The Day I found out I was Fat

I’ve kind of always been a chubby guy. Even when I was in High School and wrestled, I was a Roundboy at heart. It wasn’t until 2nd grade that I was told I was fat. At first, I didn’t even know what it meant. I knew what fat was, I trimmed it off my pork chops.

I went to The Birches Elementary School. It was a modern building for its day, single story with lots and lots of surrounding area, plenty of room for game fields, swing sets and eventual expansion. The Birches Development was part of the new Washington Township. It had sprung up, as the locals would say, overnight.

The Birches were said to have been the best value for the dollar as far as housing in the country during the late 60’s and early 70’s. Cookie cutter Split level homes and acres upon acres of sprawling Ranch houses. I believe it was a base price of $6400. Yup that’s Six Thousand Four Hundred. You can’t get buried for that price today.

Anyways, I was a Cross Keys Kid; we grew up on the fringe of the Township. Cut off on three sides by farm fields and “woods”. We were associated more with Williamstown, the hamlet next door, than our own tax revenue recipients but we were still Twp, through and through.

For some reason I still don’t quite understand, I was bussed from one corner of the Municipality to the extreme other. I suppose gas was so cheap they could care less about logistics. We literally passed by three other district schools on our way. My kindergarten class met at Grenlock Elementary, the very same institution my Dad had attended until being shipped to Williamstown for High School. Yea my Mom and Dad predated Twp High. But that’s a story for another day.

Mrs. Jones, my Dad’s 6th grade teacher…for three years straight…met me as I rolled off the bus my first day. She reminded me of Lucille Ball, a redhead with piercing green eyes. Her freckled skin stretched tightly across perfectly structured bones. She had a kind face, but her eyes showed a little fire inside of them. She looked like she was a lot of fun. I knew instantly why my Dad revered her so; he had that same fire in his eyes. I could see were a little bit of my Pop’s personality came from. She made me like school, right off the bat, I enjoyed being a student.

Ok, so I was a fairly well adjusted, very happy, young fella. Fast forward a few years to Mrs. Burroughs Class, my second grade teacher. She was the classic 60’s teacher. If you visited the school and saw her in the hall you would immediately think, “There goes the Librarian”. Horned rimmed, bedazzled glasses with a bead necklace connected to the frames hung draped around her sweater clad shoulders. Her sensible shoes looked uncomfortable, but not worn. You could tell they would go directly in the closet upon arriving home and her house shoes were fully engaged. She always wore a dress, below the knee, always a calming pattern. Mrs. B was a sharp dresser for her day.

One Monday morning, after the Pledge of Allegiance and God Bless America, Mrs. B informed us that we would be sent down to the Nurse’s Office to be weighed, measured and get our eyes checked. Groups of 3, in no particular order were chosen. My buddy Al went with Sonya Myers, my very first crush, I liked girls, I liked them a lot. Andy Yoder was added and the 3 ventured out the classroom door down the hall and turned the corner.

They disappeared into the abyss of the 3rd and 4th grade Hall. The stretch of corridor that was the longest in the building, especially to a 2nd grader, at times it seemed endless. Three quarters of the way down on the left was the main entrance to the school. An all glass front wall with two large doors jutted out between the Nurse’s and Main Offices.

In about ten minutes the three returned. I saw their adjacent seated peers leaning in and asking what it was like. I didn’t want to know. I wanted the entire experience to be vivid and fresh, untainted by other’s observations. I remember wishing in my head with my chubby little fingers entangled and pulled to my chin, “Two girls please send me with two girls!!”

I had 3 baby sisters, my Mom, My Nanny, I was surrounded by women. They were my audience, once I poured on the charm; they melted in my hands. I was confident. I was outgoing. I was fearless. Sure enough, Mrs. Borough’s called my name. I raised my eyebrows and scanned the room. My eyes locked on Chris Gormley, a sweet girl that was always very athletic, an attribute that gets my attention to this day. Sure enough, I heard her name. My heart started to thump and I fidgeted in my chair, sitting on my feet, doing my best to contain myself.

