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Eat your heart out, Fabios, Drew Carey look is in

In case you missed it, there has been news other than the Clinton-Lewinsky affair. El Nino's weather brutalized the country from the Pacific to the Atlantic. War fever gripped Washington as Republican congressional leaders urged President Clinton to take out Saddam Hussein. And a member of the British Parliament had the nerve to say that the original stuffed Winnie-the-Pooh toys, now encased behind glass in a New York library, should be liberated and sent home to England.

The news story that grabbed my attention, however, was the emergence of the "regular guy" in the world of advertising. Hunks are out; chunks are in. Madison Avenue has discovered - probably to its amazement - that regular guys can sell products, everything from peanut snacks to cigarettes, from milk to soap.Does this spell the end to sales pitches by Calvin Klein's androgenous models, Hollywood bronze men, anorexic super-models and sports celebrities? Maybe regular people are tired of being made to feel like fat slobs.

Now they tell me. I have lost 40 pounds in the past year . . . and so far I am keeping it off. My neck size is down from a 17-1/2 to a 15-1/2; my coat size down from a 46 long to a 41 long. I have taken five inches off my waist and a load off my feet. Except for the cost, it's actually a pleasure to go shopping for clothes these days. Well, at least it's not an embarrassment.

I am beyond the point of asking tailors to perform miracles. Most of my old wardrobe, if you could call it that, has gone to the racks at the local Salvation Army thrift store, and I am now shopping at Brooks Brothers as I work on a new sartorial image.

My lifestyle is not exactly ascetic. I cut myself a little slack - an occasional martini and a rack of barbecued ribs, but little else that is fit to eat or drink. My only dessert these days is sugar-free Jell-O, occasionally topped with a spoonful of fat-free Cool Whip. I gave up Jack Daniels and took up merlot, which is like putting regular gasoline in a Mercedes Benz engine, and traded in the Burger King Whopper for the Boca vegetarian burger, 84 calories and zero fat.

You take your pleasures where you find them when you get serious about weight control and diet.

At least my doctor is happy. I have never had better checkups.

So here I am at age 54 with the body I wished I had had at 24. People keep asking me two questions: Am I ill, as if I have a terminal disease, and how did I do it? No, I am not dying - at least that I know of. And I did it with common sense - limiting calories and fat.

No one is taking it harder than my kinfolks in Georgia, who are hurt that I no longer resemble a thrashing machine at the dinner table. They have compared my appearance unfavorably with a corpse.

Now, after all this sacrifice, I read in USA Today that it may be all for naught. The Page One story said: "Regular-looking guys doing stereotypical guy things are emerging as media icons and Madison Avenue pitchmen, selling everything from milk to cellular phones. Beer gut? Bad hair? Fashionably incorrect? No problem. Savvy marketers are discovering that these days both male and female consumers identify more with a chunky Joe Six-Pack than a buff Fabio."

After struggling to look like Fabio, I am hearing that I should aspire to be more like Drew Carey, everyman's "regular guy." Why didn't the genuises on Madison Avenue tell me this back when I looked like Drew Carey-plus. If the beefcake image no longer counts, then what is there to diet for?

The USA Today article says this marketing trend may have something to do with aging Baby Boomers who "no longer identify with looking buff." It also suggests part of it could be a backlash against the political correctness that has dominated American life in recent years.

"Men are fed up with the social police that exist everywhere they turn," it quoted Roger Selbert, editor of the trend-watching newsletter "Future Scan," as saying. "Men want to be men. Women understand this. That's why you see the return of cigars, martinis and steakhouses."

The regular guy as a pitchman phenomenon has even overtaken the milk mustache ads of the National Fluid Milk Processor Promotion Board. These ads used to feature the fit and the famous - people such as tennis superstar Pete Sampras. In January, the milk board came out with a mustache ad featuring chubby NYPD Blue actor Dennis Franz.

"We've gone away from glamorous movie stars and athletes; people get tired of a steady barrage of beautiful people," the story quoted Kurt Graetzer, who oversees the milk ads, as saying. "Franz is just about the perfect quintessential real man of today."

Now comes Donna Shalala, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, wearing a white mustache in an ad promoting milk as a healthy choice. Like Franz, she is on the chunky side, although I don't think she fits the regular-guy image.

I don't know where I fit in anymore. I'm relatively trim and healthy, which means I don't qualify as a regular guy anymore, and yet it's unlikely that anyone will ever mistake me for one of the "beautiful people" now in decline.

As usual, my timing is lousy.