Thank goodness real science is back in vogue. Not one week into the Obama administration, and already scientific discoveries as far-reaching in import as Darwin's theory of evolution are making headlines. Yes, indeed, word is out about the best-excuse-for-what-ails-you in a long, long time. And this time, it's something I can really sink my teeth into. Or would that be something that causes me to sink my teeth into things?
Yep, I'm talking about the fatso virus. In case you've been hiding in a cave this week and missed the screaming headlines on Fox news and such, I'll fill you in. There's actually at least one scientist out there who claims to have evidence that a derivation of a very common virus, which spreads just like the common cold, somehow mutates in the systems of an unlucky chunk of the population causing them—er, uh, us—to get fatter, minus the joy of even having gorged our way into the jumbo-wear department! The idea is this: the virus somehow causes fat cells to replicate wildly out of control. It's like cancerous blubber. Or blubberous cancer. And it's all out of our hands (and into our ample derrieres, evidently).
Who'd have thunk? I for one am mercifully relieved to know that a virus—a stinking virus!—is undoubtedly what keeps me from being a lean, mean bikini-donning machine. And while I can't appreciate what the insidious AD-36 adenovirus clearly has wrought upon me, at least I can appreciate that now I've got something on which to blame it when I reach for that dessert tonight. "What the heck? It's not gonna do me any good to not eat it. After all, that virus is making those fat cells multiply regardless!"
Of course fat in America is a relative thing, what with the Super Size servings so rampant in this country. Since when did a helping of pasta actually equate to an entire one-pound box of Barilla spaghetti? Even little old Italian grandmothers whose reputations ride on overfeeding their families won't pile on a plate that high.
But at your average chain restaurant these days, that's what you get: a whole lotta food. Last month we went to a Brazilian churrascurria for my in-laws' 50th anniversary dinner. For them it was a little trip down memory lane, as they spent several years living in Rio de Janeiro. For us, it was the express bus ride on the binge-eaters' superhighway. I would hazard a guess that while residing in Rio—home of that tall and tan and young and lovely girl from Ipanema—the in-laws didn't gorge themselves quite like we all did at that all-you-can-eat mutton palace.
While bands of waiters wielding meat-laden skewers milled about our private dining area, guests helped themselves to a McMansion-sized salad-and-sides bar that could easily have fed a refugee camp for a month. I was sufficiently repulsed by the toddler who grabbed a baseball-sized marinated mozzarella ball from a serving bowl. After squishing it in his germ-infested palm for a minute, he reconsidered and returned it to its rightful place, for the next sucker to place it on his or her plate (and possibly contract the fat virus). That was at least 150 calories that wouldn't go my way. But I made up for it, and soon my plate over-floweth(ed).
As we returned with plates a-groaning to the dining room, a sort of Vincent Price-esque Gothic room with rich, vermillion walls (alas, reminiscent of the carnage that probably occur in the kitchen, what with all the animals they must butcher each night), I suddenly noticed the mirrors. Now I realize from a decorator's standpoint, mirrors are a great idea—they create an expansive feeling even in a small room. But this room was overrun with ceiling-to-floor mirrors, something that doesn’t exactly lend itself to shoveling food into your mouth, when you know every time you look across the table you'll see none other than yours truly stuffing your own pie-hole. But this place had a clever little trick: the mirrors were all slimming, placed at a clever angle so as to easily remove 15 pounds from one's appearance. So even while we were committing gluttony to the point of nausea, we'd catch glimpses of ourselves—our unusually thin selves—and feel practically justified in going for that third helping of black beans and rice. Because hey, we look so darned good in the mirror!
Nature is a fickle mistress, isn't she? First she throws a vengeful little fatso virus at us, so that no matter what we do, we pork out. Then she enables us to foolishly trust that we look fine, because the enormous mirrors suspended at a strategic angle tell us we do, even if a cursory check downward argues differently.
But I have faith that a skinny virus must be just around the corner, and I'll go searching for it—maybe not even wiping the handles of the shopping carts with wet wipes, so as to encourage catching it. Keep watching for me, I'll be the one hanging out near the skinny people, just waiting for them to sneeze in my direction.
(Jenny Gardiner is the author of the novel Sleeping with Ward Cleaver and the upcoming humorous memoir Parrothood: Twenty Years of Caring for a Vengeful Bird Determined to Kill Me)