Then, I heard the second name. Kim Clay, my next door neighbor. Barely a girl, but she would do. Now, before you say, jerk and stop reading, trust me, I grew to regret that remark. Kim became a knock-out that had thrown me right on my ass in the friend zone. Yuck!

The three of us walked out the door and down the hall. As we turned the corner, the long hallway seemed to stretch to Philadelphia. I thought it would take the rest of the day to reach our destination. We passed the 3rd and 4th grade classrooms. The kids looked like adults to us, no way only a year or two older. The journey was finally nearing its end as we passed by the Janitor’s Closet.

Our trio turned the final corner and the light shining through the front windows blinded us for a second. I’m not sure that was the reason, but a whole lot of my classmates wore glasses until middle school, I guess their retinas had healed by then.

We entered the room. It smelled like alcohol and band aids. Mrs. Spiars was our nurse. A middle aged lady dressed all in white. Some days she wore a skirt but it wasn’t odd to see her wearing slacks. When she wore them I would think to myself, “Get your fudgey wudgey here!” and I would giggle. The irony of this observation was about to rear its ugly head, too bad I didn’t get the joke until now!

Chris went first, and then Kim and finally I took the eye test and passed. Then in the same order we stood tall against a chart on the wall. Mrs. Spiars would comment, “Grew an inch and a half since last spring Kim…you’re like a little weed!” and “Chris, you’ve grown an inch, soon you’ll be as tall as your Mommy!”

I stepped on the scale last, expecting a comment on my progress. Instead, I heard one of the most horrifying statements in my life.

“Jimmy Graham, whoa…that’s it!! NO MORE ICE CREAM!!”

My eyes flew wide, I couldn’t find any air, and I felt a flush of warmth cover my face.

“NO MORE ICE CREAM??”

I turned and looked at the girls that both had their hands covering their mouths, unsuccessfully holding back their laughter. I still didn’t feel embarrassed. I was confused. What had I done? Why was I being punished? I couldn’t understand it. Why Ice Cream??

We went back to our class. I was silent on my way down the hall and for the next two lessons. I just kept pondering over and over. Why? The only thing that snapped my stupor was the lunch bell. It rang and like one of Pavlov’s dogs I stopped what I was doing and prepared to have lunch.

I loved school lunches. Pizzaburgers being at the top of my list and today was Pizzaburger day. I quickly forgot about the ice cream and concentrated on the delicious aroma of them delicious delectables. I ate my lunch and then it hit me. I couldn’t have any ice cream. I began to cry. One of the lunch ladies, Mrs. Zaraziki saw me and came right over. She knew of me as a happy go lucky kind of kid and this way off base.

“Jimmy, what’s wrong honey?”

“Mrs. Spiar’s said I can’t have any more ice cream, snork…snork!!”

“Mrs. Spiar’s said that? I’ll be right back!”

Mrs. Zarazicki went over to the teachers’ lunch line and asked Mrs. Spiars why I couldn’t have any ice cream. I saw them talking and then move inside to speak with the cafeteria ladies. This was getting serious. I quietly left my lunch table and stood just outside the entrance to the kitchen. I heard this exchange.

“Jimmy was crying and said you told him he couldn’t have any more ice cream. Does he have a medical condition? Is that why?”

Mrs. Spiar’s kind of laughed and said, “No, No, No…he’s just fat, so ladies no more ice cream for Jimmy”

My knees buckled when I heard this! I was FAT? No I wasn’t…was I? Oh man, this really sucks!” I tried to hold it in but all this information at once, I just couldn’t stop it, I blurted out, “Ahhhh Crud!!!” I saw two heads pop out of the doorway. Mrs. Spiars and Mrs. Zarazicki both looked down at me and they both showed a bit of panic.

“How long have you been standing there Jimmy?” Mrs. Spiars stuttered.

