Monday, July 23, 2012

Death by Cucumber

Dear Reader(ship),

The Author, having vowed in an earlier post to update Expatriate Act (hereafter: Ye Olde Blogue) on a regular basis – and ideally, drawing material from his (The Author's) daily Moleskine® journal entries dating from late February through mid-July of 2012 – after months of deliberation and not much updation, has finally thrown up his hands and said (direct quote), "Nuts to all that."

The plan did not work out as planned. Very few of The Author's plans seem to work out as planned. The problem he encountered this time around (and it perhaps should not have surprised The Author as much as it did) was thus: that the writings he found himself revamping for publication were written at more or less the same time in which the events he was writing about in fact occurred, i.e. several months ago, and The Author, like many an Author much better than himself, grows violently ill when forced to sit down and read anything of his that happens to originate from any time before the moment in which he is writing it, i.e. everything that he has ever written, except the words you are currently reading, which he is now currently writing.

The Author, as you will read in Ye Olde Blogue post attached below, has lost an impossible amount of weight over the past four months on account of a rare and potentially (albeit boringly) lethal condition that he deems "Death by Cucumber” – and for his own health, and perhaps for the very health of his Reader(ship), The Author has judiciously elected not to add bulimia nervosa (via vomiting induced by the reading and rereading of his old work) to his preexisting collection of externally imposed eating disorders.

"Nuts to chronological order," says The Author. "Nuts to gastronomical disorders."

And nuts, I suppose, to the project he and I once had in mind. What he will do instead is perhaps of a more postmodern bent – insofar as postmodernism is associated with atemporal narrative arrangements – but The Editor would like to step in here to suggest that The Author's current tact is not postmodern at all, but rather more traditionalist in nature: more akin to Ye Olde Sailor's Yarn than anything one might expect to find in the writings of Barthelme, Barth, Barthes, et al. (As I type this, The Author is giggling into his hands, presumably because all of the aforementioned surnames sound like the word "barf," which The Author still finds funny, apparently. – ed.)

In the proud (but more often than not, deeply ashamed) tradition of the blathering senior citizen raconteur, The Author would like to share with you anecdotes of his time in Georgia: The Country, but not arranged in any particular order whatsoever. Not arranged in any chronological order, I should say, but certainly arranged in the order that they occur to the scrambled and desultory mind of Ye Olde Sailor, i.e. the aforementioned Author, who, at his young age, is already showing signs of lapsing prematurely into the temporospatial vacuum of a man almost seventy years his senior.

This authorial shift on the part of The Author will necessarily entail a number of readerly adjustments that I, The Editor, feel editorially obliged to prepare you for.

Entries will not begin as prophesied with a dateline – e.g. 4/21/2012 – ala a travel journal, but will more often than not open with a kitschy title followed by the sort of narrative pick-up line your least favorite uncle might deploy when he's tucked well into his fourth whiskey sour of the night, e.g. I ever tell you about the time ... Y'ever hear about … and I remember it like it was yesterday it was jest a couple days ago. Y'ever hear about

The Author will also be avoiding the narrative present tense – e.g. The Author steps off the train. A stranger's baby hawks a loogey onto his shoe, etc. – because, in rereading a number of his older posts from Ye Olde Blogue, The Author grew violently ill – especially violently ill, I should add – re: how pretentious the narrative present tense sounds, esp. when used to describe situations in which nothing much happens to the narrator at all, neither physically nor spiritually, neither momentarily nor in a broader existential sense. The narrative present tense, The Author will have you know, is a crutch certain no-talent hacks (himself included, he will have you know) use to project momentum and excitement onto a scene when (direct quote) "there jest ain't none to be had."

The Author also expressed his desire to avoid gimmicky meta-narrative devices in the future, such as posting faux-legalistic memos from fictitious personae (e.g. The Editor, The Reader, perhaps even The Author himself) by way of distracting The Reader from The Author's negligence re: The Author's stated purpose, which was to fucking write about Georgia: The Country, etc.

