Skim Milk With Cheeseburgers

Skim Milk With Cheeseburgers by J. Kuzmier --  photo by John B. at     

Today I’m supposed to be meeting my sister Margie here at Sal’s Diner near my apartment. She has something important to tell me, supposedly. I got this text from her saying in all caps: “MARY IMPOTANT & UGENT: I MUST MEET U AT SALE’S DINNER AT ON PM SHARP. I NO U SEAM TO LIKE IT. DONUT BE LATE MARY. HAVE IMPOTENT NEWS”. With superior typing skills like that, it’s no wonder she’s an executive secretary. What do you think?

So here I am, waiting in a booth at Sal’s Diner, waiting for Margie’s ‘impotent’ news. It’s one-twenty pm, which means my sister is twenty minutes late. I’d text her to see what’s going on with her, but I already know how that one is going to go. She’ll just text me back saying I’m impatient and have no consideration for others, and besides I’m wasting her minutes. She still hasn’t heard of unlimited minutes, it seems.

The server, a bored girl named Nancy, has already asked me a couple of times if I want something to eat even though I told her I’m waiting for someone. I’ve had Nancy serve me before here. She doesn’t say much and smiles next to never, but as an aspiring actor I’ve waited tables before myself and know the work isn’t particularly thrilling. That is, unless you like cranky people yelling at you from every turn. That’s been my experience, at least.

I’m just beginning to think I’ve been stood up and take Nancy up on ordering my food when lo and behold, my regal sister decides to grace us with her presence, carrying two huge bags with her. That is, if you consider someone lumbering through the door gracing someone with your presence. Margie huffs and puffs and blows her way towards me. If I didn’t know her, I’d feel like I was being singled out for attack by a rabid rhinoceros dressed in sweaters and pants and chunky shoes. I don’t know why she has those shoes anyway, seeing that she clunks enough naturally. Everyone she passes makes way for her as she does. I don’t think it’s because they think she’s a royal. Even though, knowing her, she probably does.

“Mary! What a surprise!” she yells in my face when she gets to two inches from me. To an outsider this might appear that this is a joyful random encounter between women. But me, I know it’s Margie-speak for, I assumed you’d be too dumb to show up on time. Even though she never does, but if you tell her that, you just are being argumentative. Believe me, I’ve had twenty-eight years of practice.

So I just reply, “Yeah, it is,” even though I know that’s a completely stupid thing to say, not to mention a lie fatter than my sister. Well, what can I tell you. This is my life. But maybe she’s right. I’m surprised I was stupid enough to show up here to subject myself to what I know is going to be an onslaught of abuse.

But I suck up my annoyance, best I can. After all, I’m an actor and I can do these things. I go up to her and hug her first. Before she can knock me over with one of her faux smotherly love deals. Pretending to have control is always a nice thing for a victim to feel, I’ve found.

Margie reciprocates, then holds me at arm’s length like I’m one of the sweaters she loves so much from the mid-range department stores she likes to haunt. “Mary! Have you been taking care of yourself like I told you to do?” she exclaims.

I know what this is code for, in one word: dieting. She’s after me to lose weight. She’s decided I can’t get a guy with because I don’t diet. Problem with that logic is that I’ve been with my boyfriend Ralph for six years. Let’s put it this way, he doesn’t mind my so-called fattiness any. And yes, he is real. But try telling her that. I’ve certainly given up.

To get her to move on quickly to something else, I should just answer her and say oh yes, Margie, but you know how it goes! But I don’t say that. I don’t know exactly what it is that makes me fudge my lines. Maybe it’s her perfume, which smells like someone ravaged a cosmetics department, but I feel stuffy. And not particularly charitable. So I say a little too huffily, “Yeah. Sure I have. What about it?”

She frowns. “Oh, Mary. What do you weigh?”

See? See what I mean with her? Right in the middle of a diner, this is what she asks. But I knew this was going to happen. When will I learn.

So I say (truthfully, I might add), “I don’t really know.” Which is true, definitely true. Last time I weighed myself, which was last time I auditioned a month ago for a part in a play, I was 150. At five six, that doesn’t exactly make me Kate Moss, but I walk a lot and have a relatively large frame. I would, though, like to make it down to 140, but don’t tell Margie that.

Margie must smell some kind of deceit on me with my ‘I don’t really know’ response, because she groans in reply. And when I say she groans, I mean groans. A full, pot-bellied, deep in her diaphragm groan. “Mary,” she breathes. “You should take better care of yourself, like me.” Did I mention I was five six and 150? Margie is taller than me– “One inch taller and thirteen months older makes me the superior one” is her peppy little joke– but weighs 190. At least she was after the last crash diet. I don’t know for sure what she is now, but I’ve seen the wool business suit she’s wearing before, and if I might say so myself, it looks a little tight. But maybe that’s me being peevish.

So I say to her, “Well, it’s not so bad, I guess. These clothes are from last year, and they still fit.” I want to sit down. Everyone is staring at us.

But good ole sis don’t care, it seems. She’s still holding onto me. “Yes, Mary. I know. It looks it. You need to buy new clothes, Mary. Show some self-esteem. Decent guys like girls who take care of themselves and look nice. Like me.”

Right. Like some old fuddy-duddy brown sweater and grey pants suit from Marshall’s is any more appealing than my jeans and T-shirt from Target. But don’t tell Margie that. She’s now busy running her hands over her matronly outfit, I guess to model a girl who supposedly takes care of herself and looks nice, like she’s decided.