“Long Enough” I uttered as I walked back to my seat with my hands in my pockets and feet shuffling. I had just heard it…I was FAT! My entire life I had thought of myself as nothing more than a kid. Now I was a fat kid. I could hear the cafeteria ladies awwwing as I walked away.

From that day on I aware of my size, I knew I was a Roundboy. I was actually cool with it, because you see the cafeteria ladies just loved this chubby little man. Until the day I graduated to middle school, they gave me what they called the Teachers Lunch…double helpings…cause of course I wasn’t allowed Ice cream.

    

  

 
 
The Ride to Atlantic City

Since I was just a kid, I’ve been enjoying AC. My Pop Pop was a member of the Lion’s Club, which held its convention in my favorite shore town. The whole family would squeeze in the vista cruiser, luggage piled high on the roof rack, sturdied with jute twine my Dad got at Two Guys Department Store.

Down the Pike we would ramble, my family called the Black Horse Pike merely the “Pike”, as if it was the only one. Even though , only a few miles down the road was the White Horse Pike, which would take you to AC as well, but because in the 60’s and 70’s the world was a lot smaller, it was out of site, out of mind.

I remember hearing a story about two Indian Chiefs. Apparently they both fell for the same Squaw. So they both battled to the death, with White Horse and Black Horse gone, 42 braves vied futilely for the hand of said young princess. Her constant harassment drove her to throw herself from the top of Cherry Hill. Well, something like that.

Anyway…my family took the Pike to Atlantic City. Even though we were Jersey native’s that day we were “Shoobies”. A term we locals used for the great summer migration of Philadelphia folk that would jam their Cadillacs and Monte Carlos with half their worldly possessions for a long weekend. It wasn’t out of the ordinary to see a BBQ grill on top of a station wagon sitting in traffic a block from my house…on the Pike.

This was the convention; so many bags were needed to carry my Nanny’s make up and clothes. She was a simple, modest lady most of the time. But when my Nanny went out, she always looked like Royalty. She wore hats with veils that just fit her look and personality when they were on her head. I remember thinking how different she looked, the same lady that schlepped around in a house dress and slippers making crab cake and the best Mac and Cheese the world has ever tasted.

My Pop Pop loved his beer. Keeping a case of Pabst in the ice box, as he referred to the refrigerator and a case of Piel’s next to it. Guess he liked a cold beer, but once in a while liked it room temperature. I’m thinking it was his upbringing and the fact when he first tasted the quaff it was probably long before the Frig. So we would stop off before we left at Tony’s, a guy that lived on Whitman Drive. He had a small, less than legal, beer distributorship out of his garage. My Nanny used to call it hot beer. Illegal is what she meant.

Pop Pop would buy a few cases and then always get me something extra. You see, Tony also worked for a big printing agency. He had corvette books that I still have on my shelf today. He would once in a while get an entire run off of Topp’s Baseball cards; it was cool because they weren’t cut yet. The cards were on a 3x4’ sheet which hung on the wall in my room for years…well, until Farrah’s famous nipple poster came out…after that it was all her.

So onward we traveled, my sister Dawn and me facing the traffic behind us in the infamous back seat. We had to share the two seater with the beer of course. We didn’t mind, most of the time we would put them under us making them booster seats so we could see the drivers behind us better.

I showed my naïve baby sister the international honk sign for truckers. She would smile from ear to ear and with a bent elbow pump her fist up and down and the trucker’s would honk and wave. It absolutely delighted her. Of course being her big brother and almost 4 years her senior, I saw a tremendous opportunity to have some unsupervised fun.

I told my sister that it was customary to wave with your thumb on your nose while riding backwards in a car. She bought it. We would stop at a light and I would say to my gullible little sister, “Go head, wave!” She threw her hand up to her face and wiggled her little fingers like she was playing a trumpet.

The expression on the faces of the unsuspecting drivers was priceless. Within one second they went from, “Awww How Cute” to “Little Brat”. I was having the time of my life. I was the puppet master and the show was awesome. But, of course being me, I needed to take it to the next level. Push that envelope, why not? So I took Dawny’s hand in mine and curled back all of her fingers. All of them that is, but the middle one.

