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April 19, 2007

Would Kitty Carlisle agree that the elixir is in the potato?

Bud Collyer, rear, poses with the panel of the 'To Tell The Truth': Polly Bergen, Ralph Bellamy, Kitty Carlisle and Hy Gardner. [AP]

Kitty Carlisle Hart died yesterday.

I loved her so much! She taught me that all could be right in the world if only I would speak with excellent elocution and also invest in a good pair of opera-length gloves.

She was so classy and smart and elegant and witty. I used to imagine that she and her television presenter co-stars would sit backstage before the show, sipping champagne and smoking cigarettes from hand-carved holders (this was before it was bad for you, you know) and someone would pass around a tray of canapes and they all knew how to say "canape" properly. And they'd talk about what was happening on Broadway and in literature and the arts and then they'd have a ham-and-cheese pinwheel and a last sip of champagne and go be fabulous on television.

It just seemed like she was from an America I never got to know, I was born either too late (in the promiscuous and messy 1970s) or too poor and either way she was like the embodiment of class and ease and elegance and she was so funny!

So what on earth does this have to do with the damn potato?

Someone at work recently said to me, "Wow, Laurie! You are in such a good mood these days!" and then another co-worker chimed in, "Yeah. Did you win the lotto? New boyfriend? Anti-depressant?" and we all laughed.

And even my boss noticed and got in on the discussion, so I finally broke down and told them the secret.

"I started eating carbs again!"

And we all laughed and they thought, oh that jokester. But ...it's actually true. I have seratonin in my brain now. Long live the baked potato.

When I was married we went through a particularly horrifying time around 9/11 (in the timeline of my life, it seems things are often divided into "Before 9/11 and After 9/11." So much changed that day.) Anyway, I was thirty-one kinds of upset, and it came with thirty-one kinds of flavors. Sadness and despair measured out in fat grams.

Because I was a stick-to-it sort of gal, I stuck to married life. And later, after we moved to a different house and found some kind of wobbly balance again, we decided to go on the Atkins Diet together. He did it mostly because I was super excited about it and also I did all the cooking. And I lost all the grief bacon (thank you, Susan, for giving me that phrase!), and I became a total Atkins evangelist. I once even had a "Left Behind"-inspired dream one night. In the dream, the rapture happened and we Atkins folks were zipped right up and transported to a bacon-wrapped heaven.

I woke up and thought, "This is a sign. A sign that I need a bagel."

I kept a diary back then (of course) and chronicled how I wanted to mug small children in the park for their cookies or ice cream cones, but I really did lose a lot of weight on Atkins and got back down almost to my high school size, which was just crazy. But the problem with me and diets is that I can't seem to stay on one forever and ever. So if I went on vacation I'd be "good" for a day or two, eating my tuna from the packet and my walnuts, and by the end of the week I was stuffing croissaints in my socks and having dinner-before-dinner. You know.

And eventually I fell off the Atkins wagon (that damn wagon) and then of course the divorce and all that happened, and I ate just to have something to do. Sometimes I think it was how I comforted myself and sometimes I think it was my way of pushing everyone and everything away. So secretive, all of it. I couldn't have even fit into a pair of opera length gloves if I'd wanted to. Unless they made those in plus-size.

Now things have changed and I have somehow found a healthy balance, somehow, thank God. But my "not-dieting" is just as weird. It's not as painful and feel-bad, but it's still weird, because it's new and doesn't follow my life pattern of dieting and failing and looking forward to tomorrow, always tomorrow, always a new plan, new pill, new diet. Always the hope it will get better, easier, skinnier, prettier, more elegant.

I went to lunch yesterday with a friend I hadn't seen in a while. He is older and married and we used to work on a project together and we became friends. Now, guys are different about food and diets and weight than girls are. I know this.

But when he saw me he said, "Wow, you look great! Your diet must really be working!" and I said thanks and changed the subject and all was well.

Until we got to the restaurant.

We both ordered the spinach salad with grilled chicken and iced tea. Then the waiter brought a single loaf of warm sourdough bread, and I reached for it. I hardly ever eat out (it's not in my budget) and one piece of bread sounded really good. I'd specifically had fruit for breakfast, knowing I was eating out at lunch (and I had congratulated myself on this, balance is always a surprise when I actually achieve it.)

I reached for the bread and he said, "Oh no... don't want to ruin your diet!"

"I'm not on a diet," I said. Hurt. Feeling fat and reprimanded and whose business is it anyway if I want to be alone in a room with this bread?

But all I said was, "Everything in moderation."

He watched somewhat disapprovingly as I put butter on my bread and ate it.

I felt weird.
I felt uncomfortable.
I felt mad, like a five year old.

Being told what I can and can't have makes me remember all the times as a kid I was put on diets even when I wasn't fat, encouraged to lose weight, always knowing I would be a better person if I were skinnier. The Low Fat 80s, the Fad Diet 90s, the Atkins 2000s. All of it. It makes me mad, I feel illogical, I feel fat, I feel less-than, always less-than because I am not skinny enough. Will never ever be skinny enough.

Out of spite and five-year-oldishness, I wanted to eat the whole damn loaf of bread, but I didn't (small victories). Just changed the subject and pretended it had all never happened.

I will never go on another diet for the rest of my life.

I know I am not as skinny as some people want me to be. I know I'm not as fat as I used to be. I know other people will always have ideas on the best, THE VERY BEST, way they think I should live my life. I am sure I have lots of opinions on how they should live their life, come to think of it.

And I don't know what happens when you have spent your entire existence since age 8 on a diet and you all-the-sudden decide to never ever diet again. I do not know. All I know is that I ate one piece of bread with real butter on it, and some salad, and the world did not end. My pants did not explode (kind of a surprise, actually, they were a little snug to begin with.)

And I went home and put a potato (my elixir, at last) in the oven to bake while I went on my evening walk, and I made green beans and then watched American Idol and it was just another day, really, no diet to plan, no points to count, nothing left to do at all except just live your damn life.

Sometimes it feels INSANE to trust myself enough to pick out my own foods without a diet telling me how. It feels CRAZY to let loose and give up dieting forever and just eat whole, nutritious food and once in a blue moon have a piece of warm sourdough bread straight from the oven.

Sometimes I get scared that it's all too good to be true. I get scared that I'll become untrustworthy, that instead of grean beans and fruit I'll end up knee-deep in french fries and gravy and not know how to stop. I don't know if the years of dieting made me think I couldn't pick healthy, nutritious foods, or if all that time of hating the diets made me specifically rebel and pick deliberately bad food.

I get a little scared just thinking these thoughts.

But then I think about my beloved friend Kitty, and wonder what she would say. She would probably say life is too short and too fabulous to spend it whining about what ifs. She would probably put on a fantastic pair of earrings, make sure her lipstick was on just-so, and go out tonight and drink some good champagne with her fabulous celebrity friends and have a few laughs and to heck with the rest of the world.

And that is exactly what I plan to do this evening, wherein "champagne" is "Diet Coke" and "celebrity friends" are "West Hollywood Stitch 'n Bitch."

Yes, I think that is exactly what Kitty Carlisle would do.

Posted by laurie at April 19, 2007 10:02 AM