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The Epic Adventures of Misha Bulgari

 

The Epic Adventures of Misha Bulgari

TRILOGY

 

By

 

Misha Bulgari

The World’s Wittiest, Wickedest, Wildest AUTHOR

 

Book 1

More Fat than Fatale

Book 2

Misha Goes Hollywood

Book 3

Misha on Top!

[]Book 1

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More Fat than Fatale

 

 

by

 

Misha Bulgari

IMPORTANT INFORMATION

The information provided in this book is designed to provide helpful information on the subjects discussed. This book is not meant to be used, nor should it be used, to diagnose or treat any medical condition. For diagnosis or treatment of any medical problem, consult your own physician. The publisher and author are not responsible for any specific health or allergy needs that may require medical supervision and are not liable for any damages or negative consequences from any treatment, action, application or preparation, to any person reading or following the information in this book. References are provided for informational purposes only and do not constitute endorsement of any websites or other sources. Readers should be aware that the websites listed in this book may change.

Copyright © 2015 by Beran Parry

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other non-commercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, write to the author’s email address: [email protected]

 

[]Acknowledgement

Writing can be a particularly challenging experience but the project was supported and encouraged by a bold and brave crew of enthusiasts at One Life Wellbeing Publishing who generously lent their time, expertise and creativity to the book and I’m grateful to each and every one of them.

[]SPECIAL FREE GIFT FOR YOU

…..enjoy these extra recipes from Misha’s Secret Weightloss Recipes – Log into her website now for more info!

http://www.mishabulgari.com

[]About the Author

 

.

 

So many things in my life seem to be built on a grander scale – from my dress size to the crazy escapades that turn up completely out of the blue and keep me on my toes. You’ll soon see exactly what I’m talking about.

Now I’m one sensuous gal, so don’t go thinking for one second that my struggles with weight would ever get in the way of my pursuit of love and the kind of fun that makes life so totally worthwhile.

From fantasising and hoping, to dreaming about that elusive date with my one true love, to a close encounter with what might turn out to be a dream come true. It’s epic, my friend, it’s quite a journey and this is only the beginning.

But as we’ve only just met, I should really begin by being completely honest with you. After all, you’re going to be tagging along on this adventure – so you probably need to know a few little personal details about me first, don’t you? So fasten your safety belt, turn the first page and let the adventure begin! I’ll be with you every step of the way.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgement

SPECIAL FREE GIFT FOR YOU

About the Author

Foreword

Introduction

Chapter 1:

Introductions all round

Chapter 2:

Jumbo isn’t just the name of a circus elephant

Chapter 3:

The Doc gets physical

Chapter 4:

At the temple of the body beautiful

Chapter 5:

The Cocktail of Romance

Chapter 6:

Enter the Nutritionist

Chapter 7:

Getting personal

Chapter 8:

Let’s get analysed

Chapter 9:

Tied in knots

Chapter 10:

Getting away for a few days

Chapter 11:

Out of the frying pan

Chapter 12:

Cleaning up the territory

Chapter 13:

Moving on

Chapter 14:

Close encounters of the aquatic kind

Chapter 15:

Affairs of the heart

Chapter 16:

A timely lesson in growing up

Chapter 17:

The forces of Chaos decide to make a house call

Chapter 18:

Some surprises are worth waiting for

Chapter 19:

The golden days of my youth

Chapter 20:

Misha’s Delicious Fat Blasting (It’s PALEO Folks!) Recipes

Breakfast – No Grain

Gutsy Granola

Tasty Apple Almond Coconut Medley

Ultimate Skinny Granola

Desserts

Fabulous Brownie Treats

Best Ever Banana Surprise Cake

Sexy Dessert Pan

Egg Dishes

Spicy Scrambled Eggs

Spectacular Spinach Omelet

Spectacular Eggie Salsa

Main Dishes

Spectacular Spaghetti & Delish Turkey Balls

Sensational Courgette Pasta and Turkey Bolognese

Tantalizing Turkey Pepper Stir-Fry

Sexy Turkey Scramble

Seafood

Sexy Spicy Salmon

Sexy Shrimp Cocktail

Spectacular Salmon

Salads

Rosy Chicken Salad

Sexy Italian Tuna Salad

Spectacular Sprouts Salad

Pure Vegetables

Sexy Salsa Salad

Mouth-watering Mushroom Salad

Skinny Sweet Potato Salad

Smoothies

Tempting Coconut Berry Smoothie

Voluptuous Vanilla Hot Drink

Divine Vanilla Smoothie

Snacks

Gorgeous Spicy Nuts

Spicy Pumpkin Seed Bonanza

Skinny Quicky Crackers

Soups

Cheeky Chicken Soup

Tempting Tomato Basil Soup

Triple Squash Delight Soup

[]Foreword

 

Never in the field of human calorie consumption, has so much been consumed by so few.

Meet the Bulgaris, your super-sized neighbours who are as likely to scavenge in your bin for left-overs at four o’clock in the morning as they are to offer you a life-threatening portion of super-concentrated, artery-choking, goose-fat soup.

And standing amongst this elephantine herb of constant browsers and grazers is the amazing Misha, the feistiest and smartest member of the clan, a mould-breaking young lady who is about to show the world that there is so much more to her than a Triple-X size waist band and a permanent question mark about the precise spot where her boobs end and her belly begins.

Misha is about to get a wake-up call about her weight, a call to arms that will set her on an unexpected pathway to a new life and the kind of adventures that no one would ever have dreamed of.

This is Misha’s story, told in her own words, every syllable carved from her own experiences, a tale of transformation, a legend that would soon be re-written by the public relations media that would one day give her a new name and a new identity. But that was far ahead in the future.

Her adventure begins on a smaller stage, in her home town, in a familiar community that some of you might even recognise. Perhaps you might even recognise her. In that case she’d be grateful if you would exercise a little discretion and keep the secret to yourself. A confidence between friends.

If you’re ever in Hollywood, you can laugh about it later over a quiet drink together.

[]Introduction

Welcome to your new best friend in the amazing world of love, life, fun and fabulousness! All this and the hilarious pursuit of a skinnier new body. Say hello to the beautiful, big, bodacious Misha Bulgari, the funniest lady in the double extra-large section of the clothing department, a feisty, smart lady with a rapier wit and a shadow that could be mistaken for a solar eclipse.

Weight loss? Are you nuts? Her family of triple-X sized food-fanatics don’t believe in skinny! Thin people are screaming out for calories. Feed them! Thin is a sign of sickness! Feed those skinny people - and then feed some more. Mama tells Misha every day - Men need something they can hang onto! You can get a hint of the challenges here, can’t you? Hey, how about another slice of home-made triple chocolate fudge cake to keep you snacked between meals?

So now you can join Misha on her epic adventures in the wacky world of weight loss, follow her step by step as she pursues an amazing array of personal challenges to get her body off the endangered species list.

And Misha just loves to share, so she is not the kind of lady who’s going to spare you any of the finer details! Oh, no. From the disasters of her frustrating attempts to find love in the arms of strangers to her unexpected friendship with the most special person in her young life, Misha will touch your heart and cheer your soul as she discovers a different sense of identity, hidden beneath those protective layers of comforting blubber.

The adventure is just beginning and it will take many unexpected twists and turns but you’ll be with her every step of the way. Hey! It’s supposed to be fun. Enjoy the journey.

[]Chapter 1:

[]Introductions all round

Hi, Gorgeous. I’m Misha Bulgari and I’m so glad you could join me on my exciting adventures in the wonderful world of weight loss. As we’ve only just met, I should really start by being completely honest with you. After all, you’re going to be tagging along on this adventure – so you probably need to know a few little personal details about me first, don’t you?

Maybe we should start with the obvious. You’re probably wondering what I look like, right? Well, I’ve never been what you might call petite. And ‘skinny’ probably wouldn’t be the first word that sprang to mind when you caught a glimpse of my silhouette. No. The fact is that I might’ve been carrying a few extra pounds here and there. OK. More than a few. Alright, already! A lot! A lot of extra pounds. Are you happy now? Let’s just say that there’s been a lot of junk in the trunk. And yes, it’s sometimes been hard to figure out where the belly ends and the boobs begin.

Do you really need this much detail? Will you be needing my gynaecologist’s phone number too? Jeez! Some people. But hey – some guys actually like bigger gals. Thank the good Lord there are still enough weirdos out there to make life interesting. And I definitely have big bones too. And, just for your personal information, extra weight happens to run in the family – though most of the time it just seems to hang precariously over the front of the elasticated waistbands.

There’s my brother Miclav. Now that is one jelly-butted, blubber brother who should qualify for personal invites to the staff parties at Donuts R Us. We’re talking one seriously big hombre here but no one seems to care about his weight issues. Oh no. He looks like he was born to fit right in with the rest of the high fat, sugar-dusted, candy-cramming, Bud-slugging guys in the neighbourhood.

And Papa Bulgari quit measuring his waistline when he ran out of numbers on the measuring tape. Never been known to leave anything remotely edible in the vicinity of his plate. Did you know he was once arrested over a misunderstanding about his constitutional right to scavenge for leftovers in the neighbour’s waste bin? At four o’clock in the morning. The cops said he should be kept on a leash at night for his own safety. My precious family. Mama Bulgari still loves to bake pretty much every day on an industrial scale. She always talks about the rigours and hardships of her life in the ‘old country’. Right. Try to cover up that yawn.

She was barely four years old when gramps and grandma sold up the goat meat salami shop and migrated but, to hear her talk, you’d think she’d just stepped off the boat last week. These days the ‘old country’ mostly seems to specialise in exporting cheap cigarettes and hookers but, according to Mama Bulgari, it’s still the cradle of civilisation and the last place on Earth where men are still men. And yes she does take her medication every single day. My dear little sister Mavenka is – unfortunately – even bigger than me.

Sorry. I had to stop for a moment there to wipe the tears from my eyes and get over the hysterical bout of laughter. When she was a kid, she was convinced that she was destined to become a nun. Jesus was calling her a lot in those days. She might have made it too but her rampaging hormones suddenly steered her ninety frigging degrees right from the pathway of true virtue – and full speed into the back of those sweet chariots of love, those sweaty, tobacco-stained pick-up trucks that made every Friday night – romance night! 

Yee haa and praise the Lord! She sure can’t be criticised for lacking generosity when it comes to sharing her affections. And – come on, we’re aiming for total honesty here – there’s an awful lot of her to go around. Thank God for all those half-drunk guys and the blessings of darkness because those deep, evening shadows in the back of a bouncing Chevy pickup sure do hide a multitude of chins. Amen, sister, and pass another slug of your finest communion wine, if you please.

There’d been all those unmissable moments of adolescent fantasy too as I started to grow up as well as grow into the out-size section of the clothing stores. The school football team had a quarterback who was the focal point of a great deal of female, teenage interest, his broad shoulders and shock of black hair hinting at some Latino forebears.

He provoked sighs and giggles and palpitations every time he limbered up on the touchline, fuelling countless adolescent fantasies as he flexed his chest muscles and mopped the sweat from his broad brow. Girls used to push their noses up against the windows of the school gym doors as he worked out – before being shooed away, still sighing, by one of the teachers. I had the wildest, most intense dreams about him and I guess they must’ve been inevitable because he was always on my mind, a permanent background feature of every waking moment and the occasional companion to my nocturnal adventures of the imagination, even though he was completely and utterly oblivious to my existence.

All I had to do was close my eyes and my favourite scene would instantly unfold: he’d be riding round to the house on his motorcycle in the summer heat, stripped to the waist and ready to cut the grass. I’d take him a chilled glass of Mama Bulgari’s super-syrupy, home-made lemonade to refresh him and he’d wipe his mouth with the back of his arm and say – Why, thank you, Misha – as he took me in his arms and kissed me, the sweet tang of the lemonade on his lips and his biceps drawing me closer to his glistening, sweat-stained chest. We’d fall to the newly-cut grass and I’d feel the weight of his body on top of me, his broad hands exploring my body as I shivered with anticipation and ached for the moment when our love, our passion, our need for each other would be consummated.

Yeah. It got pretty steamy but I noticed that the alarm clock absolutely always interrupted me at the most critical moment. The smell of breakfast frying downstairs and me alone in my bed, having to get up and face another day at school, reaching for a handy, bedside snack before my feet even touched the floor.

The quarterback finished high school and graduated years ahead of most of his girlish, adoring fans and years later I heard that he’d eventually settled down with another purposefully built and athletic young gentleman and made a successful career for himself on the gay stripper circuit. By all accounts he was perfectly happy with his life and – No, you really never can tell. I remember shrugging at the time as if the news in some way explained why he’d never noticed me. Yeah. Right.

[]Chapter 2:

[*Jumbo isn’t just the name of a circus elephant  *]

So, enough of the personal details. You’ve probably already guessed that since we’re all pretty much on the double-plus, extra-large side of the clothing rail, food has always been very, very important to my family. We have a strong, calorie-crunching tradition of eating, snacking and munching pretty much all the time. There’s always a snack or leftover while we’re making breakfast. There’s usually something to nibble at the bedside in case we’re hungry when we wake up. Stubby fingers reaching for a cold, half-eaten slice of pizza or a fistful of pretzels. Even before the chubby little toes hit the carpet.

Eating is a fairly continuous process that just rolls on throughout the waking hours and, if you’re not eating, Mama assumes you’re sick and makes one of her famous goose-fat soups that could clog the arteries of a rhino and stun any bacteria into submission with just one spoonful. Skinny people, according to Mama, must obviously be unwell. Feed them! Then feed them some more!! You grow up with this. It seems pretty normal. And everyone is carrying some extra weight so you don’t really notice that you look pretty much like the rest of the herd. And this might’ve been my fate too.

But then I surprised everyone by getting good grades at school and ended up going to the local college to study computer science – loved the idea of sitting in front of a keyboard all day with plenty of room on the desk for my fries and diet cola – and suddenly discovered a world full of people who were not only skinny – but healthy too. Damn! What was wrong with them? So many kids from outside the neighbourhood – even college staff – and they were in great shape.

And that was when I started to look at myself a little differently in the mirror. Despite Mama’s constant advice about the dangers of being thin – you’ll catch pneumonia, you’ll never have children, you’ll get wrinkles, (Mama with hands on her hips, wiggling those rolls of fat, eyebrows jumping up and down suggestively) men need something to hang onto  - I began to suspect that maybe, just maybe, I could actually be a little thinner. It would be a first in the long history of the Bulgari clan.

And why was being thinner suddenly so important? No guesses and no prizes for the right answer. The hottest girls on campus were the damn skinny ones with legs all the way up to their cute, collective, wiggling asses. When it came to romance, I was about as popular with the guys as a case of botulism in a fried chicken joint. I couldn’t help noticing that boys would skirt around me like they were negotiating a pile of hazardous waste. And when some chisel-boned jock with muscles in his spit stuck a paper sign on the back of my chair with ‘Caution – Wide Load stencilled across it, I knew it was time to take action.

The first step was to call up and call in for a full medical and evaluate the problem from an objective, professional point of view. The second step was to 'accidentally' swing my laptop case as I stalked along the corridor - and whack the muscled humourist right in his overloaded jock-strap. 'Sorry, sugar chops. Guess I didn't see you standing there. You want me to rub it better? No?? Anybody got some ice? No, don't worry. I'm sure my laptop survived. Unlike you, honey buns, my package is always hardened.' That's right. Don't mess with the big gals. We can be feisty!

Feisty? Yep. I guess that could be true. I suppose for the sake of complete and uncensored honesty I should mention one episode from around this time but I hope you’re not eating lunch at this point because I sure don’t want to spoil your appetite. Now you might be a well-travelled and fully-seasoned explorer of the broad canvas of human nature but it might come as a real surprise to you to discover that there are certain individuals out there who get their thrills from the stranger side of the greater menu of fetishes and perversions.

That’s right. There are folks out there whose idea of complete bliss is an overflowing handful of lard from the rear end of an out-sized lady. Or, even better, two out-size ladies! These are the rare but persistent fat freaks, those incurable devotees to blubbery babes who can’t get enough of the jumbo gals that most guys hide from. So I was shambling along the road from the bus stop to the high school gates one morning when a guy in an old raincoat – I’m serious here. He was wearing a raincoat. Like he needed to advertise! – walked up alongside me, both hands buried deep in his pockets and said Hi. He was an older guy. Maybe even my dad’s age, wearing the thickest glasses I’d ever seen. They looked like they’d been cast from the bottom of two soda bottles and wired together.

He was wearing a baseball cap really low on his forehead, like it was supposed to disguise him or something. And he looked kind of familiar. He asked me if I wanted to meet him after school for a coke and an ice cream in the park. I stopped and my jaw went a little slack because his hands looked a little too busy on the inside of his raincoat and it was pretty obvious that he about to show me what was going on in there when I suddenly shouted out – Hey! And I called out his name because I’d just recognised my old class teacher from when I was around six! Small world, eh? I said but he was already stumbling backwards, trying to keep that old raincoat together as he ran off down the road. Funny thing is – I never saw him again. So much for youthful romance.

Chapter 3:

[]The Doc gets physica[*l *]

Medicals. You know they’re important but there’s something inexplicably weird about stripping off beneath those unforgiving fluorescent lights and being examined by some ancient, cold-handed medico who missed his real vocation as a mortician and ended up as a physician on campus with an endless supply of young bodies to play with. Creepy is too kind a word for the old freak. But he was thorough even if his dentures seemed to be a little too mobile for his gums, slipping and sliding around his mouth like a demoniacally-possessed hockey puck as he mumbled and made notes, those plastic teeth threatening to escape the confines of his pinched face and launch themselves across the examination table at any second.

I thought about bringing a catcher’s mitt to the next appointment but I guess he’d learned the knack of wrangling those old dentures back into the corral with a swift swipe of his leathery old tongue. It surely was not one of Nature’s prettier sights. And, like I said, he was thorough. He wanted full spectrum blood analysis, stool and urine samples, a list of everything I ate – and the major source of his professional concern turned out to be my blood pressure. You see, as a family, we don’t really do exercise. Apart from eating, papa Bulgari is a dedicated sports fan, of course, but that only involves screaming at the TV screen and making obscene gestures at the ref from the comfort of his La-Z-Boy lounger. My brother starts to sweat as soon as he wakes up. He yawns and every pore of his body opens up. Phee-uw!

And my sister only gets exercise when she’s playing human trampoline on the back seat of a pickup truck. So my family hasn’t really been noted for its athletic prowess since the dim and distant days when our ancestors used to make a living in the old country by stealing sheep and rustling goats. You had to be fairly nimble to hustle a bunch of sheep across the hills with a crowd of torch-waving villagers on your heels, baying for your blood and swearing to feed your extremities to the dogs. Sure kept you in good shape though! But a lifetime diet of high-fat, sugary foods with zero exercise were already showing up as a problem in my virginal body. OK. Not quite exactly what you might call virginal. Not in the Biblical sense anyway. I’ve had my moments. And most definitely not in the back of a Chevy pickup truck! Come on! Some of us have standards. And I was never really planning to be a nun anyway.

Since you’re getting to know quite a lot about me, I might as well own up right now to another little kink in my behaviour. I kind of developed an unusual habit – as you might wish to describe it, summoning every ounce of your genteel grace and politeness – where I’d pick up guys at parties, just for the sake of proving to myself that I was capable of attracting someone, anyone, anything. The most important criterion for me at the time was that they had to have a pulse. That was about it. OK. I can see your eyebrows arching. Now we already agreed that it was an unusual habit, didn’t we? It’s not as if I’m saying it was a good habit. But it was a habit. I confess. I’ll get on my knees and pray for absolution later. The only time that I can remember one of these encounters with anything resembling an emotional connection was one cold, wet and rainy night when I nearly gave up on the game and headed for home without catching any prey.

Even those silent masters of the hunt, the night time kitty-cats that patiently stalk our gardens in the dark, sometimes come home with nothing hooked on their claws. I was almost at the front door, looking for my coat, when I bumped into a guy who was reeling from the bonhomie and forced friendliness that’s secretly hidden in every sixth bottle of Bud. He put his arm round my waist as I was leaving and breathed the beer fumes of welcome in my face, saying Whoa, just like you would to a horse, turning me back inside the house. He was a big guy for sure, but not with muscle.

Wide-faced, stubble, happily buzzing with the beer and, maybe, a shot of red-eye just to keep the party going, He asked me why I was leaving and I said I had to get home before midnight or I’d turn into a pumpkin. I pointed down at myself and whispered in mock alarm – See? It’s already happening! He laughed. A genuine belly laugh that produced little tears at the corners of his eyes. And he said I should really be a little kinder to myself. He said I should see how beautiful I was and I wondered if he’d been taking anything stronger than alcohol. Maybe he was one of the guys from the veterinary school and you know what kinds of drugs those little munchkins like to party with on a Saturday night! Damn.

But he put his arm round my shoulder and drew me away from the door, perfectly happy in my company, chatting like he’d known me forever. And in a darkened corner, music pounding through the walls and the sweet, sticky smell of dope filling the air, he leaned in and kissed me, so gently that I was taken by surprise. No brute force groping. Just a slow, gentle kiss that made me feel warm inside and a little scared too. I was much more used to the frenzied rock n roll of a frantic bout of getting everything over with as quickly as possible. And this guy was in no hurry. Not at all rushed. I recall stepping inside a dimly lit room with him, coats scattered on a bed and a chair wedged against the door to ensure a little privacy.

He wasn’t beautiful. He wasn’t even especially skilled in the arts of love. It was all over within about fifteen minutes of closing the door – which might seem like an Olympic record of endurance for some men – but the truth is that the whole episode just felt wrong. Do you know what I mean? I mean weirdly wrong. Sometimes the chemistry is so completely wrong, you’re filled with a chestful of regrets before the guy’s even rolled off you. But that wasn’t all. He hadn’t even removed the damn rubber, his baggy jeans still pooled round his knees and he looked at me, still sweating from his recent exertions and said – Why in the name of all that’s great and good in the world did you just do that? I had no idea what he was talking about.

He shifted his weight and kept looking at me, saying that he knew I hadn’t enjoyed any aspect of what had just happened and that couldn’t be a good thing. And he reached down for the crumpled rubber and said he was sorry. Really sorry.

He hadn’t meant to do something that I’d regret. And I grabbed my things and ran. I ran for the door. I ran out of the house, the hot tears burning my eyes as the cold rain drenched my hair. I had nightmares for three nights running after that little episode. I guess he got a little too close to the truth for comfort and that was the most intimate experience I’d ever had in my life. It was another whole month before I ventured out to find another desperate companion to shore up my insecurities.

Back at the medico's surgical lair, the medical exam showed up a catalogue of problems including wildly-elevated cholesterol - surprise, surprise! - Mineral and vitamin deficiencies, plus a bunch of technical details I'm sure you really don't want to hear about, especially if you happen to be eating. After reeling out the long list of complicated medical conclusions, the old doc's advice turned out to be really simple.

Either he could prescribe a cocktail of pharmaceuticals to deal with my collection of artery-hardening symptoms. Or….. He leaned forwards, those crazy dentures slipping to the edge of his thin lips and steepled his bony fingers as he looked at me sternly over the top of his half-moon glasses. Or….. He shook his head and got those false teeth back into line again. Or we could acknowledge where the real problem lay and start to take some responsibility for what happens in our lives. He waited a few seconds for the message to sink in. The problem with the drugs was that they only treated the symptoms – not the underlying causes. And there were side effects too. Plenty of side effects.

He stared at me and took off those glasses. Set them down on his desk. You’re too heavy, he said. Like I didn’t know. You’re carrying the fat of half a dozen regular people. Half a dozen? That sounded unkind. You eat junk. OK. So I have a sweet tooth. Your body’s in bad shape from whichever perspective you wanted to use. Gee, thanks a bunch, Mr Motivator. Underneath all that extra weight though, you could be a really pretty gal. Maybe it was time for him to put the glasses back on. I mean it, he said. The extra weight hides all your features. You could be a man hiding underneath all those layers of fat. Hey!! Hold up there. And this was after he’d given me a complete physical!! You just need to lose weight, he said. A lot of weight. Take some exercise. Eat something more nutritious than cakes and fries. Start respecting the miracle of the human body.

He said he’d give me a list of vitamin supplements to take and the number of a nutritionist off-campus who would get me on the right track. And if I had any problems, I could come back and see him any time. It was more professionally entertaining to handle a case like mine than the regular fare of STDs that made up his average day on campus. Maybe my ‘accident’ with the laptop case had slowed down trade for the doc that week. It was certainly satisfying to feel that I’d done some good in the world. The Lord – as my crazy sister often liked to quote – surely moved in mysterious ways. 

 Now before we get all totally fat-free obsessive and borderline lettuce-n-granola crazy about losing weight and getting into better shape, I thought I’d better get a second opinion. No point hitting some extreme ice-cream-and-soda-free eating regime just because a crazy, old, dentally-challenged medico thinks he’s the world’s best leading authority on health. I mean it. I happen to be one of those happy people who enjoy their food. A lot. If I’d wanted to starve myself and live a life of complete denial, I would’ve taken holy orders and entered the convent or maybe joined the Peace Corps. So where would you go to check out your health and get some positive news on your fitness potential? That’s right! The local gym, which is a convenient neighbourhood temple to the ideals of health and the body beautiful. 

I was really curious so I made an appointment right away for an assessment with one of the local health clubs. They’re always pleased to see another potential victim/subscriber so they can sign you up and welcome you to the ranks of the fat-free faithful. Hey. Wait a second. I’m curious about something. Here I am, baring my soul and sharing my innermost thoughts with you and we haven’t even given you a chance to get a word in edgeways! So let me ask you something for a change.

Do you have a gym membership? Do you actually use it? I mean – having signed up for the benefits and privileges, do you actually go to the gym and get some value for the bucks you sink into the place every month? I’m asking because most people join the gym the same way they buy diet books. You join up, you buy the book – then, well, nothing. It’s about habits. You know exactly what I’m talking about. All those good intentions that evaporate by the end of the week. We know deep down that we all need to do some exercise. Eat differently. Get in shape. But it usually involves a change in habits so – well, the gym membership and the diet books don’t make any difference, do they? And that’s because you don’t make real use of them. They’re more like some talisman you buy at the fairground from the crazy fortune teller to ward off the evils of blubber. Cute but not very effective. OK. Thanks for answering. Now where were we? Oh, yes. The gym. 

[]Chapter 4:

At the temple of the body beautiful

So I squeezed myself into what I thought would be a loose-fitting pair of track pants, hauled on a tee shirt -  the ones my balloon brother likes to call circus tensize  - and set off for the gym. To tell you the truth I thought those gym pants were not going to survive the short walk and let's just agree right here not to discuss the chafing. And certainly not in detail. Now maybe it's my imagination but I've always had the impression that people my size weren't exactly welcome in the local sweat shops. You go there, you pay your money and you expect to see lean, chiselled bodies and rippling muscle - not an albino bowling ball on legs who looks like they're the same size in every direction. I guess from the gym owner's perspective, we look bad for business.

We’re not a good advert for their establishments. We remind people too much about how they don’t want to look. So you almost expect to be shut away in a dimly lit corner where normal folk wouldn’t have to be shocked and appalled by our bulging rolls of potentially contagious flabbiness. But the vitamin-popping popsicles on reception were all smiles and handshakes, pumped up on wheat grass and caffeine-free enthusiasm, the perfect representation of the gym’s ideal of bristling, bushy-tailed health. Maybe they were bred specially for the job. Maybe it was just a facade. There must have been some sort of private little competition going on behind the counter because the immaculately coiffed young man who stepped forward to escort me to an empty cubicle for registration looked exactly like someone who’d just lost an important round in the game.

Ricky had much better skin than I did. Ricky had much better hair than I did. And Ricky’s beautiful, subtle make-up was in a different league to anything I’d ever achieved with mascara and foundation. Damn! He was only one short sashay away from the major league catwalk. He was trying to smile as he sat down and shuffled his registration forms but it was obvious that he’d drawn the short straw and got me – female, heavy h-e-a-v-y and cursed with a complete lack of grace, taste and style. Yes, it was a hot day and I was perspiring a little so I thought he actually looked a little nauseous too but that might’ve been my imagination. He was smiling with those perfectly capped teeth and I thought he was imagining exactly how he was going to wreak some sweet, twisted revenge upon his buffed and tanned colleagues. I wondered if it involved changing the voltage on one of their personal relaxation appliances but that was pure speculation on my part.

The forms were much less intimidating than the old doc’s but Ricky Goldilocks still had to check my blood pressure. So he was suddenly confronted by the challenge of having to lay his perfectly manicured and polished fingertips upon my sausage arm and attach the pressure cuff. I caught him holding his breath – as if that would make the ordeal pass more quickly – and asked him if he knew any other uses for the cuff. From the blush that tinged his cheeks, my wild guess seemed to be right on the money.

Wondering how well they scrubbed the apparatus between conventional and un-conventional applications, I watched Ricky squeeze the bulb to check my blood pressure. His eyes got wider as the figures kept climbing. I thought this might be a good moment to ask if there was a prize for the highest score and he said – sure: first prize – a massive coronary and not too many people willing to risk mouth to mouth resuscitation. Second prize: you survive the coronary and spend the rest of your life in a hospital cot wearing a diaper and taking your food through a straw. Great! Just my luck to get a Shirley Temple look-a-like with acid wit and razor-edge repartee. He removed the cuff, shaking his head. I’m serious, he said. You’ve got blood pressure off the scale. When was the last time you had a proper physical?

I shook my head with my best little girl lost expression and pretended I couldn’t remember. He drew in his breath as he packed away the pressure cuff, moved an imaginary hair out of his eyes and said he was really sorry but the gym couldn’t accept me as a member. No, ma’am. The insurance didn’t cover people with my weight and health issues. If I dropped off a walking machine and injured myself – or maybe even the building’s foundations – I’d just sue the gym for every buck I could squeeze out of them. It was brutally fast – I was fired even before I was hired. Frankly, Ricky boy looked relieved. He was only obeying orders, following company policy and avoiding all future possibilities of having to exchange pleasantries with me across the wide expanse of the reception counter.

OK. So I didn’t get much of an assessment apart from Ricky’s withering, silent appraisal of my complete lack of dress sense. That’s OK. Really. I will survive. It seemed that the good Lord didn’t want me to suffer the thousand indignities of being hidden in a dimly-lit corner of the health club and running the risk of a full-blown coronary whilst wearing those tightly-stretched, bargain basement gym pants. But maybe when I’d lost a few pounds and got the blood pressure somewhere below total nuclear meltdown levels, my prospects for survival would improve dramatically. And it was definitely time to get out of those ass-biting, crotch-creeping gym pants and breathe the sweet air of freedom. I just hoped the Chinese slave-labour-stitching would hold out at least till I got home. Eating supper with your dimpled, full moon ass hanging out the back of your ripped gym pants was just so……now what word would Ricky Rick use? Ah, yes. Of course. Inelegant!

The next step in the saga – and please bear in mind that not a word or hint of my intentions could ever be shared with my cholesterol-enhanced family – was to make an appointment with the nutritionist. This was going to be fraught with potential difficulties. Any change in the daily troughing routine would immediately sound alarm bells in Mama Bulgari’s kitchen. She would instantly switch into Holy Inquisition mode, soup ladle waving ominously above her head, threatening to smite the unrighteous and all purveyors of untruths. It could be pretty daunting. Actually, it was pretty damn scary! You could almost hear the heavy-hinged gates of Purgatory opening up behind you, feel the heat of the pits of damnation singeing the blistering skin of your bared behind. If the Government ever found out about her interrogation techniques, Mama Bulgari could clear out and convert the guys in Guantanamo Bay in a couple of days. So I had to tread carefully.

Here I am, talking about food and nutritionists and the problems of being overweight and I was just wondering how your weight was shaping up. I mean, on a scale of one to ten, where would you rank your body? One would be the body of a stick insect with more bones than meat and the ideal silhouette to advertise pipe cleaners. Ten would be closer to my situation and the inspiration for airship design from a bygone age. So where are you? Are you happy with your current weight? Do you think you’re too thin or maybe, like me, a little too much of the opposite? It’s weird but too thin can be just as harmful as too fat. Did you know that? Yep. It’s true. And no charge for the free educational insights.

Most of us wait until there’s a health scare before we take any action to deal with our weight issues. OK. With me it was a mild case of vanity and a glut of negative reactions from the guys on campus. I guess I was hoping for a kindlier reaction from the young and virile gentlemen of the community. Fat chance. OK. So now you’ve made me open a whole new can of worms, haven’t you? You just want to talk about guys, don’t you? Boy oh boy. Guys. Yes, indeed. There, my dear friend, we surely do have a story or three. Do you want to hear how it all started? Well of course you do. All the sordid little details and a cherry on top for decoration? Anything to fulfill your wishes and keep you all happy smiles and purring along the way. 

[]Chapter 5:

The Cocktail of Romance

My first real boyfriend had been in high school and he’d been really skinny and painfully shy. We both attended the school science club – or the nerd bank, as the jocks called it – and I figured we only got together because he was too scared to ask any of the regular-sized gals out for a date. Maybe the buck teeth and spectacles made him a little less alluring to the other gals. Who knows? So I made the running. A coke on the way home from school. An early Saturday evening movie, holding hands with sweaty palms during the scary parts. Slow walks back to the house, talking about the other losers in class, imagining our futures as daring astronauts or pioneering NASA physicists.

A fumbled, hesitant kiss on the porch, nearly slicing open my lip on his damn braces. Ah, the joys of youthful love. And then the end of semester science club party where some budding chemist or future backyard drug manufacturer spiked the fruit punch with something that could certainly stop your engine from freezing at 40 below zero and things got, well, a little more interesting. Three glasses of rocket-fuel punch later and my boyfriend suddenly revealed a more passionate and previously suppressed side to his nature that took both of us by surprise.

We found ourselves outside on a warm summer’s evening rolling around in the tall grass, his skinny jeans round his knees and my generously proportioned under-garment wrapped around one chubby ankle and flailing in the gentle evening breeze, locked in a fierce embrace with him whooping like a fledging rodeo rider let loose on his first mount. It was brief. It was intense. It was over way too quickly and probably wasn’t the most ecstatic experience of my life but it really, genuinely happened and with a real live human being who suddenly stopped hollering, looked down at his half-naked torso, sighed wistfully and promptly passed out on top of me. Yes, my friend. True, true romance.

To be honest, I hadn’t been expecting anything like this to happen so I wasn’t exactly prepared for the event. And neither was he. In the days that followed, my suddenly less-than-friendly boyfriend seemed very distracted and nervous around me and I had to spell out to him in a whispered voice exactly what had happened. And even had to repeat the message on three separate occasions. Apart from throwing up on his neighbour’s lawn, he claimed he couldn’t remember too much about that night.

Then the truth seemed to dawn in his nerdy, pre-frontal cortex and the awful realisation of a possible pregnancy brought him out in a really nasty and highly visible rash. Wow. I could’ve been pregnant. How dumb was that? We didn’t talk about teenage marriage and raising a clutch of rug rats but he did send me lots of emails about backyard do-it-yourself abortion techniques that took some of the shine off our rapidly wilting romance. When I calmly announced to him one morning that everything was OK and that I wasn’t pregnant, he looked at me strangely through those massively thick lenses that he wore and asked how I could be sure. Yep. It was a close escape for me.

Guy probably had a brain the size of a planet but was dumber than a pile of lumber. Like I said, close escape. Years later I heard that he’d actually succeeded in joining NASA. He became a valued member of their elite night-time janitorial team and some said the corridors had never been so well mopped since the organisation was created.

On a positive note, I’d accidentally stumbled on the same method of seduction that would deliver my hormonally-charged and desperate little sister into the welcoming arms of countless sweaty pickup truck drivers every Friday night. Without fail. We’re talking about the devil’s very own patented love potion: booze, my friend, booze. Alcohol could play a vital role in the game of love and once some dumb guy was blinking at life through his beer goggles, even a lady of my extravagant proportions was in with a chance. It was all about timing. Too soon and the guy was not in the mood to play.

Too late and the booze would switch off the passion poker like a light switch. You had to get the timing right and then, well, things could work out just fine. It wasn’t a case of finding Mr Right. More like a case of Mr Right-Now. And, at the time, it was good enough. Or so I thought. Are you shaking your head at me, pretending you don’t know what I’m talking about here? Hey! We’re supposed to be friends, aren’t we? Don’t get all judgemental on me now. You know what it’s like to be filled with doubt and loneliness. You must know how it feels to be left out when everyone else seems to be in some kind of a relationship.

Girls just snapping their fingers and guys running to heel like well-trained hound-dogs. I’m telling it like it is. I might’ve dropped my standards a little back then but I sure didn’t have too many standards to drop in the first place. Can’t believe you’re judging me here. Damn! Let’s have a little solidarity here. It seems like a long time ago now because a lot has happened since those goofy old, desperate days of fumbled love in the arms of strangers. OK. So you didn’t mean to judge. It’s alright. But enough of my sordid confessions. You wanted to know how my titanic struggles with my weight and health issues were progressing, didn’t you? You can’t fool me. I could see the look of boredom in your eyes. I’ve seen it a few times before as some guy grunts and rolls off you and wonders where he’s left his drinking buddies.

[]Chapter 6:

Enter the Nutritionist

Nutrition, as you probably know all too well, is the new kid on the block in the world of scientific endeavour. Wasn’t too long ago when most people were more worried about starvation than having the right mix of nutrients in their diet. It’s really bizarre when you think about it. Famine has been a recurring theme throughout the long history of human experience and it’s taken its toll of billions and billions of lives. But if you take a look around you right now, there probably won’t be too many folks in your neighbourhood who are dying of starvation. Am I right? So we’ve gone from one life-threatening extreme to the other.

From constantly trying to avoid starvation to killing ourselves with too much food. I know. I sometimes struggle to understand it myself. And here I was, scheduled to meet a nutritionist, one of those modern day witch doctors who would shake and rattle the bones and exorcise the evil calories from my body. To be honest, my faith in these latter-day snake-oil salesmen wasn’t exactly at an all-time high. One fateful evening, my chubby little sister had brought along a friend from her old Bible class who wanted to offer some guidance to the Bulgaris on how to eat properly.

OK. So Mavenka is never going to win a Noble Prize for smarts but this was like leading a virgin-fresh missionary to the cannibal chief’s dining table on a feast day. In they rolled – and I mean rolled – these two butterball babes with faces like two freshly dusted dough-nuts and I just knew we were going to have a fun time. You can picture Mama Bulgari’s expression as a chubby grinning challenger dared to enter her domain to offer advice about food – and at supper time. It was a recipe for serious pain, Mama smiling sweetly and exuding all the charm of a boa constrictor that’s chosen you off the menu list for a light snack. Small talk about the benefits of a healthy, balanced diet. Mama nodding wisely.

Then the real purpose for the visit revealed itself as Mavenka’s butterball friend started handing out leaflets and sample sachets round the dining table, offering a wonder product, a new miracle powder that would replace meals and make everyone thin and beautiful and the subscription was only for one year and the cost was really less than a pack of cigarettes a day, taxes included. Mama eyed our visitor carefully, like a skilled horse trader evaluating a broken down mule, and asked her gently how come she was still carrying enough cargo round her belly to sink a battleship.

There was a moment of pain in our visitor’s eyes before she lifted her chin and announced that it was true that she did have awfully big bones but that her condition wasn’t really her fault. Oh, no. It was all because of her faulty genes. Fat just ran in her family. This was the moment when Miclav, my ever charming and gallant brother, looked up from his emptied plate and announced that the Bulgaris must have exactly the same genes so there was no point trying to fight Mother Nature. With that precise pronouncement of profound wisdom and erudition, he raised one capacious cheek, squeezed his eyes tightly shut and broke wind with enough gusto to ripple the dining room curtains before asking Mama with a big oafish grin what was for dessert. She looked at him proudly as if he’d just demonstrated some arcane gift for mental calculus and stood up to wheel in the next heaped and quivering round of goodies in the everyday evening Bulgari food fest ritual. 

We should maybe ask ourselves here – was Mavenka’s jelly-belly friend really a nutritionist? The kindest answer would be – probably not. An evening’s sales training in someone’s den, an armful of leaflets and order forms and she probably thought she was going to save the planet whilst funding her twelve-donut-per-day calorie habit. Just an easy way to make a few bucks on the side and everyone keeping fingers firmly crossed that the miracle powders didn’t actually kill anyone and result in a class action law suit. So my judgement of nutritionists was probably a little unkind, a little off the mark and totally biased just because my single encounter to date with a nutritionist had been with one of Mavenka’s freaky little friends, who’d turned out to be the ultimate heavyweight nut in nut-ritionist. 

I had a morning off from classes, which looked like a perfect opportunity to meet the old doc’s recommended diet specialist but, to tell you the truth, my hopes weren’t exactly soaring. I guess at the back of my mind I was still thinking that I’d probably end up with the doc’s fall-back position – Plan B – that good old cocktail of prescription medication that would take the edge off my blood pressure and maybe help me to squeeze off a few pounds before I imploded from the fat that was slowly choking my youthful arteries. 

I really didn’t know what to expect when I rang the bell on a small office door in a business unit close to the town centre. There were chiropractors, a bone manipulator – made me think I could use that description for myself on occasion! – A fortune teller, a pet supply company, a small law firm, a couple of dentists, and a Thai massage service – are you taking notes here? Some of these addresses could be useful one day – and, of course, the nutritionist. The door opened and a small, deeply tanned, lady smiled at me, stretching out her hand to welcome me and show me inside her office.

She was lean like whipcord, her face lined yet strong. I absolutely couldn’t guess her age but I had the feeling she was probably a lot older than she looked. I immediately thought Marathon runner and a shiver of dread ran down my spine as I imagined her chasing me down some dirt track with a bull whip, urging me to run faster, to burn off that flab or die! Her head was tilted to one side as she asked me if I was feeling OK, her words dragging me back from the nightmare image of being whipped through the burning scrub by some demented fitness fanatic, trapped on an endless quest for a leaner body. 

A couple of moments later I was sitting on a comfortable chair on the other side of a neatly ordered desk, a PC screen arranged to one side and lots of certificates on the wall, declaring the courses and qualifications that made this lady a bona fide nutritionist. So, she said, what can we do for you? I looked down at my spreading bulk, slowly cascading from my neck down towards the floor, and shrugged my shoulders, as if my needs weren’t obvious.

I’d brought the notes from the campus medico and handed them across the desk. She had the bluest eyes, wasn’t wearing glasses and I watched her as she breathed slowly and scanned the medical report’s conclusions. She nodded slowly a couple of times, shook her head with a smile, put the notes on the desk in front of her and leaned towards me. Honey, she said, you’re seriously messed up and no mistake. But she said it with a smile, which really did not make me feel any better at all. You’re all messed up six ways from Sunday and you want me to make everything better for you, is that right? I shrugged again. 

Either it’s you, Ma’am, or it’s a bunch of prescriptions or the doc doesn’t think that medication is the best way forwards for me. So what do you think? Are things as bad as I look? The nutritionist leaned back in her chair and said quietly, No, Missie, it’s a lot worse than you look. Because the serious stuff is on the inside where – and I think we have to thank God for that – you can’t even see how bad things really are. You are seriously messed up and you don’t even know how messed up you are.

She slipped a pen and a clean sheet of paper across the desk and asked me to write down what I expected from the consultation. That was something I hadn’t expected. I was expecting the lady nutritionist to lead the session so the blank sheet of paper and pen came as a surprise. What did I expect? Yeah. Good question. I put the top of the pen on my lower lip and frowned. What did I think this lady could do for me? Well, I wanted to lose weight that was for certain. I wanted to get my blood pressure back to a more normal level too. I wanted to look less like an escapee from a freak show. I wanted the description on my medical report to say something more positive than ‘serious health risk’. I wanted the local gym to welcome me back with open arms and a fresh cup of de-caff frappé as a pin-up paragon of feminine fitness.

Maybe I should just settle for losing weight. I lowered the pen and wrote that I wanted to lose weight, expecting the lady to ask me how much. But she smiled again and asked me why I’d chosen weight loss as my single objective. What was this? Some kind of psycho-interrogation? I pursed my lips and replied a little impatiently that that was the most obvious thing about my condition – I needed to lose weight.

She nodded and said I must’ve been in this condition for a long time so what was suddenly so special about today that I’d woken up and decided to do something about the problem? Tricky, eh? Very tricky. She said she understood my reaction but she needed to know how I was feeling. She needed to know about my motivation, what was driving me, whether I was really ready to follow her advice and take control of my life. Suddenly the conversation was getting more serious than I’d expected from a, well, from a nutritionist. The motivation was everything, she said. The motivation for getting so fat in the first place. The way being fat made me feel. What was the payoff for being so big? I told her that the medical had scared me into taking action and she smiled that really annoying smile of hers, the one that telegraphed the message that she could see right through to the code in my DNA, and she said no, that just wasn’t true. What?

This was getting weird. How could she pretend to know precisely what I meant? I was getting uncomfortable now. I asked if she ever moonlighted as a telephone psychic, sharing her amazing gifts for telepathy with the great charge-carded anonymous public. No, she said, but I’ve heard every bullshit excuse for unhappiness ever invented so you’re not bringing me something I haven’t seen a million times before, Honey. I’d had enough. I was about to get up and leave. She just bored right into me with those blue eyes, saying she knew I was hesitating about getting up and leaving but she wasn’t going to quit on me before we even got started. She wanted – no, she demanded – total honesty. No fairy stories. Just a straight admission of how I really felt. A starting point for a tough journey. A solid foundation for fixing my life.

And God help me but I started crying. Dammit! I didn't mean to but I couldn't help it. She must've been expecting this moment of emotional crisis because she had a box of Kleenex right on hand at the side of her desk. She moved it a little closer to me and nodded that I should take one. I grabbed a handful and cleared my eyes and then blew my nose, which sounded pretty much like an ocean liner announcing its arrival in the fog at Staten Island. OK now? She asked. Feeling a little better? I nodded, still feeling the weight in my chest and throat like a slab of lead cast in concrete, wrapped in ashes and anchored to my heart. I've got to ask you, my fellow traveller - have you ever been in a position like this? This was new territory for me. This was right off the edge of the world. There were dragons lurking on the contours of my rapidly dissolving horizon.

Yeah. It was scary in a totally non-fun way. I was most definitely not enjoying this wacko introduction to the wonderful world of nutrition. She was smiling and I could see the warmth in her eyes. I’m on your side, she said. I’m going to be with you all the way. You’re fat mostly because you’re unhappy. Sure you’ve made some unbelievably poor dietary choices but it’s the unhappiness that supports the bad behaviour. She had to share this nugget of truth or the programme wouldn’t work. She wasn’t going to offer some superficial, ineffective approach to weight control that would fail at the first hurdle. We had to get to the real causes of my eating choices and then the nutritional advice would be so much easier to follow.

Hey, my dear friend, are you getting any of this? This is serious stuff. I sit down for a quick fix at some local nutritionist’s voodoo parlour and within five minutes I’m on my fifth Kleenex, nose and eyes streaming, sobs escaping uncontrollably, ready to sign the pledge and give my life to Jesus for the chance to forsake the sin of my weight forever. Hallelujah! If this lady had been on the Church’s payroll, Mavenka would’ve been a certified nun before her fourteenth birthday. No question. She was that good. I hadn’t planned it but I think I’d just become a true believer.

We started very simply. She explained that my body was starved – I’m serious – starved of nutrients and that was one of the reasons I was always eating. No wonder I was always hungry. She said that most fat people were starving. Our nutrition was so poor, full of those deliciously empty calories, that all we did was store fat – apparently a natural human response to food shortages. I instantly got this image of those bone-thin kids in some blighted, drought-blasted, African wasteland, dying of starvation and lack of food and then I thought of my massive size – and just couldn’t connect the dots.

Their starvation was totally for real. Mine seemed kind of fake. How could I be starving when I scared the batteries out of the bathroom weighing scales? But she was serious. I had to get some nutrients into my over-abused and goodness-deprived body and she nodded her approval at the old doc’s initial advice to start an intensive vitamin and mineral regime. Forget about dieting, she said. Let’s start with some helpful boosters and focus on working out why food has been a problem for you for so long. She printed out a list of vitamins and minerals that I could pick up at any well-stocked health food store, made sure I understood the daily doses, and told me to fill in a questionnaire at home that she’d already printed out from her PC.

The answers would be strictly confidential and she was only looking for the truth, the key to understanding my behaviour. We would get together again in a week’s time and I could always call her if I had a problem. And I could eat whatever I wanted. No need to worry about the dietary side of the equation. We’d get to that a little later. Can you imagine that? A genuine nutritionist telling me to carry on troughing! Sounded too good to be true. And it was.

So what would you do if a professionally qualified nutritionist gave you a blank cheque to go out and eat whatever you felt like? Exactly! I waddled down to the nearest burger joint and hit the overload order on a massive, life-threatening triple-cheeseburger deluxe with extra fries and a very large diet cola. And a microwaved apple pie with chemically-concocted whipped cream. And another diet cola. And a portion of fries to go. I was really enjoying this fantastically generous approach to dieting.

Except that the dining experience didn’t end exactly as planned. I was halfway home on the bus when I completely lost control of my stomach and threw up, managing to pebble-dash half the interior of the coach with partially digested gobbets of burgers, fries and deep-fried bacon. Unfortunately, the couple in front of me didn’t escape the high-velocity eruption either. A more positive person might suggest that this could be a great way to meet new people but a realist would recognise how easily a group of perfect strangers can rapidly morph into a hostile lynch mob. Visions of my distant ancestors running from a crowd of blood-crazed villagers sprang to mind and I decided it might be more prudent to step off the bus, muttering apologies and excuses about some rare medical condition that made me allergic to bus rides. I escaped with my shamed and blushing head bowed but still on my rounded shoulders yet with the absolute certainty that a group of deeply inconvenienced bus travellers were giving me the benefit of their collective evil eyes. 

[]Chapter 7:

Getting personal

Have you ever filled in one of those really personal questionnaires that wants to know absolutely everything about you, from whether you were breast-fed to the most intimate details of your love life? I settled down on my bed after supper that evening with the door firmly wedged shut and a chair against the handle – Mama would never permit inside locks on bedroom doors – and started to work through the questions. This wasn’t some ditsy quiz in Cosmo.

This was the real thing, full of questions that made you contradict yourself, approaching the same subjects from half a dozen different angles, narrowing down your choices to exclude the fantasy answers and excavate the deeper truths about how you really felt. Took me about an hour and a half and, guess what? Yep. I was hungry. Again. Well, come on. It was hard work. I was burning some serious calories with all that mental effort, wrestling with the multiple choices and struggling with the requests for really personal descriptions. It was exhausting. I deserved a snack. So I hit the fridge and settled down to a well-deserved slab of cholesterol-enhanced chocolate fudge cake. Yes, brothers and sisters, I sinned. And it was so good!

Madame Whiplash of nutritionist fame had asked me to drop off the questionnaire at her office once it was completed so she could evaluate the answers before we met again. Made sense. I put the forms in a sealed envelope and taped the cover firmly shut like a secret diplomatic missive to the Vatican offering trade discounts on Choirboys Monthly. I got an E-mail within twenty-four hours confirming our next appointment for the following week. She didn’t waste any time. I wondered if the food-free diet was likely to begin at our next session so I started to cram the goodies like a coke fiend who’s planning to quit the habit at the weekend. Damn, I kept saying. I’m sure going to miss you as I sank my teeth again and again into the dense layers of piped cream and sugar that crowned Mama’s personal interpretation of Bulgari Black Forest Gateau. 

Then I woke up with a temperature. I hadn’t been feeling too good for a couple of days and wondered if I was coming down with a bug. Energy levels at an all-time low. Palpitations. Blurred vision. Nausea. Constipated. Just the usual brand of not feeling too good. Maybe it was infectious. Maybe it would be best to skip the next appointment with the nutritionist and wait until I was feeling better. So I called her to re-arrange the session and she said no.

Unless it was a case of Bubonic Plague we should definitely meet as planned. I told her I didn’t want her to get any of my bugs and she just laughed out loud on the phone, telling me she had an amazingly robust immune system and that she wasn’t in the least bit worried about catching obesity just from sitting in the same room as me. I didn’t know what to say. I was feeling pretty bad and she just dismissed it like it was nothing. This lady was beginning to annoy me. Big time. And, just like my rear end, the irritation was getting bigger all the time. 

One sniffs, sigh, pout or hint of a temperature and Mama Bulgari could always be relied on to roll out the big guns. It was time for a batch of the famous Bulgari penicillin – that uniquely efficacious goose fat soup with extra goose fat just to be on the safe side. It was true. Mama Bulgari could detect a medical problem way before some magnetic resonance scan could even hint at a syndrome. And the cure was soon bubbling away and spitting malevolently in the depths of her industrial-sized, copper soup pan. No one was really sure where the recipe came from.

One great uncle claimed it had been used to heal burns back in the old country, a handy poultice for those occasions when hostile villagers with flaming brands came round to recover their stolen goats and apply a little corrective therapy to their sheep-rustling neighbours. Some said it had been generously applied to clothing and boots as an effective water-proofing agent – suitable for keeping the sheep-stealing villagers dry as they went about their business of sheep stealing in the rainy season. Some said it was used to exorcise pestilence from the beet crop. All we knew was that it killed bugs and piled on the extra protective layers of fat that kept the bugs at bay in the first place. I was sick.

According to Mama’s practised eye, I might’ve been queuing at Death’s dark doorway for a front row seat at the matinée performance. So I got a triple portion. And I know you might find this hard to believe but I really began to feel better. The pestilence had been exorcised. Suddenly, constipation was the least of my worries. Being able to hustle to the bathroom before nature struck with precious little warning, my desperately clenched butt cheeks barely holding back the tsunami – well, my friend, that became the most urgent challenge. I even came close to experiencing the joys of sprinting back there for a couple of days.