In the midst of her expertise demonstration, Margie’s elbow juts out enough to knock into Nancy as she fails to duck away from my sister’s clobbering limb. Nancy is carrying a tray of food and practically knocks it over. Margie notices this scene just enough to say to me, “Mary, why are you standing in the middle of the aisle? You almost made the waitress drop the food, and God only knows in a place like this we don’t want them to mess up any more than we can help it. At least, I think so. Maybe someone like you doesn’t care, but I do.”

Did I mention that she’s divorced? Surprised, any?

With that, she plumps her plump rump into a seat, and the next phase of my torture is now underway. I duck into my booth across from her, feeling just exactly the same way I have since before I can remember. Really, really, embarrassed to be associated in any way with her, or anyone in my family for that matter. It’s amazing how you can revert to childhood in one split second, no matter how hard you try to do so otherwise.

Nancy appears with menus, plopping them on the table in front of us without a word. Margie scrutinizes her by scrunching her eyes into slits. Oh, God, I know that look. I practically lose my appetite, bracing myself for what’s coming next. “Excuse me, little girl. Don’t you have any respect for your elders?” my sister barks at her.

Nancy looks at Margie like she just met Jigsaw from the Saw movies on a blind date. Jesus, I feel bad. I’m never going to be able to come to this place, ever again. “Huh???” is what she manages. I’m surprised she did that well. I wouldn’t. And I’m an actor.

Margie points a chubby hand towards herself. “We”– she’s still pointing at herself, so I guess “we” means Margie, she and herself– “are older than you. Not to mention, we are customers. So, you should smile. Like this.” She smiles her bubbly baloney smile, the kind that makes my parents oh-so-proud and me want to cringe. Like now. “And then say. Hello. How do you do. That’s what I do, and look at me.” I hope to God she isn’t going to give herself the royal pat-down again, and even God must realize how desperate the situation is because she does refrain from that, at least. But Nancy is still giving Margie the freak-out look, and I just can’t stand that I’m actually related to the nut sitting in front of me. Just like in childhood and on every Thanksgiving, I start slinking in my chair.

Nancy seems to recover somewhat, meaning that what she recovers is her nonchalance, and looks at the table. “Whatever,” she says to it, shrugging. She turns briefly to me to ask, “Want water?”

“Of course we do! You have to ask that?” As you may imagine, that’s not me answering. I just nod at Nancy, who responds by nodding back, and she hurries away. I watch her disappear into the kitchen. Take me, please?

“I can’t believe that!” Margie is rolling her eyes to the heavens, like she’s involved in one of those charismatic religions where they do that sort of thing and then flop on the floor writhing. “What rude service people! They don’t just bring water here? They have to ask? I can’t believe you come here–oh wait, never mind. I take that back.” She nods her head like the teacher’s pet looking for doggie treats from her master. Isn’t it nice she’s so sincere?

“There’s a water shortage. That’s why they ask.” I reply. I use every acting tactic I know to keep my voice even.

“In this part of town, maybe. Not where I live, there is.”

Okay, that didn’t even really make sense, I know. But I can get the drift, Margie being my sister, and all. More derision towards me and my supposed low-class ways. Unlike, of course, classy her. Look what I do to her, subjecting her to such lowlifes! I should be so ashamed. Think I am?

In the meantime, Margie shrugs her shoulders. “Well, I don’t care what kind of mismanagement is going on, but if she’s expecting some kind of tip, she’d better clean up her act.” She nods in decisive action, trying to look authoritative. It doesn’t quite work. She just looks like Alvin from the Chipmunks having a temper tantrum.

She then furrows her brow. In Margie-speak, this means she’s envisioning serious business. “Speaking of cleaning up somebody’s act,” Margie says as she levels her eyes at me, expecting me to look back. As an actor, I could muster up the will to do so. But as her sister, I just don’t feel like it. I’m just not in the mood to be bossed around. So I don’t. And mercifully, Nancy comes back with the water, breaking up my torture session for one heavenly moment.

“I wouldn’t think you have any specials, do you?” Margie sticks her rhino face into Nancy’s arm. Nancy looks the way I imagine a fish baited onto a hook when it realizes it’s caught into a trap.

“What makes you think that?” Nancy says, her brow furrowed like she can’t choose between anger and confusion. I don’t blame her. Neither can I.

“Question with a question!” Margie does her tsk-tsk routine, which amounts to her pursing her lips and clucking her tongue incessantly until you scream at her to stop. She learned it from a commercial where some woman set the kids straight with some kind of spearmint gum, I forget which kind. Our parents think it’s cute.

Nancy still has that perplexed look. “Whatever,” she barks. My sister is an idiot. I try to beg for forgiveness from Nancy with my facial expression without saying anything. Nancy raises her eyebrows at me for a second. “We have some eggplant parmigiana and a Salisbury steak with mashed potatoes and gravy,” she says to me.

“Oh heavens. We’re not eating slop like that,” my sister snaps. “Can’t you see we are girls who watch our weight? Please. I’ll just look at the menu and hope for the best.” With that, she manhandles the menu in front of her, knocking mine to the ground, and gets down to business searching the menu, tsk-tsk-tsking as she goes. She’s wearing her don’t mess with me look on her face. To just about everyone else, it just looks like she’s an anal dork.

In response to this, Nancy raises her eyebrows and rolls her eyes, but doesn’t seem as baffled anymore. Instead she just looks at me as she retrieves the menu from under the table, saying “You need this?”

