By James D. Beers
(Word Count: 4,009 words)
Yesterday I realized that my belt was hidden under a roll of my own belly fat. I was sitting in my home office desk chair fidgeting with tightness and discomfort around my pants waist when I lost track of it for a few seconds. It was depressing and I thought to myself, How on earth did I get all these extra layers? Where did all the blubber come from?
Getting fat is just one more thing to put on my list of stressors. It sits up there next to self-employment, five kids, bills, low back pain, falling asleep on the job, and noise. Goll, I hate noise. At least fat is silent. That’s probably why it snuck up on me all of a sudden. One minute it wasn’t there and then the next minute it was, like a pudgy ninja attacking from the darkness.
Waaaah! Ninja chop!
And then I was fat.
It bothered me (that’s why it’s called a stressor) and I squirmed around in my chair wondering just how fat I’d gotten. I pinched at my thighs and grabbed handfuls of my belly. Then I prodded at my chest hoping that the fat hadn’t grown into any less-than-male parts.
I bumped the desk as I swiveled in my chair evaluating my fat stores, and some M&M peanuts fell out of the half-empty bag near the right computer monitor and rolled into the puddle of Klondike Bar goo I spilled earlier. I picked up the M&Ms and threw them into my mouth. While I crunched on the candies, I paused to consider my situation. My eyes roamed over my desk observing Tootsie Roll wrappers, an empty root beer can, the M&Ms, a Twinkie I was saving for later, the Klondike Bar goo, a neatly flattened Klondike Bar wrapper, and a chewed pencil, all surrounding my mouse and keyboard. Lastly my eyes lit on my main monitor. A partially finished report glared at me from the screen, its tractor beam pulling my hands up to the ASDF and JKL: key positions. And then all of a sudden there it was, the truth about my weight gain, staring me in the face.
Work was making me fat.
It had me chained to a desk all day, flogging me with deadlines, forcing me to eat foods high in carbohydrates, and numbing my fat self so I couldn’t feel what was happening to me. It’s like work was anti-exercise, a tool of the devil to fatten us all up before the slaughter. Yeah, I might get in twenty to thirty steps to go to the bathroom a couple times per workday, but the only part of me that really burns any calories are my mouse-clicking and keyboard-tapping fingers. It looks kind of weird having a fat body and skinny hands; like my hands got stuck in a sauna for a few days while the rest of me was left outside. Even then I’m a little suspicious of my ring finger. Either he’s bulking up with extra muscle or he’s getting lazy, because my wedding ring is feeling a bit tight.
Finally, I pulled away from my work computer and got up from my desk chair to go examine my enlarged self in the bathroom mirror. I stole into the bathroom, locked the door, pulled off my shirt, and almost didn’t recognize the guy looking back at me. I could’ve been several months pregnant given the girth of my midsection. And tiny pink stretch marks were starting to form around my belly button.
“Holy crap!” I yelled at my reflection. “What happened to you?” I poked around at my stomach and twisted and turned in the mirror to see if I could find a skinnier perspective. It was to no avail. Then I put my shirt back on and answered my own question with a muttered thought, “Freakin’ work’s what happened, that’s what.”
I knew it wasn’t entirely true. Work couldn’t take all the blame. After all, I am getting older, and at the end of the day, my body’s just tired of trying to burn fuel so it stores it away, like stacking an enormous pile of firewood for winter. Unfortunately my metabolism has been snow birding in the tropics and there doesn’t appear to be a need to start up any fires any time soon.
Reluctantly I went back to work…so I could get fatter. But I couldn’t keep my mind on the job at hand. Summer was staring at me through my office window, beckoning me to run into her work-less, fat-free arms. My flat-tired bike, chained up to the patio post, whimpered at me to come out and play. The moveable basketball hoop lay on its side in the driveway, the net drooping and forming sad puppy dog eyes between its strings.