Time for another question. Are you by any chance interested in psychology? Are you one of those people who always fill in the personality tests in the glossy magazines? You know the ones: What kind of a lover are you? Are you addicted to sex? What kind of animal would you be in the jungle? Are you safe to be let loose in the community without your medication? Those kinds of test. The ones that leave you completely confused and wondering if you should be getting professional counselling for some of your nastier personal habits.

Yes. I thought so. You know exactly what I’m talking about here, don’t you? Well the nutritionist’s questionnaire that I filled in was of a completely different order of magnitude. It was designed to dig deep and unearth the dark, hidden secrets of the soul. It was a major excavation of everything that had been driving my behaviour in the hidden recesses of my cobwebbed subconscious – but only since I was about three years old. Yeah. Heavy duty questions and shredded uranium ore answers. I had to answer questions about everything from my earliest memories about food to how often I liked to flick my bean. Oh, sorry. Hope you didn’t spill your cappuccino over that last observation but we are supposed to be friends, aren’t we? You know I don’t like to hold anything back. OK. So it was time to face the nutritional Inquisition and see what conclusions my new best friend in the exciting Campaign for a Leaner Misha would deliver. 

[]Chapter 8:

Let’s get analysed

I set off early for the appointment because I decided to walk since it still seemed a little premature to opt for the bus ride into town. We Bulgaris were always a mite sensitive to any uncertain issues such as the evil eye. No point taking unnecessary chances. So I walked. And I sweated. And then I walked some more.

The lady was waiting for me this time with her office door wide open and a big smile to match, a glass of water held out to greet me and a small fresh towel to mop up the streams of perspiration. Wearing the same white cotton pants and smock as before she led me to a couch at the side of the office and sat down beside me, the completed questionnaire already waiting on a low, glass table. Glad you made it, she said.

Are you feeling any better? I started to tell her about the miraculous properties of Mama’s goose-fat soup as I wiped my face again with the towel but she cut me off with a wave of the hand and said we should get right down to the analysis. It was about to get a lot more interesting. You expect the professional to present the evidence like some smart lawyer in a court room drama, building the case until the guilty suspect is condemned with the sweeping final statement. That’s not how it worked with the lady nutritionist. Rather than telling me what the answers meant, she wanted me to work it all out for myself. She believed that if I came up with my own conclusions, the answers would be much more meaningful to me than hearing them second-hand from some well-meaning third party – no matter how well qualified the fit and feisty third party might be. 

Now let’s just hit the pause button and take a break. We could easily get carried away here with the snail-paced process of unravelling all those answers until they finally made sense but I’m guessing you might just lose the will to live whilst waiting. So to avoid the risk of you turning to drugs or grandpa’s life-threatening, garage-brewed moonshine to kill the boredom, I’ll just cut right to the chase. See. I can be nice. Sometimes. The questionnaire ultimately revealed – are you ready for this? – That underneath my gargantuan body and grinning balloon face – I was an unhappy bunny.

There. I knew you’d be as surprised as I was. And there you have it – smiley face, unhappy body. I’d picked up a bunch of obviously unhealthy habits around food, of course, and it was clear that I used food as a daily source of comfort. There were a lot of latent, self-destructive tendencies lurking just below the surface and they showed up in so many obvious ways. And that also included my slightly unorthodox approach to a love life. But the lady agreed with me that deep down I was an unhappy, insecure, self-destructive, whoring, devil-worshiping, binge-eating Jezebel who deserved to be bull-whipped through the burning scrub of Perdition until every blighted shred of fat was stripped away from my sinful heaving carcase.

OK. She didn’t say anything like that at all. She might’ve. But she didn’t. I guess I made that part up. What she actually wanted me to see was that those sneaky underlying causes of my unhappiness still made a major contribution to my eating habits. But she had some more interesting news too. Seems that an unhealthy gut like mine was absolutely crawling with billions of hostile little critters whose purposes in life were to survive at all costs and sow chaos in their unwilling host’s digestive tract. Unhealthy bacteria – and she said I could have at least five pounds of the dang things in my gut – sent chemical signals to the brain that influenced my eating behaviour. Holy shit! Or maybe not so holy. Mama Bulgari would’ve been dialling collect for the nearest exorcist at this point in the conversation. This sounded way beyond the scope of a triple dose of goose fat soup. This sounded more like a wreath of garlic, some very sharp wooden stakes, two full choruses of nuns, a bucket of holy water and a very large mallet. Just to be on the safe side.

So how was I supposed to evict these pesky, persistent colonies of hostile bacteria that were living rent-free in my digestive system? I had visions of pouring boiling oil down my gut to flush out the invaders, gargling with some industrial chemicals night and morning to make them feel unwelcome, daily injections of Agent Orange to de-forest my internal landscape. The lady nutritionist shook her head and said that wouldn’t be necessary. There were better ways to fix the system.

But there was more news. She wasn’t entirely finished with the horror story. Seemed that the alien colonists had another nasty trick up their collective sleeves. The toxins they dumped into their hi-jacked living quarters damaged the gut wall and that led to tiny holes – micro-porosity if you want to get technical – I wrote it down when she told me – and that meant that the toxins were leaking into my blood stream pretty much all of the time. She listed a small catalogue of unpleasant side effects but the biggest problem was something I’d never thought about – the strain on my immune system. Here I was, bursting with hormones and the lust for happiness, ready to sample all the pleasures that life could offer, and my body had just been condemned as unfit for human habitation. It was a shock.

She smiled again and said that most folks didn’t realise that their bodies had problems pretty much all the time but the immune system dealt with them very effectively without anyone being any the wiser. But when the system was under constant pressure from those leaked toxins, it was a lot easier for one of those little problems to get way out of hand. And that, she said with her warmest smile, was when we hit trouble with a capital C. Took a second for me to realise that she wasn’t dyslexic. T for trouble. C for…. Oh. Right. Message received, decoded and understood. She put her finger tips on my balloon knee and leaned in a little closer. That’s the real risk, Honey, she said. That’s why we need to fix the problem right now.

While you’re still pretty much a child, fix the problem right now before we have to deal with things that you shouldn’t ever have to deal with. She leaned back, looking at me steadily with those deep blue eyes. I should tell you something, she said. I’ve been where you’re sitting. Yes, I have. I’ve also had my problems with weight. I blinked at her in disbelief. She looked as if she’d been spun from high-tensile stainless steel fibres, barely an ounce of fat anywhere on her lean frame. She nodded slowly and added that she knew all about the perils of addiction. I know all about being messed up, Honey. Weight, drugs, alcohol. Nothing to be proud of. But I got a lot of help, the right kind of help, and it came out good in the end. Sometimes it takes more than faith in the Bible to be saved. She was smiling at me. She went on, Faith never does any harm, sweet child, but let’s give the Lord a hand here and see what the miracles of science can do to make things better.

We were checking my term schedule when she gave me the reason for finding a three-day slot in my diary where I would face the first of my ordeals in the quest for the ultimate weight-loss experience. Sounded like a low-budget Japanese TV programme that specialised in humiliating rejected wannabe Sumo wrestlers but the steely-eyed lady nutritionist was determined to get my programme started as soon as possible and she needed three whole days to break the first of my secret addictions. And no, that absolutely did not include my battery-operated, strictly personal, relaxation device that was discretely hidden under a floorboard in my bedroom! You, my dear friend, have a filthy, disgusting mind…..unfortunately much too much like my own! Must be one of the reasons we get on so well. 

And the first challenge – you can imagine a drum roll in the background here, if you like – was our old friend and adversary, Mr Sweet, White ‘n’ Deadly himself. A round of applause, if you please, a rousing cheer and a big, fat welcome for – sugar! What? Did you say ‘sugar’? Is this for real? Sugar? Ged-outta-here! The same sugary sugar that’s absolutely, totally, unfailingly in everything we like to eat? The main ingredient in every cake, cookie and dessert that rolls off Mama Bulgari’s daily industrial production line? That sugar? The same sugar that Papa Bulgari sometimes sprinkles on his lettuce? You can’t be serious! There must be some mistake.

Stop the bus. I want to get off right here in the middle of obesity junction and take my chances in the saturated fat waist-land of the sacred jelly roll. Sugar? You can almost hear the scream of desperation in my voice. And there’s a very good reason for that, my sweet friend. As the lady nutritionist was quick to point out, that constant and ever-present mainstay of the processed food industry was also one of the most highly addictive substances available without a prescription or a local pusher. That’s right again. Sugar. It causes chaos in the body’s metabolic system and, if we were ever going to get my insulin levels back to normal, I was going to have to go through three days of total abstinence to re-set my body’s metabolic controls.

And it wasn’t going to be easy. Those ever-hungry, fast-breeding ninja bacteria in my gut just loved sugar and they were adept at triggering cravings for sweet things to keep their larders well stocked. Damn things actually blocked wholesome nutrients from passing into my bloodstream. That’s why my super-heavy body was technically suffering from a debilitating form of starvation! But the cravings could be seriously overwhelming. So we needed three days. That was three days under strict supervision. Yeah. I can tell you’re concerned for me. The only bright note on the darkening horizon was a suggestion from the lady nutritionist that I might benefit from a little massage and she had a special deal going with the Thai massage parlour a few doors down. It was going to be my next port of call. She called them and asked them to give me the super-discount special and that I’d be round in a few minutes.

Chapter 9:

Tied in knots

This must be a great moment to check if you’ve ever had any kind of massage. I was talking about a strictly regular massage, here, my over-imaginative friend. You’re so easily distracted! Massages can become kind of addictive – if you get the right kind of masseur. Gals my size usually aren’t too enthusiastic about getting undressed in daylight and never in public. You can probably work out why, can’t you? Of course you can. So I did have a massage once before, OK?

It was pretty intense and it happened whilst I was on vacation with the family. It was one of those all-you-can-eat, everything included in the price, package deals. So Mama and Papa meticulously sharpened their knives and forks and signed up with the sole intent of testing the limits of the all-you-can-eat policy that was promised in the glossy brochure. The hotel should’ve had a special Bulgari clause in that brochure because I can tell you that they’d never had a family on their premises that could eat like my family.

A swarm of famished locusts would’ve been far less intimidating and far less demanding on the hotel’s kitchens. But part of the deal included a massage in the tiny fitness area – not too many guests in an all-you-can-eat joint were ready and willing to find out what might be hiding in the gym area. You can imagine. So, at mama’s insistence that we get absolute value for money for every buck spent on the package, I went along for my free massage. And the therapist turned out to be a young, extremely polite, Colombian guy, improving his non-existent English and ready to practise his skills as a trained therapist on my blossoming teenage balloon body. The fact is that I’d never really been a huge fan of touching.

No, that's right. And certainly not by strangers. He left me to disrobe and climb face down onto the groaning massage table, still wearing my straining swimsuit, a large towel struggling to hide as much of me as possible and then he came quietly back into the room and turned down the lights. He was speaking Spanish but my school-grade language skills left me completely oblivious to what he was trying to say. I just shrugged and nodded and pretended I could understand, punctuating his commentary with a totally fluent -  Si, and hoping I wasn’t agreeing to anything I might regret. He started with my hands and that felt pretty good. He massaged the muscles in my arms and I could feel them relaxing.

He worked my shoulders and that felt really good. But when he worked on my neck, the knots and tense spots just seemed to melt away and I found myself drifting into a light doze. I was aware of his strong hands on my back, working along my spine and heading further south. I wasn’t really awake at this point. It just felt so good. He had his fingertips on the inside of my thighs, working the rolls of tissue with smooth, oiled, circular movements and, as he gently moved my legs a little further apart, he strayed into the forbidden zone and I swear it wasn’t his fault. What with the swimsuit, the oil and the size of my body, it really was all too easy for an innocent massage to move across the danger line and into a world of unexpected pleasure.

It was the edge of his hand, the edge of his fingers, moving with a constant, rotating pressure that had me wide awake and biting the towel to stop me moaning. I fought to keep my hips from bucking. I wanted to push down on his hands. It was so intense, so unexpected, so irresistible and I was approaching that point of no return when he would absolutely know what was happening when he suddenly stopped, moved my legs gently back together and moved his attention down to my slightly trembling calf muscles. The massage was over way too soon, the masseur politely nodded, bowed formerly and stepped outside and I found myself staggering, weak-limbed, back to my room, intent on administering some much-needed close, personal attention to my over-stimulated libido. The shower-head came pretty close to melting.

So you can imagine my curiosity about the super-discount Thai massage that was awaiting me a few doors down from the lady nutritionist. I knocked once and the door was opened by a squat little oriental lady who appraised with a professional eye and told me to lie down exactly as I was on a thick mattress on the floor. The word ‘erotic’ completely failed to enter my mind from the moment this diminutive contortionist bent my legs over my head right up until the final experience of having my arms almost wrenched from their sockets at the end of the session. You need lotta work, young lady – said the masseuse with a knowing nod of her ancient head. And she hadn’t even broken out into a sweat. I felt like I needed about a month in traction to get over it.

Chapter 10:

Getting away for a few days

I’d signed a waiver and realised I was volunteering to subject myself to three long days and three long nights – we opted for a Friday and the weekend – in a trailer, somewhere in the wilds outside of town, with the lady nutritionist firmly in command, the camp commandantesse who would make sure I couldn’t get over the wall or tunnel my way out of captivity and hit the nearest candy store at full speed with terminal sugar-cramming velocity. Three whole days. One teeny, tiny lapse and we’d have to start all over again. From scratch. I was facing three days of organic vegetable broth, raw vegetables, steamed vegetables, vegetables all day long. And all the freshly-drawn spring water I could drink.

Let’s take a breather here. I get exhausted just thinking about the enforced retreat. So let’s talk about you for a change, my friend. Have you ever been on a diet? Uh-huh? And how did it go? Did you have a target for weight loss or was there some other reason for cutting back on the calories? I’m curious because pretty much everyone tries dieting at some time or another. And the world is awash with dieting fads, fashion foods, fat-busting pills, gut-wrangling exercises. It’s mostly just bu……I was going to say something unkind but what I really mean is it’s mostly just bu-siness. Ways to make money.

Playing on the fears and frustrations of fat folk everywhere who want to eat whatever they want to eat and still lose weight. It’s a kind of mass neurosis because – and I truly don’t want to shatter any of your precious illusions here – those diets and fads just don’t work. You drop a few pounds. Yay! Then you hit the two-gallon carton of Haagen-Dazs to celebrate! And then, even a few weeks into the diet, your body trips over into fat-preserving starvation mode and the weight stops falling off and the pounds start creeping right back on.

So you lose hope of ever being slimmer, trimmer, healthier and happier because the multi-billion dollar diet industry has fooled you and let you down. Happens every day. The lady nutritionist was adamant. You had to re-set your metabolism and get the insulin levels back to normal first. Had to. No question. No choice. Had to. That meant three days of Hell on a strictly-controlled, totally sugar-free regime before the real work could begin. Now, my dear friend, when I say something as innocent as ‘no sugar’, we’re not just talking about candy, cookies and donuts. We’re even excluding fruit from the recipe.

We’re excluding everything that might have a hint of sugar in it and that included bread. They add sugar to bread? Yep. One of the reasons it tastes so good. One of the reasons why it’s so hard to give up. When you take a moment to think about it, we’re an entire nation of addicts! Hooked from cradle to wide-berthed, economy-size-casketed grave. Candy-craving, bloated and miserable. I was beginning to wonder if a lot of my anger was really aimed at me. Whatever stories I might like to use to explain away my size, deep down it looked more and more as if I was just punishing myself. You’re nodding like you already knew, aren’t you? Like you knew all along? Thought so. Trust me to hook up with a certifiable smarty-pants like you!

The slightly tainted white lie that I shared with Mama was that I was going away for a long weekend with the PC posse from college on a study exercise to spot potential perverts on the Internet. She approved wholeheartedly and emphasised her encouragement by whittling the air with a bone-handled, razor-sharp carving knife to indicate exactly what she’d do to any pervert who tried to spy on her via the Internet.

You could take the Bulgaris out of the old country but you couldn’t take the old country – and its sociopathic approach to strangers – out of the Bulgaris. Anyway, my college work was pretty much uncharted territory for the family. They weren’t exactly enthusiastic about my enrolment in the first place. And since you couldn’t cook or prepare food with a laptop, computers weren’t really their main area of interest in life. The only byte in the Bulgari lexicon was something you took repeatedly out of a cake. The minor exception to the rule, of course, was Miclav. That was one overweight young man who spent long, solitary hours in his bedroom with only his computer for company. He always said he was playing games. Sure he was. He once asked me to demonstrate my computer virtuosity and upgrade his sclerotic PC memory.

So, like a good sister of mercy and computer-qualified intelligence, I happily dived in. The material that was clogging his PC’s antiquated chips was, according to the canons of the Church, somewhere on the dark and grim side of the depths of depravity and I had to be very strong and self-disciplined to limit myself to only two hours a day of private viewing as I pretended to road test the new and upgraded system. It’s absolutely amazing what you can learn from the Internet. Oh, yes, my wise and knowing friend, education is certainly a wonderful thing and I soon began to wonder to myself if it would be possible to hog-tie one of my slightly inebriated assignations one evening and reverse roles for a while. So to speak.

A little episode of dressing up, maybe switching on a handy, battery-powered appliance? A generous-hearted squirt of lubricant and a leather-clad bout of complete domination with matching studded collars and restraints. A gag might be a useful precaution too. But would it constitute kidnap? Would it possibly be mis-interpreted by an unenlightened judge? Would I get to like it a little too much? Ah! You’ve thought of it too, haven’t you? I knew it. Is your heart beating a little faster at the prospect? Potent stuff, indeed, my friend. Potent stuff, indeed. But don’t worry. I won’t tell a soul. It’ll be our little secret. Just between us friends. Because right up to the awful moment when I was subjected to the ordeal of Miclav’s poorly camouflaged porn obsession, I’d never have thought such things might ever be possible. Now we know they are, don’t we, my dear? Does it ever make you pause in an intense moment of passionate delight and ask yourself honestly where the world is heading? No? Really? Me neither.

I was heading to the wilderness about fifteen miles outside of town in the lady nutritionist’s pick-up truck, aiming for the remote spot where her trailer was parked up, bumping along a dusty trail with what looked like a ton of vegetables piled up in the rear. Now you are one worldly-wise individual and I totally respect your views and opinions but would you have volunteered to drive off into the middle of nowhere with a complete stranger who might easily turn out to be a well-disguised cannibal who’s just added you to the top of her weekend meal plan? Body my size and she wouldn’t have to think about grocery shopping for a month or more.

But I didn’t hesitate. Not for a second. Does that sound completely nuts to you? I know it sounds weird but I just felt totally at ease with her. She told me the cell phone reception out there would be mostly zero but there was a pay phone up the road at a gas station some eight miles away. In case of emergency. Still no worries. Not a hint of panic. No phone? No problem. She stated very clearly that she was a registered nurse. She knew what she was doing. That’s why she could take care of me during the so-called retreat. Any problems – and she wasn’t expecting any – and she’d be right there to do whatever was necessary.

And I found it all completely reassuring. I asked if any of her victims had ever made it back to civilisation. She didn’t bat an eyelid. Just said that with a full moon and the right prayers I might just be the first. Then she turned those deep blue eyes on me and I could see the wicked humour, matching my dumb question with an equally dumb answer. This might turn out to be more fun than I expected. I began to wonder if she knew how to bake.

[]Chapter 11:

Out of the frying pan

Baking was not the best word to use on that particular day because the heat in the old trailer was too much for the ancient air-conditioning unit that was bolted onto the mobile home’s rear panel. It wheezed and hummed and it felt like it was coughing out streams of super-heated asthmatic air right into my face. It’ll take a little while to settle down, said the lady nutritionist as she tapped the side of the ventilator with a small hammer. Soon be working fine, Honey. I hoped to God she was right. I was already sweating like my brother after three hours on full-throttle, pervomatic PC over-drive and I didn’t really want to lose this much weight by drowning in my own perspiration.

Let’s get you some cool water, she said. Before we have to put you to bed with a bucket and a mop.

Why don’t they tell you about this stuff in Biology 101? Why don’t we learn this in kindergarten? Why doesn’t anyone drop a few hints about the real effects of sweet, innocuous sugar on the human metabolism? Why wasn’t there a clearer warning on the waiver I’d happily signed that I was about to go through seventeen shades of Purgatory as my body slammed into the effects of total sugar withdrawal for three tortuous days? I suspect that if I’d really known what I’d signed up for, I probably wouldn’t have gone along for the ride without a shotgun aimed directly at my head. And there were plenty of moments when I’d have pleaded with my abductor to pull the trigger and put me out of my misery. It would’ve been a Christian act of mercy.

We ate vegetables and, at first, everything was pretty much like my dress sense – completely tasteless. But hey! Hold on a second. You agreed a little too quickly with me back there about my dress sense. I’d really like you to try finding one of those fabulously flashy, high-class, designer labels sometime and tell me you got something nice and chic that’s actually available in double-plus, triple-width, extra-stretch, super-size! Yeah. That’s right. Give me a break. It ain’t easy finding anything that fits and still qualifies as remotely elegant outside of the circus tent department.

But enough about the foibles and failures of fashion for the super-sized lady-about-town. Back in the wilderness, things in the trailer were not going so well. All those supposedly delicious, freshly cooked vegetables with their natural supply of high-octane super-nutrients all tasted pretty much like freshly boiled cardboard. Without the exotic flavour. My taste buds, I was reliably informed by my smiling host, were all shot and pretty useless, dead to the subtleties of fine cooking and inert to the celebration of Nature’s pure-grown bounty.

Right. Very helpful as I chewed a desiccated mouthful of shredded cardboard. Felt like I’d been in the trailer for a full day but only two hours into the gig and the clockwork airco still wasn’t working. Or so it felt. I was melting in the heat. The lady nutritionist sat there calmly, eating her veggies, chatting about the programme, not a bead of perspiration to be seen. How come I was over-heating? Apparently the airco was working just fine. It was me that was in meltdown. A natural reaction to the programme, she said. Was it my imagination or was I getting cranky? I felt seriously irritated. By everything. I was annoyed at the colour of the bedspread on my cot, fractious about the food, petulant about the texture of the toilet paper, homicidally inclined towards my host.

She said it was OK. In some ways it was a very positive sign that my body was reacting so quickly. I guessed she must have hidden all the sharp instruments. I could’ve bludgeoned her to death with one of her own precious damn zucchinis and laughed at the vision of smothering her with a healthy slice of pure organic pumpkin. Your body’s reacting, that’s all, she said calmly. Drink plenty of water and I’ll get a cool compress for the back of your neck. I went to lie down, my head sending out a hammering warning in Morse Code that I was about to get the mother of all migraines. Except I didn’t get the migraine. I got something worse – a gnawing, pulsating ache that lanced through the back of my head and threatened to fry my eyeballs in waves of molten lava. I think I wanted to die and the programme was only just beginning.

This was when I regretted not taking religion more seriously. If I’d had the energy, I’d have prayed out loud. To anyone or anything. Might’ve considered the benefits of animal sacrifice or bargaining my soul for an ounce of relief. At that moment, I didn’t feel like I had enough blood to spare for the signature on the contract.

The lady nutritionist sat next to me on the sagging cot and told me to breathe more deeply, an ice-cool towel on my forehead as she gently massaged my hands. I started to relax a little. The pain eased back a notch or two and then she moved to my feet. Now I don’t know how you feel about having your precious, dainty little feet touched but I’ve always been very sensitive and ticklish in that area so, given the choice between having a foot massage and mud-wrestling a full-grown alligator, I’d always opt for the leotard and a mano-a-mano session with a thrashing, writhing, snapping armful of future handbag material.

No contest. Maybe it was because I was already feeling exhausted and had my hands full with the blinding headache, but I have to admit that I didn’t really notice my feet were being massaged. Not until the pain subsided dramatically and I realised that my sweaty soles and toes were beginning to feel pretty good, thank you very much. Wow. That was a real surprise. According to the lady nutritionist, all that foot sensitivity was pretty much a result of the imbalances in my body. Should be possible to work on the feet without any pain or discomfort, she murmured, and then it could feel borderline heavenly. And she was right. It did. I couldn’t help it but in the middle of the session I just nodded off.

It was about two in the morning and I could feel the airco’s smooth currents of cooling air brushing my face as I waddled from my cot to the john for my first bout of sustained and punishing diarrhea. I know, I know. You’re probably thinking ‘No! Stop right there! Way too much information – again!’ But you know I have to share this with you. This is what it was like. I must have been locked in there for about twenty agonising minutes and the force of the eruptions in such a confined space dramatically amplified the soundtrack. The accompanying moans and groans and curses punctuated the performance so there could be no mistake about what was taking place in the smallest room in the trailer.

You had to leave your embarrassment chip somewhere outside in the starlit wilderness because nature was taking its undeniable course and I felt like I was losing body weight big time. At one point I feared I might have shed half my digestive tract too but the cramps just kept coming and I kept hurrying back to the head and every time I emerged, there was the lady nutritionist in a long cotton night-dress, standing by with a cold compress for my forehead and a pitcher of cool water. Just keep drinking, she said. Nice and slow. Dehydration is the real problem with diarrhea. She gave me some small tablets to replenish my tissue salts and I went back to my cot. It was a long, long night. In the morning, though, as the early sunlight filled the old trailer, things just got a whole lot worse.

I should really stand up right now in front of all the other penitents in the congregation and confess my sordid addiction. It was time to formerly admit my sins: Hello. My name is Misha and I am a poor misguided and miserable sinner because I am a (sob) sugar addict. Yes I am. And I was about to pay the price for my errant ways by going cold, cold turkey in the company of a demented madwoman masquerading as a nutritionist somewhere in the middle of nowhere and I knew for sure that I was in trouble. I was also hallucinating. Nothing too wild.

Not like some classical 70’s flashback on the back of a bad acid trip, man, sea-horses riding the cliffs and dolphins calling me to swim in the sunbeams and Jimi Hendrix sprouting two heads and telling me everything was going to be cool, wild chile, because I was already dead. Nothing so prosaic and colourful. Just a deep-seated conviction that my captor was planning to commit a major felony and bury the evidence in a drainage ditch at the back of the trailer. If I’d had the energy in my calorie-starved body, I’d have made my break, busted out of the joint and headed straight for the nearest candy store. I never understood what real cravings were like until I stopped feeding my little intestinal friends with their hourly uncut line of pure refined sugar. They turned mean.

They turned nasty. They started whispering messages in the deeper recesses of my aching brain cells. The recurring theme always involved mountains of sugar-dusted donuts, acres of candy, pavilions of sparkling, sugar-crusted cookies and oceans of sweetly melting chocolate. The professionals declare that our addiction to sugar is just as strong and difficult to break as any other substance abuse. Now I believed them. The lady nutritionist was always there though. Checking my pulse. Monitoring my blood pressure like some dedicated mechanic at the Indie 500 pit-stops. Keeping me fuelled and hydrated. Souped up with vegetable broth, a soothing hand or a cooling compress, a soft word and a steely-edged commitment to get me through this ordeal. 

The nausea and diarrhea were pretty severe because my body was witnessing a slow-motion internal mass extinction event. The bad guys were starving and their dead and decaying micro-bodies were releasing plenty of toxins as a farewell gesture to their former habitat. Now we’re all grown up here so……would it be OK if we dispense with some of the niceties and sensibilities? That’s great because we might get a little graphic here. You see, I’ve come across some fairly extreme cases of bad breath in my time. My brother Miclav, for instance, could stop a charging lion with one yawn and there was a guy in high school who could clear a corridor with just one breathy Hello. Now there’s an interesting point.

The guy in high school didn’t have terminal dog-butt breath because of some rare and unfortunate gum disease. Absolutely not. What he had was a major gastro problem and that was the cause of the constant stream of eye-watering, paint-stripping, hog-stunning breath that caused birds to drop out of the sky and dogs to faint in his presence. I guess you can see where this is heading, can’t you? We’re about to get a little personal. Again. Sorry. So where do want me to start? Top or bottom? OK. It’s all the same to me. My breath was so bad, even I was having difficulty coping with it. My tongue had sprouted a layer of fur that looked like a team of nomadic Mongolian carpet-layers had staked out my mouth during the night and nailed down one of their cheaper, tourists-only, Nylon models to the inside of my jaws.

Tasted like they’d corralled their entire herd of incontinent camels there for the night too. It was bad. This was more than a challenge for Listerine. This was a lifetime refund on every industrial-strength mouthwash ever marketed in the western hemisphere. And the episodes in the john were correspondingly worse. I wondered how much the Pentagon would offer for the priceless formula that was being flushed away every hour, a bacteriological weapon of such epic proportions that wars could be won and civilisations toppled with just one fragrant waft.

We are not talking rose petals and cinnamon highlights here. We’re talking about the unflossed breath of Lucifer himself. Bad? We’re talking the darkest depths of pure evil. I found myself gagging on more than one occasion but the lady nutritionist just took it all in her stride, lighting incense, spraying air freshener, checking my vital signs and encouraging me to keep going. Where I was supposed to be going was way beyond me at the time. Surviving to breathe another breath, living one more day, dreading the hourly torment of Johnny Cash and The Ring of Fire, hoping to be rescued by a masked and heavily-armed SWAT team before I had to take another spoonful of vegetable broth. That was about as far as my ambition reached. I was exhausted, sometimes shaking like a fully-certified crazy, tormented by cravings for something sweet and desperate to go home to the warmth and comfort of my familiar artery-clogging food supply. 

You’d have thought that things would have got better as the hours rolled by but that’s not how it worked for me. To be fair and to put the situation into a proper perspective, my case represented a fairly extreme example of intestinal toxicity so the side effects were also fairly extreme but the third day was the real time of crisis. The cravings shot off the scale. I started to get desperate and tried to get out of the trailer with the sole aim of getting to the gas station to get some candy, something, anything remotely sweet. It was a full-blown compulsion, an overwhelming urge to feed my body with sugar.

I was like a B-movie zombie. Compelled by some dark force to satisfy my unholy urges. Was this how it was for Mavenka on a Friday night? I felt a heady moment of sisterly solidarity. Just for the briefest moment though – and then it happily passed from my emotional spectrum without the slightest hint that it would ever come back to bother me again. Those compulsive urges couldn’t be so easily distracted even though the lady nutritionist did her best to keep my mind off the problem. It was an uphill struggle but she never quit. The trailer door was locked – I’m serious! – And I couldn’t get out. I was trapped. Imprisoned. Not strong enough in my weakened, delirious state to take out my captor and scared to admit that she was probably a lot tougher and stronger than I could ever hope to be. So I toughed it out. And let me assure you, my friend, it was tough.  

I had the wildest dreams too. I recall the effort of trying to wade, knee-deep, through a swollen river of molasses, trying to walk against a tidal flow of sweetness, stopping to pause every few steps to dip a soup ladle into the molten syrup and taste the fast-flowing nectar, sitting down in the current and letting the warm tide flow over my head. I woke up gasping for air, my cot soaked with the bitter, acrid sweat as my body went through its personal toxic meltdown.

More than once, as I drifted in and out of sleep in that stifling hot trailer, I dreamed that I was tied to a four-poster bed, spread-eagled on the sheet, arms and legs tied off to the posts, a long line of faceless guys queuing to take their turn on my protesting body, the constant repetitive frustration of each guy finishing just before I could extract an ounce of pleasure from the encounter, the line forming an endless loop, repeated for the rest of eternity. I dreamed once of a strong, wiry figure holding I close in their arms and whispering over and over that everything was going to be fine. And I woke and found the lady nutritionist cradling my head and stroking my hair, calming my fears and sending me gently back to sleep.

The biggest surprise of all was what happened after that third night. Admittedly I’d slept better than I had since I’d first bounced into the awful trailer on that seemingly faraway Friday morning. But when I woke up, something had changed. The pains and the aches and the shaking and the nausea had all gone. I felt different. I mean really different. I went to the tiny bathroom to brush my teeth and discovered to my surprise that the Mongolian carpet dealers had removed their low budget Nylon item of merchandise from my mouth and had driven their camels far from their temporary camp site.

My tongue looked, well, normal. Better than normal. My eyes looked different too. Clearer. Brighter. There was a light knock on the door and the lady nutritionist announced that breakfast would be ready in a few minutes if I felt like eating. Was it my fevered imagination or could I smell eggs frying in a skillet? The three days were up. I’d survived though I wasn’t really sure how. My metabolism had been wrangled and wrestled and re-set. The craving for sugar had gone. If I hadn’t experienced the torture of my wildly protesting digestive system, I would never have believed that sugar could be the cause of so much suffering. It felt like a moment of truth. You know what it’s like. You’ve seen the light. You’ve been saved. You’re on first name terms with the Lord God Almighty and Jesus is your new personal best friend and you just want to rush out there and share the good news with everyone else on the planet. Hallelujah! Luckily for me, the lady nutritionist was way ahead of me on the pilgrim’s pathway to wellness and she wasted no time in sketching out the next stages in the plan to get my health and my body into better shape. Not exactly like a bucket of ice water as an early morning wake-you-up present on your birthday but pretty damn close.

We still had a long, long way to go, she said. Re-setting my whacked-out metabolism was the first and most important step. Re-colonising my abused and long-suffering gut was another project entirely. And that could easily take two years. Two years? Yep. That’s right. A lifetime of abuse and a slow return to normality. To be more accurate, the benefits would start showing up in my medical charts pretty rapidly but the completed intestinal re-hab programme would still take the best part of two years. It was a long journey. No quick fixes. We were making a total investment in my health and that was going to be a mission for the rest of my life.

[]Chapter 12:

Cleaning up the territory

Now I bet you were expecting the good lady nutritionist to hand out a list of forbidden foods at this point, admonishing me with the direst warnings of what would happen to me if I strayed from the path of true digestive virtue. Am I right? Well, you’re half-right. To start with, she absolutely banned sugar from my life. Forever. She told me I’d get used to it much more easily now that my insulin levels had been re-set. The cravings would be a thing of the past. She said it would have to be an all-or-nothing kind of adjustment and I nodded as if I really understood the commitment she was demanding from me.

No more processed sugar and that included all of those nasty, chemically-brewed, artificial sweeteners that everyone was claiming to be the satanic source of half the diseases in the developed world. That part was a lot easier. We only ever used pure, white, glorious, refined sugar to sweeten our lives in the Bulgari household. But how was I going to get this radical shift in eating behaviour past Mama Bulgari? According to her immovable, unquestioning viewpoint, sugar was as close to the Holy Breath of the Lord as a God-fearing Christian could ever get. At least whilst still dwelling in the flesh. It was borderline sacred. It was not, repeat not, to be messed with. Ever. I’d have to think about that one. The Bulgari clan worshipped at the sugar-glazed altar of gluttony and I was about to become their first home-grown heretic.

So we’d just listed sugar as my new number one sworn personal enemy and agreed in a sacred nutritional pact to banish the foul, disease-provoking substance from my life forever. Amen. After the nightmare of the past three days, I was hardly reluctant to bid fond farewell to this perfectly-disguised poison and I was starting to look forward to maybe losing a few pounds and getting my blood pressure off the critical list. But there was more to come. Now we were going to have to make some other little adjustments to help my body dump the extra pounds and heal as naturally as possible. That meant cutting all and any items that might be causing problems. The major challenge with the world’s diet today, said the lady nutritionist as she pointed her fork at me across the cramped dining table for emphasis, is the age-old intolerance to grains.

Grains? But that’s everything we eat. Pretty much. She shook her head. It’s the gluten in grains, Honey. That’s what causes the allergic reaction in the body and we’re going to cut out bread and cookies and pasta for a while to see if it makes any difference to you. Some folks handle grains better than others. Doesn’t mean grains are actually good for them though. You’re going to learn to eat naturally and your body will pretty much do the rest. You sure don’t have to starve yourself to lose all that weight. And you’re going to start to move that body of yours. Maybe find out what kind of a gal’s been hiding out for so long underneath all that fat.

She was smiling as she forked the fried egg into her neat little mouth, looking straight at me with those deep blue eyes as if she could clearly see the future new me and that vision of natural-spun loveliness made her glow with happiness. I looked right back into those eyes and I could see that this crazy little lady really believed in me. I couldn’t help smiling too. Her belief was contagious. And I was really beginning to like it.

If you’ve ever placed your faith and future health in the hands of a truly dedicated nutritionist, you’ll know that there are usually long lists of Dos and Don’ts, advice and admonishments, warnings and caveats, penalties and punishments. But my total plan for health and happiness was so utterly simple, I could’ve jotted the whole thing down on the back of a napkin and still left plenty of space for a recipe for home-made chocolate fudge cake. It was about eating fresh and eating natural, adding as many vegetables to my diet as I liked.

She was calling a time-out on processed food. We crossed off sugar, grains and dairy and added salads, vegetables and organic meat. And exercise. Every day. For me that meant walking. No spandex-clad jogging routines. No Lycra-bound aerobics classes. No tattooed and muscle-flexing personal trainers gazing in wonder at themselves in the mirror. Just walking. Low impact, injury-free and effective. Gentle walking, maybe half an hour in the mornings and then the same again in the evenings, drinking lots of pure, fresh water. Increase the time or distance every week. Get leaner. Get trimmer. Build a little muscle underneath those layers of blubber. It would get easier and easier and the gentle movement would encourage my body to flush out the toxins.

The raw vegetables were the secret way to re-colonise my digestive tract with the friendly bacteria I’d been missing for most of my life. No drugs. No prescriptions. Just fresh, raw, local veggies. As my taste buds recovered some semblance of sensitivity, I might just discover how unbelievably delicious all this natural food could be. The lady nutritionist said an old uncle of hers would signal his satisfaction with a great dish by saying it was like having an angel take a leak on his tongue. Right. Obviously another refugee from the old country but, judging from his description of what constituted a great flavour, clearly from a different village to the Bulgaris. And my body would absolutely love the new food, with or without the freshly decanted angel pee condiment. 

She drove me back to town in her old pickup truck, rusty suspension creaking and singing as we crested the rises on the highway, bottles of spring water in our hands, and we talked about some of the issues that had surfaced from my questionnaire. She made it clear that being unhappy was pretty much the standard condition for most folks. They just got used to it and found lots of creative ways to hide the pain. Food was an obvious choice. She turned her head towards me, her eyes crinkling in the bright sunlight, smiled and said I’d surely know everything there was to know about using food to ease the emptiness inside. And she wasn’t talking about an empty stomach here, was she? No, my friend, she was not.

A lot of the problems grew out of a feeling that we weren’t in control of our lives. Folk just end up feeling trapped, she said. Pressure. Work. Marriage. Kids. Mortgages. Car repayments. An endless cycle of stresses with a bunch of destructive habits to dull the ache and fill the void. Hey! Are you still with me? Let’s lighten things up a little here. I certainly didn’t mean to bring you down with all this gloom and doom and life full of emptiness, why do I bother to go on living routine. You know I value you too much for that, my worthiest and wisely nodding traveling companion. The conversation in the pickup truck was deep but it was absolutely the right subject for discussion at that precise moment. I was feeling pretty good, spirits were high, I’d just completed a really tough challenge and I’d picked up a new and growing sense of confidence from my amazing lady nutritionist. It was good to lay out all these issues in the light of day, conjure up the ghosts of my own unhappiness and exorcise their influence forever. Seemed like control was more of an issue than I’d ever realised.

In the Bulgari household, we were all firmly stamped, branded and shackled to the will of Mama. She ruled the household with absolute power, undisputed queen of her realm, and she effectively ruled our lives. She did it because she believed with every ounce of her old country passion that it was her sacred duty to run the household and her family. It was her responsibility. It was her role as a true mother and woman. She did it with every particle of her immense love. She did it with an irresistible spirit of self-sacrifice. She would die for us. But she held us all in the span of her hand because she believed that was where we would always be safe. It was so beautiful, so awful, so wonderful, and so completely crazy. No wonder we all loved her so much.

[]Chapter 13:

Moving on

One thing was certain, I could never make all these changes to my diet with Mama in charge of the kitchen. And the chances of her being kidnapped by aliens just to give me and my body a much-needed break seemed pretty remote on that beautiful sunny morning as we headed back into town. The lady nutritionist asked me whether it would help if she went to see Mama, maybe talk things through, and get some understanding about my health issues. I thought of my little sister’s Bible class friend, the dumpling nutritionist whose efforts had failed so miserably to evangelise the Bulgari household with the new fat-free faith of slimming powders, and I shook my head slowly. Might do a lot more harm than good.

Mama Bulgari would see it as a direct challenge to her authority and just step up the campaign to roll out even more high-fat, sugar-saturated calories. No. We needed something more subtle. An Amazonian blowpipe perhaps and some of those amazing darts that could put a monkey to sleep in a couple of seconds? Chloroform on her delicately perfumed lace handkerchief, the one she always carried to Mass to keep the stench of sin away from her delicate nostrils as the rest of the miserable congregation of condemned souls queued for absolution. No. Maybe not. We needed something a little more effective here. So, smarty pants, you haven’t said much for a while, have you? What would you suggest? What’s your bright idea to rescue me from the smothering embrace of my own beloved Mama? 

While you’re busy working out the answer, let me tell you what I came up with. Or rather what the lady nutritionist came up with. It was true that I was definitely the oldest child in the Bulgari family nest so it would be natural for me to fly the coop at some point in my life and go find my own place to live. Except, in the Bulgari tradition, I was expected to get married first, then live at home for about ten years. And then – and only then – make the break and think about getting a place for myself and for my grossly fat, God-fearing husband and our butterball kids. Independent? Sort of – but not too far from the Bulgari family residence.

Close enough for Mama to walk around the corner with a groaning tray of freshly baked cakes, cookies and the occasional vat of goose-fat soup. You get the picture? I’d already broken some of the family traditions by getting good grades at school. I’d already sown the seeds of confusion by going to college. I’d confounded the old expectations by studying computer science which, according to the family, was only one short step away from the evils of necromancy and planting my puckered lips on the tail-end of Beelzebub. So I’d strained some of the bonds that served to hold the family members firmly in their respective places. Could I risk another little step outside the bounds of the family domain? 

I guess I needed to set up a fait accompli. That’s genuine French if you happen to be linguistically challenged. It means it’s a done deal. No turning back. So I went to see the old campus medico and he seemed genuinely pleased to welcome me back to his surgery. I sat down and he said right away that I looked a dang sight better than I had during our last session and I brought him up to date with my titanic, trailer-bound struggle in the wilderness with the impish legions of sugar. And he actually laughed out loud. Clapped his hands. He thought it was wonderful.

He congratulated me for taking the plunge and asked how he could help. My request was a little unorthodox but I needed his influence with the college faculty. I needed to get accommodation on campus but I wanted it to look as if the college in some way was insisting that I had to stay on base. He put his head on one side as he sat back and looked at me, considering the question, chewing slowly on the wire frame of his half-moon glasses, then nodding that he’d see what he could do. 

One of the advantages of being a paid-up member of the medical profession was that you got to see a lot of things that folks would prefer you not to see. You were expected to do your job and quietly forget who you’d treated and what you’d treated them for. That meant you probably had a whole filing cabinet full of favours you could call in, should the need ever arise. I guess the old doc had more a lot influence than I’d expected because everything really happened so fast. Before I could gather my thoughts, I found I was being carried along by the momentum of my little ruse and didn’t have a second to reconsider what I’d set in motion. It was indeed a fait accompli  - no extra charge for the language lesson - and I suddenly had my own room on campus and a signed letter from the faculty of computer sciences informing me that I was required to conduct research and experiments as part of my studies, research that could only be accomplished by staying close to the computer labs. Damn! That was some favour the old doc had just cut for me. I was impressed. And then a little scared about how I might have to pay him back. Visions of those dancing dentures were more than a little unsettling.

Well, I knew it wasn’t going to be easy but the bogus letter hit Mama like a sledgehammer tossed off the top of the Chrysler Tower on Macy’s Day. One second she was baking furiously in the kitchen amidst clouds of flour and icing sugar, singing some old country ditty about the price of a stolen goat when the goods were got for free, and then she was carefully reading my letter, lips silently pronouncing the words, brow densely knit and an expression of fierce intensity on her face.

There was a moment of breathless silence as the message forged its way through her cerebral processors and then she suddenly threw the letter to the floor, stamped her foot on it, screamed and wailed to heaven above as if she’d just received official confirmation from the Bishop that her precious little girl had been found guilty of devil worship and was due to be burned at the stake in the village square the next morning, (cotton candy and commemorative crucifixes on sale from the usual vendors). I tried to placate her. I kept repeating that I really wasn’t joining the manned space mission to Mars. I’d still be on the same planet. In the same country. In the same town. Just a few miles up the road. Is all.

She wailed, tears streaming down the broad expanse of her enormous cheeks, carving trails in the layer of flour and icing sugar that dusted her skin, clasping her hands to her chest and repeating Why, oh why, oh why? Eventually, even Mama ran out of drama and she settled down to planning a shuttle service to the campus with a daily supply of ‘real food’ to make sure I didn’t starve to death whilst playing Dr Frankenstein with the resurrected body parts of discarded calculators. Sure, sure, Mama, I said. Just leave it with security at the front gate and I’ll be sure to pick it up when I’m ready. 

I’d made it. The shackles had loosened their grip. I was free.

And thus, my patient and ever-supportive friend, the dreadful deed was done. Some light packing from my heavyweight wardrobe, a valuable, battery-operated, personal relaxation device discretely removed from beneath a loose floorboard, a short bus ride back to college and, to my shock and surprise, I found that I’d just upped and moved out of the family home. I was scared and I was weirdly elated at the same time. Why scared? Well, come on. You can imagine how it felt.

This was a seriously big change for me. It would be for anyone. And you know all those stories about the guys who spend decades in the pen and then they’re released but can’t adjust to the strain of living in the outside world? They can’t cope with the reality of being free? The ones who’ve become totally institutionalised and, since the only thing they know is jail, they usually find an easy way to get back inside as quickly as possible? Those guys? Well that sure wasn’t me. Not at all. I was on a mission now and I needed to be away from the old environment, away from the old temptations, away from the old habits and conditioning. I had to have a break from the old ways of eating and see if the lady nutritionist was as right as I thought she was.

She gave me websites to check, resources to study on line, charts to print out so that I could plan and record everything I ate. She sent me messages of encouragement via E-Mail and I kept her up to date with my progress because, after only a couple of weeks on the new regime, I began to notice the changes in my size. She told me to ignore the weighing scales. She said they were meaningless. My clothes would reveal the truth. And she was right again. Things got looser. When you start out at my size, the drop-off in weight can be dramatic so I really looked as if I was off to a flying start. I knew the weight-loss would slow down and even hit a plateau phase at some stage but for now the pounds were just melting away.

I. Was. Get-ting. Thinner. Me – the amazing Misha Bulgari. And it felt so great. I’d substituted raw vegetables for candy snacks. I could have eggs as my one exception to the no-dairy rule. I was eating plenty of lean, organic meat and could pass a row of cakes and donuts without the slightest urge to reach out and grab one. It was as if I’d lost my appetite for sweet things. Bizarre? Tell me about it. I was walking twice a day, extending the length of the strolls, finding it easier, gradually less exhausting, and easier to breathe normally as I marched along the campus pathways, humming tunes and sometimes breaking into my interpretation of a groovy dance-step or two.

And during one of these walks I began to think more seriously about the lady nutritionist’s advice to try swimming. The water would support my body weight, reduce the strain on my joints and give me my first taste of a full-body workout. So I splashed out on a one-piece swimsuit that must’ve taken the collective efforts of half a village of Chinese labourers to cut and sew and finish but, as I squeezed my protesting frame into the elasticated costume, I knew I was as ready as I could be to hit the water. 

[]Chapter 14:

Close encounters of the aquatic kind

Now, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, we’ve been striving diligently so far for total, uncompromising and brutal honesty – so I think it’s only fair to mention that at this point in time I couldn’t actually swim. As you may recall, the great Bulgari clan simply couldn’t understand the concept of exercise. You run round in circles like a dumb fool, sweat yourself half to death, lose weight, get sick and die. For why? Their answer to the risks of drowning was also elegantly simple – hey, dumb ass! Don’t go near the water! It was so obvious, really.

So my first exposure to the swimming pool involved a nervous and gingerly descent into the shallow end, a full minute to get used to the water temperature and a slow walk across the breadth of the pool, using my arms with all the finesse of a Tyrannosaur attempting push-ups. But it felt good. Maybe not too many points for style. But I’d found a place where I could move my bulk without scaring the wildlife, burn off a few calories and get some more movement into my flabby limbs. When the lady lifeguard bent down to me and asked me how I was doing, I assumed she was worried that I was causing a health hazard to the other pool users. But she was just curious to know if I’d ever thought about taking some swimming classes.

Never too late or too early to start, she said. There’s a poster over yonder on the wall. You should try it. You just might enjoy it. She stood up and stretched her lean, low-carb, muscular frame. Nice swimsuit, she mentioned as she nodded down at me. I’d guess it was specially designed for swimming, right? Yeah. It was the college pool. Even the lifeguard was a budding Einstein. I was about to mention to her that NASA were still recruiting for night janitors when the idea of swimming classes really grabbed my attention. Me? Swimming? Under my own power? Well I sure had enough ballast on board to make any chance of sinking completely redundant so maybe the idea had merit. Unsinkable. Hey. Isn’t that what they said about the Titanic? Well there hadn’t been too many iceberg incidents in the pool lately so I figured I’d take the chance and sign up for some seriously overdue swimming lessons. And I have to tell you that it definitely turned out to be one of my finer decisions.

OK. So you probably can’t even remember what it was like to learn to swim, can you? Of course not. You probably learned as a kid, isn’t that right? So let me refresh your memory, you naturally talented, web-footed, mer-person. First of all, swimming classes for adults are a little different from swimming classes for young kids. Kids learn a whole lot faster for a start. And they’re usually really keen to get in the water and have a whole bunch of fun.

Secondly, the adult swimming classes at the college pool were intended for the completely aquatically-challenged members of the community and they attracted debutants of all ages and physical conditions. So everything was done in hyper slo-mo, like an ultra low-budget kung fu flick. However, amongst the collection of human oddities filling the classes, I fitted in perfectly. It turned out to be one of the few places on the planet where I didn’t stand out like a refugee on the run from a traveling freak show. And I loved it. I hit the pool like a, well, a duck to water. I actually whooped and hollered and screamed and clapped like I’d just won an Olympic gold – and that was for swimming my very first width of the pool using a combination breast-stroke/doggy paddle that wasn’t particularly smooth or elegant but it got the job done. I could swim!

And, as the fates could never resist inflicting their whims upon the lives of mere, long-suffering, ordinary, overweight mortals, it was there that I first bumped into Larry Herschkowitz. No, not the Baltimore Herschkowitzes of home furnishings fame, those charity ball-attending, genteel, multi-millionaires and stalwarts of all that represented good taste and platinum-plated decorum. No. The other Hershkowitzes. The local Hershkowitzes. Larry’s dad ran the town’s kosher deli and butcher’s shop and was the cantor at the town’s synagogue. An over-protected child, Larry had never been exposed to the perils and potential calamities of the community swimming pool so he’d been obliged to wait until he went to college before taking the plunge and signing up, like me, for adult swimming classes. 

He was obviously entering his first serious rebellious phase since his mid-teens and he didn’t look as if he was enjoying the experience, flailing around in the shallow end with eyes screwed shut to keep out the water, mouth sealed to eliminate all risk of swallowing a droplet of the pool’s contaminated water, turning in circles like an apprentice dervish and then slapping me on the back of my head with his skinny arm as I dog-paddled serenely past his very convincing impersonation of a drowning circus chimp. He paused in mid-flail to gasp and apologise for his clumsiness. I ceased my doggie-paddle and dropped anchor with both feet to appraise my assailant, considering the merits of breaking off the offending skinny arm and sticking its bony end up his bony skinny ass to teach him some manners – old country ways never too far below the surface. 

He blinked at me with uncertainty and a squint of dread as my leviathan body emerged slowly from the deep. Or, to be more accurate, from the chlorinated shallows. His eyebrows shot up as he confronted the scale of his unintended victim and he instinctively raised both hands protectively in front of his scrawny chest. You’re not mad at me? He stammered. He looked kind of vulnerable and defenceless as he stood there shivering in front of my looming bulk. Just the way I like skinny guys to look before I snap off their arm and shove it up their ass. It was an accident, he whimpered. I shook my head as I took up station within boarding distance of his bony frame.

You’re the accident, I hailed across the chop, as I pointed an admonishing finger at his freckled nose, and if you ever smack me on the head with your matchstick arm again, you moron, you’ll have a sudden fatal accident that will leave the county coroner asking how you managed to get your arm so far up your dumb ass, you could brush your teeth from inside your throat. He stared at me, the imagery filtering through his head – cartoon pictures of an arm moving up his rear end, the hand at the back of his throat, the little toothbrush working his teeth from the back instead of the front. And he coughed to disguise his laugh. Then he laughed a little louder. You’re funny, he said. I mean – what you just said, just now, about my arm and the toothbrush – that was funny. Were you in the army or something?

Sounds like something a really mean Drill Instructor would say to the new recruits. He was smiling now. Something had touched his funny bone which, fortunately for him, was not at this precise moment wedged firmly up his skinny ass. We live in our own little worlds, don't we, my friend? Completely oblivious to so many things that are going on right beneath our noses and that was when I noticed his eyes. Larry Hershkowitz - Lawrence, (his father had thought the name sounded so classy, so British) - had the most beautiful, greyest eyes I'd ever seen. Like early morning light on a northern sea. His eyes caught me like the steel strands of an impossible spider's mesh and held me fast for a full minute. Now don't get me wrong here. This was not - repeat not - like some slushy dime store novel where the heroine (that's supposed to be me, by the way, in case you'd forgotten!) falls hopelessly in love at first sight with the rugged captain of the guard after one smouldering glance across the candlelit ballroom floor.

