the day i ate whatever i wanted
I began at Dunkin’ Donuts. I hadn’t gone there since I started Weight Watchers a year ago because I had to lose weight; my doctor made me go. I could have switched doctors, but who needs it with all the forms you have to fill out if you switch. You just wish there were a central headquarters with all your information that you write out once so that everyone who needs anything could tap into it.
Weight Watchers is a good organization, I mean it does actually work if you do the program and they try really hard to make you like you, which, as you may know, is a problem a lot of fat people have, they have low self-esteem. Skinny people look at fat people with disgust and have visions of them stretched out on fuchsia-colored silk sofas snarfing down Cool Ranch Doritos and Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey, but it isn’t like that. What it is, is eating and eating with your shoulders hunched and your head down to scratch that itch that won’t get scratched, and you have so much shame when you gobble things down you hardly even taste them. You start with I want and you end with I want, only now you have even more weight added to what is already too much and don’t think we don’t know it all, all, all the time.
But anyway, I went to my Weight Watchers meeting one day, and in addition to the usual annoying emaciated people who have no business there, there were two new members who absolutely blew my mind. Both of them on this same day. One was an old woman on oxygen with a walker taking about a thousand hours to get to the scales, and she was not to my eye fat at all. The other was a blind woman. Here is my question: When that blind woman looks into her mirror, what does she see? And anyway, she, too, had no visible blubber. I mean, I just walked out. I said to myself, No. Today, on account of those two women, on behalf of those two women, I am going to eat anything I want from now until midnight. And I drove right over to Dunkin’ Donuts. You may be thinking, Why did she go to Dunkin’ Donuts if she could have anything she wanted? Why didn’t she go to Cinnabon? Well, because I actually like Dunkin’ Donuts way more than Cinnabon. Cinnabon is just a whore, you know, no subtlety. I like almost all the donuts at Dunkin’ Donuts and I really like the coffee though I usually just get regular coffee, milk, no sugar. But today I got coffee, heavy cream. “Anything else?” the counter person asked. She was Hispanic, about thirty years old, beautiful long black hair tied back in a ponytail under her Dunkin’ Donuts hat and a really big caboose, what can you do, you’d have to be a weird person not to gain a lot of weight if you worked at D.D. Once when I was on a road trip I stopped at this great country kitchen place and every single person who worked there was really fat, I mean really fat. With good skin. And it was a happy place; everybody seemed to get along really well, they were just smiling, holding their little pads and pencils and I had one of those why don’t I move here moments, like where I saw myself sitting in a chair by a window in my little yellow house, lilac trees outside and nothing hurting inside. Like, content at last, which I always think I’ll be if I move, but which I know is a wrong assumption even though a lot of us have it, just ask any real estate agent. But anyway, the counter woman (her name tag said sigrid, but I think maybe she just borrowed that name tag, it was put on with no care at all, for one thing, just hanging there perpendicularly). Anyway, Sigrid’s fat looked good, truly, every now and then you see a person who wears fat well, it is that tight fat and just really looks kind of delicious and also their attitude is just great, like in your face: I’m fat, so fucking what, get over your sanctimonious self. It’s usually the tight fat people who are like that, maybe it’s a gene. Anyway, after Sigrid said, “Anything else?” I said, “Oh yes, I want some donuts.” I cannot tell you how swell that felt.
“How many donuts?” Sigrid asked and I said I didn’t know, I would know when the little voice stopped. “Pardon?” she said, and I said, “Just get a big box, please, but maybe we won’t quite fill it.” So she got out a big Dunkin’ Donuts box and I just started salivating, like that experiment dog. Sigrid grabbed one of those tissue squares that I think we all take pleasure in using, and she raised her eyebrows and I said, “Okay. A bow tie, a chocolate-frosted cake, a Key lime, a powdered cake, a Boston Kreme, a lemon bark, a maple-frosted, a coffee roll, a maple-frosted coffee roll, a cranberry muffin, a bagel and cream cheese and butter, too, on the bagel, and a plain Dunkin’ donut.” And then before she tallied it up I handed her a fifty and said just keep the change and walked out. My back was feeling kind of hypervisible, like I was walking away really cool from a crime scene where I’d been the criminal. My heart was racing and my mood level had shot way, way up.
I got in my car and I opened the coffee and had a deep whiff and a taste. Actually, I guess I have begun to prefer milk in my coffee because the cream tasted whoa. Next I opened the lid on the box and had a good whiff of the donuts. And then I looked around and there was no one so I ran my tongue along every single surface of every single donut. Man. It was sexual in a way, but more yeasty and better. Then I sucked the filling out of the Boston Kreme mixed with a little chocolate frosting. I dipped the powdered cake in the coffee and had one bite; ditto the chocolate-frosted. I went on in this manner until I would say about a third of the donuts were gone. And then I am sorry to say I threw the rest away. I would like to say I ate tidily and cut off where bite marks were and gave the rest to a homeless person along with a couple of finskis, but I did not. I threw them in the garbage, where maybe later they were found by a homeless person anyway or at least by pigeons, who, depending on where they live, can actually have it pretty good. Though sudden violent death is always a problem for them. But probably they have no attachments, which helps.
