Moodswing - Bad Candy

A little bit of grade-D maple syrup goes a long way

Thank God Grant's dieting phase has come to a close. For a while we were certain he was gonna end up all curled and shriveled in a hospital bed, no bigger than an aborted fetus, a case of complete potassium deprivation. He's got the shriveled part almost down, now that he's lost 21 pounds in seven days on what he calls his "special cleanse" diet, which consists solely of cayenne pepper, lemon juice and grade-D maple syrup. I did not even know maple syrup came in grades, but it seems to me that a "D" would not be a good one. It seems to me that syrup earning that grade would come in a can and be about as pure as Lary's urine test.

"I said grade B," he shouts at me. "B, as in 'bitch.'"

"Whatever," I say.

We're about to pig out at La Casita in East Atlanta. I've already gone through an entire truckload of chips and two tubs of salsa, and our dinner order will consist mainly of more chips smothered in other stuff. "Look at me," I say to Grant, "I'm eating. Look at me." He ventures a bite and I watch him carefully because who knows if this food will cause a shock to his system, which is delicate now that his intestines are all supposedly purified. After his special-cleanse diet, he went right into what he called his "gallstone shootin'" diet, which consists of more lemon juice, olive oil and three Granny Smith goddam apples.

He assured us this second diet would, within a day, cause him to shoot gallstones out his ass like a BB gun. He had never seen a gallstone before, but he'd been assured that they're rather pretty, like turquoise nuggets, so he had all kinds of plans for the collection his ass was due to produce, from stringing them into bracelets to making them the main component in the design of a customized lava lamp. So he gulped all that olive oil like it was a life-saving elixir. The result, of course, was agony.

"I'm in labor!" he e-mailed me the next day. "I didn't sleep all night, tossing and turning, smelling like the carpet at an old Italian restaurant, thinking I was about to birth this bag of baby's heads. I'm paralyzed. I can't leave the house. What was I thinking?" The worst part was the absolute absence of gallstones. There was not even a sign. Nothing but an oil slick everywhere he went. "I'm leaving streaks," he lamented, "like a big, greasy snail."

He seems all alive and fine for now, but so did Karen Carpenter when she up and croaked all of a sudden back in the '80s after decades of extreme dieting. She weighed a deceptively healthy 130 pounds when she dropped dead, had overcome her eating disorder and everything, but sometimes mistakes stay imbedded and come back to haunt you later. I remember my mother's diet phase throughout my grade-school years, which consisted solely of shrimp cocktail and menthol cigarettes, barring that one period during which she sent off for a crate of mail-order appetite suppressants that came in the form of caramels and were called, I kid you not, AYDS. She showed us the boxes and explicitly instructed us not to touch them, ever, then she put them on top of the refrigerator, as though that were any deterrent. My sisters and I were like raccoons and could get to anything if we knew where it was, especially candy. My sister once clawed her way through the backseat of our family Fairlane to get to the trunk, where my mother had accidentally locked the car keys along with a bag of groceries that contained a carton of cherry Popsicles. So it took an eye blink before each of us had absconded back to our room with our own box of AYDS.

I remember the commercials for the mail-order AYDS candies, in which a slender model would gingerly eat one to two candies and then suddenly her lunch of one cinnamon stick felt so "filling." I soon learned the candies tasted like turds, but sweet turds nonetheless, so during the diet embargo of any real candy in the house, it made for a fine substitute. In the coming weeks, I'd have eaten my entire box and also those my sisters had stolen.

Looking back, I have to surmise that the main ingredient in AYDS candies must have been a chemical that is the equivalent to unadulterated cocaine. My tongue was numb for a month, during which, yes, I did not eat. Then the day came when I cruised into the kitchen sporting the same pedal pushers I wore as a toddler, and my mother's jaw dropped so low her cigarette almost burned another hole in our linoleum.

She did not say a word at first, she just put me in the car and drove me straight to McDonald's. "Are you hungry?" she asked me, and I was not. She ordered herself two Big Macs and ate them both. "Look at me," she said, "I'm eating. Look at me." And that's how it was for a long while. I didn't understand it then, but now I realize she was hoping to reverse a mistake, hoping it hadn't become imbedded and would come back to haunt her later. She never dieted in front of me again, ever, though after that she did often tell me to look at her eat.

Hollis Gillespie's new book, Confessions of a Recovering Slut, and Other Love Stories (Regan Books), is now available in bookstores. Her commentaries can be heard on NPR's "All Things Considered."??