I began this particular spiral similar to the way Marcel Proust had his “moment” after biting into a madeleine during tea. Except my sponge cake was a crusty, flaky, Portuguese roll I had doused in Ken’s Steakhouse honey mustard during a lapse in strength that was so sumptuous I wanted to cry; then I helped myself to another. As I digested the bread and dressing, the aftertaste of guilt would coat the inside of my mouth like saliva before vomit. You see, I had given into the three o’clock burps that would set off like S.O.S. telegrams from my stomach as I lay on the couch trying to muscle through another chapter of The Brothers Karamazov — all of the Russians were hungry, you can wait until dinner. I welcomed those gurglings and the acute pinch of hunger as a test, feeling the contractions and skin tighten to my bones — talk about stick to your ribs! But when I failed that test and ate that roll or that extra piece of toast (sans avocado) or that leftover slice of tiramisu — the sponge center saturated with espresso, the marscarpone topping covered with a light dusting of cacao powder — I was sucked into a spiraling guilt-vortex on par with a Catholic confession. Why would I put myself through this? What was the goal? Why would I engage in internal debates over whether I’d eat less hint-of-lime Tostitos if I put them on the plate, with the sandwich, or after the sandwich when I was already getting full? See: jettisoned the Tostitos into the garbage to avoid the spiral altogether. Well, I suppose the goal was concaved cheekbones and a jawline that could sharpen a sword. No, I don’t have to do this to myself. I’m not a model (despite what my grandmothers tell me) and I’m not a swimmer or dancer or any sort of athlete. Though, there was a time when I was an athlete and drank protein shakes and devoured slices of pizza and quesadillas and wings and still couldn’t break 175. A hot rage would build in my face when good-natured aunts and teachers would say “Oh Ben, you’re so skinny. You’re like a twig.” I wish I could drift back into that caloric apathy and spend my weekends waiting in lines for cronuts and charcoal ice cream and foods made with Cheetos or Doritos that are not typically made with Cheetos or Doritos. But as I scarfed down the carbs and fat, I would already be strategizing how to sneak into a bathroom or empty bedroom to do a set of planks or surreptitiously flex my abs for 30 second holds while sitting on the couch — recliners worked best here and hit that spot to form the much desired, rarely acquired, deep “V” — hoping to stimulate my bowels enough so I could finally take a shit. Happiness is taking a shit when you haven’t been able to take a shit despite crushing cups of French roast and apples and chocolate-flavored laxatives — I’d hold these babies up in one hand to the taunting wall of chocolate bars as I inched towards the counter at Rite Aid holding $3 bottles of Pinot (noir or grigio) by the necks between my fingers in the other and say “already got my fix, fellas.” Oh yes, I still drank, and that fermented grape juice went even further after dropping twenty pounds. I never counted calories because I was never one for math. I dumbed it down to simple rules:
-NO refined sugars
-NO beer in the apartment
- NO late-night snacks — if I had to break this rule the only option was pickles
- NO carbs after 4 p.m. — to avoid what my New Jersey hometown friend dubbed “guinea fat,” that little pudge right around the waistline born from years of penne dinners (See also: tortellini, manicotti, linguine, or spaghetti) and sopping up the remaining sauce with a hunk of Italian bread — my lotus
- NO shit
- NO crap
- NO garbage
And I’m a straight, white, privileged, male, I shouldn’t have any issues! (See: guilt compounded). So when they laugh at my belt, notched to the max around my crumpled size 34s and escaping waist, the remaining leather flopping to the side like a wet tongue, what they are really saying is, “Ben, you look great.”
And God that felt good. Perhaps not as good as that Portuguese roll, but good nonetheless.
Ben D’Alessio is the author of the novels Binge Until Tragedy and Lunchmeat. Both are available on Amazon and the publisher’s page. 25% of royalties are donated to the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN). Follow him on facebook, twitter, and instagram.