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Okay, I confess. The whole thing started because I decided to go on a Guy Diet. Call it what it wasremoving myself from the dating food chain altogether. Tossing out those superchunk hunks. Refusing to be seduced by those devil dogs. I was tired of the same old fast-food sex and I was ready for change.
My roommate, Paula, says penises are nonfattening and I'm a fool to give them up. I say there's nothing about them that doesn't bloat you and make you crazy, especially an unforeseen, unplanned pregnancy.
Paula says men are an all-you-can-eat buffet.
Enough with gorging myself on fast-food sex. It was time for a cleansing fast.
I wanted to find someone who could commit to more than just which shirt he'd wear the next morning.
So I came up with the idea of The Guy Diet.
Which I dreamed up because I write about food. You may even have read my column, The Grab-and-Go Gourmet.
I'm Lo Cavallero, Lo being short for LoAnne, which everyone thinks is Lou-Anne. So I ended the confusion and made it easier on everyone by dropping the Anne part.
In my real life, I share a minuscule one-bedroom apartment in the far West Eighties with the aforementioned PaulaTalcott who was my college roommate.
Let me tell you about Paula. Paula is not me. Paula is tall, model thin, designer obsessed, blond, gorgeous, savvy and smart. I am tall and lanky with a mop of dark-brown unruly hair that matches my born-in-Brooklyn unruly mouth. I'm pretty smart, not that savvy, and I couldn't care less how I look.
Paula gives me glam and I give her good advice. She makes me seem sexy; I keep her grounded.
Paula graduated six months ahead of me, got her ideal job in an international ad agency and worked her way up to assistant account executive in what seemed like the blink of an eye, and ultimately found the apartment she invited me to share.
Although one-bedrooms can be dicey, we have twin beds so neither of us has to sleep on the floor or the couch, as friends do when they're crashing or when one of us gets lucky.
Which means Paula. Paula lives the life most of us fantasize about and there was always a little part of me that wanted to be that adventurous and cavalier about sex and life. Though, given my fairly strict upbringing, I preferred living that life by proxy until I met Paula.
In no time at all, I became Paula's confessor and her coconspirator, and I lived that single city life for the six years that we've known each other.
Still, I'm the super-responsible one. Goes right back to being a latchkey kid. My mom married young, was widowed young and raised me with no husband, on not much of an income and under the critical gaze of a houseful of censurious relatives. That made her even more determined to prove she could raise a kid, work and never ask for help from anyone.
Except me. When I was old enough.
I did the dishes, dusting, vacuuming and cooking from the time I could remember. I made sure my bed was made, my wash got done and my homework never suffered. And I got straight As because it would have hurt her if I hadn't.
I did whatever I could to alleviate Mom's burden until the golden day she got a computer-studies certificate from community college and a job that provided medical benefits and a pension.
It was strictly understood I was going to college and I was not to get sidetracked. Because she'd disown me. Period. For my part, being my mother's daughter, I was determined to make her proud, graduate with honors and find a secure job that would provide me with the wherewithal to help mom and assure her I would never go hungry, married or not.
Any other dreams I might have had, the evanescent oneslike being an artist, a writer, a chef, getting marriedI didn't believe were possible. My goal was a concrete-steady paycheck because nothing could be depended uponespecially a man.
I actually should have chosen to study premed because when I was rooting around after graduation for the perfect job, I discovered the high-paying world of medical transcription. I took a course, got a certificate, decided to be an independent contractor and solicited my own clientele, consisting of two dozen physicians and an ad agency specializing in pharmaceuticals. So I have the freedom to set my own hours.
And then, the point I was getting to, I write this little cooking column for a small local independent Upper West Side shopper, the WestEnder.
The WestEnder started as just a small give-away booklet and grew into an on-the-newsstand-and-by-subscription tabloid. To entice readership, the publisher decided to add features and columns spotlighting local businesses and events, and, given the demographic, a book-and-movie review column, and eventually a cooking column.
