The Encouraging Voice of the Labyrinth: Parade Edition
It was bound to happen. For years they had been talking about the rising rates in child obesity and the melting of the ice caps. Now, some of Florida was back under water, but fat had overtaken flooding. Even as infants they were heavy. They didn’t want to learn to walk, or we didn’t want to teach them. They just sort of rolled around, like hungry fat worms. Their first words were foods. Before “ma-ma” and “pa-pa.” Food was their true parent. We should have spent more time with them, but as we both had to work, this was not possible. Perhaps the sitter watched the food channel a lot. Perhaps she just gave them treats to shut them up because we weren’t paying her much. Perhaps we should have hired someone more professional, or a least someone we could communicate with, shared some rudimentary common language. Perhaps we could have been more active ourselves, cooked our own food, made better choices. But the workday is long, and coming home none of us had the motivation to do anything, much less make healthy choices. We bought items labeled “healthy choices”; they had hearts and other salutary symbols on them. Weren’t they healthy choices? We didn’t really go over each line on the packaging and even if we did, how were we to know? Programming the TV was quite enough. Coming home was quite enough. Remembering everyone’s name was quite enough.
Perhaps if we had bought just less food. But it was cheaper this way, to load up at the wholesale club. It was something we used to do together, the kids would scout ahead on their scooters and come back with items. We manned the wagon, until it was too heavy to push. We were the carrier, the mothership, they the returning scout vessels bringing back treasures of Kosher hot dogs, Chicken Kiev Puffs, Microwave Yorkshire Puddings, pre-seasoned tenderloin, giant frozen Neapolitans and Yule logs you could eat all year long. We would all try the samples. We would stop together at the cafe and get pizza and another to go. It was easier.
Our house became something of a warren, drums of ranch dressing from COSTCO, pallets of Combos and Alfredo sauce. It looked like we were opening a restaurant. We were happy for awhile. I suppose.
Of his sister, our daughter, and the stupidity of the war she died in, I will say nothing, because it is still too sad. This is about my son. Though I cannot truly tell their stories separately, I will just pretend that I can, for now.
Troubled adolescence starts younger and younger, and my son’s began quite early on. I thought I was ready for all forms of rebellion, having been a black sheep myself, but I was not.
Being a large kid, he started hanging out with some of the bulkier kids at school. We thought this was pretty normal, but they really seemed to be into just eating, and with some sort of attitude.
On the door of my son’s bedroom: EAT CHIPS and die.
Soon they were getting into minor trouble, tagging trains with their favorite foods: Beef stroganoff, MC Salisbury steak. We were concerned that the acting out and constant weight gain were signs of some other conflict, but the only conflict we could really seem to identify were the acting out and the constant weight gain, both of which were really reinforced by the fact he started listening to Fatcore music.
I like the Nutter Butters
More than any motherfuckers
Buy a cake
And freeze it
Don’t you know it’s all Tastee-Freezee
And you know Iike my eats come eazy
put some chocklit’ on it!
put some chocklit’ on it!
put some chocklit’ on it!
Hey put some chocklit’ on it, bitch!
I tried to get behind his whole portly scene, but it always predictably backfired and I got little more than:
“You don’t get it. Eating is cool. Sleeping is cool. Fat is cool.”
Things were worse the quarter he dropped out of college and moved back home. He had gained a lot of weight on the meal plan. He was now the biggest person we had ever seen. He could not fit any of the clothes we sent him to school in. He needed special facilities, accommodations. They had these in every dorm at his school. They had special dorms. He wasn’t the biggest one at his school. Far from it. The schools had tried to adapt. It was driving tuition up, because the students could not get to class without special transportation and if they did, they couldn’t fit into the older buildings. They were using tractors to bus them around, and bulldozers as lifts. There were many lawsuits. We had to fix the toilet and redesign the shower and then fix the toilet again. This all part of plans we all had, hopes. My wife said she would cook; she thought that would solve everything. We thought we could help him. I don’t know what he thought then.
I know what other people thought: because they told me all the time. They were trying to help me I know. Saccharin is sweeter than sugar: I know. Whole grains have a lower glycemic index than processed: I know. Bananas make you feel full: I know. Thirty days to a new habit: I know. If you feed him, then you are in control: you are enabling him: I know. You cannot help someone if they are not willing to admit they have a problem: I know, I know, I know.
