Greetings, Story366! Welcome to Wednesday of Cub Scout Camp Week, the first day I’m actually at Cub Scout camp with my son. So this is the first one of three in a row that I’ll schedule to post, and if I do things right, today, tomorrow, and Friday at 10 a.m. CT, you should get a new post. What that means is, there’s not a chance in hell that these will post and my 201-day streak of posting will end while I’m singing goofy songs, watching my son make some leather craft, and sweating my nads off in the Missouri woods. Streak, it was nice to know you.
Today’s story, “The Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted,” comes to us from Elizabeth Berg from her collection The Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted and Other Smalls Acts of Liberation, out from Ballantine Books (Note: my copy doesn’t have the subtitle, as you can see below, but the picture I linked on Berg’s website does. Weird). I picked this up in a used bookstore when I was in Fayetteville a bit ago and wasn’t sure if it was a story collection, as the top of the cover reads “NATIONAL BESTSELLER.” This has to be essays, right, or maybe a cook book? But not, Berg’s book is a collection of stories, and while the author has written upwards of twenty books, has had numerous bestsellers, and has been a Oprah’s Book Club selection, I’ve not read anything by her before. The glory of Story366, learning me things I ain’t done knowed.
“The Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted” is about an unknown woman whose doctor tells her to go to Weight Watchers and lose some weight. Like most people, this woman doesn’t like to be told things like that at the doctor, and wants to switch. Because that’s so difficult, however, she just doesn’t. Could be a throwaway detail, a funny character trait, but I think it’s symbolic almost, a subtle nod toward the easier route this character like to take. Anyway, she does go to Weight Watchers, and she’s particularly affected by two elderly women she sees. One uses a walker, even to walk herself up to the scale, and the other is blind. Why these women, at their ages, are still going to Weight Watchers, are caring enough to go to Weight Watchers, really affects our hero, makes her think.
On top of that, in their honor, she grants herself one day of pure enjoyment. What comes next is a montage, more or less, of what she eats that day. Mostly, she includes every little things she skips, from the cream in her coffee to the butter and mushrooms on her steak (and the steak), fifty calories here and eight calories there, which add up to a whole lot, day after day, how someone gets to the point when their doctor is ordering them to Weight Watchers. One or two of these slips could get her off track, but all of them, in one day? Yeah.
I won’t say how the story ends, but point out that it would be easy to peg this story as one of gluttony, loss of control, and failure, but I think it’s more about the escape. Remember that subtitle of the book, and Other Smalls Acts of Liberation? I think this is what Berg is going for, a big middle finger to the establishment, someone claiming he happiness to be okay. Just this past week, a hundred-pound Playboy bunny fat-shamed a woman at her gym—at the gym!—and the other day, a friend of mine told me his doctor ordered him to lose seventy pounds, that he needs to get down to 160. He’s 55. What 55-year-old guy weighs 160? A guy like me—one who needs to lose quite a bit of weight himself—can appreciate what being thinner would mean to me, healthwise, but can also appreciate someone not giving a fuck when a stranger judges someone because they’re not thin. That’s this protagonist’s liberation, what this story is about.
Because Berg has lived in Chicago for a while, there’s also a bunch of savory landmarks mentioned, including Superdawg, Portillo’s, and Dunkin’ Donuts, all of which I adore. It also reminds me that I drove past Clark and Belmont the other day and saw that they tore down the Dunkin’ Donuts there. RIP, Clark and Belmont Dunkin’ Donuts. May you get pissy about your parking lot in the donut shop afterlife.
The big question I’m having is this: Did reading Elizabeth Berg’s “The Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted” make me hungry? Not really. I ate a piece of chicken about an hour ago and I’m good. Still, if someone knocked on my door with an Italian beef sandwich or a Vienna hot dog product, Chicago-styled, I’d gobble that shit up. That kind of thing isn’t about being hungry. It’s religion.