by IAN FRAZIER
Issue of 2006-10-09
Like many middle-aged suburban fathers, I suffer from a problem I am hesitant to name. Recently, though, I’ve decided that stating what is wrong with me, and admitting it up front, are essential first steps to a cure. So here goes: For many years now, I have been struggling with anorexia. My physique, well muscled and whipcord thin to all outward appearances, is actually too thin—painfully thin, in fact. Another uncomfortable truth I have to face is that my family has been hiding this reality from me. My wife soft-soaps me with comments like “You know, sweetie, you’re really not thin at all.” The kids chime in with an unhelpful “Actually, we’d be more likely to describe you as fat.” I know there’s a lot of love in what they say, but let’s stop all the lying right now. I am incredibly, incredibly thin, and it’s time we noticed what is going on.
I myself participate in the deception sometimes, when I split a pair of trousers or have trouble fitting into an airplane seat. Who am I trying to fool? Much as I might wish it, that is simply not me. The truth is, I am a stick person. For I don’t know how long, I have literally starved myself trying to attain a body image that bears no relation to how men actually are. The media hammers this image into our brains every day, but now I begin to understand: I can have the same glasses as Karl Rove, wear my belt like Karl Rove, wave from the insides of car windows like Karl Rove. But I will never be Karl Rove, so I might as well quit trying. Even Karl Rove probably can’t look as fabulous as Karl Rove. I have martyred myself trying to become a fantasy.
Before I can hope to move on, I have to fix my crazy eating habits. During the height of my dieting mania, I used to torture myself regularly at the all-you-can-eat supper at Country Harvest Buffet. I would serve myself a platter of ribs, macaroni and cheese, potato salad, biscuits, peach cobbler, iced tea, no other dessert besides pie—and that would be all. Compared with the dishes of food still on the buffet table, my portion always appeared pitifully small, not enough to feed a fairly good-sized bird. And since I’m trying to be honest here and confess everything, sometimes after eating even that trifling amount I would go to the men’s room and not throw up, but smoke an expensive cigar until the feeling passed, if it had existed in the first place. Then, ready for more, I’d return to the buffet. I gloried in this punitive regimen as the pounds melted off, but I did not suspect the pathology involved.
So much to go through just for the evanescent pleasure of looking wonderful in a swimsuit! But conforming to others’ physical expectations was not all to the good, I found. As I approached my ideal weight, I suffered the painful experience of being the victim of sexual harassment on the job. What made it even more confusing and upsetting was that I am my own boss. On several occasions around the office, I made remarks to myself that were completely out of line. Once by the water cooler I grabbed my buttocks. These hurtful words and actions created an atmosphere in which it was impossible for me to do my work. I have since taken a leave of absence.
I see now that the anorexia contributed to this unfortunate situation in two ways—first, by giving me a physical appearance that was extremely “attractive,” in the warped judgment of many (i.e., myself), and, second, by causing nutritional deprivations that broke down moral boundaries, leading me to behave inappropriately toward other individuals (again, myself). I am still undecided about taking legal action, but clearly a lot of soul-searching and emotional sorting out need to be done.
As much of a recovery as I’ve made so far I owe to an often overlooked wonder drug, alcohol. People drink alcohol for the pleasure and the taste, sometimes forgetting its medicinal properties. Scientists have failed to explain why consumption of alcohol causes an increase in appetite, but I can testify that it does. After four or five glasses of wine, I am able to overcome my usual food-finickiness and eat half a crock-pot of whatever my wife has made for dinner, and then a couple of baskets of leftover Easter candy. If I sense the appetite starting to flag, I’ll open another bottle of wine, make a few phone calls to distant friends or people I went to high school with, start in on a pear tart my sister brought over, listen to music really loud, eat a bunch more Easter candy, fall asleep on the living-room floor, and so forth. Little by little, this careful process has been building the bulk back on.
But I can never relax. Anorexia is a patient and crafty adversary, always waiting for me to stop stuffing myself for the briefest interval so that it can gain another foothold. In the past few months, I’ve been feeling somewhat safe: I’m of average height, and have managed to attain for extra security a respectable weight of several hundred pounds. Then, just the other morning, I looked in the bathroom mirror and noticed that my head was a bit higher in relation to the towel rack than it had been the day before. Men in their fifties do not commonly go through growth spurts, but apparently that is happening to me. You don’t have to be an alarmist to see where it could lead. I keep increasing in height, I reach seven or eight feet, and all my hard-won weight is stretched lengthwise until I’m a grotesque string-bean skeleton again.
Fortunately for me, Hilson’s Products has come out with a new, more chocolaty version of their Death by Chocolate ice-cream bar, with chocolate on the outside, then vanilla around mint surrounding a rich real-chocolate core. Even when the mere thought of food makes me ill, I can eat a box of those. Another discovery I’ve made is the factory trawler ships’ Weekly Seafood Specials, where they fly you offshore by helicopter and you choose your own netful of bunker or menhaden or whatever baitfish they’re hauling up that day. Doesn’t get any fresher than that! Also, I know some people at Archer Daniels Midland who give me access to the corn-syrup silos in Moline, where I can open the spigots and down as much as I feel like—none of this making it into McFlurrys or some such pap—just the real syrup, thick and undiluted and strong. You know what else is not bad? No. 2 heating oil. No. 6 oil is O.K., too, but you have to cut the sulfur content of both with a good Australian Shiraz, and that runs up the tab. Sulfur can also be a problem with bituminous coal, which is priced right but involves digestive issues that make it less of a bargain. Anthracite, on the other hand, can be lower in sulfur, but it’s very hard on the teeth. Then finish it off with a jolt of pure power right from the grid; just—zap! If you like, I can give you the recipes.
I’m still too thin, though. I have robust mini-potbellies behind each elbow, and my forearms are good and stout, but the wrists are looking a little spindly. And I don’t like the outside parts of my hands, the way they taper off. I can see the thinness there, waiting to strike. On my ankles, too; I’ve never been able to do anything with them. They could use another five or ten pounds apiece. I’ll have to get the opposite of liposuction done to them. (Who in the world, by the way, would deliberately have perfectly good fat removed and then thrown down the drain?) By now, you’re probably having some uncomplimentary thoughts about me. Well, I don’t care even a fig for you. Wait a minute—let me see that fig. I just want to look at it. Gimme that.