The Great Carb Uncle

by Bruce Hesselbach


He had a broad face appropriate to his corpulent frame, a face set off with a long, thin mustache curled down at each end, and dense eyebrows that had stray hairs flaring out wildly. His blue eyes seemed to dance with merriment as he joked with his attorney and assistant.

The hustle and bustle of the crowded pretrial conference part was a second home to me, and it was fascinating to see the never-ending crush of humanity there. Usually there were bands of jolly, dark-suited male attorneys hired by various insurers, and they were in turns loud, collegial, or conspiratorial.

The few women in that contingent were celebrities, bringing their fellows together for stories about coverage issues or tales of obstructive clients. Then there were the quiet junior attorneys pressed into service to attend routine conferences where nothing was expected to be accomplished but more delay.

The most interesting sights were the pro se litigants, those without lawyers. I remember one white-haired gentleman in a flamboyant lavender suit. Holding his ebony cane, he seemed to belong to the prior century, perhaps a showman in the antebellum South.

Then there was an androgynous vision in baggy pants and a flashy black suit jacket. This personage seemed to be either a pale and anorexic young woman or an ephebic pasty-faced youth; no one could tell which from a distance.

Like these, the Great Carb Uncle was out of place in the crowded courtroom. He was well dressed in a dark gray three-piece suit, with a large red gem as a tie tack. He exuded sensuality: both his wanton smirk and his sparkling blue eyes would have been more at home in a Roman orgy than in a judicial setting.

I introduced myself and recommended that he sign in with the clerk, to shorten our stay in this purgatory of conferences. His handsome young lawyer immediately jumped up to do so. Rarely have I seen such a specimen of male desirability as this attorney: he had the face of an Apollo, with short brown hair, hazel eyes, a wonderful smile, and a tall muscular frame that was apparent even through his dark blue suit.

The Carb Uncle then introduced his assistant, a short old lady in a tan business suit. Her hair was thick and colorful, a dark brown that was virtually black, streaked with two lines of amber-colored hair. She smiled and nodded at me, and looked at me strangely, as if with pity or contempt.

Our business was easily resolved. On behalf of the City Consumer Protection Agency, I entered into a stipulation and consent decree with the defendant Jason Fitch Twitchell III, also known as The Great Carb Uncle, that he would close down his website, refrain from advertising his alleged diet pills as effective for weight loss, and refund the money to any customer who was dissatisfied with the pills they purchased. In return, the City waived any fines or other enforcement against his past practices.

That should have been the end of my business with the Carb Uncle, but it was not. As a young attorney out to make a career for myself, I worked incredibly long hours, and therefore I was the last to learn that my husband Ben was cheating on me with some floozy in Brooklyn.

When I got the news, my friend Cathy and I met outside the Police Plaza, where we sat at one of the outside tables and each had lemonade and a vegetable kabob. She told me she had known about Ben’s cheating for a long time.

“The first clue,” she said, “was when your chubby husband started going to the gym and working out. He went from pudgy to fit, at least as fit as he’s ever going to be. I told you that you should stop working so hard and spend more time together, but you wouldn’t listen.”

“I guess I didn’t want to know. He told me was busy working on writing a grant for the Brooklyn Museum.”

“Oh, he was busy in Brooklyn all right, but not on anything good.”

“What can I do? What can I do?” I moaned.

“You just have to get on with your life,” Cathy said. “My friend in Murray Hill has a party this weekend; you should go to it.”

“You mean your friend Sparrow?” I asked. “The New Age free-love guru?”

“She’s really a sweet person once you get to know her. Just come and have a good time. Jed and I will be there, and a few artists and musicians. They’ll take your mind off work and make you feel more human.”

“Okay; I’ll go.”

But it was easier said than done, because I had to buy a new dress. I’d been eating too much and getting zero exercise; all my best clothes no longer fit. Sparrow lived in tiny walk-up apartment in Sniffen Court, a historic area in Manhattan of small eccentric apartments. Sniffen Court was once used as the album cover for the Doors’ Strange Days album. That evening was cold and windy, a sign that the mellow days of October were rapidly morphing into dismal winter.

What a tremendous crush of people in that small, artistic apartment! Sparrow’s family had been quite wealthy in Cuba in the days before Batista was overthrown by Castro, and they had many tokens of art and old Havana.

I had some wine and cheese, and Cathy steered me over to Sparrow to talk about getting over a cheating boyfriend. As Sparrow had survived this trauma, she was considered an expert. When I talked about my wish to lose weight and start dating again, she smiled knowingly.

“I know just the remedy for that!” she said. “You need to see the Great Carb Uncle; he’s positively a miracle worker for fast weight loss!”

I laughed and told her about my case and the consent decree. “I don’t think he would look too kindly on me as a patient,” I protested.

“Oh pish!” she said. “You were just doing your job! I’m sure he won’t hold it against you. He’s a good friend of mine. I’ll fix you up with an appointment next week.”

I just nodded my head and agreed. It was easier than arguing, and I thought the appointment would never happen. But surprisingly, the next week she did set it up. She came to my office after work and escorted me to the lair of this infamous charlatan.

“What am I getting into?” I said. “If my superiors find out, they might not like this.”

“Nonsense,” Sparrow said. “Your case is over. Anyway you could always say you were investigating a breach of your terrific stipulation.”

As one who had had many bad experiences with crash diets, I actually wished that Sparrow was right about this miracle worker, but I knew from my case that his pills were just harmless ordinary herbs that had no effect other than possibly as a placebo.

The Carb Uncle had an apartment in Flushing. Sparrow and I took the Number 7 subway line out past Shea Stadium to the last stop. The main town of Flushing had been colonized for many years by Koreans, and walking through the town during the homeward rush hour seemed like a totally different country. That’s one of the things I like about New York City; it’s like many diverse countries all rolled into one. But I was half-expecting the Carb Uncle to be dressed like Ming the Merciless.

We took the elevator up to the fifth floor and knocked on the door. I heard a cat meow and then a dog run and bark. The inside of the large penthouse apartment was cunningly decorated in a steampunk mode, with wrought iron lamps and Victorian oxhide furniture.

Carb Uncle wore a white shirt and a waistcoat and looked much like a Victorian gentleman. “Come in, come in,” he said. “Don’t mind my dog and cat; they won’t bother you.”

We sat in his living room and he offered us tea. When we talked about weight loss he smiled knowingly. “Yes, yes, it is true that my weight loss ingredients are all innocuous herbs,” he said. “But the point is that they are gathered at the times prescribed in the old grimoires of the Middle Ages.

“Modern scientists scoff at the Doctrine of Signatures, but there are things in the world that mere science cannot explain. Of course, I know you’re a skeptic, but this is what I’ll do. I’ll give you these capsules free of charge. Take them, and if they work, I will have opened a door. If they don’t, you’re not losing anything.”

I thanked him and took the capsules.

“You see, I don’t harbor any ill will from our encounter in Court. I knew it would all work out in the end.”

He smiled and I couldn’t resist asking. “Who was that handsome attorney you appeared with? I haven’t seen him in Court, and he isn’t listed in the Lawyer’s Manual.”

The Great Carb Uncle laughed. He whistled and a brown Airedale and a black and tan cat appeared. “I didn’t want to have to incur any unnecessary legal fees. The cat was my assistant,” he said, “and the dog was my attorney.” And he laughed uproariously at his cleverness.

I looked into the hazel eyes of the dog. Yes, he too was in on the joke.


Copyright © 2014 by Bruce Hesselbach

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