"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Eat A Good Breakfast–And Don’t Go Outside With A Wet Head

My sister stared at her bowl of corn flakes and pushed the soggy mess around with her spoon. “You will not get up from the table unless you eat your breakfast”, my father warned; but my sister, never one to give in, just sat there.

This standoff took place every morning because neither my father nor my sister would budge.  My mother tried to mediate.  “Try Raisin Bran, sweetheart”, she said smiling. “Maybe you would like that better.”

“The raisins look like rabbit pellets”, she said, “and the flakes look like what is peeling off the garage door.  I won’t eat it”.  She was right.  My father had never gotten around to repainting the garage, and the ugly brown paint on the door had begun to curl in the heat.  Every time he pulled the door down, a shower of Raisin Bran flakes fell onto the driveway.

My mother tried everything – Raisin Bran, Frosted Flakes, and Rice Krispies – but nothing worked.  Eventually my father gave in and allowed my sister to drink a glass of milk with a piece of toast instead of the corn flakes. 

As well as being a stickler for a good breakfast, “the most important meal of the day”, my father also insisted on milk at every meal. “It builds strong bones and teeth”, he said.  He also insisted on salad - greens were important for digestion – and a very vinegary chunk of Iceberg always accompanied the meat loaf.  “I want to puke when I drink milk and salad at the same time”, my sister said.

She took me down to the basement one day, poured milk into a cup and then added vinegar.  She looked at the disgusting, curdled mess, and said, “Gross”.

My father was having none of it.  If we didn’t drink milk our bones would never grow and we would be stunted.  “You know the midget at Jimmy’s?”, he asked.  “Well, you will turn out like him if you don’t listen to me”.

Jimmy’s was a smoke shop downtown.  Jimmy sold bus tickets, newspapers, cigars, and girlie magazines, and Joey was a dwarf who sat on a stool by the cash register and handled the money.  He looked like a crab when he hoisted himself up, but he had figured out a cool way of hopping off, pivoting with one hand on the register drawer, and landing gracefully. He never changed his clothes and stank like the stables in Berlin, but Jimmy felt sorry for him and let him sit up there and make change.  The store stank anyway because of the cigar smoke, bus passengers, and a nasty old carpet which had been there since Jimmy’s father opened the store; so Joey just added some pungency, and nobody seemed to notice. My mother, however, could smell Jimmy’s on us when we came home from looking at titty magazines in the back of the store, so we all kept spare jackets in the bushes. 

Joey the Dwarf was nowhere near as creepy as the men who thumbed through Hot! and Steamy, so before going in we looked through the broken alley window to see if anyone was ogling Jimmy’s magazines.  But there were so many horny creeps in New Brighton that our titty time time was limited. In fact Joey was a friendly midget and although we weren’t supposed to be allowed back in the girlie section, he let us have a look as long as we bought some candy or novelties like plastic dog turds. 

One day my sister asked Joey how he got to be a dwarf.  “Was it because you didn’t drink your milk?”, she asked him.  No, he said.  His mother was a circus freak in Ohio, but she had beautiful eyes and his father dated her.  The luck of the draw being what it was, Joey got dealt blue eyes but midget picture cards.  He never knew his father but his mother hated him for leaving her and Joey with no support.

“Daddy lied to us”, my sister said.

“Don’t go out with a wet head” was another rule.  “You’ll catch cold or worse”, my mother said.  “You remember Bobby Bilkins who died of pneumonia last year? He went out with a wet head”.

After the dwarf story neither my sister nor I believed any of these warnings, and I soon found that if I went outside with a wet head in the sub-zero temperatures of a Connecticut winter, I could flatten my hair straight and look like my non-Italian schoolmates.  If I plastered it with hair oil, it would stay flat and stiff even after I went inside. It was so cold in the winter that it didn’t take more than a few minutes for my hair to harden like a helmet.  It jiggled when I ran.  It was a bad idea, though, because when it finally did melt, my hair looked like Vinny Pasquale’s, the car mechanic, all greasy and gloppy.  “You look like a wop”, Bobby Parsons told me.

