Circling the Fat (Spring semester)
It’s a good day. Both classes turn in all their rewrites on time. Toward the end of the second class, we spend an inordinate amount of time arguing the merits of joining Scientology as a surefire tool for star-fucking if you go into any kind of media-related PR business. This sets off a flurry of brushes-with-fame stories.
“My sister’s roommate at Pepperdine used to know Tom and Nicole’s nanny,” says Jordie, a Laguna Beach surfer chick whose mother writes New Age sex manuals.
The class perks up at this savory little bomblet, knowing my propensity for celebrity gossip. I will happily detour out of a discussion of when and where to use the subjunctive “if I were” or how properly to employ semicolons -- I say don’t, just rewrite the sentence -- if anyone wants to talk about the latest "Lindsay Lohan anorexia shocker" cover story in Star magazine or ponder which starlet on The O.C. somebody went to high school with and, “like, ohmagawd, she was SUCH a cokewhore already by 10th grade.”
“Yes, Jordie? Do go on,” I say.
Nineteen notebooks slam shut. Class is officially over, but everyone sits forward with rapt attention to catch Jordie’s droplets of gossip. She loves being the center of attention. She talks like every Laguna Beach kid I’ve ever met, ending every sentence with a question mark.
“So, OK, my sister’s roommate used to hang out with Tom and Nicole’s nanny back when they were, like, you know, married and stuff? Did you know one of their adopted kids is black? Isn’t that, like, weird? Anyway, this girl went over there one time? When Tom and Nicole were off making different movies? The nanny was keeping the kids – she was practically raising them single-handed – and she had my sister’s roommate over. So when the nanny was putting the kids to bed and reading them stories and stuff? This girl goes snooping all through the house. This enormous house, like in the Palisades or Brentwood or somewhere, I dunno. I forget. But get this – ’’
All ears quiver with anticipation.
“—they had separate bedrooms. Tom. And. Nicole. Like at totally separate ends of this big mansion. Like with their own separate entrances and their own bathrooms and living rooms and everything? She said they never slept together, that it was, like, a business arrangement and they both had, you know, like other boyfriends and girlfriends.”
“Ah, yes, but which?”
“Who had the boyfriends and who had the girlfriends?”
“Yeah, right, like Tom’s gay. I’m so sure. Get out,” says Jordie, rolling her eyes.
Ah, such innocent lambs about some things, they are.
“Anything else?” I prompt. “Heroin in the cookie jar? Kiddie porn in the powder room?”
“Noooo! Just the separate bedrooms,” says Jordie, sensing a loss of momentum in her story. She pauses briefly as if wracking her brain for something else to reveal. “Hey, my mom knows Chandler’s mom from Friends. He’s back in rehab again.”
“That was in Us magazine last week,” grumbles an Ashley, swiping Lancome Juicy gloss onto her bottom lip.
Jordie shoots daggers at the Ashley. “Well, I heard it from my mom,” she says.
“OK, look at the time,” I say. “Any questions about what’s due next week? Then be gone, ye happy gossip fiends.”
I retreat to my office, stopping on the way to chunk change in the snack machine for nacho-flavored Doritos. The Coke Nazis have raised the price of soda again: a buck per can. My mouth is full of cumin-flavored corn snacks and I’m just about to start inking in the New York Times daily crossword when I hear a light rap on the office door.
“Professor? Do you have a minute?” It’s Emma, a sweet kid from last year’s Intro to Modern Media lecture class. She manages a weak smile, but looks like she’s been crying. Oh, boy.
“What’s wrong, kiddo?”
She plops into a chair, not bothering to take off her Burberry raincoat. Her long brown hair hangs in limp clumps tucked behind her ears.
“I’m sorry,” she says, sniffling a little. “But I was going down the hall and saw your light on and I just thought… I just….”
A big tear rolls down her left cheek.
“Spill it. What’s going on?” I say, pushing a box of tissues across the desk.
“Well, last January I pledged a sorority,” she says. She mentions the house, one of the top two for snottiness, looksism and all-around obnoxious snob-mongering. “At first I really liked it. Everybody was so nice and everything and they have all these parties.”
