It is with a mixture of fascination and amusement that I watched my moderately overweight lunch partner dive into his cooler with both hands. He displayed the grace of a seasoned magician as he brought forth a bizarre collection of foods: a square can of corned beef with accompanying church key for unrolling the tin seal, a jar of Kraft's mayonnaise, a glass cylinder filled with plump olives, a plastic bag filled with moist iceberg lettuce leaves, and a can of chunk tuna packed in olive oil. Together it made sense only as a foray into the nearly all-protein Atkins diet.
We usually enjoyed brisk conversation during our meals together, but my concentration was severely hampered by his efforts to consume the bizarre lunch. He began by dipping his plastic fork into the mayonnaise and then used the coated fork to dig out a mouthful of corned beef. For all the world, it appeared to be a genteel method of eating dog food. Given the expression on his face, the corned beef compound may well have tasted exactly like that which it resembled. I didn't ask. Later he excused himself for a date with his own personal urinalysis kit, designed to determine whether the carbo-fast had successfully induced ketosis. In this age the Atkins dieter takes his rightful place next to the professional athlete and the fertility-seeking woman in the trinity of urine testing.
Unlike my high protein, low carbohydrate eating friend, I have yet to make a total commitment to winning the war against flab. In truth, I have been like the France of dieters, constructing easily breached walls and living in a near constant state of surrender.
I knew things had gotten out of hand when I found myself seriously considering the jogging suit wardrobe made famous by a series of hefty rappers. The amazing thing is how gracefully the "large and in charge" types manage to pull off the look that combines a jogging suit (in which no actual running is done) with a floppy hat, lots of gold, and sunglasses into a smart, marketable image. No amount of self delusion permitted me to believe such duds would work on a sandy-haired, middle-class, white guy with talents running more toward earning graduate degrees than laying down cool grooves and singing the praises of tawdry females wearing thong underwear.
The clothing issue inevitably led me to big houses of style where they sell forgiveness in fabric. I'm sure that every plus-size male remembers the day when he finally threw out all of his pants with waist sizes below 42, sent his extra large shirts to Goodwill, and took the courageous leap into the secret world of big and tall.
Having made the decision to exit the mainstream of American fashion, you may travel to an amazing undiscovered country where they sell clothing made for giants! XXL??? HAH!!! Try 3X through 10X, my good man! Looking for a pair of pants to comfortably encircle your substantial waist? In big and tall world you will find waist sizes covering 44 through 70 inches, enough to clothe the equator itself! And the salesmen in such places? To a man, they are all super-heavyweights and very non-judgmental for they also bear the stretch marks of having loved Chinese buffet too well.
Of course, you must be wary of the hidden dangers in such a paradise. First of all, you risk plunging further into the world of heft as you make much of your newfound freedom. Some people need limits to help them order their lives, but you won't find them in Giant Land. By the time you reach the limits there, say a 10X shirt with a neck the size of a manhole and size 70 pants, you're probably trapped in your bedroom waiting for a visit from Richard Simmons and a television crew.
But if you avoid a total collapse, it can be great fun to inhabit the lower registers of big man fashion. I can't prove it, but I'm fairly certain a large smile broke out over my jowls the first time I saw the sport coat that was made for me -- 52 Portly! Cinderella slipping her foot into the glass slipper had nothing on me sliding into that perfectly fitting coat.
Since that magical day, things have gotten even better. The last time I went to a men's store and asked for the portly cut, the salesman put his hand on my shoulder and smiled with compassion as he gently corrected me. "You mean the 'executive' cut, don't you sir?" Oh yes, that's exactly what I meant to say. I think I've finally found a use for political correctness. Call me a hypocrite if you want, but surely the "executive cut" is the product of market forces rather than the constant bleating of the sensitivity police.
Hunter Baker (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a public policy professional in Atlanta, Georgia.
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