As The Author's Editor, I obviously do not have the final say re: what The Author chooses to do with his free time, how he elects to conduct Ye Olde Blogue going forward, or what tense he finally decides to deploy in his postings whenever he finally gets around to posting them. But The Author's end goal and my own are one and the same: to get some shit written and edited and posted on Ye Olde Blogue, so that you, The Reader, can have something to read before/while/even as you go to sleep, and so that he, The Author, can stop feeling s'damned guilty all the time – and especially so that he, The Author, can go to bed feeling well-fed and nourished and contented, nevertheless knowing (direct quote) "full well that he ain't."

                    Happy reading.

                                -    The Editor

For as long as I can remember, I have always been a skinny fuck. True: I was born a ten pound, nine ounce blob – according to sources parental, I once held the record for Fattest Baby Ever Successfully Delivered in the Long and Illustrious History of Grand Forks A.F.B. Hospital – but I can't really remember that. And at any rate, I thinned out over the years as I added height to my girth, and seldom tipped the scales much beyond my original ten pounds, nine ounces until quite recently. Until my last detour through America.

I arrived home from China in skeletal condition, the end result of two years of Mao-style starvation, i.e. by grossly mismanaging my volunteer stipend for the better part of those two years. But in China, when I was able to eat, I ate well. I ate plenty when I had the money, and I ate healthily whether I wanted to or not. In America, it is nigh impossible to eat healthily whether one wants to or not, and many people do not want to. Looking back, I should've known that I was doomed to fatness from the get-go. Fresh from the land of rice and tofu, stranded indefinitely in the American suburbs, anchored to the rest of civilization by a motorized vehicle, walled-in by meat and cheese: it should have come as no surprise to me that, after six months of cheddar-carnivorous living, I'd blimp out a bit.

And that is precisely what surprised me about blimping out a bit: it surprised me. Blimping out sneaks up on you. Silent as a blimp, as it were. It sneaks up on you. Blimpishly, if you will.

I don't have much experience with being fat, or with becoming fat. This was my first time. Looking back, I'm sure there were moments around Thanksgiving or so where I may have noticed in passing that certain favorite pairs of hipster jeans weren't fitting anymore, or that certain pairs of long-neglected off-brand Jnco jeans had started fitting like hipster jeans. I may or may not have noticed around Christmastime having to hike those old Jnco jeans up Urkelwise to keep the crotch from exploding in public or, after Christmas dinner, having to loosen my belt to the ominous and unprecedented Third Notch from the End. But those observations didn't really sink in, either because I preferred not to think about them, or because I didn't really think of them as semi-permanent physiological changes but as passing gastrointestinal phenomena – a change in the weather but not climate change. A beer belly, I reckoned; indigestion and nothing more.

Then, not quite all at once, but pretty much all at once, I came to realize that others perceived me as fat, and from that moment on I began to think of myself as fat, too. There were the brotherly belly-swats at the bar. (Before, dudes used to politely smack me on the ass.) Women, whilst snuggling me, would call me their big fuzzy teddy bear rather than their lazy little tree sloth – or whatever they used to call me when I was skinny, if they called me anything at all back then. When I went out sporting a beard, strangers on the street thought I was Zach Galifianakis and hustled over for autographs. (This last I actually found quite flattering, which no doubt kept me fat a great deal longer than I would've liked to have been otherwise.)

Perhaps the most humiliating and certainly the most tense moment of my fatness came when I went in for my somewhat regular medical checkup. My family physician – some young kid I'd never seen in my life – went through his cursory examinations of all the major orifices and found nothing amiss, but he seemed distracted. There was an elephant in the room. Which is to say: I was the elephant. He couldn't get his mind off my medical records. Last time we saw the kid, he weighed 145 – now he's creeping up on 200? Jesus God.

