All My Fat Friends Are to Blame

I’ve always been a poster child for Catholic Guilt. After 12 years of Catholic education, back in the days when real nuns in real habits handed out real corporal punishment, I’m the man in Paul Simon’s song lyric: “First to admit it, last one to know.” Add in those many dinner-table admonitions from mom and grand-mom: “Eat those Mrs. Paul’s fish sticks.” “But I can’t get them past my nose.” “Never mind that. (smack on the back of my head) There are children starving in China who’d be glad to get them.”
All in all, it’s little wonder that, like most Americans, I was carrying around a spare tire… and feeling guilty about it.
All that ended the other day, however, when I read this headline: “Friendships a heavy issue: Researchers find obesity can spread in social circles.” Suddenly a great weight was lifted from my shoulders, if not from my waistline. The article reported on a new study which “suggests obesity can spread like an infectious disease and that your odds of becoming obese are much greater if your friends and family put on weight.”
Wahoo, I yelped, leaping an inch and a half off the ground. I’m not spineless, lazy, gluttonous or piggish. I’m ill.
The more I pondered the point, the further back in my life history did I conclude I had contracted my disease. Bozo Boyle, way back in grade school, was my first “big” buddy. Then there was Joe from Shenandoah (PA), with whom I cultivated a friendly rivalry on the Catholic High School debating-team competition circuit. The only thing bigger than Joe’s mouth was his stomach. My college roommate, Lou, was the largest of them all. The deeper into a semester we got, the larger Lou grew. In the Coast Guard, the thunder-thighs belonged to a photographer’s mate named Denny.
Wow, I blurted inadvertently. All my best friends down the decades were fatties. Obviously I had been infected… but good!
I ran to the front of my Havertown home and retrieved the newspaper article from the recycle bag. I read furiously. Was there a cure or is the infection fatal? “The findings could open a new avenue for treating this worldwide epidemic,” said the second to last paragraph. “The researchers said it might be helpful to treat obese people in groups instead of just the individual.” Great idea, I shouted.
Pulling the address book from beside the kitchen phone, I flipped through the pages frantically. Feverishly, I formulated the list of my four fattest friends. Speed-dialing them, I left urgent voicemail messages. “Meet me at the Starbuck’s on West Chester Pike at Eagle Road,” I practically bellowed into the phone. Then I rushed to the garage and got into my car. No, by heavens, I muttered aloud… I’ll walk it.
Arriving first, I bravely ignored the pastries and the chalkboard advertising the day’s latte special and ordered the Kenya roast… black. I got a look from the young lady behind the counter which said, nobody orders a black coffee. Flopping down in one of the establishment’s upholstered chairs I sipped at my Grande black. So this is what coffee tastes like, I mumbled. A couple of nearby heads turned. Was I losing control of my inner monolog?
As I waited for any of my friends who might have heard and were heeding my call, panic set in. I began remembering all those movies about addicts and alcoholics going cold turkey. Sweat formed on my forehead, but maybe that was because of the black coffee. My mind filled with visions of junkies, curled in the fetal position, screaming in misery.
The risks are too great, my mind screamed (inwardly, thank goodness). I got up and raced to the counter… dropping the Grande black in the trash receptacle on the way. Scanning the big board hastily, I demanded, “Give me a Blueberries and Cream Frappuccino and a blueberry muffin.” Returning to my chair, I sucked down half the Frapp, then chomped the sugary cap off my muffin in one grande chomp.
About that time, the first of my friends arrived. That looks good, he said, is it this week’s special? I nodded, mouth too full to talk. Think that’s what I’ll have, he said.
“Geb me amuther,” I mumble-shouted, spurting crumbs onto the table, as he headed toward the counter. Without turning, he gave me the old thumbs up.
By the time everyone had arrived, I was doing my third Frapp, and feeling wonderful, if a bit full.
“Here’s to good friends,” I toasted.
We all touched cups.
“This was a great idea, Jimmy,” somebody said.
Yeh, I thought to myself, if this is being ill, I for one don’t want to get better.
Jim Castagnera of Havertown is Associate Provost/Associate Counsel at Rider University and a 2007-08 Fellow of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

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