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A dieter's worst nightmare: Hearing the word 'discontinued'

A couple years back, I was this giant tub of goo. I weighed a lot. (I realize that weight is a boring subject--unless it's an adult who weighs less than 70 pounds or more than 700--but please bear with me.) I decided to lose some weight, and since I don't know anything about moderation, I went on this brutal regimen. I'd work out a couple times a day, after which I'd treat myself to an ice-cold bottle of Fresca on the way home. (Fresca, a no-calorie grapefruit soda, is a Coke product that first became famous when then-President Lyndon Johnson had a Fresca dispenser installed in his easy chair in the White House.)

Sometimes, I even drank some of that water stuff, but I can't really recommend it.

For four months, I only ate three specific foods. To deal with my love of crunching, I ate Pop Secret Low-Fat Microwave Popcorn. I only ate the plain variety; I don't like buttered popcorn at all. The grotesquely overpriced stuff they sell at the movies tastes like month-old grease, and the microwave crap smells like feet, and I don't even want to know what it tastes like.

Then, Michelina's brand had a frozen entrée called Fiesta Chicken and Sun-Dried Tomatoes. It was remarkably spicy and tasty and had only 200 calories. I could eat a couple of them and not feel guilty. Plus, they included this ingredient called "rice." Kinda bland, but if you mixed it into the salsa, it was almost palatable.

Finally, I ate cans of Del Monte Lite Chunky Mixed Fruit, which I could only find at the non-ghetto Wal-Mart near Foothills Mall. It's like fruit cocktail with big pieces of fruit. I'd put the cans in the freezer for a couple hours, and they'd get slushy, like a frozen, albeit almost-healthy, treat.

After about four months of this insanity, I had dropped about a third of my body weight, so I started eating real food again and kept exercising.

After keeping most of the weight off for a year, I decided to start Phase II. But when I went to the store, I learned that Pop Secret had done away with regular popcorn. I called their main office and was told that it had been discontinued because not enough people ate it. "But I eat it," I pleaded, to which the godless flack responded, "Well, sir, there just aren't enough people like you."

I've been trying to tell my wife that for years.

I switched to this house brand from Albertson's. It tastes like sawdust, but it's inexpensive, and at least they give me a choice.

Then, halfway through Phase II, Michelina's discontinued the chicken and rice stuff. I drove to Fry's stores all over town and bought all I could find. When my supply ran out, so did Phase II. I called Michelina's, and they danced me around. They talked about hurdle rates and shelf-space efficacy. They said it was a nice, steady seller, but it lacked growth potential.

I couldn't take it. "You mean that you'll get rid of something that has a proven track record of selling because it doesn't meet some business school model?" I asked. "Plus, you get rid of the good stuff, and Swedish meatballs are still on the shelf! That's like John Lennon taking six bullets and Yoko Ono's standing two feet away and nothing."

She then told me that research had shown that it might have been too spicy for people in certain parts of the country. That I understood; for some Midwesterners, Rice Krispies are too spicy. But still, I argued.

She said she was sorry and that she would send me some coupons so I could try some of the other entrées for free. I still have the coupons, if anybody wants them. (Somebody suggested Healthy Choice, but that's not a choice I'm willing to make.)

At least I still had my cans of fruit. But about a month ago, I wrote a column that was ever-so-slightly critical of Wal-Mart. Two days after it came out, I went to the store to buy some fruit and was told that they no longer carried that item. You just know that's the work of the Wal-Mart Police.

Any company that big and ruthless probably has 10,000 former University of Arkansas football players whose job it is to follow around people who've said bad things about the store. They find out what you like, then snatch it away. I don't even want to think about what they do to people who say the word "union" outloud.

It's like Al Pacino said in Godfather III: Every time I try to get out, they pull me back in. It's definitely a conspiracy between the Doritos company and the makers of XXL T-shirts. But I can still exercise. Just yesterday, I had a real good workout. On my way out, I stopped to get a Fresca, but they didn't have any. I asked the guy, Brian, why not?

He said, "I'm not sure, but I think Fresca is being discontinued."

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