Eventually it went from our familiar, sullen, grotesque family ritual of trying to talk casually while he feasted like a mad hog at the dinner table (it was a nauseating sight: it took hours), to where we sometimes ate separately (if at all), to where we generally ate separately, to where it was impractical to plan a meal time anymore, because he was always eating. Our living room no longer merely looked like an entire obese frat lived there. It looked like a recycling center. If you threw something away, an open container of sour cream, or a dented and flat nearly empty 2 liters of squirt and backwash, or stale set of McDonaldland fries he would know, he would know, because it was his nest, his landscape, his journal, his world and he would get angry and there would be an argument. And when he was angry and there was an argument he would eat more.
Eventually there were nothing but arguments and he was angry all the time and we were angry, then sad, then disgusted. His mom cried every night. We both lost a lot of weight, which he took badly. Then one night she stopped. She moved out. I think I could have gone with her, but then who would take care of him? It was just me and the fridge. And him.
It was not surprising. It was hard for us to admit, for me to admit: he was just a monster to us now. He just ate and ate and that was it. He was disgusting. He hardly wore clothes, because nothing would fit him and he kept getting bigger. He smelled awful because it was impossible for him to bathe properly and he sweat a lot. His face was always moist. His mouth always had food in it. The TV was always on the food network. He cooked, but never cleaned. To be fair, he could barely get around. He was an addict, and like all addicts, he wasn’t happy. If anything, he was angry. About what I didn’t know. It didn’t matter anymore.
He had friends, though. People he knew from school, and from the local fast food places. They would come over for cookouts. I somewhat encouraged this, as I thought it was good for him. They stuffed themselves. They didn’t seem to be about much else besides food. They would come over with their own food, not share and then have a cookout. They talked about food stuff that I couldn’t follow. He even had a girl over a few times. She busted the couch. I said not to worry. I still said things like that. She just laughed. She had weird bruises and smelled bad. Asymmetrical piercings that looked terrible. Once I was over in that part of the house trying to unstuff the toilet. This is what I heard:
“Put the Big Mac wrapper over my face. Pour the milkshake on my clit. Lick it. Now hit me with the hammer.”
I never went to that part of the house again.
Eventually it came to a crisis. It had always been a crisis, but I just couldn’t stand it. It was on my mind all the time at the gym. I couldn’t go on this way much longer. I couldn’t afford it. He didn’t have a job. The walk-in cooler was full of junk food and he wanted another full-size for his bedroom. There were brownouts. I left notes. He ignored them. I could not talk to him. He was always eating. Or sleeping.
I did something I had promised I would never do, that it would never reach this point. True, I had only promised my wife, and she was in Barbados, I think. I put a lock on the walk-in cooler. That first night, I lay awake, listening. It was easy to tell what part of the house he was in, from the heavy breathing and creaking of the floor. I had planned out this confrontation, many, many times. I had rehearsed my speech. I would come out, not angry or confrontational and we would talk. The substance of the talk would be: I am your father. You are an adult, but I am your father. Etc. I would wait for another time to bring up the subject of food.
I waited a little too long. He called his friends and went out. The next day, I planned to speak to him, as though nothing had happened. I found he had a decent breakfast out of the cupboards. The day after, he had pried the lock off.
I never really got around to my speech. My strength and resolve were gone. I had just enough wherewithal to put locks on everything. He had just enough wherewithal to bust or break them: he cut through the cupboards once. Another time, he unscrewed the compressor and fished food out of the walk in cooler. We had a silent nightly contest: it was like trying to trap a rat. Only it was my son.
Then, one day, I decided that this was the answer. I would poison him.
I cleared out all my accounts. The house was paid for. I had made good money as a gym instructor and nutritionist. I made one last trip to COSTCO. I left a pallet of Slimfast, Hungry Man Edition, in the living room. He would have the Food Channel for another month. Then he was on his own.
The first thing I noticed in my hotel room is how everything I had brought with me smelled, like the dumpster to a fast food restaurant. Like him. I retched. And cried.
It was a few weeks later I got a call. He was angrier than ever. I was angry too, this time. There was no new content, only all the gloves were off. I told him I wished he had never been born. On this, we seemed to agree.
The next day, I woke up early and ordered breakfast. On the terrace I called the wife: we had a nice conversation: she had learned a lot of things while traveling, done a lot of things she had always wanted to do and some other things as well. It was good catching up. We promised to get together sometime, someplace in Europe.
