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Joel Roman did not eat carbohydrates. On the day of his thirty-fifth birthday he announced to all his friends he was starting one of those all protein diets so he could become ripped, as he’d read in the fitness magazines. This was five years earlier and he hadn't touched a single starch or sugar since then (well, you couldn't really count the occasional piece of chocolate).
So was it any wonder one of his oldest friends in town, Gerry, was shocked to see him enter the new soft pretzel shop on a Saturday afternoon in mid-January. "Soft Philly Pretzels", said the shiny green and gold sign on the small, two lane highway, "We Bake'm Better". Though this wasn't actually in the city of Philadelphia; more like the far northern suburbs where city people took day trips to visit expensive candle shops and admire the leaves in autumn.
"I knew this would happen one day," Gerry said. His cheeks bulged, vigorously chewing a soft pretzel on his way back to the car. "You'd finally go off that protein diet and eat ten pounds of mashed potatoes and four dozen soft pretzels in one sitting." His round face still flared red from the cold wind and there were feathery wisps of salt and pepper hair sticking out beneath a navy knitted cap. His weighty body was zipped and snapped right up to the bottom of his double chin in a puffy red ski jacket with a faint white goose feather sticking out from the shoulder.
Joel smiled and slipped his hands into the side pockets of his smooth black leather (always a short jacket so other guys could check out his ass in tight jeans; it had never happened, but Joel liked to imagine a guy would one day walk up from behind and slither a firm hand down his pants). Though Gerry sounded as though he were joking around, he'd always been slightly jealous that Joel looked more like thirty than forty. "I'm here for the hot sausage," Joel said. "Someone told me they have these hot sausages wrapped in pretzel dough that are fantastic. I figured it would be simple enough to pull the wrapping off and just eat the sausage."
"Ah, well, I don't think the dough of one small sausage wrap…"
Gerry was about to say he didn't think a little soft pretzel wrapping would cause Joel to gain any weight because he was so trim and fit already, but he didn't get a chance to finish because of a loud crash toward the back of the store. This was one of those completely open bakeries, where the ovens and freezers and wooden work stations are exposed. You couldn't miss that the young guy who was working had just dropped a full tray of frozen pretzel dough onto the red tiled floor.
There was a lot of white noise; fans and ovens and freezer motors all running at the same time. "Are you okay?" Joel shouted to the guy.
"Oh, yeah," he said, "I'll be with you in a minute; I'm the owner…I can't get fired." He bent down, giving his gray sweat pants a jerk at each knee, to pick up the doughy mess as though this was a perfectly normal occurrence, but his bright red cheeks suggested chagrin. At a glance he couldn't have been more than eighteen or nineteen years old.
"I've gotta run," Gerry said. There was a small white piece of wet pretzel stuck to the bottom of his bulbous chin. "Now don't you go crazy and eat too many pretzels."
"I promise," Joel said, as awkward Gerry guffawed and loped toward the exit door. It occurred to Joel that although they both were the same age, Gerry looked more like fifty than forty (too many soft pretzels, no doubt).