Forgive Me, I am Lean
In the last 39 years, I must have irritated many people. Now that I am approaching the age of wisdom, 40, I have started to probe my past actions and the roots of my present incapability. The result has been consistent. I am living to expectations, neither others, nor mine. I look at the people around, they have passed through the same phases of growth, but they do not have the mountain of blunders standing before them, as I do. I admire them. If were not for something (permit me to keep it to myself), I would have declared that my life has been a failure.
Even in everyday life, I see many people gentle, cool and steady. I have to contend with incalculable haste, heat and aberrance. We may end up reaching the same destination. To do so, they take the sure path, slow but consistent. I reach there, sometimes before they do, only because, one, I know and follow the shortcut, risky as it could be, and two, occasionally, I would draw the target closer to me, behind their eyes. Conventions waste time. I hate them.
Yet, haste, many times, has been a problem, for me at least. People speak patiently slow and walk gently. I want to say everything at once because I feel everything must be condensed to maximize quality time. In the end, I stammer, regretfully and annoyingly, and end up saying nothing. I wish I were eloquent. But that will consume more time, something I abhor. For the same reason, I hate playing or watching lawn tennis; the ball takes too long to cross the net, the court is too wide, with many lines. I prefer table tennis. The taste is small, the ball returns faster and less energy is required.
Perfection is part of nature and for mortals, something infinitely impossible to attain. But I easily get irritated with imperfections of others, in spite of knowing that I am myself grossly imperfect. Well, I believe life, in every aspect of it, is nothing but a journey towards a mirage of perfection. Though it can never be achieved, it is worth the trouble. The benefit of such a journey is what we call, in one way, an “answer” to a problem, and “progress” in another. Perfectionists aren’t bad, I believe. They are intolerant and extreme, I know.
As a result, three people easily irritate me. The gardener that does mow the lawn in straight stripes; the cook that asks me what I would take, he thinks I enjoy eating; and the driver that I pay monthly for spoiling my car. I am my best driver. The mechanic is not fit for mention. He is only a necessary criminal, especially on days of misfortune.
I crave for only two things in life. Food is certainly not one of them. Why would I waste time going to restaurants for one exotic dish or another? Just some few spoonfuls of whatever comes my way are enough. Even in forcing that down my throat, my argument would continue. Forgive the spew. The pleasure is in the argument. The food is a problem.
Time is of the essence, always. Why drive from Jos to Kaduna silently, just watching the road passing beneath you? I would rather read while driving. I will glimpse into a book, intermittently. When that is not possible, I will draw from my memory. If I have an appointment with the President, I will prefer to carry a book on jurisprudence, the Assemblies or the poetry of Abul ‘Ala. The five minutes I will spend waiting to see His Excellency are good for glancing through a passage that adds to my human capital. Every paragraph saves or earns money, only if others know.
I know no holiday or even rest. If I am bored with one thing, I switch to another. I would rather revise my secondary school mathematics or learn shorthand if I am tired with reading Object-oriented Analysis and Design – With Applications. Sleep is the only genuine rest, because it is inevitable; leisure, apart from reading, is cumbersome.
I can go on and on. And to be candid, I feel worried that I cannot do anything about certain things. I cannot do anything to change the past. Irritating and tenacious elements of the present make me lose hope that I will one day become like others, enjoying evenings, weekends, and holidays, speaking smoothly and so on.
This guilt however is fading since I started becoming interested in the advances in genetic mapping. The fade got a boost recently after coming across an essay written by Suzanne Brit Jordan in Newsweek of 9 October 1978, titled “That Lean and Hungry Look”. I might have read the essay when it was first published twenty-two years ago, but I doubt if it made much sense then. When I came across it two weeks ago in Practical Reader by Mary Wagoner, I felt I never read something so practical, real and funny about me. I laughed for over an hour. Every sentence depicts either what I do or what I emulate. If I have been looking for answers, I have got them from the essay of Suzanne. I was hoping to put on weight. But since reading Suzanne, I would rather remain lean.
Before I reproduce the essay for the joy of my readers, I seek their indulgence to say just two words. If any skinny looking person, or I in particular, have offended you by our contention or haste, please forgive us, for now you know the reason: God creates us and what we do. Have a nice weekend, if you are fat.
