'Matter of Laugh or Death,' the award-winning humor column
By Bill Dunn
Interesting observations on this thing we call life
(appearing each week in the Republican-American newspaper, Waterbury, CT)
NO CHEESE, PLEASE
Is it me, or does everything in the world these days come with extra cheese?
Ten years ago I discovered that I’m lactose intolerant, which means all dairy products make me ill. I won’t go into the gruesome details of what happens whenever I accidentally ingest some milk or cheese, but the cramps and bloating alone have fooled a few ambulance drivers into thinking I was about to give birth. Imagine the confusion in the operating room when the emergency C-section produced no baby. (“Well, as long as you’re in there, doc, why don’t you remove my appendix?”)
It was not a very joyful day when my condition was first diagnosed. “It won’t be a problem,” the doctor explained. “Just stay away from dairy products, like ice cream and cheese.”
Oh yeah, easy for him to say. My most favorite meal in the whole world is a banana split covered with melted mozzarella. It would have been less depressing if the doctor told me I was allergic to oxygen. While gasping for my final breath, I at least could have ordered an I.V. of Rocky Road in one arm, and a calzone I.V. in the other arm.
It took a while, but I finally got used to living without dairy products in my diet. And it wasn’t quite as depressing as I originally thought. But let me just say this: if I every become allergic to oatmeal cookies or glazed crullers, I’m going to jump off a bridge.
The problem now is that when I go to a restaurant or diner, practically everything on the menu automatically comes with cheese. Recently I pointed to an item on the menu and asked the waitress if I could order it without cheese. She said, “Well, if we take the cheese out of the cheesecake, there won’t be much left.”
“Oh, excuse me, wrong item. I mean this,” I said, pointing to the tuna sandwich.
“Sorry,” she replied. “Even if we don’t put a slice of cheese on it, the tuna salad is made with that new Cheezy-Mayo.”
“Well, then I’ll just have an order of fries.”
The waitress turned toward the kitchen and yelled, “One order of Cheezy-Fries!”
“Oh forget it!” I exclaimed. “Just give me a glass of water!”
“One glass of Cheez-2-O!” she yelled.
At least in restaurants there is someone to talk to about this issue. Every once in a while the waitress or waiter can suggest a cheese-free menu item. (“Here’s a pack of oyster crackers—on the house.”) But sometimes there are banquet-type events where the menu is set in advance, and if you don’t like it, pal—tough noogies.
I recently attended a trade association dinner in a hotel banquet room. The appetizers were little cheese cubes. Then the salad was served, already covered in creamy salad dressing. This was followed by a pasta course, shells stuffed with ricotta cheese. Finally, they brought out the entree: Chicken Parmesan.
While everyone sitting around me ate heartily, the only thing I could safely enjoy at our table was packets of Sweet ‘N Low. (They were out of oyster crackers.)
When I began to feel faint from malnutrition (or maybe I was high from all those weird chemicals in the Sweet ‘N Low), I staggered out of the banquet room and wandered the halls of the hotel until I found a vending machine. So that evening, after spending $50 for my ticket, my entire dining experience consisted of one roll of Lifesavers (which worked out to be about four bucks per Lifesaver—not exactly a bargain).
I don’t want to sound like a whiner, and heaven knows I understand why people want to put cheese on everything—I’d give my appendix to be able to enjoy cheese again, if I had one. But the next time you prepare a dinner menu, don’t forget to include something for the lactose intolerant guests. My suggestion: oatmeal cookies and glazed crullers.
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