That absolutely and certainly never, ever happened to me. Not ever. All those repeated teenage episodes of unrequited love as I yearned for various members of the high school football team had been conducted strictly in private, safely conducted in the confines of my bedroom and my imagination. Each and every one of those fevered bobby-socked crushes had never ever involved being remotely close to the guys in question. And not one of them had ever even noticed my existence on the planet. It was just innocent lust at a distance.

So Larry Hershkowitz’s fabulous eyes held my attention for a few seconds and I couldn’t help noticing how beautiful they were but then he sneezed so forcefully that I ended up with a face spattered with mucus and chlorinated water and the spell was broken. I’m really sorry, he stammered. It’s the water. It irritates my sinuses. I felt like irritating his sphincters with the soggy end of his wrenched-off arm again but I dipped my face in the water and the moment passed without mortal harm being inflicted on my new acquaintance. I should get you a coke or a coffee or something to say sorry, he said. And that’s how we ended up at the poolside cafeteria, a coke for Larry and a vegetable juice for me. And we just talked and talked. For about three hours. 

[]Chapter 15:

Affairs of the heart

Larry Hershkowitz. That’s not what he’s known as today, of course. And you know I don’t like to namedrop! But what a character. Back then he was a complete basketful of surprises. Let me tell you something about him. Larry’s childhood expectations had taken a u-turn when he was about fifteen. Oldest of three with two brothers, he was outstandingly bright, tall for his age, skinny and studious. Like everything he turned his mind to, he totally excelled at his Hebrew lessons so, with nods of encouragement from the wiser members of the community, there was an unspoken understanding in the neighbourhood that the Hershkowitzes had received God’s personal blessing and produced a great rabbi-in-the-making.

The only minor problem with this brilliant vision of the future was that Larry didn’t feel that he was particularly well cut out to be Jewish. He had no objections to the ancient faith. Let everyone believe what they wanted, he used to say. He enjoyed the sense of belonging to a close-knit community. He just didn’t really subscribe to any of the religious aspects of being Jewish. I guess you can probably see that that could pose a problem or three for a future rabbi-in-the-making. He had about a ton and a half of stubborn resistance in his heart that made it impossible to accept any argument solely on the grounds of faith. If it didn’t make sense from the standpoint of reason, Larry would just shake his headful of unruly curls, cross his arms, look down at the floor and go into silence mode. Sometimes for days at a time.

He wanted to be a scientist, a pioneering explorer cutting trails in the uncharted fields of quantum physics. He’d told his rabbi and his father that if God really existed, He would be discovered at the core of an as yet undiscovered theoretical particle. The family’s dream of raising a rabbi gradually faded away and Larry’s grades could’ve easily opened the doors to a much more prestigious centre of learning than the town’s college. But he felt a debt to his community and to his parents for allowing him the freedom to choose his own path and so he elected to stay closer to home. In a weird kind of way, I was glad he did. Physically, we really couldn’t have been any more different and still remain classified within the same species. I was on a religious quest in search of the holy silhouette of the Slimmer Misha.

Larry just wanted to add a few pounds of muscle to his bean-pole frame. I offered him a deal on a very generous lipo-transplant in return for some of his skinniness but he politely declined. We swapped stories of our childhoods, growing up in the same town but in very different communities. I told him that with his bone structure and those hypnotically amazing eyes, all he had to do was fill out those bones with a little bit of lean muscle and I’d have to loan him a baseball bat to keep all the gals at arm’s length. He said they’d have to behave in a civilised manner and form an orderly line, each one taking their turn so that no one would leave dissatisfied. He was laughing at the absurdity of his own imagination, this skinny guy with the stooped shoulders and shy manner. Little did we know back in those more innocent days what was waiting for him. I guess no one, least of all Larry, could have foreseen his future.

We met most evenings at the pool, learned to swim after a fashion, and headed off to the cafeteria to hang out, one of the oddest-looking couples on campus. There was nothing romantic going on. I guess we became friends. He had a heart the size of Texas and was one of the kindest, most generous people I’d ever met. He never asked for anything. Any problem and he would instantly offer to help, lift the burden, figure out a way to fix things. He was bright, no question, but it was his kindness that touched my heart.

Yeah. That’s right. I admitted it. He touched my heart. I’m a human being. What were you expecting? I also began to notice that Larry’s exercise routines – he was hitting the college gym for an hour every lunchtime – were starting to pay off. Our infamous beanpole impersonator was building some muscle on his saw-horse frame. And it suited him. With Larry, it was never a case of misplaced vanity. I’d never known anyone who was less concerned with their appearance. He applied a purely scientific approach to making his body stronger and more efficient, to fixing his posture and learning to hold himself a little more upright. And it worked. As my weight slipped away and I discovered the first hints of real muscle under the diminishing layers of fat, Larry started to show signs of a budding physique and ladies, well, you know what ladies are like, they started to notice him.

During these heady days of feasting on wholesome food, walking in my dance-syncopated shuffle round the college perimeter three times a day now, studying hard and swimming most evenings like a reincarnated Moby Dick, Larry cheering alongside for the fun of it, I noticed that all interest in my former love-life activities waned to the point of absolute zero. Apart from meeting up with Larry, I just didn’t go out anymore, no longer drawn to the fading hours of those booze-fuelled parties, driven by my solitary quest to spot the semi-inebriated targets for my cunning and lustful ambitions. I just lost interest. I could’ve turned to you, of course, for advice.

But we hadn’t been introduced, had we? I could’ve turned to Larry but this was something I wasn’t ready to share with him. Not yet anyways. So I decided to call on to my lady nutritionist. I punched in the numbers to make an appointment but she was so delighted to hear my voice that she said I should come round right away, she’d just rearrange her schedule. She was positively beaming as she opened the door to her neat little office and welcomed me in, this time with a hug that took the wind right out of my sails. Wow! She said with that old twinkle in her eye. Just look at you. She couldn’t stop complimenting me on the changes in my shape and condition and you’ve got to know how important it is to receive recognition for a job well done. It’s all that stuff about positive affirmation and righteous feedback, a powerful validation for what you’ve achieved. It felt wonderful. I got emotional again. Dammit. But it felt really good and I imagined that I could so easily get used to it. Hey. Who wouldn’t?

Now, she said as she took her seat beside me on the familiar couch, handing me a glass of cool, spring water, what can I do for you, Honey? You know those special people you can tell absolutely anything and they don’t judge or criticise you? Don’t put you down or make you feel small or wrong or dirty or perverted? Well, you probably don’t know too many of them because they’re about as rare as a rubber dispenser in the Sistine Chapel. OK. Times are changing.

Maybe I’d better check that last reference for accuracy but you know absolutely for sure that real friends are a true example of precious rarity in life and that real friends do not judge you. They do their damnedest to help. So I started slowly, talking about some of my former habits and encounters as she sat and looked at me, never interrupting me nor whispering a word, just nodding and listening to me as I spoke. And after another glass of water I started to talk more about how I was feeling these days. How I was seeing myself in a different light, feeling a little angry with myself, a little guilty for hi-jacking those dumb, half-drunk guys into compromising positions that never turned out to be the most fulfilling experience a gal could have.

I could see now that it had been more like a game. It was like I’d been using them, humiliating them in a way, tricking them into having sex with a hideously overweight gal that they’d normally run a country mile from. And then as I reached for another Kleenex, tears escaping my closed eyes and trailing down my flushed face, I admitted that I felt I’d been humiliating myself as well. I’d been punishing myself with each and every casual and empty encounter of the flesh. It had been less than empty. It had been demeaning, as if somehow I’d diminished myself as well. And the sobbing became more painful, more intense as my tears turned to ashes and my heart felt as if it was being consumed in the corrosive fires of my regret. The lady nutritionist leaned forward and took me in her arms, lowered my head to her shoulder, patting me gently on the back.

She held me without speaking and it seemed that time stood still and took a break for us in that little office. Whatever was happening to me, it felt like an avalanche, an unstoppable sobbing tsunami of pain that threatened to overwhelm me and carry me away from this world of disappointment and delusion. I clung onto the lady nutritionist, anchored to her serenity and felt the crisis slowly abate, ebbing like a tide that has reached its highpoint and can now only recede.

She released me from my orang-utan embrace, my tears still staining her white cotton smock, stood carefully and brought me another glass of water. So, she said, sitting next to me again, smiling gently. What do you make of all that? I couldn’t speak for a few moments. I don’t know, I said. It was pretty intense. I’m not sure what it was about. It felt like a forty pound rock being levered out of my chest that was for sure. But I did know. And so did she.

[]Chapter 16:

A timely lesson in growing up

The starting point for the change in my life had been a recognition that my underlying issues had been about unhappiness, a lack of control in my life and, maybe, a serious dose of self-loathing that had prompted a whole catalogue of regrettable behaviours. She smiled and then she clapped her hands together and said, Oh Lord, Oh Lord and started laughing. Not some genteel ladylike tinkling but a genuine belly laugh. Like she’d just heard the funniest thing in her life. She was laughing like a drunken Ukrainian sailor on payday shore leave, head back and roaring, and I started to wonder if she was laughing at – no way, dammit! – At me.

It’s OK, Honey, she stuttered between barely suppressed guffaws. It’s really OK. You just need to lighten up a little right now. Give yourself a break. Go easy on the heavy duty Biblical judgement routine. You’re all brimstone and ashes but you haven’t done anything wrong. Really. You are not the first lady on this earth to mess up and you surely won’t be the last. You’re being way too harsh on yourself. It’s nothing, she said. Really, it’s nothing. She took my hands in hers. Look at me, she said. Look me right in the eye and tell me that you’re good enough. Go on, she urged. Tell me that you’re good enough. I tried to repeat the words but she squeezed my hands harder and told me to say it like I really meant it.

And I had to keep saying it until she believed me. And after the tenth or twelfth attempt, I started laughing too. All those poor guys. Imagine the indignity of getting laid on a Saturday night, forced to have sex against their collective self-righteous will. It really was funny. She said I should get some special medal for public services way beyond the call of my civic duty. We laughed together until the tears were streaming down our faces. We must’ve looked like a couple of certifiable crazies on day release without their prescription medication. She held my hands again and said as solemnly as she could that she’d never, ever gone to bed with an ugly man. She looked down as the admission settled between us. There was a long pause before she looked up again and added with a perfectly pained clown’s expression, but she’d woken up with plenty. That set us off again. 

You see it’s OK to make mistakes. We all do the dumbest things and with a little bit of luck and guidance we can learn from them and make better choices. And that was all there was to it. The lady nutritionist declared that making mistakes was fine but we had to try not to make the same mistakes over and over again. That was just plain, vanilla-flavoured dumb and that was one of the few occasions when mercy killing was the only permissible option. I’d never laughed so much in my life.

The error was often to be found in the way we look for understanding in the eyes of others. We seek forgiveness in the hearts of those around us. But understanding and forgiveness can only come from within ourselves. And that was a hard-won fact, a personal lesson that came at a very heavy emotional price. I was pretty sure I wouldn’t forget it. The other problem is that we all get trapped in the illusion that we’re somehow the most important thing on the planet. We’re not. The lady nutritionist had taken me outside the trailer one night for some fresh air and to try to take my mind off the diarrhea and the cravings.

She’d pointed up at the vast array of stunningly beautiful stars that filled the night sky and, staring above at the infinity of space, she’d calmly proclaimed that the universe really didn’t give a damn about us or what we did – although I distinctly recall that she used much more colourful language at the time, purely as a rhetorical device, of course, to add weight and emphasis to her philosophical observation. It’s a totally messed up perspective but we live as though we are the centre of the universe. I soon discovered that we are not the centre of the universe. Or at least – that I was not.

I stood up to embrace the lady nutritionist and step out once again, refreshed, into the bright new world but she’d made another super-discount appointment for me at the Thai massage parlour along the corridor, her sweetly personal way of showing how happy she’d been to see me. I nodded my thanks, trying to muster as much enthusiasm as possible for the encounter. Our oriental friend had obviously been main-lining steroids since I’d last seen her because she was able to twist and contort my body into positions that would’ve won me a gold medal and a standing ovation in the Kama Sutra Olympics. No question. If I wasn’t mistaken, I was getting a little more flexible. The masseuse nodded approvingly. Now we gettin’ somewhere, kiddo! She said. I’m convinced she enjoyed the session a lot more than I did.

I was dreading the inevitable return home and the unavoidable confrontation with the family. The Bulgari household was only a few short miles away from the college but it felt like it was already on another planet. I’d lost a lot of weight since I’d moved onto campus and that was the first and most obvious alarm bell that would alert Mama to any real or imagined problems. She’d totally over-react and immediately strap me to a sick bed whilst she ladled vast quantities of triple-strength goose-fat soup down my protesting throat, something like a French goose being force-fed corn on a French goose-liver pate production line. That’s[_ foie gras _]in case you’re interested in developing your French vocabulary a little further. But my expectations proved completely groundless. In the short time I’d been away, things had moved on back at the ranch. Things had changed. A lot.

[]Chapter 17:

The forces of Chaos decide to make a house call

The Bulgaris could never be accused of being computer literate. So it was not surprising that I’d received no E-mails from the family during my absence. That’s mainly because they didn’t have any E-Mail addresses in the first place. And Miclav’s preferred sources of solitary evening entertainment on the Internet obviously discouraged him from leaving too many clues about his identity or his location. He might’ve had a point. I’m not sure that an un-enlightened judge in our part of the world would see a group of cavorting, scantily clad, Albanian Internet dwarves as anything but a shallow disguise for kiddie porn.

If only Miclav had followed in the old family tradition and stuck to whittling goat’s head walking canes. Much safer. And infinitely less confusing and thus less open to possible misinterpretation. The detectives had picked him up from high school in a discretely controlled operation that minimised all risks to the officers yet exposed the chubby miscreant to the joys of being handcuffed, tasered and restrained on the floor of an anonymous black van. A masked officer tapped out a slow, percussive rhythm on the fat boy’s bubble butt with his riot baton, muttering that it was different when you had kids of your own, you just wanted to get the scum off the streets and put them out of their misery, make the world a safer place for kids everywhere.

It was not one of Miclav’s happier moments. A pair of perfectly polite and courteous police officers came round to the house the same day with a warrant and confiscated the now notorious PC and Miclav disappeared for a while into the belly of the beast. For his own safety, he was being kept in solitary confinement and the unofficial label of kiddie-fiddler had been unceremoniously and quite unfairly attached to his docket. 

The next shimmering shock on the Bulgari domestic front was the discovery that my little sister was pregnant. Papa’s blood pressure had hit meltdown levels since the announcement and, apart from his declared intention to castrate whoever was responsible for the crime, he was soon confined to his bed with hourly doses of a particularly potent cocktail of drugs that left him barely one feeble pulse-beat short of a coma. Despite his condition, a good half dozen pick-up truck drivers had hastily left town and headed for the hills, their breeding equipment safely distanced from the imminent danger of Papa Bulgari’s professionally sharpened pruning shears.

No wonder no one noticed that I’d dumped about a leg and half’s worth of excess weight and that I was physically stronger, fitter and more alive than I’d ever felt in my life. I guess they were all a little distracted at the time. My condition escaped the attention of deeply distraught Mama Bulgari and the semi-comatose Papa. Once I’d dropped my bag and processed the news, it seemed blindingly obvious that someone was needed to take charge amidst the unfolding chaos. Mama’s absolute conviction that this was either the product of a dreadful curse or an act of revenge from a wrathful and judgemental God had to be put on hold whilst we dealt with the more practical issues confronting the Bulgaris. It was time for action and I wanted to hear nothing more about sacrificing virgin goats to lift the curse or bribing the Bishop to intercede with God on our undeserving, sin-blighted behalf. We needed something a little more unconventional. I called Larry.

Larry digested the problem like a basic example of primary school mental arithmetic. The first step was to contact a small firm of shiny new lawyers that happened to share office space in the same building as the lady nutritionist. Miclav might be a festering perversion on the butt of our God-fearing society but he still had Constitutional rights that had to be upheld. Check. Sometimes you get really lucky and stumble across the right people at exactly the right time. I told you those addresses might come in useful, didn’t I?

Yeah? I bet you weren’t even listening. Well, I would never have thought of calling them but Larry was better connected to the town’s business contacts than I ever would be so it was kind of a lucky break because those young, newly-qualified, greedy and ambitious lawyers in their low-budget, lizard-lair, offices had been on their knees every morning, praying for a break that would get them on the front page of the local newspapers and a side bar in the nationals, air-time on the radio and a chance to pronounce their well-rehearsed sound-bytes on the TV. Who or what they’d been praying to might be open to question; they were lawyers after all – so you couldn’t really imagine them being at the front of the line at St Peter’s pearly gate, expecting preferential treatment for all their good works on earth – could you? Exactly.

They’d already sold their souls to the first – but not necessarily the highest – bidder and now they were eagerly awaiting the pay-off. How strange that their first big break should come through my timely intervention on Miclav’s grubby, sweaty-palmed behalf. The Lord, indeed, surely moved in mysterious ways. The lawyers were so excited at the prospect of handling Miclav’s case that they didn’t waste a single second before contacting every newspaper, radio and TV station in the area to announce their courageous decision to defend this poor, misguided young man whose rights had been trampled underfoot by a callous and uncaring state.

When I called back to confirm the fees for all this concentrated legal effort, an over-excited lady lawyer babbled that the firm would be more than happy to handle the case on a pro bono basis – just as long as I didn’t bring any other law firms into the picture. This would be the case that would put them on the map. Screw the fees. This was gold dust. And there was me, ready to trade in my humble savings account to spring my pervo-sibling from the slammer, and we’d just got legal counsel to work for free.

It’s completely true that these guys were on a crusade. For justice? Well, not really. More like a seasoned campaign of shameless self-promotion with Miclav in the background as an unpaid extra on their rapidly-developing publicity film set. The problem for the lawyers was that they moved too fast and nearly had him out of jail by the same afternoon. That was simply way too fast for the TV companies to set up their cameras and arrange interviews with the newly-suited and freshly coiffured legal team. So they had to ask for a delay – in the name of justice, of course, – to make sure that the details hadn’t been processed too quickly.

It was an unexpected opportunity for Miclav to lose some weight too. His first meal arrived in his solitary cell on a plastic tray with plastic cutlery and when he lifted the cover on his plastic plate he found a dead rat festooned across his congealing hash brownies and burger. Whether the offending article was an unsubtle message from the other inmates or an expression of the local police’s contempt for Miclav’s peculiar proclivities remained a mystery. All we knew was that Miclav had to resort to burning some of the vast numbers of calories that he’d stored as body fat since he was a babe in arms. From the size of the misguided ball of blubber, starvation was going to be a long, long way over the horizon.

The wheels of justice turned and the system considered the evidence, evaluated the festering miscreant of an accused and weighed up the chances of a successful prosecution. They were on very shaky and uncertain ground. Once the authorities had determined that the players in Miclav’s favourite form of entertainment were indeed adults, some of the other confusing details could be cleared up as well. For a start, they were not Albanian dwarves. That was a disgusting slur and a cruel aspersion on Albanians everywhere and an apology was surely owed to the great and noble people of Albania.

No. They were Ukrainian dwarves and the great and noble people of the Ukraine deserved respect and recognition for producing these amazing yet diminutive actors. Small in stature they may have been but they more than compensated for their lack of height by showing an energy and enthusiasm for their chosen profession that was quite breathtaking. You wanted to applaud their efforts and their stamina. And their, well, virtuosity. The lawyers tried to drag out the case and squeeze every last droplet of publicity from the rapidly cooling scandal but Miclav was freed, his PC was quietly returned and the world turned its collective wrath to more suitable causes. Miclav even gained a sort of weird notoriety at school from his unfortunate, recent experiences in the arms of the local law enforcement community. He’d morphed overnight from being the disgustingly fat lard ass with the creepy personal habits to being a little bit of a bad boy. And impressionable gals in their teenage years just can’t keep away from the bad boys, can they? No, they cannot. Like flies to molasses in the summertime, they started buzzing round Miclav, curious to discover how bad he really was. So he started to wear an old pair of Ray Bans indoors to add to the air of mystique that had gathered around his considerable girth. He even started to cinch his waist belt a little tighter to squeeze a couple of inches off his ballooning gut. Miclav had inadvertently discovered a new role for himself and he seemed destined to play it for all it was worth. When he perfected his sneer and borrowed a scoop of Mavenka’s glutinous hair gel to slick back his greasy locks, the transformation was complete.

I felt I was getting into my stride here. Once I’d unleashed the slavering legal beagles on Miclav’s undeserving behalf, I immediately turned my attention to my chunky little sister, Mavenka, and to her precarious little predicament. On the surface, hers was definitely the more challenging problem to resolve. Larry suggested we just bust her out of the house and take her somewhere discrete where nature could take its course. But that’s wasn’t quite so easy. Locked in her bedroom and kept under twenty-four hour supervision by Mama Bulgari, only released to shuffle sniffling and sobbing to the visit the bathroom whilst Mama kept guard on the door, her scandalous lapse in good conduct seemed to lie beyond the scope of my newly-developing power and influence. She was in complete and irretrievable disgrace and I wasn’t even allowed to speak with her or to see her – for obvious fear of contamination.

The local priest had been called in to pray with her and hear her confession. Poor guy. He was locked in there for two and half hours and looked drained and in need of a couple of shots of medicinal Bourbon when he finally emerged, pale, unsteady on his legs and mopping his saintly brow with an old handkerchief. He shook his head in front of Mama as if he’d just survived a close encounter with the personal handmaiden of Lucifer, made the sign of the cross with trembling fingers and beat a very hasty retreat to the nearest bar, in search of spiritual sustenance of the 40 proof variety. And the next morning, to everyone’s obvious relief, the tide turned and Mavenka sheepishly announced that maybe she wasn’t pregnant after all. OK. Not the sharpest chisel in the tool box. She hadn’t thought of buying one of those testing kits at the local pharmacy to confirm her suspected condition. No discrete visit to the local doc for urine tests and an examination.

Nope. Just complete ignorance of the fact that her weight could occasionally play havoc with her hormones  - and cancel her monthly enforced abstinence from playing the pit-stop polka in the back of some pick up truck. Once the crisis dissolved, the whole story of how she might've got pregnant in the first place was quietly erased from all future family conversations. The episode was being air-brushed out of the family history through a collective case of voluntary amnesia.

Papa heard the news, opened one drugged and bleary eye and made a swift and astonishing recovery now that the family honour had been miraculously restored. I even heard an interesting rumour in the swimming pool changing room that some of the pick-up truck guys had decided to risk a low-profile return to town, feeling reassured that the pruning shears were safely back in the gardening tool chest and that the dangers of a close encounter with a razor-sharpened vendetta had officially passed. I guess the honour of auditioning for the Viennese Boys’ Choir would have to pass them by.

[]Chapter 18:

Some surprises are worth waiting for

I sat with Larry at the cafeteria and we laughed like a couple of drunks on their second bottle of budget embalming fluid. The Bulgaris had provided a lifetime of entertainment and we couldn’t help ourselves from seeing every hysterical nuance and twist of the situation. We kept running the scenes on a permanent loop and I thought we were at risk of a full-blown coronary. Well I seriously thought I was at risk of a full blown coronary. My cheeks were red, I had little tears of laughter running down my face. And then, without warning, we were interrupted.

For the first time since I’d been hanging out with him, a couple of girls just walked up to our table and asked Larry if he wanted to go to a party. They were the kind of gals that I instantly loathed with blood-simmering, lop-off-their-heads-and-use-them-as-doorstops, poisonous venom. You know the kind I’m talking about. Lean and skinny, curvy in all the right places, perfect hair, perfect skin, perfect make-up, pouting lips, leaning in towards Larry with their backs towards me as if I didn’t exist. Larry was leaning back in his chair now, getting a little distance between himself and those pumped-up, pointed bra cups that were aimed so purposefully at his chin, and he smiled. He nodded towards me and said he’d love to go to the party – as long as he could bring his girlfriend along too.

There was a moment of complete silence, a minor shock wave as the gals absorbed the news and my heart stopped a full beat to assess what Larry had just said. The glamour gals both turned slowly towards me as if they hadn’t even seen me sitting there, larger than life, before Larry had nodded in my direction. They looked and they stared hard and they poured scorn with every disdainful bat of their eyelids. One of them turned back to Larry and made it abundantly clear that I was most certainly not invited. It wasn’t the annual Weight Watchers convention. It was a pure-blooded, exclusive, sorority bash and it was going to be fun with a capital F. Larry shook his head, still smiling, thanked them kindly and politely declined the offer.

They exchanged knowing looks and assumed that Larry had to be the kind of hot little gay muffin that hid behind friendly fat girls to disguise his real preferences for being man-handled by muscular, sweating cowpokes at the rear end of the ranch house. They stalked off in disgust and Larry carried on talking as if nothing had happened. But something had happened. Larry had been the subject – or the victim, depending how you wanted to spin it – of a full-frontal pick-up attempt by two obviously attractive and eligible young women, two highly pneumatic young ladies who’d made it blindingly obvious that they weren’t remotely interested in his potential as a source of polite and genteel conversation. He’d been selected to star in an orgiastic feast of the flesh, the kind of fantasy most guys would happily die for. And he’d looked at me with those beautiful, polar ice-cap-melting eyes and called me his girlfriend. Never mind the frigging polar ice caps. I have to tell you. I melted right then and there.

I couldn’t let this moment pass and pretend that nothing had happened. Never mind about my brother Miclav’s orange-suited confrontation with the other inmates in the county jail who’d taken bets on how long he’d survive in solitary before someone sliced off his cajones and made him wear them as a matching pair of slightly shriveled gypsy earrings. I wanted to know why Larry had turned down a personal invitation to spend a wild night of passion at the sorority gig. I wanted to know what he’d meant when he’d called me his girlfriend. He shrugged as he leaned across the table, his broadening shoulders relaxing as he looked into my eyes and he smiled as he spoke. It was really simple. He just didn’t have any of that particular brand of experience around women. It probably sounded pretty weird in this day and age but he was only supposed to date girls from his community and there weren’t too many to choose from. And even fewer pretty ones.

So he’d never been in a position to find out what all the fuss was about. And he’d always been kind of shy. And I was the closest thing he’d ever had to a real girlfriend so he hoped I hadn’t been offended when he’d used the word. Offended? I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. He talked about the frustrations of his teen years, of being nudged towards dates with buck-toothed girls who were, in all likelihood, direct blood relations. He’d reluctantly been out on a date – a short stroll in the park with both sets of parents about ten feet behind them – and it had felt as if he was walking and talking with someone who could’ve been his sister. We left the cafeteria and I suggested we should celebrate the great Bulgari victories by going for a drink. Nothing too heavy. A glass of wine perhaps. Holy wine? he asked. Communion wine to celebrate our communication? Why not? We were headed off for a drink. No ulterior motives this time. Just a quiet drink with a friend.

I knew a little bar next to the college grounds where students sometimes went for a drink and where questions were rarely asked. It was known locally as the Launch Pad because a lot of kids got high on its premises and, after a couple of drinks, most kids felt convinced they could fly. It was also the favourite starting point for a night of carousing and partying. The bar wasn’t too busy when we slipped inside and we ordered a couple of glasses of Merlot from the waiter to toast each other’s health and happiness in the dim lighting. We drank little sips to the Bulgari clan. We drank more generously to the Hershkowitzes, both the local branch and the distantly-related, Baltimore varieties. We drank to friendship and we drank to our dreams and that required a second glass. And halfway through that warm and richly fragrant wine, Larry leaned a little closer and kissed me.

It was so gentle, the lightest touch of his lips briefly brushing the outline of my mouth, a hesitant butterfly kiss that barely landed on my skin before lifting up again, hovering for a moment before descending to stroke the corner of my mouth and move away again. His eyes were closed as he moved a little closer and I placed my hands gently around his head and drew him into my kiss. If you’ve ever known a moment in eternity that held that total certainty when everything felt so right, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. I kissed him and his mouth opened a little, the tip of his tongue tracing the contours of my lips, stroking the edges of my lips, a melting moment of exploration that led us headfirst off the edge of the known world.

I had lost track of time. I wasn’t even too sure where we were anymore. It felt like the Laws of Physics were melting around us. All I knew was that I was tumbling slowly in orbit around Larry and that I never wanted to return to terra firma again. A space opened up for a heartbeat as the empty wine glasses stood silently between us, tacit conspirators to our moment of knowing, and we stood up from our table and walked out into the night, arms around each other’s waists and strolled back towards my room on the far side of the campus. It was dark as we seemed to glide from one pool of amber light to the next, moving in and out of the shadows, and I could feel his warmth against my side, fire in my veins and his kiss still playing like an electrical storm on my lips. He stopped once to hold me in his arms in the depth of a shadow, my head nestled on his shoulder and his chest pressed close to mine.

He took my earlobe gently between his teeth and I felt an electric thrill shoot down my spine that I’d never known before. I gasped as he teased my ear for a second and then he lifted his head and smiled at me and we turned back to the pathway and the light of the street lamps, my knees feeling suddenly weak and, as the night air closed around us, we climbed the short flight of steps to my room and I opened the door.

We didn’t switch on the lights. The room was bathed in a gentle orange glow from the sodium lamps outside. I knew Larry was shy and I certainly wasn’t over-confident about my body. I was trembling. Partly from the adrenaline. Partly from the fear. Maybe a little from the wine. Mostly from the currents of energy flowing between us. This was something new for me and I knew it was a totally new experience for Larry. What I hadn’t expected, what shocked, amazed and frankly thrilled me, was that this beautiful young man possessed a natural and untutored gift for the arts of love that would more than take my breath away. Larry was in a class of his own and this extraordinary, irresistible man would effectively spoil me for the rest of my life. 

Despite his apparent inexperience, Larry began to undress me in the half-light, slowly, unhurried, pausing to kiss my shoulders, stroke the side of my neck with his lips and tongue tip, chasing the soft petals of my earlobes and smoothing the ridges of tension around my shoulder blades with his fingertips. His hands moved to my waist and I could feel his fingers slipping inside the waistband of my pants, joining together to make perfect, decreasing circles at the base of my spine, easing the coils of pressure in the bunched muscles, sending ripples of pleasure along the length of my back.

It was a moment of bliss, the nerves responding with a collective sigh as his fingertips moved from my shoulder blades to the lowest point of my spine and back again, pausing to make those circles around my tail-bone and then back up towards my neck. It was bizarre. It was beautiful. It felt incredible. And I stepped out of the skirt that had pooled on the floor around my feet, and Larry whispered in my ear, holding me against the breadth of his chest, you’re beautiful, Misha.

He was still fully clothed as he knelt down in front of me, his hands holding my hips. He was breathing more deeply now as he began to map the contours of my thong with his mouth, breathing warm air through the flimsy fabric, my fingers gripping and releasing the mass of blond curls on his head as he ran his tongue along the inside edge of my dampened and super-heated polka-dot panties. They slipped away to the floor without even a whisper of protest and we fell in slow motion, seeking the comforting support of my bed as Larry kissed the inside of my thighs.

He was gifted. How or why – no one could possibly know. Not even Larry himself. He possessed a natural instinct, a superhuman sensitivity, an animal awareness that drew him precisely to every unexplored and hyper-sensitive pleasure centre of my body, tuned into my unspoken needs, my unconscious desires, and my unfulfilled libido. I came home. And I was utterly and hopelessly lost. He moved as if he were my shadow, reflecting every twist and movement of my body, echoing the involuntary curve of my arched back with his hands, breathing with my heartbeat, sipping the droplets of sweat that pooled between my breasts, moving around me, tasting me, thrilling every heightened nerve ending, gathering my pleasure into one continuous wave of explosive intensity.

I can’t even remember when he slipped out of his clothes. His focus was completely on me. He wouldn’t let me reciprocate. He wanted me to lose myself in the approaching tsunami, cresting the wave without any thoughts of anyone or anything else, not even a hint of distraction from the fiercely burning cone of pleasure that was drawing me irresistibly to its molten peak. He became an extension of everything I was feeling, the edges blurring and melting and when I gasped that I really needed to feel him inside me, he hesitated, holding completely still, drawing out the moment until it was completely unbearable and the walls of the room started to shake and I was clawing at him to seize and possess every cell in my body.

There was a moment of complete emptiness, just a sharp intake of breath, and then he moved and I heard the thunder long before the lightning flashed. A deep roll in the pit of my pelvis that foreshadowed a blinding flash of unbearably ferocious intensity and I howled and let go of everything that held me to this earth, roaring and soaring and feeling the wings of the old gods lifting me high above the cold, darkness of everything I’d ever known, a moment of such intense bliss that the wheels of time held still and offered me a glimpse of eternity. 

Dawn patterned my familiar room with the dappled light of its rose-tinted glow and my first thoughts on waking were – Did that really happen or did I just have the most perfect and realistic dream a human can ever possibly experience without the benefit of non-prescription medication? The answer was curled up next to me, a blaze of blond curls cast around his head like an angel’s shining halo on a medieval icon. The room, my solitary cell on the pathway to academic excellence, reeked of sex.

And it was the headiest perfume I had ever inhaled in my entire life. I had never felt so energised, so exhausted, so peaceful, so animated, so completely fulfilled. I was still buzzing with the night’s chemical cocktail of high-octane hormonal stimulation and I wasn’t sure if I’d ever come back down to earth. Larry stirred and slowly opened his eyes, smiling at the wildly dishevelled jungle of my hair and said simply, Good God, Misha, but you’re beautiful first thing in the morning. I moved closer to him, wrapping one thigh around his hips, and he moved gently down between my legs to start again. Oh, what the Hell, I said to myself as I turned onto my back and he slipped a pillow beneath my hips. Why the Hell not?

[]Chapter 19:

The golden days of my youth

Some guys should have a clear warning label tattooed on the back of their necks. The ones who cause the pain and the heartache, those selfish and insecure mongrels who sow the seeds of trouble in your heart Those guys. They should have a label that ends with the simple advice that it would be altogether better to pull the trigger on the mutts without the slightest hesitation and put the brutes out of their misery. Because, in a true and traditional Christian sense, it would be a pure and necessary case of mercy killing – and the world would be a much better place without them. 

But some guys – and, unlike the first category, there really aren’t too many of these individuals in this world – these particular guys need to carry a warning label to prepare you for the fact that they are just too wonderful. Period. And that no one else will ever come close to their magical presence in your life. So you better be prepared for a whole lot of disappointment from every other guy you ever get involved with. Because these are the handful of guys in the world who are totally are unique. Like gentle, exotic visitors from another planet. You only ever get the one shot – if you’re blessed and lucky enough to meet one in the first place. Larry absolutely and unquestionably fell into the second category. 

We became an item on campus, Larry’s physique being blessed by the superb genetic potential to build perfectly-proportioned, lean muscle from head to toe and my own amazing case of the rapidly disappearing fat lady. Guys began to notice me for the first time in my life. Yeah. I stared to get looks of appreciation now. Some chisel-boned jock with muscles in his spit even had the temerity to stick a hand-crafted sign across the back of my chair with the single legend ‘HOT!!’ stencilled across it.

I resisted the temptation to swing my heavily-loaded laptop case right into his overloaded jockstrap but I kept the sign in my precious room on campus. Larry and I used to laugh at it all the time. I was still getting used to the unexpected attention. I remember hearing a wolf whistle from a bunch of guys digging the road and I immediately assumed they were calling for their dog. It was the accompanying observations in Spanish that informed me of the object of their attentions. And, I have to confess, mea culpa, mea culpa, that I smiled to myself, secretly pleased, as I turned and gave them the collective benefit of my finger. 

The old doc kept a regular check on my progress, pleased to see me and welcome me to his cramped little surgery. He told me my case made for fine reading and said he was seriously tempted to submit an article about me to a medical journal, show people what could be achieved with a little effort and a little self-discipline. Said he’d make me famous. Me. Misha Bulgari. He actually said he was proud of me.

Used those exact words and I graduated from walking around the campus to jogging about ten miles every day, getting progressively leaner and stronger, burning the calories and starting to look, well, a little more athletic. And maybe (at least in my own mind) looking like a more suitable candidate to deserve Larry’s endless capacity for unlimited love and boundless affection. We had that priceless, unrepeatable year together before the fates intervened and our paths were unthreaded, our destinies torn apart and our lives headed off in different directions. No one could see it coming. But that’s how the fates worked the threads, plaiting and separating the knots and ties that bind us. That’s how they weaved the fortunes of mere mortals. But that was still a little way off. And we managed to keep our parents blissfully unaware of how we felt about each other. No point in making our lives even more complicated by risking the combined wrath of the Jewish community and the impressively vindictive and devoutly catholic Bulgaris.

Damn, I’d have happily converted to Judaism if Larry had been remotely interested or spiritually connected to the religion of his forefathers. But he wasn’t. And I didn’t. I guess Larry was connected to everyone, whatever their creed. And when rumours circulated in the old neighbourhood that I’d been seen in the company of a tall, blond, handsome young man, All I had to do was whisper to Mavenka in complete confidence that the guy was, tragically for women-folk everywhere, irretrievably gay. And the story was instantly broadcast on my little sister’s ultra-confidential, don’t-repeat-this-to-anyone….but, broadband, Bible class, hotter-than-the-hobs-of-Hell, personal gossip channel. Larry loved the story and even volunteered to start wearing my makeup – to confuse and confound the enemy! He said. I could’ve sent him to the local health club for mascara lessons with Ricky boy – but I didn’t want to take the risk that Larry might so easily be kidnapped and locked away in some dimly lit, perfumed corner, with the sole purpose of keeping Ricky in his own personal paradise for years and years to come.

And did anyone in the Bulgari residence notice my slimmer, trimmer silhouette? Well, sometimes but not really. The Bulgari family had suffered a massive information overload and their answer to the crisis of that fateful year was to gather themselves into the old, familiar configuration of troughing and munching, browsing and chewing, feeding their fat cells and giving thanks to the Lord for all their recent deliverances.

I sat with them sometimes at the weekends, listening to the usual conversations, mumbled through their mouthfuls of half-chewed high-fat fare, and no one so much as mentioned the plate of steamed vegetables that I was happily consuming. No one asked anymore why I wasn’t first in the frantic rush to dismember and devour the freshly-baked chocolate fudge cake. Nobody wondered if I was sick because I was so obviously slimmer than before. Maybe they were getting used to a lot of things being a little different around the Bulgari household. Maybe my quest for a newer, healthier me had proceeded without the family’s combined disapproval and opposition. 

The lady nutritionist, that faithful font of wisdom and encouragement, had said that my departure from the house had probably been the spark, the catalyst that had initiated the domestic crisis that had overwhelmed the Bulgari family. Like taking the lid off a pressure cooker, she’d said.

All that pent-up energy and frustration suddenly bubbling over. Everything was connected, Honey, she’d smiled. Everything was connected. And you are one bodacious force for change in the world, aren’t you? I just hope that the world is totally ready for you. She smiled with those beautiful deep blue eyes and I kind of hoped that she was right. She noticed how happy I was and even suggested with a sly grin that my love life must’ve taken a remarkable turn for the better. I just smiled and said, Maybe.

Because the very next day, even as I woke up from a really good night’s sleep, life got a lot more interesting for me than I’d ever thought possible. My life was about to change in ways I’d never ever imagined possible. But that is another story.

Hey. Hope you’ve managed to stay awake so far, my patient and ever-faithful traveling companion. If your eyes are still wide open and you’d like to keep right on keeping on and keeping me company, feel free to join me on this continuing journey of excitement and adventure. Come on. It wouldn’t be the same without you, would it? Of course not!

So, to tell you the truth – and don’t I always? – I’m really looking forward to sharing every glorious detail of what happens next in my quest for life, love and a totally better body. And Mama doesn’t need to know, does she? You see. That’s what I’ve always liked about you. You’re so wonderfully discrete!

I’m Misha Bulgari and you, oh Gorgeous One, are my new and absolute best friend. So let’s get ready to have a total blast together. Wear whatever you like. Bring a friend along if you want to. The adventure awaits!

[]Chapter 20:

Misha’s Delicious Fat Blasting (It’s PALEO Folks!) Recipes

Time for some well-deserved congratulations. Misha has done so amazingly well to take control of her weight issues, hasn’t she? And like any well-informed and super-smart young lady, she referred to the latest, cutting-edge research on effective weight loss, the science that’s backed up by some of the most prestigious universities in the world today.

She learned that she had to re-set her wildly dysfunctional metabolism and stabilise her insulin levels. We know that this will usually take about three days of complete and total abstinence from sugar, usually under medical supervision, and then her cravings for the sweet stuff would naturally decline. She made a decision to cut out all grains from her diet and reduce dairy too, focusing on the healing and restorative power of fresh, organic vegetables with lots of lean, organic protein to fuel her system.

And, of course, she began to move her body, gently, slowly, carefully but regularly. Her body would switch to its natural, fat-burning mode and time would take care of the rest. This highly effective approach to intelligent and sustained weight loss can revolutionise the health and wellbeing of any individual and here is a list of the delicious recipes that Misha learned to prepare to make mealtimes a totally healthy treat for her body and for her taste-buds.

[] Breakfast – No Grain

Gutsy Granola

Ingredients:

1 cup cashews

3/4 cup almonds

1/4 cup pumpkin seeds, shelled

1/4 cup sunflower seeds, shelled

1/2 cup unsweetened coconut flakes

1/4 cup coconut oil

Stevia to taste

1 tsp vanilla

low sodium salt to taste

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the cashews, almonds, coconut flakes and pumpkin seeds into a blender and pulse to break the mixture into smaller pieces.

In a large microwave-safe bowl, melt the coconut oil, vanilla, and stevia together for 40-50 seconds. Add in the mixture from the blender and the sunflower seeds, and stir to coat.

Spread the mixture out onto the baking sheet and cook for 20-25 minutes, stirring once, until the mixture is lightly browned. Remove from heat. Add low sodium salt.

Press the granola mixture together to form a flat, even surface. Cool for about 15 minutes, and then break into pieces.

[] Tasty Apple Almond Coconut Medley

Ingredients:

one-half apple cored and roughly diced

handful of sliced almonds

handful of unsweetened coconut

generous dose of cinnamon

1 pinch of low sodium salt

Instructions:

Pulse in the food processor to desired consistency–smaller is better for the little ones!

Serve with almond milk, or creamy coconut milk.

 

Ultimate Skinny Granola

Ingredients:

1 cup of unsweetened coconut milk or unsweetened almond milk

Stevia liquid to taste

1 tablespoon each of unsalted …

pecan pieces

walnut pieces

almonds

pistachios

raw pine nuts

raw sunflower/safflower seeds

raw pumpkin seeds

2 Tablespoons of frozen or fresh berry selection (e.g. blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, or other kinds etc)

Instructions:

Put all the nuts & seeds in a breakfast bowl.

add a few drops of pure liquid stevia and stir it well in.

Add the berries and milk.

If using frozen berries, wait for 2-3 minutes for them to get warmer.

The berries will now release some color into the milk, making it look really interesting. Enjoy!

Desserts

[]

Fabulous Brownie Treats

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups walnuts

Pinch of low sodium salt

1 tsp vanilla

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

Stevia to taste

 

Instructions:

Add walnuts and low sodium salt to a blender or food processor. Mix until the walnuts are finely ground.

Add the vanilla, and cocoa powder etc to the blender. Mix well until everything is combined.

With the blender still running, add a couple drops of water at a time to make the mixture stick together.

Using a spatula, transfer the mixture into a bowl. Using your hands, form small round balls, rolling in your palm.

Best Ever Banana Surprise Cake

Ingredients:

Bottom Fruit Layer:

2 tbsps coconut oil, melted

1 small banana, sliced, or ¼ cup blueberries for low carb version

2 tbsps walnut pieces * optional, can omit for nut free.

Stevia to taste

1 tsp ground cinnamon.

 

Top Cake Layer:

2 eggs, beaten.

Stevia to taste

¼ cup unsweetened coconut milk, or unsweetened almond milk.

1 tsp organic GF vanilla extract, or 1 tsp ground vanilla bean

½ tsp baking soda.

1 tsp apple cider vinegar.

1 small banana, mashed, or ¼ cup blueberries for lower carb version.

⅓ cup coconut flour

 

 

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350 F, and lightly grease a 9 inch cake pan.

Place 2 tbsps coconut oil into cake pan, and put pan into preheating oven for a couple minutes to melt butter or oil. Once melted, make sure butter or oil is evenly distributed all over the bottom of the pan.

Sprinkle 2-4 drops stevia sweetener all over the melted oil.

Sprinkle 1 tsp cinnamon on top of sweetener layer.

Layer banana slices or blueberries on top of butter- sweetener layer, as seen in photo above. Add optional walnut pieces to fruit layer. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl combine all the “top cake layer” ingredients except for the coconut flour. Mix thoroughly, then add the coconut flour and mix well, scraping sides of bowl, and braking up any coconut flour clumps.

Spoon cake batter on top of fruit layer in cake pan

Spread cake batter evenly across entire pan.

Bake for 25 minutes or until top of cake is browned and center is set.

Remove from oven and let cool completely.

Use a butter knife between cake and edge of pan and slide around to loosen cake from pan. Turn cake pan upside down onto a large plate or serving platter.

Slice and serve.

Should be stored in fridge, if serving later.

Sexy Dessert Pan

Ingredients:

Crust:

1 1/2 cups pecans

3/4 cup dates

4 tbsp coconut oil

 

Second Layer:

2/3 cup cashew butter

1/3 cup palm shortening

2 tsp apple cider vinegar

1/2 tsp lemon juice

Pinch low sodium salt

 

Third Layer:

1 cup coconut flour

1 cup coconut milk

Stevia to taste

1 tsp vanilla extract

 

Fourth Layer:

1/2 cup coconut milk

1/2 cup coconut butter

1/2 cup cacao powder

2 tbsp honey

 

Fifth Layer:

1/2 cup coconut butter

1/4 cup coconut milk

Stevia to taste

 

Sixth Layer:

Grated dark sugar free chocolate , at least 80% cacao

 

Instructions:

To make the crust, roughly chop the pecans then pit and chop the dates. Load both into a food processor and pulse until ground but still crumbly. Transfer to a bowl and work in the coconut oil, then press the sticky mixture into a single smooth layer at the bottom of a square 8×8 cake pan.

Transfer to the refrigerator to chill while you begin the second layer. To make the second layer, combine its ingredients very well in a medium mixing bowl. Spoon over the chilled crust, smoothing as much as possible with the back of a spoon. Place the pan back in the fridge.

To make the third layer, mix its ingredients together in a mixing bowl and then spoon over the chilled, hardened second layer. Smooth as much as possible, then chill.

Add the fourth layer by combining its ingredients and then layering it into the pan in the same way as the previous layers.

For the fifth layer, mix the coconut shortening, coconut milk and stevia with a hand mixer until very smooth and spoon over the chilled fourth layer.

Before placing the pan back into the refrigerator after adding the fifth layer, grate very dark chocolate over the top to the depth of your preference. Chill the pan for an additional half hour or more, then slice with a sharp knife and serve.

Egg Dishes

[]

Spicy Scrambled Eggs

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 red onion, finely chopped

1 medium green pepper, cored, seeded, and finely chopped

1 chilli, seeded and cut into thin strips

3 ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 large organic eggs

Instructions:

Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy, preferably nonstick skillet over medium heat.

Add the onion and cook until soft, 6 to 7 minutes.

Add the pepper and chilli and continue cooking until soft, another 4 to 5 minutes.

Add in the tomatoes, and salt and pepper to taste and cook uncovered, over low heat for 10 minutes.

Add the eggs, stirring them into the mixture to distribute.

Cover the skillet and cook until the eggs are set but still fluffy and tender, about 7 to 8 minutes. Divide between 4 plates and serve.

[] Spectacular Spinach Omelet

Ingredients:

2 eggs

1.5 cups raw spinach

coconut oil, about 1 tbsp

1/3 c tomatoes and onion salsa (lightly fried in pan)

1 tbsp fresh cilantro

Instructions:

Melt coconut oil on medium in frying pan. Add spinach, cook until mostly wilted. Beat eggs and add to pan.

Flip once the egg sets around the edge. When it’s almost done add the salsa on top just to warm it. Move to plate and add cilantro. Serves one.

Spectacular Eggie Salsa

Ingredients:

2 pounds fresh ripe tomatoes, peeled and coarsely chopped

2 to 3 serrano or jalapeño chiles, seeded for a milder sauce, and chopped

2 garlic cloves, peeled, halved, green shoots removed

1/2 small onion, chopped

2 tablespoons oil

Low sodium salt to taste

4 to 8 eggs (to taste)

Chopped cilantro for garnish

 

Instructions:

Place the tomatoes, chilies, garlic and onion in a blender and puree, retaining a bit of texture.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over high heat in a large, heavy nonstick skillet, until a drop of puree will sizzle when it hits the pan.

Add the puree and cook, stirring, for four to ten minutes, until the sauce thickens, darkens and leaves a trough when you run a spoon down the middle of the pan. It should just begin to stick to the pan.

Season to taste with salt, and remove from the heat. Keep warm while you fry the eggs.

Warm four plates. Fry the eggs in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat.

Use the remaining tablespoon of oil if necessary. Cook them sunny side up, until the whites are solid but the yolks still runny.

Season with salt and pepper, and turn off the heat. Place one or two fried eggs on each plate.

Spoon the hot salsa over the whites of the eggs, leaving the yolks exposed if possible. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve.

Main Dishes

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Spectacular Spaghetti & Delish Turkey Balls

Ingredients:

1 spaghetti squash

Extra virgin olive oil,

low sodium salt and pepper

1 tsp dried or fresh oregano

 

For the sauce:

1 lb ground turkey

1 small onion, chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 tbsp coconut oil

1 tomato, chopped

1/2 jar of tomato sauce

1 tbsp Italian seasoning

low sodium salt and pepper to taste

Fresh basil

 

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Using a sharp knife, cut the squash in half lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds and discard.

Place the halves with the cut side up on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and season with low sodium salt, pepper, and oregano. Roast the squash in the oven for 40-45 minutes, until you can poke the squash easily with a fork.

Let it cool until you can handle it safely. Then scrape the insides with a fork to shred the squash into strands.

While the spaghetti squash is roasting, melt coconut oil in a large skillet over medium heat.

Add chopped onion and garlic and cook for 4-5 minutes. Add ground turkey and brown the meat, stirring occasionally. Season with low sodium salt and pepper.

Add the chopped tomato, tomato sauce, and Italian seasoning and stir to combine. Simmer on low heat, stirring occasionally, while the spaghetti squash finishes roasting. Serve over spaghetti squash with basil for garnish.

Sensational Courgette Pasta and Turkey Bolognese

Ingredients:

4 medium zucchini

 

For the sauce:

1 lb ground turkey

1 small onion, chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 tbsp coconut oil

1 tomato, chopped

1/2 jar of tomato sauce

1 tbsp Italian seasoning

low sodium salt and pepper to taste

Fresh basil, for garnish

 

Instructions:

Use a julienne peeler to slice the zucchini into noodles, stopping when you reach the seeds. Set aside.

If cooking zucchini noodles, simply add to a skillet and sauté over medium heat for 4-5 minutes.

Melt coconut oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add chopped onion and garlic and cook for 4-5 minutes.

Add ground turkey and brown the meat, stirring occasionally. Season with low sodium salt and pepper.

Add the chopped tomato, tomato sauce, and Italian seasoning and stir to combine. Simmer on low heat, stirring occasionally.

Add the sauce to the noodles and ENJOY.

Tantalizing Turkey Pepper Stir-Fry

Ingredients:

2 bell peppers, sliced

1 cup broccoli florets

2 cooked and shredded turkey breasts

1/4 teaspoon chili powder

low sodium salt and pepper to taste

1 tablespoon coconut oil for frying

 

Instructions:

Add 1 tablespoon coconut oil into a frying pan on a medium heat.

Place the sliced bell peppers into the frying pan.

After the bell peppers soften, add in the cooked turkey meat.

Add in the chili powder, low sodium salt and pepper.

Mix well and stir-fry for a few more minutes.

Sexy Turkey Scramble

Ingredients:

1 pound ground turkey

2 medium yellow onions

2 bell peppers (any color)

2 medium squash or zucchini

1 large hand-full of fresh spinach (2-3 ounces)

Spices to taste: I used about 1 tablespoon each of: cumin, chili powder, garlic powder, low sodium salt, and fresh cilantro

 

Instructions:

Brown the turkey until well cooked in a large skillet or wok over medium high heat.

Remove and add thinly sliced onions, peppers, squash/zucchini to the pan and saute, stirring constantly, until starting to soften.

Return turkey to pan and add fresh spinach.

Spice to taste and continue to cook until spinach is wilted.

Remove and serve with any desired toppings.

Seafood

[]

Sexy Spicy Salmon

Ingredients:

For the Salmon:

4 6 ounce Sockeye Salmon Filets

½ teaspoon of Cinnamon

½ teaspoon of Coriander

½ teaspoon of Cumin

¼ teaspoon of Ground Cloves

¼ teaspoon of Cardamom

low sodium salt to taste

1 Tablespoon of coconut butter

 

For the Lime Mustard dressing:

¼ cup of olive oil

1 Tablespoon of Lime Juice

2 teaspoons of mustard powder

Pinch of low sodium salt

 

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Grind all of the spices together with a mortar and pestle until mustard seeds are cracked, most are powder, and everything is well blended.

Spread the mixture over the salmon evenly, and place on a baking pan with a non-stick rack.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until the flesh flakes easily with a fork.  If you prefer salmon that is medium-rare, 15 minutes should do the trick.

