The New Food
Fake food used to be glamorous and difficult. It had an otherworldly neon cast to it: Kool-Aid and Cheetos and Sno Cones. Sweet ‘n’ Low, it was believed, gave you cancer. Tater Tots made you lumpy and sluggish.
But the years passed and something happened. Fake food has become good for you, aggressively so. It makes you strong and clean: Gatorade and Gardenburgers, Tasti-D-Lite and Power Bars.
You tend not to overdose on this stuff because it comes in stern little serving sizes with the copious nutrients and fortifications spelled out on the label. Somehow it melds the space-age astronaut appeal of Tang (which your fourth-grade friend’s mom, sipping distractedly at her Tab, gave you at breakfast instead of orange juice) with the virtuous aspect of, say, tempeh. Tempeh is too loose, too unwieldy for the new millennium. This food is tight. Notice how Power Bars, those sleekly engineered, expensive swaths of perfect nutrition, have totally usurped Tiger’s Milk bars with their dorky hippie carob overtones.
Sometimes the fake food people go too far–witness the Olestra debacle–but most of the time, they’re right on the mark.
When Mary Carillo was doing TV commentary for the U.S. Open, she remarked several times on the “energy paste” Martina Hingis was squeezing into her mouth during changeovers. Ms. Hingis went on to lose, but that’s not the point. The point is, the gals used to gnaw bananas and bagels during changeovers. But who has time for produce anymore? Produce rots. Bagels get stale. Real food, increasingly, just doesn’t make sense.
From Power Bar headquarters in Berkeley, Calif., company spokesman Debbie Pfeifer described a new tangerine-flavored, caffeine-enhanced gel similar to the one absorbed by Ms. Hingis. She said it was fortified with antioxidant vitamins C and E. “We have a few temps downstairs that I’ve seen just have it as a morning pick-me-up,” said Ms. Pfeifer. “People love it. It’s a carbohydrate gel, it’s designed to get energy quickly into your system. You know, you often don’t have the time to chew.”
Ms. Pfeifer is right. Chewing is for suckers.
The Gentile Giant
It’s odd, but I do not recall anyone in the family remarking on cousin Winthrop’s large size until he was well into his 20’s, when, at his sister Mizzen’s wedding on Saranac Lake, he stood up abruptly and knocked a light fixture loose with his head. I’d guess he stood about 8 feet 6 inches tall then, two inches short of his eventual apogee. If the light fixture had not fallen and resulted in the ghastly accident that brought a quick end to the DeWitts’ plans for progeny–plans which the unlucky couple had in fact just been discussing in animated tones with Bunny Emmet–I do believe Winthrop would have passed through this mortal coil in a happy state, his colossal dimensions no more remarked upon than his blond hair, deadly backhand or whinnying, infectious laugh.
The only previous remark made toward the fellow’s bulk was a quarter-century earlier. I remember a soft summer afternoon at the Meadow Club. Winthrop was still in short pants, he must have been about 3, and, in pursuit of a glistening pitcher of lemonade, the tyke simply walked over the tennis net in one step, occasioning a rare double-fault on the part of Uncle Arven and a curt, muttered observation–”The boy is large”–from his opponent.
But as Winthrop lumbered his way through adolescence and young adulthood, his head leaving cantaloupe-size indents in door frames, his feet sprouting through white bucks the size of Volkswagens, his shoulders splitting the seams of countless blazers from Brooks Brothers, no word was ever said aloud about his Herculean proportions. The carpenter was discreetly phoned; Brooks simply sent another blazer, a special “quadruple-breasted” number the Corsican tailor made on the sly. No one spoke a word, not even when Winthrop, his legs being too large to fit under the desk, ended up standing, a bit stooped, at the rear of the classroom from grades two through 12. (Looking back, I suppose his choice of college–a rather impulsive and much-bemoaned decision to attend the University of Hawaii over Yale–may have been influenced by the relative abundance of headroom on those wild, untamed Polynesian atolls.) Upon graduation, Winthrop entered the family firm in New York, and, fortunately for my dear cousin, there was no shortage of big, horsy girls from Princeton when he needed a date for a black-tie function or a weekend at Newport. There was one such girl, her name was Charlotte, who actually towered over Winthrop in her stocking feet.
After the incident at Saranac, Winthrop was never the same. The days when he could sit back and sip a Southside at the Southampton Bathing Corporation, his thoughts unmolested by any notion of being vertically other, were gone. When asked to escort my sister to a benefit, he moaned about the “yards of sailcloth” which would be required for his shirt alone. (Eventually, he gave up and turned his wardrobe over to thick, horizontal stripes.) When taking the train to the country, he refused to enter the compartment, where he might chance upon another passenger, but rather lay splayed like an iguana across the top of the train, his knuckles white with the effort it took to hold on. I will not say he became obsessed with his height, but I realized something was amiss when he started insisting on kneeling down in family photographs, which of course only made him stand out more: Now that his head was in the photographs, it became apparent that his tousled brain case was approximately the size of a small dirigible. Before long, he began the descent you have read about in the less respectable papers.
Rarely a day goes by that I don’t think of Winthrop, though I rarely speak of him. Last night, as I was putting out the light, I turned to my beloved and said, “Charlotte, did you ever think my cousin Winthrop was, well, a bit large?”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” was all that she said.
Goodbye, Bulgaria. Hello, New York.
Tanya Petrova, 24, has dumped her boy-friend and moved to the big town. She has an apartment in Queens and a job waiting tables at Mehanata 416 B.C., a Bulgarian bar and restaurant at 416 Broadway.
Before her shift, she sits in a booth and eats her daily meal: fried eggs, sour cream cucumber salad and a fried mushroom. At work she wears embroidered peasant outfits and elbow-long pigtails that she ties with red ribbons.
The ex-boyfriend was not so nice. Tanya met him back in Bulgaria when she was 19. Shortly after they met, he moved to Boston to study finance. After five years of long-distance letters and phone calls, he asked her to come live with him, and she made the trip.
“All the time, I clean, cooking, washing all day. He was very jealous. We go to disco–to parties–and I’d have a problem. He told me bad things. He hurt me. All the times he told me that I’m bad girl, I’m prostitute, I’m going to sleep with his friends. Yeah! ‘You are a prostitute, you are a bad girl, you are awful,’ and after that he told me, ‘I love you, stay with me,’ and so I decide to move here. I dump him and I came here.”
Tanya got up to bring the check to a couple on the verge of copulating at a nearby table.
“They are from Macedonia,” she said. “They come here and kiss a lot. They’re very nice.”
Now Tanya has a new boyfriend. He took her to Six Flags Great Adventure and Niagara Falls. But there’s a slight problem: The new boyfriend has a girlfriend.
“I am just waiting,” said Tanya, “because he say that someday he will break up with her and he will be with me. But I don’t believe in this. I am a real person. I know. It doesn’t matter. I know.”
It’s amazing that a movie as good as American Beauty can be so derivative. Let us count the ways. (1) Dead narrator– Sunset Boulevard . (2) “Psycho” boy lives next door– Toy Story . (3) Romance between dreamy girl and boy who just got out of mental institution– Ordinary People . (4) Abusive military dad– The Great Santini . (5) Women undress or make intimate confessions before a video camera– Sex, Lies and Videotape . (6) Life gets dark in a nice suburb, but main characters find beauty in everyday things– Blue Velvet .