You know, I thought, I’ve had enough of this work fat! I’m going to do something about it. Maybe ride my bike and play some basketball with the kids. Yeah, yeah, reboot myself to less work and less fat. My love handles quivered at my declaration, fearing their imminent execution.
I turned back to my desk and, on the Klondike Bar wrapper, wrote down “ride your bike” and “play basketball with kids.” Then I remembered that my wife ran over the basketball last summer, that my bike chain was broken, and that the basketball hoop base had a leak in it on account of the kids shooting it full of BB holes. Sounded like fixes would require work and buying new would require money which in turn required work. So I nixed those ideas, turned to my computer, and started Googling diets and weight loss. There’s like billions of fat loss ideas out there, ranging from the extreme, like giving up ice cream (over my dead body!), to the convenient, like stapling one’s stomach down a few sizes. None of them, however, sounded fun nor did any of them attack the real problem—work.
As I kept looking through the internet search results I started to brainstorm some ideas on how I could lose weight. But they all sounded like work, really hard work. Then it hit me: if work was making me fat, then why not quit working? It was a tempting prospect and I started to daydream about lying on a beach in a skinny man bathing suit, sipping Slurpees, and getting thinner by the minute. The dream was short-lived though. It quickly came to my attention that no work equaled no money and no money equaled no ice cream, not to mention no money for the mortgage and probably lots of snide remarks from the wife about perceived laziness.
Maybe I could take some time off of work, like a vacation. It would be like quitting but on a short-term or trial basis. You know, see how long I can go without it before I get bored or the repo guy starts paying regular visits or I starve to death.
Mouse clicking mindlessly I thought back on some past vacations, exploring the possibility that perhaps some time away from work might be the answer to cutting down on some fat. From the dark recesses of my memory, where I try to keep things locked away, a movie trailer for one of my more recent vacation attempts began playing on the back of my reminiscing retinas. A shiver ran through my bones as the trailer’s beginning scene opened.
Everything is in black and white and eerie organ music sounds in the background. Just off the curb in front of a red brick-façade house, a pale and quivering minivan pulling a small trailer embarks, rolling into the street. Simultaneously, a bolt of lightning flashes from the rainy and windy sky. The minivan’s windshield wipers strain under the downpour and the poor car, buffeted by the wind, teeters down the block to the main road. Five hungry werewolves…I mean children…begin their howling from the minivan’s back seats.
“Ow, ow, oooow! We need snacks! Snarl! Snarl!”
<a name="h.gjdgxs"></a>A twitchy, wide-eyed man (whose appearance is remarkably similar to my own) white-knuckles the minivan’s steering wheel; what looks like an expression of too many years in an insane asylum lines his face. To his right, cackling erupts from his frazzle-haired wife wearing a wired face mask. She starts tossing sandwiches and cheese puffs back to the pack of children. Fights break out about whose snack is whose and then the children rip into the food with carnivore ferocity. Rabies drool, cheese powder, and sandwich shrapnel are instantly strewn across the back two-thirds of the minivan’s interior. The noise is hideous and incessant.
The scene flashes to the now-groggy twitchy man trying to pull off a freeway to buy a caffeinated soda. All five werewolf children are sleeping, probably drugged by the frazzle-haired wife, who is also asleep, probably drugged by her frazzle-haired self. Cellphone-watching zombies driving like maniacs surround the minivan. The twitchy man signals but this confuses the zombies. He has to force his way across traffic lanes to stop at the last gas station soda fountain for the next 200 miles. Inside the gas station all but the sugar-free lemonade is out of order and only bottled water and beer stare out at the twitchy man from glass-paned coolers. Water he doesn’t need and he’s not a drinking man, but this trip might change that. He breaks down in tears as he stumbles out the gas station door, whimpering something about sleep deprivation and a minivan exploding in a fiery ball.
