JUST CALL ME OPRAH
I’ve had more ups and downs with my weight than Oprah. Unlike Oprah, however, no one really gives a shit. I’ve never carted all of my fat onto a soundstage in a wheelbarrow. There have been no cameras following me around while I hike my fat, black ass up forty flights of stairs. I’ve had my issues with food, but America was not watching, until now.
I guess I should introduce myself. My name is Mark Brennan Rosenberg and I’m pretty much a whiter, skinnier, gayer version of Oprah with a much filthier dialect. True, I don’t have my own talk show or my OWN Network, but the similarities between the two of us are unbounded. Oprah has struggled with her weight and so have I. Oprah has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on diets, trainers, and nutritionists and so have I. Oprah is a strong black woman and so am I. Unlike Oprah, I go even further, dig deeper, and get to the underbelly of how bad weight issues can get. I’ve never seen an episode of Oprah that tackled the nightmare of eating birthday cake off the floor. Never have I seen an episode of her show that delves into what can happen when you want to fuck your personal trainer, but have absolutely no intention of actually working out. I’m also quite certain that Oprah doesn’t have Grindr on her iPhone. Well, guess what? I do. I am picking up where she left off and we are leaving no stone unturned and no bucket of chicken uneaten.
Together, you and I are going to take a journey into my struggles with weight, food, and body image. I know if you’re reading this that means you’re on page two. I know, books are long and reading is very hard and God forbid you create a world within your own imagination when you could be watching Jersey Shore. If you picked up this book and actually bought it, you probably only did so because you liked the cover, you are a friend of mine, or I verbally threatened you to do so, but have no fear. What you are about to read is a series of essays, all of which have a recurring theme. Meaning you can read one, a few, or all of them without hurting yourself from thinking too hard. I find this helpful to know beforehand, as most people these days seem to have the attention spans of guinea pigs.
Before we begin this magical voyage, here are some definitions of a few phrases that are mentioned throughout the book, just so you know what they mean ahead of time.
-- “Swamp Ass”: Swamp ass happens when you go from cold to hot or hot to cold and your ass sweats so much that your underwear sticks to it.
-- “Body Be Right”: This is a common phrase I like to say when I see a guy with a really killer body. Its meaning is heightened when you say it with the inflection that a fourteen-year-old black girl may use.
-- “Date-Rape-Drug Wasted”: This commonly happens at gay bars when a guy is so drunk that you think he could potentially have been date-rape drugged.
-- “Eating My Feelings”: Well . . . we’ll get to that one in due time.
It may also be helpful to know some of the pop-culture references I refer to as well. I’m a child of the 1980s and ’90s, and since no one has an appreciation for the classics anymore, it may help to briefly discuss a few things I reference frequently.
-- Clueless: A movie that came out in the 1990s that propelled Alicia Silverstone to superstardom for about six months and gave America catchphrases like “as if.” If you don’t know what this movie is, then you probably aren’t A) gay or B) a girl who grew up in the 1990s. If you don’t fall into one of those categories, you should probably stop reading this book right now.
-- All My Children: A daytime television show that introduced the world to Erica Kane, the woman America loves to hate. In fact, my first book, Blackouts and Breakdowns (currently on sale in bookstores everywhere), was dedicated to her.
-- Dynasty: A very popular 1980s nighttime drama that featured women in dresses with shoulder pads fighting in lily ponds over a man who was in his late seventies and probably couldn’t get it up anyway. Also known as the greatest show in television history.
Now that we’ve covered that, get ready for a shit parade beyond your wildest dreams. If you’re hesitant about reading on, just pretend that Oprah actually wrote this book. I’m pretty sure she would approve.
HOMEY MOST CERTAINLY DON’T PLAY THAT
Our story begins in a sleepy suburban town outside of Washington, D.C. Our heroine, Mark, an overweight ten-year-old with an affinity for soap operas and show tunes, has found himself in a delicate condition that raises the questions: How much Halloween candy is too much? How inadvertently racist, offensive, and foulmouthed can one boy be at such a tender age? How did he get that way?
You can do what you wanna do . . . in living color.”
Every Sunday night I parked my fat ten-year-old ass on the couch to watch the most glorious television show ever, In Living Color. For whatever reason, I thought it was the funniest program on TV, but my parents thought otherwise.
