"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Looking For Jesus In All The Wrong Places–The Sad Story Of Fat Boy Henry Pilkington

Henry Pilkington was fat, and this is how his parents, classmates, and teachers thought of him.  He tried tightening up on the potato chips, taking the long way to school, wearing his mother’s girdle, doing sit ups, turning the heat way up in his room, and taking long, soaking baths. The baths were especially good for losing weight.  They raised body temperature and burned calories, and pushed the purging blood through the fat to the skin.  Epsom salts were supposed to help because of their bio-chemical leaching action.

Yes, There Were Fat People in the Olden Days Too - The Atlantic

None of these remedies did any good, like halving your food intake and doubling your physical activities did.  But he was too fat to run, and when he stopped, his inner thighs were chapped and raw.  And his mother was one of those women who insisted that you finish everything on your plate; and because she had been brought up in hard times, she always made more than anyone could eat ‘just in case’, like the Navajos who had to run long distances to hunt down prey, who survived drought and disease, and who managed extreme heat and cold thanks to sufficient stores of fat, but who, when they left the plains for the reservation and a life of plenty and liquor, swelled and bloated.

Image result for obese american indians

This is what obviously happened to him, Henry, thought.  He got some stray Hopi, Navajo, or Zuni genes mixed in with Irish, Cornwall, and Scotch-Irish.  Who is ever to say how genetic material combines and recombines? Family legend had it that his great-grandfather, Hiram Pilkington, had sought his fortune in California but got waylaid in Arizona and got caught up in Mexican skirmishes and border wars before he returned East.  Certainly he was up to bedding sultry, dark women, and in that old time,there were far more Indians and Mexicans than white women; and those who came West were mail-order brides or Irish who had no idea what Arizona was let alone where.  So it was possible that somewhere along the way, a Pilkington Indian bastard got born, grew up under the family’s radar, and showed up in Henry.

In any case, Henry did not like the cards he was dealt, whoever dealt them; but thought – like most Americans – that nothing is set in stone.  Everything  can be changed, fixed, or altered for the better through hard work, discipline, faith, and enterprise.  The human body was no different.

Some nights when he couldn’t sleep, he sneaked down to the den and watched late-late night television.  In those days there was no cable or satellites, only a few channels which went dark at 2 am with a test pattern.  ‘Truth in advertising’ was a thing of the far future and television hucksters whose grandfathers hawked snake oil and cancer remedies on the prairie pushed products to increase libido, get rid of pimples, and lose weight.

For only $4.99 a month, said one, viewers could subscribe to a guaranteed weight loss program involving no heavy exercise, no dieting, and no awful and painful regimens.  “If you haven’t lost 25 pounds in three months, your money back guaranteed”. 

When he excitedly open the package, he found it contained four thin sachets of a sweet, granular, powdery mix that was to be mixed with water and which would depress appetite immediately.  No matter what was put in front of you – roast beef, spaghetti, or chocolate cake, you would not be interested.

Image result for images 50s tv test pattern

After the month had passed, Henry had actually gained weight.  He had assumed that because the drug had depressed his appetite, he could eat whatever he wanted.  “Phooey”, said Henry, and figured that he owed himself a diet holiday and ate his mother's cream puffs.

So the taunts and jeers continued.  He still was Fatty, Chubby, Jelly Roll, Porky to his classmates, and ‘ample’ to his teachers; and this was only in public.  The girls grimaced just thinking about this disgusting load of fat on top of them sticking his willy into them by guesswork since he couldn’t see over his stomach.  The boys snapped wet towels at him in the shower and grabbed his nuts as he passed.

“I have to do something”, Henry decided, but what, exactly?  He had tried everything; but “Have you tried Jesus?”, asked Mary Wentworth, a pious, devout member of the Fourth Church of Christ, an evangelical offshoot of the mainstream, progressive, socially conscious church of the Northeast.  They believed that once you found Jesus and accepted him as your personal savior, anything was possible, any wish would be granted, no matter how far fetched.  People went overboard, Mary said, asking Him for yachts, houses in St Bart’s and skiing vacations in Gstaad – everything they didn’t need but only wanted to look good.