The scene changes again. Twitchy man has fallen deep into the clutches of vacation stress and has eaten all of the snacks for the entire trip. He is now humming Welcome to the Jungle by Guns n’ Roses while blankly staring out the windshield. The werewolf children and frazzle-haired wife are stirring. Then the pooping starts. Smells reminiscent of hell’s brimstone curl through the air. The snaggle-toothed three-year-old growls, “I poopy! Snarl! Snarl!” The twitchy man pulls the minivan into a dark, mist-shrouded cemetery full of vacation victims. The door to the minivan creaks open as the frazzle-haired wife gets out to change snaggle tooth’s diaper before the fetid feces oozes out and mutates everyone. Ghosts from the cemetery moan warnings.
“Oooooh! Turn back!”
“Don’t go any further!”
“This vacation will be your doom! Oooooh!”
The twitchy man breaks into a conniption and begins pulling out what hair he has left. They depart from the cemetery leaving the diaper, now glowing radioactive green.
The trailer’s final scene opens with the minivan making its way through a black forest. Inside the vehicle, the baby in the car seat goes berserk and starts gnawing on the restraint straps. The five-year-old boy with stitches across his head projectile vomits up to the center console. The two other boys—a seven-year-old and a six-year-old—have escaped their seatbelts and are wailing like banshees. Snaggle tooth poops again, a mysterious curse churning it out of her colon in a near constant stream.
Twitchy man screams and then the action dissolves into a black background while six words in white fade onto the screen: And their journey’s only just begun…
<a name="h.30j0zll"></a>Before I could unclench my jaw and wipe the sweat from my brow, my right hand reached for the Twinkie and my left hand was trying to shove a handful of M&M peanuts into my mouth and past my teeth. Just the memory of that vacation threw me into subconscious stress eating. Off the top of my head I could think of thirty more past vacations that would do the same. No! Vacations weren’t going to cut it. They might solve the work fat problem—i.e., no work = no work fat—but vacation fat from stress eating would quickly step in and take up the slack.
Maybe if I could escape for a vacation by myself and…But that thought came to a screeching halt before it could fully develop. My wife would kill me if I left her alone with the werewolves…I mean the kids.
Hmm, there’s gotta be something I can do to quell the work fat, I mused as I kept clicking through the 3.9 billion weight loss hits in Google. Page after page of links to diets, exercise fads, fat cleanses, surgeries, food dangers, pills, and body wraps went by, some tickling my curiosity for a few minutes, others nearly scaring me into never eating again. Before long I got sucked into a half dozen links on chubby kids and fat camps and I said to myself, “Hey, I was never fat as a kid and I went camping all the time.” Of course, I also didn’t work when I was a kid, at least not at a desk job. Nonetheless, as I read more about them, I thought maybe fat camps are onto something here. Could a do-it-myself fat camp whittle away some of my work fat?
While I read through an electronic brochure for Camp Wannawickaway I thought back on some past camping trips, exploring the possibility that camping might be the answer to losing the work fat. Again, from the dark recesses of my memory, a movie trailer played and I stopped to watch.
Last day of school, 1989. School bus 28, an older model with faded yellow paint, barrels up Spring Creek Road, a rooster tail of dust stretching a quarter mile behind it. Two twelve-year-old kids—a twitchy boy and his best friend, Russell—sit in one of the bus’s middle seats, heads nearly touching in a two-man huddle, talking excitedly about summer plans, and plotting their first campout without adult supervision. It’s early afternoon and just under a mile and a half up Spring Creek the bus stops at the twitchy boy’s home to release the two boys into summer. Jack the homeschooled kid is waiting for them, playing a guitar, carrying a bedroll and tent, and wearing mischief.
The trailer fades to a scene with the three boys trekking through a mosquito-infested swamp, hacking down six-foot-tall ferns and listening to Russell complain about Jack’s dog, who has also joined them. Stomachs whine for sustenance—a grub, a swamp frog, fern salad, a weak trekker in their group, anything. They reach the swamp’s highest elevation and claim it for America, certain no man in his right mind has ever set foot there before. Twitchy boy’s home is fifty yards to the south and Spring Creek Road is ten yards to the west, but neither is visible through the dense jungle foliage. Jack proclaims they are officially remote and fears that no one will hear their dying pleas for help in the night.