“Of course she does! We’re not eating slop!” As I’m using my actor’s skills to ignore my sister for my sanity’s sake, I interpret her voice coming from some distance. Directing my attention to Nancy, I shake my head, and she walks away with my menu while Margie chews hers with her eyes. Even not looking at her directly, I know this is what she does. Twenty-eight years experience gives me the pleasure of knowing this.

Some antennae seems to have alerted Margie that something is amiss with her world, because she looks up from her oh-so-busy task of tsk-tsk-tsking to scrutinize me, and my menuless state. “Why aren’t you looking at a menu? You’re going to have that disgusting food? You really are letting yourself go, aren’t you?”

She’s such an idiot. I’d tell her I’m planning on getting what I usually do, a chef salad with dressing on the side, but I’m sure I’d hear about that one. I just want my torture to be over. So I signal Nancy that I’m ready the second that Margie sticks her nose back into all those oh-so-horrible choices. Besides, Margie’s tsk-tsk-tsking makes me want to throw my glass of water at her. I refrain, because I’ll never have a chance at a peaceful Thanksgiving or Christmas ever again. Not that they’re delightful as it is.

“I think we’re ready,” I tell Nancy. She gives me a dubious look, but if it were up to Margie, we’d be here until next year while she screams in horror at the selections she’s been subjected to all for the low-class likes of me. So I nod my head in confirmation, and Nancy readies her pen.

“I think I’ll have my usual,” I say, hoping to sidestep any dissection of my culinary choices. But it doesn’t.

“What’s your usual?” Margie shoots out like bullets. Even Nancy seems thrown by the recoil.

“Chef salad with Italian. Problem with that?” I return. Why am I asking that? I know she has a problem with it. She’d probably have a snip attack over my choice of beverage. Which by the way, is water. It probably bloats me up and no guy will want me, or something. Unlike her rip-roaring love life.

“You don’t have to get snippy with me. I’m just asking.” She looks at Nancy and rolls her eyes, I guess expecting Nancy to take her side. Nancy looks back at her with a look like, Really? You expect sympathy from me after your crap?

Yes, Nancy, she does. Welcome to my world.

Margie leans forward. She’s recovered from her shock to beat all shocks of Nancy’s rejection, and she’s on a roll. “Doesn’t that kind of salad have cheese in it?”

“Uh, yeah. It’s a chef salad. What do you think it has?” Question with a question! I’m expecting to hear. But no, my sister has other plans for my slow demise.

“I thought you were swearing off cheese. Because you promised you’d be watching your weight.”

You think after twenty-eight years of practice I’d be used to Margie’s making up facts as she goes along. I’m not. I forget how much she’s like our mother. Two peas in a pod, they like to sing. Even after all my acting lessons, I’m still sideswiped by her, by both of them, every time.

“I never said that.”

Margie rolls her eyes in that catatonic way again. “You never pay attention to anything you say. Mom is right about you.”

In the meantime. “So, you want to stick with that salad?” Nancy confirms with me.

I nod. Margie stares at me, her mouth agape, shaking her head in disgust. I choose to look at Nancy instead, who presently is clearing her throat while directing her attention to Margie. She does this a couple of times before I say simply, “Margie.”

Still disgusted, she manages, “What.” At least that variance means I don’t have to look at her dentistry work anymore.

I gesture towards Nancy with my hand as I say to Margie, “Are you going to eat anything?”

She looks baffled, like the human equivalent of a website saying ‘Error 404.’ I know this look. She’s so hung up on her tangent she’s forgotten where the rest of us live.

She manages, “Well, let’s see.” She goes back to perusing the menu. “Everything here is so…….” She’s shaking her head as she voices her deep, deep disappointment.

“Is your beef lean?” Margie quips.

“Is it what?” I don’t know why, but it feels good that Nancy is as thrown by her as me. Makes me realize I’m not the crazy one. But I still feel stupid that I agreed to meet her here, not that I had much choice in the matter. I should have insisted on one of her supposed hoity-toity places like the department store garden café with fake hanging plants. My sister, as you may guess, has her own idea of what high culture is. Only she and probably my mother agree. But they probably serve lean beef. At least, that’s what they tell her. Customer always being right and all that.

“I said, ‘Is. Your. Beef. Lean.’” Any slower, she’d be spelling it like a child in a spelling bee.

“Er.. I guess so. They can make it well done. It cooks off a lot of fat, if that’s what you want.” Nancy manages. I’d say ‘hang in there’ telepathically to her, but I need to save up all my rooting for myself if I want to get out of here alive.

Margie shudders. “I probably am going to have to do that. You never know what diseases a place like this carries.”

Unbelievable. She’s saying that in front of a server? Nancy, by this time, is just looking bored.

“If you’re looking for something light, you can just have the grilled chicken. It comes with a salad,” she suggests with not much enthusiasm.

Margie looks at Nancy as though she’d suggested an order of cow manure marinated in a bath of heavy water with a splash of strychnine for flavoring. “Heavens, no! I’m trying to eat light, not eat like a sick rabbit with anorexia. Every time a place like this tries to make grilled chicken, it always tastes like cardboard. So no. I don’t want your attempt at chicken. I want beef. What kind of beef do you have?”

Nancy emits a deep sigh, staring at the menu Margie is holding. I can imagine her thinking right now, can’t you read? But like a good server, she says “We have hamburgers, mini-cheeseburgers which are like sliders, cheesesteak, and the special, Salisbury with mashed potatoes and gravy.”

