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The Fat Man Sings

I hold my own out in front of me. My wrists are thin, a reminder of more slender times, but my forearms - they're meaty. They remind me not of thinner times but, rather, of how much the human arm can resemble the shank of a lamb, or cow or pig. I doubt this comparison is lost on the majority of the obese.

Also: The wrists are a brutal reminder that you are not "just big-boned." You're just big.

Later, I mention the results of Meridia's NDA to a friend of mine. Immediately she's on my case.

"So, you've stopped taking it, right?"

"Eh, well, no, actually."

"But the studies. Aren't you afraid of a heart attack?"

"You don't get it," I say, frustrated and embarrassed. "Meridia squeaked by - but so do most new drugs."

"Really? Well, you are exercising, aren't you?"

I tell her I'm walking an hour three times a week - three times in a good week.

"Oh, good," she says. "But don't push it too hard, okay? I mean, I never thought of you as fat, anyway."

Yes, and I'm sure you thought I was just big-boned, too.

Day 22: Headache and lethargy. Lunch tastes like thumb; I finish less than half. I can't figure out if this is a side effect or the point of the thing.

There's another side effect that isn't listed on Meridia's packaging, and today I have it. To be fair, it's a side effect that perhaps only I experience. I call it "thought perversion." Thought perversion is when someone takes a central-nervous-system drug and then proceeds to think far too deeply about completely ridiculous things.

Such as: Once, under the influence of laughing gas, I heard the '60s hit song "The Locomotion" over the dentist's sound system. I suddenly became quite serious. What, I worried, had ever happened to Little Eva, who had made the song so famous? Was she alive? If so, was she okay? Had someone cheated her out of her royalties? I bet they did. That always happens. How sad. I wonder where she lives now. Maybe she's sick. Or maybe she's an alcoholic in rehab. Who knows? Terrible! How did a society like ours ever become so brutal as to let something like that happen?

Today I am obsessing about being big-boned.

Again, perhaps this is a side effect experienced by me and me alone.

Day 23: Sleeping better. Headache again, but not discouraged. After all, I'm not far off the mark!

Day 24: East Indian woman behind the pastry counter is very friendly this morning. I muse, while ingesting a slice of panetone, that not all cultures think chubby is unattractive. Or even unhealthy. Once, while traveling along the upper reaches of the Irrawaddy River in northern Burma, I chanced upon a small village of native Kachin tribesmen. I was with a group of younger male travelers, all possessed of that raffishly handsome Bruce Chatwin angularity that I had long ago buried under too much panetone. But the women - they were mainly interested in me. As the evening wore on and my translator indulged my flirting, he finally turned to me and said, "You know, this is because you are so fet."

"Fet?"

"Yes, fet. That's why they are paying so much attention."

"Because I'm fat?"

"Yes, eh, because, actually speaking, they know you must eat a lot, while the others are so skinny. So you must be

the leader."

"In other words, because I am big, it must mean that I am the most important guy in the group?"

"Yah. The others just eat what's left over, no? Now, do you have a brother who is also fet?"

"No."

"Well, don't tell these ladies. Because they see you are married and are hoping you have a fet brother for them."

Day 25: Shopping for new pants.

No change!

Day 26: The day of reckoning approaches. Have I lost that four pounds? My wife says I'm setting myself up for disappointment. "You're making it an event," she says. "You make it too dramatic." She tells me she weighs herself all the time. "Whenever I think about it," she says. "Then it's no big deal."

Certainly, drama is the secondary indulgence of the obese. It's the necessary cocksureness before the third cream puff, the swoon before the midday chocolate orgy. For the overeater, drama serves much the same function as it does for the alcoholic, the addict, the compulsive gambler or shopper - it's the narrative of one's "fall" from grace, a prettified version of the self-indulgence, self-delusion and fear that lead to the inevitable slip backward. Without drama, we'd have to eat like normal people. As young

Heidi over at Fleishman-Hillard would say, "Yuk!"

Day 27: And where is that Veronica and her personalized menus? The mailman comes and the mailman goes, but there's nothing new from Knoll, my "partner" in this venture. I wonder why. Could it be that the executives at Knoll are having misgivings about Meridia? I wouldn't blame them. Every single newspaper headline about sibutramine hydrochloride monohydrate has been tempered with words like danger or safety or modest results. This is at the same time that Viagra has engendered a media frenzy and become a commercial blockbuster.