Enjoy with your favorite sautéed greens, or mixed salad.

Sexy Shrimp Cocktail

Ingredients:

1 pound uncooked shrimp, peeled, deveined, and thawed if frozen

1 tablespoon olive oil

Low sodium salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

1 cup coconut cream and two tablespoon tomato paste

One teaspoon fresh pressed garlic

lemon wedges

 

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Oil the bottom of a 9 × 13 baking dish.

Rinse the salmon and pat dry with paper towels. Sprinkle with low sodium salt and pepper and place in the prepared dish.

Mix together the oil (room temperature), lemon zest and dill.

Place about half the mixture on top of the seasoned salmon. You can spread the lemon dill mixture or leave it in dollops like this.

Bake for about 10-15 minutes. The salmon will continue cooking even after you take it out of the oven.

Add the remaining oil/dill/lemon zest mixture on top, add a squeeze of lemon juice.

Spectacular Salmon

Ingredients:

For the salmon:

2 salmon fillets (6oz each)

1 heaping tablespoon coconut flour

2 tablespoons fresh parsley

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon mustard powder

low sodium salt and pepper, to taste

 

For the salad:

2 cups any green leaf salad

¼ red onion, sliced thin

juice of 1 lemon

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

1 tablespoon olive oil

low sodium salt and pepper, to taste

 

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 375F.

Mix the chopped raw shrimp, egg, onions, parsley, almond meal, 1tbsp coconut butter, garlic, low sodium salt and pepper. Set aside.

Lightly season the salmon pieces with low sodium salt and pepper. Heat a cast iron pan on high and add the rest of the lard. Pan sear the salmon 1-2 minutes per side.

Move the salmon to an ovenproof dish and top each piece with 2 tbsp (or more!) of the shrimp topping. Lightly brush the top with a little bit of lard and bake in the oven for 15 minutes.

Afterwards, set your oven to broil and cook for about 3 more minutes until the top becomes crispy.

Salads

[]

Rosy Chicken Salad

Ingredients:

For the chicken:

450g chicken mince, free range of course

1 long red chili, finely chopped with the seeds

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

Little nob of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped

1 stem lemon grass, pale section only, finely chopped

1/2 bunch of coriander stems washed and finely chopped (I don’t waste anything, save the leaves for the salad)

2 1/2 tbsp fish sauce

1/2 lime rind grated

1/2 lime, juiced

A pinch of low sodium salt

Coconut oil for frying (about 3 tablespoons)

 

For the salad:

1/4 red cabbage, thinly sliced

1 large carrot, peeled and grated

1/2 Spanish onion, thinly sliced

2 tbsp green spring onion, chopped

1/2 bunch of fresh coriander leaves (saved from the stems used in the chicken)

A handful of fresh mint or Thai basil if available

1/2 cup crashed roasted cashews or some sesame seeds

 

For the dressing:

2 tbsp olive oil

3 tbsp lime juice

1 tbsp fish sauce

1 small red chili, finely chopped

 

Instructions:

Once you’ve prepared all your ingredients for the chicken, heat 1 tbsp of coconut oil in a large frying pan or a wok to high.

Throw in lemongrass, chili, garlic, coriander stems and ginger and stir fry for about a minute until fragrant.

Add chicken mince and lime zest. Stir and break apart the mince with a wooden mixing spoon until separated into small chunks (this might take a while as chicken mince is quite sticky).

The meat will now be changing to white colour.

Add fish sauce and lime juice. Stir through and cook for a further few minutes. Total cooking time for the chicken should be about 10 minutes.

Prepare the salad base by mixing together sliced red cabbage, onion grated carrot, and fresh herbs.

Mix all dressing ingredients and toss through the salad.

Serve cooked chicken mince on top of the dressed salad and topped with roasted cashews, dried shallots, coconut flakes and extra fresh herbs.

Sexy Italian Tuna Salad

Ingredients:

10 sun-dried tomatoes

2 (5 oz) can of tuna

1-2 ribs of celery, diced finely

2 Tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

1 cloves garlic, minced

3 Tablespoons finely chopped parsley

1/2 Tablespoon lemon juice

low sodium salt and pepper to taste

 

Instructions:

Prepare the sun-dried tomatoes by softening them in warm water for 30 minutes until soft. Then, pat the tomatoes dry and chop finely.

Flake the tuna.

Mix the tuna together with the chopped tomatoes, celery, extra virgin olive oil, garlic, parsley, and lemon juice. Add low sodium salt and pepper to taste.

If not serving immediately, mix with extra olive oil just before serving.

Optional: Make cucumber boats with them.

Spectacular Sprouts Salad

Ingredients:

1/2 pound of mixed sprouts (2-ish cups once sliced)

1/2 Granny Smith apple

1/2 cup chopped almonds

2 chicken breasts, chopped

1/2 white onion, finely diced

 

Vinaigrette:

2 TBSP Apple Cider Vinegar

1 TBSP quality brown mustard

1 TBSP avocado oil

Stevia to taste

1/2 tsp low sodium salt

few grinds of black pepper

 

Instructions:

Cut Granny Smith apple, slicing into matchsticks.

Chop the half cup of almonds. Finely dice the white onion. Scallions would work too if you prefer a more mild onion flavor… though the white did not overpower.

Remove the breasts and chop into bite-sized pieces. Combine all of these ingredients into a large bowl and gently toss the sprouts into the salad.

Whipping up the vinaigrette takes seconds.  Add all ingredients to a small bowl and whisk until smooth. Pour over the sprouts salad and toss to bring together.

Pure Vegetables

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Drizzle with the cream sauce. Add the remaining half of the spinach, followed by the rest of the butternut squash. Drizzle the rest of the cream sauce over the top.

Sprinkle with low sodium salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Bake for 50-60 minutes until browned. Allow to cool for 10 minutes.

Sexy Salsa Salad

Ingredients:

1 bunch of cilantro

5-6 roma tomatoes

1 small yellow or red onion

1 small chili pepper

2 ripe avocados.

handful of rucola leaf

 

Instructions:

Chop cilantro, dice tomatoes, dice onion, finely dice chili pepper, dice avocado.

After dicing each ingredient add to large bowl. Add rucola to bowl.

When finished, toss.

Mouth-watering Mushroom Salad

Ingredients:

2/3 cup olive oil

1/3 cup fresh lemon juice

One tablespoon red wine vinegar

1 tsp dried thyme

pepper and garlic powder to taste

1 pound fresh mushrooms, thinly sliced

1/4 cup minced parsley

Rucola leaves

 

Instructions:

Combine all ingredients except the mushrooms, parsley and greens, and mix well.

Add the mushrooms and toss with 2 forks. Cover and let stand at room temperature.

At serving time, drain and sprinkle with the parsley. Pile in a serving dish lined with greens.

Skinny Sweet Potato Salad

Ingredients:

4 small sweet potatoes

1 tablespoon olive oil extra virgin

1 teaspoon mustard powder

4 celery stalks, sliced 1/4-inch thick

1 small red bell pepper, cut into 1/4-inch dice

2 scallions, finely chopped

low sodium salt and pepper

1/2 cup coarsely chopped toasted pecans

Chopped fresh chives

 

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Wrap each sweet potato in foil and bake for 1 hour.

Unwrap; let cool. Peel; cut into 3/4-inch chunks.

In a large bowl, mix oil and mustard. Add sweet potatoes, celery,

red pepper and scallions; toss gently.

Season to taste with low sodium salt and pepper.

Cover and refrigerate about 1 hour.

Fold in pecans and sprinkle with chives.

Smoothies

Tempting Coconut Berry Smoothie

Ingredients:

½ Cup Frozen Blackberries

½ Frozen Banana

1 Teaspoon Chia Seeds

¼ Inch Piece of Fresh Ginger

½ Cup Almond

Coconut Milk

1 scoop of HEMP protein

2 Tablespoons Toasted Coconut

 

Instructions:

Combine all the ingredients in a blender and process until smooth.

Voluptuous Vanilla Hot Drink

[* Ingredients:*]

3 cups unsweetened almond milk (or 1 1/2 cup full fat coconut milk + 1 1/2 cups water)

Stevia to taste

1 scoop of hemp protein

1/2 Tbsp. ground cinnamon (or more to taste

1/2 Tbsp. vanilla extract

 

Instructions:

Place the almond milk into a pitcher. Place ground cinnamon, hemp, anilla extract in a small saucepan over medium high heat. Heat until the pure liquid stevia is just melted and then pour the pure liquid stevia mixture into the pitcher.

Stir until the pure liquid stevia is well combined with the almond milk. Place the pitcher in the fridge and allow to chill for at least two hours. Stir well before serving.

Divine Vanilla Smoothie

Ingredients:

1 cup coconut or almond milk

¼ cup almond butter

1 tsp vanilla paste, (or vanilla extract)

2 cups ice

Vanilla liquid, seeds or powder, to taste

Vanilla or plain hemp Protein Powder – 1 tablespoon

 

Instructions:

Add all ingredients except ice to blender. Puree well.

Add ice and blend until ice is all crushed and smoothie is well blended and smooth.

Pour into two glasses and serve immediately.

 

NOTES

[_Add more or less ice to make the smoothie thinner or thicker consistency. _]
Great for a post workout smoothie!

Snacks

[] Gorgeous Spicy Nuts

 

Ingredients:

2/3 cup of each (almonds, pecans and walnuts)

1 teaspoon of chili powder

½ teaspoon of cumin

½ teaspoon of black

pepper (ground)

½ teaspoon low sodium salt

1 tables

Instructions:

Heat the pan on medium heat and place the nuts and toast them until lightly browned.

Prepare the spice mixture, while the nuts are toasting.

Mix cumin, chili, low sodium salt and black pepper in a bowl and add the nuts (after coating it with olive oil).

Spicy Pumpkin Seed Bonanza

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups pumpkin seeds,

3 jalapeño peppers, sliced

3 tablespoons olive oil

low sodium salt and paprika, to taste

 

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 350°F

Spread pumpkin seeds out on a rimmed baking sheet.

Add olive oil and low sodium salt and stir pumpkin seeds with your hands to combine.

Lay slices of jalapeño peppers on top of seeds.

Sprinkle paprika over the top of everything, generously.

Bake for 10 minutes.

Use a spatula to move the seeds and peppers around. Bake for another 5 minutes.

Move mixture around some more and bake for a final 5 minutes.

Remove tray from oven and let everything rest for 15-30 minutes to let the jalapeño-ness soak into the seeds.

Store in an airtight container…if you don’t finish them all in one sitting.

Skinny Quicky Crackers

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Ingredients:

1 heaped cup of almond meal

1 egg

2 teaspoons olive oil

Pinch of low sodium salt

 

 

Instructions:

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius or 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Place your ingredients into your blender or food processor in the order listed above, quickly combine at medium speed – you don’t want the mixture to become sticky or turn to almond butter, although do not worry if this happens, it will still work.

Roll the mixture into a ball and place between two sheets of baking paper, roll out to your desired thickness.

Remove the top layer of baking paper and place on an oven tray. Bake for 20 minutes or until nicely golden. Remove from the oven and allow to cool prior to cutting into crackers. Enjoy.

Soups

Cheeky Chicken Soup

Ingredients:

2 large organic chicken breasts, skin removed and cut into ½ inch strips

1 28oz can of diced tomatoes

32 ounces low sodium organic chicken broth

1 sweet onion, diced

2 cups of shredded carrots

2 cups chopped celery

1 bunch of cilantro chopped fine

4 cloves of garlic, minced – I always use one of these

2 Tbs tomato paste

1 tsp chili powder

1 tsp cumin

low sodium salt & fresh cracked pepper to taste

olive oil

1-2 cups water

 

 

 

Instructions:

In a crockpot place a dash of olive oil and about ¼ cup chicken broth. Add onions, garlic, jalapeno, low sodium salt and pepper and cook until soft, adding more broth as needed.

Then add all of your remaining ingredients and enough water to fill to the top of your pot. Cover and let cook on low for about 2 hrs, adjusting low sodium salt & pepper as needed.

Once the chicken is fully cooked, you should be able to shred it very easily. I simply used the back of a wooden spoon and pressed the cooked chicken against the side of the pot.

Top with avocado slices and fresh cilantro. Enjoy!

Tempting Tomato Basil Soup

Ingredients:

4 cans whole tomatoes, crushed Note: check for ones without added sugar or salt!

4 cups tomato juice and part low sodium vegetable broth or chicken broth (I use 2 cups tomato juice and 2 cups low sodium chicken broth)

12 or 14 fresh basil leaves

1 cup coconut milk

Low sodium salt and cracked black pepper to taste

 

 

Instructions:

Combine tomatoes, juice and/or broth in stockpot. Simmer 30 minutes.

Purée, along with basil leaves, in small batches in a food processor, blender or better yet, a hand-held immersion blender right in the pot.

Return to pot and add coconut milk while stirring over low heat.

Triple Squash Delight Soup

Ingredients:

1 butternut squash

1 gold acorn squash

1 white acorn squash

1-2 cups vegetable stock (depending on squash size, and how thick you want the soup)

2 cups diced turkey breast

1/4 cup light coconut milk

1 tbsp. olive oil

low sodium salt for seasoning

 

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  

Halve each squash, scoop out the seeds (and saving them for toasting), and then slice into 1-1 1/2 inch thick crescents.

Spread the squash on an aluminum foil-lined baking sheet and coat lightly with the olive oil.  Season with low sodium salt.  Roast for about 30 minutes, or until golden brown (turning once mid-way through baking).

When the squash has cooled from the oven slightly, spoon off the meat from the skin.

In a medium to large pot, bring theturkey meat, the meat of all the squash and 1 1/2 cups of vegetable stock to a boil.  Turn the heat to low and stir in the coconut milk.

Remove from heat to puree the soup.  You can use an immersion blender, or transfer everything to a traditional blender. 

Blend until smooth, adding any additional stock to achieve the consistency you like.

[]Book 2

h1={color:#000;}.

 

 

Misha Goes Hollywood

 

 

by

 

Misha Bulgari

SPECIAL FREE GIFT FOR YOU

…..enjoy these extra recipes from Misha’s Secret Weightloss Recipes – Log into her website now for more info!

Or grab your free ebook here!

http://www.mishabulgari.com/mishas-free-ebook

http://www.mishabulgari.com

Table of Contents

Chapter 1:

Welcome back!

Chapter 2:

Rolling in the deep

Chapter 3:

Meanwhile, back at the House of Crazy

Chapter 4:

Right.

Chapter 5:

An unexpected parting of the ways

Chapter 6:

Filthy, dirty, wonderful lucre

Chapter 7:

Dodging the Bulgari Bear Traps

Chapter 8:

And – Action!

Chapter 9:

Rock n Roll claims Misha’s unprotesting soul

Chapter 10:

Larry Hershkowitz takes a bite out of the Big Apple

Chapter 11:

Misha’s little helpers

Chapter 12:

Hollywood pays a personal visit

Chapter 13:

Larry moves up

Chapter 14:

57 Shades of Fakir

Chapter 15:

No Bat phone? Call the Lady Nutritionist!

Chapter 16:

Fifty shades of ugly

Chapter 17:

Larry takes a dive

Chapter 18:

The morning after….

Chapter 19:

When in doubt…

Chapter 20:

La Familia

Chapter 21:

Strong coffee and battle plans

Chapter 22:

Misha slips in the back way – again

Chapter 23:

Getting Pipped in the Big Apple

Chapter 24:

Aftermath with a polymath

Chapter 25:

L.A. Woman

Chapter 1:

[]Welcome back!

Hi, Gorgeous! Big kiss. And another! So good to have you here again. What have you been doing? Did you miss me? How long’s it been? Well, time sure does fly when you’re having fun. Now I happen to be one loyal kind of a gal so when I make a commitment to someone, I stick with ‘em! Through and through. All the way. We set off on this adventure together and I couldn’t possibly take another single step in this epic tale without my new best friend at my side. But I guess I should really bring you right up to date because a lot’s happened since we were last in touch. Yeah. I know. You turn your back for one little minute to pick up a fresh, skinny mocha latte and the whole world changes behind you. In the blink of an eye.

You know that the family Bulgari love to live life on the extra-large side of the economy clothing rack, don’t you? Well, nothing new in that particular wholesale department for the circumferentially-challenged! Big, if not bigger than ever, they seemed destined to keep rolling along like a perpetually browsing herd of elephants, consuming everything in their pathway, nosing and jostling their way through vast quantities of calories in the time-honoured family tradition of freshly-baked chocolate fudge cakes, sugared cookies, overfilled cream pastries and the occasional pail of piping hot, goose-fat soup – to aid the digestion and kill all and any bugs and germs that might attempt to breach a family member’s armour-thick layers of protective fat. Same old, same old. Well, almost. Mama Bulgari still ruled the family nest like the old country matriarch she was born to be. Everything flowed through her and around her, barely pausing for breath in the industrial food-production process that dominated the family kitchen.

Hey! Have you been wondering about me? Well, as you can imagine, I’d changed in lots of ways too since we last traveled this pathway of adventure together. I’d lost a ton of weight – and I guess you’d recall how much progress I was making – though I’d probably never really qualify as skinny. I was never going to be a poster girl for some TV famine appeal. That wasn’t going to happen. But I’d managed – with a lot of persistence and lots of heavy duty help from my friends and supporters – to get my blood pressure to a truly fantastic level. My blood chemistry was rapidly approaching text-book perfection and my cardio-vascular fitness rose on the back of all that gentle, daily jogging and swimming til it reached a pretty good level of efficiency. And that led to a whole new experience in the unexplored world of clothes shopping. I had stamina. That’s right. If it was absolutely necessary, why, I could force myself through sheer effort of will to shop all day! Yes, I could. I’d lost a serious amount of weight, built up some pretty good physical endurance and the truth of the matter is that if I could do it, well, anyone could do it. I was studying hard at my college computer science course and my grades were in the top ten percent of my year. And, one of the underlying reasons for all this success  – I was in love.

Chapter 2:

[]Rolling in the deep

Larry Hershkowitz, the brilliant student physicist, the boy who had seemed destined in childhood to become a rabbi, had opened my heart and, without ever intending to intrude beyond those fiercely-defended boundaries that exist specifically to keep people safely at a distance, he’d touched my soul. That was inevitable, I guess. It was a natural extension of who he was. From the painfully shy guy who’d bumped into me like a flailing Dervish at the local swimming pool, he’d grown into someone who had unintentionally stolen my heart away. Stolen? I’d have opted for full cardiac surgery and happily donated the organ for free. Any day of the week. If my heart had ever belonged to anyone, it belonged to him. No question. He was still working out at the gym every lunchtime, slowly building the lean, muscular frame that would begin to turn heads, still working out with me every evening after classes. He took seemingly infinite care to make me feel good and he had a finely tuned, almost uncanny, sense of how to surprise me, especially when I was stretched out on my wide mattress and completely at his disposal. He slowly learned to let me take care of his needs, to let me find ways to enhance his pleasure – not so easy for someone who really felt most comfortable when they were giving rather than receiving the gifts of complete, multiple-orgasmic meltdown. I kid you not. I had to tell him over and over that I got a fantastic rush from returning his gifts and watching the way his body responded. And he relented, surrendering himself to all the ways I could devise to keep him hovering at the edge of bliss. And, even though I say so myself, with all that practice, I got pretty damn good at it. He even let me experiment a little with some of my darker fantasies. It was almost inevitable that I’d want to change roles at some point. You’re a regular smartie-pants so you probably knew that I’d struggled during my earlier years against the bonds of Mama Bulgari’s domineering personality. No surprises there. It can feel pretty damn intimidating. You feel an irresistible urge to break free, to take control, to be in command, to dominate a little rather than be dominated. And Larry was willing to let me do whatever I wanted. If it made me happy, he said with a grinning smile as I lay exhausted in his arms, then I could beat him senseless with a rolled-up copy of the Catholic Times and paint him turquoise. Well, it was an interesting invitation. But I had other ideas. 

One of the unforeseen and wholly unexpected benefit of upgrading Miclav's old PC had been to discover an entirely unexplored region of human depravity that, quite frankly, had taken my breath away. In more ways than I'd expected. I'd soon discovered that every whim, fetish and forbidden pleasure that had ever been dreamed of was completely catered for on the Internet. You could dial up for a donut. You could dial up for a dildo. Same difference. Apart from the calorie content, of course. So I'd picked up a few - how would you describe them? -  specialist items that arrived in the most discrete and unobvious packaging possible and got ready to explore the less orthodox side to my libido.

Now I’m a big believer in the value of education so I’m sharing this priceless information with you partly because we agreed to hold nothing back and, as you’re my dearest friend on this journey, I mean absolutely nothing. Plus you might get some ideas that could certainly lighten up a quiet weekend when there’s nothing much to distract you on the Discovery Channel.

So, deep breath here, I invested in some Dominatrix gear. Now hold on there. Don’t start getting flustered before we even get started. Let me tell you what I bought first. Simmer down. Take a sip of your skinny latte and let me, well, share the details. There was a black satin mask for my face, a set of black satin underwear that revealed far more than it concealed, a pair of shiny, thigh-length, stiletto-heeled boots, a rubber riding crop, some fur-lined handcuffs, lengths of black silk just like the kind of thing you’d probably use for, well, tying someone up, a blindfold and a fairly comfortable gagging device that should, in theory, let the intended victim continue to breathe. And a modestly-proportioned, battery-operated, strap-on appendage that attached to my hips via a weird kind of chastity-belt arrangement. Hey! Are you still with me? You haven’t run off screaming in panic for security, have you? Hold on a second. There’s some pretty good science behind all this. This entire episode, this erotically-inspired adventure that was devoted to exploring my dark and perverse desire to dominate my man, was supposed to be for my benefit. Got that? That’s right. But there were plenty of pretty straightforward reasons why the guy-in-question’s anatomy could seriously benefit from the experience too. You know anything about the P-Spot? Sure you do. So now everything makes a whole lot more sense, doesn’t it? Although, to be perfectly honest, I did have my share of doubts. I absolutely had no desire to cause any pain or discomfort to this wonderful, sweet guy. Yet, despite Larry’s smiling, apparent consent, it still felt like I was really going against the grain, offending the natural laws of everything I’d been taught, disturbing the equilibrium of the universe, maybe taking a wrong turn. So I really wasn’t sure how I’d feel about putting my personal little experiment in perversion into practice. But that didn’t last very long. The doubts and fears evaporated the instant I got dressed up and strapped on the gently buzzing appendage. I looked in the mirror. And I was totally and completely hooked. I got a rush just from standing there. It was wild. It was like another personality had suddenly appeared from nowhere. Another Misha. A different Misha. And it felt good. It felt absolutely amazing. OK. I could seriously get to like this. I could get totally addicted. This was on the threshold of some kind of demonic possession and I couldn’t wait to find out how it would feel with a real, live, muscular, young man on the receiving end of my newly-acquired domination equipment. OK. Time out. So, if you’ve never tried it and find the idea faintly weird and worthy of a qualified psychologist’s timely intervention, I understand. I really do.  I’m not advocating the idea as some kind of compulsory group therapy. Though there are parts of the world, including Congress, where the method would surely make a positive contribution to social progress and make for a much happier bunch of people. No question. And you know the places we’re talking about, don’t you? You’re nodding your head here, aren’t you? But as a way of extending the boundaries of what you think might be possible, as a way to answer a persistent call from the deeper recesses of the untamed human psyche, as a way to let loose the goddess within – damn! This route sure took a whole lot of beating. And, with a little patience and  a very, very generous application of lube, the role change was so complete that I really thought I’d died and gone to heaven. It was totally intoxicating. I discovered muscles I’d never used before and you can imagine how much trust Larry must have had to even let me near him, hog-tied and bound, with that buzzing appendage intent on introducing him to something that most guys would run a twisted country mile to avoid. It’s just the way our repressed and restrictive culture forces us into convenient and often unsatisfactory roles, roles that we blindly follow for the rest of our lives. But not this gal. I was riding the wave to freedom. And from the way that Larry’s anatomy responded to all that unorthodox stimulation, he looked like he’d discovered a whole new stairway to heaven. Via the oiled and unbolted back door to paradise.

Chapter 3:

[]Meanwhile, back at the House of Crazy

So, as you pause for breath here, take a sip of your skinny latte to settle your nerves and discretely check out all those helpful, Internet suppliers with their on-line catalogues of brightly-coloured, vibrating appendages, I’ll just bring you up to date with what’s been happening with the rest of the Bulgaris. There had indeed been a couple of minor changes to the family constellation. Especially where my younger siblings were concerned. Ever since Mavenka’s unfortunate brush with the possibility of a teenage pregnancy, Mama had taken a firmer grip on my sister’s social life. So it was probably inevitable that Mavenka’s love interests would gravitate towards the only candidates who were now allowed within chubby arm’s length. And that was in the old Bible classes that had been such an important and influential part of her formative years. Now let’s be clear about my blubber-bound little sister. There wasn’t much risk that she’d ever start hearing those angelic voices again and feel the call to become a nun. Let’s be realistic here. Mama wanted to curtail Mavenka’s unorthodox social life, especially on those steamy, lust-fuelled Friday nights in the back of a local pick-up truck, so Bible classes seemed like the perfect answer. And that was where she chanced to meet a young man of impressive girth and limited intellect who had been placed in the Bible study class to improve his chances of satisfying his family’s dearly-held ambitions. His parents had decided early on in his childhood that he should enter the seminary and become a priest. Now I know you’re a well-educated person of grace, learning and scholarship so you probably know all about the olden time, well-worn tradition that often applied to the in-bred aristocracy of a bygone age. You know the one – the tradition that dispatched the less able sons of the dynasty either to join the army or to take up the cloth. Nowadays, they often end up on Wall Street but that’s how times change. Mavenka’s new friend with the fondness for fifty shades of donuts would never have passed the army physical. So a saber-brandishing, military career was obviously out of the question. Happily the Church was infinitely more accommodating and priestly vestments were still manufactured in triple-X, extra-wide, blubber-butt size. It had the unmistakable hallmark of a match made in heaven. Mavenka often sat next to her new companion and they shared the occasional, fortifying bags of candy to help pass the time. The classes were conducted by a lay member of the Church, an older gentleman with a slick of hair plastered across his balding pate, deep-set eyes and an occasional slight tremor in the fingers. He would excuse himself several times during the class and step into the vestry, absent for a few moments to gather his thoughts and seek the inspiration of the Lord, but he always returned with the tang of whiskey on his breath and a slight flush to his cheeks. What a perfectly innocent environment to preserve Mavenka’s chastity – or whatever remained of it – and bring the wayward child closer to the path of righteousness. So when Mavenka and her fat, fellow student from Bible class went to a movie together, Mama gushed with approval. The fat boy was destined to become a priest! There could be no finer companion for her little girl than a future man of the cloth, platonic friends who could share a box of popcorn together and enjoy the sweet innocence of a comedy on a wet Saturday afternoon under the ever-watchful eyes of the Lord. 

Chapter 4:

[]Right.

The two police officers who brought Mavenka home asked to speak first with Papa but, because he was taking a nap and couldn’t be disturbed in his own house on pain of death, the conversation had to be directed at Mama. There was something about Mavenka’s hormones that just turned her into a ravenous and insatiable addict for the forbidden fruits of the flesh. And the only candidate who’d been available to her on that damp and rainy Saturday afternoon had been the plump and possible future priest who’d been sitting next to her in the darkened cloister of the picture house. It wasn’t exactly clear who had been leading whom but, when one of the ushers went to investigate the strange, throaty nosies coming from the back of the theatre and had shone a torch along the back seats, he’d spotted Mavenka bent over her groaning companion with a mouthful of bratwurst, her head bobbing up and down with fierce determination and, despite the usher’s loud and extremely vocal pleading, she’d refused to stop. By that point the chubby future gentleman of the cloth couldn’t stop either and the whole episode was witnessed by an audience that got far more for their money than a light romantic comedy set in an impossible era in an equally improbable foreign country. Mavenka had slowly raised her head, blinking slowly in the harsh glare of the flashlight, and stammered between sticky lips that he was a very naughty boy and shouldn’t have made her do that. The cinema staff called the police.

My family. Unique. Priceless. And weird as a box of three-legged toads. Mama needed smelling salts to recover from her fainting spell and a shot and a half of old country cooking brandy to recover her wits. Everyone was immediately sworn to secrecy on pain of a genuine, old country curse, the kind of curse that would involve the sacrifice of a virgin goat and a permanent shriveling of certain parts of the male anatomy for any transgressors. Mama wagged her finger ominously. The injuncture for complete confidentiality applied equally to the shocked and slightly uneasy police officers, whose hands moved instinctively to protect their standard-issue, uniform zippers. This was a serious matter so Mama decided that she had no option other than to bring in God. Some cities had the Bat-phone. Mama Bulgari called the local church.

With the intervention of the local priest, the matter was left to the discretion of both sets of parents – who immediately blamed the other party’s spawn of Satan for leading their innocent offspring astray – and to the sacred judgement of Holy Mother Church. The fat boy with hopes of a future priestly vestment was to be safely tutored at home, far from the snares and wiles of worldly temptation. And Mavenka was encouraged to re-double her efforts at Bible class, to focus on the healing and cleansing power of the Lord to restore her to a state of grace. And you were probably wondering how long that was likely to last, weren’t you? Am I right or am I right?

There was more on the Bulgari family front to report. My rotund and socially-challenged brother, Miclav, had undergone a more disturbing metamorphosis. Ever since he’d been incarcerated in the county jail on suspicion of downloading the kind of graphic Internet material that would’ve provoked a posse of pitchfork-armed, old country villagers to acts of extreme mob violence – burning and lynching included at no extra cost – his reputation – along with his girth – had grown considerably. Freed without charge from solitary confinement, the community gossip machine completely overlooked his innocence and soon churned out masses of lurid tales about Miclav the Bad Boy. And Miclav’s rodent brain soon made the connection between the new levels of attention he was receiving from the wide-eyed, pubescent girls at school and his apparent and unexpected reputation as a personal and hand-branded devotee of Lucifer. He started to dress all in black. It don’t show the dirt so much, Mama – he’d said. Save you washing so much. She’d actually beamed at him for his unprecedented display of consideration. Then he started to wear an old pair of black-lensed Ray Bans. All the time. Including indoors, claiming that the light hurt his eyes. A few hours in front of a mirror and he soon perfected the sneer with his upper lip that encapsulated his complete and newly-adopted disdain for everything and everyone. It worked like an old country charm. He was suddenly catapulted into the centre of the school’s social spotlight. Against all the odds and the laws of rational probability, teenage girls actually fantasised about being seized and carried off by the dark and brooding Miclav. My flatulent, unhygienic, obese and unappealing brother was transformed overnight into some kind of nineteen-fifties, black and white, screen idol. Weird was not the word. It wasn’t even close.

Chapter 5:

[]An unexpected parting of the ways

And it was around this time that the fates decided to intervene in our lives and set us on our separate and very different pathways. It all began with me, of course. Or rather with the doc, our grouchy old campus medico, whose main purpose in life was to keep the college faculty in good physical shape and keep the spread of STDs in check. If he’d been granted the licence to castrate the entire college football team, the STD challenge would’ve been much easier to contain. Some of the jocks were more like two-legged, highly mobile and highly active, disease-incubation facilities. After a recent football tour of several Central American colleges, the team came home with a collection of trophies and a curious collection of highly virulent and particularly nasty strains of galloping crutch rot that tested the limits of modern, medical science. One fine morning, the doc was wagging a bony, pointed finger at a distressed young quarterback, shaking his head, and staring sternly over the top of his half-moon glasses. Son, he said, I’m prescribing a bunch of anti-biotics that are supposed to turn your John Thomas from a diseased-looking root vegetable back into something that resembles a recognisably normal, human organ, and I don’t want to hold out too much hope here, because the drugs might not be effective against this kind of disease. But don’t you worry yourself, he said, a smile returning to his lined and wrinkled face. You just wait a couple of weeks and the damn thing will probably drop off all on its own. Now send in the next brave young patient on your way out.

I’d been keeping in touch with the doc on a regular basis, checking my progress and receiving lots of congratulations and pats on the back for losing all the weight and I could never thank him enough for his kindness, encouragement and support. He’d been the one who’d introduced me to my amazing lady nutritionist and, with the right kind of diet, lots of gentle, regular exercise and all the love a gal could handle, my blood pressure was now pretty close to medical research perfect. The doc had been so impressed with my progress that he’d written up my case as an example of how to tackle obesity using the latest understanding of nutritional science and his paper had appeared in a respected medical journal that was published somewhere on the East Coast. But you can never tell who might read such a journal. You could never predict how that scientific paper would impact on my life.

I received a letter from a company that specialised in weight-loss products, praising me for my remarkable efforts and asking if they could meet me to discuss my case. Now we’re talking about a major multi-national organisation here, a corporation that produces and distributes every imaginable product and service that might be connected to weight-loss and I was more than a little flattered by their interest. Now you, of course, are one super-smart, well-informed and slightly cynical individual so you’ll already know that the weight-loss industry generates billions and billions of dollars of turnover every year. It’s a very big business for very big people and it makes very large amounts of money. It’s a business and, like any other business, its purpose is to make money. I don’t even believe that they’re really interested in whether people lose weight or not. Just as long as they keep buying all those products and keep the corporate cash registers ringing twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. And I was a pretty good example of what could be achieved with the right advice, tons of determination, a little exercise and a lot of persistence. Most people quit. But it’s just like a casino. Those money-grabbing organisations parexcellence  - here we go with the French again! - need that one-in-a-million guy who beats the odds and wins big time. He's the exception that spurs the crowd to rush back to the slots and the tables to try their luck again. Because if that one, ordinary guy can do it, so can they. You need winners to give all the losers hope. Makes sense - in a totally cynical, exploitative kind of way. And I was the winner they wanted to talk to. Took me about twenty seconds to E-Mail them that I would be delighted to meet up whenever it was convenient.

Chapter 6:

[]Filthy, dirty, wonderful lucre[*  *]

The matching pair of perfectly groomed executive representatives arrived in town the following week and I met them in the lobby of their hotel over glasses of iced, spring water. They both said how excited they were to meet up with me and that they were really looking forward to working with me. I was a truly remarkable individual and I’d achieved something that very few people would ever experience. I was to be congratulated. Yes I was. And that was the problem. Other people, ordinary people, just didn’t have the discipline, the commitment, the sheer grit to overcome a problem as severe and debilitating as long-term obesity. They shook their heads sadly. It was sad, they said. But it was true. And that was where I could help. This could be my chance to make a difference. My example could be used to really motivate people, fire up those sad and lost individuals who were struggling with their weight, get them to make the right commitment, to overcome their problems and rise to the glorious heights of slimming success. They leaned in towards me as if we were trading nuclear secrets in a crowded, downtown Baghdad cafe and lowered their voices. The corporation had produced a new, miracle wonder-product, a weight-loss powder that was a triumph of innovation, created and designed in the company’s very own development labs and production was now in full swing. The Chinese contractor who’d won the bid had converted an entire section of his chemical fertiliser plant in only a couple of weeks and was now producing tons of the product around the clock. The company was convinced that I could be the face – and the body – of this revolutionary approach to weight loss, the bright and shining example of perfect weight attainment that would inspire the world to face the growing challenge of obesity and join me on the pathway to a fitter and healthier life. They were good. But not that good. I could feel the dollar-lined snare of their highly polished trap closing irresistibly around my scruples and that was when I pointed out the glaring and obvious flaw in their plan. My weight loss success had been based purely on smart nutrition – eating the right foods and avoiding the things that caused the problem in the first place. Plus a measure of gentle exercise and getting my Vitamin and mineral levels back to normal. There was no magic, no voodoo priests, no goats in the moonlight. Just a smart approach to eating naturally. And they knew it. They’d read the doc’s thoroughly detailed report in the medical journal. They smiled at each other and nodded. Of course they understood. What the world needed right now was an inspirational example that would motivate people, give them a chance at the kind of success I’d created through sheer force of will. How could I deny people the chance of a happier, healthier life? My scruples took a hesitant but significant step backwards from the debate. This wasn’t about me anymore, they chimed in. It was about making the world a better place. My scruples were suddenly gagged and restrained in a small, dark corner at the back of my brain. The older of the two execs nodded slowly at his younger counterpart who removed a beautifully printed sheet of high quality cartridge paper from his shiny black leather, document folder. He slowly pushed the thick sheet of fabric-woven paper towards me, across the low glass-topped coffee table, and I noticed the company’s elaborate logo deeply embossed at the top of the page and rows and rows of figures detailing how much I would receive in return for my services, a triple underlined, bold-printed bottom line indicating precisely how much the total deal was worth. I cleared my throat. I was still at college, I stammered. I had to complete my studies. The older exec nodded and smiled with those reptilian eyes. He knew a done deal when he saw it. This was the kind of man who would happily sign up lost souls for Satan just to sharpen his negotiating skills. No problemo, he murmured across the table. If you need to relocate to a more, shall we say, convenient establishment to complete your studies, the company will be more than happy to pick up the tab for your college fees. Damn! This seemed like the kind of hyper-generosity that you never expect to come across during a lifetime of struggling. But it was really just a question of perspective. Within the environment of a multi-billion dollar organisation, all those future college fees and my remuneration package didn’t even register as loose change. My scruples took a deep breath and nose-dived off the top of my rapidly-abandoned moral heights. I’d just sold a chunk of my soul to a ravenous pack of mechanised, dollar-grabbing, fat thieves. And, to my eternal shame, I felt absolutely great!

I skipped over to Larry to tell him all about my incredible stroke of good fortune, barely able to contain my excitement. Now, how would you expect the average young guy to respond in these circumstances? Let’s be honest here. Most guys would never feel comfortable with a situation like this one, would they? Most would feel the old, familiar pangs of jealousy trickling like battery acid through their shriveled hearts and damn near all of them would feel deeply threatened, as if they were about to be replaced by something better that had just shown up in a smoother, hand-stitched, better-packaged deal. But not Larry. He picked me up and twirled me around in those muscular arms, laughing and smiling as I babbled about the amazing deal I’d just signed, sharing in my happiness, just basking in the glow of my excitement. He was genuinely happy for me. He thought it was great. You’re going to be rich, he said. What are you going to do with all that money? Good question. I hadn’t even begun to think about the practical issues because my two new, shiny best friends from the weight-loss corporation were already on their way back to mission control, cranking up the money-making machine and fully intent on extracting every dime’s worth of possible value from the contract. I was going to be a very busy gal.

So my life was about to take a completely unexpected turn. It’s called life, my friend. And it happens. 

Chapter 7:

[]Dodging the Bulgari Bear Traps

Larry treated the entire situation as if everything was just the same as before. We spent as much time together as we possibly could. He was working out seriously now, getting stronger, more bulked up, putting some of the more serious jocks to shame with his developing physique and impressive musculature. He said it was just the luck of his genes that made it easier for him to build the kind of solid muscle that most guys would happily kill for. He turned heads now. He would walk into a room and the conversation would just come to a stop as women openly stared at him, appraising the symmetry and perfection of his incredibly chiseled good looks, topped off with that mane of golden hair. And he was mine. I know. Sometimes it was really hard to believe that such a beautiful, gentle, caring man could hold me in his heart and love me for who I was. He once said that you don’t really live with someone’s looks. You live with their heart and that was where the real beauty dwelt. Poetic? I nearly melted all the way down to my tingling toes.

He was studying hard too. And, as you might recall, he had a formidable brain inside of that beautiful head. The physics faculty had recognised his abilities early on and encouraged him to concentrate on some of the more experimental aspects of his chosen field. He co-authored a paper that impressed his professor and I’m not even sure I could pronounce the title, let alone explain the contents to you. Let’s just agree that it was complex, technically obscure, written in a language few of us will ever understand and something to do with particle physics. Is that enough for you? Cos that’s all there is. The result of all this impressive, theoretical work was that he was chosen to join a team of older students from the physics department who would compete in a science competition held later that year in New York. It was a prestigious event and Larry was obviously pleased to have been chosen to participate. This was the kind of event where future Nobel Prize Winners would strut their mathematical stuff and present their weird ideas to the scrutiny of some of the most celebrated physicists in the country. This is where you could get recognised. This is where you could get noticed. This is where your future research funding could be guaranteed. And, typically, Larry was as completely relaxed about the gig as he was about pretty much everything else. He’d do his best, he said. And that meant that he really would give the competition one hundred percent. That’s how Larry was. But he wasn’t going to lie awake at night worrying about it. Worrying made no positive contribution to the outcome. He preferred to workout in the gym. And with me too! And that certainly kept him in the best possible shape, however you might want to measure his health. 

So how was I going to explain this miraculous development to Mama Bulgari? Any bright ideas? Before you launch into your long list of helpful suggestions, it’s important to understand that the family could be incredibly generous in their unique and penny-pinching ways, but there was always an old country sense of entitlement when the prospect of hard cash tripped over into triple digits. Mama’s position as the family matriarch would naturally grant her complete and absolute control over any cash flow arriving in the family’s direction, irrespective of which family member happened to be creating that particular cash flow. Even Papa Bulgari was happy to receive a modest, weekly allowance from his salary – in the same spirit as if he were receiving some medieval grace and favour stipend from the Church. He even said thank you to Mama for granting him his weekly pocket money. Old country ways, my friend. Sometimes they persist. Especially where hard cash is concerned. So all those countless generations of goat-rustlers, tinkers, horse traders and corpse-stalking, gold-tooth-thieves had equipped Mama Bulgari with an unerring sense of where the secret hoard would be buried, where the neighbours’ cash had been concealed and whether or not there was more coin available from a potential buyer who might just be interested in buying the fine flock of sheep that had appeared mysteriously during the night in the family beet field. I would require a stratagem.

Larry said I should arrange to give Mama half of the initial, generous retainer and just keep quiet about the rest. She’d be so shocked, so surprised, so delighted, she wouldn’t necessarily go sniffing around for the rest of the loot.  Larry was one of the most naturally honest people I’d ever met and I kissed him for his brilliance. It could work. Although any excuse to kiss this beautiful man should never be over-looked. I could open a bank account and handle the money in my own way, retaining control over the future – and substantial – income stream, enjoying another much-needed slice of independence from the old country expectation that I should be perfectly happy to play the unpaid lifetime role of a faithful and indentured family servant. Freedom! I could taste it. Damn. I could even count it.

I staged the whole episode like a badly-disguised, early birthday present for dear Mama Bulgari – about six months early, to be honest – glossing over the details of my shiny new career as a spokesperson for one of the heavyweight organisations in the global weight-loss business. She became emotional – and I always wondered where I got it from! – and hugged everyone in the room, including the local priest who’d kindly accepted an invitation to an evening of family prayer and triple-density chocolate fudge cake, sprinkling tears and chocolate fudge cake crumbs whenever she clasped an individual to her heaving chest. It was quite an event. The priest wondered out loud if the the family’s unexpected good fortune would extend to the church’s collection plate and Mama, maneuvering a prodigiously wide slice of chocolate fudge cake into the priest’s protesting mouth, replied that they would pray for inspiration and let the Lord be their guide. That was old country, Bulgari-speak for – Touch my precious flock of goats with one greasy, greedy finger and I’ll slice off more than your purse-strings, you flea-bitten, mis-begotten vagrant! But you probably had to be from the old country to understand that particularly colourful expression. Mama would happily give her soul to the Lord but hard cash stayed firmly under her mattress. Yeah. I know. Old country!

Chapter 8:

[]And – Action!

Two days later and I was expected to skip a couple of classes and attend my very first photo shoot – wow, see how quickly I was picking up all the jet-set, super-model jargon here? – with the sole purpose of presenting me in the traditional Before and After pictures –  the imagery that would capture my entire story in the width of just two adjacent and contrasting photos. The company wanted make-up, hair-stylists, lighting rigs, light filters, wardrobe consultants, a catering company and a director to handle the session. I was thinking more of one of those driver’s licence shots you sat down for in a booth at the bus station. Couldn’t have been further from my expectations. It was all pretty intimidating and it soon became obvious that I was more like an inanimate mannequin on the set than a real, live human being. And some of these highly creative individuals could be a tad temperamental. There was a minor altercation between the two gentlemen wannabe cat-walk candidates who were supposed to be my personal hair stylists for the event. They loudly and pointedly disagreed with whatever the other suggested and they clearly had a personal agenda that was completely unconnected to my hair. At one point they resorted to pulling at my scalp, stamping their feet and hissing at each other and I got caught up in an attempted slapping bout that only ended when I stood up and reminded them that if one manicured finger nail so much as touched my face, I’d be inserting the offending limb up the offender’s rear end at least as far as the elbow. Brought a much-needed breath of calm to the proceedings, that’s for sure. The company had pored over dozens of mugshots of me at my old, super-size weight before narrowing the field down to a few photos that they intended to scan and enhance to make my condition appear even more dramatic. Crazy, huh? The new photos would also be photo-shopped to ‘maximise my natural features’ as the director said over a mid-morning kick-starter that looked exactly like a palpitation-inducing triple espresso. You don’t realise how much time goes into the set-up phase of these photo sessions. The hair – now that the guys had been suitably cowed into a sulky, brooding silence – and the make-up, the different clothes choices from wardrobe, the lighting. And they were planning on a lot of shots to maximise the chances of getting the right one. Muttered comments, sotto voce, that I wasn’t the most photogenic child who’d ever stared into the lens of a camera. Did the camera really love me? I guess not. I would’ve settled for studied indifference. Because the camera obviously hated me and the shoot lasted a lot longer than anyone had anticipated. But the miracle of lighting and filters and a soft-focus lens eventually overcame the camera’s reluctance to capture a hint of my true potential. Maybe the camera got bored and just submitted to the director’s will to get the gig over with as quickly as possible. I knew how it felt. My jaw started to ache from the fake smile that was stretched across my face for hours and hours on end. I was pretty exhausted. And this was only my first day on the job. 

As the legal and indisputable owners of every single frame of every piece of publicity material connected to the campaign, the corporation didn’t even consult me on which photos I might have preferred. No they didn’t. They didn’t even consult my dear mother. Now that would’ve been an interesting conversation. That decision was rightly left to better-qualified individuals. I had rapidly become a muted cog in an enormous machine and my role had to fit in perfectly with the rest of the vast, finely-tuned, publicity engine. The next day I received an E-Mail from the company containing my first script. That’s right, my dear friend. A script. The kind you have to learn verbatim. Every word that came out of my mouth in connection with the company had been written, conceived and compiled by a team of script-writers who would allow absolutely no deviation from the precisely-worded messages they’d custom designed specifically for me. The script even contained the dramatic pauses that would make it all seem so much more realistic. My life story now became a film script. I kid you not. They invented an entirely fictitious past life for me that had nothing to do with my past. And when I politely mentioned the fact that nothing in the script was even remotely connected to my experiences as a child, as a teenager or even as an adult, they politely referred to some of the small print in my dollar-dripping contract that resolved any confusion about my responsibilities. Like some blood-bonded pact with the Devil, I was bound to follow their instructions without the slightest deviation. They’d paid the money. Now they owned the donkey.

As the end of term approached and exams loomed, I felt pretty confident about getting good grades. I wasn’t one of those students who saved all the work for the last, panicked days before exam-week, so I was well-prepared to sit the tests and trust to my hard work to get me through. Which was fortunate because the weight-loss corporation wanted to begin filming the first TV ads and needed me in a studio for about three days to get what they were looking for. They wanted me to feel completely at ease around their fabulous new, miraculous product range so they sent me a batch of the stuff by courier. The sample packs arrived in about five different flavours and, I have to admit, they all tasted pretty good to me. So, if you like, you can tell me the truth now. Are you by any chance an industrial chemist? Would you recognise even half the descriptions that were printed on the contents label at the back of each pack of powders? Me neither. But I knew someone who would probably understand a lot more about the supposed miracle in the miracle weight-loss product than I ever would. I called the lady nutritionist.

In a polite society where coarse language and unrestrained expletives are not the most common form of self expression, the lady nutritionist’s chosen means of describing her feelings were always likely to cause the most profound offense. But at that moment the lady nutritionist was way beyond caring. I’d never heard her shout before but she was raising her voice right now and cussing like a Black Sea fisherman with his tackle caught in a fifty kopeck hooker. There was an urgent knock at the door and the Thai masseuse from along the corridor put her head round the door to make sure her services as an amateur bouncer would not be required. It’s OK. Mai – said the lady nutritionist. It’s just that some things get me so mad, I just want to break heads. One of the heads, in case you were wondering, was mine.

It wasn’t an argument or any kind of disagreement. There were no answers from my side of the desk. The lady nutritionist just spelled out the facts. The powders would do far more harm than good. End of chemistry lesson. She was mad at me for signing up to promote the dreadful stuff in the first place. About as useful as the steaming, foul droppings from the Devil’s own behind, she shouted. I told her how much money was involved and, eventually, she calmed down. I could tell she was disappointed. But she understood. It was a lot of money. And folks have done much dumber things for a lot less – she sighed as she swayed back in her chair. She made me promise not to consume any of the powders. I’d auctioned my soul to the Devil. I surely was not obliged to break bread and sup at his table. 

As the atmosphere calmed down, we talked about my progress on the treadmill to fitness and she told me this would be good time for me to cut back on the protein and increase the fats in my diet. Now, at first, I thought she was plain determined to sabotage my plan to get thinner, derail my efforts to get into even better shape, get her revenge for my betrayal by hitting me slap bang on the waist line. The look of shock, horror and surprise, all rolled into one gaping, capital O made with my open mouth and slack jaw, made her smile. And then she laughed. It’s OK, Honey, she said. I’m still here to help. I’ll always be here to help. But you’ve flushed a lot of garbage from your system, you’re exercising, you’re looking pretty good. Damn, if I were thirty years younger, I’d make a pass at you myself. There was a moment of stillness as the hinted message filtered across the air between us but she just crinkled those blue eyes again and let it pass. Time for an upgrade, she said. 

Now I bet you'd love me to get all technical at this point, wouldn't you? Start impressing you with all the information I'd studied from the lady nutritionist? Give you the long list of technicalities that underpinned the upgrade? Well, my fine friend, we don't need to. The answer was really simple. All the collective wisdom in the world about the dangers of fat in the diet were just plain wrong. Surprised? So was I. You cut down the carbs - just like I had been doing - eased up on the protein and increased fat consumption. The human body evolved to do the rest. The trick was to cut out the fruit and sugary foods, cut down the carbs and great tasting things we so easily get addicted to and start throwing fats done your throat. The body happily starts to burn fat and the total health picture changes in a couple of weeks. But everyone's different. You need to know how many carbs your body needs or can tolerate. So the lady nutritionist gave me a pack of paper strips to test my urine every day, sometimes more often. Then I'd see how my body was handling my daily dose of carbs - too much, too little, or just right. She showed me the exact Goldilocks colour on a chart that would mean I was hitting the right carb intake level for my body. There. Not too complicated, was it? So forget the skinny latte. Ditch the carbs and start adding full cream to your coffee. Your whole body, including your brain, will feel so much better.

That was how I hit another unforeseen snag. The problem with the new upgrade in my diet was that it worked. But it worked a little too well.

Chapter 9:

[]Rock n Roll claims Misha’s unprotesting soul

End of term, exams over, results pending and my first TV ad in the can - as they say in Hollywood movie circles. I finished the ad, struggled with the filming, hated the fact that I didn't really know what I was doing and I think we can safely say that it's really all the fault of reality TV. Yes it is. Back in the good old days, you had to have at least some hint of ability to justify appearing in front of a camera. Not any more. Today, as you know only too well, my wise and wonderful friend, you can take a bunch of talent-less, spaced-out, graceless, hopefuls off a street corner and turn them into media stars overnight. A complete lack of talent no longer stands in the way of fame, fortune and public acclaim. It's still completely nuts. It always reminded me of those stories from another age when gentlefolk would hand over a coin to a warden and while away the afternoon making fun of the lunatics in the local asylum. Papa Bulgari couldn't understand why these talentless specimens were taking up so much precious air time and, occasionally, he would feel moved to hurl a soggy French fry at the TV screen and yell out one of his favourite pieces of advice - Gedda job, ya bum! Miclav would nod in agreement and roll down to retrieve the greasy missile, dust off the carpet fibers and cram it into his mouth before the French fry had even cooled and long before the dog even had a chance to pounce. Where tossed French fries were concerned - you snooze, you lose! Just because I had no experience or even any talent in front of the cameras, that was no longer an impediment to appearing on TV or making a TV ad. It just took a lot longer to get the finished product in the can. Professional performers know their trade. Seasoned graduates of the performing arts are familiar with all the tools of their craft. Me? I really knew nothing. So it was tough. But I began to learn. Slowly I picked up a few tips, a handful of techniques, a glimmer of understanding of how the system worked. The next recording session would be better.

The strange thing was that my weight began to move down faster than ever before. The lady nutritionist had shifted me onto another, faster track and my body was responding just the way it was supposed to. If you just love checking out all the technical details, I was moving into something called ketosis and I have no intention of spelling it out for you here. Suffice it to say that my new-found levels of energy were a product of burning my fat instead of converting regular chow into fuel. It’s completely normal, it’s completely natural and it’s one of the safest ways to burn off the blubber. I was losing more weight. And it showed. People noticed. I was called to a meeting with the corporation execs who were tremendously excited at the obvious changes that were visibly taking taking place in my body. This was the kind of real-time, living proof that the powders were indeed a miracle answer to weight problems and they wanted me to go on tour. Right away. Did you get that? Go. On. Tour. Like a traveling rock n roll show. TV interviews. Radio interviews. Magazine and Trade Show appearances. And with a conspiratorial nod towards another highly embossed sheet of paper, I was encouraged to cast an eye over the eye-watering confirmation of a substantial bonus that went hand in hand with the tour. OK. So much for the summertime job at the local shopping mall, doing shift-work at the Donut Stall in the crowded food emporium. Miclav, for one, would be devastated. But hey! This was show-biz! 