Birdy Atkins had asked Him to straighten her hair which was too Jewish looking, all wild curls and untamable tangles which made her look like some Hell’s vixen.  Even though she had a cute, turned up nose, blue eyes, and a nice complexion; and no one would have ever taken her for a Jew, she prayed and prayed until her knees were red and raw, did hundreds of novenas and stations of the cross and recited rosaries over and over.  “Please, Sweet Jesus, give me straight hair”.

Image result for images medieval jesus

Of course Jesus didn’t grant that silly request, said Mary.  Birdy didn’t need any help and probably would marry a successful lawyer and move to New York, so praying to Our Lord was nothing more than vanity.  Henry’s case was entirely different, and Jesus could relate to it.  After all, He died on the cross only after miserable suffering, taunts, and jeers, so his Passion was not only a prelude to salvation and redemption, but a signifier. He would be with all the truly troubled, miserable, and misunderstood.

Henry’s fatness was not like Birdy Atkins kinky hair.  It was ‘endemic’, a word Mary had learned from her father, something about being born a particular way or having something you couldn’t get rid of on your own.  Jesus would certainly recognize Henry’s misfortune.  After all, Jesus cared for the outcasts, the poor, the hungry, and the despondent.  If Henry believed in Jesus, then he would become like him.  Henry’s travails would be like Jesus’ march to Golgotha – la via dolorosa – and if he prayed to Him in the right frame of mind, He would answer his request.

Henry quickly agreed.  He was a desultory Catholic, but there was always time for faith, and what better time than now?  At the same time, he would have to think carefully about framing the request. Would “Please, Sweet Jesus, make me not fat” be appropriate?  Would he have to be more precise, because if only he asked for some unspecified number of pounds, then Jesus might leave him looking like a stick figure an ill-fitting suit, the fat gone, but an ungainly gawky body poking through the sleeves? Like getting a really short haircut, down to the bone, so that it would last all summer.

“I want to look like Bret Cummings”, he considered. Bret was a Big Man About Campus – jock, Adonis-like, casual, confident, blonde, and trim.  It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to give Jesus a more precise model on which to fashion his wishes; nor would it be overstepping faithfulness. There would be nothing in such a precise, modeled request that smacked of arrogance or selfishness.

“What do I have to do?”, Henry asked Mary. “What’s the first thing?”

Henry had been schooled in the Catechism, taught by the nuns at St Joseph’s, and had received First Communion; but Mary dismissed all of this as irrelevant. “You can chuck all that nonsense”, she said, “and get down on your knees and pray with me.  We have no truck with all that Catholic holy water, body and blood fol-de-rol.  ‘Ask and you shalt receive’, it says in the Good Book, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do”.

Image result for images catholic nuns 50s in church

After a week with no reduction, Henry went back to Mary and asked her what they might have done wrong.  “Nothing”, she said. “Jesus works in mysterious ways.  Be patient”.

Henry expected to one day wake up, look in the mirror, and see Bret Cummings with that flip of blonde, straight hair, short nose, strong jaw and blue eyes above a trim, svelte, athletic body.  No such luck.

“Patience”, said Mary Wentworth, “Patience. God has existed forever, so what are a few weeks?”; but after a month and Henry was just as fat and bloated as ever, he felt he had been cheated.  “Man shall not live by bread alone”, Jesus  admonished the Devil in the desert, offering salvation, redemption, peace, and a bright heavenly future to those who believed in Him; and yet Henry's  simple request was denied.  With all his infinite power, couldn’t he have dealt with this one, small request?  What would it have cost him in the universal scope of things?

Henry eventually grew out of his childish hopes and faith in a miraculous Jesus.  He became a K Street lawyer where nobody cared either about Jesus or the fact that he was three times as fat as anyone else.  His fatness didn’t discourage many ambitious women either who overlooked his fat and saw only his money, his access, and his reputation.

“In this town”, said one Georgetown wag, “neither ugly nor fat matter.  It’s who you know”; and so Henry was in his element.  Jesus and the schoolyard were left far behind.  He was his own man now.

In his later years, happily retired on a chaise lounge in Miami Beach, unconcerned with post-career profession, honors, or remembrances, fat as ever, and indifferent to Jesus even as his last days were becoming fewer, he munched potato chips, drank beer, ate pork chops and crème caramel, took long siestas, and could care less about the snowbirds who looked at his enormous, shaking, tremulous rolls of belly fat and smirked.  He was a happy man.

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