I started a third career. I realized I always wanted to help people, so I worked at a clinic. There was always plenty to do: they needed help. And they were always sincerely grateful. I liked them all very much and the work, though endless, was not very hard. I lived pretty simply and rode my bike to the clinic.
The city sent me a letter, a year later: I was still the owner of the house. Apparently, it had become something of a nuisance, with gangs of fat people camping out in the yard and having cookouts at all hours. It was impossible to say who was living there, but it was a cited as a sanitation hazard and an undesirable slum of obesity. The police had been by many times: gangs had taken to jumping pizza deliveries (which had blacklisted them) and holding up chicken joints and all-you-can-eat-buffets.
It was becoming a global phenomena: the vastly, morbidly and incredibly obese were forming gangs and associations with an unclear political platform. Supposedly, they opposed the Federal government and the World Health Organization for their health initiatives, which they viewed as “genocide.” They threatened to blow up health clubs if the FDA moved to ban trans fats. Reports described mobile task forces roaming the country in special modified school buses that ran on deep fryer fats, sustained on a cell network of mirrors that worked out of fast food windows.
Tags such as “FATSO,” “AYCE”, “DONUT”, “TRANSFAT-KLF” and “The 88 OREOS” started showing up scrawled all over Applebee’s and neighborhood Chili’s. In South America, they started taking over whole grocery stores as squats. As the FATSO movement became International, the FBI began cracking down. They were looking for their leaders “Pizza the Hutt,” “Darth Eater”, “Mistah Kurtz” and “Lard Humongous” Now that nearly 90% of the population was certainly obese (the definition having been stretched, many, many times), it was very hard to identify the fat activists, or “Fatscists” as the media had labeled them (also “Blimpists” “Phatlangists”). Expert alarmists on the news channels labeled our greatest fear as “a superhumongous suicide bomber”: able to carry more weight and explosives, and, for practical reasons, nearly impossible to seriously search, they estimated that the increase in explosive payload more than compensated for the proportional dampening effect. The only hopeful note was the fact that the general increase in obesity in the general population, meant that crowds were, in fact, less dense in terms of number, and effectively self-sandbagged: only the largest of ordinance could be expected to create multiple casualties.
You would not know that the world was fat from our advertising and TV. The elites were scared: they had circled their wagons and stayed skinny. In fact, the fatter the general populace became, the skinnier the models, despite many claims to the contrary. Photos of models and stars eating pizza later turned out to have been photoshopped.
I knew the real state of the world from the gym, because I couldn’t use the newer equipment, designed, like the new planes, hospital and prison beds, for a whole new class of person. But the giant stairclimbers were never used anyway. I had to drive my new car with the seat moved all the way forward. It had a built in tray for supersized fast food. I was living in a world of giants.
More letters came: special laws had been enacted to deal with the growing crisis: I was probably far from the only parent who had simply abandoned his home so it became a campground for fat people. I knew I would have to go back someday. I was just biding my time, gaining strength and information.
The old neighborhood had changed. It was nothing but burnt-out fast food restaurants and discount groceries. The convenience stores had led the way in a new era of suburban fortification, but now to protect their Nutter Butters as much as cash. There was garbage everywhere, Whopper wrappers, chip bags, giant things of mayo. Most disturbingly, the dumpsters were reinforced like safes, and Blackwater Security rode shotgun on garbage trucks as well as delivery trucks.
My house was the center of it. It was literally, a mountain of garbage, pizza boxes, split sweatpants, broken chairs, and Stouffer’s boxes. It was surrounded by a still smoldering chain of barbecue pits and grills that dripped evil smelling grease. It was something much cruder than primitive, more grotesque than decadent, full of more malicious waste than neglect, an orgy fueled by something worse than any hunger. The atmosphere was a sickening mixture of the feculent and the savory, but choking with the smell of a herd of overweight humans. Which were nowhere to be seen.