I guess my feet hardly touched the ground after that. The wardrobe specialists now had a customised selection of clothing for me to wear, each outfit and accessory carefully chosen to underline my scripted messages of hope for the hopelessly rotund. Every last detail of the trip was planned and timed to the second and my life ceased to be my own. I remember kissing Larry and holding him as if I’d fuse his ribs and spine together with my massive grip, a car and company driver waiting for me in the sunshine, the schedule already running, the clock ticking, dollars impatiently rolling and I remember his amazing smile and those depthless, grey eyes as he nodded goodbye, saying – See you soon, as I ran out the door.

The programme was designed to maximise my exposure as the advertising campaign highlighted the benefits of the miracle powders in a continuous, rolling barrage of excitement. Social media sites were hi-jacked with completely fictitious fans, all screaming for the packets of powdered magic and breathlessly telling the world how wonderful they were. As my experience as a presenter developed, the gigs became more demanding. We’d have preparation meetings before breakfast, rehearsals before the gig, a full analytical de-construction afterwards and another briefing with any last minute changes before bedtime. Damn. It was non-stop – physically, mentally and emotionally draining and I got tired. It was inevitable. And that was the point when one of the lab technicians – the geeky guys who were always on hand during the tour – offered me a little something just to get me through the day. 

 

Chapter 10:

Larry Hershkowitz takes a bite out of the Big Apple

Around this time, Larry joined his more senior buddies on the flight to New York, the college picking up the tab for the trip and hoping to reap a fair share of the rewards of academic success and recognition amongst the major league houses of learning. They knew they had a potential star-in-the making with Larry, a stellar-bright individual with a special gift for interpreting the mysteries of quantum physics. A student who could put the college’s physics department firmly on the map. He told me once that the mathematical configurations sang to him and that he tried to create harmonies with all the competing voices in his head, a concerto that would bring order out of the apparent chaos. I was pretty good at math. You don’t get to handle all those orders at the local Donut Stall if you couldn’t handle large volume calculations. But Larry’s work was from a world I couldn’t even glimpse, expressed in dancing rows of obscure Greek symbols and punctuated with strings of numbers that defied all my attempts at interpretation. Talk about a career for life. If the Donut Stall ever found about Larry’s gift for numbers, they’d surely just outright kidnap the man and handcuff him to the shop’s order counter without hope of parole or remission. That’s right, my dear friend. He really was that good.

The science competition was the perfect arena for Larry to display his virtuoso grasp of his subject. He answered his professorial interrogators with charm, with his natural humility and the razor-sharp precision of his incisive mind. He even called into question one of the professor’s pointed assertions and defended his position with the irrefutable blade of logic and the tempered steel of mathematical precision. The professor nodded and smiled, graciously disarmed by a man about a third his age, and gently applauded Larry’s assertion. It was a turning point in the competition and it could easily have been a turning point for Larry’s future academic prospects. The college would certainly be on the academic map now. Larry was the unanimous choice as overall winner in his category and his image appeared on the local evening news channels at home and in New York. The college team had the following day free to do some sight-seeing and play tourist so they were pretty tired by the time got back to the hotel. And Larry had a visitor. No, not me! I was far away – in more ways than one – completely pumped up on a hybrid synthetic amphetamine that the corporation’s labs had been experimenting with. I was in a different time zone and the side effects of the handy little stimulant put me firmly on another planet. Sure kept me wide awake during the day and then every night I’d crash like a sack of potatoes dropped off the roof of the Waldorf Astoria. I was so wrapped in the daily business of promoting the miracle, wonder powders, I was living in a different world. So Larry had a different kind of visitor.

You deserve the truth here so let’s not pretend that Larry’s visitor was a wizened, old crone, blighted with warts and a hideous collection of physical deformities. Although it might’ve made me feel a little happier if she had been. But the truth is that she was flat out beautiful – tall, immaculately dressed, fabulous make-up, pure elegance oozing out of every pore and she was waiting for Larry in the hotel lobby. She spotted him as soon as he stepped inside the hotel. He was kind of hard to miss these days – his height, the thick shock of curly blond hair, the muscular body, those amazing grey eyes where a lady could just drown in a heartbeat. Yeah. Kind of hard to miss. She walked right up to him, tail swishing, and smiled, holding him up for a moment as his colleagues sauntered past to head for the elevators. Larry – she said, extending a hand and a perfectly dazzling smile. I am Alessandra, Contessa di Montenegrin di Pasche e Robello. But I want you to call me Alex. Larry smiled, as much out of confusion as from curiosity. The sightseeing had been pretty much a waste of time. Snag a bag of budding particle physicists and strap them together on a tour bus and you can pretty much guarantee that there won’t be much interest in either the local history or the architecture. They were totally animated about the latest theories on the nature of reality. Carnegie Hall didn’t even get so much as a glance or a passing mention. So when the fragrant and beautifully attired Contessa appeared like a shimmering vision from a Fellini movie, living, breathing and smiling directly in front of Larry, he was suitably surprised. The Contessa was evidently accustomed to surprising people. She took his arm and gently guided him to a comfortable sofa where her untouched espresso was still waiting. Larry, she purred, and I’m trying not to imply that she was some kind of alley-cat here. I really am trying as hard as I can! But she purred. The bitch! Larry, have you ever done any photographic work? The question hung in the air as Larry quietly appraised the lady curled up next to him on the sofa. OK. I know – people sit and cats – especially alley-cats – curl up. I can’t help it! Bear with me here. Larry slowly shook his head. Well, said the Contessa, leaning in and putting her highly-polished fingertips on Larry’s thigh, I think we’re going to have to do something about that. Larry was listening, just the way he always did. Listening with an intensity that could reveal much more than people might expect. His encyclopedic mental filing system was sorting data and comparing notes. Joining dots. Observing patterns in the flow of data. Formulating conclusions.

The Contessa owned a high-profile, international modeling agency and had a network of contacts that ensured that her girls and boys appeared in some of the most expensive advertising campaigns in the world. She’d launched a lot of modeling careers and had a famous knack for spotting raw talent. Larry didn’t take too much spotting. He was just good ol’ stand-out gorgeous. Even blind people could feel his presence. She gave him a beautifully engraved business card and told him to stay a couple of extra nights at the hotel – the agency would cover the costs – and be ready to be collected and delivered to the address on the card at eleven o’clock the next morning for a test run. There was no hint of money at that stage, she just mentioned that her chauffeured Rolls Royce would be waiting for him at ten forty-five sharp and that, in her agency, no one was ever late. Larry was more intrigued than anything else. Term was over. He didn’t have to rush back home. He was expected to help his dad in his business, of course, just the way he’d always helped since he was tall enough to reach the shop counter. A couple of days wouldn’t make much of a difference. So he stayed.

Chapter 11:

Misha’s little helpers

My life had been completely surrendered to the will of the corporate juggernaut that was sweeping me along like a leaf in the wind. I’d sent messages to Larry, spoken a few times and all I’d got was encouragement, unconditional support and the warmth of his love. I was so focused on getting through the next day’s schedule that my attention wandered from the most important part of my life. My exam grades were excellent, I’d earned distinctions from my teachers, money was rolling into my new bank account and I took my eye off Larry. I didn’t mean to. It wasn’t deliberate. I was just too obsessed with getting through the next day’s agenda. The little pills I was taking every day, discretely donated from the corporation’s product development lab – they weren’t even licensed or approved for sale –  were supposed to accelerate metabolic function and speed up the weight-loss process – those little pills tended to produce an acute case of tunnel vision. Yes, they did. I was losing weight anyway but those innocent little capsules gave me a rush of energy that kept me wide awake for the work and fresh for every shoot, interview, change of schedule – and, as a result of all the publicity, I was getting to be, well, a little bit famous. People recognised me on the street. I got mobbed once for my autograph outside a shopping mall before the company security team intervened and rescued me from a wobbling mass of sweating, overweight people who wanted to touch the hem of my robe and experience the miracle of weight-loss. That’s when you realise the power of the media. I had legions of followers on the social media sites, though a great many were from the company’s rent-a-crowd department, and every single one of my comments and witty observations were written by faceless copywriters back at company HQ. A couple of the TV interviews began to experiment with a little scripted humour – the kind of ‘spontaneous’ quips that got everybody laughing and opened up a sparkier, new channel for presenting the company’s miracle products. The filming and interviews became more professional, more polished. I knew what I was doing though I wasn’t allowed to deviate from the script by one syllable. But I was definitely getting noticed.

I hadn’t been home that summer so my computer-illiterate family had been pretty much out of contact since I’d hit the road. I made a call to Mama Bulgari from my hotel in LA at the end of a long day in front of the cameras. I was coming down from my little pill rush and would’ve preferred to go straight to sleep. It took Mama a few moments to recognise my voice, telling me half a dozen times that I’d got the wrong number. Jeez! Talk about out of sight, out of mind. When she finally accepted that her oldest child, her very own flesh and blood, the fruit of her old country loins was calling her all the way from sunny California, we had about five minutes of uninterrupted sobbing and weeping, joy, sadness, drama, the usual recipe, before she finally asked me what I was doing in LA, that unspeakably, unholy place where only the evil, the God-less, the depraved and the eternally-damned congregated together to celebrate the wickedness of sin. I explained that I was only passing through but, through no fault of my own, that turned out not be completely true either. Papa was fine and was sitting in front of his new, wide-screen TV – one of the many upgrades that had appeared in the Bulgari family home since I’d handed the cheque to Mama. She’d seen me on TV – it was one the reasons she’d agreed to get a wider model. On the new set, I was almost life-size! – and she expressed her concern about my obsession with slow-motion suicide by visibly wasting away in front of a crazy, cheering public. I wasn’t going to waste the call explaining that I’d never been healthier, even though – just between you and me – I’d had a few late night palpitations, probably caused by the little pick-me-up pills that accompanied me during the day. I changed the subject by asking about my chubby little sister, the hormonally-challenged and lust-obsessed Mavenka. The line went quiet for a few moments and then I could hear Mama mumbling a short prayer and she was probably crossing herself frantically like a voodoo priestess on a piping-hot devilish date with Baron Samedi himself.

You’d have thought that Bible classes had to be the safest, most innocent environment for an amply-proportioned, teenage girl to spend time in the campaign to save her from a lifetime of lapses. You’d have thought that, wouldn’t you? Mama Bulgari certainly put her faith in the Church, its ordained and un-ordained ministers, the glorious prospect of redemption for all sinners, the shimmering power of the Bible and her own determination to put a harness on her little girl’s rampant libido. The lapse that shattered the calm tranquility of the Friday night Bible class also marked the end of everybody’s silent hope that Mavenka might eventually take holy orders and join the local convent, safe beyond the temptations of the flesh, cloistered in the bosom of Holy Mother Church. Nope. Wasn’t ever going to happen, was it? But you’d already guessed that, hadn’t you, you super-smart friend of mine. Especially after our frequently tried and tested parish priest decided to make sure the premises were securely locked up for the night and had heard a strange, groaning moan coming from the vestry. He’d assumed – quite naturally, of course – that someone was in pain. He could hear the ragged gasps as if someone were in great discomfort and hurried along to administer comfort and perhaps, if necessary, the last rites. The sight that greeted him behind the vestry door was a scene from the last days of Sodom and Gomorrah, an unholy vision of depravity that took his breath away and left him speechless in front of the act he was now forced to witness. The elderly lay preacher, bald pate glistening with perspiration, trousers bunched around his scrawny ankles and Mavenka down on her knees, administering the kind of comfort that was way beyond the Church’s accepted approach to spiritual relief and solace. The priest was trapped. He couldn’t go forwards or backwards. He was frozen to the spot as he found himself nodding in time to Mavenka’s bobbing head until the spell was broken and the lay preacher gasped, spasmed, gasped again, reached for the table behind him and then suddenly collapsed in a heap to the floor. Mavenka turned slowly to face the shocked and mortified priest and, wiping her plump lips, still swallowing, quietly mumbled – He really shouldn’t have made me do that, should he? But beyond the shock of witnessing the unholy travesty that had just taken place in his very own vestry, the parish priest was now even more concerned about the lay preacher’s prostrate form that was twitching and gasping on the floor like a freshly-landed guppy. In a heartbeat, he was back in the world. He lifted the hem of his cassock as he turned on his heel and ran for the nearest phone. Not to summon the police. Nor to book an experienced exorcist – that could wait until a little later. Right now, he needed an ambulance. And a crash team. Because his trusted lay preacher, that stalwart and saintly, elder pillar of the church’s community, who was now lying on the vestry floor with his trousers and ancient long-johns twisted around his ankles, had just suffered a massive coronary.

Mama was sobbing on the phone. She wanted to be the one who broke the news to me rather than risk me hearing it from one of the sin-blighted Jezebels who congregated at the Church every week for Holy Mass. The saintly lay preacher, that wise and blessed apostle of the true faith, that stalwart supporter of the Word of God had never recovered. The priest had shooed Mavenka away, pouring scorn on her tousled head and the threat of eternal damnation on her wretched soul for her sins against the teachings of the Lord – and in the very House of God! – warning her to maintain absolute silence even if she couldn’t maintain any semblance of Christian decorum, and to repeat not a syllable about what had happened in the vestry. The lay preacher had an entirely excusable habit of refreshing himself occasionally from a bottle of whiskey so that might’ve contributed somewhat to his heart attack. It was possible. It was plausible. It would have to do in the circumstances. The priest was busily crossing himself and repeating prayers of hope and deliverance as he wrestled the lay preacher’s pants back into a less compromising position, cinching the worn and frayed belt and hoping the old boy would make it – and make it without waking up in a delirious state of confusion and start babbling about what had just happened to him in the blessed vestry. If they weren’t careful and word got out, there might easily be a long queue of supposed penitents round the block, all volunteering to attend Bible class. 

Despite the best efforts of the local emergency services, the lay preacher passed away in his sleep at the hospital the following night. There had been a brief moment when the staff thought he was waking up and they were sure he was trying to say something. Sounded like a word beginning with M. Then he smiled, a wide beatific grin on his wizened face, and passed into the welcoming arms of the Lord. Rumours abounded. The other members of the Bible class were all fully aware that Mavenka has stayed behind with the preacher to help him put away the lessons and the chairs. Mavenka’s reputation fuelled the rumour mill and some of the more mature, male members of the congregation, sipping their post-service Sunday restorative whiskey in a nearby bar, decided that there were definitely worse ways for a man to quit this vale of tears. The question that sprang up after the third round of whiskeys became an oft-repeated chorus whenever the lay preacher’s name was mentioned – Hey, guys. Waddya know? Did he come before he went? Or did he went before he came? Gales of laughter followed. But not in front of the parish priest. Not at all. There had to be at the very least some tiny, residual element of respect for the recently, dearly-departed lay preacher.

To everyone’s surprise and complete disbelief, Mavenka had been entrusted to the care of the local Sisters of Mercy, not as a nun, of course, but as a kind of lay sister – and I want to apologise for that unfortunate description that was absolutely not of my making – an apprentice to the cause that would keep her under the supervision of a stern and uncompromising Mother Superior, a ferociously devout lady who favoured a more muscular approach to Christianity that often involved the application of a leather strap to the weaker members of the community. Money had changed hands after a session of intense haggling and Mavenka was finally accepted into the strictly-controlled outer fringes of the convent.

Chapter 12:

Hollywood pays a personal visit

The City of Angels might not have lived up to its religious epithet but it introduced me to a TV producer who wanted me to host my own, day-time, talk show. It was all part of the company's plan. The weight-loss corporation had a wide reach - money does that, in case you hadn't noticed - and the seedy little producer was connected to two of the senior marketing execs within the corporation, two creative geniuses who'd decided one bright California morning that they could sponsor a TV show and put me in the middle of centre stage to market the wonder product. Made sense, I guess. So I had a late morning meeting with the producer - he couldn't begin his day anytime before eleven - and I discovered a guy who was obviously caught in a time warp. He must've peaked sometime in the late seventies because his idea of personal style was a dramatically unbuttoned, open shirt down to his navel, a cluster of gold medallions resting on a wiry nest of thick, white, chest-hair - which gave the impression that he'd stuffed a small, dead terrier down the front of this shirt, bushy tail uppermost - an obvious and unsubtle wig that spoke of the possibility that it might have been stolen from a funeral parlour and the overall impression that this ageing man of the media worhipped daily at the altar of the late, great, Bob Guccione. OK. So you're way too young to know about the founder of Penthouse magazine, a guy that Papa Bulgari secretly idolised. Most people pretend to be too young to know who Bob Guccione was. The producer was from that generation. The word 'sleaze' could've been tattooed across his forehead and you would not have been in the least surprised. Los Angeles was like that. He was far from unique. The city was crawling with desperate people who'd happily auction their grandmothers into an eternity of fire-stoking duties in the lower pits of Perdition for one tiny slice of a chance to be in the game. The game was movies, TV and anything that would drag a suitably wide wedge of cash in its wake. This guy had sold his ass so many times in Tinseltown that the police had tagged a No Loitering sign across the back of his pants. But he'd got a call from a major player, a multi-billion dollar outfit, and he'd happily dragged himself out of his faux-silk-sheeted pit at the very crack of eleven, kicked the rent-boy out of the apartment  - after frisking him to make sure nothing had accidentally been misplaced about the youth's skinny-assed person - and set off for the meeting. 

He was wearing the kind of cologne that could easily shift the stains off all the public latrine facilities at Coney Island on a hot, summer’s day and the meeting quickly followed a well-established and highly efficient formula. Mr be-wigged sleaze-ball knew the system inside-out and knew how to get the ball rolling in record time, especially once the money was signed for – budget, studio, lots of people – he would have to audition a few young, very hopeful and possibly very grateful, candidates before signing up the crew that had been recommended by the corporation in his contract, book some guests and get his flabby and sagging career back in shape. Damn. He was even thinking of ditching the nylon hairpiece that had fallen off the back of a hearse and getting the long-overdue hair transplant. If this gig worked out the way he hoped, he could even look forward to booking a better class of rent boy. Then again – maybe not. As you can imagine, an awful lot depended on me. So we had to become real, best friends in record time. His first, spontaneous gesture of solidarity was to roll out a fat line of coke that would’ve given a rhino palpitations and offer me the honour of filling my sinuses to the brim with this high-grade, Columbian marching powder. Popping my experimental wonder wake-up pills a few times a day to keep ahead of the schedule was one thing. Snorting the accursed scrapings of the Devil’s dandruff – as my parents had once described the drug – was something I simply could not do. If you’re wondering why I turned down the offer, it was really down to fear. Pills were one thing. Everybody took pills. It was patriotic. We were supporting the pharmaceutical industry. It was the American way. But shoving things up your nose rang alarm bells. I was scared. But not as scared as the producer. Anyone who turned down a toot of the good stuff could not and should not be trusted. It was a bad sign. It was a very bad sign. He’d never met anyone in all his years in the business who’d turned down a discrete and friendly offer of a thick line of high grade white powder – and that included all the evangelical preachers who’d called out for money during the days of daily, feverish, televised services. This was something new to him. And he sure didn’t like it. There was a long and very awkward pause. And then I told him the corporation had been providing me with a bunch of experimental drugs to keep me fresh and tuneful and I wasn’t allowed to mix my chemicals on pain of death. Or immediate termination of contract – which, in the producer’s world, was considered infinitely worse than summary execution. There had been some evidence a couple of thousand years ago of some guy rising from the dead. But no one had ever returned from a canceled contract. Period. My confession slowly dawned in the depths of his shrunken, ferret brain and his attitude changed in a heartbeat. I was taking something probably much more potent than a line of snow. He breathed a sigh of relief. Things were going to be fine. Just fine. We could be pals after all. He even asked if I could maybe spare a pack or two of my wonder pills to get him through the first couple of gigs. How could I refuse? It’s what best friends are for.

Chapter 13:

Larry moves up

Larry’s pictures from the test shoot only confirmed his new mentor’s practised judgement that she had a star on her hands. Part of it was definitely down to his looks, his tall, muscular frame, his amazing eyes. But good looking bodies were a dime a dozen. Pretty faces could be found everywhere. They were almost boring. Larry had a presence that was unique and you couldn’t produce that with steroids and six hours a day at the gym. It was really about his personality. He couldn’t pose to save his life. Just couldn’t do it. But she knew all she had to do was suggest how he might feel in a certain situation and he slipped into the emotional framework that was impossible to fake with a clever camera angle and sophisticated lighting. He was a stone cold natural. The hair had to go though. He looked way too much like some primitive kind of Tarzan character emerging from the jungle. Her clients aimed at a very expensive and highly sophisticated look that demanded a smoother, sleeker hairstyle. Nothing that couldn’t be fixed with a few hundred dollars worth of trimming and combing. Larry Hershkowitz. They’d need a new name too. Something Italian, perhaps. To her surprise, Larry wasn’t in the least bit excited. They sat down in her beautifully appointed office, an original Gauguin on the wall, and waited for their freshly made espressos to be brought in, maintaining a silence that Alessandra found slightly unnerving. Most people would automatically fill the gap with small talk, revealing things that would often be better left unsaid. But not Larry. He was completely relaxed, unmoved by her presence or the opulence of their surroundings. She was sure he wasn’t gay. So what was going on here? Larry, she purred – there I go again with the alley-cat references! – Why don’t you just tell me what you want, dear boy, and I’ll see if I can wave my magic wand for you and make it happen? The smile revealed a row of perfect veneers and Larry sat comfortably in his white, Italian leather armchair, not even noticing that the room was obviously missing a scratching post for its owner, and replied that he was a particle physicist. That’s where his great purpose and passion lay. In the uncharted and esoteric realm of theoretical science. Then he smiled. But that probably won’t mean a great deal to you, Contessa. He offered not a race of condescension. Just a casually-observed statement of fact. She nodded slowly before replying – But you could study anywhere, anytime? Isn’t that right? If we could arrange the shoots to accommodate your studies, then everyone would be happy. And you have no idea how generously paid this work can be. He surprised her again by saying he wanted to think about it and she nearly broke an immaculately painted claw – I mean, finger nail – as she clenched her fist in frustration. She was absolutely not accustomed to people saying No. She forced the smile back onto her surgically-refreshed face and said – Sure, Larry. No problem. Take all the time you need. How about you call me tomorrow and we can see if we can work something out. 

Strangely, despite all that had been happening since I’d left my home town in a could of glitz and publicity, I was the first person that Larry called. And I couldn’t take the call. I was on set, rehearsing the first TV show, sealed off from the rest of the world and completely focused on getting everything right. I think I’d have told him to go for it. I had no idea who the creepy Contessa might be but the idea of making a lot of money and easing the financial burden on his parents made a lot of sense. So he called his Dad. They’d always been close and his Dad said he should do whatever his heart told him to do. No pressure. No hints. Just a ton of unconditional love. Appreciated the offer to handle the college fees but made it clear that the family had been saving and investing for the kids’ education since they were born. No. The important thing was to follow his heart’s prompting and trust in God. Larry’s trust lay in the unambiguous clarity of mathematics but he deeply appreciated his Dad’s encouragement to follow his own star. 

Alessandra wasn’t sure where the sticking points might be so, for the first time in her professional life, she sweetened a deal for a new guy. It made her skin itch but she added a substantial bonus to the contract. Just to reel him in. And Larry rang up in the morning, having slept perfectly, and asked her to explain exactly what was involved in joining her globally famous agency. They ran through the contract in her office and, to her horror, he spotted the vaguely-worded wriggle clause that was used to lock the models in forever. He just smiled and asked to borrow a pen. Then he crossed out the offending lines of print and said – Yes. I think we can do business now. If Larry had enjoyed the benefit of legal representation, that’s exactly the clause that would’ve raised counsel’s hackles. Counsel? Legal representatives? You know as well as I do that wannabe models were way too happy just to get a sniff of a contract to ever bother with something as minor as the small print. Larry, as I’m sure you’ll appreciate by now, my wisely nodding accomplice, was different. Larry didn’t know it at the time but he’d just become the new face and body of a whole range of very high profile advertising campaigns. And his first port of call after signing the contracts was a very expensive salon that was charged to tame his unruly locks and fashion a sleekly groomed look that men and women would sigh for.

Chapter 14:

57 Shades of Fakir

Hollywood could never be mistaken for the real world. It’s the embodiment of fake. From the Botox and fillers, to the surgery and implants, to the death’s head smiles and impossibly white veneers. And that’s just the superficial stuff, the parts you can see. Underneath, it’s much worse. It’s a writhing pit of insecurities and insincerity, lies and illusions, selfishness and self-indulgence. You were dining off gold plate in the lower levels of Purgatory. One of the older, world-weary studio guys got a little emotional after sweetening his skinny lattes during the day with a fifth of Bourbon. He said that if God wanted to give the world an enema, he’d insert the nozzle in Hollywood and just keep pumpin’ away ‘til nothing was left. It wasn’t a new or original quip but he pronounced it with so much feeling that we all knew he was expressing a deeply held personal truth. He left with a couple of guys from the security detail that evening and we never saw him again. You couldn’t hesitate even for one second on the roller coaster ride or you’d fall off. Forever.

We recorded the first six shows back to back with two more in reserve to take advantage of any upward trends in the viewing figures – and any better-than-expected sales results – which left me with an unexpected week to take a break. And I needed it. The urine strips I’d been using to check my daily carb intake had been showing colours that weren’t even on the chart. That was a little scary, to say the least. Chances are the results were connected to the handful of little pills I’d been taking every day to stay bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. I had to stay close to the company operation, be available in theory to re-record any material that needed to be fixed or adjusted. My TV producer friend with the unbelievably bad hairpiece actually seemed to be fond of me. He said I was a regular trooper, which amounted to high praise indeed from a man who generally found women to be completely superfluous beyond the role of housemaid. I’d provided one of the wheels that had helped to re-launch his career and he was suddenly back on the local party circuit – the coke n chicken run, he’d called it. And I’d thought that chicken referred to the meat course. I guess, in a way, I was right. 

I was tired. You can’t keep popping those little pills every day and run a permanent overdraft in the sleep bank without getting a summons at some point to settle the account. It just isn’t sustainable. You probably had a few sleep-deprived nights as a kid, right? Partying with friends, staying up to catch the sunrise, bleary-eyed and shuffling round the next day like an extra in a low-budget zombie flick? Yeah. Familiar territory. I needed a break from the schedule and a break from the little pills. I’d been taking more and more of the damn things as the weeks progressed, becoming more dependent on their finely-tuned chemical boost to get me airborne and flying high throughout the day. I had to take a break. And with so many addicts from all walks of life in the general population, I couldn’t have been in a better place to get myself fixed. The advice I was looking for came completely from out of the blue, via one of the make-up girls – an exotically tattooed young lady, festooned with crystals and amulets – who casually informed me during a pre-show make-up session that my chakras were completely out of balance. She could tell. She was totally psychic. She could see my aura and had a direct hot-line to the Great Spirit who wanted to heal me and make me whole. I wasn’t sure what she’d been smoking or ingesting but, from the state of her wildly dilated pupils, it had to be something a damn site more potent than my little pills. She said a couple of her spirit animals had just turned up and informed her that I should go see a friend of hers, a genuine Indian Swami, a guru, a living Bodhisattva who would balance my chakras for me. I was getting up from the make up chair when she gave me a number to call. This was Hollywood, my friend. This was completely normal for any day of the week.

His Holiness the Divine Swami Ramjit Singh Baba, lately of Uttar Pradesh, had a neat little condo on the cheaper fringes of Hollywood and he fitted right in. A plump assistant – or Devotee, as he liked to refer to his little helpers – opened the door wearing a saffron yellow sari and sporting a conspicuous red paint spot in the middle of her forehead. She bowed in greeting, mumbled something in Hindi, her blond pigtails flailing forwards and ushered me into an atmosphere dense with coils of incense smoke and the less subtle aroma of weed. The Devotee proffered an enormous bean bag for me to recline on and indicated that I should relax myself completely in preparation to meeting His Holiness, the Swami. The second-hand dope was pretty relaxing and the strangulated warbling of another plump Devotee, squatting in the corner and reciting endless verses of some Vedic hymn, was almost hypnotic in its droning tunelessness. My eyelids were starting to droop when the Devotee in the yellow sari tapped me on the knee and whispered that the Swami was ready to receive me. OK. Time for a question. When was the last time you got yourself up, half asleep, from a giant bean bag? Right. Let’s just agree that it isn’t easy nor particularly elegant. But, butt in the air and on all fours, I made it.

His Holiness the Swami was seated on an enormous purple, velvet cushion, swathed in bales of brightly coloured cloth, a brilliant yellow turban adorning his saintly head and what looked like a pirate-era, Spanish gold Doubloon suspended on an improbably large 18 ct chain about his neck. Greetings – he said as he gave a short bow from his seated position. And welcome to my holy ashram of pure devotion. I nodded back at the plump and bearded figure hiding beneath around half a ton of linen, cotton and silk. Uttar Pradesh, huh? Now I’ve never been as far afield as the great Indian sub-continent in all my travels, so I could never consider myself an expert on the region, but there was something about His Holiness’s accent that reminded me more of New Mexico than the foothills of the Himalayas. He gestured to a thin mattress that was lying on the floor at his feet and asked me to lie down on my back, a small silk cushion ready to support my head. He rose to his feet, a little unsteadily if the truth be told, and I wondered if he was suffering from cramp or just the effects of the Grade A skunk that was smouldering on top of the water pipe by his side. He knelt – yes, a little clumsily – at my side and started waving his hands over my body, like a Vaudeville conjurer preparing to produce a rabbit from a top hat. He hummed a little tune as he swayed gently backward and forwards, his hands describing circles over my frame, the circles getting smaller until he suddenly stopped and gave a deep and dramatic sigh. Oh, dear! – he exclaimed, shaking that enormous turban from side to side – But by the precious and multiple limbs of the great Lord Vishnu, dear Lady, your chakras are most terribly out of balance. I looked at him without saying a word. He shook his head again. This is indeed a most extreme case. How can I express this in English? Ah, Yes! Do you want to live, dear Lady? OK. That was a little more dramatic than I’d expected. Did I want to live? Well, I sure didn’t surprise anyone by nodding my head and saying, Well, sure I want to live. What’s the alternative? He clasped his hands in front of his chest as if in prayer and intoned – Your only hope of salvation is to put your total faith and trust in the blessed Lord Vishnu who will work through me, his chosen and anointed disciple on earth. Only then can you be saved. Are you willing to put your faith in Lord Vishnu and his humble servant? I got up on one elbow and asked the Swami to tell me what exactly the blessed Lord Vishnu had in mind for me and my salvation. Oh, joy of joys! – clapped the Swami. We shall balance your chaotic chakras and save you from eternal peril by joining Lord Vishnu’s sacred and miraculous flute to the lowest chakra through the sacred medium of the dear lady’s precious Yoni and a miracle will be assured. He nodded enthusiastically. And we’re doing a special on the blessed Lord Vishnu’s sacred and miraculous flute so you only pay nine hundred and ninety-five for the whole treatment. Wow. Did I feel lucky!

I was lying down on the mattress and waiting patiently as the holy servant of Lord Vishnu began to disrobe. He was singing one of those catchy little Hindi ditties to sanctify the proceedings and it was only when he was almost free of his swathes of clothing and the blessed Vishnu’s flute was suddenly revealed in all its less than impressive majesty, that I decided to spring a little role reversal on the holy man. He was reaching for the belt buckle on my jeans when I sat up and grabbed a handful of the blessed Lord Vishnu’s nuts in a grip that would surely bring tears to his divine and blessed eyes. There followed a string of high-pitched, strangulated words in Spanish that I assumed to be the Swami’s original language. I tightened my grip on the offensive little bundle and told him it was time to pay some respect to Lord Vishnu by confessing all and telling the truth. The alternative was a solo career in the Viennese Boys’ Choir. With his wrinkled and sweaty prospects of reproducing lying in the confines of my firmly clenched fist, the Swami begged and pleaded with me but eventually found undoubted comfort in unburdening himself. Turned out he wasn’t from the holy region of Uttar Pradesh after all. He was Mexican. Never been anywhere near India in his life. Picked up the whole act from watching countless re-runs of some old black and white movies and a lot of time in front of the Discovery Channel. It was a business, he whimpered, and he only tried to bring comfort to lonely people in search of a little happiness. I squeezed a little harder and was so tempted to remove the guy’s cojones the old fashioned way and not worry about the niceties of anesthetic – old country style. But I relented. Who was I to judge the creep? The town was over-flowing with blood-sucking leeches, all preying on the fears and weaknesses of the gullible. What was I doing in my daily work that was really any different? I let him go and he slumped forwards, curled up in a fetal ball and muttering heartfelt prayers in Spanish to the Madonna for his deliverance. As I stepped out of the room, I called the Devotee over and explained as gently as I could that the Swami had just experienced a genuine Old Testament revelation, a fire and brimstone, wrath of the Lord kind of revelation and he’d just converted on the spot to the true faith of Holy Mother Church. The conversion was so complete, that he’d instantly changed his nationality too. He’d blinked and in the next second he’d become Juan Diego Garcia of saintly Santa Fe, New Mexico. So that was the name everyone had to call him from now on. It was the will of God. Praise the Lord, ditch the sari and the red grease spot – and, though I could’ve been mistaken, a large bag of ice might come in useful too.  

Chapter 15:

No Bat phone? Call the Lady Nutritionist!

Rather than re-balancing my chakras and humming to myself beneath a rainbow array of pretty, healing crystals, I felt I needed something a little more reliable, something a little more orthodox. So I called the only person I could trust in these circumstances. No, not the family priest. He was away on a Vatican-sponsored retreat to help him recover something of his recently tarnished faith. No. I contacted the lady nutritionist.

She was remarkably calm about the whole thing, as if she’d expected nothing less. The only surprise was that I’d taken so long to get in touch. You’ve been lying down with dogs, Honey – she sighed across the miles. You were bound to get up with fleas. She had a pretty good idea what the experimental drug was based on. There were only so many ways to bake that particular kind of pie but she wanted a sample to confirm her suspicions. Organising a courier was just a short phone call away and the package was on its way the same day. In the meantime, she advised me to drink a lot of fresh, spring water, start a daily programme of full spectrum Vitamin B capsules and hit the hotel sauna every day, increasing my stay by fifteen minutes each time I went in. She told me to be careful and to quit the sauna if I felt dizzy or unwell but it was a fast track method to detox the body and get the lingering chemical poisons out of my system. It was only a few days later that I asked myself, why doesn’t she ever recommend something nice for a change?

We sometimes act as if we’re the generation that invented the drug culture. Couldn’t be further from the truth, my dear friend. Humans have been using substances to change their perception for countless thousands of years. So it was only natural that someone, somewhere along the line, would figure out how to break the chains of addiction and find a way to flush all the toxic garbage out of the system. So let’s give a warm round of applause to – those amazing Indian Yogis of yesteryear – no relation to the infinitely wise Yogi Bear, of course! – who developed a really effective system all those thousands of years ago to subdue the demons of substance abuse. And the system’s been around in various forms ever since. Now you and I both know that there will always be some sleazy character popping up out of the woodwork and claiming to have discovered the system only last week – but it’s been around forever. It hasn’t always been popular because it can be tough. So typical of the lady nutritionist! Old school tough with a side order of suffering followed by a low-cal dish of freshly sautéed agony. You sit in the sauna with a couple of pints of spring water on hand to sip through the ordeal and your body starts to loosen its grip on every particle of contamination that’s ever passed through your system. You sweat. Of course you do. It’s part of the process. You start to feel the effects of the toxins. I got a truly manic rush of energy a couple of times that made me feel that my head was about to explode. Took a few sessions but the episodes gradually diminished as the toxins leeched away in my sweat and I started to feel, well, a dang site more like the Misha of old. And one morning, as I was standing underneath a post-sauna, high-pressure shower jet of very cold water, I thought about Larry.

Power is a particularly potent drug, my dear friend. Some say it’s the most potent drug in the world. Impossible to resist and even harder to renounce. I’d always thought that it had never been such a big deal for me. But maybe I was just deluding myself. Those fabulously kinky episodes, dressed up and buzzing in my Dominatrix outfit, frankly left me breathless, speechless, drained and totally exhilarated. Maybe there was another Misha after all, lurking just beneath the surface and ready to feel the irresistible rush of absolute power and domination that the whole role reversal gig implied. With Larry, anything had seemed possible and I never harboured dark fantasies about trying the domination game with anyone else. Though there were plenty who surely deserved it – especially if we excluded the whole lube ingredient from the formula. 

Chapter 16:

Fifty shades of ugly

New York was a world away and something was wrong. I called Larry, feeling so much calmer than I had in a while, needing to hear his voice and tell him how much I cared. But I couldn’t get through. His number replied with a message service from the modeling agency, asking me to leave a contact number and saying they’d get back to me later. I called the agency direct and they refused to tell me where he was or where I could contact him. It was more of a feeling than anything tangible but something was definitely wrong. I felt as if I was waking up with a hangover, the little pills loosening their grip on my awareness. And I could just feel with a certainty that defied all rational explanation that something was definitely amiss. I left a couple of messages – one via his phone and the other via the agency reception. But Larry didn’t call. And in a crazy kind of way, I hadn’t expected him to.

The agency’s clients were really excited about this completely unknown model with the amazing presence and the old world, aristocratic, Italian name. He was so fresh, he was so now and he could be theirs for the appropriate fee. So the initial shooting schedule had been more intense than usual, collecting as many shots as possible with the formerly-named Larry sporting a variety of goods ranging from a new brand of incredibly expensive, hand-crafted, European sunglasses to pairs of somewhat impractical, high-fashion, designer-labeled walking boots. And – just like the boots – Larry took it all in his stride – calm, collected, unflustered, untiring, oozing effortless charisma with every click of the camera lens. It was a perfect match of his dazzling presence with the latest and most desirable fashion accessories, the trinkets and baubles that the idle rich scrambled to possess to fill their empty and meaningless lives. Complete strangers were falling in love with Larry’s image on billboards across the state. And this was just the beginning.

Alessandra wanted to celebrate the end of a monumentally profitable shoot with a party for the agency staff, crew and industry people, a serious bash at her very own, palatial apartment. Larry was never overly fond of parties but Alessandra had taken his arm and pleaded and cooed in his ear that he was the star of the show and he just had to be there. So, reluctantly, he’d agreed to go along. An agency S-class Mercedes had picked him up and delivered him to the entrance of one of New York’s landmark hotels. Alessandra’s apartment occupied a good proportion of the top floor, private, secure and serviced, all the food supplied by the hotel’s justifiably famous kitchens. The views were simply breathtaking. It was more like a country house set high up in the clouds and access, as you might imagine, was strictly limited. 

Larry was greeted at the door with a chilled glass of vintage champagne in a crystal flute but he politely waved it away and asked if there was any fresh vegetable juice available. The waiter’s eyebrows lifted dramatically and he leaned in a little closer to make sure he’d heard Larry correctly. Vegetable juice? Well, that was definitely a first. He’d need to go check with the caterers. The food was Italian Japanese fusion – which made Larry smile – his father produced a succulent, spicy hot-dog that was legendary and would’ve put the caterer’s imaginative efforts to shame. Alessandra spotted him and glided over, arms outstretched and wearing a billowing, pale, almost transparent, creamy gown that gave the appearance that it had just been spun from about half a million spider’s web. How appropriate. She smiled and embraced him, keeping her cheeks and make up away from his face and shirt, fussing and fretting, calling for champagne as if the guest of honour had been neglected. Larry told her he was waiting for some veggie juice, which made her stop for an instant and stare at him as if she were seeing him for the first time. No, no, she declared after a couple of heartbeats. You must have a glass. It’s my favourite Krug, the finest they’ve produced in the last fifty years. She took a glass from a waiter who hovered with a tray at her side and offered it to Larry. He nodded graciously. Of course – he said. It would be an insult to the grapes. He took a sip, eyes closed, and held the sparkling wine in his mouth for a few moments, appreciating the unexpectedly smooth, buttery flavour of the champagne, only lightly sparkling, a flood of delights in his mouth and he smiled as he swallowed. He opened his eyes and nodded at Alessandra who leaned in and brushed his lips with the lightest of kisses to signal her approval, minimising all risk to her perfect lipstick, her eyes sparkling mischievously as she took his arm and led him into the gathering throng of guests. 

When you wanted fine cuisine and the kind of fare that would do honour to any royal household’s banqueting table, you just rang the hotel’s kitchens and they would oblige with a dazzling display of culinary virtuosity that would impress and delight in equal measure. But when you wanted something more modest and yet a little more special, you phoned an exclusive catering operation that would provide the themed cuisine for the evening, the finest wines and, perhaps most importantly, all the drugs your heart, nose and budget could handle. So the waiters paraded through the gathered guests with trays of vintage Krug, with platters of freshly prepared Italian Japanese appetisers and a very discrete service where the cocaine was replenished, along with an impressive range of other non-pharmaceutical drugs, at very regular intervals. And Alex’s parties were notorious for the quality and purity of her generously donated lines of coke.

Chapter 17:

Larry takes a dive

Larry was talking to one of the waiters, a good-looking classical history graduate just doing his best to find ways to fund his Masters, sipping a freshly squeezed carrot and mint juice and finding the young waiter far more interesting to talk to than the vacuous characters drifting around the apartment. And that’s when the band arrived. Their instruments and sound system had been set up by the road crew in a long, high-ceilinged, dining room earlier in the day. They’d obviously begun their own party a little earlier and were slightly drunk and coked out of their skulls. They were greeted with cheering and screams and all they had to do was plug in and play. And, whether because of the booze and drugs – or in spite of the industrial quantities of white powder they’d already taken – they were good. The noise enveloped the apartment, transforming it into something quite different, another place entirely, a parallel world that everyone just slipped into so effortlessly as the lights dimmed. The semi-darkness, the crazy shapes flashing on the walls from the light show, people moving spasmodically to the pounding bass and drum lines, the hypnotic words repeated and slurred and repeated like an ancient mantra, the party took its cue and spilled effortlessly over into its wilder phase. Women were dancing in the pulsing light in their underwear, some without their underwear, surgically-enhanced bodies gyrating in the electric blue flashes of strobe lights, men stripping off their jackets and shirts, the noise filling their chest cavities with the wildly thrumming rhythms. And Larry stood in the corner, watching the spectacle like a scientist in a lab observing rats in their labyrinths, wondering if he could quietly slip away and get some sleep. 

Alex was swaying to the rhythm as she slowly approached Larry – hey, I’d happily tell you his commercial name, like you haven’t maybe already guessed it, but you know how much I hate to name drop, my dear companion on this pilgrimage to the darker quarters of the human soul. She was shuffling two steps forward, one step back, the sweat trickling down between her silicone-valleyed breasts, rendering the flimsy fabric of her gown almost transparent, smiling at him as she got closer, bearing a crystal flute of a darker-hued champagne, moving in close, curling his fingers around the chilled glass and lifting the potion to his lips. He tried to refuse but she pushed a little harder, everything a game, a little contest he could easily win with his big, strong, muscles – but how gracious to allow a physically weaker person to win once in a while? She tipped the ice-cold liquid slowly into his mouth, a much older vintage, hardly sparkling now as age robbed the wine of its sparkling youth. And Larry swallowed. And that was pretty much the last thing he could remember.

Power corrupts, my dear friend. You know that. And some kinds of power simply seek to debase others in order to enjoy the delicious thrill of exercising control over them. A bit like the old-country tales of vampires and demonic possession. But without the revolving heads, wall to wall boils and projectile vomiting. No. This kind of possession is infinitely more subtle. And infinitely more destructive. Alex, that bitch-whore wholesale daughter of depravity, that fly-blown boil on the burnished ass of Beelzebub – I might’ve lost a little of my objectivity there for a while – spiked the poor, unsuspecting guy’s drink. That’s right. She doped Larry’s innocent glass of ludicrously expensive champagne with the express purpose of corrupting him and dragging him down into her own privately filled cesspit. And the only way she could even get close to him was by hitting the guy with a cocktail of chemicals that would rob him of everything he thought he knew to be worthwhile. Yeah, I could seriously get a little mad here. I could so easily relate to those overwhelming, tidal wave feelings that can turn a sweet and gentle mailman overnight into a raving, homicidal maniac. So what did she use? Well, you know that my knowledge of chemistry is somewhat limited but I wonder if you’ve ever come across tales of a particularly interesting and potent little concoction known as burundanga? Don’t worry about the technical descriptions and the urban legends. In the Latin American countries where it’s usually used to kidnap someone quietly off the street, the bad guy just pretends to sneeze in front of you and blows the powder off a small sheet of foil right into your face – and it’s goodnight, folks, and you won’t have any idea what the hell just happened. It makes the victim highly suggestible. Yeah. Just join the dots, my friend. And Alex wasn’t going to settle for any run-of-the-mill, country cousin, home-brewed version. Oh, no. She commissioned her bespoke pharmaceutical suppliers to prepare the most refined version they could concoct in their designer drug labs. Apparently, the drug designers were very pleased with the results. If there was an Oscar for this particular kind of unlicensed entertainment, the designers would be rehearsing their acceptance speeches a whole year in advance. They could see an exciting new industry developing around this fabulous wonder drug and Alex would surely not be forgotten in the rush to add even more millions to the dusty rolls and rolls of cash that filled warehouses across dark corners of the city. One sip. Just one innocent sip and dear, beautiful Larry was gone.

Some of the victims of the more conventional version of the drug would just sit happily in their looted and emptied houses until someone happened to call round to see why the front door and its hinges were missing. They would have absolutely no recollection of what had happened. Larry slowly emerged from his personal cocoon of confusion late the following morning on a vast, satin-sheeted bed, curtains still drawn and aches in his body that told him something must be wrong. Was he in some kind of hospital? Probably not. Not unless the recent economy drive had led to bed-sharing in the public medical facilities. He’d become aware of a much older, bald-headed man, stretched out besides him, a rhythmic snore erupting from his open mouth every few seconds, a tremor in the rolls of fat that covered his obviously naked frame, a thick gold chain beneath his double chins and a hideous cluster of gold and diamond rings on his fingers. Larry’s first impression was that he must still be dreaming, trapped in a sensory illusion that probably flowed from a very expensive hangover. Expensive? He vaguely recollected sipping a glass of almost flat champagne, Alex smiling and lifting the chilled liquid to his lips. And after that? Nothing.

Chapter 18:

The morning after….

The room smelled bad. Unwholesome. Like a herd of pigs had bivouacked on the priceless Persian rugs for a night. Larry lifted himself up on one elbow and slowly rolled his feet to the carpet, appreciating that for some reason he was completely naked and that was when the pain struck. He froze in a spasm of shock as his ass broadcast an unambiguous protest to his brain that spelled out that something was definitely wrong. He could barely stand. He clenched his jaw muscles and hid hands. The pain was hovering in the background, ready to lance him to the core with every tiny footstep he made towards his jeans that were crumpled up on the floor along with his shirt.

He stepped out of the bedroom and found himself in the long, high-ceilinged dining room that the band had used so creatively as their miniature sound and light stage. The room was empty. Except, of course, for Alex. She looked a little wrecked. Seated in a silk dressing gown, unadorned with the professional make up and little enhancements that could hide a multitude of unwanted wrinkles, she looked a lot older and a lot less glamourous in the late morning light. She smiled and the maze of wrinkles deepened as she greeted Larry with a wagging finger – Well, who’d have thought you could be such a naughty young man? Larry was unsteady on his feet, still dreading the pain that could take him by surprise at any moment. He tried to concentrate but it was proving difficult. What happened last night, Alex? – he asked, keeping the question as simple and direct as possible. What happened? – she replied, her voice croaking with mock surprise. Why, my beautiful boy? Can’t you remember? That’s a pity because you really, really excelled yourself last night. 

Larry couldn’t stand any longer. He had to sit. He was strangely exhausted, his thoughts refusing to co-operate, the hybrid drug cocktail still holding his mind hostage in their chemical bonds. Well, don’t you worry your pretty little head about what happened, Larry – she purred. We managed to capture the whole evening’s entertainment on high-resolution camera. And wow, you really were the star of the show. Wanna see? She touched a remote and curtains uncurled gently down the windows to darken the room. A screen descended down the far wall and Alex pushed another button on the remote. Popcorn? – she smiled at Larry. But Larry’s appetite took an instant decision to go on vacation without any notification of when it might want to come back. 

The scenes that greeted his unbelieving eyes dripped acid into his stomach. And then they trickled poison into his heart. And the corrosive images stained the back of his retinas with a permanent, indelible record of things he never thought he’d witness. He’d begun with Alex, following whatever orders she gave him, a crowd of cheering, partially-clothed onlookers surrounding the bed, waiting their turn to play, Alex performing like a seasoned campaigner in the less conventional field of professional adult entertainment. Other women joined in. Then, the older men, grotesque with their fat bellies and hairy backs, queuing like exhibits at a freak show, eager to take their turn with Larry, strapped now and tied face down on the bed, seemingly oblivious to everything that was being done to him. Again and again. It was a rolling scene from a hideous, soul-consuming nightmare. And Larry, watching the spectacle on the digital screen, exhausted, pained and confused, felt the tears in his eyes. It felt like she’d broken him. It felt like she’d stolen his spirit. She stood up and smiled, the conquering vixen, mentioning that from that moment onwards, she owned him completely and his sole purpose in life was to obey her. Or the file would be released – edited to protect the identities of the perpetrators, of course – and his career would be over in a heartbeat. She turned in the doorway and suggested he go and see a proctologist to get his pretty ass fixed up. It really was one of his finer features and he’d better learn to take better care of it in future.

Chapter 19:

When in doubt…

I knew something was wrong. It wasn’t the lack of communication. It was something else. A gut instinct that this beautiful, amazing, gentle man that I loved so much was somehow in trouble. So what would you do? Telephone the police? Hi! My boyfriend’s just been kidnapped by a sex-crazed, porno-sleaze queen and he’s getting his brains banged out night and day….Hello? Are you still there?…..and half the police force are sprinting down Fifth Avenue, size twelves pounding the sidewalk, tripping over themselves to be first to take his place. I know. He didn’t sound like he needed rescuing. We needed something else. We needed a plan.

I was making the most of my break, getting back into the exercise routine, discretely handing over all my little energy pills to the TV producer, making him a very happy camper, keeping to the new diet regime outlined by the lady nutritionist and finding that my brain was beginning to function a little more efficiently. I was sitting on a sofa in my hotel room early one morning, wondering about Larry, when I just knew I had to do something. I had a notepad on my knee and I’d been doodling Larry’s name when a low voltage light bulb came on in my head and I knew I all I had to do was just follow the trail. So I finished my freshly-squeezed veggie juice, took a deep breath and called the physics faculty at our college back home for some simple information and they couldn’t have been more helpful. In a couple of minutes I had the name and address of the hotel where the physics team had stayed in New York, including Larry’s room number. So you can guess what I did next, can’t you, my super-smart friend? That’s right. I called the hotel to see if Larry had left a forwarding address. But he hadn’t. Because he was still registered at the hotel. I felt elated and pretty dumb all at the same time. Elated because it looked as if I’d found him and dumb for not thinking of calling him there before. OK. Let’s just blame the wonder pills from the weight-loss company for slowing me down a little back there. It’s the best excuse I have. And, let’s be honest here, I was more than a little nervous too – but I made the call.

It took longer than I’d expected for someone to pick up the phone and I really didn’t know what to expect. A woman’s voice, perhaps? I guess that was one of my more selfish fears – that beautiful Larry had been snared by some pneumatically-enhanced nymphette that I could never compete with. You know how those old insecurities come back to haunt you, don’t you? But I was afraid that maybe he’d just moved on. That I wasn’t a meaningful part of his life anymore. I’d left town in a chauffeured cloud of publicity with barely a backward glance and yet I’d expected Larry to be waiting for me when I got back. How naive can you get? 

The phone picked up at the other end with a dull – Hello? – and I thought I’d got the wrong room because it wasn’t Larry’s voice. Just wasn’t him. I asked the stranger if Larry was there. There was a long pause, static crackling faintly on the line, before the stranger said simply – Misha? – and my breath caught in my throat. Damn! I’d found him. But it sure didn’t sound anything like Larry.

The bare-assed fact is that he didn’t want to talk to me. Couldn’t talk to me. Once I’d repeated the word – Why? – about a hundred times, I got the message that he didn’t want to tell me what was going on or what had happened. So I changed my approach and just told him how much I loved him. Heart, body and soul. Unconditionally. I told him that whatever had gone on in New York could never change how I felt about him. And that was when he started crying. And that was when I started to feel a sulphurous black anger boiling and bubbling ominously somewhere deep in the darker depths of my soul. Someone had hurt Larry. OK. Someone had hurt my Larry and I understood exactly how blood feuds had sprung up in the old country. Despite his protests and the heart-rending sobbing, I told him to stay put. I was taking control. Misha was on her way and God help anyone who got in my way. I was coming to New York whether the Rotten Apple and its festering multitude of maggots were ready for me or not.