Humans are walking denial machines and I'd fess up to being one myself if I weren't s'damned good at denying it. The doc asked me if I'd observed any, uh, significant, er, changes in my, hmm, lifestyle since my last visit. I waffled and told him that I hadn't smoked in a month (which was true), and that I was aware smoking cessation triggered rapid weight gain. He nodded dubiously. Instead of waffling, I should've just told him about the waffles.

Or if I'd had the balls to be truly honest with the guy, I would've told him that I'd fallen out of a solid exercise regime and let myself sink into a sedentary little troth of minor depression, and I coped with my boredom and disillusionment and frustration by devouring as many trans-fatty acids as I could get my greasy fingers on, by imbibing as many gallons of high fructose corn syrup as my kidneys could absorb without bursting. Disgusting, but true. I knew then, as I'd known all along, that something had to be done – I didn't want to remain fat, and certainly didn't consider myself permanently fat – but I was more than content to wait, in the proud American way, for something disastrous to happen to me first, before I changed any single fucking about the way I was living.

Then I woke up one fat and bloated morning in D.C. and decided I'd do Georgia: The Country – a decision that had more to do with D.C. than it did with The Fatness. A couple weeks later, I was in Georgia: The Country. The surplus chub served me well at first. Fat does in fact make men (and alas, only men) slightly funnier than they would be otherwise. Girls in my volunteer training group kept telling me I looked familiar. They'd squint at me a bit and turn their heads from side to side until their eyes came to a rest on my gut. "Oh, yeah! That guy from The Hangover!"  They'd request a picture with me, then they'd laugh at my jokes. It wasn't all bad. I even began – not deliberately, I swear – to talk like Zach G, to absorb some of his mannerisms, to bust out my corduroy suit coat far more than usual.

I arrived in the village. If I was fat to Americans, I was a regular late-stage Orson Welles to rural Georgians. They called me Zonzoro – which is just the Georgian word for "fat," but would be an excellent name for a grotesquely obese superhero if anyone at D.C. Comics is reading this.

Zonzoro this, zonzoro that. It was insulting in a new and exotic and demoralizing way, in a way that I was completely unfamiliar with. I was always the guy who used to wince when ignorant locals called my fat friends fat. Now I was wincing for myself, with no one to wince on my behalf, because the ignorant locals in my own house were calling me fat.

Kiti fat, Kiti fat, Kiti fat. My host brother was singing this to me one day in spring, showing off his new favorite English word: fat. After the sixth or seventh chorus, I snapped. I went to my room, changed for the first time into my bootleg Nike running ensemble, and started jogging in place on the patio.

"What the fuck?" my host brother chirped – another one of his favorites.
"I'm going running," I said.
"Me too!"

So he and I ran a solid five miles into the Georgian bush, up into the mountains a bit. It felt astoundingly good, and the miles passed with remarkable ease given my now-chalky lungs and the trio of Michelin tires plonked around my waist. On the way back, I asked my host brother if he wanted to swing by the school and do some pull-ups. He said sure. That felt good, too. Then I played soccer with the villagers for five hours. Then I slipped and fell on my ass and broke my wrist somehow. So much for getting in shape after that – after that, I was pretty much preoccupied with remaining a shape.

But a funny thing happened while I was sitting around in the village waiting for my arm to repair itself. Perhaps my host mom started slacking off on her cooking, or maybe I was burnt out on Georgian food altogether by then. Or perhaps there was just a bumper crop of cucumbers this past spring. But I can remember a time – weeks, a whole month perhaps – where I ate almost nothing but salted cucumber slices, three meals a day, seven days a week. At first, I was delighted by the mere presence of vegetables – they hadn't existed in the winter – but after a week or two, it got to where I couldn't choke down more than two or three cucumber slices in a sitting. One of the most natural things on earth – a green, watery, organically grown vegetable – made me sicker than a 24 pack of Colt 45.