I was pretty full, so I went for a walk in a park to make room for lunch. It was a nice day and there were joggers, with their determined, miserable faces, and lovers lying in the grass thinking it would last forever. There were lots of dogs and one was a bulldog puppy, which, please, has cornered the market on cuteness. The owner was this very thin woman who looked sort of bitchy, which, think about it, most very thin women do—even when they smile, it’s like grimacing. Fat people are often miserable, too, but at least they look jolly even though it’s really mostly them apologizing, like, “Sorry, sorry, sorry I’m taking up so much room,” “Sorry I’m offending your idea of bodily aesthetics,” “Sorry I’m clogging my arteries and giving the thumbs-up to diabetes.” And spilling over airline seats, which, come on, even for skinny people those seats are ridiculous. Metal girdles.
Lunch was a problem, like do I sit down or continue to fast-food it. Because I really do appreciate good food, but fast food is what I always want. Drive past a White Castle? See myself opening one of the little burgers with the onions all square. Go past KFC? See the big bucket, lift off the lid, see the one corner of one breast just loaded with coating that you pull off and pop into your mouth. Wendy’s? Regular with cheese, just a plain regular with cheese and it is good. The buns are still good at Wendy’s, they’re not those weary things other places give you that are like bread out of an old person’s bread box who never throws anything away and it was cheap bread and not good in the first place. Generic.
Hot dogs? Well. I live in Chicago, where we know what hot dogs are and how they should be served. I know someone who used to fly from Boston to San Francisco once a month on business and she always stopped in Chicago so she could get a red hot. She said she told people she needed a walk but really she needed a red hot. She ate them in the first-class cabin and all the people used to get pissed off at her. She said they got pissed off because the onions stunk the place up, but I think they got pissed off because they didn’t have the foresight to bring a red hot on board themselves. A flight attendant can put all the French words in the world after “beef” and it still tastes like airline food, which tastes like jet fuel smells.
They don’t have red hots in the airport all over the place like they used to. If you come to O’Hare and you have a bit of a layover, get in a cab and tell them Superdawg at Milwaukee and Nagle, it’s only about ten minutes away. Get the regular hot dog, but you might also want to try the Whoopercheesie or Whoopskidawg. There is only one Superdawg and it was started by a guy and his wife, they fell in love in high school and now they’re probably in their eighties. You can see her working the booth, she sits there in her black nylon windbreaker and you shout your order into the little metal box by where you park. Everybody gets their own speaker and their own menu, which has humorous descriptions of the food.
Portillo’s hot dogs are also good, and their tamales, oh my. You eat them with a plastic spoon, which adds to the flavor, as does the light orange grease stain on the wrapper. But the Portillo’s are not as close to the airport, you might not have time. Although if you said to anyone who knew Chicago, “I missed my flight because I had to go to Portillo’s,” they would say, “Oh, I know, did you get a tamale?” If you’re debating, which should I go to?, pick Superdawg, because they are not a chain. Always pick the thing that is not a chain, is one way to try to save the world.
I decided I’d go for lunch to this café I know where the butter is real and the syrup is real and the waitresses do not in any way judge what you order. I got there at 12:30 and got a table in a good booth because it was across from where Ivy was sitting. Ivy is a regular in her nineties, and she wears a little old lady dress and a sweater and sneakers and a white baseball hat turned frontways. Long gray hair tied back in a skinny ponytail. She orders a little something and then falls asleep before it comes and then after about half an hour her home health aide comes to wake her up and take her back home.
I ordered a bacon cheeseburger, fries, and a chocolate malted, and I loaded up the fries with salt and made a neat pile of catsup. I had whipped cream on the malt and I ate some by itself and then mixed the rest in. When the waitress asked, “Will there be anything else?” I almost ordered two over easy with hash browns because I just wanted one bite of the potatoes mixed with yolk, but no, that would have been too much wastefulness in one day.
But. Because this was a day purposefully given over to gluttony and greed, I walked over to a bookstore, where I looked at cookbooks. You may think, Right, she looked at dessert books, but that’s where you would be wrong. Because guess what? Vegetarian. And some Mediterranean and Indian. And okay, then I found this one? The cake doctor? Which so made me in the mood for a piece of cake, not a fancy one, just a yellow cake with chocolate frosting. And vanilla ice cream, vanilla enough to be a bit yellow in color. So I went and got that at another café, but I could only fit in half.
By now I was feeling the shame but also defiance. Like here, I’m carrying the banner for all of you who cut off a little piece wanting a big one, who spend a good third of your waking hours feeling bad about your desires, who infect those with whom you work and live with your judgments and pronouncements, you on the program who tally points all day long, every day, let’s see, 7 for breakfast, I’m going to need only 3 or 4 for lunch, what the hell can I have for so little, oh, I know, broth and a salad with very little dressing. And broth is good! Yes! So chickeny! That’s what we tell ourselves, we who cannot eat air without gaining, we who eat the asparagus longing for the potatoes au gratin, for the fettuccine Alfredo, for the pecan pie. And if you’re one of those who doesn’t, stop right here, you are not invited to the rest of this story.
