Indigestible eating habit

Kevin Cowherd

December 16, 1992|By Kevin Cowherd

All in all, Clarisse considered her marriage to be a healthy one, except for Buddy's habit of eating his food in sequential order.

Clarisse found this very annoying. At supper, Buddy would eat all his string beans first. Then his mashed potatoes. Then his roast beef.

"Why do you do that?" she asked him once.

"Do what?" Buddy said. He had just polished off a mound of spinach, and was now rotating his plate counterclockwise to tackle his rice.

"Eat your food in order."

Buddy said he didn't know what she was talking about.

"If you want to talk about annoying," Buddy said, "how 'bout the way you end every sentence with 'kay? 'I was talking to my mother, 'kay? And she went to Macy's, 'kay?' That's annoying."

The fact was, Buddy had eaten his food in sequential order for as long as Clarisse had known him.

On their very first date, after a ballgame, the two of them stopped at the Beltway Diner.

Buddy ordered the hamburger deluxe. He ate the lettuce and tomato first. Then the french fries. Then the hamburger.

Watching him eat the burger, Clarisse fought the urge to stuff one of her onion rings in his mouth.

"God knows what he'd do," she thought. "He might flip out and hurl himself through the window."

Still, Clarisse felt things would be different after they were married. She felt that under her patient but firm tutelage, Buddy would learn to eat like a normal human being: a forkful of one food, followed by a forkful of another food, and so on.

Instead, he became even more set in his ways. One Thanksgiving at her sister Paula's house, Buddy ate his asparagus first. He insisted he could not move on to his stuffing and turkey, however, until after a second helping of asparagus.

Then one day Clarisse was thumbing through her TV Guide and saw something that nearly took her breath away.

Oprah's topic that day was: "People Who Eat Their Food in Sequential Order." Clarisse rushed home from work early and flopped in front of the TV.

One of Oprah's guests, tears welling in her eyes, said that when she was a little girl, her father would say: "Joan, eat your lima beans. There are starving children in China."

Joan doubted any of those children would be interested in her lima beans. But to avoid hearing about the starving children in China, she got into the habit of eating all her lima beans first, even though they made her gag.

The other guests had similar stories. One man said he had to eat his dessert before the rest of the meal, since, as a boy, his parents had always threatened to withhold his chocolate pudding unless he cleaned his plate.

The stories were real tear-jerkers. Still, what Clarisse got out of the show was this: Buddy was a wacko, all right. And he wasn't getting the lavish hotel accommodations that Oprah's guests got.

A few weeks later, Clarisse attended a support group meeting for people with eating disorders. There were maybe 15 people. One by one, they rose to their feet and, in halting voices, testified as to how food had shattered their lives.

Finally, it was Clarisse's turn to speak. Opening a hankie, she told about how Buddy ate his food in a rigid vegetable-starch-meat sequence, and about what a strain it was on their marriage.

There was a long silence. Then Rachel, the group facilitator, cleared her throat.

"Your husband is nuts," she said. "Go home. There is nothing we can do for you here."

On the way out, a tall woman in a plaid skirt pressed something into Clarisse's palm. It was a piece of paper on which was written a phone number.

"If he leaves you," the tall woman whispered, "tell him to give me a call. I like a man who eats his food in order. It shows a moral tidiness."

The other day, Clarisse and Buddy sat down to dinner. Buddy ate his corn first, then his potato, then his chicken. Clarisse chewed her lip and said nothing.

You hear about men who drink and gamble and run around, Clarisse says. But not Buddy. She says Buddy's a saint.

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