I'd always done the cooking for me and Mom since I was old enough to learn how. Mom basically liked her food fast and hot because when she came home from work she was wiped. So I began concocting recipes for her, never dreaming my reach could extend beyond Mom's kitchen.
Butand this was where the whole thing startedPaula had been dating Jed Costigan, the publisher of the WestEnder and she invited me one evening in late March to join her and Jed for dinner at a newly opened restaurant that the paper's food critic had praised the week before.
It was jam-packed that night and I was a half hour late. I blew into the restaurant like a tornado, but that wasn't what stopped me midmotion as I barged in the door. Nor was it the restive crowd. Or the luscious smells. Or the harried waiters. Or the fact it was immediately apparent that the restaurant's much-lauded fast-food, fast-service promise had gone by the board.
No, it was something more intangible: the odd sense I had that Jed Costigan was immediately, wholly aware of me the moment I came in the door.
Odd because I'm not that kind of girl. And over and above that, I knew immediately that Paula sensed it, too.
Except, what did she know? Her guy had looked up when someone walked in the door? A perfectly natural response.
Paula sent me a glittering look as I approached the table. "And here's Lo," she said to Jed, who, with the best of manners, stood up and shook my hand.
"Good grip," he murmured.
"Oh, they all say that," I said, slipping my coat off onto the back of my chair. Now I was facing him and looking for something intelligent to say. "Wow, it's busy tonight."
A real conversation starter.
"I'd like to think it's in response to our review," Jed said serenely.
"It was a good review," I said as I was reviewing him: he was tall, well built, brown hair with reddish flecks in it, intent dark-blue eyes, a serious expression and an even more serious Armani suit. His impeccable manners hiding the soul, I thought, of a slick predator.
"Frankly," I went on, nearly stumbling over my own words, "all these people who live at warp speed think gourmet means tossing a handful of spicy Thai chicken in a container of by-the-pound salad greens. They could make this stuff at home a lot faster, better and cheaper."
Jed said, "Really?"
He was just being polite. Nevertheless, for some reason I pushed it. "Really."
"We've ordered already," Paula intervened. "You're having what I'm having."
"That's fine." I looked around the dining room because I didn't want to look at Paula or Jed because I knew Jed was covertly studying me.
"Okay," Jed said abruptly. "Here's the deal. You replicate what we eat tonightthe faster, better, cheaper partand you write it up for me, and we'll see if we can make you into a food columnist."
The silence that followed his offer was deep as an ocean.
Man, that was a desperate shot, Jed thought ruefully. He couldn't tell at all how Lo would respond to an on-the-spot offer that he didn't know he was going to make. He just knew he wanted a reason to see Lo again and there was no better excuse than business. He'd been thinking about some kind of food column, anyway, so it wasn't quite an on-the-fly idea.
And, hell, why run the show if you can't do whatever you want.
He wanted Lo.
Instantly, ferociously, the minute she came in the door with her wind-tossed hair, her sparkling eyes, that long coat flaring out to reveal her form-fitting turtleneck, her legs that went on forever, encased in knee-high riding boots, and the endearing rosiness on the tip of her nose.
He'd thought, from everything Paula had told him, her roommate would be someone as slick and pulled together as Paula. A corporate vice president at least.
He hadn't expected someone like Lo.
One thing he knew immediately: it was going to complicate everything.
It didn't matter.
Lo blew in the door and everything changed.
He knew it and he didn't intend to fight it. Not with Lo acting as if he'd given her a Christmas present. It just meant things were going to get messy.
So be it.
Lo liked a challenge, he saw, and she was just intrigued enough that she wouldn't turn it down. But she sure had to think about it a lot. So he just folded his arms and waited patiently.
I was so dumbstruck it took me a moment to respond. Finally, I slanted a long, disbelieving look at him. "You're kidding, right?"
"Dead serious," Jed said.
