Around the time our son headed off to college I returned to something I was good at—overeating. I’d managed to keep the weight off most of my adult life, but now I returned to those bad eating habits that had made me such a porker as a kid. I was approaching fifty and my illustration career seemed to be winding down. I was extremely depressed. I could have turned to alcohol or drugs, but I’d lost the taste for booze and I didn’t know where to go for drugs. Mrs. Chatterbox had suffered from kidney stones in recent years and usually had a few Demerol tablets stashed away in case of an attack. I once took a few and hallucinated all night that I was on a roller-coaster with Oprah Winfrey. Following that night of horror I returned to what I knew best—drowning my sorrows in food.
Soon, the only pants at Wal-Mart that fit me were adult Depends. Mrs. Chatterbox came home one day and found me in my underwear watching The Crocodile Hunter. I’d taken to rooting for the crocs and hoped to see the Aussie’s arms being chomped off. (I now feel guilty about this considering what happened to poor Steve Irwin.) The house was a mess since I’d stopped helping with chores. In addition to my becoming a couch potato my wife was experiencing “empty nest syndrome,” and menopause. She rightfully blew her stack.
I finally dragged my lumpy ass to a mirror and was horrified by the sight of the bloated
stranger staring back at me. If I needed further motivation to clean up my act I received it
from my doctor at my next check-up. I was thirsty all the time. I’d drink a
glass of water and again be thirsty before I could put down the glass.
The doctor diagnosed diabetes and predicted a slew of medical horrors awaiting me if I didn’t make some drastic lifestyle changes. I could look forward to blindness, strokes, heart attacks, kidney stones, gout and amputations. The prospect of these ailments was the shoehorn I needed to pry me off the couch. I’d always hated sports but I decided to try swimming at a nearby public pool.
I needed a swimsuit, but it was the middle of November and the stores didn’t have much of a selection. The Fat and Stout Department at one retailer had a suit that fit. Marked for clearance, it was fluorescent yellow. When I tried it on I looked as big as a school bus. At least the bright color would serve as a beacon to prevent other swimmers from bumping into me. If I went down like the Titanic nobody would be close enough to get caught in my wake and pulled under.
Next, I needed goggles because of the high chlorine level in the water, necessary thanks to countless peeing kids. I was told by a lifeguard that the chlorine would burn my eyes, but I thought goggles were for wimps and tried to do without them. Unfortunately, my eyes turned redder than Cujo’s and I caught the cashier at our grocery store checking my arms for needle tracks. I had no choice but to break a lifetime boycott; I entered a sporting goods store.
The kid who waited on me was straight off an Abercrombie and Fitch catalog. Tall and butt-less, with wide shoulders and wearing baggy clothes, he looked like one of those bastards who can eat a cake and burn off the calories by farting. When I waddled up to him he said,
“Dude, how can I help?”
“I need swimming goggles.”
“Not a problem. Follow me.”
He moved like a cheetah and it was a big store. I was out of breath by the time he
stopped in front of a wall of goggles. There were hundreds to choose from. “What kind of swimming you planning on doing?”
“The wet kind.”
He laughed. “Dude, are you swimming in a pool, a lake or the ocean?”
I didn’t know such things mattered. “I’m going to swim at a local pool.”
He narrowed my choices down to about thirty. “Some of these light up and others
have sensors to prevent the Plexiglas from clouding up on you. I personally like these with racing stripes.”
Since I expected my swimsuit to pop off and float like a deflated raft when I jumped into
the pool, I chose the least conspicuous goggles available. As I left, my “salesdude” urged me to, “Have an awesome day,” and, “come back soon.”
Equipped with swimsuit and goggles, I drove to the swim center. I felt embarrassed as I left the locker room and headed for the pool that first time; most of the women I encountered had smaller breasts than mine. I slowly began swimming laps. It took awhile before I figured out how to breathe and swim at the same time, but I improved gradually.
A month later I noticed I was no longer the slowest swimmer. A newcomer dogpaddled slowly at the far end of the pool. A kick to my ego came when she climbed out of the water. She must have been at least nine months pregnant, maybe more.