2-1-2007 Velveeta or: processed child abuse

When my layoff ended last year, I reported for my first day back at work tipping the scales at 196 pounds. And once the workload became heavy resulting in a steady diet of industrial, physical work, I felt slow and far less than agile. Not my usual self.

So, this year I vowed I would return to work topping out at no more than 170 pounds, and would work myself lean and mean. Since Thanksgiving, nutritionally speaking, Iíve been goofing off and then some. Iíve been eating whatever presented itself and drinking as much beer as I saw fit. But, now that my target date--today--has arrived, a daily caloric cap of 1,800 calories has been instituted, the dumbbells are lined up and ready to go and by the time February expires, I will look as if Iím 17 years-old below the neck.

With all of that Nutrition and Menu Planning 101 type stuff having been perpetrated upon you, itís very easy to keep the calorie counts ridiculously low if you do not consume any meats, fowl or fish. If youíre planning on dieting, i.e., counting calories, itís the main courses that drive the calorie counts higher than you would have wanted. What meats and such provide you with is protein, but proteins can be gotten in sufficient quantities without eating meats and the like. And for the purposes of building and maintaining muscle, you need to eat 2 grams of protein per pound of body weight every single day. My point is, if you diet, you had better be thinking about alternative sources of protein. Did you ever run across a large, burly vegetarian that looked as if they could kick your behind without even breaking a sweat? Probably not, simply because their long-emaciated bodies are being denied the necessary proteins. Kick sand in their scrawny faces.

By the way, beer is a good source of protein.

What you need to keep yourself both lean and mean despite the rapidly advancing years is knowledge, not some overpriced gizmo some fading celebrity has endorsed on the video advertising box. Thereís some absolutely free and spot-on great advice.

Youíre welcome.

With all of that verbiage behind us, cheeses are a good source of protein for me since I abhor most meats. While most openly drool at the sight of a medium-rare steak, I do not. Actually, the very thought of such a thing repulses me. And when I was a boy, it used to annoy practically everyone who ever dared put food on the table in front of me. It made the step-dad crazy. It caused many a confrontation between me and my grandmother. My mom went out of her way to accommodate my finicky tastes, but not when the step-dad was home. Nah, with him it was his way or the highway, which meant dead animals and more dead animals and warmed, not actually cooked. And after he finally concluded after a tortuous hour and a half that there was no way I was going to eat his blood-strewn pot roast, the clothing came down, the leather belt assaulted my backside and it was off to bed.

No evening snacks. No supper. No Lost in Space at 8 oíclock.

One of his all-time favorite dishes, as he called it, was (Excrement) on a Shingle. It consisted of cream sauce, diced carrots, peas and chipped, leftover roast served over toast. And how did that go over with me? See the aforementioned removed clothing, flailing belt and no Lost in Space.

The guy simply would not relent. If I hated it, it was sloppily prepared and put before me. I would reflexively gag. Heíd freak out. He and my mom would get to arguing. I would get the beating and be dispatched to another long night of fleeing Godzilla in my dreams. Needless to say, he had turned something as basic as supper into a traumatic undertaking. Itís amazing I didnít end up anorexic or some such crazy thing. But, when they finally divorced in 1971, the daily torture did come to an abrupt end for the most part.

Although, back here in Pennsylvania, the word was that I was a fussy eater, if not, an outright dinnertime troublemaker. And if I slept over any of my cousinsí houses, the assorted aunts and uncles were poised and ready for me to start trouble over dinner. At times, it seemed as if they were distracted by my presence, constantly checking on my progress and barking warnings at me. But I wasnít really a problem. I just didnít want anything once removed from being road kill plopped down before me.

Hamburgers? Iíll bury them in condiments and get by somehow. Spaghetti? IĎm in. Pizza? Awesome. Grilled Cheeses and tomato soup? I am in Heaven, never to return. Whereís my harp?

One weekend, my reputation and I made our way to my cousinís house for a sleepover. These folks were unique in that they were the only people I knew who were poorer than me. Cuzzin and I spent a great afternoon in the basement shooting at rats with a Crossman 760 air rifle. The other side of their double block was vacant, piled high with household garbage and there seemed to be no shortage of rats. Iím assuming the city did not have a health department back in those days, but I have no way to confirm that. We eventually made our way upstairs and picked on his sisters for a while, when my aunt rang the dinner bell. I froze. My pulse picked up. I traversed the steps and entered their aged kitchen filled with trepidation, as I had never had dinner in this particular house. And just like that, my uncle announced to me, ďAnd you will eat everything, Mark.Ē I swallowed some spit kind of hard.