THE LEAN AND THE HUNGRY LOOK
By SUZANNE BRITT JORDAN
Caesar was right. Thin people need watching. I have been watching them for most part of my adult life, and I don’t like what I see. When these narrow fellows spring at me, I quiver to my toes. Thin people come in all personalities, most of them menacing. You’ve got your “together” thin person, your mechanical thin person, your condescending thin person, your tsk-tsk thin person, your efficiency expert thin person. All of them are dangerous.
In the first place, thin people aren’t fun. They don’t know how to goof off, at least in the best, fat sense of the word. They’ve always got to be adoing. Give them a coffee break, and they’ll jog around the block. Supply them with a quiet evening at home, and they’ll fix the screen door and lick S&H green stamps. They say things like “there aren’t enough hours in the day.” Fat people never say that. Fat people think the day is too damn long already.
Thin people make me tired. They’ve got speedy little metabolisms that cause them to bustle briskly. They’re forever rubbing their bony hands together and eyeing new problems to “tackle.” I like to surround myself with sluggish, inert, easygoing fat people, the kind who believe that if you clean it up today, it’ll just get dirty again tomorrow.
Some people say the business about the jolly fat person is a myth, that all of us chubbies are neurotic, sick, sad people. I disagree. Fat people may not be chortling all day long, but they’re a hell of a lot nicer than the wizened and shriveled. Thin people turn surly, mean and hard at a young age because they never learn the value of hot-fudge sundae for easing tension. Thin people don’t like gooey soft things because they themselves are neither gooey nor soft. They are crunchy and dull, like carrots. They go straight to the heart of the matter while fat people let things stay all blurry and hazy and vague, the way things actually are. Thin people want to face the truth. Fat people know there is not truth. One of my thin friends is always staring at complex, unsolvable problems and saying, “The key thing is …” Fat people never say that. They know there isn’t any such thing as the key thing about anything.
Thin people believe in logic. Fat people see all sides. The sides fat people see are rounded blobs, usually gray, always nebulous and truly not worth worrying about. But the thin person persists. “If you consume more calories than you burn,” says one of my thin friends, “you will gain weight. It’s that simple.” Fat people always grin when they hear statements like that. They know better.
Fat people realize that life is illogical and unfair... Thin people have a long list of logical things they are always spouting off to me. They hold up one finger at a time as they reel off these things, so I won’t lose track. They speak slowly as if to a young child. The list is long and full of holes. It contains tidbits like “get a grip on yourself,” “cigarettes kill,” “cholesterol clogs,” “fit as a fiddle,” “ducks in a row,” “organize” and “sound fiscal management.” Phrases like that.
They think these 2,000-point plans lead to happiness. Fat people know happiness is elusive at best and even if they could get the kind thin people talk about, they wouldn’t want it. Wisely, fat people see that such programs are too dull, too hard, too off the mark. They are never better than a whole cheesecake.
Fat people know all about the mystery of life. They are the ones acquainted with the night, with luck, with fate, with playing it by ear. One thin person I know once suggested that we arrange all the parts of a jigsaw puzzle into groups according to size, complete the puzzle by at lest 50 per cent. I said I wouldn’t do it. One, I like to muddle through. Two, what good would it do to finish early? Three, the jigsaw puzzle isn’t the important thing. The important thing is the fun off our people (one thin person included) sitting around a card table, working a jigsaw puzzle. My thin friend had no use for my list. Instead of joining us, he went outside and mulched the boxwoods. The three remaining fat people finished the puzzle and made chocolate, double-fudged brownies to celebrate.
The main problem with thin people is they oppress. Their good intentions, bony torsos, tight ships, neat corners, cerebral machinations and pat solutions loom like dark clouds over the loose, comfortable, spread-out, soft world of the fat. Long after fat people have removed their coats and shoes and put their feet up on the coffee table, thin people are still sitting on the edge of the sofa, looking neat as a pin, discussing rutabagas. Fat people are heavily into fits of laughter, slapping their thighs and whooping it up, while thin people are still politely waiting for the punch line.
Thin people are downers. They like math and morality and reasoned evaluation of the limitations of human beings. They have their skinny acts together. They expound, prognose, probe and prick.
Fat people are convivial. They will like you even if you’re irregular and have acne. They will come up with a good reason why you never wrote the great American novel. They will cry in your beer with you. They will put your name in the pot. They will let you off the hook. Fat people will gab, giggle, guffaw, gallumph, gyrate and gossip. They are generous, giving and gallant. They are gluttonous and goodly and great. What you want when you’re down is soft and jiggly, not muscled and stable. Fat people know this. Fat people have plenty room. Fat people will take you in.