in less than a half hour, to be MEN. You and all MEN.”
She let him try to dissuade her but she remained adamant about keeping to her decision and about his having to leave soon to beat the clock and she succeeded in closing her front door behind him a few minutes before October – which waits for no man – let itself in.
That was the last time that Robert ever saw Charlotte.
He walked home deeply shocked, deeply troubled and deep in thought.
The drastic plan that he eventually came up with used the word ‘tomorrow’ so often that the first line from the song that was used at Bill Clinton’s re-election campaign came to him, unbidden, and he couldn’t shake it off – “Don’t – – stop – – thinking-about-tomorrow” – and he was still humming it when he let himself into his home and it continued to run through his brain while he was getting undressed in the spare room and then, as he was setting his alarm clock, he realized, with a shock, that it was already ‘tomorrow!’
He pulled on a robe and some slippers and then he walked to the master bedroom and woke up his wife by getting into bed with her.
Her annoyance disappeared in a trice when she realized what was happening and as soon as it had she welcomed him appropriately after taking her nightgown off and after letting him do the same thing to her panties.
As she received him she was appalled at his gauntness but she was also very grateful indeed because of what she was being given but mostly because his love play had made it evident to her that he now approved, even reveled in, her, uh, well, she’d admit to ‘plumpness.’
The next morning he got up at his usual hour but this time it wasn’t to sneak off to work early to avoid antagonizing his family, as had been the norm for close to a year, but it was to go to the kitchen to make breakfast for everybody. On his way down he left the door to the master bedroom open and then, quietly, he opened the kid’s bedroom doors too.
A half hour later they were all wide awake because he’d filled the whole house with the tantalizing smell of bacon and eggs and pork sausages and fried tomatoes and buttered toast and brewing coffee.
When they were all seated at the table he served them before filling his own plate and then, after taking time to savor every individual item, he announced, to everybody’s delight, that when he got home for dinner that night he wanted, first, a double vodka straight-up and then Champagne to go with a shrimp cocktail and then coarse red wine to go with a large rare steak and then an iced cake and then, to finish up, black coffee. He ended his little speech by saying that after having dealt with all of that he’d go into his study with a flask of brandy and would smoke a Romeo y Julieta cigar while drinking it.
Robert soon returned to what had been his usual way of living and, in the following years, whenever he felt pangs of guilt about being overly indulgent he’d go to the pantry and take down a package of Ovaltine and he’d read the list of ingredients.
He’d then tell himself that if the Ovaltine people had used a sugar substitute he would probably, by then, be living with Charlotte – both naked – in a tree near the top of a mountain in Tibet, eating fallen berries and grass seeds and drinking body-melted snow. Also, although her female bodily functions would have long given up on advising her about the regular passage of time, there’d be little that he could do regarding stopping her from reading any significance into the changes that the moon goes through.