She stops to dab at her nose.
I don’t say a thing.
“So OK, that was last spring. And over the summer I got this job at a deli back in my hometown.” She’s from a picturesque little burg stuck way back in the Piney Woods of East Texas.
“And I guess I sampled too much of the merchandise – we made these huge peanut butter cookies, you know? They were amazing. And anyway, I guess I put on a some weightage. And…and…and.”
Now she’s on the verge of a full-out crying jag.
“You look fine to me, Emma.”
“Thank you. (Big sniff) I was planning on losing the weight this semester but at the sorority house last night they made us do fat circles.”
“Did you say fat circles? Is that like crop circles?”
She laughs weakly. “No, it’s where they make girls they think are fat take off everything but their bra and panties and then they line us up and the older girls take Sharpie pens and they circle where we should lose weight.”
“On our bodies! Like, on your stomach or your hips or your upper thighs. It’s so …so…so.”
“Yes, it is, Emma. It’s ridiculous. You let them do this? Mark you up like a side of beef?”
“Well, they make us! They circled me all over my stomach and my hips and they told me I need to lose 40 pounds by fall break! I can’t lose 40 pounds that fast unless I get my jaws wired shut!”
We both laugh. But Emma shivers at the memory of being the victim of that ugly ritual. Fat-circling. Jesus. What self-hating bitch thought that one up?
“I was so upset last night that I called my mom and I almost went home. Like, home-home. Like, forever. I just feel like the fattest pig on the planet.” Emma grabs another tissue and blows her nose with a gentle “thhhhffff."
“I don’t blame you,” I say, clicking into advice-giving mode. “But look, you and I know it’s stupid. If you want to lose some weight – and honestly, you look fine to me – then do it sensibly and slowly. Don’t you dare let some sorority twit make you feel bad about yourself. It’s not worth it. You want to end up like those sick little things who rush to that ladies’ room down there five minutes after lunch and toss their two teaspoons of tuna salad into stall number 6? No, of course you don’t. Because you’re smarter than that. You’re just a healthy girl. You’re barely out of puberty. You ate too many cookies over the summer. Big effing deal. Tell those girls back at the house to bug off. Take a Sharpie and circle your middle finger with it and shove it right in their faces.”
“I wish!” says Emma. She’s stopped sniffling. For a second, I think she actually believes this horseshit I’m shoveling at her. But she and I both know that the fat-circling harpies have left their indelible mark on her psyche. You don’t forget a thing like having to stand in your scanties with your peers peering at you like you’re a frog under a microscope.
How dare they?
Emma and I sit in silence for a moment, just sort of letting it soak in. Then she lets out a big sigh.
“Well, I’m sorry I interrupted your lunch,” Emma says, looking at my bag of chips. “I just wanted to talk to you and I knew you’d understand. I saw your light on.”
You bet I understand, dearie. And I’d take a hundred chubby Emmas over one of those skinny bitchlings back at the sorority bitch-haven any day.
“Don’t let the creepos get you down, kiddo,” I tell her. Sounds lame even to me, but she giggles anyway. “One day they’ll all have flabby asses and pot bellies and they’ll look in the mirror and mentally fat-circle their own damn bodies and they’ll remember all the girls they did it to and then they’ll feel like crap.”
“Ha! I’ll bet they will! You know, I hope they do!”
Emma’s standing up now, almost jumping up and down. Maybe it’s just dawned on her that college – and sorority houses – aren’t forever. Sometimes it’s the smallest thing that cheers them up when they need a surrogate mom.
“Come back anytime you need to, kiddo. I’m usually here this time of day, usually stuffing my face. If you started circling my fat, you’d run out of ink.”
Big laugh from Emma.
“I guess I should call my mom and tell her I’m not moving home this weekend.”
“I’m sure she’ll be relieved to hear that.”
“But next time I do go home, I’m going by the deli and getting you some of those cookies. They’re the most amazing cookies in the world!”