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Published: Sunday, 7/20/2003

New from Dr. Death ... a diet book?

The fat of a calorie consumer

Is a lot like a whole body tumor:

With a grim frown endure it

Or slim down and cure it ...

But keep a well-fed sense of humor

LAPEER, Mich. - Summer is, all too often, the silly season for news in Michigan. Some years, reporters zip to the Upper Peninsula, where they discover breathlessly that the unhappy locals are planning to secede and join Wisconsin.

Elvis Presley is regularly sighted in Kalamazoo, mountain lions are seen dimly in various stands of scrub timber across the state, and last week the police dug up a back yard in Bay City in a fruitless effort to find ... Jimmy Hoffa.

But forget all that, because here's a story of far greater significance.

There is something new with Jack Kevorkian, alias Michigan inmate No. 284797. No, he isn't getting out, or being allowed to work in the hospital at the Thumb Correction Facility in Lapeer, where he currently resides.

He is writing - or actually, revising - a diet book. Yes, you read that right. Back in 1978, long before he became famous for helping more than 130 people slip these surly bonds of earth, the future apostle of assisted suicide wrote “Slimmericks and the Demi-Diet,” which he published himself (under the imprint of “Penumbra, Inc.”).

Before he moved into public housing in 1999, where he is doing 10 to 25 years for second-degree murder, Kevorkian told me he believed all diets were essentially the same; to lose weight, the dieter needs to eat less and exercise more.

Everybody knows this, he said. Nobody, however, wants to hear it. Instead, we want to find a magic formula that will allow us to eat two pieces of blueberry pie a la mode every night and still lose weight. Which is why so many new diet books keep appearing.

Kevorkian, who has for most of his life been somewhere between scrawny and gaunt, decided he'd try to get in on the action back in the disco-hopping 1970s. His book takes a novel approach.

The good doctor suggests consumers lose weight by taking all they want, but then eating only half the food on their plate. Okay, so that isn't all that original. But Dr. Death-to-calories' style is. He spices up his narrative with limericks.

His own, that is:

An unusual paradox faced

By many of gluttonous taste

Is that throwing away

Half the food on their tray

Merely keeps it from going to waist.

Can't you imagine a reader saying, “You kill me, doc”?

Actually, Slimmericks is amusing, has a light touch, and is full of sensible and intelligent weight-loss advice. It also features a number of illustrations by the author. (Picasso has nothing to worry about.)

Occasionally, there is a little flash that indicates you aren't exactly dealing with good old Dr. Pritikin.

Discussing unsightly fat, the author casually mentions that while cutting on corpses back in the pathology lab “a few cases really surprised me when the first incision revealed an amazing amount of greasy yellow fat stored under the skin of the chest and abdomen, along the intestines, and over parts of the heart.”

Yes, well, I hate it when that happens.

His book never sold very well because, since he printed it himself, there was no major publisher marketing it and getting it onto bookstore shelves. Kevorkian, who was in a period of inventive frenzy at the time, was also working on perfecting round playing cards, a bicycle that worked on water, and disposable sun visors, and soon lost interest in promoting his diet book.

Later, when he became famous, at least one publisher expressed interest in reissuing Slimmericks. But the author felt that so much new was known about nutrition that he'd have to revise it. And since he was busy filling the obituary pages and sitting through trials, it was hard to find the time.

Now, however, Kevorkian has a fair amount of time on his hands (he won't be eligible for parole till 2007) and friends say he's revising a number of his earlier books.

Perhaps there will be some limerick along the lines of “follow my diet, and you'll never have to worry about me making a house call.”

The bad types of fatness, it's said

Yield buttocks and bellies like lead

But a form more perverse

And incredibly worse

Is the kind due to rocks in the head

Still waiting:

Despite frequent legal setbacks, Mayer Morgenroth, Kevorkian's attorney, hasn't given up hope of getting his client out of jail. Late last year, he asked U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmonds to overturn Kevorkian's 1999 conviction because of what Mr. Morgenroth believes were numerous trial errors. As of last week, however, the judge, who is under no time pressure, had yet to rule.



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