Ordering the menu, Chicago, 2006
I am home alone for the weekend. My city’s annual mega summer festival has imported tinny amplified guitar, thousands of day-drinking pilgrims, and hot gridlocked traffic to my neighborhood, doing little to discourage me from staying put on my bed.
I'm not really alone though, our gray tabby has been keeping cool beside me while I read for hours. She squints into the fan’s path as it flattens her fur from left to right, then right to left. And my dogsitting charge, Pistol the pit bull mix, has been like a sweet little shadow. After a lazy day indoors, the heat is breaking and I need to exercise the poor pup. We head out for a walk.
My neighborhood is usually sleepy though urban, but tonight women shout barefoot in the road and breaking glass rings out from the alleys. I enjoyed being a festival-goer in the past but this year I don’t have it in me. It’s my second year living at its borders and I just want to shake my cane at everyone.
Three sunburned guys approach. I can smell their beer-sweat or does the whole street smell that way? I guide Pistol to the right side of the sidewalk, and one of them spits at me “thickness, huh?” as he passes. I take two steps before I parse what he says and my face shrinks back with tears.
Dude’s timing was ace. I’ve been a commuter cyclist for two months now, I work out three times a week, and drink less than ever. I have been eating....I don't know, like a human. Yet, my weight creeps up and up and up.
Do I feel worse that I let this clown bother me or that his fleeting assessment confirmed my own negative thoughts? I let his word follow me around for a few days and settle like dust over my little life. I pour a second bowl of cereal, thickness. I pass a glass storefront on my run and glimpse my ridiculous speed skater thighs in its reflection, thickness. I open a cold pale ale and drink it in the shower, thickness. I begin to think it's funny.
A week later I’m in a class at the gym and we break up into partners. I’m paired with a woman who frequents cycling classes there with me. She’s twice my age and is just this petite muscular pixie force of nature. As we determine the best amount of tension for our set, she says all at once: “Is this too much? No, it’s fine, I can tell you’re strong.”
I beam and look away. Thickness, man.