“Mark, I don’t think that program is suitable for someone as young as you,” my mother would say. My mother is how I imagine all middle-aged housewives to be. Very well put together on the outside, bat-shit crazy on the inside. She basically embodies all of the characteristics of a person I would call a friend in adulthood, which is why we’re besties now.
“But Mom,” I would retort, “they have the Fly Girls.”
I always wanted to be a Fly Girl. In my opinion, that was about as high on the entertainment food chain as you could get.
Not only did In Living Color have Fly Girls, it had pretty much everything you could want from a television show at the time. MC Lyte would make an occasional cameo, you could find out what was playing in theaters that week because the Men in Film would snap for the movies they liked, and there was of course the pièce de résistance: Homey D. Clown. I loved Homey--the ex-con who plays a clown--and his take-no-prisoners attitude toward life. If someone pissed him off, he would lash out by hitting them over the head with a sock full of tennis balls. Because Homey did not play that, many people were injured as he tried to delight the world. I know one ten-year-old he entertained, and that was me. I wanted to be Homey, except for that pesky ex-con part, because I had no desire to go to jail. For whatever reason, I always wanted to get back at “The Man,” and although I had no idea who the man was, I knew I hated him because Homey had told me to. Perhaps it had something to do with that fact that I was a constantly hungry ten-year-old, filled with angst because my parents continued to refuse to serve cake for breakfast.
The fall of 1990 was magical. The world was delighting in the musical stylings of Taylor Dayne, and talented people such as Ian Ziering and Arsenio Hall were about to come into their own. I was wrapped up in third-grade bullshit and loving every minute of it. My best friend at the time, Kelly Harmon, had decided to rename herself yet again. She was now going to call herself “Katie.” The previous year she had gone by Katherine. This confused me so I decided I would call her “Katie-Kelly-Katherine” in order to prevent any further confusion on my part. When Halloween rolled around, she told me that she was going to be Sleeping Beauty and asked me what I was going to be.
“I don’t know,” I replied. “I guess I’ll be a hobo again.”
For the last three years, I rocked out a fabulous hobo costume that my mother had designed. This may have something to do with the fact that most upper-middle-class families have never actually seen a homeless person; they do, however, seem to think hobo costumes are the most adorable outfit choice for children come Halloween.
“That’s cool,” Katie-Kelly-Katherine responded.
“Yeah,” I replied, “but I have been a hobo like three times now and I am beginning to feel like making fun of homeless people is wrong.” Bust out your soapbox, young Mark Rosenberg. “I don’t have any ideas.”
“You could go as Barney Rubble. Just turn your hobo gear into a brown frock and call it a day.”
“Barney Rubble? What a dumbass idea,” I replied, duly noted, and used the following Halloween. But this year I needed something with a little kick. Besides Katie-Kelly-Katherine, I had no other friends, and I wasn’t quite sure how to make them. I was fat and the rest of the kids liked to play sports, not watch soap operas, so there was a definite divide in the friends department. On one side there was myself, a soap-opera-loving, brownie-baking tyke who appreciated everything Susan Lucci wore and had a strong affinity for things that glittered. On the other side there was everyone else. Luckily, I had a friend in Katie-Kelly-Katherine because she watched All My Children and the conversations were endless. The rest of the kids weren’t as cool, and I think some of them watched NBC soaps, which was unacceptable as far as I was concerned, because if a soap opera didn’t feature Erica Kane, Viki Buchanan, or Lucy Coe, there was no sense in watching it to begin with.
I needed to find a Halloween costume that would wow the class and get me as much candy as possible, but I had no idea where to find inspiration. I thought about going as Lucy Coe from General Hospital and wearing a hot red wedding dress, but quickly realized that would only be a good idea if I wanted to get punched in the neck repeatedly by every bully at school for the next fortnight. The Sunday before Halloween, I was sitting in front of the TV, and like a gift from Jesus Christ himself, I had the best idea ever.
“I KNOW!” I yelled. “I will go as Homey D. Clown for Halloween!”
“Who is Homey D. Clown?” my mother asked.
“He’s the funny ex-con-turned-hilarious-clown on In Living Color,” I said.
“I don’t know,” my mother said. “I’ll sleep on it and get back to you.”