Now it’s Margie emitting a deep sigh, except coming from her it sounds like a death rattle. “Didn’t I just say I want to eat light? Where do mini-cheeseburgers which are like sliders, whatever that’s supposed to be, cheesesteaks and Salisbury steak with mash potatoes and gravy fit into that, hmm?”

Unlike most people who are reasonably normal, Margie doesn’t actually do rhetorical questions. She actually expects people to answer them to her satisfaction. She’s got her lips all prim in a straight line, waiting to be mollified, but Nancy doesn’t seem to get it or want to get it. Just like most people, with Margie. You’d think she’d get it. But no. She’s still waiting for her neat, precise answer when Nancy sidesteps the issue, saying, “So you want the hamburger then, right?”

Margie scrunches her face, still looking at the menu. “Yes. I see you have a diet plate with the hamburger.”

Taking advantage of the fact that Margie’s nose is still buried in her menu, Nancy rolls her eyes and bounces her head impatiently. “Uh-huh. Yeah, we do. It comes with cottage cheese and fruit.”

“Bleccchhh!” Margie throws such a tizzy over this one it looks like she’s having a heart attack over the menu. “I hate cottage cheese. It’s so disgusting! It tastes like you’re on a diet. Is it possible at all that I could get low-fat cheese on the hamburger, or does a place like this worship at the altar of saturated fat only?”

Nancy raises her eyebrows just slightly. “Don’t think so. Just the cottage cheese.”

Margie makes a face. “Oh, fine. I’ll just take the mini-cheeseburgers. They’re less calories then getting a big one, right?” She gets this whole wink-wink look towards Nancy. You know, the one who’s so disrespectful she isn’t getting a tip. I know the look. She offers it when she kisses up to those she considers hipsters. Somehow, Nancy got elevated from slum queen to In The Know in one second flat. Nancy responds by avoiding her.

“Okay. What are you drinking? Diet soda?” Nancy’s voice has devolved into a monotone. I’m surprised it hasn’t disappeared, all together.

“Diet soda! God, no. Do you know the junk they put in that stuff? It actually makes you fatter. It’s probably what she drinks.” As you might guess, she in this case is lucky old me. It’s reasons like this that I can’t stand it when only children tell me I’m lucky to have a sibling, especially oh so close in age. Care to trade on Craigslist?

“Well, what do you want then.” Nancy is tapping her pad with her pen like someone banging on a neighbor’s door for help. Which is probably the point. Sorry kid. No help here.

“Well, let’s see, let’s see. Don’t rush me now!” She puts up an admonishing finger towards Nancy. Like Nancy’s very presence somehow implied that everyone was conspiring to run her out of town. “Okay, let’s see. The mini-cheeseburgers are have a lot of cheese on them, right? So….” She thrusts the menu towards Nancy in victory.

“I’ll just have the skinny latte with it, to make it up.” The what? What the hell menu was she reading? The closest thing Sal’s Diner has to a latte is the coffee ice cream shake.

Oblivious to her ludicrousness, Margie smiles at Nancy like she’s sharing some kind of joke, but Nancy doesn’t look up. She even doesn’t stop her pen-tapping either. I empathize, completely. Gotta have some way to relieve the pressure when everything is beyond your control.

“We don’t have lattes,” Nancy spits out in time with each tap of her pen.

“You don’t have lattes? What is this, the seventies?” Margie cackles her insult her so loud that other tables turn to look at her. Of course, Margie being Margie, she notices nothing but the hilarity of her own stupidity. Boy, she’s really on a roll today, I see. The saying “don’t bite the hand that feeds you” doesn’t apply to her, just everyone else. Same as it always does, same as it always had been. “What do you have?”

Now that Nancy knows she’s dealing with the Nimwit from Hell, she just looks at Margie like she’s a really, really slow child. “Uh…everything on that menu you’ve been reading?”

“You can’t list it yourself? I have to read it?” Margie snaps. Nancy and I both look at her, like isn’t that what you’ve been doing? Margie shakes her head in that feverish way again. “Never mind. It’s obviously too complicated.” What’s with her? She’s always bad, but this is beyond belief, even for her.

Nancy gives me a questioning look as Margie the Diva goes back to the menu. I feel awful beyond belief, and the idea of any food at all just makes me feel nauseous. I’m beyond embarrassed by now. But getting Margie to leave now would be impossible. Why, why, did I ever let her set foot in here? Is it so wrong to hope that things will get better?

“You have skim milk, I take it?” shoots out of her mouth.

“Yeah. We have whole, low-fat, and—”

“I said, I’ll take the skim milk.” My darling sister, of course, said no such thing. But in Margie-speak, logic means nothing.

Nancy seems to be doing her best not to scream at my sister, but now she’s hopping from foot to foot in addition to tapping her pad. “Got it. You want skim milk with mini-cheeseburgers. Want fries with that?”

Margie’s eyes go wide. “No, of course not! Weren’t you paying attention?”

“Okay. No fries. No cottage cheese. What do you want?” Nancy looks at me, begging for mercy.

I feel bad, I really do. I wish I had some mercy to expend. But I need every ounce I can for myself. It’s tough being selfish like that. Makes me feel like my sister.

Speaking of my sister. “I’ll take the cole slaw. Get my vegetables for the day. Unlike you, who never does.” She does this winky-winky thing at me. It looks like she’s trying to blink away a cataract. Only in Margie’s world does a chef salad equate to less vegetables and nutrition than a side of cole slaw with fried food.