Chapter 20:

La Familia

Sometimes the best thing to do in a crisis situation is to take action. Don’t just sit there whimpering. Get up and do something. It’s like those fortune cookie philosophers love to quote – the universe rewards action. So I got rolling. First potential obstacle to my little plan was the weight-loss corporation. I’d been instructed to stay put around the hotel in case I was needed for any re-shoots or last minute interviews. I spoke to one of the senior execs who was sharing responsibility for the miracle weight-loss powder marketing project and explained that an important member of my family had called me to New York and I had to go. Immediately. It’s funny but when you use the expression ‘old country’, a surprising number of people, particularly in Hollywood, immediately think of Sicily. Funny, huh? So when I apologised to the senior exec for not mentioning this important family connection before, when I explained that when the head of la Familia, ‘Uncle Carmine’, called – you moved your ass with utmost speed and diligence, he started to sweat quite visibly even in the comfort of his air-conditioned office. I followed up by saying that even though I called him Uncle, the senior exec would have to call him Don Carmine and kneel before him and kiss his pinkie ring as he explained why I’d been delayed. There was a very uncomfortable moment when I got the impression that the senior exec might have suffered a minor loss of sphincter control because he suddenly seemed very keen to wish me a safe trip – the corporation would have me on a business class flight from LA to New York that afternoon, he’d take care of it personally – and then, as soon as I left his offices, he could make arrangements to get himself a fresh pair of undershorts. 

I traveled light. Just some hand luggage and the tools of my chosen trade. I booked a room at Larry’s hotel in my own name using one of my brand new credit cards. Despite the flood of cash hitting my bank account, I’d hardly spent a dime since I’d left home. Truth is I’d hardly had the chance. I opted for a modest, single room and had barely dropped my travel case on the bed when I phoned Larry’s room. He sounded exhausted but I thought I caught a hint of something a little more positive in his voice. Don’t go anywhere – I said. I’ll be with you in a minute.

He looked awful. Well, maybe a little worse than awful. The man who opened the door to my gentle knock looked older, as if something inside of him had died. I held him for so long, I thought our DNA had melded and we just stood in his room crying as if it was the happiest and saddest day of our lives. I moved back, holding his hands, and looked into his eyes. Larry Herschkowitz – I said. I will always and absolutely love you.

We sat on the bed and, after a lot of coaxing, he began to tell me everything that had happened since I’d left town. He was sipping mineral water, staring down at the floor, avoiding eye contact with me, and I noticed a collection of prescription drugs by his bed. I guess I’d learn soon enough why he was chewing pain killers and anti-biotics but right now I just needed to let the story unfold. It took a lot of telling and by the time he finished, we just sat in an empty silence, the hum of the air conditioner in the background and the muted noises of the traffic in the street far below the hotel room. I held his hand, desperately wanting to hold his pain for him. Physically, he would heal. Psychologically, he might never recover. I pulled him slowly down onto the bedspread and curled up beside him, holding his head on my shoulder as I murmured and whispered that everything was going to be alright, stroking his hair and telling him with all the certainty I could muster that we were going to make everything right again. Misha was here. Everything was going to be fine. 

Chapter 21:

Strong coffee and battle plans

The sunlight woke me and Larry was still curled up in my arms, right where he belonged, looking a little more rested, maybe in need of a shower and a good breakfast. I carefully rolled off the bed, still fully clothed, and called room service, knowing exactly what we both needed to get our bodies fuelled up for the day. While Larry slumbered, a pale shaft of New York sunlight lighting up his stubbled face and straightened blond hair, I hit the shower and hosed and scrubbed and shampooed til I started to feel primed and ready for the fight. And was I ready for the fight, my dear friend! Boy, was I ready.

OK. Time out. When someone you love has been mistreated and abused, your natural instinct is to invite some good old fashioned, divine retribution into the lives of the bad guys. Am I right? That’s what you’d do, isn’t it? Sure it is. It’s natural. It’s expected. It’s so Hollywood. But in the real world, what can you do to fix people who are so monstrous, so sick, so powerful that they live their entire lives beyond the reach of ethics, morality, decency and the law? Not so easy, huh? And it’s not as if plenty of others hadn’t tried. So the starting point for the plan was not to work out how to inflict some well-deserved Old Testament-style suffering onto Alex. The starting point was to work out what Larry wanted. He was feeling a little better. You know the benefits of Confession and the feeling of unburdening yourself of all your sins, real and imagined, in that cramped little box on a Friday evening? All those Hail Marys and Mea Culpas? Maybe they work after all because Larry looked as if he’d let go of some of the load. Not all of it. Not even most of it. But some of it for sure. You bare your soul in the presence of someone who just listens and accepts without judgement – hey, just like I’m doing with you! – and you immediately start to feel better. So what did Larry really want? Deep breath here. He wanted to be free of the whole Alex circus of depravity and just get back to being a brilliant research student. He had absolutely no interest in revenge. Wasn’t in his soul. Me? Revenge was triple underlined at the top of my new To Do and Roast Slowly Over An Open Pit of Blazing Coals List. I’d have happily cut off Alex’s silicone implants with a rusty sheep castration knife and used the discarded items as door stops. But that’s me. Old country through and through. You know me too well. Larry had the most amazing mind I’d ever encountered but the trauma of recent events had left him a little below his best. What we needed right now was a strategy to get him free of the agency of evil. The obvious problem, not counting the poisonous, trolloping troll at the head of the organisation, was the compromising, hi-res recording she’d made of Larry, the digital file she could hold over his head for the rest of his days. So we talked. I kissed him as gently as I could and told him again we were an unstoppable combination. Alex might be a Contessa but Misha was old country and that meant feisty with a capital, brass-knuckled, saw-toothed, mean-gritted determination that…..but then I noticed that Larry wasn’t listening. He was looking at me with his head tilted to one side, as if he was just recalling something, a detail or two that had slipped his mind. She isn’t Italian – he said. What do you mean? He shook his head slowly from side to side. She isn’t Italian – he repeated. First time I heard her voice, I thought she might be more Atlantic City than Amalfi. And that’s not her title either. What? I needed a time-out here. Larry had an encyclopedic grasp of data. Mention something to him, give him something to read or watch and he’d file the data away for future reference. Yeah. I told you he was bright. You probably didn’t appreciate how bright though, did you? He had a finely tuned ear for accents, intonations, dialects and Alex, as far as his antenna was concerned, was home-grown, Atlantic City. The title was fake too. It simply did not exist. She’d made it up – a combination of two minor Italian house names that had died out centuries before during the recurring bouts of war and plague that had churned up the landscape and thinned the ranks of the population. We ordered lunch and I needed time to digest the low-carb, high-fat feast that was being prepared for us and digest the news that the Contessa was not what she appeared to be. And then I had an idea. That’s right. Don’t look so surprised. Larry wasn’t the only one who could count beyond ten without having to take his socks off!

One of the reasons that some students are drawn to the allure of computer science in the first place is that it’s advertised as the way of the future, a guaranteed gateway to well-paid jobs and the chance to work in a fast-moving industry with great opportunities for career development. And all that is probably true. But some kids are drawn to the dark side, seduced by the secret formulas that offer privileged access to the invisible pathways that govern the hidden workings of the world. And some kids just want to learn how to be better hackers. You can’t sit in a computer science class day after day and not rub shoulders with the skinny geeks who are obsessed with the gamer’s true addiction of crossing ever deeper into the forbidden territory that lies beyond the security barriers and firewalls that people believe will keep their precious data safe. So I made one of the simplest decisions of my life. Yes, it was illegal. Yes, it was unethical. Yes, it was probably dangerous too but I opened up my tool kit with a smile and prepared to hack Alex’s computer system. I wish I could’ve hacked into the cold bitch’s shriveled heart as easily. 

Chapter 22:

Misha slips in the back way – again

You know you probably put way too much faith in your computer’s data protection system, don’t you? If you knew how vulnerable all your little visits and secret caches were, you’d probably take a lot more care. You read something somewhere about safeguarding your hard drive and download a proprietary piece of protection. Your IT guys are supposed to be bang up to date with all the latest tricks of the trade. So you invest more money in the latest security systems, not realising that they’re already out of date before you even install them. I know. It doesn’t seem fair. But once I’d skated invisibly through the firewalls and flimsy security systems, Alex’s dirty little kingdom was wide open for inspection. And it sure made for some interesting viewing. Let’s just say that Larry was far from being the first individual to be captured on tape at one of Alex’s little soirées. I started with Larry’s file, extracted it and parked it somewhere safe because I was planning on seeing for myself exactly what had happened that night. Then I started digging through the layers and layers of dirt, the hidden recesses where protected files were soon unlocked and opened, where the past was revealed, where a semblance of the truth finally emerged. Alex wasn’t even her real name – surprise, surprise. She’d been a dedicated follower of the world’s oldest profession from a precociously young age, born and raised in Atlantic City, and it looked as if she’d turned her grubby claws in later years to blackmail – a natural progression for the rotting sack of ordure that she was. There were so many photos, then video footage, then digital downloads – the files must’ve included half of the great state of New York. She’d performed in dozens of porn films too and she kept copies of all her work in the labyrinth of files, supposedly hidden within her computer filing system. Looked liked she’d enjoyed the more exotic forms of the art as well until the ravages of time had finally exacted their toll. That was when she’d used some of her ill-gotten cash to fund a complete make-over. Major top-to-toe surgery, the adoption of a fake Italian title, plenty of people only too willing to provide fake paperwork to support her new identity. And then the launch of the perfect business. She set up the modeling agency, calling in favours from all quarters, hustling for business, dropping hints and threats and kickbacks whenever the occasion demanded a more persuasive approach. And how did I feel about all this? I swear I couldn’t have cared less. I’d met more weirdos, crooks and wackos in Hollywood than I thought could possibly exist on the entire planet. It was what she’d done to Larry that kept my blood simmering, just one half degree below the pouring-boiling-oil-all-over-her-damn-extensions point.

I took a break. Larry was sleeping, partly a result of the medications some tame doc had prescribed to deal with his injuries. Alex had known exactly where to send him to get him fixed up. He wasn’t the first customer to be treated privately in a discrete and very expensive, cash-only, surgery in Manhattan. But I guess you knew that already, didn’t you? I woke him gently. Passed him some fresh water to sip and just cradled his head in my arms for a while that felt like a small slice of eternity. I spoke to him quietly, skimming over the details but outlining what I planned to do with my new-found knowledge. Finally he opened his eyes fully and looked up at me. I’d been parked for hours in front of my laptop and hacking toys and I guess I wasn’t looking at my most glamourous. Not right at that precise moment. He smiled and asked me if I could really break him free from Alex’s clutches. You bet – I replied. He just stared up at me from the cradle of my arms that supported his beautiful head and then he whispered, tiny tearlets forming at the corners of his eyes – God, Misha, how do manage to look so beautiful? And if I hadn’t needed to be so strong, I’d have cried my heart out right there and then.

The plan was simple. Hey, aren’t all the best plans really simple? Larry would meet Alex outside the hotel and then I’d cut the string holding the thousand pound rock that was suspended five hundred feet above her head. Larry would dodge to one side and…..OK. So that wasn’t the plan. But you can appreciate how attractive and tempting the image might have been to a couple of kids brought up on the Road Runner’s high-speed antics. We both recognised that it might not be possible to wipe the dark stain of her evil presence from the face of the planet but we could go a long way towards neutralising her involvement in Larry’s life. That would be a good starting point. Not enough for my old country instinct for blood-letting, scorched earth and rows of enemy heads neatly arranged on pointed sticks. But it would have to do for a start.

I’m a pretty fast worker but it still took me a couple of days to get everything ready. Larry was officially out of bounds to the agency until his physical injuries were completely healed so no one called or even checked up on him. All he had to do was take the meds and sleep until he was ready to roll back on set and start earning the serious cash that made him such a valuable commodity to Alex. Yeah. Right. But we had other plans. Larry created one minor difficulty for me. He wanted to do everything on his own and I’d absolutely wanted to be right there with him. Strength in numbers. Surround the enemy. Sit on the enemy and beat seventeen shades of penitence from her scaly hide. My defensive instincts willing to cross any line now to protect him. Larry was absolutely clear. He wanted my involvement to be invisible. He said Alex was extremely dangerous and would never forgive the game we were about to play. I could watch the drama from a distance in the hotel lobby where he planned to meet Alex but I must not intervene. It had to be kept strictly between the two of them. 

Chapter 23:

Getting Pipped in the Big Apple

I was beginning to notice that Larry was recovering. Physically he seemed taller again. But the light in his eyes was definitely a little dimmer. She’d taken something from him and I honestly didn’t know if he’d ever get it back. We were staying in the same room, but we never made love. Didn’t even attempt it. I guess Larry still felt soiled and dirty from what had happened and it would probably take some time before he’d be ready to allow me or anyone else back into that sacred space in his life that had just been used as a garbage dump by a crowd of very sick rejects from the Circus of the Damned. I’d be patient. I could be patient. I’d wait. That’s what I told myself every time I looked at him.

The meeting was set up for ten in the morning in the hotel lobby. Just Alex and Larry. He hadn’t spoken to her directly. She owned him now. He had to speak to her through her coterie of ass-licking assistants. But she agreed. And since she believed with every nickel-grubbing particle of her lost and corrupted soul that time was money, she was exactly on time. She was wearing an ivory cream outfit that must’ve kept an Italian village of silk workers busy for a month as she wafted into the lobby like an empress entering her throne room. Larry was sitting at a coffee table, looking more relaxed than I’d seen him since I’d arrived in New York. I was perched on a very uncomfortable bar stool with an espresso and a newspaper, trying to look inconspicuous, watching Larry from the corner of my eye. Ten o’clock in the morning. I was impressed. That much make-up must’ve taken at least two hours to apply, layer by layer, colour by colour. However much you felt like hammering rusty nails into her evil, demented and perfectly coiffured head, she still looked damn amazing. I think I hated her even more.

Larry didn’t move and Alex never even offered her hand. She sat back in her chair, crossed her legs and looked at Alex as if he were no more than a little mouse perched beneath her twinkling, razor-sharp claws. Larry nodded, thanked her for stopping by and told her he was leaving the agency. With immediate effect. She opened her mouth and then she covered it with her diamond-encrusted fingers and laughed. Not the genteel laugh of an Italian Contessa. More like the street laugh of a twenty dollar hooker at midnight in Atlantic City. She asked Alex if he’d lost his mind. Did she need to remind him of the high resolution footage of him performing in his own personal, all-night, porno-thon? Alex was laughing as Larry opened my laptop. He turned it around so that Alex could see the screen and said he’d been trying and trying to run the file but it seemed to be missing. All he could find was this. He touched a button on the keyboard and sat back, a smile playing round his eyes and lips. Alex watched the familiar file code appear on the screen but Larry was no longer the subject of the file’s contents. Oh no he was not. The opening shot displayed a much younger Alex in what appeared to be a pastoral scene involving a series of farmyard animals. Alex’s eyes got wider and wider. Disbelief etched across her mouth. The scene cut away to Alex performing a variety of technically demanding roles in a series of videos where she was most clearly the principle object of everyone’s attention. The film footage was interspersed with stills of Alex bringing much needed relief to dozens of individuals, some of them strangely familiar, clips from her porn films and shots of her doing things that were clearly never mentioned in the Bible, and that was when Larry called out across the laptop – Hey, Stella! I bet these old movies bring back the memories, don’t they? After only three or four minutes, Larry leaned in and slowly closed the laptop. He looked across the table at her, very calm, very focused, watching her shocked expression as he told her that his file had gone forever. It had been erased. As if it had never ever existed. Whereas hers could be on the Internet in about twenty three seconds, copies to newspapers, magazines, TV and radio stations right across the globe. Hey! Maybe Vogue would commission a special edition. He kept looking at her. You were fake from the moment you first opened your mouth. And I knew – he said. But now we’re finished. If I hear one word, one syllable, one breath from you, the file goes viral. He produced his contract and pointed at the termination clause at the bottom. Sign it, he said. She nearly lost her dignity with a fine flow of expletives but Larry raised one hand and repeated slowly – One word, Stella. You don’t mind if we use your real name, do you? One word and the file goes viral. Right here. Right now. He passed a cheap hotel ball pen across the table. Right now – he repeated. And she signed the paper. And the duplicate. Your offices will get a copy this afternoon. He waved her away with one hand the way a sultan might brush away a fly. Now you can leave.

Chapter 24:

Aftermath with a polymath

OK. I’ve never come so close to peeing in my pants as I did during that totally wild and devastating performance from beautiful, amazing Larry. After she’d stomped out of the building, he got up from his chair and walked over to me with a huge grin and gave me my laptop. I dropped it on the bar and wrapped myself around him, hugging him so close and so hard I nearly broke his back. And I kissed him. And for the first time since I’d arrived in New York, the world’s biggest open sewer where bobbing for apples is not to be recommended, he kissed me with so much feeling, I thought my panties had sprung a major leak.

We checked out of the hotel that afternoon. Larry had seen too much of the place for one lifetime and I proudly booked us a suite in one of the city’s most beautiful, traditional retreats for the mega-rich. Hey. All those weight-loss bucks had been gathering dust in my bank account for way too long. I could afford to splash out a little! And we celebrated. In style. There was a moment, I think it was about two o’clock in the morning, when Larry’s energy just seemed endless and all he wanted was to make love with me, when it really felt as if the real Larry had returned. I guess he found comfort and solace in a special place with someone he loved and trusted. There was the warmth and joy of knowing how much I really loved him. And I think he knew it. I would do anything for him. I have to confess that I had no intention of mentioning my Dominatrix outfit anytime in the near future. That might be taking things a little too far and a little too fast. I could wait. I could be patient. And I had plenty of fresh batteries and a ton of lube for when the right time came around again.

Since we’re confessing to lots of things that usually don’t turn up in polite conversation, I might as well get another minor sin off my chest. Yeah, yeah. I know, I know. Mea culpa. Mea freaking culpa! I told a little white lie to Larry. That’s all. Well, to be more accurate, I told him a couple of little white lies. First off, I told him I’d erased the file containing the footage of what happened at Alex’s party. That wasn’t strictly true. I guess it depends on what you mean by the word ‘erase’. I kept a copy. I really needed to see for myself what they’d done to him. It was a way to connect to his pain. One day I’ll wipe the file clean and erase it forever. But there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to forget. It’s that part of me that’s just next to the part that doesn’t want to forgive either. Like I said, mea culpa, mea culpa. The other little white lie was a little more complex. Once I had access to Alex’s data base, I found things that really were dynamite, the kind of material that could get her shrunken ass totally blown up. I traced her involvement in the drugs trade, in money-laundering, tax evasion. What? You thought she’d be happy to stop at blackmail? The modeling agency was enough to make her rich. But it would never be enough. She got a thrill from breaking things. She tried to break Larry. She broke the rules. She broke the law. She broke things just for the thrill of breaking things. So – another deep breath here – without Larry knowing anything about my devious plan, I assembled enough evidence to take a sledgehammer to her cosy little world and arranged for the information on her criminal activities and contacts to arrive anonymously in bite-sized pieces on a variety of Federal and law-enforcement servers. And that, my dear friend, set the proverbial cat amongst the proverbial pigeons. And the feathers flew. 

News travels fast and, as soon as word got out that Larry had escaped the agency - the first person ever to leave of his own volition - offers came pouring in to sign him up. You know how smart the guy is. This time he took things slowly, got to know each agency and their personnel first and finally settled for a very small outfit that would never ever have been able to compete with the big guys on the block. Larry's signing put them on the map. He just said - They're good people and I want them to do well. Next thing I knew, I was on a business class flight back to LA and Larry's face was appearing on a series of animal rights campaign posters. I guess he felt much more at home with his new buddies in the agency. They shared common values. Honesty and integrity were the two that persuaded Larry to sign on. Alex didn't get too much time to fret over the loss of her number one signing. The combined task force that eventually raided her offices and homes seized all her computer files, arrested her as she screamed and kicked and bit - she had to be physically restrained after being Tasered - and argued successfully against bail because of the risk of her taking flight to evade justice. To be fair, and because I know you love to know all the details, I'd never planned on her going to spend time in an unflattering orange suit at Club Fed. That wasn't the plan. It wasn't a bad plan but I was looking for something better. She was connected to organised crime and, once she was arrested, there was a real risk that she would try to negotiate a deal by naming names and offering evidence. That was my end game for the evil bitch. A much hoped for and unofficial encounter with a very large guy called Guido Two Hands who would put her out of her misery and pay her back for everything she'd done to Larry. It didn't seem anywhere near enough. But it would do. Old country ways, my dear friend. Old country ways.

Chapter 25:

L.A. Woman

I arrived back in Hollywood as if I’d never been away. Except that there was a new feeling of respect from the weight-loss company execs. Even the tired and jaded studio guys stood to attention when I walked in, word of my recently revealed connection to Uncle Carmine having spread like wildfire in my absence. People fussed around me, constantly checking that everything was alright. Another double cream mocha, Ms Bulgari? May I kiss your ass just to welcome you back, Ms Bulgari? Yeah, I know. It was fun. So I let it ride. I even started nodding heavily with a Don Corleone shrug of the shoulders, saying softly – I think Don Carmine would be pleased. Do you think I should call him? Everybody panicking on the spot – No, no, no. No need to disturb such a busy gentleman! Hollywood. Sometimes it’s more real than the real thing.

The TV show was a surprise to everyone, including the now more respectful suits from weight-loss mission control. The ratings were building faster than anyone had anticipated and the corporation didn’t hesitate to air the two extra shows that I’d recorded almost as an afterthought on the back of the first six. Lots of editing and some judicious re-shooting to add some more newsworthy guests and the company – and the network – had an unexpected hit on its hands. They wanted a second series, a bigger budget and more of me. It was obvious at this point that I wouldn’t be going back to college in my home town. But, as you know so well, money talks in the loudest whisper and before I could even consider the question, I’d been accepted as a second year student of computer science in a prestigious university with a beautifully furnished condo to call my home for the duration. I had a driver on stand-by to ferry me to classes or to the studios and my fee structure had just kicked into a whole new dimension. 

It wasn’t long afterwards that we had a scheduled break in the shooting schedule and I announced that I was heading off to see my family for a few days. Any mention of the word family produced instant respect but my real motive was to see Larry. I missed him and sometimes it was physically painful to be separated from him. But, despite our busy lives, we were in touch all the time and I knew well in advance that he was planning to go home to visit his folks. So that’s when I took advantage of the break and headed for home too.

I had a lot of catching up to do with the crazy Bulgari clan. They watched me on TV and they just couldn’t imagine how much money was involved in a coast-to-coast campaign to sell weight-loss powders. I kept really quiet about how much money I was raking in too or Mama would’ve chained me up on the spot and started to make demands for ransom. Some things never, ever change.

Then Larry surprised me. We’d been out for dinner in a quiet little place, away from people who might recognise us, and he just asked me right out to come round on Friday night to meet his family. Well, my wondrous traveling companion, we’ve been through a lot together but nothing prepared me for this sudden and completely unexpected invitation. What could I say? What was I more afraid of here? His family’s attitude towards a non-Jewish girl suddenly appearing in their midst at their Friday evening prayers? Or the Bulgari reaction to me being in any way associated with a man whose people had killed our Lord and Saviour? Yeah. I know. I’d been made to stand in disgrace outside the school Bible class when I’d innocently mentioned that the little baby Jesus was actually Jewish. Hadn’t gone down too well with the Holy Sisters. So I went along to visit Larry’s parents.

I was greeted like a long-lost member of the family. They fussed around me, they explained everything that happened during their prayers and supper. There was endless laughter, joking, celebrations, mirth and more love than I thought a family could hold in one place and at one time. And I noticed that Larry was healed. I talked to him about it later and he said he’d told his father everything about the episode with Alex. I had to sit down at that point. This was seriously heavy duty stuff. His father had held him and blessed him and had taken the burden away from him so that he would never have to carry it with him ever again. The love of a parent. That unconditional, all-conquering, healing love that you think is so rare – and it’s right under your nose all the time. I spoke a lot to Larry’s dad and he told me how much he liked me, how good I was for Larry – who should’ve become a rabbi by now with at least twelve screaming, blond children – and he laughed at the image, tousling Larry’s hair as if he were still only five years old. He added that my family was most certainly of Jewish descent but had probably been forced to convert to Christianity centuries ago. The alternative would’ve been deeply unpleasant. I asked him how he could possibly tell and he smiled that infectious grin right at me. Have you taken a good look at yourselves recently? – he asked. You’re so Jewish you make the Orthodox brothers look like a bunch of Liberals! I had absolutely no idea what he meant but the connection to Larry’s family would help and sustain me through the times ahead. Because there were many more changes on the horizon, things that no one could expect or predict. Larry would go away again. Perhaps this time for good. Things would change forever. But that was all still in front of us.

Book 3

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Misha on Top!

 

 

by

 

Misha Bulgari

IMPORTANT INFORMATION

The information provided in this book is designed to provide helpful information on the subjects discussed. This book is not meant to be used, nor should it be used, to diagnose or treat any medical condition. For diagnosis or treatment of any medical problem, consult your own physician. The publisher and author are not responsible for any specific health or allergy needs that may require medical supervision and are not liable for any damages or negative consequences from any treatment, action, application or preparation, to any person reading or following the information in this book. References are provided for informational purposes only and do not constitute endorsement of any websites or other sources. Readers should be aware that the websites listed in this book may change.

Copyright © 2015 by One Life Publishing

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other non-commercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, write to the author’s email address: [email protected]

 

Find out more about Misha…..

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Table of Contents

 

Introduction

Chapter 1

Time for a skinny latte? Let’s play catch-up!

Chapter 2

California Dreamin’

Chapter 3

Twinkling in Tinsel Town

Chapter 4

Party Time at the Hollywood Zoo

Chapter 5

All change

Chapter 6

Ticket to ride

Chapter 7

A Change of Scene

Chapter 8

That Sceptered Isle

Chapter 9

Old World Adventures

Chapter 10

Hollywood? We Have a Problem

Chapter 11

Black Ops

Chapter 12

Limbo

Chapter 13

Judgement Day

Chapter 14

Back at the Mill

Chapter 15

Purgatorio

Chapter 16

Paradisio

About the Author

 

 

 

Misha On TOP

 

 

by

 

Misha Bulgari

Introduction

There is only one Misha Bulgari – larger than life but with a heart and personality to match. Join her on her epic adventures as she steps out from the cosy world of her home town and her crazy family and straight into the limelight.

That’s right. Misha’s heading to the bright lights and seedy sights of Tinsel Town, getting a close-up and personal view of Hollywood’s sleazy underbelly. Misha is about to discover how easy it is to get lost in the brightly-lit jungles of L.A.

And what about her beloved Larry? Did you think he was going to just stay at home, patiently waiting for Misha to come back? Well, life had larger plans for this amazing couple and Larry’s life is about to get totally turned upside down too.

There are drugs, there are scenes of depravity, there’s debauchery and a collection of darkly familiar characters that will make you suspect that maybe, just maybe, you know who Misha really is.

Follow the twists and turns, meet the freaks and fakes, the users and the abusers. It’s OK. Misha is always super-discrete. She manages to avoid naming too many famous names on her fabulous journey.

But she’s waiting for you to join her so the tale can begin.

It’s a roller-coaster ride and Misha wants you along. Bring some popcorn. Bring a fresh skinny latte. And maybe a fresh change of underwear. You never know.

Chapter 1

Time for a skinny latte? Let’s play catch-up!

 

Hi there, my beautiful friend and ever faithful traveling companion! Damn – but you’re looking good. How do you manage to stay in such great shape, you gorgeous excuse for a nymphette, you? So glad you could join me again because life is about to get a little more hectic, a little more crazy, a little more, well, lusty, and the trip just wouldn’t be the same without you. So break out those fabulous Dior sunglasses that make you look so decadent and mysterious and let’s get this gig under way. And remember – no photos. Discretion, my diamante-studded darling, is absolutely everything.

So you’re not really that interested in what’s been happening to me, are you? Don’t fib to Misha. We’re supposed to be friends. I can tell from the badly disguised yawn and the unmistakable look of boredom behind those snazzy sunglasses. You want to know about my achingly beautiful Larry, the love of my life and the face and body of so many classy ads in the high-end glossies, don’t you? I thought so.

You can’t fool Misha. Well, to put you out of your misery and give you a valid reason to change your prematurely-dampened thong, Larry was doing great. Better than great. He took a contract with a small advertising house in New York, a bunch of young guys that took good care of him and treated him with the kind of dignity and respect that he naturally extended to pretty much everyone he met. And yes, a whole bunch of people just fell madly in love with him.

He had that effect on everyone. It wasn’t just the honed physique and those ocean-grey eyes. It wasn’t the smile or the way he made you feel that you were the absolute centre of the universe when he was talking with you. I guess it was really his heart. Not so easy to photograph or describe or capture in detail but he broadcast a genuine warmth from the depths of his soul that was, well, there’s no other word for it – beautiful. Sure, the movie star looks didn’t hurt, but it was who he was that melted hearts and zippers wherever he went. The advertising and modeling contracts paid for him to commute from the fake, wax Big Apple to his good old home town college where he was still determined to graduate with honors. So, like I said, everything was looking really good.

Then there was me. Where do I start? My weight-loss efforts had brought me to the attention of a zillion dollar corporation who’d punched out an offer and bought me like a steer at a meat-market cattle-auction. One day I was happily studying computer science in my home town, spending every spare moment with Larry, occasionally exploring the darker side of my pulsating and leather-studded desire to dominate.

The next day I was bought, branded, and bundled up, on the road, headed straight to the alien holding-pen known as Hollywood. I was the smiling face of a nationwide marketing campaign that extolled the virtues of a miracle slimming powder – a delicious product that was supposed to work weight-loss wonders on behalf of our circumferentially-challenged population. The fact that I’d never actually used the powders to lose an ounce of weight did absolutely nothing to deter me from happily broadcasting the powders’ miracle properties from posters, live road shows and my very own, corporation-sponsored TV show.

Fortunately, my conscience took a long vacation and didn’t even bother to send post cards. It was somewhere out of sight, just over the horizon where it couldn’t interfere with my sudden appetite for gathering large amounts of cash.

And, to my surprise, I didn’t really miss my bothersome old conscience, which – to be brutally honest with you – often behaved like some old-country babushka, constantly warning against the perils of buying clothes pegs from strangers and going courting without a triple-tied knot in your knee-length underwear. So I had made a pact with the devil’s personal representatives on earth, sold my ethics and morals for a handful of pretty pieces of silver and was now the proud owner of an 18 karat pink gold, beautifully crafted, Swiss wrist watch that was so pretty, you could almost tell the time with it.

The company had even paid for my tuition at a fancy college in L.A. so that I’d be on hand for work and still be able to attend classes. It was all part of the deal. They’d thought of everything and, as I’m sure you’ll already know, they never spent a dime without calculating exactly how many bushels and buckets of bucks they’d get back on every cent’s worth of investment. So I was living in a very comfortable, gated little community, enjoying my company-paid condo and had a very polite studio driver to make sure I was always wherever I needed to be. So I guess you can probably see the little problem with this set-up, can’t you? That’s right. I was living on the razor’s edge of the world in psycho-central Los Angeles, locked and secured in my very own comfortable gilded cage, and Larry was a lifetime away in New York. Despite the time difference and our efforts to stay in touch, it wasn’t the ideal recipe for a happy ending. 

Chapter 2

California Dreamin’

 

I didn’t feel lonely in LA, even though it often felt like I had ring-side seats at the world’s biggest freak show, popcorn and recreational pharmaceuticals all included in the price of a season ticket. My eternally grateful TV producer, that medallion throw-back to an earlier generation of degenerates who worshipped daily at the willing altar boy of sleaze, had celebrated his resurrection from the graveyard of Hollywood obscurity by investing in a truly extravagant hair transplant. Now he sported a flowing mane of delicately blue-rinsed hair that perfectly matched his powder blue loafers and highly-polished, pearlescent grey finger nails.

He confided in me once that he always had to remember to remove his gold and diamond rings at night because he’d once lost a couple of carat’s worth in a lousy rent boy who’d stubbornly refused to go to hospital to recover the missing item of jewelry. He’d said it was one of the most expensive pieces of ass in Hollywood that night – diamond-studded and gold-plated. I said it was probably a good job he’d had the good taste to decide against wearing those brightly polished 18 karat gold, fashion-bands round his elbow – or the loss might’ve been even greater. He said I was really funny but I noticed he wasn’t laughing.

So, I know what’s on your mind. I know what you’re bursting to ask me, what does a girl like me do for company and relief when the love of her life is on the other side of the country and you’re stuck in a comfortable condo with a shooting script to learn, computer studies to master and a scary shortage of guys that even remotely qualify as members of the human species? Hey! You know what I’m talking about here.

A girl has needs. I still got tired at night, of course, and I’d given up the little ‘booster’ pills that the corporation’s product development labs had provided to maintain my bubbling enthusiasm during the day’s shooting schedule. I was still handing them over with a big, friendly smile to the ever-grateful and perked up TV producer. I just didn’t have the heart or the inclination to hit the party scene.

The TV producer had been happy enough to get invited back to the studio social circuit – the notorious coke ‘n’ chicken gatherings where the meat course was definitely young but not fowl. He said I should get onto the imaginatively titled D ‘n’ D circuit – dope ‘n’ dick, no less – but the prospect of being in a roomful of creepy weirdos at the studio every day did nothing to encourage me to try my, arm, hand with the same creepy weirdos at night. Even with my conscience somewhere on a dog-sled in the Arctic tundra, there were some things that I just didn’t want to face. 

Maybe that’s why long, long ago, some genius in a far-off, distant land recognized that lady-folks sometimes needed a little help every now and again – right in the middle of the neglected epicenter of their personal pleasure department. He must’ve thought it over, maybe make a little business on the side, crafting discrete yet purposeful, hand-held instruments that stayed hard and co-operative all night long. He was onto a winning formula even back then. And with the arrival of the electrical, domestic appliance, life suddenly got a whole lot sweeter. So, just like the TV producer’s decision to upgrade to a better class of rent boy, I opted for an upgrade in my personal, vibrating companion and, if I could’ve gotten away with the noise and the externally-venting smoke-stacks, I’d have happily installed a six-cylinder diesel-powered model that would’ve rocked the joint all the way to the foundations. Oh, yeah, sisters. That’s my kind of music. To be a little more accurate, I actually ended up with a good, half dozen models that were all advertised as the ultimate, mind-blowing experience for solo fliers who enjoyed the pleasures of riding hands-free. But not all of them lived up to their wildly-exaggerated advertising claims. 

Is this a good point to discuss the merits of all the different models I’ve studied and field-tested? Purely out of scientific interest? I mean, if you wanted to finish your lunch first, I’d understand. I wouldn’t want to spoil your appetite. Or get you a little over-stimulated whilst you’re enjoying your strawberry crush dessert. It’s just that there are so many different models and choices out there, you might not know where to start. Buzz bars. Flexible friends. Plastic passion fruit. Double-ended, share-with-a-friend, take your pick and first cum first serve – the choice is limitless. You can find mains-driven, battery-operated, hand-cranked and even a clockwork model from Korea and every size and shape to satisfy every taste and predilection. Some are shaped liked little animals.

Some of the more disappointing versions looked like rejected items from a low-budget sci-fi script. My favorite at the time was a simple, blue, dolphin-shaped little critter with a cute and ever so friendly rounded nose. And I called him Flipper. I know. I’m such a sucker for cute. Flipper was a good little guy and always managed to hit the spot. I wore out a few identical models before discovering something better. I guess you have to know what really works for you. The biggest turn on for me was imagining I was with Larry. Yeah, I know. Living and working in the orgy capital of the western world and my idea of total depravity was to close my eyes and believe with every ounce of my being that it was beautiful Larry who was taking care of my needs. In case you don’t know what I’m talking about, let me share something with you – love does that to you. And it feels too wonderful for words. Too bad it couldn’t last.

Even though I was settled in the nation’s favorite west coast lunatic asylum and getting lots of Vitamin D from all the sunshine, whenever I called home for news, everything was always going to centre on the family. And the super-sized, triple-XXX, extra-large, elastic waist-banded Bulgari clan had certainly benefited from my good fortune. That meant they’d really benefited from the cheques I was forwarding every month. Mama Bulgari’s undisputed role as queen bee and official matriarch of the brood had given her a distinct sense of entitlement and she firmly believed with every ounce of her old-country heart that all and any money that her offspring produced naturally belonged to her. So I had to be careful. Or I’d soon end up like Papa Bulgari who received a very modest, weekly cash allowance – paid by Mama out of his very own salary cheque.

I know. Old country ways surviving in the heart of the U.S. of A. Mavenka, my hormonally-challenged, chubby little sister had brought disgrace to the family name – again – by committing an act of gross indecency on a church elder in the vestry after Bible class on a Friday evening. Caught on her knees with a mouthful of lay preacher wedged between her jaws, the parish priest had at first been shocked at the sight that greeted him in his very own, sacred, vestry. Then he’d become outraged, then witheringly furious and then suitably alarmed as the elderly member of the church had suffered a stupendous spasm – and collapsed from an unaccustomed surfeit of pleasure and a massive coronary. Parish gossip declared that the lay preacher had died a very happy man and who could argue with that conclusion? So, in the wake of the latest scandal, Mama had wrangled a hard-fought deal with the local convent and – in return for a suitable donation towards the convent’s upkeep – Mavenka had been placed under the stern and watchful supervision of a formidable Mother Superior who was more inclined to administer discipline with an old, knotted, leather belt than with the gentle salve of prayer, divine solace and forgiveness. 

There’s more. My round and flatulent brother, Miclav, however, was still very much at large. He’d adopted an entirely new persona once he’d been released without charge from the county jail over a small misunderstanding about a bunch of Albanian dwarves appearing on his hard drive. To be fair, they had looked remarkably like a troupe of scantily-clad, cavorting children but you really had to screw your eyes up and squint to complete the illusion.

The Federal authorities had been certain they’d broken a notorious kiddie-porn ring but, as you can imagine, vertically-challenged Albanians didn’t really count. So, even though the arresting agents had taken an instant and instinctive dislike to Miclav, they’d had to cut him loose. There was a sense that they’d bide their time and nail the weirdo good the next time around. With Miclav, they probably wouldn’t have to wait too long for a second shot. His entirely undeserved reputation as the new bad boy in town had encouraged him to dress all in black, slick back his greasy, rat’s tail hair and effect a sneer that conveyed both danger and disdain in equal measure. To everyone’s surprise and disbelief, young pubescent girls now turned into putty in his pudgy fat fingers. Mama didn’t mention him very much during our infrequent telephone conversations. There was something of the night in Miclav and, in old-country terms, that usually meant it was time to break out the garlic and start sharpening a bunch of wooden stakes.

Chapter 3

Twinkling in Tinsel Town

 

Hollywood had established me as a TV personality, a couple of notches above the hordes of youthful wannabes that washed up and down the boulevards like driftwood on a daily tide of despair. The weight-loss corporation had funded my TV show to promote their wonder products and I was riding high in the ratings. There were so many kids desperately hoping for a break, waiting tables, pumping gas, pumping producers and getting nowhere fast. Except to the local medical centers to find out why the more delicate parts of their anatomy were developing the genital equivalent of a head cold, complete with constantly running noses, pretty disgusting discharges but, thankfully, no sneezing.

Some of the more desperate or naive candidates even volunteered for ‘screen tests’ that involved surprisingly realistic love scenes with an array of very willing participants. Even though no job offer ever followed these incredibly graphic auditions, the resulting unedited footage invariably ended up on the pay-to-view porno sites. So nothing was wasted. Made you feel good just to be a small part of the great Hollywood entertainment machine. One minute you were clearing tables at a burger joint. The next you were an anonymous hit with a certain kind of lonely viewer in a darkened room on the other side of the planet, a solitary nomad with a high resolution screen and a handy box of Kleenex. It was fame, Jim, but not as we would really want to know it.

The fact is that I was still losing weight. Not a lot and not as fast as before. But the process was still working its magic on my body. The weight loss corporation noticed too, nodding and smiling, calculating angles and trajectories, factoring in the changes to my silhouette and developing new ways to promote the miracle powders. Not that I ever touched the damn stuff. I had been bought and owned, that’s entirely true, but I wasn’t completely stupid. And full credit goes to my fabulous lady nutritionist. She’d shown me the way to fix my weight. She’d guided and encouraged me, cheered me on and still managed to be my sternest critic. Sounds a lot like love, doesn’t it? Well, when I think about it, maybe it was.

College was a very comfortable place to study, a low-pressure environment where the children of the idle rich would congregate to indulge their drug habits and pick up a qualification in some obscure subject before settling down to enjoy the fruits of the inevitable trust fund. Nobody failed. As long as daddy paid the fees, everybody passed. You might graduate with a degree in painting paper napkins or decorating ash trays with tiny enamel tiles – but you graduated. I was pretty well known from the advertising campaigns and my TV show but my fellow students were far too cool and aloof to let a newbie like me interfere with their studied air of indifference. So I was pretty much ignored and that suited me fine. My computer science tutor was very pleasantly surprised to discover that I’d studied hard and was determined to get the best grades possible in my exams. So, in response to my seriousness and determination, he did everything he could to help and encourage me in my studies. It was more like having my own private tutor at the college and I really began to make very rapid progress. There was even talk about me graduating a whole year ahead of schedule. Just shows what a little determination can do for a gal when she gets serious.

During these busy days and nights, I didn’t always keep in touch with Larry. He was studying hard too, following his dream to become a particle physicist, working the modeling assignments that were earning serious, grown-up money and already thinking about where he should apply to start work on his Master’s. I always had to be very careful to avoid Mama Bulgari’s iron grip on any hint of cash but Larry just signed over every cent he earned to his father, that generous and gentle man who still ran the local kosher butcher’s shop and delicatessen in our home town.

Despite my incense-laden upbringing in the closeted bosom of Holy Mother Church, I’d been welcomed and embraced by Larry’s family as if I’d been a founder member of the local synagogue. Larry’s dad had insisted with laughing persistence that the Bulgaris were totally and absolutely Jewish to the core. We just didn’t know it yet. Probably converted to avoid being burnt at the stake. It happened a lot in the good old days. He’d smiled at me, pleased that I could make his son happy. That was all that mattered, he’d said. And he took care of Larry’s money as if it were a sacred trust. It wasn’t hard to see why Larry was so close to his father. Close to his whole family. Larry just didn’t subscribe to any of the religious aspects of being born into a Jewish family. And his father accepted his beautiful son’s unorthodox point of view with complete understanding and unconditional love, saying that God was infinitely patient and would wait for Larry to open his heart to the divine when the time was right. And Larry would smile and say that when he could express God in a mathematical formula, he’d be ready to believe. In the Bulgari household, that kind of conversation would normally invite the attentions of an exorcist and a white-hot branding iron. I guess Larry was lucky in a lot of ways.

As the months slipped by, my contact with Larry diminished. It was probably my fault. I had a daily To Do list and that covered everything from exercise routines to study schedules to recording timetables. But, to my shame, Larry was never on my precious Gotta Be Done list. I just assumed he’d always be part of the background. And neglect is the surest way to drip corrosive acid on the ties that bind. You stop paying attention to someone and, before you know it, they become invisible. Larry was one of the most sensitive people I’d ever met.

He knew my attention had shifted focus. In his heart, he would never have wanted to hold me back. He would’ve been the first to celebrate my freedom. And as he sensed the distance that was opening up between us, the distance that was so much more significant than the miles that separated us, he quietly let go. He stopped calling too. He turned his attention fully to his studies and to his career. He was always pretty much self-contained but his love was so strong that he could sacrifice his own needs for the sake of my possible future happiness. It still brings tears to my tears and tightness to my chest whenever I think about it.

Have you ever come across that kind of selflessness? Exactly. It’s a rare and precious commodity and I let it slip like grains of sand between my fingers. I guess in a way I knew that Larry had moved on. There was no formal communication announcing the termination of the relationship, the ending of a contract, the payment of the final installment. But it was over. And that was when things got a little crazy.

Chapter 4

Party Time at the Hollywood Zoo

 

The weight-loss corporation was getting record volumes of sales and their distant, Chinese supplier had been forced to convert even more of his fertilizer plant to weight-loss powder production with the result that he’d had to cut a few quality control corners to keep up with demand. Business was booming and he’d recently taken delivery of a shining, new S-class Mercedes, that had just been stolen to order from Hong Kong, so he wasn’t going to let any minor technical restrictions get in the way of his profits. So he stream-lined the production process and made a few adjustments to the powder’s formula. He could now afford a brace of very fine, generously-proportioned and accommodating concubines. He was feeling lucky. What could possibly go wrong?

The corporation liked to celebrate their truly outstanding examples of success so they persuaded me to attend a studio-sponsored gig at a prestigious venue and it was obviously a finely-tuned time for everyone who was anybody to party on down. OK. They didn’t actually persuade me. They issued a very clear instruction that I had to be there and they even decided well in advance what I was going to wear and what I was supposed to say. Total control down to the last detail. As usual. It was like living with Mama Bulgari. Except I was being paid a great deal of money for the privilege of being ordered around. Mama’s payment was either the offer of some vague reward in Heaven or the threat of ex-communication and the prospect of eternal damnation in the broiling fires of Perdition. And not very much in between those two, starkly expressed choices.

So Misha went along to the party, coiffured and made up by the studio specialists, gowned and bejeweled in a loaned outfit and accessories, the perfect illustration that everything – and I mean everything – in Hollywood was for rent or for hire. Animal, vegetable or mineral. Nothing was off the menu or off limits.

I was under strict instructions to stay well away from the booze and the recreational pharmaceuticals that always accompany these events, a sober and perfectly scripted mannequin that could deliver the right lines at the right time and avoid all the lines of coke that sprang up in the darkened corners of the hotel’s vast and imperious ballroom. We had to be careful. There would be members of the press present, those lizard-eyed, acid-penned parasites that filled the gossip columns with their bile and vitriol. Just because the corporation was paying for the venue, the chilled cases of champagne, the delicacies and dips, the designer drugs and the bags of white powder, that was no guarantee that the pig-pen representatives of the press wouldn’t go into a feeding frenzy if they caught even a faint hint of a scandal.

Everything had to be carefully choreographed and controlled. And that applied especially to anyone who was directly associated with the corporation. So I had to be on best behaviour but, in all honesty, it’s not as if I’d slipped the leash and gone wild since I got to Tinsel Town. So it was no big deal. I played my part. I earned my bucks. It was just like being in the studio. Except the high heels were killing my feet and the sequins on the loaned gown were slicing into my skin like miniature razors so I wasn’t feeling particularly comfortable as I smiled at the circling reptiles and wondered if there was a market somewhere that would pay good money to turn their scaly hides into handbags. 

If you’ve ever attended one of these entertainment industry bashes, you’ll know that there will always be a high proportion of creepy predators, hyped up on chemicals and chilled champagne, just looking for an excuse to pop a little blue pill and get a haunting, fleeting glimpse of the far-off and rampant days of their distant youth. But, to my surprise and against all the odds, one of the younger producer guys from a major studio managed to catch my interest.

Let’s take a moment to breathe here. It’s definitely time for a break. Do you need a top-up to your skinny latte? Because this might get a little intense. You might need something to hang onto. OK. Here goes. And if gets too much, just raise your hand and I’ll fetch the smelling salts and loosen your corsets for you. Anything to be helpful. Alright? Just remember to keep breathing. 

It's so easy to imagine that you're unique. That your needs - even your more darkly unconventional needs - somehow set you apart. But if you take a moment to think about it, if you're really honest with yourself, you might discover that underneath that ice-cool exterior, there lurks a wilder side to your libido. Hey! Sit down. I'm just suggesting something here. Let me share this with you. The truth is that, most of the time, ladies are  - and I can't say whether it's a good thing or a bad thing - dominated by the menfolk. You know what I'm talking about. We've never really been encouraged to express any sense of control or power. But there's something inside most of us that absolutely wants to turn the tables. To change the roles. To get a chance to dominate every now and again. And once I'd realized that it was just about the biggest turn on for me that I could ever imagine, I'd immediately invested in a suitably revealing Dominatrix outfit and attached a vibrating appendage to my hips that would enable me to give Larry a taste of what it was like to be on the receiving end of a whole lotta lurv.

And it was mind-blowing. Nothing more. Nothing less. It was the most intense rush I’d ever had. It was wild with a capital, multi-orgasmic wild. And I wanted more. And, quelled surprise – that’s a hint of French to keep you in the mood – so did Larry. At first, he’d laughingly agreed to the whole episode simply because he’d have done anything to please me. And he trusted me completely. That was so like Larry. It’s that unconditional, selfless love that’s just too precious for words. Until you lose it. But once you understand how it felt for Larry, how the experience took him to places he’d never imagined before, you’ll know he was just as keen as I was to participate in our little role reversal games.  

But after the abuse he suffered in the Rotten Apple, drugged and tossed around like a dog’s toy in a poodle parlor, I hadn’t been able to suggest any kind of return to our secret games. It just hadn’t felt right. Sure we made love with enough intensity to light up Central Park but now there were areas that would have to stay out of bounds for a while. And I totally understood how he must have felt. I even put the spare batteries into storage. But whilst most ladies would run a country mile, screaming and hollering in disgust, from the whole domination scene, just beneath the surface, tucked discretely away from prying eyes and public view, there’s a wild creature who’s dying to know what it feels like to be totally in control, to give the guy a chance to feel what it’s like to be on the receiving end for a change. You’re nodding, aren’t you? You know exactly what I’m talking about here. Of course you do.

Now, for those lucky few who get a chance to open this particular Pandora’s Box of earthly delights, there’s no going back. It’s such an intensely erotic experience that you just have to have more of it. It is wildly addictive, no question about it. And if your man is beyond those haunting shadows of self-doubt that would imply he must in some way be weird to enjoy the gig, if he understands how his anatomy possesses some gaspingly intense pleasure centers that are usually completely neglected throughout his life, then he’ll be just as willing to indulge your fantasies as you are. I’d taken a giant bite out of that particular forbidden fruit and I was completely hooked. I just didn’t have anyone around me at that time to share my darkly, deliciously, perverted passions with. So how do you feed an addiction like that? It can be a real problem because you can’t just walk up to some guy in the local singles bar and ask him if he’s ever been on the receiving end of a purple, silicone, vibrating strap-on. Can you? Not really. No. So what do you do? There’s no easy answer, is there? There’s always the underlying risk of scaring the hell out of people. But what happens when a complete stranger brings up the subject at an entertainment industry gig and wonders what it must feel like to be totally and completely dominated. By a stranger. A female stranger. He didn’t know it at that moment but Santa was listening to his words and was about to make an early, surprise delivery right to his easily unlocked rear entrance. 

When you realize how widespread the fantasy is, you’ve got to ask yourself why more people don’t get into it. So when my new little friend at the party expressed his curiosity, I leaned in and said I might be able to help him out and his eyes got so large and round I thought they might just roll right out of his head. Because once you’ve been to the limit of the domination game with a regular partner, you’ll know that the next level in the game is to try it out on a complete stranger. Oh, yes it is.

Now hold on right there! Don’t you get all moralistic on me and start lecturing about my wilder inclinations. You sound just like the lady nutritionist when I call up for advice! Let’s just remember a few things before you start piling up the twigs and branches to tie and burn me at the stake. I was on my own. Right? I didn’t actually have anyone to share these needs with, did I? You can get a little desperate now and again. Dammit. I had needs. What’s so strange about that? OK. So the needs might seem a little unconventional but, like I’ve been saying, pretty much every lady has the hidden desire to get some well-deserved domination on their man’s ass. Some say it makes them a much more considerate lover. Whatever. I was just being open about my particular brand of obsession. 

So I arranged to visit the guy’s Beverly Hills address the following night and test out my theory. I’d packed my costume and most of my Dominatrix equipment – I couldn’t have left it all back home for Mama to unearth or she’d have been on the next flight to LA with a gallon of holy water, a dozen specially blessed crucifixes and a steel-tipped flail to whip me back to righteousness – and was ready and prepared to introduce my new producer acquaintance to the real meaning of demonic possession. 

There’s definitely another Misha. I know. You can’t believe it. You think I’m all sweetness and light, don’t you? But once I’d strapped on that very revealing outfit and tightened the buckles, once I’d placed the mask over my face and turned up the volume on that fiercely pulsating, purple appendage, a whole different kind of Misha came out to play. And that was the Misha who knew no limits. That was the Misha that could get a little carried away. So once my little friend was spread-eagled, face down, on his football field size bed, wrists and ankles securely tied off, nipple clamps firmly attached, a gag stuffed in his mouth and a hood over his head, Misha was ready to play. Oh yes! Now I’m not sure if there’s a scientific way to measure these things. Maybe there’s a Richter scale for pleasure intensity. Maybe there’s a chart somewhere for calculating the amount of energy released at the most intense and urgent moments. All I know is that at one point the guy hit top C and I thought the neighbors might be calling the nearest SWAT team to come and rescue him. I actually thought I might’ve gone a little too far because he seemed to be whimpering though it turned out he was just short of breath after all the excitement. My mistake. Hey, it’s not as if I’d had any vocational training with this kind of equipment. He was still breathing and I took that as a good sign.

When I asked him if he wanted me to take the hood off his head, he nodded. And when I took the plastic ball out of his mouth, he choked a little and I asked him if he wanted me to untie him. He gasped and gurgled for a few seconds and then he turned his bloodshot eyes towards me and asked if it would be possible to do it all over again. Damn! I was on a roll. So I stepped off the bed and changed appliances. It was time for something a little more ambitious. Something a little longer. A little wider, something with latex studs and a more powerful motor. It was time to unleash the beast as I slipped the gag back in his mouth and pulled the hood down over his sweat-streaked hair and listened for that top C one more time. 

I couldn’t remember all the details of that night because – and I know you might find this hard to believe – by the time I’d stepped back into the night in my regular clothes to find my driver waiting for me to take me back to the condo, it was as if the other, leather-clad and whooping, rodeo-riding Misha had quietly slipped back beneath the surface and taken most of the memories with her. I was tired. I’d been burning a lot of calories, using muscles that you never knew you had until you kick-start your strap-on and start working in a whole different way. I was ready for sleep and a regular morning at college before hitting the studio for rehearsals in the mid-afternoon.