Again the scene changes. Twitchy boy is nearly finished pitching his parents’ twenty-year-old blue nylon pup tent, the sides held together with safety pins. Beads of sweat roll down his face and his hands shake from his now rock-bottom blood-sugar levels. Russell is passed out and delirious laying on a pile of downed ferns and mumbling something about a sandwich. Jack leans over him fanning him with a slab of bark and warning him not to go toward the light.
A death march plays as the next scene opens. The situation is dire. Trek members cautiously watch their backs for fear of a cannibalism outbreak. They gather around a council fire carefully lit with an entire box of kitchen matches, a handful of twigs, and two of the only five dry logs in the swamp.
“We’re going to have to live off the land,” Jack says.
“I say we eat Jack’s dog,” Russell suggests. The dog’s ears perk up and he slinks away into the jungle.
“Let’s see if we can find some berries or something and then one of us should go for help,” Twitchy boy says. All agree, starvation written on their faces. Jack pulls a flare out of his pocket. “Just in case we get lost,” he says.
The screen fades to the dark confines of a raccoon tunnel hollowed out at the base of some ferns and filled with the crawling trekkers making their way to Spring Creek Road. Their gaunt frames exit the tunnel, dragging their souls behind them. They’ve been without food for three hours and their belts are cinched to the last buckle holes.
“Look,” Russell says, his quivering arm raised, his frail finger pointing across the road. “Wild strawberries!”
The three boys stumble into the patch of berries and eat them into extinction. With some strength regained, twitchy boy goes for help. He sneaks into his family’s garage and from the chest freezer pilfers a package of frozen corn and an elk boil from 1982.
The sound of ravenous beasts behind the jungle foliage opens the next scene. It’s the trekkers hunched around the fire savagely devouring the corn and elk boil like haggard cavemen. Slowly meat sleep grabs hold of them and they retire to the pup tent. Nightmares about a world without food plague their sleep and hunger comes lurking before dawn. The three of them lunge from the pup tent into the swamp’s predawn grayness. Carried only by adrenaline and a few drops of leftover meat calories, they rip through the jungle of ferns racing toward Twitchy boy’s house.
In the final scene, Russell, Jack, and twitchy boy descend on twitchy boy’s refrigerator, horking down all available food until their belts can no longer hold their pants together.
I snapped back to consciousness, sympathetic hunger pangs pulling on my gut and the urge to binge eat tormenting my brain.
“What?” I asked myself aloud. “Camping leads to binge eating?” But before I could really focus on the question, my life in camping flashed before my eyes: after Scout Camp when I was thirteen, binge ate all the family’s cold cereal and then mom robbed my piggy bank to replenish for breakfast; after the fifty-mile backpacking trip when I was fifteen, binge ate at the King’s Table buffet until the waiter brought out our own cart for us to stack our empty plates on; after the campout at Calf Creek Falls when I was twenty-five, binge ate at Sizzler until they put an Out of Order sign up at the salad bar; after backpacking through the Teton’s when I was thirty-five, binge ate at a burger joint until they kicked us out.
Turns out nearly all the camping trips were like that; lose a couple thousand calories camping, and then binge eat 10,000 calories. Work fat shrinks a little bit, and then camping fat comes in with a vengeance.
Fat camps are a crock, I thought.
The search for a way to burn off the work fat depressed me. I frowned at the computer and then looked down at my bulbous belly. It laughed in triumph and I slapped it.
“You’re not gonna win, you hear me!” I yelled at it. No response. Then I glared at the computer screen, told Google it was stupid, and left my office to seek advice from my wife. I found her in the kitchen baking cookies. I snatched a half-dozen warm ones and stuffed them in my pocket before she could notice.