I began to lose weight. Lots of weight. My host mother – worried, perhaps, about her host motherly reputation with an emaciated American host son prowling around the village – began to change up her dishes a bit. Cucumber salad. Cucumber surprise. Cucumbers and tomatoes! Unpasteurized-cheese-and-cucumber sandwiches. But it was no use. The variety only made the cucumbers more disgusting, and rendered everything else revolting by association. Try as I might, I could no longer eat – not much, at any rate – and there was nothing to do but let myself wither for a time, and hope that I'd manage to escape Georgia: The Country for a more fattening land beyond the horizon before my very being dissolved into its constituent molecules.

As I write this, I have only a vague idea of how much I weigh. I don't really want to know. When I got here, I clocked in at something like 190 pounds: a personal best of a kind, I suppose. But at the moment, my belt is strapped in to the highest and tightest possible notch, the little hole I had to chisel into it with a pocketknife when I was at my absolute scrawniest in China. Were it not for that notch, my pants would fall down.

If I had to guess, I'd guess that I weigh something like 140 pounds. Another personal best. Of a kind. I suppose. Which is to say: I'm a fucking fleabag. Hell, I imagine there are literal bags of fleas off in a government laboratory somewhere that weigh more than I do.

I can't tell whether any of this is at all positive or not. Certainly, starvation is not the best way to go when it comes to – well, anything other than hunger striking, really. But at the same time, it's an imposed starvation rather than a self-imposed one: a starvation born not of confidence issues or image problems, but of moderate poverty and extreme culinary boredom. Let me loose in America and I'll get fat again. Condemn me to China with a decent salary and I'll be my usual lanky self. Set me up with a host family in Georgia and I will be awfully scrawny, indeed. It's nice not being fat anymore. But really, as happy as I am to be skinny again, I'd much rather be eating.

At night, I often dream of the girl of my dreams. I suppose that makes sense. They're very vivid, these dreams. The girl has a familiar face, but she's nobody I've ever seen before. I never find out her name or where she comes from or what bands she likes. We don't talk about anything of substance. All I ever learn from these dreams is that the girl of my dreams loves yours truly, as truly as anyone can love anyone else, dreamt of or fictitious or otherwise. And in the dream, at least, the feeling is very much mutual. I wake up comforted, then pissed off and bitter, then comforted again – in that order.

I don't have those dreams anymore. Not these days. These days, I dream about burritos with plenty of green sauce. I dream about radioactive buffalo wings, about doner kebabs, and about that Korean rotten tofu stew that smells like a diaper but tastes so good going down it's like you'd smoked pot beforehand. And in the dreams I can never track down the burrito place or the kebab stand or the Korean joint, or I write down the address but can't read it later, or when I'm walking there I fall into a pit of quicksand and get devoured by fluorescent green sharks, or when I finally get there it's a mirage – as elusive as any girl in any dream I've ever had. As elusive as any of the girls in reality, really.

The beast in me says: forget about reproducing; let's see about surviving.

The nacho cheese wet dreams I have these days are interrupted (inevitably) by a pounding on my bedroom door. Kiti! Modi! Djame! I stumble out in a deep fog to the living room, and it's not until I've sat down at the table in front of the TV and changed the channel to Al Jazeera International that it sinks in: I am still in Georgia. I know this because there is a plate of cucumber slices waiting there – glistening, lukewarm, heavily salted, waiting just for me. Cucumbers are in season, I suppose. I'll eat two or three slices and then I'll tell my host mom that I'm full. She'll cluck her tongue and shout at me to eat. (In the background, Syria explodes.) I'll shake my head, a bit sadly the second time around, and tell her that I'm still full. And I am. Full to the brim. So full I could burst. And if I did, it'd be like somebody (Gallagher, presumably) smashing a giant cucumber with a sledgehammer.

In my idle moments, I sometimes plonk my newfound ribs like the keys of a marimba and think of how truly odd it is to live inside a body.

1 comment:

Obi Nwizu said...

F your program, and COME HOME! Writing for that republican sounds like a better gig than what you have currently. Plus Cucumbers are amazing, and once you don't realize that it's time to make changes in your life.

Sending all the Love you can muster.