Are you going to eat that brownie?I was having lunch with my friend Willie the other day when, eying his plate, I asked him, "Are you going to eat that brownie?" "Of course I am," he replied. "Just as I'm going to eat that club sandwich, and those fries, and this double-stuffed baked potato. Why not? Aren't you? Can I have yours, then?"
Willie's problem is - he's fat. Not fat in the Chinese Buddha, Orson Welles, and spilling-out-of-the-airplane sense. Not the size-54, Jeez-look-at-that-thing-coming-down-the-street sense, with neighborhood kids singing derisive songs and banging tin cans together. Not yet, anyway.
But Willie is way overweight. "Why are you so heavy? "I asked. "Well," he mused, "some people are fat because of glandular disorders or the wrath of God. But I'm fat because I like to eat a lot." I was touched by his candor.
Feeling forlorn, Willie continued, "Sometimes I peek at myself in the mirror and realize that my formerly attractive tush is now lumpy and large as a lampshade. Beyond mere buns, I've got full loaves of bread and I'm in trouble. But I've resolved to do something about it. I've tried lifting weights and can now get 300 pounds off the ground." He then proceeded to prove it by jumping in the air.
"I've tried the peaches-and-cottage-cheese diet and recipes like low-calorie cauliflower pudding and carrot-pineapple dishes, thinking, maybe someday - if that works - I'll be a thin guy fitting into smart slacks and one day, strutting across the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, to the music of Bizet's Toreador's Song, saying 'Not bad, eh?'"
"Not likely, Willie," I said, "Society's preprogrammed to make us fat. We're awash in the greatest concentration and variety of food ever assembled in one place. No wonder we go crazy and get fat. No wonder over half our population is overweight and racing toward two-thirds."
Willie replied, "You know, I really envy those people who can eat whatever they want, whenever they want, without thought to consequence. Bothersome as we fat people can be - with our greedy-puppy plowing back of food, elbows raised defensively, and our sad obliviousness to our own condition - thin people can be worse."
"Shriveled types from the planet Anorexia, they are. They must have tapeworms or something - eating all day, digging their hands up to the wrist into big bowels of M&Ms scattered around the house, lifting softball-sized handfuls and tilting their heads back, cascading the candy in."
"Sure, it's okay for us priggish people to pack our cheeks, gerbil-like, with Bananas Foster. But that's the essence of the fat experience. The primal pleasure of satiation - lips closing down on a monstrous triangle of Chicago pizza, balanced against the dread of catching sight of ourselves in the mirror or packing our corporeal selves into tight pants and binding jackets."
"Bob," he concluded, "if not for the social stigma, being fat would be wonderful.
Well that, and the debilitating medical conditions. And premature death."
I cautioned, "Willie, all those fat-acceptance activists in their muumuus, whining because some airline charged them for a second seat they needed to accommodate their bulk, can jabber all they want about inner beauty and false, arbitrary aesthetic standards. But they can never convince me they're comfortable or that carrying around an extra hundred pounds feels good. Alas, fat's here to stay and always will be, Willie. And it's probably always going to be unacceptable."
"To find comfort in fatness, Willie, you have to go back to the nineteenth century when Diamond Jim Brady sat down, uncriticized, to endless banquets of oysters and champagne. Or when the Fat Men's Association of New York City held its annual boat ride and clambake at Gregory's Point in 1879, cheered on by people on shore."
"According to the New York Times, 'Brass bands played as the fat men floated by and the fat men enjoyed the ride, drank all the beer on board, and were supremely happy.'"
"Close your eyes and see it, Willie. A sunny day, lapping water, and proud, happy fat men. Isn't that what fatness should be all about?" I concluded. "Keeping your maw well stoked with the food you like best. So fat's a death sentence. What isn't?"
Those last remarks didn't seem to help Willie much. He tells me he'll try to avoid Big Macs and Big Gulps, eat less, and exercise more. But he's still worried about being buried in a piano case.
Observer correspondent Robert Brake can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org