Rutro!

And what was on the menu that night? Why, grilled cheese sandwiches and Campbellís tomato soup. My absolute end-all favorite. Whew! I had lucked out. No torture at the hands of my ominous-looking uncle tonight. Letís eat, shall we?

It should be noted that my mom always bought the good American cheese. Not that yellowy government surplus-looking cheese, the good white cheese like youíd get at the local Stop Ďní Shop. Youíd tell that gruff old guy in the white coat behind the deli counter you wanted a pound of American cheese and out came that good white cheese. And sliced very thinly, too. A very versatile cheese, in fact. You could make grilled cheeses, baloney (which did not resemble a bleeding dead animal) and cheese sandwiches, or tuna and cheese sandwiches. How could you go wrong with such a premium product?

So my aunt was toiling away at the stove when she produced what looked like a 60-pound block of Velveeta cheese. I didnít cuss much as a sprat of 12, but Velveeta? Jesus cripes almighty! This couldnít be happening to me. But just as I was formulating an escape plan, it occurred to me that grilled Velveeta cheese sandwiches would be easily tolerable and edible if first dipped into the tomato soup. No big thing. No anguish and discord tonight. Again, whew!

First came the steaming bowl of soup. And then came the two grilled cheese sandwiches featuring the Velveeta cheese. But these grilled cheeses were much different than my momís always delicious grilled cheeses. These grilled cheeses stood about two inches high, or somewhere therabouts. Turned out, my aunt put at least an inch-thick slice of Velveeta on each sandwich. And the slices were so thick, they barely melted enough to stick to the slice of bread. The grilled bread was warmish, but the slab of cheese was still cold.

What the heck?

So I took a bite. Yuk. Then I started dipping the sandwich into the tomato soup. Much better, but still a major yuk. I pressed on and I was beginning to be grossed out by this cold overabundance of Velveeta cheese. And by the time I somehow managed to consume the first grilled cheese, I was fresh out of tomato soup. I asked for more only to be told the dented pot was empty.

Rutro!

I trudged on, not taking bites, mostly nibbles. And it was getting almost too much to bare. Iím not sure what it feels like when you turn green like in the cartoons, but I think I had turned green at that point. It became a chore just to swallow this abomination disguised as a grilled cheese. My uncle glanced in my direction. I nibbled on. He glanced again. The nibbles became even smaller. Most of my cuzzins not wearing diapers had left the table at this point and I was increasingly becoming the focus of my uncleís attention. He glanced. I nibbled. He glanced. I nibbled. He glanced. I pretended to nibble. He glanced. And I finally upped and gagged on a microscopic nibble of that gross concoction.

Rutro!

He jumped up, launched into a angry tirade and requested that my cuzzin go get his belt. He said something like, ďYou might get away with that with your mother, but not with me.ď Wonderful. Here we go again. Remove clothing, insert belt. Remember, this was back in the good ole days when child abuse was still legal.

My reputation had definitely preceded me, but I think itís safe to say my aunt was not destined for greatness as a molecular gastronomist. Thatís ďa chefĒ for those of you that eat preservatives out of microwaves.

In conclusion, I once slept over my cuzzinís house for the very first time, I was literally blindsided by Velveeta at suppertime, and as per usual, I got lashed within an inch of my life immediately afterwards.

Why am I so screwed up?

Gee whiz, you tell me.

And why did all of this utter insanity suddenly come rushing back to me? Well, I walked over to the corner store last night, Oh Yes, and ordered a pound of American cheese at the deli counter. And for the very first time throughout my entire misspent life, I was asked, ďWhite or yellow?Ē

I made a contorted face that prompted a confused look from the guy behind the counter and said as follows, ďThe white, please. And slice it thin, will you?Ē

As silly as it may sound, I was scarred for life by Velveeta.

Anyway, since my powerful legs need no workouts to speak of, Iím going to be working on my upper body today. And after I max out, Iíll take me a hot shower and then settle in front of the video advertising box with a couple of grilled cheeses.

With that good cheese, of course.

Themís my thoughts.

Later