“Okay, fine. Skim milk with mini-cheeseburgers, cole slaw on the side. One chef salad, with water? Right?”

I nod in assent. Margie’s way of replying goes more like, “We told you already! Didn’t you write it down?”

“Whatever,” Nancy shrugs. She walks quickly, like she’s warming up in a marathon towards the kitchen. I’ve never seen her move so fast.

Margie has her eyes on her, like a hunter with a laser pointer, except she waits until her prey is out of range. Once situated in a way that suits her, her eyes go all wide and they’re gleaming, and she gets this conspiratorial look like we’re BFFs united against the world, and leans in to me. She barks in a whisper harsher than her normal speaking voice, if that’s at all possible.

“Boy, SHE’S really peevish. Doesn’t she SMILE any? And she expects a TIP?” Margie’s eyes are on a roll again, convinced of the stupidity of everyone but lil’ ol’ her. Well, on second thought, hold the lil’.

I must have groaned or something, loud enough for her to hear. Because Margie harrumphs and then says, “Oh of course you’d take her side. Against your own sister, no less.” She gets all false cheery in one second before chirping, “Well, what can I say? Birds of a feather grump together!” You probably wouldn’t be surprised that the next thing out of her mouth is, tsk, tsk tsk, tsk….

As she’s doing this, I notice a big ant running around the floor. I would have preferred having conversation with this lovely creature rather than the not-so-lovely creature in front of me, but unfortunately, if I want any semblance of peace in my family, I’m sort of stuck. After all, Margie is the stable one (!) with a real job. Me, I’m the crazy one. Only crazy people get involved in the arts. Just ask Margie! She’ll tell you.

Margie sighs a weird kind of sigh, full throttle through her nose. It’s a real bizarre experience for people until they realize, yep, there’s Margie again! In any event, it’s apparently a bizarre experience for the giant ant as well. At the sound of her unusual breathing, it scurries away from us, ducking under the counter where the pies are. Even pests run away from her. Ding! I’ve got a new job for her. Need your house fumigated? Just call Margie! Her very breath will take them away!

“Hello!” I’m woken from my deep fantasy by dreaded reality. A chubby paw is waving in front of my face. “I’m talking to you! Why’d you have me come here if you’re not going to talk to me?” Wait, who sent who the screaming cap text?

There’s cutlery on my table. Real cutlery. I look at the fork and it looks like such a nice friend to me right now. I imagine picking it up like the killers in the horror movies and… presto!

The moment passes, however. As I want it to, mind you. Just because I think of killing my sister from time to time doesn’t mean I actually will. Please. I hate the idea of prison food. Or any other prison pastime. My life has enough chaos here on the outside.

Instead, I simply say, “What do you want to talk about?”

“There! Now, was that so hard?”

Actually…..yes. Of course, I don’t say that. I don’t say anything. After all, I don’t want to talk her about anything. I just don’t want to get reamed from my parents. Who says childhood ends at twenty-one?

“Now, Mary. I thought you were on that diet I told you about.”

Margie’s always e-mailing me some new diet. Over my years, for the benefit of my health, I’m supposed to have eaten grapefruit only, Grape Nuts only, grapefruit with granola made of buckwheat, no carbs, all carbs, no nuts… okay, you get the drift. As an actor who does want to lose a few pounds, I used to check them out. But Margie’s schemes are so daft I’m usually dying of low blood sugar six hours into them, and hypoglycemia is worse on an actor’s career than five extra pounds. It never does an actor well to forget lines in an audition because all the blood drained from his/her head.

So I say to her, truthfully, “I don’t even know which one you’re talking about.”

Eye roll, yet again. She’s gotta learn to mix it up more. “The one where you nibble on six little meals a day. It’s been working wonders for me.”

If eating slider cheeseburgers is part of nibbling six little meals, that must be some diet. But I simply say, “No. I’m not on any diet. I told you, I don’t even know what I weigh.”

“Well, you should get cracking and start thinking about it. It’s not like you can’t stand to lose a few. Besides, guys like it better when girls are on diets. At least the good ones who care about their women’s look. The losers, well….” she eyes me and shakes her head back and forth like she’s deciding something. “I guess they’ll take anything.” She cocks her eyebrows like they’re saying, ‘just sayin’. I wonder if she’s finally figured out I have a boyfriend, even if he’s a loser who takes anything, unlike a genuine prize like her.

I’m starting to reconsider the fork option again.

“Are you still trying to be an actressssss?” It comes out like a hiss, just like it always does.

“I’m not trying to be one. I am one.”

She waves me away. “Please. For heaven’s sake. Mummy and Daddy and me wish you’d just give it up already. You obviously aren’t getting any work.”

Hmmm. Three commercials in the last month, six extra castings in the last three, one walk-on roll in the not-for-profit indie theater every Friday and Saturday evenings, three walk-on parts for tv shows, one big enough to give me a credit in the beginning at the show…right. I suck at this acting thing. I should go crawl back into the tomb, I mean womb, with Mummy. But, in the mood to play with fire, I counter, “What makes you think I can’t get any work?”

Margie does her mouth-drop again. I wish she wouldn’t do it. I plan on eating, which is hard to do with an image of her tonsil-ridden tongue and her mercury fillings. Maybe that’s her strategy. No, scratch that. It’s too intelligent for her. It would have required her to actually concoct a strategy.

