America is worried about being fat. You hear this a lot on television, especially in between commercials for junk food.
Americans are said to be, by and large- well, large, very large, very, very large and humongous. We are a big people and by God we seem to be getting bigger. All of my life- at least since the Great Golfer was in the White House- America has been worried about its waistline.
First we worried that we could not touch our toes. Then we worried that we could not see our toes. Now we worry that many have not seen their toes in years. Toes? What toes?
Last summer, Time magazine, that great barometer of the obvious, which weekly purées factoids for the hungry masses, put out a special issue on obesity in America, full of scary facts. Two-thirds of us are overweight. And 25 percent of the dogs in America are fat! It did not mention cats, but I do see a lot of fat cats out there.
Foreigners are horrified by the American appetite. “All-U-Can-Eat,” for instance. Not all you should eat. Not all you need to eat. But all you can eat. Can’t you eat just a little more???? Mmmmmm. Gluttony, for those of you without the bene- fit of a convent school education, is one of the seven deadly sins, my children.
Remember the old Horn & Horn cafeteria at the Rotunda? I used to go there and watch people eat. It was like the zoo. The place was a giant trough, a field of steam tables, a groaning board of foodstuffs and those who would stuff themselves. Bus-loads of trenchermen were brought there to feed. They would gorge themselves insensible then actually sleep on the tables, only to rise again and eat more, restored by the post-prandial nap. I believe people died eating in there. Or exploded.
I have seen other versions of such places in my travels. They are usually called Tubby’s or The Dinner Bucket. (The New York Times once claimed that the concept was developed in the very early days of Las Vegas, but I think gluttony predates even that American Sodom.) You pay a flat fee (or fat fee?) and the challenge is to break the bank. Or the waistline. Bust a gut. You pay $14.99 or whatever, but you eat $39.99!!! That’ll show ‘em! You have to go back to the time of Caligula or Nero, or dip into Petronius and the Satyricon to find such displays. This stuff is straight out of the Last Days of Pompeii- man as beast. I believe the Vikings dined like this. So did Henry VIII, Jack Falstaff and William Howard Taft.
In public places there is nothing to eat that is good for you. May I begin with airports? (We’ll do malls another time.) Since 9/11, travel has been made insufferable by increased security that requires Curly, Larry and Moe to strip-search nuns, the blind and the wheelchair-bound, with special attention paid to quadriplegics. This work tends to be the exclusive province of former fast-food workers given battlefield promotions by Reich Marshall Ashcroft. And so they have gone from droning, “You want fries with that?” to barking, “Take off your shoes, empty your pockets and step back through the gate.” Here we see the imp of perversity. No sight could be less comforting to anyone worried about security than to watch the mutts and strays assembled at the airport to guard the unfriendly skies.
But the real danger at airports is the food. Has anyone explored the Saudi royal family’s connection with fast food? This could keep Michael Moore busy. And he could afford to drop a few, too. Less Moore, so to speak.
I fly a lot. Last summer I was in Chicago, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, Boise and Kansas City in a week. I can sleep next to choleric babies and drunken Kiwanians en route to Vegas. And choleric Kiwanians and drunken babies if it comes to that (and it could on Southwest). The only thing I want to do on the plane is get there. I never speak to anyone. I could be sitting next to the Hilton sisters and we would not exchange hellos.
But a long day in the nation’s skies can make one hungry, which brings me to the Cinnabon. Twice the size of a regulation softball, a Cinnabon is a cinnamon-flavored glob, a delectable mixture of dough and grease lathered with a diabetic coma-inducing coating of frosting. Each Cinnabon contains the normal daily caloric intake for a family of 18 in Darfur. The sugar rush alone is enough to make the eater sweat, hallucinate, bark like a dog and bite the head off a live chicken. You see this all the time at airports.
If we want people to comport themselves well on airplanes, we shouldn’t let them scarf down a ball of white sugar before takeoff. I don’t care if there are air marshals on the flight. The Cinnabon has the same effect as PCP (makes you stronger than a gorilla and twice as smart). And you can buy them to take with you. Just in case you might stop being fat while flying- on a long flight you might lose a pound or two- you can suck down a Cinnabon. You want to be sure that you arrive in Los Angeles barely able to waddle off the plane.
Long before Time produced its thumbsucking issue on American obesity, Samuel Johnson- who knew his way around a buffet- mused on such things. Dr. Johnson used to say that he who makes a beast of himself takes away the pain of being a man. I’ll say.