I have no concept of where optimism gives way to delusion.
Just hours into my new year’s resolution to trim the fat, which has been a perpetual work in progress for something like 40 years, I can tell that this is really the year to make something happen.
Now where have I heard that before? Perhaps it was 1978 through 2015, skipping a year in the early 1980s when I suffered mononucleosis and lived the dream of having to actually gain weight.
And despite what skinny people tell you about how it’s just as hard to keep weight on for them, they lie like a presidential candidate on national TV. Putting back on pound numbers 138 through 151 were the best days of my life. I was wildly successful at gaining weight when I put my mind and mouth to it. But like most things, I never knew when to quit. So I kept right on with the irresistible French cheeses and exquisite pastries, corralling a momentous victory when I tipped the scales at 168. Yeah, that’s a lie. It was 174. No, really. OK. It was 178, but I had my socks on. It was 181, and I was holding fluids.
So it was New Year’s Day 1980-something, and I was on the scale and I was suddenly overcome with the sense that, I could do this. I could get off this scale, put my stretch fatty-boy sweats back on, march right to the gym and lose, I don’t know, maybe 10 pounds in one day. I felt that good about being able to really, really get control of my adoration for all things gastronomique, and be ready to hit the beach in my high-school Speedo by spring break.
I don’t remember exactly what happened next, but based on the familiar pattern that’s developed pretty much my entire life, I think I went out to lunch, knowing that the metabolic force was going to be with me tomorrow, so I could enjoy one last splurge at 1. The Russian Tea Room, 2. Goodfriends, 3. The Blue Bonnet, 4. The Edgewater Inn or one of my other regular haunts of the era.
Of course there were college pals in town all that week who would have thought much less of me had I drank club soda and pushed away Josephina’s deep dish masterpiece. Being a go-along, eat-along kinda guy, I knew that my sveltening would kick in just as effectively after they all left. I was somehow above the 80 percent or so of Americans who ditch their promises to the new year gods each year, a custom going back to the Babylonians, who were probably fat, too.
Then it all becomes a blur. Suddenly, I’m on the beach in Mexico with friends and I’m wearing my dad’s boxer swimsuit that pulls cleanly up to my armpits and stays there by tying off the rope in the waistband.
And then there I am. Dipping the last of the peanut brittle into the Bûche de Noël crumbs and ganache smears from the New Year’s Eve party, and realizing that, you know, this time, chomp, crunch, smack, gulp, I really, really feel like I’m going to win this thing. I’m overcome by the sense that I don’t even think I’ll want to eat anything but iceberg lettuce and lemon juice for every meal, probably for a few weeks. It’s also when I discovered that leftover Bûche de Noël ganache spread on peanut brittle and sandwiched between two Ruffles potato chips becomes sheer ecstasy with a little piece of bacon under one of the chips.
Then I’m buying short pants with elastic waistbands to go backpacking because there’s no way in hell I can even bend over to pick up my backpack in those old cargo shorts. I always hated them anyway because they had tons of pockets and were big and comfortable and looked good with my beaded Navajo belt that I’d had since junior high school.
So I’d smoke more cigarettes to eat less food and ski more and bike more and eat more and feel every year in January that, you know, I’ve kind of failed in the past. But this year, this year is different.
And then I’m on a cruise and thinking that there’s no way I’m going to be able to keep my pants buttoned on the plane all the way home without causing some kind of serious gastric dilemma, which is when flying ceased to become glamorous for me, years ahead of the rest of the country.
And suddenly I have to quit smoking because it was really making me sick trying to smoke all those cigarettes to help me leave my wife’s snickerdoodles alone.
So I did the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. I quit smoking. And the easiest thing I did was put on 40 pounds in a matter of months while the terror and insanity ebbed with my nicotine level.
So suddenly I’m tipping the scales at 200 pounds and missing my cigarettes like someone cut off a leg or an arm and killed my best friend and all the puppies in the world. It was hard.
But still, I just knew that, after I finished the last holiday maple cream peanut-cluster ice cream parfait waffle sandwich, I had this thing. Sure, I was pretty much living in a bathrobe at this point, but I knew it wouldn’t be long before I could tie it again.
And somehow, I did. I walked and biked and skied and ate unspeakable low-fat things and somehow got back down to the point where I was just overweight again.
And then we had a kid, and I had to do fractions and long division like some kind of demented Samuel Beckett thing and, well, here I am.
The kid’s in college. I’m still not smoking. I ski and bike and torture the maniacal elliptical machine all the time. I seek out relaxed fit jeans. As I write this, I’m finishing off the last of the stale pfefferneuse that no one else would eat. If you dunk them long enough in coffee and dip them in cream cheese and roll them in the coconut crumbs from whatever holiday candy lost its outer coating on the plate above the fridge, they’re pretty freaking awesome.
Suddenly, it’s that time again. And I’m wondering if maybe my optimism is really a delusion. But that’s OK, too, because look at the whacks running for president these days. Who honestly thinks they have a chance and that they’re presidential material? And you know what? This time, something’s different. I really, really feel like after I get home and finish off the last of the salted, chocolate-covered caramels that I hid under the dried kale chips, I’ve got this. I really got this.
And wondering what those caramels might taste like wedged between two Ruffles potato chips, I’m outta here.