"That if I can replicate this dinner in my own faster, better, cheaper way, you'd take it as an audition to write a column."
"In the WestEnder?"
"Yes," Jed said.
I was speechless again.
Paula wasn't. "Start taking notes," she said. "Our waitress is coming now."
I could barely choke down dinner, I was so disconcerted, both by the offer and by him. I tried to take mental notes of what we'd eaten, but my brain was too scrambled to retain anything.
In the end I thought it was politic to invite Jed to witness the faster, better, cheaper cooking way.
Nerve-racking in and of itself, to say the least. Our kitchen was tiny, and he filled that space just with his unflappable male aura. He made me nervous because I knew he was watching me in his very intent way.
"So I'm envisioning that I'm leaving my office." I started my pitch. "I don't have a lot of time to shop. There's a convenience store where I grab a box of pasta, some chicken breasts, a precut package of stir-fry vegetables, and I'm gone. I have soy sauce and canola oil on hand. Rice, a can of chicken stock. And that's it."
I set the ingredients up on the counter, methodically heating the oil, cutting the breasts into cubes, putting them in the frying pan. I added some onion, the vegetables, the soy sauce. Made the rice with the stock, and fifteen minutes later, after the formal tasting, the consensus was my fast-food dinner was as good or better than the version we'd had two nights before.
"I like it," Jed said. "Grab and go. That's what we'll call it. You write it up and make it personal just the way you outlined it to me."
And that was how I morphed into the Grab-and-Go Gourmet.
Grab and go. I had aptly titled my work life as well as my love life. I continually repeated the same pattern, attracted to guys on the fly, yet hoping something would change.
Then, I had that revelation when I was doing a column about a grab-and-go diet a few months later: I'm a grab-and-go girl. I've been the free ingredient in every one of my relationships, and the guys have all been feasting on me.
Okay. You could blame me and my predilections for that. You actually could say I barely have a dating life at all. I have a bed-hopping life, which undeniably has its moments. It would be much more efficient if I ran my dating life more like a business.
But forget the idea of positioning, advertising, résumés, interviews, hoping your prospective guy likes you. Forget waiting for the phone to ring or hoping you're a good fit.
I had an epiphany: Why not just eliminate the guy factor altogether?
What do they have that your friends don't? Besides the obvious. I couldn't think of a thing. I decided it was time for a healthy requestlike, no more free sex.
When I suggested this to Paula, she said, "You are out of your freaking mind. What do you mean, no guys? Like, totally celibate?"
Now, I love Paula dearly, but she has a hard-shell finish that's as shiny as lacquer and as perfect, and since she broke up with Jed in early April, and observed a proper periodabout a monthof mourning, there hasn't been a crack in that armor that I can see. And she's been anything but celibate.
So, did I really mean totally stone-cold celibate? Right on the cusp of summer fun? What was I thinking?
Still, I was staunch in my defense of my position. "I mean hard-core celibate."
"Well then, I'm not hanging out with you," Paula said pointedly. "No hard-core sex, no hard-core fun. What are you going to do with yourself all summer if you're not having sex?"
"I'll be having self," I said airily. And then I saw the look on her face. "For God's sake, not that kind of self. Like, getting-to-know-myself self. Like, being happy for a change, and not hanging on a hope, a prayer and a maybe he'll call. Like not being disappointed all the time. Like "
I think at that point I decided she was right: I was crazy. Yet I couldn't back down since I'd made such a meal deal out of it.
"I'll find things to keep me busy. I'm not that shallow."
"Ha," Paula said. "You're as toe-deep in the Evian as the rest of us."
She was probably right. Still, work kept me busier than a hospital full of doctors. And there was the column, which took up a fair amount of time. It wasn't as if I couldn't find distractions.
Of course, summer wasn't exactly the best time to undertake a Guy Diet. But it's practically built in that, at my age, you don't want anyone to see you really skimpily clothed the first days of summer, let alone high, wide and naked.