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  • Writer's pictureLannie Neely III

This Paper Would Be Funnier If I Were Stout

If I’m said to have a prejudice, it is against the mammoth. No, not the woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius), but the less hairy, more modern version that stalks snack food isles with a voraciousness that would strike even the fiercest prehistoric fauna into fits of self doubt, glad that they weren’t one of the fifteen flavors of Pringles.

I can’t be convinced that of all the figures in the zoo of prejudice, the mammoth has a place, being the only creature who walks in willingly. Tell me that a black person can change their ethnicity and I’ll laugh. Tell me a Catholic can change their religion and I might argue that one can’t change their favorite color at gunpoint. But tell me that an obese person, with their fridge as full as their stomachs and the inability to wash themselves, has no choice, and that they are just as helpless as a Jew in Nazi Germany, I might have to ask Anne Frank if she feels more oppressed by fast food than fascism. There is no excuse for being black, or white, or any other ethnicity, yet an immeasurable length of excuses ribbon the “why-people-are-thick” argument; presented pleasantly as an inescapable truth; gobbled up by the hedonistic and lazy like bacon strips at a breakfast buffet.

A popular idiom, “the exception that proves the rule,” can be applied to my unpopular state of mind. Lance, who had been born a watermelon, was considered “healthy” by his family, most of which were large themselves (except his mother, whose thin frame was obtained through substances which can’t be found in a local market). The hereditary excuse, popularized by heavy-set geneticists, was in his favor; take one look at his family and you could see that they were magnetically attracted to steak and pie, like their forefathers, and had been since Adam and Eve became addicted to the same, preferring them over the temptatious fruits of Eden—they were too healthy anyhow.

Lance made humor of his weight—any respectable chubby kid will. His friend’s mother, a psychiatrist, prophesized that one day he would be a comedian. One of his funniest jokes was the “Ghost Bite,” whereas he would sludge his way to unguarded food, sneak a cartoon-perfect bite, and laugh as the confounded victim attempted to distinguish whether the bite was of their own doing, or that of a husky apparition. Of course, that too was genetic. As was his taste for packets of hot chocolate mix, which he would tear open with his teeth and poor into his maw, choking on the puffs of dry powder.

There is no explanation to his turning point. Walking to the after-party of his aunt’s third wedding (of five), he thought: “I’ll lose weight.” No known provocation can be awarded for granting him this thought, but thoughts are only as useful as the acts that follow. Pulled pork buns and wedding cake expanded his cheeks in one final celebration of feasting.

I can’t imagine Lance ate more than five whole meals over the next month—it’s amazing how the human body stores calories for just this occurrence! He joined the track team, but, being of a lighthearted nature, never took the exercises seriously around his teammates. At night, he squeezed through his window and applied his growing knowledge of physical activity on Foothill Avenue: he would run for fourteen minutes in small circles, adding a minute each time he thought about slowing; he sprinted between telephone poles; he did sit-ups in the grass and lunges on the roadside. If headlights approached, he hid in the brush, embarrassed by his endeavor.

Over the next month, I don’t recall Lance ever looking in the mirror. I wonder how he got ready for school or made it to the shower without seeing his reflection. The budding athlete spent most of his day sleeping. His father and step-mother urged him to eat, but he had lost his appetite for greasy tacos and spaghetti; “He doesn’t look healthy,” they blubbered, smoking their cigarettes and eating some variation of cooked animal.

Lance weighed 280lbs at his maximum; between early December and late January of his junior year of high school, he dropped his weight by one-hundred. He exuded a confidence and happiness that daily injections of serotonin and sunshine couldn’t duplicate. Years of hauling sacks of jelly had strengthened his leg muscles, granting him super-human speed—although he never won a track medal. The physician who had once told Lance that he was barely fit for sports exclaimed, without recognizing the addressee, that he had the heart rate of an Olympic athlete.

He kept his good humor, but found that his 14 Karat jokes now sounded insensitive, so he spoke less, worried that his new body was judged in a different—yet equally unfair—manner as his old one. His family looked down on him, as if his goal had been to exaggerate their deformity. If he chose to indulge himself at a restaurant, corpulent couples would grunt in displeasure, as if to say: “Lucky him! He can eat whatever he likes, and doesn‘t even care about the rest of us!”

Portly people aren’t afflicted by some magical ailment (although, genetics can’t be completely discounted), but rather by a perpetuating whine, as if their Jiminy Cricket suffered from chronic depression. If substance abusers can be held responsible for their detrimental actions, and expected to overcome their malady, why are food addicts pampered so willingly? “That’s different,” many large dissenters have frowned. “We can‘t help it! It‘s hard!” “You’re right,” I concede, not wanting to look too villainous, “no one suffers as much as you.”

Lance’s achievements can’t be celebrated aloud without being construed as offensive, however, he has fastened my belief that these unfortunates are not victims of anything but laziness of will; “Anyone can change,” he says, and I agree, because we certainly have.


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