In the afternoon, I rented two movies. Big Night and Tortilla Soup. Which made me starving again even though I wasn’t. How many people went running out for Italian food after Big Night? Hands? I think movies like those are very beautiful, because in addition to food as art, you get love of the family variety and more. I returned the movies, stopped at the very famous Petersen’s ice cream parlor for a turtle sundae, extra caramel sauce, and made out my grocery list on a napkin. When I paid at the cashier, I got a bag of Cheetos because there was one of those chip racks and every time I see a chip rack I want some chips. I love Cheetos so much it kind of makes my butt hurt. Every time I fly, I buy a bag of Cheetos (not the puffy kind, eww) because you never know, and if I go down, I’m going to at least have had a bag of Cheetos.
Okay. Dinner. I was going to make dinner. I was going to have steak and mushrooms and a loaded baked potato and Caesar salad because I make better Caesar salad than any restaurant I’ve ever been to. And apple crisp and crumb-topped cherry pie. And a baguette with that European
butter that starts with a “P.” After I got it almost ready, I was going to sit on my front porch with a martini with blue-cheese-stuffed olives, and potato chips with Lipton onion soup mix dip, which I love, it has that same thing going for it as Kraft macaroni and cheese. The cheese in the envelope in the box, I should say, the old kind in the box where you yourself must mix the milk and butter
and powdered cheese in. Here is my favorite recipe: Buy two boxes of Kraft macaroni and cheese. Make one box of macaroni but use both cheeses. Telling you this, I just remembered this woman I really liked a lot who died and she loved egg salad more than anything and didn’t eat it for years because it was bad for her
and then when she was on her deathbed and could have anything she wanted, she was given an egg salad sandwich and she couldn’t eat it
So dinner. You can imagine it, can’t you? The mushrooms sautéed in butter lying seductively over the steak. The potato, buried under butter, bacon, green onion, and sour cream. The two desserts sitting side by side, can you see them? I knew after the day was over, I’d have to go back to the plan, go back and confess at my meeting. Which is okay, it’s fine, you can say anything at a meeting. Once someone said she had cheesecake left in her refrigerator from a family dinner and everyone was saying, “Oh, my God, get rid of it, give it away.” Someone else said, “Just throw
it away.” And this other woman said, “Well, I’m sort of embarrassed to admit this but I have actually taken food out of my garbage and now I’ve learned that I have to pour water on it before I throw it away.”
I myself put coffee grounds over food I throw away, that’ll do it. Sometimes at a meeting, a person will take up practically the whole time telling how she fell off the wagon. And all of us at the edges of our seats, eating it all with her in our imaginations. And also feeling a little bit smug that we didn’t fall off the wagon. This time. I ate the dinner, the whole thing, just like I said. And then I took a wooden mallet and I beat the shit out of my scale. I wanted springs to pop out like they might in a cartoon, but all that happened was it didn’t work anymore
and it had a few dents. Still.
The next day I went to a Weight Watchers meeting, and the blind lady was there again. “How are you doing?” I said to her and she said, “Okay. How about you?” “Okay,” I said. I never confessed. I got weighed and I was four pounds up and they were just like, “Well, that happens,” and I bought another scale and that night I had turkey burgers for dinner. Seven points and actually very good and I had spinach and a two-point ice cream thing though I don’t think it’s really ice cream, it’s probably chemicals that kill you faster than fat. And I drank lots of water.
I have to tell you this funny story about water and Weight Watchers that our leader told us. She said she was telling a new member the rules and she guessed she talked too fast. Because she told the woman be sure to drink six to eight glasses of water a day. And the woman came back the next week saying, “I did everything you said, but I just can’t drink sixty-eight glasses of water a day.” Imagine her at the sink, upending yet another glass of water, wide-eyed and discouraged: This program is
I would like to end this by saying that it felt really good to cheat all day, to eat whatever I wanted. But it didn’t. All that happened was that I felt hollow-eyed. I felt like one time when I was a little girl and I sat on the porch steps one summer evening with my dad. We were watching the neighborhood kids riding bikes with no hands or rollerskating
or turning one-handed cartwheels three in a row or chasing each other up and down the block at breakneck speed. “Some of them are real athletes, huh?” he said. And I stared at my knees and said, “All of them are.”
“Well,” he said. And he took my hand.
I was already really chubby and he was a very fat man with pretty blue eyes. A couple of times I was with him when people made jokes about how fat he was. He would laugh like he thought it was funny and his belly would shake, it went up and down when it shook, but their remarks hurt him, I could see it–he registered pain in those instances by one quick jerk of his right eyelid. But that night he took my hand and I moved closer to him. Inside the house, hidden between my mattresses, was a stockpile of Butterfingers, and I couldn’t wait for bedtime. I thought there was a delicacy to the way I licked the chocolate off my fingers. I thought it was beautiful. I wished someone could see.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from The Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted by Elizabeth Berg. Copyright © 2008 by Elizabeth Berg. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.