Chapter 5

All change

 

Something though had obviously changed during the morning. I got into the studio around three as scheduled and was just about to ask for a full cream double mocha when I was immediately escorted by a pair of beefy, close-cropped security guys – you know the kind, the ones with shoulders that only stopped where their ears began – at standard military double-time, straight into one of the senior executive conference rooms. The doors closed behind me and I saw that I was facing a full court spread of senior corporate faces. One of them pointed to a chair in front of their table and told me to sit. Pretty much the way you’d order a puppy to park itself. I took the chair and faced my interrogators. They were a little hostile. Something had stirred them up. They tried to project an air of menace but, compared to the fire and brimstone and sulphurous fumes from the pits of Hell that accompanied Mama Bulgari when she was filled with righteous indignation, they all looked pretty tame to me. There was a problem. They’d been approached by another studio who wanted to buy my contract. A very low voltage light bulb started to glow somewhere at the back of my brain. It seemed that my new little producer friend with the amazing capacity to hit top C – with the appropriate encouragement, of course – had been so deeply moved by his recent experiences that he wanted me to join his company right away and be available to take care of his needs on a full time basis. Executive stress release on demand! The guy had really moved fast. He must’ve been very serious about getting me into his operation.

And I had to pretend that I knew nothing about his ploy. So I shrugged my shoulders, shook my head in puzzlement and innocently suggested that the other studio must’ve recognized some hidden potential in me that they felt they could employ. The corporate suits reminded me that I was bound to the company by contract but everyone in the room knew that contracts in Hollywood were written in the bitter, salty tears of the delusional. Lawyers earned fortunes every day by creeping out from underneath their collective rocks and stones and tearing up contracts that were supposed to be unbreakable and binding. The suits were shaken but grudgingly satisfied that the offer was not of my making. They asked me to step out of the room and go get a coffee while they conferred. 

One thing was for certain. The corporate execs had invested way too much in my image and marketing efforts to cut me loose and replace me. They knew they had to hang onto me. So they followed the standard advice of any money-grubbing disciple of Satan – and added another heavy duty cash bonus to my contract. According to the logic of these reptilian parasites, whenever there was any measure of doubt, they’d just kept throwing more and more money at their concerns until the problem disappeared. Hey. It worked for me. And then they offered me the opportunity to get out of Hollywood and as far from harm’s way as possible. I was going overseas.

The deal was to finish up the shooting schedule as quickly as possible and get ready to roll out the next stage of the miracle powder distribution plan. And that meant Europe. That’s right. The product’s success across the US had caused a few supply problems with back orders building up from coast to coast but the corporation was confident that they could create a massive demand in the European Union and had already begun an initial production run in a former animal feed plant somewhere in the depths of the Polish countryside. Business was booming and the plant’s owner had decided to celebrate his good fortune by getting drunk for a whole week on his favorite brand of rubbing alcohol.

During his absence, some of the workers might’ve become a little less diligent around the factory’s health, hygiene and safety procedures but, trusting in God, they knew everything would turn out to be fine in the end. And as they dipped their grimy fingers into the swirling, brightly colored powders that were rolling towards the packaging department, they all commented on how great they tasted and dipped their moistened fingers back into the rainbow streams for another taste of heavenly delight. Yummie! Well, not everyone was convinced that the powders tasted good. A couple of the older workers, stooped and lacking a single tooth between them, kept scooping up handfuls of the powder to sample before shaking their heads at each other and spitting the phlegm-flecked particles back onto the production line to join the rest of the product stream that was swirling towards packaging. Those guys really missed the good old days when the boss had been a fully paid-up member of the local communist party and no-one actually had to do any work to get paid. The wizened old men blew their noses between their fingers and spat the same word – Capitalism, as if it summed up all that was wrong with their lives and the world in general. Then they trudged off to find a quiet corner to share a hand-rolled cigarette and take a well-deserved nap.

The timing was pretty good for me too, my dear friend. I was way ahead of my college course curriculum and my ever-helpful tutor was happy to arrange for me to take my end of year exams right away. He said I was more than ready and I certainly didn’t let him down. Everything started moving very fast. The pressure became intense. We had to complete the TV series in record time and still maintain the quality of the product. Our TV producer had to break the habit of a lifetime and get to the studio before nine in the morning. He was completely unaccustomed to throwing rent boys out of his apartment much before eleven and the strain soon began to show. He complained loudly to anyone who’d listen that the streets weren’t even aired at such an ungodly hour of the day. It just wasn’t natural.

Whatever he was burning, it was definitely taking place at both ends, and he started to look worn out, jaded and exhausted. He asked me one morning in a cracked and whispering voice if I could spare an extra pack or three of the little pills I used to take to keep me wide awake during the day. The corporation geeks were always happy to supply me with the latest unofficial products of their research so I popped a dozen packets into a discrete, brown paper bag and handed them to the producer, who gazed upon me with the same speechless adoration he usually reserved for a freshly unpacked choirboy. He ran his diamond-ringed fingers through his blue-rinsed mane of transplanted hair and nodded solemnly at me, managing to say something that sounded like  - Thank you - through trembling lips and an emotion-choked larynx. He was moved. All the way down to his powder-blue and tasseled Ferragamo loafers.

I was summoned one week later to a formal meeting with the senior corporate execs who briefly laid out the company’s plans for my mission to Europe. They really used the word ‘Mission’, as if we’d just been taken over by NASA and had been personally selected for a high-profile voyage to Mars. I’d learned to keep a straight face during all of these meetings, to suppress the urge to giggle, to keep the quips and lightning-fast repartee to a minimum. These gentlemen, these identically-suited servants of the satanic forces of commerce, were definitely not blessed with a sense of humor. Any hint of amusement had been expunged from their empty souls the moment they’d pledged allegiance to the high altar of the company cash register. Everything was measured in money. Especially me. It’s not as if they didn’t like me. It’s not as if they hated me. They didn’t feel anything at all. I was nothing more than a commodity that served the greater purpose of producing more sales. If they could’ve trained a dog to follow the script and laugh on cue, I’d have been out of a job in a heartbeat. So I didn’t harbor too many illusions about my role in the business. I was being paid a lot of money to do something that I’d gradually learned to do quite well. I’d picked up a few tricks along the way. Even the TV producer, who couldn’t understand the purpose of women in the world beyond the roles of producing more choir boys and cleaning his apartment, had decided to help. Yes, I’d been supplying him from day one with my discrete ration of experimental wide-awake pills and he’d been grateful for my apparent generosity, but I think he really wanted to give me a break and show me how to make a more professional contribution to the show.

He’d been coaching alcoholic preachers during the glory days of television evangelism, mentoring coke-snorting ministers during the televised day-long fund-raisers, guiding pastors with a penchant for choristers in the ways of camera angles and the toothy, sincere smile. So I wasn’t the biggest challenge he’d ever wrestled with in a lifetime of back-lighting sinners to look like saints. And I was happy enough to take the advice and tips and learn from an old-school TV illusionist. He sure knew his trade. He once explained how he got started in the business. It was the end of a long day and he was tired and he’d topped up his skinny latte with a slug of high octane vodka, just to calm his nerves and steady his resolve for the evening’s entertainment that he’d booked through one of his preferred rent-a-boy agencies. Fresh meat on the menu tonight – he’d quipped.

He’d slipped off his loafers to reveal gnarled feet with perfectly painted toenails. And he sighed. Back in the day – he said. Before video cameras and instant porn, you had to really hustle to get a break. He’d hung around street corners, this young, blond, farmer’s son from Kansas, waiting for the limos to slow down and pick him up. He’d done anything that was asked of him. And more. He smiled, his capped white teeth looking so fresh against the tired lines of his skin. He’d graduated to a discrete and private gentleman’s club where the steam baths offered a measure of freedom for those who could afford its more exotic services. This is where the movers and shakers of Tinsel Town turned up every day to be moved and shaken. I listened, spellbound, to the story. The young man from Kansas became one of the more popular items on the club’s unwritten menu, a favorite dish of the day that got him noticed by a surprising coterie of admiring fans.

The TV producer laughed, his tired body shaking with the effort. You would not believe – he continued, still chuckling – you just would not believe how many A-list, Hollywood superstar, he-men prefer the company of a young boy. It was all an illusion, he said. If you knew how many action heroes and leading men loved nothing more than to be pinned up against the wall, screaming at the top of their lungs. I nodded and asked if any of them ever hit top C and the producer stopped for a moment and looked at me with a curious expression on his wrinkled face. Now, young Missy – he said, a smile playing round his lips. How in the name of Doris Day’s perfumed butler would you know anything about that?

Being around the rich and the famous, the powerful and the influential had opened a door for him and he’d been smart enough to side-step the obvious allure and glitter of working as an extra on a studio lot – so that he’d be available during the lunch breaks to provide some very personal services to the studio elite. No. He’d grabbed the chance to work in production, to learn the skills and pick up the tips and tricks of the practical end of the business. And that’s how he got started. Sure he’d had a few ups and downs over the years but now he was back on top and people who wouldn’t even answer his calls were leaving messages every day, begging him to do lunch and take a look at their scripts, their projects, and their handful of tightly-clutched dreams. It was sweet. He might be tired but he was having a ball. Hollywood. When it was good, it was the best. Now where had he left his Viagra?

Chapter 6

Ticket to ride

 

The day before I was due to fly to London, I made a long-postponed call to Mama to bring her up to date with everything that was about to happen. I’d avoided telling her any earlier because the drama of my departure would’ve sparked a major upheaval and provoked wailing threats of impending heart attacks, Mama kneeling at the very threshold of heaven’s pearly gates, stricken down with grief because her selfish, unfeeling daughter had ripped out her mother’s heart and abandoned her precious family to go live amongst the godless, heathen, sinners on the other side of the world. I’d checked the map.

The signs that used to proclaim ‘Here are dragons’ had all been erased. But Mama had other issues on her mind the day that I called. I guess some things really never change. I’d been so pre-occupied with my own little life’s dramas that I hadn’t spared much of a thought for the rest of the Bulgari clan. Least of all for my chubby little sister, Mavenka, the balloon-shaped gal with the raging hormones and the devil’s own drive for the sins of the flesh. Mama was sobbing on the phone as I innocently asked her what had upset her and I could hear the distinct click of the rosary beads in the background as she mumbled prayers in between her choked words of explanation.

Mavenka had been placed out of the devil’s reach and beyond the lure of temptation in the hallowed protection of the local convent. Now, you should know for sure at this point that she was never going to sign up as a nun. That was a fact that was obvious to all. She was disqualified by nature, by history and by inclination from ever taking holy orders. But at least she could be supervised on the fringes of the holy community by that ever-watchful and stern deliverer of physical discipline who wore the habit and vestment of the Mother Superior. And the Mother Superior was certainly a physically imposing member of the order. One gardener had unwisely quipped that the convent’s most senior sister of mercy was really a man, a draft-dodger from the Vietnam era who’d been hiding out in the convent since he was a teenager. The gardener said he’d caught a fleeting glimpse up the Mother Superior’s habit one windy day and he claimed she was packing more salami in her shorts than her order of strictly vegetarian penitents could easily explain. The gardener left very soon afterwards with enough bruises and a black eye to make people quietly wonder about the wisdom of his accusations. 

Everything had seemed fine. Mavenka was being schooled by the sisters, following the daily order of prayer and seeming to settle in as well as anybody could expect. Mama sighed. The unexpected incident occurred when the Bishop paid one of his regular visits to the community and Mavenka volunteered to join the sisters in their night vigil in front of the altar and the holy images of the saints. The Bishop was standing in front of the altar, eyes closed and praying fervently. It was dark, the nave of the church dimly lit by flickering candlelight, the holy images and praying faces obscured by the swirling clouds of incense.

And Mavenka took her place in front of the Bishop, kneeling before him, hands clasped on the sloping shelf of her double F sized cleavage – and nobody saw her hands move forwards. The Bishop’s eyes suddenly flashed open in surprise and he looked down at the buxom butterball kneeling before him, her eyes closed and her lips open in a tongue-moistened smile. And he wavered. He hesitated. He gnawed his lower lip for a couple of heartbeats. And he lapsed. He turned slowly from his place before the altar and beckoned to Mavenka to follow him to the vestry, stepping regally through the fog of incense as the muttered prayers echoed behind him and the carved angels looked down upon him with stony expressions from the shadowy rafters.

It was the Mother Superior who first noticed the Bishop’s absence. She’d slipped outside the church for just a few minutes – taking a welcome though clandestine Marlboro break plus a fortifying nip of Jack Daniels from her hip flask – so she was a little surprised when she came back to her pew by the empty space in front of the altar where the Bishop had recently been standing. Fearing that he might be unwell, she moved as quietly as she could towards the altar and then towards the vestry. There were noises coming from inside. Garbled words, gasping, throaty noises and the Mother Superior knew immediately that all was not well.

She was not going to tolerate the Bishop having a heart attack and dying on her watch, in her church and in her convent. That was for damn sure. She pushed open the vestry door and was greeted by a very unusual sight, a vision that defied explanation. The Bishop was standing with his feet widely spaced and back arched, but his vestments had ballooned, as if the poor man were about to explode. Something was moving beneath his heavily embroidered cassock and he’d sprung another pair of feet, except that the second pair was facing the wrong way. Nothing in her long years of spiritual devotion to the more muscular aspects of her faith had prepared her for such a monstrous sight of demonic possession. She was shocked, stunned into immobility, her jaw slackening at the unholy work that was manifesting before her very eyes. And then the Bishop let out a cry, a gasping prolonged syllable of pain and relief and Mavenka emerged from beneath his holy raiment. She looked at the Mother Superior. Then she looked up from her kneeling position in front of the Bishop, wiping her mouth with the back of her sleeve and said – You really shouldn’t have made me do that, you naughty boy. The Bishop sagged as he suddenly became aware of the Mother Superior’s presence in the doorway, his head drooping and his shoulders sinking into his crumpled vestments. Mama was sighing, repeating dozens of Hail Mary, repeating again and again the shocked expression of complete disbelief – The Bishop! The Bishop!

The Mother Superior’s physical approach to dealing with sin and the inevitable lapses from the true pathway of righteousness involved – in the case of the Bishop – a short and brutal right upper cut that laid the man out cold on the vestry floor. Mavenka received a clout on her curly head that made her see stars and the Mother Superior’s surprisingly large boot connected with her capacious rear end in a kick that made her howl with pain and indignation. Mavenka spent the rest of the night locked in a cold and damp cellar with only spiders for company and the fading hope of redemption from a shocked and bewildered community of nuns. 

Mama took the call from the Mother Superior the next morning and, after being revived with smelling salts, a sprinkling of holy water and a medicinal tooth mug of old-country cooking brandy, she soon understood that the convent would only agree to keep Mavenka – that cursed and willing handmaiden of the Lord of the Flies himself – for an increase in the support fees that Mama had originally agreed to pay for the convent’s maintenance. Boosting the price on Mama went against every grain of her old-country haggling instincts but the Mother Superior played the game like a true professional and squeezed an eye-watering deal that made Mama bite her lip in frustration.

The Bishop was squeezed as well. But not quite in the same way that Mavenka had employed in the vestry. Though it felt as if his blessed and holy nuts had just been slipped through his grandmother’s hand-cranked mangle. The price of the nuns’ silence had been a major increase in funding from the church and a new car for the Mother Superior – to help her carry the Word of God beyond the walls of the convent. The Mother Superior sat in her office and considered the ways of the world. She sipped a measure of bourbon and nodded at the way she’d turned a potential disaster into a very tidy profit. She had more leverage now. All in all, it had been a good day’s work. She reached down and scratched her crotch, irritated as always at the way the coarse fibers of her roughly-spun habit managed to slip through the weave of her undergarments and make her nuts itch.

Mama’s distress was more strongly connected to the unexpected outlay in expenditure than the disturbing role Mavenka had played – yet again – on an unsuspecting member of the church community. I told her I’d see if I could take care of it, never promising too lightly or too quickly to throw buckets of cash at Mama’s insatiable capacity for green backs. Mavenka was the least of my problems. In the rush to get ready, to get packed, to confirm my exam results, to study the timetable and follow the weight-loss corporation’s ambitions to deliver the miracle powders to every household on the great continent of Europe, I suddenly started to think about Larry. I had no idea why. His face, the perfume of his skin, his smile, they all came rushing back to me as if a locked and sealed doorway had suddenly been blown apart and there he was, where he’d always been, sitting silently and patiently in the depths of my heart. Perhaps it was the anxiety tied up with leaving the country. Perhaps it was the pressure of a heavy-duty schedule. Perhaps I’d been so afraid of losing him forever that I’d buried the fear, just like my conscience, out of sight and out of mind. But you know that doesn’t work. You know you can only pretend for so long. The pressure cooker builds up a volcanic force that’s going to blow at some point. So I called him, not knowing what I wanted to say. There was no reply on his cell phone. Just a message service. And I told him he’d been living in my heart and that I missed him and really just wanted him to be happy. And that I was going away for a while but that I’d really love to see him. If he wanted to see me. I rang off, my eyes filling with tears. Dammit!

My make up was ruined but it was my heart that felt like a desolate landscape. I had no idea how much I’d missed him, my beautiful Larry, the jewel that was still shining brightly in the desert of my heart. Sometimes I felt so stupid that I thought I might have to invent a new word to describe my condition. Then I remembered Mavenka and realized that the word already existed. Now the trip to Europe was going to be even tougher, knowing that I was going to be further away from him than ever. I was flying into the unknown. There were no guarantees of success. I certainly wasn’t going to start taking the tempting chemical cocktail of little helpers that the corporation’s research and development labs brewed up to help everyone achieve daily, bushy-tailed, peak performance. I’d learned my lesson. I was going to do this the old fashioned way. So I packed my old, neglected rosary beads and decided that Mavenka’s favorite kneeling position could just as easily be used for prayer as for making Christmas come early for a robed and mitered senior member of Holy Mother Church. 

Chapter 7

A Change of Scene

 

By the time the day of the flight rolled around, I was packed and prepared and ready to head to the airport a whole hour before the driver was due to collect me. My bags were pretty full so I had to make a personal decision about which of my vibrating, little pleasure pals would be making the trip with me. It’s not as if I had room for a full half dozen of my favorite, battery-operated models – and the electric supply in Europe was different to the good old American DC system – so the mains-driven beauties had to take a break and stay at home, nestled securely at the bottom of a drawer that was discretely stuffed with the thick, woolen cardigans that Mama had insisted I’d need in the heat and smog of Los Angeles. She’d make me wear a hat, scarf and gloves too if she had her way. Even in the middle of summer. During a heat wave. With a protective layer of curdled goose-fat ladled across my chest just to be sure. You can never be too careful.

It felt very strange to be leaving. I’d never been out of the country before and though we often think we’ve seen everything the planet has to offer from the comfort of our recliners via the joys of the Discovery Channel, the world has a very different message to share when you meet it face to face. I got to the airport early and my ever-helpful driver wheeled my cases in to the check-in desk for me before nodding politely and heading back out into the bright, California sunshine. You’ve traveled, haven’t you, my constant and uncomplaining companion on this epic voyage of adventure? Well, they say you can get so used to flying that it’s just like taking a bus ride into town but this was all totally new for me. The corporation had a deal with the airline that gave them business class seats for less than the price of a cattle-truck class, economy ticket.

So we were going to make the trip over the water with a very welcome degree of comfort and my first port of call after check-in was the business class lounge and a really good cup of coffee. The lounges are advertised as an oasis of calm for busy execs but you can't help picking up the vibe that their real purpose is make sure the higher spending passengers aren't contaminated by any of the poorer peasants who are doomed and cursed to fly coach. You could just imagine Mama Bulgari mingling with the business class crowd - Hey! You! You gotta be rich. How about you spare me a couple bucks. You wouldn't miss 'em. I gotta support my daughter now who's in a convent. You wanna buy some clothes pegs? Hey! I'm talkin' to you! - Maybe the business class lounge was a good idea after all. Maybe they should install electrified fencing too. Just to be safe.

I was the first of our group of around twenty corporate suits and studio people to check in so I had plenty of time to relax with a couple of fashion magazines in the muted and genteel comfort of the elegantly-appointed lounge. As members of the team turned up and reached for their coffee and juice, croissants and preserves, artery-clogging platefuls of vein-damming breakfasts, I was happy to nod politely and stick to my freshly ground coffee. A girl could really get used to this.

I was boarded and strapped in to my very comfortable seat when a steward came forward and asked me, very politely but with a barely suppressed smirk, if I would be kind enough to accompany him off the plane. This looked like the shortest plane trip of my life. We hadn’t even got off the ground and I was disembarking. Had I broken some unwritten business class protocol by failing to wear the right kind of jewelry? Had I committed a cardinal sin by wearing coach class make-up in business? Had I forgotten to flush? It looked serious so I unbuckled and followed the guy past the other staring passengers, feeling their collective gaze on the back of my head and made the walk of shame all the way to the exit. Two airport security people were waiting for me, a lady and a gentleman in their crisp, freshly-laundered uniforms.

I could tell they were trying to be serious but there was something about their expressions that hinted at some kind of conspiracy, a shared joke, and a favorite gag just waiting for the punch-line. Would you follow us, please, Mizz? – said the lady. We have a problem with one of your cases and we’re going to have to ask you to open it up for us. Now I sure didn’t look like some freshly-radicalized gal with a burka full of fireworks and a one-way ticket to Paradise so I was a little confused about what the problem could be. I walked with my escorts past the boarding gate, down a hallway and then we stepped into a large room. The first thing that I noticed was that there were far more airport staff in attendance than you might’ve expected for a suitcase inspection. A whole bunch more. And some of them had their phones out – in video record mode. And there was the star of the show, my shiny new suitcase, sitting majestically on the floor in the middle of the room. Just parked there, patiently waiting for me. And it was buzzing. Yeah. I kid you not. Buzzing. The damn thing was making a low volume, high-pitched buzzing noise and everyone in the room was absolutely convinced that they knew the cause. Now, I know what you’re thinking here, because you’re my dear friend and traveling companion and I happen to know that you have a very dirty little mind. That’s why I like you so much! But I knew what was happening.

Oh yes I did. So I knelt down and carefully worked the combination on the suitcase, everybody angling for a better shot of the bag’s contents and I slowly opened the lid. The buzzing got louder. I reached into the depths of the neatly-folded clothing and carefully withdrew the buzzing item, keeping it close to my chest before standing up and holding the offending article high enough for everyone to see in all its vibrant glory. Yes, my friend. There it was. Revealed at last. I’m not ashamed to admit it – my battery-powered, highly personal, electric toothbrush. What? An electric toothbrush? Yep. That’s correct. It had slipped out of its plastic carrying case and been switched on as my bag was being loaded. What’s the matter? You look disappointed.

Pretty much like every single one of those freaking perverts who’d gathered with their phone cameras to capture my expected moment of shame. If you’re curious – and I know you suffer from the most chronic case of insatiable curiosity – I’d like you to know that I’d already taken the batteries out of my personal relaxation device before I packed it – so I’d known from the very first muted buzz that it couldn’t have been one of Flipper’s more recent upgrades. So I missed having my picture splashed across every greasy tabloid in the country, the kind of grimy gutter sheets that take the greatest delight in printing pictures of embarrassed TV hosts in compromising positions. You can just picture their reptilian delight in capturing a high resolution close-up of a publicly recognizable figure, standing with their triple-speed, extra-ribbed, counter-rotating pleasure device held high for everyone to smirk at, shaking their heads in squirming disbelief. I’m pretty sure I’d prefer to have been freshly radicalized with a whole burka full of fireworks than suffer the agony of trying to explain to Mama that the strange device she’d seen in my hand on national TV was really not designed for mixing cocktails or for putting a fancy, decorative edge on pie crusts. Though it might have served as a perfectly adequate stirring device for Mama’s legendary, old-country, goose-fat soup. As long as the versatile little appliance was sponged down between uses. Hey. Come on. We’re not all complete savages.

Chapter 8

That Sceptered Isle

 

I love England. Or Britain. Or whatever our cousins across the water like to call it. It might be a few hours across a couple of time zones and a gentle sleep across the Atlantic but it’s definitely part of an alternative universe. First of all, they claim to speak English. But that just isn’t true. Even at passport control, where the officials were much more friendly than our guys in the US, I had to keep asking them to repeat themselves. They must have thought I was handicapped in some way because they started to speak really slowly but it still took a couple of seconds for each word to be processed, translated and converted into plain English. Maybe it was like the food. You had to acclimatize yourself. We picked up our luggage and rolled along to the exit where we had a coach waiting to take us to our hotel and that was when I realized that these completely crazy people really do drive on the wrong side of the road. I’m not kidding. How difficult is that? And they do it all the time. I mean, it’s not like they just choose one day out of the week to make driving impossible.

They do it every single day. But they’re polite. Something to do with their culture. Actually they’re much friendlier than I’d expected. Now I’ve seen Mary Poppins a couple of dozen times so I naturally thought I was an expert on London. Turns out Hollywood might’ve got a few things wrong. First up, I didn’t see a single chimney sweep during my entire stay. Can you believe that? No singing and dancing chimney sweeps, not a single bowler hat, no penguins performing on the pavements. But there were plenty of signs of very serious money in that grand old town. And that’s another thing that makes you think about the place a little differently. It’s old. No. Old doesn’t come close. It’s ancient. This city has been around in various forms for a couple of thousand years.

That’s what I call seriously old. The town had pavements and public baths and real bathrooms while my ancestors in the old country were still trying to work out the advantages of wearing stinking animal pelts over strutting round naked. London had law and courthouses and civilization whilst my folks were grunting over whether or not it was OK to marry your goat. As a matter of academic interest, because I know you like to keep right up to date with these things, my forebears decided that it was completely socially acceptable to marry your goat as long as any offspring were brought up in the local religion. I’m not sure that that particular convention has even been repealed yet. Old country ways, my friend. They sure do have a habit of persisting. And sharing the marital bed with your goat is still a perfectly respectable and very practical, low-cost way to keep warm during the long winter nights. 

That was another surprise. The sun was shining. We’re not talking about warm, Pacific breezes and radiant California sunshine here. Let’s not get carried away. There weren’t any orange trees blossoming along the streets. Nobody was toting a surfboard on the bright red buses. But it was pleasantly warm and bright enough to give me an excuse to wear my brand new, super-fashionable, Dolce and Gabbana sunglasses. I think I might even have looked pretty cool for a while. Of course, you have to understand that I was completely unknown in Europe. The highly efficient marketing campaign had only just started to roll out posters and place ads in magazines and newspapers. We were playing catch up on a major campaign that had to deliver results within a tightly-controlled time frame. There was definitely a sense of urgency to the whole gig. I’d been digesting my scripts for the upcoming TV and press interviews for about a week so I felt pretty well prepared. And I was a lot more comfortable around the studio scene than I had been a short lifetime ago during my first hesitant and stumbling recording session. The TV producer back in LA had even said I was good. But he’d been high as a kite on a bracing cocktail of uppers at the time so I can’t really place too much confidence in his generous and scarily wide-eyed appraisal.

London shares some characteristics with a lot of other major cities. For example, there weren’t too many home-grown Brits working in the hotel. All the staff seemed to come from somewhere else but that just made everything a lot more interesting and the language a lot harder to understand. There was a red-headed Scottish guy on the concierge desk who should’ve come complete with scrolling sub-titles because, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t understand a word he said. To be fair, even the Brits had trouble understanding him but he was always smiling and maybe making jokes at our expense, nodding and trying to be helpful, but his presence could easily be interpreted as evidence of life from another galaxy.

Despite the confusion over the language, the service was pretty impressive, uniformed guys and gals bowing whenever they did anything for you, nothing too much trouble, happy to oblige. It was a great place to stay, complete with its own world-class spa and gym, treatments and pampering available round the clock. Now you know I don’t like to be indiscrete but one of the reasons the senior execs preferred this beautiful, luxurious hotel was in many ways connected to the night manager. This charming and highly efficient guy had inherited his predecessor’s little black book of names, addresses, telephone numbers and tariffs and, whatever you wanted to order at three o’clock in the morning that wasn’t on the regular service menu could be obtained – for a price – via the ever-obliging night manager. I think he planned to retire early on his unofficial income. A good dinner, a relaxing bottle or two of a truly great wine, a couple of cognacs to settle the digestion and a lot of the regular, grey business guys went little nuts.

Maybe it was a response to all the pressures of life, a way to let off steam and shake off the shackles of convention but these were exactly the guys who usually rang the night manager in the early hours of the morning with a list of demands that would make a newly-docked, lust-crazed Korean trawler man with a hot fistful of currency blanch with embarrassment. And if they didn’t get their requests fulfilled – usually because the ever-helpful night manager didn’t want to go to jail – they’d sometimes get abusive, aggressive, violent and then sedated by one of the night porters who knew how to tap a troublesome guy on the head without causing too much brain damage. To be fair to the night manager, he felt that he had to draw the moral line in the sand somewhere, so he usually declined to provide domestic animals or livestock for his guests’ entertainment. I guess he was soft-hearted after all. Besides, the costs of cleaning or replacing the carpets would have been ruinous.

The first week was spent in a whirlwind of activity. Interviews in one of the hotel’s fabulous suites, the same faces, the same questions, the same fake smiles, the same quips and jokes, the same answers. People from the press and TV queuing up for their tightly-scheduled interviews, whisked in and out of the suite with a brutal efficiency that was strictly supervised by the personal assistants, stopwatches and scripts tightly clutched, not a word or a single second’s deviation from the company’s timetable. They brought me bottles of water and even scheduled a very generous five minute pee break but otherwise I had to sit demurely on my velvet-covered armchair and play the role I was being paid to perform. It got tedious. It got monotonous. One of the assistants eventually asked me whether I needed a little chemical booster to keep me fresh. I thanked her warmly and suggested with my brightest TV smile that she shove the entire packet right up where the sun doesn’t shine. Width-ways. And if that didn’t satisfy her needs, she could always follow it up with the rough end of a pineapple. Hey, I’d be more than happy to help. Gosh. We were having so much fun. But we got through the daily ordeal and the corporate execs were happy enough with the results. Not wildly cheering, high-fiving ecstatic. More like a few grudging nods that the job had been done on time, on budget and to the required standard. They sure knew how express themselves.

The surprise for the weight-loss corporation lay in the unexpected sales figures. The products took off much faster than anyone had hoped for. My photo-shopped and air-brushed – before and after – pictures were appearing everywhere. This was a major campaign and the well-financed hype caught the attention of the media. There were even more interviews, this time with changes and adjustments to the script, different quips and new one-liners to keep the presentation fresh. Lines were added that were supposed to appeal to our newly-converted British customers. We made changes to our vocabulary so that the Brits would know what we were talking about. I read a few newspapers and noticed they had a weird way of spelling their own language. I was having a long, chilled soda water in the bar one evening after a long, hot day and the night manager came up and asked if everything was to my satisfaction.

He made the same comment to every guest he met. So I asked him how come the British had such a weird way of speaking. And he took a seat, ordered a cappuccino and explained. Back in the good old days, aspiring members of the aristocracy developed their own way of pronouncing words, their own elite vocabulary, and a different way of talking that set them apart. If you wanted to belong to a certain clique, you had to talk like them. Missing the g off the end of words. Pronouncing r as w. Things like that. He explained that most of the differences were in the vowels. Smart guy. He only talked for about fifteen minutes before his was called away but it was truly fascinating. He talked about accents and dialects and the way you could work out where someone was from by listening to the way they spoke.

Same everywhere, I guess. So I thought it might be fun to add a few little idiosyncrasies to my own pronunciation style. I started to practice spelling words in the older, English style. You might’ve noticed that I still do. It’s just like one of those aristocratic affectations that folks used in the good old days to sound more like the landed gentry. I paid more attention to the way people were speaking around me, silently repeating the vowel sounds in my head. This felt like it could be a whole lot of fun. I started practicing my slightly modified speech pattern in front of the mirror. Damn. With some poor teeth and a weakness for flat, warm beer, maybe I could learn to pass for a Brit.

The relentless campaign rolled on and I have to admit to you, because you’re such a close and wonderful friend on this epic journey that I got bored. It’s a fact. I did. Everyone and his sainted maiden auntie is screaming for an ounce of fame, desperate for the bright lights, convinced they could be a star, willing to humiliate and embarrass themselves just to be on TV. Hey. I got pretty excited about it too. At first. And I know I got lucky. No two ways about it. But I sold my soul for a shot at being a minor celebrity, sent my morals and conscience on a one-way trip to a small village high up in the Andes that didn’t have electricity or the Internet or even a friendly parish priest to offer spiritual guidance.

What people don’t realize is that the business of show business is about as glamorous as an abattoir. But without the charm. It’s a job with a lot of pressure. People watching you, checking you, correcting you, adjusting you, criticizing everything, hustling twenty-four seven. It’s shallow, superficial, monotonous, frequently uncomfortable and sometimes downright soul-destroying. But, in the end, it’s a job. You hit the punch card when you clock in at the factory gate every day and you work on the production line until your shift is finished. There isn’t a great deal of camaraderie. It’s like swimming every day with the sharks, except that these particular predators seem to suffer from some acute form of attention deficit disorder.

Because as soon as you stopped being useful, they forgot you so fast it’s like you never even existed. That was something our blue-rinsed TV producer back home in Hollywood knew from personal, bitter experience. Have you ever seen a shark open its jaws to the max? That’s what their fake, veneered smiles always reminded me of. It’s supposed to look like a smile but it never reaches to their dead, little eyes. In reality they’re just sizing you up for a bite before letting your bleeding remains sink silently into the shadowy depths of obscurity. I know. It can get you down. I was making all that money by pretending to be someone else. It was like there was another Misha, brushed and combed, neatly trimmed and ribboned, standing on her hind legs and performing tricks for a juicy bone. And, to make matters worse, I was missing Larry.

It’s not as if I was ungrateful for getting my big break, for selling my soul for a chestful of hard cash. That was the ultimate American dream, wasn’t it? But I hadn’t heard anything from Larry. I’d left another message for him, just saying how much I missed him, how quickly I’d be happy to give up this awful, crazy marketing campaign just to be with him, how he was still whispering to me from the depths of my heart and how much I needed to hear his voice, to hold him in my arms, ending with a tearful laugh that I was even ready to put my precious, immortal soul in the way of full-blown Catholic jeopardy by converting to Judaism. If it would make a difference. I cried in my room for a good half hour before I got the call to be ready in fifteen minutes for another interview. Make up was standing by. I had to get back into the groove and move it. Showtime was calling.

That was when I started to bend some of the rules and protocols. Just a little.

Nothing too obvious. I started with my accent and began to modify my speech, just a little, aiming for a more genteel, English pronunciation that took the harsher edges off my good, ol’ Yankee twang. It was fun. And the suits noticed the difference right away after the next TV interview because the feedback was deliciously positive. I got a mild warning that I must never, ever introduce any deviations from the highly-structured script without permission in advance. But, luckily for me, this time it had worked. Audience reception was much warmer than before. The message was more credible. The suits made it clear that I should continue with my modified accent. It had traction – they said, whatever that meant. But let me tell you about one of the major and often unnoticed differences between our British cousins and their American counterparts. The Brits, God love ‘em, do irony. That’s not the same thing as ironing, my sweetest traveling companion.

Doesn’t mean you’re domestic help is really a closet Brit because she knows how to run a hot iron over your fragrant and freshly-laundered lacy thong. No. We’re talking irony, that subtlest gift of sophisticated communication that allows someone to say something quite clearly and mean the exact opposite. Maybe it was my new approach to speaking Brit-style English that encouraged me to add a splash of irony, a hint of gentle mockery, a slightly world-weary cynicism to my interviews and presentations. Because the suits were not only lacking in humor. They had absolutely no concept of irony. As far as they were concerned, the scripts were running according to plan. But the message, right under their snuffling, corporate snouts, was changing. There’s a lot to be said for intonation, shifting emphasis here and there, pausing and smiling, infusing the statement with a welcome and refreshing hit of low-calorie, deliciously nutritious irony. Food for the soul, my friend. Food for the soul.

I actually started to brighten up. Interviewers immediately picked up on the shift in emphasis. Overnight I became a verbal guerrilla, a perfectly-disguised ninja pouring droplets of scorn into every presentation. The corporate execs couldn’t decipher the message through the coded filter of my slightly modified speech and intonation. I started to feel so much better. I woke up a couple of nights later at three in the morning and suddenly wondered if my conscience had managed to follow the breadcrumbs and find its way back to me. Maybe not my entire conscience. Just an advance scouting party to check the address and make sure I was still at home and ready to receive house guests. Interviews changed tack.

They were supposed to follow an agreed line of questions that had been scripted by the corporation but one particularly feisty lady - who was a household name in the great kingdom of Britland - abandoned the script about the miracle weight-loss powders and homed in on little old me. I became the focus of the interview and, despite the frenzied signals from the panicked assistants, the lady commanded absolute silence on pain of sending both of the company helpers straight to the Tower of London. And then she wrapped up the interview with a warm handshake, a hug, a real smile and a suggestion that I should focus much more on me than the silly wonder powders that would probably be completely forgotten in a couple of weeks. She was a pretty cool gal and I think I got a hint of how those Brits had managed to carve themselves an empire that once spanned the world. That was back in the good old days when all you needed was a gunboat, a couple of Maxim guns and an enemy that was mostly armed with spears, a small pile of stones and a posse of screaming witch doctors at the back to boost everyone's confidence just before they all got mowed down.

This time the suits were really not happy. You could tell. I guess it was the breech of company protocol. The feeling that somehow their well-rehearsed plans had been deliberately sabotaged. By a Brit, no less. They used the kind of very profane and unpleasant language that would’ve made a Black Sea fisherman blush to the tip of his gnarled and wrinkled sporting rod and then they tried every trick short of bribery to pull the interview. The lady interviewer obviously enjoyed stirring things up and the more the suits tried to prevent her from airing her human interest story, the more determined she became to let everybody know what she thought of the corporation. On air.

So I was interrogated – and I think that’s the most polite way to describe how I was treated – in the same hotel suite where the interview had taken place. Why hadn’t I stopped the fiasco and walked out? Why had I gone along with the charade as if I was some kind of willing accomplice? I had the perfect excuse of my relative inexperience to fall back on. What did I know? The suits had chosen the high-profile interviewer in the first place. If there’d been any kind of screw up, it had to be their fault because of poor research. That stopped them in mid-rant. I carried on. I’d still used the company script to describe myself. Mostly. I’d still preserved the precious fake identity they’d grafted onto my personality. Mostly. I told them I thought I’d done a pretty good job under the circumstances.

But any kind of unexpected upset shook them up and left them nervous and edgy. You could smell it in the room. Something feral. Like one of the old-country goats that knew for certain it was about to be turned into dinner for twelve, boiled beets and rancid cheese as a starter. Yeah, we knew a thing or two about culinary excellence back in the old country. The smell reminded me of nothing less than fear. That was the moment when a kind of vague suspicion floated across the back of my mind, did a little curtsy and wafted off into the background. These guys were worried. Something was going on here. There had to be more than a simple interview that went off song. Something, my dear and wonderful friend, like a casually-discarded and well-worn thong that’s been left at the back of the wardrobe a little too long, didn’t smell right.

London, my fine and wonderfully discerning friend, is not England. But if it were, the Brits would probably be a lot happier as a nation. Anything’s possible in that amazing city. If you haven’t hit the designer shops in Bond Street, you can’t really wear your Shopping Proficiency Badge with honor and distinction. One of the unexpected benefits of dumping so much extra weight was that I’d learned to really enjoy shopping. Oh, yes. No more ducking into the double-extra large clothing section of the home town department store and asking if they had anything in circus-tent size. Since I’d hit Tinsel Town, I’d been let loose a couple of times on Rodeo Drive and was on first name terms with a couple of the more helpful sales assistants but London was in a league of its own. There might be better places in the world to blow your bucks but I fell in love with that grand old city right from the start and I even thought I could maybe live there. For a while. Well, we both know that money can make a lot of places comfortable, but dear old London town had so many ways of helping me to appreciate its grandeur. I guess it will always be in my heart but for reasons I couldn’t possibly have expected. 

We were done. It was time for the show to roll on and I was kind of sad to leave the comfort and service of that beautiful hotel and say goodbye to London. But the campaign was scheduled to pick up its rhythm again and aim to make a highly profitable dent in the notoriously difficult French market. Yes, my latte-sipping darling. I can see you smiling. We were going to Paris.

[*Chapter 9 *]

Old World Adventures

 

Now, before you get all misty-eyed and damp in the loins about the fabled allure of Paris, let’s get a few things straight about the City of Light, the romantic capital of the western world. For a start, it stinks. I’m trying to be delicate here but there’s no way of disguising the pervading aroma of someone else’s sewerage that hangs in the air everywhere you go and just puts you right off your freshly-baked breakfast muffin. And don’t get me started on the coffee. The old hands used to swoon with delight at the quality of a hot French brew of finely ground beans but somewhere along the line the French had abandoned their love affair with coffee and opted for something that might have been mistaken for lukewarm, sweetened, liquefied mud. It reminded me of the lost sweepings from the coffee roaster’s rejected batch of toasted rat droppings. But not quite as flavorsome. And I bet you’d love to know all about the legendary French reputation for service, wouldn’t you?

Well, they’re rightly more famous for surly than service, that’s for sure. Everything they do is accompanied by a resentful shrug and an air of complete disdain, like you’re the biggest nuisance that’s interfered with their hours-long cigarette break and, in a fairer world, you should be the one to pour their poor excuse for coffee and be happy to wipe their collective asses. As a privilege. For free. Maybe it’s their old idea of socialism. Maybe it’s the lurking memories of communism and building barricades in the streets if the government ever had the temerity to suggest that they actually go out and do a day’s work first before they get paid, but there is a definite air of hostility towards the greatest nation on earth and we are, of course, referring to the glorious US of A. Oh, yeah.

Wrap me in those stars and stripes and I’ll be happy to whistle Yankee Doodle Dandy and tap dance down the Champs Elysees – that’s the closest they ever got to Fifth Avenue, in case you’re curious! Scratch through the typical Frenchie’s wafer-thin surface of resentment and you’ll find a seething mass of bitter disappointment because France – and we need to be honest here – is not a superpower and the French language – let’s thank the good Lord for another small mercy – will never be the dominant medium for verbal communication on the planet. So we landed in an aging city that was way past its sell-by date, something like an older, arthritic lady dressed up like a teenager and made up like a ten-dollar Boogie Street hand-job hooker, a place that was dirty and perfumed like a backed-up toilet in a North Korean dog-chop house, full of scowling and resentful citizens and completely devoid of charm. And we were supposed to launch a hit campaign to win the hearts and minds and wallets of these unwashed, armchair revolutionaries. I was wafting a heavily DKNY-sprayed handkerchief beneath my nose, holding my breath as long as I could and, to be brutally honest, my heart sank.

Top of the list of challenges – none of us spoke a damn word of French. That’s right. We were going to have to trust to the good agency of a couple of chain-smoking and infrequently-bathed interpreters. In the confined space of what I had to concede was a beautiful hotel suite. I thought about the dubious pleasure of being in close proximity to these deodorant-dodging characters and invested in an extra-large can of air freshener. France was identified as a legitimate target for the miracle weight-loss powders because, despite its reputation as the food capital of the world, the country had slipped easily and lethargically into the welcoming embrace of fast food, TV dinners, micro-waved instant dishes and convenience meals. Wherever you looked, that’s what you saw. So the French waistlines were expanding dramatically and the corporation interpreted this explosion in obesity rates as an open and welcome invitation to launch their miracle weight-loss products. In a crazy kind of way, it almost sense. Might’ve worked too. If it hadn’t been for the French.

I guess you won’t be too surprised to learn that the French interviewers were nowhere near as friendly as the Brits. We didn’t know if they were specially bred to be obnoxious or whether they had to graduate from a special training camp that beat them mercilessly until they only displayed expressions of surliness and lip-curling sneers of undisguised contempt. In short, it was a disaster. They refused to follow the company-approved questions. We had a full-scale slapping episode between one of our assistants and a very effeminate and gorgeously mascaraed French gentleman with a high-pitched voice who loudly objected in his weird falsetto to pretty much everything in the room.

Things got out of hand when he produced a large bag of the strawberry-flavored slimming powders and, with a dramatic flourish, threw the contents over me, over the screaming assistants and over most of the beautifully-furnished room. He took a pretty wild slap from one of our gals in the bi-lingual exchange of profanities and collapsed screaming to the powder-strewn carpet, writhing and kicking as if he’d just taken a shot in the line of duty. I left the room with as much Yankee dignity as I could muster to go and shower and change and accidentally managed to stand on the weirdo’s wrist as I stepped heavily over his dramatically squirming body. Nothing broke but it felt good all the same. I thought about stepping backwards for a second dose of payback but decided the little interviewer would probably find an excuse to sue the corporation to pay for his early retirement and, maybe, for a lifetime’s supply of strikingly purple mascara. So I made my hasty exit, headed straight to my room and got my head down behind the protective sandbags of my double-locked door until the dust and powder had settled and a very flustered and apologetic assistant came to find me. 

At least this time I wasn’t blamed for the incident. I just nodded as the suits foamed and cussed and threw their arms in the air like, well, a bunch of angry and flustered French guys. Confidence in the French campaign was not at an all time high. Another unforeseen glitch in the brilliant program to dump several thousand tons of miracle weight-loss powder onto the French market was the fact that the French – perverse as ever – were quite fond of an extra handful of meat on a gal. Damn. If they’d seen me before I got my weight under control, I could’ve been adopted as a national icon of feminine beauty. Skinny was somehow seen as un-French, un-patriotic and way too American. Now there were still some incredibly beautiful examples of feminine beauty on the streets and catwalks and not all of them were exclusively of the male persuasion.

There were still perfectly proportioned and dazzlingly elegant ladies in Paris to remind the world what style and class really look like. But the place was definitely moving towards the chubby side of the fashion rails. One of the senior execs said the average French guy was so damn Freudian, he would always end up marrying some lard-assed gal that reminded him of his mother. I nearly lost my mouthful of a foul-tasting approximation of latte when I heard that comment – which might’ve been a blessing. It was an undeniably hideous thought but it might’ve explained why all those weird French guys always looked so damn miserable. Anyone married to Mama Bulgari surely deserved an extra portion of sympathy and devout prayers every single bedtime. Amen and pass an extra large slug of the Holy Communion wine. I’m gluten-free right now so I’ll pass on the wafers. 

The mission to convert the bulging population of overweight Gallic obesity candidates to the true faith of the miracle weight-loss powders was cut short. People were even turning down free samples in supermarkets. Like I said, Yankees weren’t exactly the flavor of the month amongst the frog-chewing members of the European community of nations and, after a long and emotionally-charged executive conference, the senior suits decided to cut their losses and move on to the next item on the agenda. We were headed out of Paris. But the evening wasn’t a complete loss. The senior guys laid in a stash of chilled, vintage champagne, a case of exceptionally fine cognac, a very expensive stash of Cuban cigars, a large bag of sparkling white powder and enough hookers to keep the Viagra labs in full-scale production for a year. All on the company’s very generous expense account. They drowned, snorted, smoked and debauched their collective sorrows into an orgiastic fog of oblivion. Which was a good moment to celebrate because, the next day, half the senior execs were on a flight back to the US? Something was definitely going on behind the scenes and it was becoming more and more obvious that the suits were worried about something. And with half the senior execs heading back to the US, hangover and with a collection of painfully bruised and abused appendages, it had to something serious. 

Isn’t it amazing how quickly you can get used to something as exciting as air travel? One second, you can’t sit still because of the novelty and the thrill of being in a massive jet air-liner, traveling to a foreign country and reveling in the luxury and the little velvet bag of freebies. And the next minute – well, it’s just like taking a very comfortable bus ride to the local shopping mall. I know. I never thought it would be possible but, like I said, you just get used to things. So, I know you’re dying of curiosity. Either you’ve got a knot in your thong again or you’re fidgeting with anticipation. You want to know where we were heading to next, don’t you? Well, it turned out to be a very pleasant surprise because our next stop was the fabulous city of Berlin. That’s right, my sweetness. We were taking the campaign to Germany. We were supposed to start in Frankfurt but the change in scheduling took us first to Berlin and what a city it was. I was impressed. It had a vibe that you could almost taste.

Clean. Fresh. Cool in the sunshine and everything organized to the last detail. So how can two countries that are neighbors and that share a common border turn out to be so very different from each other? How can the Frenchies and the Germans be so damn different? I’m curious because Germany works. I mean it really works. Those guys just take pride in getting the job done. You have to admire it. And the interviews in Berlin went like a dream. Everything was in perfect English. Did you get that? Perfect English. Damn. I could understand the German TV guys a lot more easily than the red-headed Scottish guy who worked at the hotel in London. They were friendly, totally professional, not always willing to follow the company directions but a well-organized and super-efficient group of guys who knew their business. Always finished on time, thanked everyone – including the over-awed assistants, who suddenly seemed redundant in the face of such amazing Teutonic efficiency – packed up their gear and were gone before the next crew knocked on the door to set up their cameras and sound gear. But despite the warmth and professionalism of the interviews, sales did not take off as anticipated.

Germany, my beloved friend, was not buying. Maybe some better research might’ve prepared the weight-loss corporation for a different approach but Germany had a very strong and vibrant organic food movement that encouraged everyone to eat as naturally as possible. It was a big deal. Natural was best. So when a German food label said the product was organic, that meant it had been thoroughly checked and tested and approved by a regulatory body long before the product qualified to hit the inside of bio-degradable packaging. The miracle weight-loss powders were about as natural as a genetically-modified ten-legged chicken. So I bet you can imagine how much resistance there was to something as chemically scary as an artificially lab-spawned, chemically flavored weight-loss product. The German press was scrupulously fair, perfectly analytical, logically reasoned and ultimately disapproving of the whole concept of taking a cocktail of chemicals that had been crushed, milled, flavored and blended in a former animal-feed factory somewhere in the wilds of Poland – just to persuade your body to lose weight. They had a point. They sounded so much like the lady nutritionist back home that I wondered if her folks had originally come from this part of the world. Or maybe it was just common sense. Either way, sales were almost non-existent.

The Brits seemed to like the stuff. But then they’d always had a weakness for anything sweet. One of the senior execs had said if they could candy-coat a dog’s asshole, the good ol’ Brits could be persuaded to buy it. And eat it. The French were saying ‘Non’ on political grounds. They just didn’t like or trust anything so obviously American. The Germans were saying ‘Nein’ because they didn’t trust a bunch of hybrid industrial chemicals to make them slimmer or healthier. And, to be honest as ever, the Germans were always real fond of their world-class beer and bucket-size potato dishes. These were not small, skinny people. But they drew the line at unnatural resources and the suits had to admit – as they cried into their overflowing glasses of dizzying, sparkling beer – that their third campaign had struck out. Three missions. One success. And two failures. The execs decided they needed to take a time-out and re-think their strategy. And there was still something moldering in the background. Even the rats had signed a petition to complain about the smell.

Chapter 10

Hollywood? We Have a Problem

 

 

The problem had a name. The name was Lewis J. Karachowski and he was in bad shape. Dramatically and impressively overweight after a lifetime of fast-food and all-you-can-eat-for-only-$10 buffets, he’d finally decided to do something about his gargantuan size and shed some pounds. He probably should’ve checked with his doctor first. Maybe even consult a professional nutritionist – like I did – but instead he went straight for the fast-lane, sweetly-flavored option and bought himself a suitably discounted, five-flavored, three-month’s supply of the new wonder weight-loss powders. And that’s what he planned to exist on until he’d lost at least fifty pounds of flab. It was a noble if ill-considered strategy. And seeing my air-brushed and photo-shopped images in magazines and the slimmer new me on TV, well, the evidence of the media had persuaded him that salvation truly lay in the deliciously-flavored, miracle weight-loss powders. Hallelujah. He was about to be saved. Damn. If they worked as well as he hoped, he might finally get laid. Well, he had been waiting a long time. And at the tender age of thirty-six and a half years, it surely was an experience that was long-overdue. 

The corporation, of course, did not refer to the problem as ‘Lewis J. Karachowski’. They preferred to step around any direct references to the situation and resort to code words. So they referred to the problem as Broken Macaroni – because it absolutely didn’t mean anything at all. It could just as easily have been the name of a broken down nag in the three-thirty at Atlantic City race track. Except a losing horse in Hamilton, New Jersey, was a lot easier to dispose of in the darker corridors of the dog food industry than a highly visible and staggeringly obese individual known to his parents and siblings as Lewis J. Karachowski. The weight-loss company often wished that Broken Macaroni could disappear into several hundred cans of Meaty Chunks but wishing with both sets of fingers and all toes crossed wasn’t going to be enough to fix this particular problem.

Broken Macaroni was in intensive care, breathing on a life-support machine and hanging onto the threads of his perilous existence by the tips of his oddly-colored, sausage-shaped fingers. He’d collapsed in the street though it’s not as if he’d been out of the house on any kind of jogging expedition. Oh, no. Dear Mr. Karachowski did not do exercise, my latte-sipping darling. All he’d done was waddle down to his mailbox, rummage through a few fliers as he got his breath back, notice a particularly finely-shaped rear end on the back of a lady who was walking by, step out onto the street to get a better view of that very attractive and wide behind through his thickly-lensed glasses – and then he’d just collapsed. He instantly became an obstacle to passing pedestrians – he was so big, people couldn’t just step over him.