I can't help but imagine the marketing scum in a Meridia focus group.

Scum 1: Well, what can I say? This is the result of all that right-person, right-reason, it's-not-for-everybody crap. I mean, why don't we just sell the stuff with a goddamn blood-pressure monitor and hospital gurney?

Scum 2: Exactly - where's the sell-through, where's the critical mass?

Scum 3: And all this pussy-ass shit about 5 percent, 10 percent weight loss. What's that about? Who the hell wants to be 10 percent less rotund?

Scum 2: Especially if fatty's partner is taking Viagra and is all pumped up about his increased, uh, lengthened, uh . . .

Scum 3: Stroke?

Scum 4: Impact?

Scum 1: Now we're getting somewhere.

I must admit: Knoll has been laudably circumspect about Meridia so far. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for the nation's busily enterprising weight-loss clinics. Evidence of their approach is easy to find. I flip through the L.A. Weekly, chock-full o' liposuction, plastic-surgery, colonic-irrigation and herbal-detox ads. There's Meridia all over the place.

One of the paper's longest-running ads is for a weight-loss clinic that, as a subspeciality, offers "passive exercise" via electronic stimulation of muscles. "Can you do 1,000 sit-ups? Can you do 500 push-ups?" it asks. One of the other unique features of this unchanging ad is a photo, taken from derriere, of a well-toned young woman in a string-bikini bottom peeling off her tight T-shirt, apparently to show her boyfriend the results of the electronically induced 500 pushups.

Today I see three new words inserted next to her passively exercised ass: Meridia Now Available.

This better be working.

Day 28: I can't decide whether to weigh myself now or to wait another two days until the entire 30 pills are gone. Meridia makes me a little impatient in general, and today I'm walking in circles.

To get calm, I go to my favorite spa and sit around in the steam for a while with a couple of Korean guys with quite glorious guts. To get those images out of my mind, I throw myself into the cold plunge and then stretch out for a nap.

I can't stop thinking about President Taft and those special chairs everybody made for him. If only I could sit in one, I muse. Wouldn't that be magic?

I vaguely remember that, in the folklore of the little college I attended as an undergraduate, there was a story about a visit by the 27th president. I con the spa guy out of a dozen extra towels so I can dry my entire body off, and then drive over to the library of my alma mater. On its shelves are about a dozen scholarly books on Taft, and a handful of old campaign literature.

It's fun reading - mainly because of the old photos. For a big guy, Taft certainly got around. There are photos of him golfing with millionaires and riding horses with English nobles. There's a photo of Taft, jolly and bewhiskered in a natty white linen suit, being carried along in his own (especially made) palanquin while visiting Shanghai. Political photographers apparently having the same sophisticated sense of humor then as they do now, there are a variety of "fatty" shots: Taft walking up the steps to a meeting, his derriere nearly bursting from his pants; Taft looming next to his tiny wife, Nellie; Taft inspecting a bathtub made especially for him. Ha ha ha. Fatty fatty fatty!

Finally, there it is: A picture of the president pouring out of his motorcade car and up the steps to my college, circa 1911. He's smiling and happy; there is a festive air to the scene. You can't help but like the guy.

I ask the school historian about the location of the Taft Chair. He smiles and sends me to the history department. There I'm greeted by a kindly woman, who interrupts my highly sophisticated prelude with a wink and a "You want to the see the chair, right?"

Suddenly I'm in the presence. It's a squat, green leather affair with wooden arms and a brass plate commemorating the occasion. It's wide, but not that wide - designed not so much to announce itself as to present His Corpulence like a giant ruby on an invisible setting.

I imagine Taft sitting on it that day in 1911, doffing his hat to the ladies, mopping his brow in the Southern California heat. Perhaps his head lolls as he endures the warm-up speeches. He fights off sleep, a constant test of will. Then he is on his feet. The crowd cheers and then falls silent, swept away by the words of the attractive fat man they have elected to lead them.

I lean back. It's a comfortable chair. But it is also firm enough to keep one alert and paying attention. Mrs. Garcia would probably not like it much. Then I notice that my hands are resting on each side of me, inside the arms of the great man's chair. Apparently, I still have a lot of wiggle room.

Bring on the scales.

After four months on his Meridia regimen, Greg Critser has lost 22 pounds. He is still not sleeping.

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