“Get a good night’s sleep” was another one. “Otherwise your brain cells will never grow and you will end up like Herman Lickens”. My mother must have kept a log of all the half-baked kids in the neighborhood, because she was always quick to trot one out when the time was right.  Herman was in my third grade class, and because there was no such thing as mainstreaming in those days, teachers had to put up with Herman who understood nothing at all.  When Miss Heckler asked him to add 2+3, he looked at her blankly and said, “Huh?”  And when she asked him to go to the blackboard and write “Cat”, he scratched a few chalk lines that looked like a cat and went back to his seat.

It took me many years of tossing and turning to learn that a good night’s sleep was not all it was cracked up to be, and that you could get by on fewer than eight hours no matter what my father had said.  The same with bowel movements.  You had to go right after breakfast to cleanse your colon for the day.  “Who wants to walk around all day with a load of shit in your system?”, he asked.

For a long time I sat on the pot after breakfast reading old magazines, but the longer I sat, the more resistant my colon became.  I got blocked for days and my mother had to give me Milk of Magnesia.  That did the trick all right, but it was chalky, disgusting, and could hit you when you were on the green playing baseball with your friends.


Dr. James Hamblin has produced a satirical short video for The Atlantic called The Terrors of Skipping Breakfast. Breakfast is not ‘the most important meal of the day’, it is just a meal, to be skipped if you’re not hungry, or eaten piled high with waffles, eggs, bacon, and grits.  Nothing will happen to you if you skip breakfast, or if you don’t carbo-load.  You can forget the juice, the protein, the vitamins and minerals.  You’ll get them in your other meals.

A young friend of mine never eats breakfast, but by 11 o’clock has such low blood-sugar that she is jumpy, irritable, and a royal pain in the ass.  She is ordinarily a sweet and considerate girl, but when the glucose level drops, she turns into a harridan. She needs breakfast.  Another friend eats a hearty dinner at 7 o’clock – two courses, salad, and wine.  He is never hungry before 1pm the next day when he has a Ruben, cream soda, and yoghurt; or lox and cream cheese; or a burrito; or sushi and grilled mackerel.  By 7pm, after a long day and workout at the gym, he is hungry again and looking forward to a civilized dinner.

Although most nutritionists advise following the instructions on the food pyramid, they do not specify when to eat your servings of grain, dairy, or produce.

There is no reason why you shouldn’t pound protein and dairy in the morning, snack on fruits and vegetables for lunch, and eat pretty much nothing for dinner – or the other way around.  The trick is not be hungry.

It took me years to leave all these restrictive prescriptions about good health on the curb and to eat when and what I wanted; to shit on demand; to wear hats, coats, scarves, and shorts according to the weather; and to sleep in intervals.  Maybe 90 percent of the body’s heat escapes through the head, but so what? Maybe it’s a good thing that it escapes that way so that if you’re overdressed in the winter all you have to do is take your hat off.

I recently had a mini-epiphany the other day.  I realized that at my age all the damage done by breathing bad air; eating too much cholesterol; and ingesting herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizer has already been done.  The double whammy of bad genes and bad environment has already taken its toll.  The mutations, clogging, narrowing, and progressive deterioration have already happened.  The inefficiencies in organ functions, distorted brain chemistry have been noted.

I was in rehab for ‘frozen shoulder’, a weird and largely unexplained ailment which locks up your joint and any movement is painful. The treatment is simple – be placed on the rack where your arm is pulled and stretched until it pops out of its socket. 

To complement and consolidate these gains, I was given a number of other painful, tortuous exercises to do.  After six weeks of this, I turned to the physical therapist and said, “That’s it.  I’m slacking off”.  She looked at me and said, “Oh no. You can’t do that!”.

“I can”, I said, “and I will.  And besides that, I am going to start drinking….”

I paused to look around at the other clients of the rehab center  who were pumping, pulling, stretching, and rolling.  They grimaced as they worked the pulleys, lifted weights, strained with stretches, and contorted for torque, range of motion, and equation.

“….And smoking”.

No more worry about a wet head, eight glasses of water, a good breakfast, or too much ribeye.  A nice walk in the park? Maybe, but fuck the gym.  It has taken me many years to expunge all the crazy prescriptions of my mother, but better late than never.  I’m a free man.

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