“You have to ask? You’re fat!”

And she gloats there, in all her chubby glory. I imagine that’s what Jabba the Hut would have looked like if he could have actually eaten Han Solo.

“You think I can’t get work because I’m not skinny.”

“No! Of course not! I read the magazines. I know how all the girls are supposed to be thin.” Uh, dumbass, I never said I was a Hollywood celebrity. I never said I wanted to be one, either. But, my sister is an expert on my profession. She reads People.

“That’s why you don’t have a guy in your life, either.”

Dumbass…. “Ralph has come over Mom and Dad’s house with me for years.”

She makes a face. “Please. He’s your standup.”

Huh? “My what?”

Eye roll, please. “Gosh, you call yourself an actressss? And you don’t know what a standup is?”

“I know what a standup comedian is. What the hell are you talking about?”

“Don’t use that language with me, missy!” She hisses. “Come on! Get with it! You’re supposedly do plays or sing or whatever. A standup! You know! If you get drunk or whatever you acting people do, and don’t show up!”

Speaking of getting drunk…I could so use some whiskey right now. Which by the way, probably accounts for my extra five pounds or so.

“You mean a standby? Like an understudy?” I don’t know why I’m bothering to clarify. None of this is good. But then again, when is it?

“Oh, standby, understudy. Whatever. I mean like, the person who fills in for you if you’re too drunk or lazy to show up for work.”

“A standby.”

She nods her head. “Yes, that. A standup.”

Right. Whatever. “You think Ralph’s a standby? What’s that’s supposed to mean?”

“Oh, come on! You think me and Mummy and Daddy are just dumb squares from the suburbs. But we know it! You can’t fool us!”

Okay, I’m confused. “I don’t get it. What did I supposedly do now?”

“Don’t get snippy! Just because we have you figured out. Ralph isn’t your boyfriend. He’s a standup. You have him filling in because you can’t get a guy interested in you, because You’re. Fat.” She nods with satisfaction. Again I think of Jabba the Hut.

“Why would a guy be hanging around me for years if he wasn’t my boyfriend?” There’s got to be a logic in there somewhere, even if in a million years I don’t want anything to do with it.

“Oh, come on! It’s because he’s a–” and then she whispers. For real, this time, “homosexual.”

If I were to tell you anything about my sex life with Ralph, which by the way, I won’t, one thing Ralph isn’t, is gay. At least, if he is, he’s so repressed even he doesn’t know it. By the way, the reason why I’m not opening up with my sex life is not because I’m afraid he’s gay. It’s just part of my personal life. Even we actors like a little privacy now and again.

“What makes you think he’s gay?” I have to ask. I can’t believe I’m letting myself do so, but I have to ask.

“He’s an actor!” She exclaims, looking at me like I’ve got to be about the dumbest thing on the planet. Which with her blotchy pudgy face makes her look like she’s the dumbest thing on the planet. But that’s besides the point. “All actors are gay!”

“So you think I’m gay too, right? Because all actors are gay?”

“No, silly, I’m not you with your femisilly language.” For those unenlightened in such matters (and I envy your ignorance), ‘femisilly’ is Margie-speak for feminist. She thinks women should just get over it and be happy like she is. Makes me want to burn my bra right now. She’s still prattling, “I didn’t say actresses were gay. Julia Roberts is married to a man. So’s Nicole Kidman. I just said all the actors are gay. That’s why they get involved in something fuddy-duddy like the arts.”

Oh, this is rich. “So all guy artists are gay.”


“The musicians are all gay.”

“Yes! Haven’t you heard of George Michael?”

Wow. I didn’t know the music world had been reduced to the works of Wham!. But I continue, because this is just too much.

“The writers. Photographers, film directors? All of them?”

She rolls around her bench like she’s going to pass out. “Oh, come on! Yes, you silly girl! All of them! Why would any guy want to go into the arts if he wasn’t gay?”

Uh….. really? “You know, Julia Roberts and Nicole Kidman are married to male artists, right?”

“Where have you been?” She’s screeches. She looks like Medusa on too much crack. “Julia’s been divorced from Lyle Lovett for years. Nicole left Tom Cruise years ago. Don’t you know anything?”

“Julia Roberts is married to a cinematographer. And Nicole Kidman’s married to Keith Urban. A country musician!”

Margie shakes her head. “Uh, uh uh. Don’t get all urban weird with me. Keith Urban was born in Australia. They don’t do country music in Australia.”

Sure about that? “Actually, he’s from New Zealand.”

“Do you always have to argue?”


Mercifully (or maybe not), our food arrives. Nancy plops it in front of us, and starts to run away. But even she can’t beat out Margie’s scrunched up face as she scrutinizes her meal. “Why is there bread on these sandwiches?”

Nancy looks at Margie with an expression like, I thought I saw a human, but on second thought….. “Because that’s the order. They come with buns.”

“I thought I told you I want the diet plate. Didn’t I say I want the diet plate?” She asks the second question to me, like I’m supposed to jump in and say yes. I suck at being a pansy, though. But I can play one on TV. Literally.

“No, you got the mini-cheeseburgers. You said you hate cottage cheese.”

“You want me to take that back?” Nancy practically bites. I wish she would. Help, save us all.

“No, no, no, no. I’m not having you go waste food on account on your screwup. You probably screwed up my order just to get free food,” Margie bites.

“Margie, what the hell?!” I’ve finally had it. Enough of the nice sister.

“What. What did I do wrong now?” She snaps back at me.