“Honey,” I said, giving myself away with a mouth full of cookie I must have subconsciously crammed into my kisser. “Work is making me fat and I need to do something about it. Any ideas?”
“Work is making you fat?” She said, eyeing the bulging stack of cookies in my pocket.
“Yeah, it’s a sacrifice I make for you and the kids. But it’s getting out of hand and I want to do something about it this summer.”
“Well, you can start by putting those cookies back.”
“Nah, it’s not the cookies. It’s work that’s making me fat.”
“I see,” she said, her right eyebrow reaching skyward with suspicion. “What about a vacation?”
“Nope. Leads to stress eating. Makes me fat.”
“Okay, vacations aren’t that bad.”
“Uh, remember the trip to Iowa, 2014? Frazzled hair? Lots of pooping?”
“Good point,” she said and then shuddered and scrunched up her face in disgust. “Maybe if we get away from work and lots of extra food, like on a camping trip, you could lose…”
“Nope,” I interrupted. “Camping leads to binge eating. Makes me fat.”
“I don’t know,” she said with a sigh. “Try some exercise.”
“Exercise is boring. What kind of fun is running on a treadmill? It’s like I’m a gerbil in a cage wheel.”
“Hey, why don’t you go play church basketball in the mornings with Ned and Hank? You’ve always enjoyed that.”
I paused at her suggestion. She had a point. I did like church basketball, but I hadn’t been for a while for some reason. Standing there, licking the inside of my mouth for the last dregs of chocolate chip, I thought back on some past church basketball games, exploring the possibility that perhaps some time running up and down the court might be the answer to burning off the work fat. From the dark recesses of my memory, where I try to keep things locked away, a movie trailer for the last church basketball game I played in started rolling on the screen.
The words, “One man, one layup…” fade in while the sound of cheering fans rises in volume. A view of the court and players running in slow motion follows. A twitchy player, who looks a lot like me, has the ball and is making a fast break for the basket. In front of him, right in the path of his layup, a man as hairy and as large as a silverback gorilla, bears his teeth and readies for a jump to block the shot. Just outside the key, twitchy player jumps for a right-handed layup. Gorilla man is also in the air, his knee jutting forward like a leg uppercut. With the force of a sledge hammer, gorilla man’s knee connects with twitchy player’s groin. The layup falls short and twitchy player goes limp, falling to the ground like an unconscious bull rider…
“Oooh,” I grunted, waking from the few seconds of nightmare movie trailer and surprising my wife. I suddenly remembered why it had been so long since I last played church basketball. And I also remembered the aftermath—a couple days recuperating on the couch, throwing back cheese puffs, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and Ding Dongs, all the while collecting a bunch of injury fat.
“Nope,” I said. “Leads to injuries. Makes me fat.” My wife looked at me confused and apparently at a loss for words. It looked like she was about to say something, but I spoke before she could get anything out.
“I think I’ll just go talk a nice peaceful walk.”
Outside the house’s front door I stopped for a second and told myself that walks should take care of my work fat. They would be stress free, wouldn’t lead to any binge eating, and, as long as I was safe and kept things at low impact, they shouldn’t lead to any injuries. I took a dozen or so steps down the sidewalk, breathing calmly and stepping into a happy place full of work-free, fluffy-cloud thoughts.
For a few fleeting seconds I was on a beach, wearing a skinny man bathing suit, and sipping a Slurpee, but that vision fizzled when a stout itchy feeling took hold of my ears. I swatted at the air on both sides of my head and then stuck my pinkies down in my ear canals to see if anything was in there. Nothing there. Everything seemed fine.
And then I heard it. Snaggle tooth, the projectile vomiter, and the two screaming banshees were calling my name and stampeding after me. I felt my heartbeat pick up the pace a bit and binge eating all of a sudden sat heavy on my mind.
Could family be making me fat? I thought. Nah. And I kept on walking, the neon doughnut sign sticking up above the trees three blocks east of me, guiding me like the Northern Star.