I was sitting in an Italian restaurant in Calabasas the other night dining on coteletta d’agnello alla milanese con rupini allaglio when two things occurred to me: No. 1, I didn’t know what the hell coteletta d’agnello alla milanese con rupini allaglio was and, No. 2, I realized it was the second time that evening I had eaten dinner.
The first revelation disturbed me not at all. I am possessed of an eclectic appetite and will eat almost anything set before me, with the possible exception of an animal I have come to befriend or anything able to speak, however primitive the effort might be.
I do not, for instance, eat parrots.
The second revelation, however, made me realize how close I had come to the brink of gluttony and madness, two conditions that increasingly characterize the holiday season. I was eating myself to death to satisfy those who allegedly wished me well. I was out of control at the cookie counter.
It’s this way. I am normally not the kind of person who dines. I eat. Sitting down at a table to consume the food before me is no big deal. I do not turn the simple act of slicing a roast into a religious celebration nor the condition of sipping wine into sexual symbolism.
I generally subscribe to the Chatsworth manner where dinner has come to be known simply as chow.
That is not to say, however, my entrees consist only of tacos and pepperoni pizza. I like good food, but I am not going to fall to my knees before a plate of dead fish, for example, by whatever name the chefs of Europe or Asia may give it.
This detached attitude, if nothing else, allows for a certain nonchalance when it comes to eating. I can stand back and view a lemon pie, for instance, without emotional involvement, even though lemon pie was practically the national food of East Oakland when I was a kid.
Ronnie Enos, who lived next door, was badly beaten by a burglar when he tried to prevent the wretch from stealing his mother’s lemon pie, and Lefty Lyons is reported to have traded his sister for just one bite of pie when everyone on the block felt she was worth at least two.
But I digress.
Something happens during the holiday season that distorts one’s ability to reason when it comes to eating. “Let’s have lunch” assumes ritualistic importance (“Let’s do lunch” if you work in television) and dinner takes on a tone of tribal feasting.
Despite my tempered attitude toward food the rest of the year, I join right in with the gluttons when Dec. 1 rolls around. It is as though I am trying to get into the Guinness Book of World Records by eating more chocolate peanut clusters than anyone else in human history. For God’s sake, I don’t even like chocolate peanut clusters.
That’s what I mean by losing control. Suddenly I am eating everything within reach and, by Dec. 15, everything within sight.
If you thought you saw me at Bonkers trying to open my mouth wide enough to accommodate a monstrous hamburger while envying snakes their ability to unhinge their jaws in order to swallow a whole calf, you did.
If you thought you saw me at Albion’s spooning down the potage a la tortue and savoring the coq de bruyere and then grinning to think I had come that far from flour tortillas and refried beans, ditto.
You also saw me at the Golden Bowl, Mamma Lucia, The Melting Pot, Flakey Jake’s, Woodpit Barbeque, Solley’s, Jeremiah’s, Josephina’s, Dem Bones and Joy of Tempura.
By Dec. 18, I had gained eight pounds, thereby matching a seasonal high, and by Dec. 19, I had ingested enough fruitcake to top even that.
There is an old Spanish proverb to the effect, “Women, melons and cheese should be chosen by weight,” but it says nothing about men. Men ought to be trim and sleek and, above all, never waddle.
It struck me the other day after plowing through a mountain of pork spareribs with a side of sour cream (no one in his right mind spreads sour cream over spareribs) that while I had not yet reached the waddling stage, I was swaying dangerously far from side to side as I walked, creating the fear that I might at any moment throw myself into the gutter.
That would pain me not only because it would appear extremely, well, un Times -like to have hurled myself over the curb, but it would be exactly where my stepfather predicted I would end up someday. Betrayed by my own stretched stomach to fulfill his odious prophecy.
It was on that very same evening at a restaurant called Gaetano’s Ristorante that, while diving into the entree, I realized it was my second dinner that night.
Enough was quite enough.
I rose to my feet, announced to the waiter I had taken a monastic vow never to eat again, paid my bill and walked out the door.
While at some stage I might once more nibble on a macaroon or share a spinach quiche, I will never again pig out on lake tung ting shrimp, glazed duck with a peppercorn sauce, pork chops, German chocolate cake or shoofly pie and apple pandowdy.
And to hell with coteletta d’agnello alla milanese con rupini allaglio too.