“What’s wrong with you? You should apologize!” I don’t know where all the this gumption is coming from, but I think of the time I played the part of this girl who yelled at her father after being abused by him for years. Some part of that seems to be rising up in me, right now.

“Okay, sorry sorry,” she says insincerely, speaking to her cheeseburgers. She then picks up her glass of milk. “Can I at least hope to believe that this is skim milk?”

“Yeah, it is,” Nancy exhales. “Is there anything else I can get either of you?”

“No, no. You can scoot now. Shoo.” Margie brushes her away and starts chomping at her food. I look at Nancy and mouth ‘sorry’. She shrugs and walks away. I start cutting up my salad, glad for something else to look at than Margie eating. I think of the fact that they try to get local ingredients wherever possible. I think of how tomatoes are going up in price. Anything, not to think of Margie.

But alas. “You know,” she says through her food, “speaking about your actressss thingy-dingy. Since that’s not really working out for you, Mummy and Daddy and me came up with an idea. We’re going to help clean you up, so you stop being so depressed all the time, hating the world. That’s why I needed to talk to you.”

Ah, yes. The ‘impotent news’. I had almost forgotten about it, getting all caught up in Margie-isms. That’s the thing I hate about my family. Not only do they make me forget who I am, they make me forget even where I am or what’s going on around me. I chew slowly, savoring the taste of my food. Maybe if I redirect my attention to my taste buds, the screws drilled through my hands and feet won’t hurt so much.

“Mary,” she says, her mouth full of meat and cheese, “here you are. You’re fat, you don’t have a man worth anything, and you’ve never had a real job. Unlike me. Or mummy. Or daddy. We do the right thing, and we have all those things.”

Half of that statement doesn’t make sense (like for one, daddy never had a man worth anything), and somehow based on her logic, “having” fat seems to be a good thing. But it’s easy to get her drift. My family are a bunch of winners, and I’m a big, fat loser. Not news to me.

“Now, I know you’re a big femisilly who’s mad at the world, unlike me.” Sure, whatever. “But Mary, you’re almost twenty-eight. It’s time you stop letting us pick up your slack and start taking responsibility for yourself.” Yeah, I guess me being on my own since eighteen and you living with Mummy and Daddy except for the eight months you were married because you get fired every six months makes you the more mature and responsible one. Focus on the provolone cheese, Mary, I instruct myself. Doesn’t it seem creamy going down? This mental trick helps a little bit. I’ll take any bit, at all.

Margie spits, “I’ve got a preposition for you.”

As opposed to a pronoun? “What.”

“Now, I know you’re a big femilsilly who thinks women who are secretaries are throwing away their lives on men.” I think I said that once, when I was fifteen. It was the talk of the dinner table for weeks, how I thought hard work by women all over the world was demeaning. Anyway, at twenty-eight, I don’t care what other women do. Margie included. But people have long memories for what they want to remember.

Margie’s face is covered with food as she says, “I’m going for a job interview after I eat here. It’s for a job in another state. And the firm is right next door. It’s for lawyers with partners all over the country.” What?! A lawyer firm with partners all over the country lowered their standard enough to set up shop in my side of town? The part where they ration water? Oh wait, they decided to interview Margie. Never mind.

I swallow the salad. The Italian dressing (on the side, by the way) tastes especially tangy today. “So?” I say to Margie.

“That’s what I mean! It’s for two positions!” She bobs her head excitedly. “I’m going to help you get a real life. It’s in a big city where you can walk a lot. But none of this show biz nonsense! So you can come with me, and get a real job like me. I mean, not really like me, because you don’t have the smarts to be a secretary. But the other position is gal Friday. You just have to not screw up getting coffee. And, you can meet a man who isn’t gay, and walk more so you can burn a few more of those pounds. By the way, why are you eating that cheese? I thought you said you weren’t going to eat cheese anymore. And sit up straight. God, you’ll be ugly before you even hit thirty, keeping that up.” She says this popping a slider into her mouth, whole. Christ. They aren’t that small. Food’s popping out everywhere from her mouth. She remedies this by gulping half her milk, giving her a big fat milk mustache. All while slumping in her seat.

“Let me get this straight. You want me to move to another city? To get a job working with you?”

Mary shoves more food in her mouth as she says, “Uh-huh. Me and Mummy and Daddy all are moving, once I get this job.” Great. The whole clan is traipsing along. Can’t wait. Margie spits food as she continues, “The interview’s right after I eat with you. Unfortunately, you look frumpy like you usually do. You’ve got to learn to take better care of yourself! Only sluts don’t take care of themselves. No wonder you don’t have men looking at you.” Of course, this belies the logic that for a woman to be a slut, this usually requires men looking at her for some small length of time. But whatever.

Margie is now gesturing to one of the bags next to her. “But luckily for you, I know you and took care of you before I even got her. So, I have a nice pants suit for you. I figure, you’re about the same size as me. It’s a nice brown outfit. It will help you look grown up.” I imagine myself wearing one of Margie’s pants suits, standing next to her. I’ll probably look like a mummified water buffalo next to a rhino on crack. Want to hire that duo for your company?

“So I’m supposed to just up my life here, dump my boyfriend and my acting career, both of which do exist, and go move to another state with you and everyone else?”