Instead I saw their indiscriminate waste and refuse, and several new slogans that I did not recognize: “AYCE 4EVR,” “FATSO HQ,” “XXXXXXXXL AND IN CHARGE” “ONE DOLLAR, ONE BIG MAC, ONE VOTE, ONE BULLET,” “NO PIZZA, NO PEACE.” “NOBODY DOESN’T LIKE SARA LEE.” My head spun. I was suddenly quite tired. They had come like locusts and left only White Castle wrappers. I kept walking through my old house, cheeze puffs crunching underfoot. Every room was the same crawling pile of grease stained cardboard, clotted spaghetti sauce and ranch dressing. I came to his room. The floor had given way. Here, as throughout, the corners and doorways were busted and dented from the egress of titanic beings and the walls and furniture showed the tremendous wear and stress of an enormous struggle, like they had been in the den of an elephant: the enormous daily struggle of my son getting around. At points, the dented hand prints and elbow marks showed the first layer of paint in the room: the paint we had chosen for his room as a baby.
This is where our baby lived. This is where he slept and played. This where he had his first Hostess Ding-Dong. I sat on the crumbling edge of the bed and cried. I fell into that stinking pounded mattress, quite literally spilling into it’s cup, so full of that wretched sweaty stench, the stench of my child. I pulled the sheets and KFC containers on top of me. I wept. In a pile of stale Cheetos, I wept.
I did not move, a long, long time. I thought I could escape this, but how could I? I wished his mother was here. Then, no. If she had somehow escaped this nightmare, the better for her. Somehow, it belonged to me, and me only. I had another life. I had several other lives. I helped others. Why must I live here? Why was this my true fate? Why could I not deny it? It was surely not the example of my own father. He had gone from being a tyrant to being an old, frightened man and then merely invisible. Fathers were disposable. They taught you some practical matters, but in the end, they were simply other men, older men of another generation.
I suppose I slept.
It was not hard to hear them coming: the whole house creaked. I would they rather appeared to me like a dream, but they arrived like dump trucks. I did not need to hide. It is not easy to be surprised or snuck up upon by the hugely obese. I suppose I let them capture me. I had no where to go. They wrapped me up in my son’s blanket and dumped me in the back of a vehicle.
-Where are you taking me? I asked, from the back of the Krispy Kreme truck.
“To see Jabba” they said, and they threw milk duds at me.
With the sheet around my head I could not see. I was sure they were taking false routes to confuse me, that is, until I heard them bickering about directions. They also stopped for snacks I few times. And at least at one Big Boy’s, because I heard them at the take out window. Fortunately, I was well provided for inside of the sheet: I couldn’t even finish the slice of Chicago style pizza that I had been inadvertently wrapped up with.
When the sheet was finally removed, I was, of all places, in a Japanese restaurant. It was a clean arrangement of lines and forms and: empty. I walked forward on the silent bamboo matting. Some green tea sat waiting for me on a little tray. As I sat to drink the tea, I regarded a brilliant silk mural hung in the dim distance, showing the face of an enormous Japanese Ogre; only upon closer inspection, the ogre was composed of cheese, Italian sausage and pepperoni. Then it began to rotate, and I realized that it was the back of an enormous kimono.
Even before the figure had completed its ponderous rotation, its voice reached me. It was deep and thoughtful, and I recognized it, though it was so much older.
“Are you hungry, father?”
I replied that no, I was fine.
He said that the fare here was really not so heavy, that he admired Japanese food for its sparseness, its emphasis on preparation, freshness and presentation.
He was, of course, enormous.
He then looked at me gravely, with heavy lidded eyes and yet a face so like my own, and like his mothers.
“I want to apologize to you father. For many years now I must have appeared ungrateful, angry and wretched. And I was. I know you tried very hard in your own way to be the best father you knew how to be and I respect you enormously for it. I know I caused you and mother a great deal of hardship, unhappiness and heartbreak. Forgive me, if you can, for I am truly sorry. You were great and noble people for trying so hard and long to love something like myself. And this was the tragedy.”
“I did not understand myself for the longest time: I thought I was like you, like Mom and I hated myself, oh so deeply, for not being able to be like you and Mom. An anger and hatred and loathing so great nothing else could reach me. I spent most of my life hating myself and my body and everything I was and the world. And I grew larger and larger.
“But I did not realize I was creating something. I was building my own mountain to overcome. It was a long fearsomely dark struggle: please do not think you could have changed it. No one could have changed it or helped.”
Perhaps I looked puzzled.
“Let me try and explain. There is a wise experiment they ask you in the fat clinics as to what kind of body you would choose if you had a choice before you were born. Whatever you answer, they ask you to consider the possibility that this has already happened.”
