I remember watching Star Search with my mother one night. There were two sisters dancing in the competition. I noticed how their legs were the same size, from knee to thigh. I commented on this and my mother’s response was: “Well, that’s how they’re supposed to be.” She said it in such a way as if my legs weren’t normal. Looking down at my legs, I saw that they grew fatter as they went up toward my hips, and I felt like my mom wished that she had a skinny kid.
Strange, the things we choose to remember.
People seem more accepting now. Is it kindness? Or is it fear of being called a “fatist?” In a politically correct world, they be damned if one were to hate on some fatties. In the 70s and 80s, skinny was the thing and fat was something else. Fat was something to be made fun of; fat was something that caused you to be picked last for a team; fat was something that made you want to eat more ice cream.
Cookies were my friends.
My brother and me were latch-key kids. I had a key to my house by the time I was nine because my parents both worked, leaving my brother and myself on our own until six in the evening. We did what we wanted: we watched a ton of television, rode our bikes beyond the allowed distance — once riding past Ocean Parkway all the way to Coney Island Avenue — we cussed, and ate endless amounts of cookies. We had a drawer which we called the “cookie drawer” for cryin’ out loud. There was no such thing as a “helicopter parent” in the 1980s. There wasn’t much structure until my mom came home from work. Things seemed so different when I was growing up in the 80s — this could possibly be a huge understatement.
But, one day, there were no more cookies. That ice cream turned into ice milk. Whole milk into skim. Soda into diet soda. And forget about the cookies. Weight watchers, Atkin’s, Slim fast, Nutri-System: my mother tried it all for me to lose weight. My willpower had to be strong for the helicopter had landed. The one thing my mom didn’t do was not buy the Oreos, the Count Chochula cereal, the Entenmann’s crumb coffee cake, and the fucking potato chips. I didn’t (and still don’t) like potato chips, but I’d eat them anyway. On the couch. On the carpet. Sitting by the counter. Hanging out on the stoop. Never failed: there was always some sort of crappy snack in the house that could put ten pounds on Count Chocula, that skinny fuckin’ vampire!
My mother claimed that it was her guilt that led her to purchase these things; she felt bad for having to go to work and having leave to us all the time. Her theory was “whatever you want.” There is an unwritten rule in the Italian culture that, when you love someone, you feed them. . . whatever they want. We had a selection of cereal like they do at Costco, and every kid on our block knew it — they were excited if they were asked to sleep over.
The kids next door, in their mother’s eye, were perfect. At that time, they did seem kinda perfect to me. They did well in school and they were skinny. In my small brain, that seemed like everything. Although I did rather well in school, I just couldn’t quite figure out the skinny part.
You would think, that with Vinny berating me whenever he saw me, that I might become motivated to lose some weight. And it didn’t stop at friends of friends either: even my brother, the skinny shit, teased me endlessly about my weight. It just made me more angry and sad, which led me to eat less apples and find the ice cream in the freezer.
When I was in high school, we moved to Staten Island from my beloved Brooklyn. I had zero friends and became a bit of a loner. I’d take the Staten Island Ferry to Manhattan and walk endlessly. I’d walk from the Manhattan side of the ferry to Central Park like it was nothing, taking in a much bigger world than the one I felt trapped in: high school.
Eventually, I did make some friends. There were these two hippie girls whom I immediately gravitated towards; being quite different from the big-haired girls of the late 1980s, these two hippie chicks were a delight in my young and seemingly miserable new life on Staten Island. With my new friends, I became heavily involved with the animal rights movement. I became a vegetarian and learned about other foods besides chicken parmesan, pizza, lasagna, and manicotti. I went to rallies and protests and became less preoccupied with food. I finally found real friends and not just food-friends. And I lost weight!
I often think about the people who poked fun at me when I was a kid. I wonder what they’ve done with their lives. Hopefully, they’ve grown up. Hopefully, they’re fat now.
I always like to laugh last.