by LUKE BAUMGARTEN & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & O & lt;/span & ne day in early January, two weeks after I'd finished my initial 21-day weight-loss workout routine, some guy called me a "fat ass." It was around 1 o'clock and I was walking back to work from lunch. The walk sign across Monroe, just south of the bridge was on, but I was trying to cut across up the street a bit, several feet outside the crosswalk. A guy in an early-'90s, two-wheel-drive burgundy Toyota pickup with a cracked rear window and a bunch of tree branches in the bed turned from Main onto Monroe, heading my direction. Monroe has four lanes at that point. I'd traversed about three. He barreled toward me, slammed on his brakes and honked his horn.
Seeing all this space on both my left and right, I naturally flipped the dude off. He rolled down his window and said, "You better get off the street." The eyes were sunken, the teeth bared in rage. "Better get your fat ass moving," he brayed. But because the idea of this guy getting so angry at a thing like jaywalking had a kind of tragic comedy, I started laughing. His skeletal mouth screwed up into a smile and he started doing a poor rendition of me, squinting his eyes, laughing donkey-like. "Fat ass," he repeated, driving off.
This guy didn't know me; he'd never seen me before. His total contact with me was the two seconds he spent careening toward me and the 15 or so we spent yelling at each other. It was enough for him to decide, though, that the appropriate epithet to hurl was "fat ass."
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & he more I think about it -- and I've been positively obsessing -- the more I think Skeletor in the crappy pickup with the tattered flannel shirt didn't look at me, gauge my weight to be excessive, then call me fat. I think he just played the odds, picking the insult that would best wound a wide cross section of men.
The obsessing has led me to conduct a lot of anecdotal research on the subject to prove this theory. Here's what I know: guys fixate on their bodies at least as much as women do. In a gym setting, I'd say guys are way worse. There's the initial costumage donned pre-workout: belts, wrist guards, tank tops, all designed to make one look like a slim, sinewy brute and a sex machine. There's the entire weight session, spent standing parallel with a massive wall of mirrors, ostensibly for checking one's form, but really just for wanting to make out with one's biceps. Then there's the post-workout preen: shower, shave, hair dry, mousse, whatever.
Serious gym guys fall into a natural pecking order based, I think, on biceps and chest size. The biggest guys offer fatherly guidance, while the smaller yip around their heels like that small dog from Looney Tunes: "Wha-duh-yuh wanna do tuh-day, Spike? You wanna lift some weights? You sure are strong, Spike." When a guy hasn't been in to the gym for a while and his strength drops, the room becomes a confessional. "I messed up my back something awful 12 weeks ago," said a guy I'd judge to be among the six biggest guys at the Y when a second dude (who I'll conservatively call the Hugest Guy Ever) said it was good to see him again. There was no "Where ya been?" There was no condemnation from Hugest Ever. The first guy just started spilling his guts. He'd been in so much pain he couldn't move, he said. Out of work so long he could only afford McDonald's. He'd gained 20 pounds, etc., etc. It was a bloodbath.
I've witnessed the same situation happen in conversations between four other people and Hugest Guy Ever. He'll say something magnanimous and, dropping like a rock, whoever's been AWOL grovels immediately in supplication. It's amazing.
More proof: Inlander arts editor Michael Bowen, who might -- might -- have 14 percent body fat (to my 20, remember) is constantly obsessing over his calorie intake. Among non-gym-goers, since publishing these articles, I've received several e-mails -- some from random dudes, some from colleagues -- saying that they hate me for losing weight.
Zach and I both, for our parts, reflexively pause in front of the locker room mirrors to heap scorn on ourselves. I usually shake my head while Zach launches into fits of Yiddish-inflected profanity.
There's so much shame involved with even being out of shape, to say nothing of being actually fat, that I think the Toyota guy had the right idea when he called me a fat ass. What could be worse than being fat? Being ugly? Not for guys.
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & began this whole ordeal, on Day One, by writing two sentences: "I don't like the way I look. I'm a dude, I'm straight, and I don't like the way I look." I had sat down and begun typing with the intent of writing an introduction. Those were the first two sentences I came up with. They weren't easy to write, but it was necessary to put them on paper.
The first was a statement of fact; the second was an acknowledgement of societal perception. In the two months since, I've been mulling them over and come to some conclusions. The first was a fact and remains a fact. It's been a fact as long as I can remember. The second, though, was a horribly poor misjudgment. The perception that it's somehow out of the norm for a guy to hate his body is absurd. We live in a culture focused on objectification. To assume white men are exempt from that is worse than silly, worse than myopic. It's dangerous. Yet that's the way our culture steers.
Maybe I'm selfish, but the fact that most men loathe themselves to some degree is a source of comfort for me.
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & L & lt;/span & ast Friday, after a lengthy workout that included 30 minutes of interval training (sprinting short distances, then jogging; sprinting, then jogging); incline, decline, bench, back and core work -- and roughly 20 minutes of sauna action -- I walked over to the old doctor's scale in the men's locker room. My usual routine is to put the big weight on 200, then move the small weight from zero upward until the scale levels out.
This time, though, the scale bottomed out at 200. I hadn't been working out very diligently the last few weeks and, though I'd been eating well, I had hoped, at best, not to have gained weight. I moved the small weight from zero to one, then two, then four, six, 10, 16. Something wasn't right....
I hadn't been paying close attention to what I was doing. Weighing myself had become a thing I did after working out, almost mechanically. Unfocused, then, I briefly considered the possibility that I'd gained all the weight back. Didn't seem remotely possible, so I zeroed the small weight and contemplated moving the big one to 150. The weight of the idea began to hit me. I hadn't been under 200 pounds since sophomore year of college -- six years or so. I moved it to 150 and the needle shot from the bottom to the top. I then slid the small one all the way to 50. The needle dropped again. I worked it back slowly, fifths of a pound at a time, until it balanced at 198.
The feeling in my gut at that moment felt like something curiously close to pride.