“Our world is dying, father. It is dying simultaneously, of obesity and starvation. It is dying of waste and greed. It is dying of selfishness. Our bodies were the first sign of this process. The body is always the first wisdom. My anger and hopelessness, were that I could not understand what I was or was becoming.”
“Obesity is a disease. But only those who have been exposed to the disease have resistance to it. Our bodies are the cure for this entire planet. This was my awakening. Our obesity is not a simple personal failing: it is the attempt of a whole system to respond to a crisis we have created. It is our species’ response. It is our planet’s response.”
“The body begins storing fat in response to cortisol, a hormone released in times of stress. Human life has become more and more stressful, the planet more and more distressed. We eat more in response to cold weather, darkness -we gain weight to prepare for leaner, darker times, for hibernation.”
“Did you ever wonder what the letters in “FATSO” stood for?
Wikipedia said it stood for “Food All the Time, Snacks Occasionally.”
“It does not. But you weren’t to know. It stands for ‘Fit for the Apocalypse Tomorrow, Someday, One Day.’”
So it was true. They were overweight millennialists. My son continued:
“In the coming cold and darkness, only the greatest will survive. There will be no food. Starvation will become rampant. The most efficient way of storing food is the body’s own tissues.
“We were born as we are so that mankind might survive and have a second chance. We were born to protect humanity. We will sleep in the earth as giants and hibernate. When we emerge, the Earth will have recovered and we will start again.”
This was madness and sad rationalization, I thought. These people were sick, my son was sick, sick and mad with fat and leading them lord knows where into what kind of cave.
It all flooded out of me. The talk about how obesity was a disease, of how he was killing himself, about how study after study had shown that it was lifestyle, eating choices and the industrialization and processing of food that has led to the worldwide outbreak of obesity and wasn’t it obvious?
“No, that was a study on the data from the old study. They just did a new study. It turns out there weren’t enough fat people in the previous study. And they weren’t fat enough. As it turns out we may be the first human generation to really be able to study obesity properly. Obesity is almost certainly linked to a virus. And that’s not all. Sadness, is also a virus. And hopelessness. This is why you should always wash your hands after talking to complete losers. Hate is a virus. Ignorance is a virus. Sexual addiction is a sexually transmitted virus. The virus that causes obesity has a message. And that message is the future.”
But the polar caps have melted, world temperatures are rising, not falling.
“Yes. And they will continue to rise until the caps are gone and thermohaline circulation shuts down. The Northern Hemisphere will freeze. The cloud cover will increase. Our world will become one long, cold, dark blizzard.”
As I looked in his eyes, I realized the nature of his organization.
My son, my son, what have you done?
“Nothing, yet. But there is a coming struggle that cannot be avoided. The end of this world of ours will not be pleasant and those in charge care nothing for whether humanity lives or dies as a whole. They only care about holding on the power they have. the power given to them by the idea of ‘fat’, the myth of ‘obesity.’
“They are not content to let us exist, father. They will not allow us to coexist.”
In his robes, he was magnificent, a mountain. And here, he spoke as a general, without doubt or hesitation, with command:
“They’re going to take us away and put us in camps. Fat camps. If humanity is to survive, we must resist them.”
What will you do?
“The world has already seen what one ‘Fat Boy’ can do.”
My son, my son, they just want to help you, like I wanted to help you.
“Your intentions were good, but you still do not understand. This is not about “fat people” or “skinny people.” Those are their words: that is how they control us. Everyone is going to be fat, one way or the other, by fact or fiat, or in their own minds. Everyone. The fat have no rights. The fat are slaves. We will all be slave labor.”
“Fat is the future. Their “fat” is a prison, but true fat will set you free. This is the true
“As long as there is fat and skinny, there will be struggle and shame and eating disorders. Only by embracing fat, the most extreme fat, can we be free.”
Behind the screen, I knew, was an army. His army. The biggest and largest and greatest ever assembled. He was their general and their prophet, in a holy war to save all mankind. He did not show them to me. He did not need to.
Instead he drew himself a simple cup of tea and quietly sat down beside me.
“The body is the picture of the soul. I am large: I contain multitudes. I did not know I contained such goodness.”
And for the first time, I was proud. So very proud.
TURN #105: WEEK 91; WORDS: 109,610; NEXT BY 21 MARCH 2007