So eventually someone called the police and they contacted the paramedics and the paramedics scratched their heads and wondered if they should call a tow truck because of the sheer size of their pale, shivering and sweatily-distressed patient. And pretty much everyone who was rubber-necking at Lewis from the sidewalk was instantly reminded of a familiar, poignant scene from the Discovery Channel, where a group of volunteers had bravely tried to re-float a beached adult whale, rolling its eyes and gasping for breath, everyone puzzling over the mechanics of shifting a very large mass of unco-operative blubber back to where it belonged. He was too big to fit inside a hospital ambulance so the paramedics called in a truck with a hoist that could lower Broken Macaroni’s ponderous bulk gently onto the flat back of its cargo bay and whisk him – with a police escort front and back and two perspiring paramedics working hard to keep him alive on the back of the vehicle – to the nearest hospital. 

The medical staffs were sure they were dealing with a classic case of obesity-induced, cardio-vascular stress. It happened all the time. A heavily overweight citizen, a short but taxing walk, the sight of a particularly fine behind and the blood pressure had probably spiked and caused a very unpleasant problem to the extra-large and over-excited victim. But the doctor noticed a few things that roused his curiosity. The patient’s piggy little eyes had a very unusual hue. He’d never seen that color on a human being before. The patient’s fingernails had either been painted sometime or they were displaying a shade of mauve that was definitely not natural. And then there were the unusual, pigmented blotches on the patient’s skin that reminded the medic of some of the more vivid colors in a child’s paint-box. There was something very strange going on here and the doc was glad he’d decided to wear a mask and gloves when handling the patient’s sweating bulk. He wanted blood test results and he wanted them fast. If he’d been a regular subscriber to the more lurid supermarket tabloids, he might’ve wondered about the stories of oddly-shaped, alien intruders, walking around the country in broad daylight, casing the planet as a prelude to invasion. Or the front-page headlines about secret government agencies releasing deadly hybrid viruses into the atmosphere to test their effectiveness on an unsuspecting population. All the doctor knew for sure was that a double-layered face mask was better than nothing but he still planned to shower right away. With bleach. And a yard brush.

Broken Macaroni’s condition was puzzling everyone. The family had been called in because the hospital was concerned about the patient’s chances of survival. He was in intensive care as his massively proportioned relatives wobbled into the viewing area, weeping and wailing clutching jumbo bags of Nachos to their chests for comfort, demanding to know what was wrong with their fine and sturdy Lewis. The doctor, freshly scrubbed, bleached, disinfected and laundered sat the Karachowski family down in an office to get some background information on their relative and the only item that piqued his interest – besides the obvious fact that the guy had been consuming enough calories to fuel twelve regular, healthy, super-athletes every single day – was the revelation that Lewis had recently been on a diet. Completely against the family’s collective advice and wisdom, of course.

Hey. Does that sound just a little familiar to you? Does that remind you of exactly the way my own, beloved and super-sized family reacted when I started to lose weight? Is there some kind of old-country obsession with living life on the super-size side of the clothing rails? Well, whatever the reaction, those Karachowskis sure weren’t from anywhere close to the old-country Bulgari village. Probably wouldn’t know a goat from a clothes peg seller. Let me tell you, my wisely nodding friend, that’s something you have to know for certain in the old country or you wouldn’t last five minutes – ‘What’s for dinner, oh wife and mistress of the family hovel?…..What do you mean? Clothes pegs? Again? Children! Mama’s brought shame on the hovel. Bring Papa the rusty axe of retribution!’ You see what I mean? Exactly. You wouldn’t even last the whole five minutes.

The blood test results were even more confusing. Either Mr. Lewis J. Karachowski had spent a few unpleasant months cleaning out the inside of Reactor Number Four at the old Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the Ukraine or he’d been exposed to an unusual cocktail of radioactive chemicals that had caused some kind of metabolic breakdown in his grossly overweight body and poisoned him to the core. The doctor asked the family to bring him the weight-loss powders for analysis and, even though the relatives demanded full payment for the product – and that’s so old-country, the similarities are starting to scare me – the doctor insisted that he needed the powders or he wouldn’t know the best way to treat the patient. Reluctantly and with a brooding sense that somehow they’d been cheated out of the cost of the product, the family delivered the powders to the hospital for analysis.

Two days later, the weight-loss corporation had been contacted by a hospital board’s legal department with a request to confirm the formula in their widely-advertised miracle slimming powders. Mr. Karachowski’s doctor at the hospital had been scanning the powder’s composition report in the quiet seclusion of his office when he’d stopped, steaming coffee mug poised between desktop and slackened jaw, absorbing the data and running through the details a second – and then a third time – before banging down the mug, spilling coffee over his keyboard and running for the door. By the sacred oath of Hippocrates and the blessings of comprehensive medical insurance, Mr. Karachowski had been poisoned. The hospital staff had been looking – quite understandably – in the wrong direction. Their unresponsive patient had traces of heavy metals, toxic waste, hostile bacteria and a couple of elements that hadn’t been successfully identified yet, cruising through his turgid blood stream and living rent-free in most of his major organs. And that probably included his fevered and slightly swollen brain too. The medical team changed course and swung into action. Now you might be one of those beautifully gentle New Age subscribers who believes in the power of crystals and chanting and fairies – and I just bet you’ll have one of those authentic, made in China, genuine dream-catchers swinging above your floral bedspread – but when it comes to dragging someone’s ass off the edge of premature extinction, give me the good ol’ American trust in technology and a highly-skilled team of medical technicians.

I’ll take the crystals and chanting later as a side order, thank you very much. So the first step was dialysis. The poor guy’s blood had to be filtered, sponged, cleaned, scrubbed, swept, brushed and de-contaminated. Not so easy because a lot of the garbage was lodged in his major organs and was leaking back into the bloodstream even as the machinery was sucking out the poisons. But the process was helping. The doctor consulted his colleagues, spoke to a highly-respected hematologist – that’s a blood specialist in case you missed that episode on the Discovery Channel – consulted a fellow medical student from his days as an intern who’d ended up working for a secret government agency that was working on developing new strains of highly-toxic hybrid viruses – and picked up some very helpful advice on how to treat his patient. It was slow. It was undoubtedly painful. But a week later, the relatives were gathered liked a herd of grazing mammoths around Lewis’s bedside when he opened a bleary eye, gazed at his family with a faint smile and broke wind with sufficient force to rattle the blinds on the window. His corpulent father bent slightly forwards with a nod of appreciation and repeated his son’s flatulent gesture, the loud report echoing down the hospital corridor and the assembled family laughed with joy at this perfect expression of Lewis’s miraculous recovery. He was going to make it. One of the nurses stopped dead in her tracks as she entered the room and made a mental note to get maintenance to check the drains because they’d obviously backed up somewhere or else there was a pile of dead rats fouling up the hospital plumbing. Damn, she thought – The stink reminds me of that unforgettably awful trip to Paris.

The weight-loss corporation swung into action too. Their legal crash-team was always on stand-by to administer first aid and assistance to their patient – in this case, the miracle weight-loss powders that produced the vast revenues that paid their inflated salaries. Any hint of trouble and they were ready to operate twenty-four hours a day. Their first response was to play for time. Find out why a hospital was interested in the product formula in the first place. It sure wasn’t for academic interest. Never was. Get some eyes on the scene and boots on the ground. Roll out the contingency plans. It had to be a medical problem. Could they arrange to kidnap the patient? Remove the evidence – for their own good, of course – to a private clinic in a country that didn’t share extradition treaties with the US? It was all part of the corporate legal team’s well-rehearsed Emergency to Do list. Word spread immediately to the ranks of the senior execs. Wherever they were in the world. The grey specter of fear began to wrap its tendrils round the hearts and minds of the corporation’s senior management. There was a collective tightening of sphincters. There was a collective lifting of genitalia too as the corporate nut clusters tried to climb back inside their bodies to avoid the atavistic fear of being ceremonially removed in the blame-fest and blood-letting that inevitably followed any kind of corporate screw-up. Some of the suits even had recurring nightmares that involved faceless figures brandishing rusty knives, followed by falsetto auditions for the Viennese Boys’ Choir. But that was probably just a coincidence.

Chapter 11

Black Ops

 

 

The squad of private eyes that descended on the hospital splashed some cash and soon got the answers they were looking for: confidential medical records, blood test results, treatments and prescriptions, analysis and conclusions. They had to accept that kidnapping the subject might prove too ambitious because it would be really tricky to land a military, twin-engine helicopter in the hospital car park without anyone noticing. So they concentrated on gathering data. Anything was available for the right price and one of the medical team had recently been wondering how to fund the purchase of a new SUV when he was approached in a bar one evening by a well-dressed operative from the team of private investigators. The medic knew a deal was in the air so he drove a hard bargain and ended up with his SUV and a small power boat to sweeten the clandestine agreement. Hey. This was business. This was America. Everybody was happy. Everybody except, maybe, for Mr. Broken Macaroni – who sadly died of a massive coronary, watching one of his favorite pay-per-view porno channels – only two short days after being discharged from the hospital and at least a hundred pounds short of his dream of finally getting laid. Now the collective corporate gonads demanded an express ride to the top of their collective spines – aiming to get as far out of harm’s way as possible. Because the solids had just hit the ventilator and nobody had time to duck.

The most puzzling part of the problem was that the hospital’s analysis of the miracle weight-loss powders revealed a different formula to the one that was filed and forwarded by the corporation’s research and development labs.  The legal team had high-fived and whooped like a troupe of cavorting circus chimps, jumping around their sound-proofed offices in relief that the problem could not be laid at the company’s door because – laughter and back-slapping all round – this was not their product. It was someone else’s product. Wasn’t their fault. Wasn’t their responsibility. Wasn’t their problem. Except, of course, that it was. Because a gap had opened up in the company’s quality control protocols. Or, to be more precise, the company had temporarily mislaid all of its quality control protocols. The problem had been riding for free on the back of the enormous backlog of orders that had built up right across the country. The Chinese manufacturer was chain-smoking his way through the supply issues and churning out batches of flavored powder by the ton. But the merchandise still had to cross the oceans and hit the distribution networks. Time, as I’m absolutely confident you’ll agree, my beautiful friend, was money. So the suits decided to threw as much product into the distribution network as the delivery system could handle. Every last bag, can and box of the miracle weight-loss powder had to be delivered in bulk as rapidly as possible. That meant that the quality control issue could safely wait until the hold-up in the supply situation had stabilized. That meant they’d cut just one tiny corner in the process. To save time. Profits and share prices were at stake. It wasn’t even a measurable risk. Everything was absolutely under control. What could possibly go wrong?

In a town about twenty miles from where Broken Macaroni’s freshly inscribed tombstone was being prepared to mark his last resting place on earth, a family of recently-converted religious zealots woke up one morning to the notion that being so grossly overweight was an offence to the tenets of their newly-embraced faith. Their deity was an unforgiving judge of human weakness – and gluttony was as deserving of divine retribution as any of the other seventy-three commandments that had been revealed to their prophet and charismatic leader during a stormy night of TV repeats and severe indigestion. Gluttony was a sin, a tempting, high-heeled hussy of the Devil’s own harem, a corruption of the purity of the human body and a blighted boil upon the rounded, pimpled butt of the good earth. The family joined hands and solemnly swore to resolve their unwholesome weight issues as quickly as possible in order to regain the favor of their righteously angry creator. So, naturally, being in a hurry to avoid being blasted in their beds by a bolt of wrathful forked lightning, they picked up an economy batch of the miracle weight-loss powders and resolved to abstain from all other forms of nourishment until they’d lost all their sinful blubber and were fit to be baptized in the local river without the risk of constantly floating like a raft of over-inflated beach balls on the oily, polluted waters. Hope and salvation were at hand.

The corporation’s legal team was a little disconcerted to take a midday call from another hospital board, demanding details of the weight-loss powder’s precise composition. Was this some bizarre kind of deja vu? It had been an uneventful day and they’d been passing the time quietly, playing computer games and working their way through a large bag of pure, white powder – just to keep them sharp – because the guy with the lowest score in the game had to buy the next generous bagful of Colombia’s finest export. So the call took them completely by surprise and it took them a couple of minutes before they hit the panic button and rolled out their contingency plan.

This time, an entire family had been rushed to emergency, suffering from palpitations, weird discoloration of the skin, hallucinations and, apparently, one of the younger members of the group had been speaking in tongues and calling for serpents to handle. Not your regular early-morning drunk and disorderly or drive-by shooting. This was altogether more exotic. Some of the older nursing staff started to wear crucifixes conspicuously round their necks. One of the senior nurses with obvious connections to the old country stuffed all her pockets with fresh cloves of garlic, to the extent that some of her colleagues suspected she must surely have been back to the old country for some visibly unsuccessful breast-augmentation surgery. To be fair, back in the old country, her knobbly, garlic-enhanced cleavage would’ve won her a prize in any village beauty pageant. 

Doctors are well connected to each other. Either by subtle handshakes. Or fraternity rings. Or membership of the same coven. Whatever. But Broken Macaroni’s physician had close contacts with the staff of the neighboring hospital, the one that had just admitted the frothing, eyeball rolling, screaming and paint-box-colored religious zealots and he quickly advised his colleagues how to join the dots and confirm the connections. A pattern was emerging and, if the truth were to be told, things weren’t looking too good for the weight-loss corporation and their miracle weight-loss powders. With the timely intervention of blood transfusions and a cocktail of powerful drugs, the family slowly recovered. Which is more than can be said for their faith. The experience somewhat diminished their attachment to their new beliefs and when they got home, tired, weary, haggard and a little more cynical than before, they placed a call to their spiritual leader and nearly gave him a heart attack by asking for their money back. The Lord surely moved in mysterious ways.

The question that was buzzing across the corporation’s confidential E-Mail server at that precise moment was whether the problems could be contained. They had to be weirdly coincidental but, as long as they were isolated, the technical and legal teams could show that any medical issues were completely unconnected to the miracle weight-loss powders. They could get a handle on the situation – as one of the recently returned senior execs had loudly announced at an emergency conference. But he was probably more worried about the disturbing collection of unsightly growths that had suddenly appeared amongst the contents of his starched and pleated boxer shorts because he’d brought back a whole lot more from his trip to Paris than a bottle of fancy perfume for his long-suffering wife. He was thinking he’d need to have an urgent and totally private discussion with one of the guys from research when the door burst open and an assistant stumbled into the conference room, wild-eyed and waving a sheet of print-out. He was stammering, struggling to get the words out. Sirs – he squeaked.

Broken Macaroni’s gone nuclear. The room went silent. Even the recently returned senior exec stopped scratching at his wildly-inflamed crotch.  It was company code for a major outbreak in the number of incidents. They now had thirty cases, all in one state, and apparently all linked to one consignment of product. A secretary followed the assistant into the room, looked around at the circle of pale and sweating faces, and announced that she’d just been informed that the corporation’s legendary CEO was flying in and everybody had to get ready for an emergency meeting in the main boardroom for three o’clock. The news settled across the room with all the joy of learning that your date of execution had been changed. It had been moved. It had been brought forward – to today. To this afternoon. At three – if you didn’t have anything else planned for the day. The priest was polishing his silver crucifix and the executioner was checking the slip-knot on the noose. The corporation’s CEO – known throughout the company and most of Wall Street as the Man of Wrath  - was paying a house call. That usually meant body bags and a team of industrial cleaners to mop up the blood and scraps of ego that always lay in the wake of his wrathful devastation. Not a man to be crossed. More like an Old Testament prophet bringing the vengeance of the Lord upon all and any who interfered with the company's bottom line. Some of the senior execs reached for their medication. Some dug around in their drawers for their rosaries. Some lost control of their bladders and had to call out for fresh boxer shorts. And one recently returned senior exec discovered to his horror that the simple act of passing urine felt exactly as if he was peeing a torrent of miniature, white-hot, rusty razor blades. Damn those over-priced French hookers and their damn disease-ridden carcasses! - He yelped. The hotel had promised that the girls would be clean. But, by the standards of most Parisian hookers, they were as clean as could be expected, which was not - and let's not start getting squeamish at this point in the adventure! - Very clean at all.

Chapter 12

Limbo

 

So while the chaos and confusion were unfolding at the weight-loss corporate HQ, grown men were heard whimpering behind their office doors and praying they might escape the destruction that was about to be visited upon by them by the sudden arrival of the Man of Wrath. And he was not a happy CEO. He’d had to abandon a political fund-raiser where he’d been chosen as the key-note speaker, fuming because he’d missed his chance to label every damn Democrat in the country as an unpaid agent of the forces of communism and a fully-paid up servant of the Forces of Evil – and he’d never enjoyed the reputation of a man of good humor, sweet temperament or liberal views. His politics were sometimes described as being somewhere to the right of Attila the Hun and he liked to believe that he ruled his domain with an unbendingly righteous rod of iron. True, he would sometimes slip away from the bright glare of the corporate spotlight and find solace in the bound and chained confines of a sound-proofed dungeon, a place where he would rapturously consent to being whipped and lashed and humiliated, screaming as he willingly endured the insertion of a range of unfeasibly large and studded objects till the tears of joy ran down his lined and wrinkled cheeks and he felt redeemed and restored, ready to go back into the world and inflict misery at every turn. I’ve got the feeling from the expression on your face that you are absolutely not in the least bit surprised. OK. So I’m sharing this highly volatile information just with you. Let’s remember to be discrete!

I bet you’re wondering what I was getting up to whilst all this drama was infecting the senior ranks of the weight-loss corporation, aren’t you? Well, the campaign had ground to a halt and the company hadn’t decided where they should go or what they should do next. We were hanging out in a very comfortable version of Limbo, enjoying the delights of Berlin, doing some sight-seeing, making trips to other cities and taking each day one at a time. More of the execs had been called back to the US so we knew something was going on, and we guessed it had to be something pretty serious, but the rest of us were way too low in the food chain to be included in the briefings and huddled conversations that were obviously scaring the suits.

And then I got a call. Now if you really want to know the truth – and you know you always do – I’d pretty much been hoping with all my heart that it was Larry who’d left a message for me. But it wasn’t my beautiful Larry in far-away New York. It was a call from London. And I have to admit I was a little intrigued. It was the feisty Brit interviewer, the lady who’d ignored the company’s approved list of questions and woven the interview around me. Yeah. That’s right. That feisty lady Brit. I’d taken a liking to her. In a world of fake and pretend and kiss-your-ass-for-a-piece-of-the-action – totally Tinsel Town style – she’d seemed to be the real thing. A regular, professional lady in a world full of creeps and weirdos and she managed to appear absolutely normal. So I returned her call. Wouldn’t you? Sure you would. She said right off the bat that she was talking to me on a strictly confidential, off the record basis and that she wouldn’t repeat or print a single word I said without my express permission. In Hollywood that was about as good as signing up as a happy weekend volunteer to be gang-banged by two hundred fat, sweaty and tattooed bikers at a drug-fuelled annual Hells Angel convention. But – and I know you’ll find this strange – I believed her.

I guess Tinsel Town doesn’t always bring out the best in us. We tend to get a little cynical. It’s the only way to survive in the world capital of weird. But, like I said, I really believed her. So I asked her how I could help. She wanted to know how much I knew about any medical problems that had arisen from using the miracle weight-loss powders. I told her I was totally out of the loop as far as sensitive information was concerned but it was obvious there was definitely something going on that was scaring the senior suits into an advanced state of bowel-loosening, involuntary weight-loss anxiety. She laughed out loud and then she surprised me by telling me pretty much everything she’d been able to pick up about the weight-loss powder’s unfortunate side-effects. This was not an interview. She turned the tables and decided right there and then to level with me and bring me up to speed on what was really happening behind the tightly-closed hospital screens and air-locked hatches at mission control back in the States.

News about the escalating number of medical problems in the US had been largely suppressed by a precisely-targeted sprinkling of court orders and then shortly afterwards, by a strange and complete coincidence, a corresponding number of judges had been greedily picking up brochures for new S-class Mercedes, top of the range Jaguars and the latest Range Rovers – as a heartwarming way to celebrate their recent good fortune and strokes of luck. But – and this was the main reason for her call – there had been cases in the UK as well. No wonder the suits were panicking. A very expensive firm of lawyers in the City of London had successfully applied for injunctions to suppress any news from leaking into the British press, but enraged families had caused ripples, wavelets, splashes of anger and the hint of a tide of resentment. The bowing and groveling lawyers had carefully and regretfully informed their clients that their actions could only delay the eventual storm but not prevent it. They were fired on the spot and told to sue for their fees. I guess they’d delivered the wrong message. But the word had already leaked out and this story had legs. It was beginning to look like a well-trained and perfectly-oiled marathon runner, limbering up on the starting line, just waiting for the starting gun.

The lady interviewer finished her story by advising me to bail out. To jump ship. To get the hell out of Dodge. The press and everyone connected to the media would be howling for blood. She said I should distance myself from the fiasco and – deep breath – that she was ready to engage me as an exclusive source of information for interviews that she would handle personally. She said she’d originally hoped that I’d been closer to the inner circle but my distance from the decision-makers might be my salvation. My ace in the hole. I told her I needed time to think things through. She was totally supportive, gently encouraging, open about everything and told me to take my time. But not too much time. I felt I needed something stronger than a double espresso. I felt this might be a really good time to break out the rosary beads and do some well-overdue and heartfelt praying. It wasn’t my long-lost conscience banging on the door. It was a primeval, old-country, survival instinct screaming at full volume that it was time to run for the hills – and never mind about the herd of stolen goats that were only slowing me down as the baying pack of villagers closed in with their pitchforks, branding irons and a handy bundle of branches for burning folk at the stake. I got the message.

Chapter 13

Judgment Day

Back at corporate HQ, the Man of Wrath had strode menacingly into the boardroom and his personal security detail had closed the doors behind him and stood to bull-necked attention on guard outside the room, barring entrance – and exit – to anyone who wanted to avoid having their necks snapped by their shovel-sized, sheep-strangling hands. Despite the low hum of the air-conditioning, there was a hint of stale fear in the room, suit and shirt armpits betraying patches of sweat as the senior execs sat like chastened children at the feet of their stern and unforgiving patriarch. The Man of Wrath took his seat, carefully positioning himself to avoid wincing from the discomfort of his most recent encounter with a ribbed, pulsating object that was about the size of a freeway traffic cone, and looked around the room. He slowly and dramatically raised one finger and pointed at an executive at the far end of the table.

You – he boomed. You can start by telling us why I’ve had to fly halfway across our great and glorious country and abandon the Lord’s sacred work, a work that He has personally entrusted to me – he raised his eyes to heaven – to clear up a mess that looks a lot like sabotage and willful negligence. The room was silent. The exec, apparently chosen because he was unfortunate enough to be wearing a non-standard necktie on that particular day, cleared his throat, shuffled his notes and started mumbling. The Man of Wrath banged the table with the flat of his bony hand and everyone jumped. Speak up and speak clearly, you craven sonuvabitch! – he shouted across the table, flecks of spittle and tiny particles of half-chewed lunch showering the deeply waxed mahogany. Sometimes it was a blessing to be completely excluded from that inner circle of executive power and spend the hours quietly praying for inspiration and browsing unnoticed and invisible at the murky, bottom rungs of the food chain. The boardroom seemed to become smaller, hotter, less comfortable, as if the gates of Perdition were swinging open on their rusting hinges and the all-consuming flames of the fiery pits of Purgatory were leaping up to claim every tainted member of the senior management team. Their collective gonads had already packed small overnight bags and were desperately thumbing lifts to a cooler, less-threatening environment. Most would’ve settled for a month in downtown Baghdad at that moment because it was rapidly becoming clear that heads were about to roll. And the gonads were sure to follow. The burning brand of blame had initially settled on the group of individuals who’d decided to overlook the quality control processes.

The Man of Wrath didn’t fire them. That was far too quick. Almost merciful. Lacking in Biblical majesty. They were demoted, of course, losing access to the loyalty-binding perks and expenses that tied them to the company’s plough. The Man of Wrath had enough dirt on every member of the board that not a single one of them would ever dare to oppose him. Some of them could be sewing mailbags and tap-dancing in the showers for twenty years – if he ever chose to release the information he had in his personnel files. No. They would obey him to their last breath. The condemned men didn’t know exactly where they were going or what their future living conditions would be like. But they were being posted to a malarial-swamped badland where the corporation was clandestinely growing batches of hybrid plants that could be useful in future product development programs. No air-conditioning. No fridges. No hot water. No alcohol. No mosquito repellent. No women. And no other form of entertainment apart from a broken down mule that might be persuaded to carry two desperate men to the nearest village to enjoy the company of a toothless old lady who would oblige them both for a couple of dollars and cackle like a demented demon during the cramped, sweat-stained and degrading proceedings. The Man of Wrath knew the flavor of divine retribution and this was one of his favorite versions of a living hell. Most of the postings were dead within a year. Not from disease but from the unrelenting heat and flies and soul-sucking boredom. The Man of Wrath smiled. Truly was he an inspired and wrathful instrument of the Lord.

I know you had this vivid image of me doing an impersonation of a frantic nun who’s praying with all her religious fervor that her period won’t be late – again, and it’s time, oh Lord, that the Church licensed Bishops to use rubbers – but I was only on my knees for a few minutes before the light bulb clicked on and I knew what I had to do. Thank you, dear Lord, for your guidance and inspiration and for making me see the blindingly obvious even with my eyes closed. And, Lord? I was only kind of joking about becoming Jewish. Just kidding. Our private little joke, yeah? Knew you’d understand. 

I called the feisty Brit lady and said we needed to talk. 

Back at corporate HQ, there was a moment of relief as the perpetrators of the fiasco were identified, named, shamed, condemned and briskly escorted out of the boardroom by a squad of muscled security men. You could sense the release of tension as the swinging axe of retribution whistled and skimmed across the remaining members’ sweat-streaked scalps but left their heads intact. The inquisition, however, was only just beginning. The scowling CEO had become unintentionally aroused. He was going to need another session in the dungeon. And he was going to need it very soon. But in the meantime, he could project his desire for suffering and humiliation onto others. And he still had a roomful of victims to toy with. At this rate he was going to need the assistance of a damp sponge and a very necessary change of underwear. The Lord would surely understand.

Chapter 14

Back at the Mill

 

China was always going to be an attractive candidate for producing the miracle weight-loss powders. Low labor costs. Flexible working conditions. Not too many questions asked. Virtually no environmental checks or controls. A place where you could do business. But in his haste to keep up with the high-pressure powder production schedule, the Chinese owner had made a few minor adjustments to the original weight-loss formula. China was booming. The factory owner had no intention of being left behind. This was his major break into the big-time. You could really understand where he was coming from. It was pretty much an oriental version of the American dream. Maybe with the addition of the obligatory and very generously-proportioned concubines. But otherwise – same old same old.

You watch the Discovery Channel, don’t you? I mean you have been known to watch a couple of the programmes that didn’t involve the mating habits of endangered species and Hollywood starlets? OK. So you probably already knew that the real problem with China – the soil, the water, the air and pretty much the entire environment – well, my learned friend, how can we put this without creating another diplomatic incident? OK. Let’s make it simple. China wins first prize as one of the most heavily-polluted and industrially-contaminated examples of toxicity on the planet. In its headlong haste to modernize and shift its agrarian economy to become a fully-fledged industrial power-house, China had turned a pair of deliberately and tightly squeezed-shut eyes to all the issues of pollution. Westerners in Shanghai reckoned their tour of duty couldn’t exceed three years or their major organs would never recover. So when the Dollar-bedazzled Chinese factory owner had won the contract to produce the miracle powders, he already knew well in advance how to cut corners.

He was soon pouring in impure ingredients, mixing in toxic elements, stirring in chemicals that could leave your flabby, trembling and sweaty body shining in the dark and setting off Geiger counters up to half a mile away. And all the adjustments had been made in the name of efficiency. And in the name of making a fatter margin to pay for the expensive upgrade in his lifestyle. Once the chemicals hit the production system, the manufacturing process concentrated the poisons and toxins into a potentially lethal combination that could turn a weight-loss conscious fat person into a shivering, multi-hued, zombie-lookalike within a month. It was evil. The more you took, the more poison you ingested, the more extreme the symptoms. And cases were turning up now right across the US. The bad news was about to go public.

At least the Polish manufacturer had wisely steered around the temptation to add any dubious chemicals to his precisely metered formula for creating the European weight-loss powders. Or maybe he’d been too drunk to think of it. He occasionally visited his factory – in between stupendously drunken episodes that centered on his access to an entire warehouse full of Soviet-era rubbing alcohol – and patted his noble employees on the back, urging them on to greater efforts and handing out real cigarettes before heading off to his secret stash of booze and a couple of days of blissful, alcohol-induced oblivion. In the old country, he’d have been top of the list of candidates for mayor. At the very least. But the standards had slipped very rapidly from dubious to dangerous and the powders were soon contaminated by the animal feed products that had been the factory’s mainstay since the employees’ grandfathers had built the factory as an enduring example of proud, Soviet workers’ Endeavour. It wasn’t that the animal feed was lethal for humans. It just wasn’t recommended for human consumption. And when it reacted unexpectedly with the other elements in the miracle weight-loss powders, the results were spectacularly unpleasant. 

I’d called a low key meeting with the guys who’d been left behind, the skeleton crew of an abandoned weight-loss campaign, and told them what I knew. One of the assistants started crying, head in hands and repeating over and over again – We’re screwed. We’re screwed. We’re totally screwed. The words had a catchy, repetitive rhythm and one of the technical guys started to bang out a bass line accompaniment to her monotone wailing, slapping his thighs to the beat and grunting at the end of every line as a refrain. A couple of the guys thought it could be a hit. A timely slap on the back of the girl’s empty head with a rolled up copy of last month’s Vogue in German instantly restored order to the meeting. I explained that I had decided to get off the train before it became a total wreck and advised the rest of the team to think really carefully about their next move. We’d been forgotten in the panic and abandoned to our own devices. I added another note of caution. The corporation just loved scapegoats.

Everyone had to be doubly sure that they weren’t implicated in the unfolding scandal. The company would happily throw a handful of lower-grade drones at the feeding frenzy that was developing on both sides of the Atlantic. It wasn’t as if the company had any sense of the meaning of loyalty. The word had been erased from the senior execs’ combined morality the day they signed on. And I wasn’t flying back to the US. I was taking a flight to London. The feisty lady had organized a pretty cool legal letter to the weight-loss company on my behalf, explaining that since the product I’d been contracted to promote no longer existed in its legally-approved form, the corporation was guilty of misrepresentation and breach of contract. So I was free to step out of the contract, gracefully disembark from the ship of doom and make a new career of my choosing. I was no longer bound by any considerations of confidentiality. Damn. I could say whatever I pleased. I guess the company had much bigger problems to deal with than my completely unacknowledged escape from the contract. Class action suits were springing up right across the country, victims were forming support and action groups and even the legislature was making dark rumblings about the powders’ threat to the health and safety of the great American nation. TV crews were permanently camped outside the weight-loss HQ building and the Man of Wrath hadn’t been since he took off for an urgent appointment in the sound-proofed basement of his favorite and fabulously discrete House of Pain.

Questions were also raised in the British parliament and the French nearly suffered a massive collective hernia from laughing so much at their dumb, dim, stupid and naive English neighbors, who'd swallowed the American weight-loss bait hook, line and sinker. French pride and dignity were restored for a few weeks and domestic champagne consumption hit record levels. It was a gift to Gallic show business. All a French comedian had to do was walk on stage with a bag of powders and say - Les Anglais - that means 'The English' just in case you missed that French class when you were at school - and the entire room would collapse in paroxysms of mirth, clutching their ample French stomachs, dabbing tears from their puffy French eyes and slipping to their swollen French knees as the unspoken joke bowled them over. They probably still laugh about it today. Well, come on. They haven't had too many things to make jokes about since then, have they? Exactly. With a typical French shrug of the shoulders, I rest my case.

At least the Germans were a little more compassionate, wisely concluding that the further mankind strayed from the natural and purely organic pathway of pure nutrition, the more likely he was to fall foul of the snares and traps that lay waiting in the uncharted jungle of artificially-enhanced foodstuffs. They sealed their conclusion with foaming glasses of pure and sparkling beer and gave grateful thanks to God for their deliverance. One of their Lederhosen-clad comedians even made up a catchy little ditty that suggested if you sugar-coated a dog’s butt-hole, the ever-gullible Britishers would be happy to pay for it. And then eat it. Yummie! Fortunately for the collective IQ of the planet, the song never even got within a million miles of the charts. 

I have to admit I was really pleased to be back in London. I had a room in the same, beautifully-appointed hotel with its old-world charm and service and was ready a day later to make the scheduled TV interviews with the feisty lady as agreed in my new contract. She took good care of me. She was actually pretty protective. To the producers’ surprise, the interviews were a big hit. We just talked and sparked ideas and comments and quips, giggled a lot, stepped over a couple of boundaries and someone suggested we should do more work together. I got to explain the real story behind the weight-loss hype and name-checked the lady nutritionist about two hundred times, explaining that her knowledge and advice and encouragement had been the real reasons for my amazing transformation. I got tons of fan mail. The lady interviewer even invited me to spend the weekend at her beautiful house in the English countryside, so I could meet her husband and the two kids. They were so charming, so normal, so unaffected – it was way beyond weird. And the kids didn’t even have their own shrinks! Can you believe that?

In Hollywood, any showbiz couple would have block-booked a brace of LA psychiatrists as soon as the kids could describe what they saw in the ink-blot tests. Showbiz without shrinks? How was that possible? I was confused there for a while. But the feisty lady had been right. The story behind the weight-loss powder scandal was huge. It was destined to dominate the headlines for months to come. The surviving traumatized and still terrified senior execs were initially tight-lipped and, without clear instructions chiseled in stone from their absent CEO, there was a total lack of information or comment from the corporation. So, overnight, I became the unofficial expert on the company and its wide-ranging dealings around the world. The lawsuits were being calculated in the tens of billions. The company share price took a nose dive. My conscience showed up one morning with a nice tan and an armful of souvenirs and asked if it could have its old room back. I was glad to have it back. I’d missed it back there for a while. And I was getting paid a lot of bucks for the exclusive interviews and TV appearances. 

Do you ever get the impression that major events sometimes turn on the smallest little details? Well, that sure wasn’t the case with the weight-loss corporation. Everything had turned on the need for greed, the headlong gold-rush for profits, and the furry-backed imperative to keep the company cash register stuffed every day to overflowing capacity. At any cost. The lady nutritionist had told me right at the start that the powders were poisonous, even before the formula got contaminated. She’d told me the stuff would kill you. And now, after all the publicity I threw in her direction, now that she had a very lucrative book deal, a syndicated weekly column on nutrition and a very handsome new trailer home to escape to outside of town, her words had seemed eerily prophetic. She’d said that common sense always looked like wisdom when you were up to your rear end in hype and deception. Though she’d found a more salty and profane choice of words to describe exactly what she meant. I hope you appreciate that I’m sparing your more delicate sensibilities here.

Chapter 15

Purgatorio

 

The scandal took on a whole new and unexpected twist when the corporation formerly announced to the media that they’d sadly lost their beloved leader and charismatic CEO. When they said they’d lost their beloved CEO, they really meant that they couldn’t find him. They’d lost him. Like a bunch of keys that you’ve put down somewhere and then you completely forget what you did with them. Happened to Mama Bulgari every single day. Her keys, her cell phone, her rosary, Papa Bulgari. Always putting things down and forgetting where they were. But at least Papa Bulgari always showed up again at mealtimes. The Man of Wrath had disappeared. The first reaction from company HQ was that he must’ve fled the country, a high-profile fugitive from the ever-deepening scandal. It made sense. The organization had businesses, assets and resources all over the world so he would’ve had plenty of places to choose from. But his private jet was still in its hangar, serviced, fuelled and standing by – but without a destination to file.

His highly efficient security detail had no idea where he might be. He’d dismissed the team and taken one of the company limos out to Hamilton, New Jersey, instructing the driver to drop him off at a street corner and telling him he’d call sometime in the morning to be picked up. But he never called. He’d shuffled off into the evening gloom and was never seen again. And that was one of the prices to be paid for absolute discretion. After another exhilarating day in the company bear pit, inflicting torture and humiliation on his personal pack of yelping senior execs, the Man of Wrath had felt an overwhelming need to visit his private torture chamber. He really just couldn’t wait another minute. So he’d headed off to the welcoming darkness of the House of Pain, stumbled quickly inside, excited and breathless, and undressed so quickly that he’d torn a couple of buttons from his hand-tailored shirt, trembling fingers struggling with his hand-painted silk tie, shoes hastily kicked off and scuffed in the narrow changing room. And then, standing completely naked, waiting to be bound and gagged and hoisted up onto the black steel frame, he knew he was ready and completely willing to receive his punishment.

Oh, yes he was. He was also a sinner. But he’d found the perfect pathway to redemption in this hallowed chamber of suffering and he was ready to be absolved with the exquisitely painful humiliations that were the House of Pain’s legendary specialty. There’d been a moment about twenty minutes into the routine when the pain in his rear end had shifted suddenly and sharply to his chest. The leather-suited ladies of the establishment were used to hearing the muffled and gagged gasps and sighs and moans and muted screams of their clients. That’s what the weirdoes were paying for, for Pete’s sake. Usually it meant they were having a ball and just needed an extra turn of the screw on the highly polished genital clamp. But the pain in the Man of Wrath’s chest was of a different order of magnitude. He forgot about the unfeasibly large object vibrating ominously in his butt and focused on the new pain that was spreading like molten lava across his rib cage. Had someone hit him in the chest with a sledgehammer? It felt like he’d cracked a rackful of ribs. He was having difficulty breathing. He was gasping.

But then again, didn’t everyone in his bound and suspended and leather-whipped position? He was seeing stars, pinpricks of light on the back of his eyelids, the pain getting worse, approaching and then slipping over the threshold of anything he’d known before. In a sweat-drenched moment of clarity, he finally grasped the unfortunate fact that he was having a truly serious heart attack. He wriggled and tried to scream. So the ladies added another half-twist to the genital clamp and turned up the power on his marrow-sized butt device. The last thing he saw was a pair of red, glowing eyes, the outline of a horned, bony head, the hint of a swishing, forked tongue and then an impossible heat engulfing his body. He tired to scream for the Lord but he guessed that the Lord wasn’t listening because something else had come with a flame-seared and certified prior claim on his blackened soul. But it was more than likely nothing more than his imagination.

Hey! You like puzzles and problem-solving, don’t you, my deliciously-attired and mocha-sipping traveling companion?  Just imagine for a moment that you’re the proud owner of a wildly expensive establishment that caters for the tastes of a certain kind of gentleman. An establishment that is so discrete that very few people even know about its existence. It doesn’t need many clients because the services – including the price of absolute confidentiality – cost a small fortune. You attend to the darker needs of high-profile politicians, senior judges, Wall Street magnates, extremely wealthy industrialists and one wildly-successful TV evangelist. The name of the game is pain and these anally-fixated high-fliers just couldn’t get enough of it. And then one of the wackos breaks all the rules and drops dead on you.

Right in the middle of a treatment. We’re talking dead here. Not a little bit dead. I mean all the way on an express ride to the fiery gates of Lucifer’s very own tongue-flicking, lizard-lounge dead. So what do you do? OK. I’m going to help you out a little. See. I can be kind. Sometimes. The joint is not a product of conventional free enterprise. It’s owned by an organized crime family. To give you a clue, they’re very fond of Sicilian cuisine and have a very practical approach to cleaning up any inconvenient problems. There’s no way they’re going to compromise their little business in Hamilton, lose their leverage from all those clandestine recordings of the great and the good being whipped and abused and bizarrely banged with a variety of unbelievably large, vibrating objects. Got the answer yet? Well the family owned a very conveniently located dog food canning plant – not so far from the race track – and this would not be the first time that physical evidence had disappeared into a couple of hundred cans of Meaty Chunks. It was quick. It was easy and some said it actually improved the flavor of the dog food. Lucky mutts! So the Man of Wrath disappeared forever into the meat-grinding and processing equipment of the dog food factory and business at the House of Pain resumed its daily cycle of whipping, beating and humiliating its clients as if the Man of Wrath had never even existed. 

The CEO’s disappearance only made things worse for the corporation. Panic and confusion infected the ranks of all employees. The senior execs were ever mindful of the veiled threat that if anything untoward should happen to the Man of Wrath, all their dirty little secrets would be made public. It might sound seriously strange to a regular wonder-child like yourself, but the secret files had been set up as a kind of crude insurance policy against the risk of assassination. The CEO had understood better than most how easy it could be to make problems disappear. Permanently. He’d insured against any unfortunate little accident that might’ve resulted in his premature demise. He’d planned ahead. The secure data files were all time sensitive. One month after his disappearance and the secret files automatically unlocked themselves and flooded the media Internet channels with pictures, videos, dates and times and some graphic descriptions of what was happening in some of the less well lit shots. It was devastating.

As if things couldn’t get any worse. And then, of course, they did. The company execs had willingly hitched their fortunes to the Devil’s own handcart, and the diabolic forces were not well known for nurturing the welfare of their nickel-grubbing devotees. The company’s assets were frozen, offices were raided, computer hard-drives were seized, most of the board looked as if they were headed for an extended stay at Club Fed and some of them would indeed learn to sew mailbags and tap-dance in the showers for a hugely muscled and imaginatively-tattooed giant named Earl, a borderline psychopath who liked his meat freshly showered and willing to dance for him before he pounced. With a different education, Earl would’ve made a truly exceptional senior executive in the weight-loss corporation’s highest echelons of power. Except that the weight-loss corporation was rapidly spiraling into oblivion and dragging its doom-laden crew down to the depths of disaster. 

On the other side of the planet, close to a former chemical fertilizer plant in deepest China, all was not well. The Chinese manufacturer woke up one morning with three very large snoring concubines in his sagging bed to discover that he had suddenly become the unwitting owner of a couple of thousand tons of miracle weight-loss powder. And he had absolutely nowhere to send them and absolutely no one who wanted to buy them. Financially it was a disaster. The authorities didn’t really mind if he’d poisoned a few tens of thousands of overweight Yankees. The imperialist lackeys had undoubtedly deserved it. But when he couldn’t pay for his locally-sourced supplies, rumblings of discontent soon reached the ears of the local Party Commissar. The Commissar narrowed his eyes, stubbed out his cigarette in an ashtray that carried a portrait of the American President and picked up his telephone. One week later and the factory was closed, all the machinery and equipment and movable assets sold off to the highest bidder to pay the outstanding debts.

The powders were used to repair a section of highway that had developed deep ruts and potholes and spoiled the Commissar’s drive to work every morning. The beautiful and recently stolen S-class Mercedes was promptly re-stolen and passed at full price to a very pleased new owner somewhere in the country’s capital. But the news of the entrepreneur’s inability to pay for his lifestyle struck deepest in the hearts of his newly-acquired concubines. Calculating how much they felt was owing for services rendered, they pinned him down one evening with their combined and considerable weight and the most generously proportioned of that exotic troupe of talented entertainers sat on the poor man’s face until he could breathe no more. It was impossible to tell if the expression on his face reflected a hint of happiness or a whimsical trace of sadness. All they knew was that he was dead. Then they dropped the rapidly cooling corpse into the antiquated deep freeze in the basement, looted the house down to the hinges on the doors, loaded up their booty into one of the newly-leased company trucks and drove off into the night with a feeling that their honor – and their purses – had been properly satisfied. There would always be other entrepreneurs, men who knew how to respect the services of a highly-trained trio of very generously-proportioned concubines, who would need their services.

The Polish operation received a formal inspection from a government delegation that was determined to discover precisely what had gone wrong in the manufacturing process. There was pressure from Brussels. Faceless functionaries had been firing off memos. They were waiting for answers. The delegation didn’t really know what they were looking for so when the owner turned up at his factory halfway through the inspection, disheveled, bleary-eyed and hung over, the inspectors asked him the kind of technical questions that they certainly didn’t understand and that he was completely unqualified to answer. Suddenly, he raised a finger as if he’d just had a brilliant idea. He suggested that they retire to his warehouse – which was conveniently close to the factory – to seek the answers they were all looking for. It’s where he often went to reflect on his weighty responsibilities and he believed it was the best place to seek enlightenment. So, half an hour later, the delegation found themselves in a cavernous warehouse, stocked with a vast quantity of vintage rubbing alcohol and, at the factory owner’s enthusiastic urging, they agreed to taste a sample – purely for medicinal purposes, of course. They were gone for two days before any of them was able to gather their wits sufficiently to arrange for transport to convey the hideously hangover delegation back to their governmental offices back in the capital. None of them could remember why they’d gone to the factory in the first place. It was like waking up from a surreal nightmare and, whilst most of the group were content to carry away a few cases of the rubbing alcohol as a souvenir of their visit, the inspection file was soon closed and the matter largely forgotten. As with so many urgent and important requests from Brussels, the lack of any answer went completely unnoticed. Within a month, the factory received an order from a state-owned co-operative for a consignment of animal feed and business went back to its former, more comfortable, medieval pace of production.

Chapter 16

Paradisio

 

And what about me? As you can imagine, I was having quite a lot of fun in London, enjoying my new role as the eyes and ears of the news hounds, dishing the dirt on the weight-loss corporation and getting a lot of attention in the media because of my quirky style and my slightly fake, hybrid-Yankee-British accent. I started to get offers of work, some of them too weird and wacky to be taken seriously. But some of the offers got my attention and I took advice from my new friend, the lady interviewer with the keen eye and the great heart who took really good care of me. She was the one who recommended me to a production company that was looking for a US-based news anchor to file stories to its growing UK audience.

They wanted to run the gig out of Washington, give the news a distinctive political flavor. But I persuaded them that New York was a better bet and, if the budget would run to it, we could run a series of freak-show reports from the Devil’s owning parking hub in LA. I was pretty well connected. I even knew a talented TV producer in Hollywood who would just love to run the west coast side of the operation. There was even talk of feeding the programmes back into the US networks. The guys got excited. It could really happen. It could really be done. They decided they wanted me and, just like the guys running the slots and entertainment business out in Atlantic City, they made me an offer I really couldn’t refuse. My conscience nodded in the background, happy to stick around and enjoy the ride for a change. I was coming home.

Well, my patient and super-smart confidante, you’ve been the most amazing traveling companion a gal could ever wish for. It’s been a rush, hasn’t it? But I still had some loose ends to tie up in Britland before I headed back to the US. I still had a batch of interviews to complete and I was planning on getting out of London and seeing some more of the beautiful countryside. Some of the scenery I’d bumped into on my way to the lady interviewer’s fabulous house had reminded me a lot of Maryland. Not that I’d ever been to Maryland – but I’d seen some great shots on the Discovery Channel and that was nearly as good as the real thing.

The days were passing, I managed to squeeze in some shopping, I’d just finished the last of the interviews and I was planning on an early night in the solitary comfort of my sumptuous hotel room. I slipped inside, kicked off my shoes and noticed a large, ribbon-wrapped box sitting right in the middle of the king-size bed. Now you might be a little cynical and world-weary by now and I’m not ashamed to admit that my first thought was that the dying fragments of the weight-loss corporation had finally caught up with me and planted a beautifully wrapped bomb right in the middle of my room. It just sat there like it had been beamed down onto my bed from an alien mother ship hovering somewhere above the stratosphere. I froze for a few seconds, staring at the box and wondering what I should do. Well, I hadn’t survived the craziness of Tinsel Town and dodged the firestorm of the corporation’s destruction to be taken out in a well-appointed London hotel room. My mind took a small side-step into a more rational perspective and I realized that I just hadn’t been important enough to be a target for some clandestine assassination squad. I was, well, probably over-reacting. Just a little bit. So I slipped the grey silk ribbon to one side and opened the box.

The contents more than surprised me. They kind of took my breath away. I was looking at the most luxuriously crafted polished leather Dominatrix outfit a gal with darker leanings could ever wish for. Plus thigh-length boots. A silk mask. A riding crop. And a magnificent selection of vibrating appendages that could be worn in a variety of attachments – enough to make a gal gasp with anticipation and desire. Lodged inside the gleaming outfit was a handwritten card. The note was simple. It read – Please familiarize fully yourself with your Jewish conversion outfit. I’m waiting in the bar.

I was torn. I didn’t know whether I wanted to slip right into that wildly decadent and highly-revealing outfit or run downstairs to see if my hallucinations warranted professional medical assistance and a double brace of psychiatrists. But I needed neither medication nor therapy. Sitting in the bar and drawing gasps of delight from both the ladies and a surprising number of hovering male members of the hotel staff – was Larry.

He turned towards me, those beautiful grey eyes crinkling as he smiled and he stepped off his bar stool, looking so amazing that I thought my heart had stopped. He walked over towards me, arms opening wide and I felt as if I was melting away as he held me, encircling me, pulling me closer into his muscled chest, my head on his shoulder, tears in my eyes and he whispered – Hey, Misha. I’ve really missed you.

Obviously not everybody was happy for me to suddenly appear and take Larry away from the room’s collective fantasies. We found a quiet corner, bar flies and members of staff rubber-necking to get a glimpse of what was happening, ordered a couple of bottles of chilled spring water on ice. And Larry kissed me. So gently, so carefully, the way you’d touch your lips to a two-thousand year old holy artifact. I was dissolving. My brain was happily liquefying along with other, more sensitive parts of my sorely-neglected anatomy. I was floating in the pool of his gentle gaze and then I broke the spell by asking him why he hadn’t contacted me before. Larry had honesty drilled and tapped into his DNA. He smiled. He’d met someone after I’d gone away. A model. A lady you’d recognize instantly as a super-model. Top of the range. A style, fashion and image icon and she’d fallen for Larry the moment she’d cast eyes on him.

Now I’m not saying I was entirely comfortable listening to this story, maybe imagining the model suffering from an incurable outbreak of warts and boils, old-country style, but I bit my lip and heard him out. He actually said that she was a very nice lady but he couldn’t feel about her the way he felt about me. OK. So I removed a few of the warts and boils. Not too many. Just a few. They’d spent time together but, in the end, he’d realized that the chemistry just wasn’t right. Now my beautiful Larry was a budding particle physicist. When he said the chemistry wasn’t right, I totally believed him. I scraped away the more unsightly warts and boils until she looked more like any village girl from the old country. He hadn’t been in touch with me because he’d been with her. Boils and warts and lesions slapped right back on. With interest. He’d wanted to be totally honest with her and explain that they couldn’t be together and she’d found it really tough to deal with what she felt was an impossible case of rejection.

When he explained that his heart really belonged to me, the uncrowned queen of the sugary-sweet but kill you real soon weight-loss powders, the sobbing super-model had gone into shock and immediately signed herself into a clinic that specialized in pretty people rejection syndrome. They get tons and tons of business from Hollywood.  He knew where I was. After all, he had a TV and a fully-functioning lap top. I wasn’t so hard to find. And he just decided to come and see me. I asked him what he would’ve done if I’d been with someone else and he said he’d have wished me all the happiness in the world and informed the rabbi that I wasn’t going to convert after all. OK. He was just kidding about the rabbi. He asked me if I’d tried on the outfit. Well, given the choice between donning my other, darker personality and running downstairs to see if he was really there, I’d flown out of the room so fast, I hadn’t even put my shoes back on. 

We took the elevator back up to my room and he held me all the way to my floor. I have really missed you, Misha - he said as we stepped out and walked towards my door. He kissed me again and said I should check the outfit a little more closely. Maybe I'd missed something. Everything looked in place, Spare batteries, extra lube, a set of handcuffs, silk ropes, a rope gag, something shiny in the open crutch of the outfit, nipple clamps....hey, wait a second. I reached down and saw something half hidden amongst the folds of tissue paper and my heart stopped. And I mean - it stopped. Time stood still. Everything went completely quiet. All I could see was this glittering object, half-hidden in the pale mauve tissue paper, catching the lights and reflecting fractured rainbows of light back into my widely staring eyes. I picked it up and turned to Larry. He was smiling. With his lips, his eyes, with his entire, radiant heart. What do you say, Misha? - he said. I slipped the flawless five carat diamond ring onto my finger and nodded. So tell me,  boy chick - I said. I sure hope you paid wholesale and not retail for this little number! It's OK, Misha. - he answered. I was only kidding about you converting to Judaism.

Kidding? I replied. What makes you think I’m kidding?!

Old country, my beautiful friend. Old country all the way.

TO BE CONTINUED……

About the Author

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www.mishabulgari.com

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The Epic Adventures of Misha Bulgari

She’s wickedly funny, fabulously feisty, larger than life and longing to find love, now Misha Bulgari has just made her biggest splash with her three-part epic adventures, all in one glorious volume. Join your new best friend, Misha, as she unfolds her amazing story on the road to fame, fortune and an unexpected taste for the exotic amongst a completely crazy cast of characters. Meet her jumbo-sized, calorie-enriched family and the skinny genius with the ocean-grey eyes who gently steals her heart. Hang on tight as the adventures take you to far-flung places and unexpected encounters with some of the strangest members of the entertainment industry. From her early struggles to lose weight and discover if there really is life beyond the XXX Extra Large side of the jumbo-sized clothing rails to her dazzling celebrity role as the poster-girl for a global corporation’s revolutionary slimming products, Misha rides the roller-coaster to instant fame amidst the money-grubbing suits and personalities of Hollywood and Wall Street. It’s a blast! And it’s a dazzling confession of life in the Hollywood fast lane, recreational drugs always included, an intimate expose of the daily, addictive weirdness of Tinsel Town. It’s Misha, the amazing femme fatale, slimmed down and fired up, discovering her fondness for the darker side of pleasure and taking control of her life in a world of temptation and instant gratification. But remember to bring a fresh change of underwear. Grown-up readers have been known to wet themselves laughing on this fabulously funny road trip. So climb on board. Fasten your seat belt. Misha’s waiting to take you on the ride of a lifetime!

  • Author: Beran Parry
  • Published: 2015-09-28 10:20:54
  • Words: 94682
The Epic Adventures of Misha Bulgari The Epic Adventures of Misha Bulgari