Margie shakes her head. There’s food all over her mouth from her shoving it in so quickly, but her asinine proposition (aka preposition) is so insulting and annoying I feel good not informing her about her situation. I sort of think it’s funny, watching her with her milk mustache and food all over her. “You’re so silly and ridiculous!” Margie screams. The whole diner turns to look. “It’s like you need a doctor or something! You make everything up! That’s why I’m doing an intermission!”

Can you get why she gets fired all the time from her secretarial work yet? I think the only reason why she gets in the door at all is that she has no life and will work any hours, and doesn’t know that you can negotiate salary. Then again, what leverage would someone like her have? “You mean an intervention?”

“STOP CORRECTING ME. YOU’RE THE ONE WHO NEEDS HELP.” Margie barks. This time, no one in the diner turns around. They’re used to crazy when they hear it, and well, Margie is now certifiably crazy to them. She shoves the rest of her food in her face, cole slaw, cheeseburgers and milk all in one fell swoop. “Sah aug ugong toca wimiono????” Which, translated, is approximately “So are you going to come with me or not?” Trust me, you get the hang of this after awhile.

And to this, I have one simple answer. “No.”

She swallows her food, choking in the process and coughing away. “What!”

“I said no. I’m not coming to the interview. I have a life here, whether you believe me or not.”

“You ungrateful little bitch!” She throws down her fork and her unused napkin, spitting milk and meat in the process. Luckily, none of it hits me. But she leans so close I can see that her entire front set of teeth is decorated with little bits of milk and cheese, and her milk mustache has grown only that much larger. “You just don’t care about anyone but yourself!”

I shrug, my amusement fueling a wacky kind of courage. “So sue me. It’s my life, not yours.”

With that she huffs her way out of her seat, skim milk and cheeseburgers all over her face.

“You can pay for this!” I don’t know if she’s referring to the food or my supposed rebellion, but she storms her way to the bathroom, leaving the bags at the table.

“Everything okay?” Nancy somehow has arrived by my side. She’s waited for the radiological fallout to pass. I can’t blame her. I respond by smiling and shrugging. She just walks away.

Margie storms back to the table. Apparently whatever she did didn’t include looking into a mirror, because she still has food and milk all over her face. Plus, her condition has further devolved, as there’s now toilet paper stuck to her prim shoe, a large wad that’s dragging about two feet worth, as well as toilet paper stuck out of her pants. I say nothing as she stands by the table without sitting down.

“Decided to rejoin me?” I hope not.

“No! I have better self-esteem than to assinate..” Assimilate? Associate? Who knows. Who cares? “with disrespectful people. I’m going to my job interview. Because I have a life, and you don’t. Don’t say I didn’t help you. One day you’ll realize.”

“Oh, I’m sure I will.” I have to practically stop myself from laughing. She drinks the last teensy-weensy drops of her skim milk before stomping off. “Does this I mean to get to keep your lovely pants suit?” I sing before she knocks over an older couple in her line of sight.

“Of course not! What makes you think that?” She spits as she grabs her packages. There’s still meat and cheese flying out of her orifice. I’m amazed at its prolific amount. It’s like hitting a gold mine in there.

At this point, Nancy returns. She looks at Margie like a mental patient, asking, “Want anything else?”

“DOES IT LOOK LIKE I DO???!!!!” Margie screams at her, meat chunks spewing out of her mouth as she does, and Nancy grimaces. Grabbing her packages victoriously, Margie storms past her. As she leaves the diner, she shoves into an elderly couple who just had the bad luck of entering the diner as my sister was having a temper tantrum going out. Dressed in skim milk and cheeseburgers, my sister is ready to take on the world. God help them all, I think. Maybe it’s just a bit selfish, though, I think, but I’m glad she’s their problem and not mine. At least until Thanksgiving.

“Doesn’t she have some kind of interview or something?” Nancy’s voice startles me. I’ve never heard her speak outside of her role of server, and I almost think it’s someone else who’s talking. But it’s Nancy, all right.

“Yeah, she does. Some big law firm,” I reply.

“Does she know she looks messed up with all that food in her teeth and on her face?”

I shake my head. “No. Apparently not.”

Nancy smiles then, a really, really big one. First time I’ve ever seen it.

And I grin back. First time all day!

8 Responses to “Skim Milk With Cheeseburgers”

  1. All I can say is, What? As I read, I couldn’t make up my mind as to whether to laugh, cry out of anger, or just sit back, and give thanks that I don’t have to confront a similar person, whose name shall remain anonymous, for obvious reasons. Great short story. Loved it, as well as the characters. Good read! Blessings.

  2. boots says:


    I am a writer myself, and i am very humbled by the action you have taken to actually go for it and put a short story on the WWW, for all the WWW to see and read-that is a gutsy move, as far as I am concerned..

    Having said that, I hope you can take some constructive criticism. Your character mentions that she is an actor too many times; once, maybe twice, is enuff–we get it.

    The story is too long; needs edited by about half. I was bored with Margie after about the fourth sentence spewed from her mouth.

    You characterizations are pretty much one-dimensional: Margie can do no good, “I”, (the actor)-can do no wrong. Nancy is an unnecessary incidental; either eliminate her entirely, or give her more to do than just wait on your table. As it is, she has zero personality.
    I did not like the plot, and am wrestling with where the climax is–where Margie offers “me” the job proposition, or where she storms out of the restaurant spewing food and hate?

    Not sure thought that it really matters, because the whole thing needs a fair amount of revision.

    Good job on making it public, however. That I do admire!
    In agape,

  3. Bob says:

    Is this you talking to your sister?
    I hope not for your sake!

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