The next day after school, we were off to Spencer’s Gifts to buy my new kick-ass Halloween costume. We bought a huge red Afro wig, makeup, and an outfit just like Homey’s. I was ecstatic that my mother was finally doing what I told her to do and thought it would be a nice segue into getting everything I wanted for Christmas. The next night was Halloween and fat kids everywhere were rejoicing, myself included. Halloween is the only holiday (aside from Thanksgiving and Kwanzaa, depending on your religious beliefs) when every child acts like a complete fat-ass. Every Halloween I regaled in the fact that yet again I would be able to eat as much candy as I wanted to, without being judged by my bone-thin brothers for gorging like a pig.
That evening, I put on my costume and filled a sock with tennis balls, just like Homey’s. Red Afro wig: check. Yellow clown suit with big red buttons: check. Big floppy red shoes: double check. However, a very important aspect of the costume was missing. I just looked like a dumb-ass clown and it really wasn’t the look I was going for. I was pissed.
“MOM!” I yelled.
“What the fuck are you yelling about?” she replied. That Halloween, all of the adults were coming over to my parents’ house to get shit-faced while their kids went trick-or-treating. God bless the suburbs.
“I don’t look like Homey at all,” I said.
“Awww . . . you look cute,” one of my mom’s dumb drunk friends said.
“Seriously?” I replied. “I look like any dumb-ass, run-of-the-mill clown.”
“Mark! Language!” my mother said.
The adults all laughed as I turned around and walked up the stairs. I felt defeated. I thought I had the most amazing costume idea ever, but now I was regretting my brilliant plan. I wandered into my parents’ room to see if my mother had a red wedding dress lying around, thinking I could pull off Lucy Coe after all. After searching her closets for a hot second, I stumbled upon something of my father’s and came up with an even better idea.
The doorbell rang and my mother answered: “Hello, dear.”
“Hi, Mrs. Rosenberg,” Katie-Kelly-Katherine responded.
“Hi, ah, Carrie?”
“It’s Katie now.”
“Right,” my mother replied. “MAAAAARK! KATHY’S HEEEEERE!” She went back into the kitchen while Katie-Kelly-Katherine waited in the foyer. My house on Silverstone Court was amazing. We had a staircase that wrapped around the foyer, so every time I walked down it I pretended to be Krystle Carrington on the opening credits of Dynasty. Every morning, I would stroll down the stairs, stopping midway to pause, look at the camera that wasn’t there, and continue walking. I loved her and her shoulder pads. I wanted to be her and I was every time I would strut down that spiral staircase. But that evening, I had a surprise that may have been better than Krystle Carrington herself bursting through our front door with news that Denver Carrington had been taken over once again by Alexis. I officially had the best Halloween costume ever.
“Katie-Kelly-Katherine, what’s up?” I said as I breezed down the stairs.
“Mark,” she replied, “what’s all over your face?”
“Shoe polish,” I said as I made my way down the stairs and greeted Katie-Kelly-Katherine in the foyer. “Now I really look like Homey D. Clown!”
I had taken my father’s black shoe polish and smeared it all over my face. I thought, at age ten, that my Homey D. Clown costume would not be complete unless I was in blackface. In my mind, making fun of homeless people was a bad idea, but going out of doors as a satirical African American clown was completely acceptable.
“I suppose you do,” Katie-Kelly-Katherine said.
“Thanks. Pretty amazing, huh?”
“I guess so,” she said. “My mom doesn’t let me watch In Living Color, though. She doesn’t like the racial undertones. Whatever that means.”
“Not sure. Let’s get out of here.”
It was the best Halloween ever. Katie-Kelly-Katherine and I hit up all of the rich people’s houses and made out like bandits. Fortunately for me, my parading around the neighborhood in blackface didn’t have anyone batting an eye because we hadn’t yet come across a family of any color other than white. We wandered around all night collecting candy from everyone and our costumes were a hit. Katie-Kelly-Katherine totally looked like Sleeping Beauty and I, of course, looked exactly like Homey D. Clown. As we made our way back to Silverstone Court, we decided to hit up my neighbors for some last-minute treats. First we went to the Bauers’ house. They lived directly across the street from us. I think Mrs. Bauer was kind of a lush, but being in an upper-middle-class neighborhood, everyone called her “eccentric.”
Excerpted from Eating My Feelings by Mark Brennan Rosenberg. Copyright © 2013 by Mark Rosenberg. Excerpted by permission of Three Rivers Press, 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.