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The International Writers Magazine: Dreamscapes Life stories

The City University of New York Medical School Quick Weight Loss Diet
• Steve Slavin
Caroline is a yo-yo dieter. Name any diet – Scarsdale, Weight Watchers, Dr. Atkins, and even Dr. Romano’s lettuce leaf diet – and she’s tried it. But nothing worked for her...

plums

You know the story: she’d lose some weight, struggle to keep it off, and then gain it all back again – plus a few added pounds.

She worked at a large New York bank that had an excellent employees’ cafeteria, with a very well stocked fruit and vegetable salad bar. Still, Caroline – and thousands of others just like her at the bank – just could not resist all the other wonderful dishes that were served. And then one day – a miracle! Ellie, who worked in her department, brought in copies of a diet she had found on the Internet – The City University of New York Medical School Quick Weight Loss Diet.

Ellie and Caroline decided to start a weight loss contest, and anyone who worked on their floor was eligible to join. Every day, each of the contestants would put a dollar into the office pool. By the end of the day, 40 people on their floor had taken up the challenge. The person who lasted the longest on the diet would win all the money. Everyone who entered the contest had to keep putting in a dollar a day for as long as the contest lasted.

So even if you went off the diet, you still had to put your dollar a day into the pool. Whoever lasted the longest would not only lose a ton of weight, so to speak, but also win thousands of dollars. They were all on the honor system, but you could easily see who had dropped out by looking at what they were having for lunch, not to mention the pounds they were quickly regaining.

The diet was very strict. Every Friday, the menu for the following week would appear on a special website dedicated entirely to the diet. For example, one day’s meals included half a grapefruit, a cup of coffee with two tea spoons of skim milk and an artificial sweetener, and one piece of whole wheat toast for breakfast; lunch was one pear, three ounces of low-fat cottage cheese, and an 8-ounce glass of tomato juice; dinner was 4 ounces of boiled salmon, 4 ounces of any kind of rice, and a celery stork; and a mid-evening snack was 4 ounces of skim milk and a rye crisp.

Ellie maintained a chart with the names of the initial participants, updating it each week by adding a star next to the names of those still in the running. The drop-outs would usually slink over the her desk when they through no one was looking, and confess their failure. Ellie would usually console them by saying, “You’re still a big winner. Look at all the weight you’ve lost.” Of course, most of them quickly put those pounds right back where they had been.

After four weeks, Ellie, Caroline, and 17 others were still going strong. Some of the drop-outs were not very happy about continuing to put in their dollars, but a deal was a deal. Still, according to Ellie’s informal record-keeping, the remaining contenders had collectively lost nearly 275 pounds.

Around the six-week mark, a few of the participants were growing a little testy. Bill, who had always been considered rather eccentric, would sometimes retire to the men’s room, settle into a stall, and then howl for several minutes before dunking his head into the toilet. Somehow this procedure calmed him down. Still, others, who happened to be occupying adjacent stalls, found this behavior somewhat disconcerting. Eventually, personnel called him in for a nice friendly chat.

At the eight-week mark, there were 9 stalwarts still in the running. Ellie had dropped out, but she continued managing the list and the pool treasury, which had grown to $1,600. Caroline and Bill were going strong, and all 9 of them were much slimmer than when they had started.

By now everyone who ate in the cafeteria knew about the pool, and management even arranged for the 9 finalists to eat for free. But how much could they eat? Indeed, this was certainly not one of those all-you-can eat diets.

By the end of 12 weeks, there were just 3 survivors – Caroline, Bill, and Phil, an accountant who wore suspenders, had a pocket protector, and seemed to have no friends. Caroline was getting more and more nervous, and Bill was ready to jump out of his skin, but Phil was apparently quite calm, although it was a bit hard to tell.

And then it happened. And when it did, it happened more or less the way everyone had expected. At around 10 a.m., Bill noticed that the lunch menu that day had just 3 items – 1 piece of toast, an 8-ounce glass of vegetable juice, and 3 medium size plums. Bill was beside himself! He detested plums. Just looking at them, made him sick.

He became frantic! He had come this far, had eaten every one of the prescribed menu items, but now this, this, this abomination! If only he could substitute, say, half a cantaloupe for the plums, then he’d be able to stay on the diet.
“Hey, Ellie, he yelled across the office. Can I substitute half a cantaloupe for the 3 plums today? “
“How should I know? Ask Caroline.”
“Hey, Caroline, are we allowed to make any substitutions?”
“You got me, Bill. Maybe Phil knows.” Bill took one look at Phil and knew the guy was clueless. Bill desperately needed that substitution, but who could he ask? There wasn’t any contact info on the diet website. He went to the City University Medical School website, but he couldn’t find any reference to the diet.

He found the school’s phone number, and at around 11 am he managed to get connected to the Nutrition Department of the Medical School. He tried to explain his dilemma to the department secretary, and even tried asking her if he could substitute the half cantaloupe for the 3 plums. She modestly replied that she wasn’t really qualified to answer his question. And she wasn’t sure who could help him. So she put him on hold. Big mistake! By now Bill was banging his fist on his desk. Finally she came back on the line and said that the Chairwoman was at a meeting, but she would call him back in about an hour. Bill gave her his number and tried to explain that it was an emergency. He was not happy when she replied that this was a Medical School, and they had a lot of emergencies.

Bill waited at his desk for the phone to ring. By now word had spread and almost everyone on the floor was keeping an eye on him. In fact someone had even alerted security, and a couple of uniformed guards were discretely looking on.

And then, at exactly noon, his phone rang. All work stopped and all eyes focused on Bill. “Bill Johnson, here at the bank where banking is a relationship.” It was the Chairwoman of the City University Medical School Nutrition Department. Someone had managed to turn the call into a floor-wide conference call. Everyone was listening in.
Bill: Thanks for calling back, professor.
Chairwoman: No problem, Mr. Johnson. How may I help you?
Bill: Look, I’ve been on your diet for 12 weeks –
Chairwoman: Are you referring to the City University Medical School Diet?”
Bill: Yes! And if you could just tell me if I –
Chairwoman: Hold it right there!
Bill: I can’t! And you’re the only one who can help me. This is an emergency!
Chairwoman: Mr. Johnson. I want you to calm down and listen to me. We have been getting calls for months about this diet. Just this morning we’ve had more than a dozen!
Bill: “Professor, I’m truly sorry! It’s just that I need an answer to a simple --
Chairwoman: Listen…to…my…words: There is no City University Medical School Diet.
Bill: Are you sure that you’re with the City University Medical School?
Chairwoman: Yes! I am the Chairwoman of the Department of Nutrition of the City University Medical School. The diet you’re referring to is a fraud. Do you understand what I’m telling you?
Bill: Yes, it’s a fraud. I understand. But I need your help. Please, will you help me?
Chairwoman: I’ll help you if I can, as long as you understand that the diet is a fraud, and that it has nothing to do with our school.
Bill: I understand! I understand! It’s a fraud! OK, you’re a nutritionist, right?
Chairwoman: Yes I am a nutritionist. I have a PhD in nutrition, I chair the Nutrition Department, and I also lecture on nutrition at the Graduate Center. And I have also published extensively --
Bill: OK, OK, so please tell me, I’m begging you!
Chairwoman: Tell you what?
Bill: For lunch today, can I substitute half a cantaloupe for the 3 plums?

© Steve Slavin September 2015
email: steveslavin at cs.com
Steve is a recovering economics professor, who earns a living writing math and economics books.


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