“Wave” I encouraged. Of course she was eager to comply. As cars got close enough to us, folks would wave to her and I. Cept this time they were greeted by the “bird”. Now let’s just take a second to remind everyone this was the 60/70s the bird carried a lot more weight back then.

Twice cars sped up and passed us, as they reached the front window they would point to the back of the wagon and shout something incoherent, thankfully. At one point my Grandfather pulled over thinking that maybe our load had somehow shifted or we lost something as we hit the last pothole.

There I sat, holding in my laughter. We looked so innocent and my Pop Pop and Dad so confused. Ah this was glorious, the rush of thinking I was caught, followed immediately but the satisfaction of  knowing I wasn’t was my first taste of comedy gold…I loved it!

Although I would soon learn that that was about to end as we once again took to the Pike. Finally able to laugh without drawing suspicion, tears began to run down my face. I was in a state of euphoria I had never felt before in my slight 7 years.

As I held my face in my hands and wiped away the salty water from my cheeks I was interrupted by the sound of a police siren practically in my lap. I looked up and through the blur I saw my baby sister with both hands plastered against the rear window, two birds for the price of one. The State Trooper was shaking his head as we pulled to the shoulder for the second time in 5 minutes.

As the officer exited his cruiser and popped on his Yogi Bear hat, I could do nothing but swallow and utter “Uh-Oh”. The Statey walked up to the driver’s window. I couldn’t hear the conversation, but to this day I swear I felt my family’s eyes burning through the back of my head. I was in for it. I knew it, and was ready for my punishment.  

I heard the common call, “JIMMY!! What do you have your sister doing back there?” I answered the way any 7 year old would, “Nothing”. Dawn unbuckled herself and spun around kneeling on the case of beer. She gave a toothy smile and proceeded to throw both birds in the air again accompanied by a sweet “Hello”

“Jimmy Graham!!!” My elders all chimed in unison. I shrunk in my seat trying to somehow hide in the crack between the seat and seatback. I heard as the back window began to crank down and I saw the policeman and my parents standing next to him. In my little head I was thinking, “This is it! I’m going to jail!!”

The officer bent down to get closer to me, more than likely to say “That wasn’t a good idea Pal”. Before uttering a word he saw what we were sitting on. He asked, “Are you two sitting on cases of beer?”

I quickly broke down and through my wails I blurted, “It’s my job to watch the beer we get at Tony’s garage because my Nanny said it’s hot!!” The Trooper turned to my Pops and I watched a very little seen smile stretch across his thin lips. “Its…he…I…we…ummm…”  The Trooper shook his head and retorted simply, “Figures Shoobies!…Get out of here!”

The rest of the ride was silent, and I’m really not sure how he did it. But my Pop Pop drove the rest of The Pike all the while staring at me in the rearview mirror.


 
 
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Rubber Nesters

I’ve noticed that a faction of the general population has diminished at an alarming rate; I’m talking about Empty Nesters. They almost don’t exist…an endangered species…not unlike the Asian Panda…defeated…not even wanting to mate anymore…gives me the willies… They are the people that did their jobs as parents, raised their children, and provided them with a good base of morals and convictions, despite the fact they rarely had any of their own… They helped them through the rough Middle School Years and the near impossible trials of High School.

They dragged their half dead bodies out of bed, pushed them out the door.  They forced them to study, asked them repeatedly if they had homework? Was it done? Was it already late? They helped them fill out their college apps and FAFSA forms. Revealing to most of them that they weren’t poor just broke which didn’t seem to be much help. Them housed them, fed them, cleaned up after them for two decades plus. They send them out into the world, as their parents had done to them. Except, as if like the video games they endlessly play, they could hit the reset switch and start over, they turn up at their doorsteps, long faced with an even longer story of woe. They have returned to the nest, not sure when and if they will attempt to give it another go.

The Walk in closet that was their bedroom is now gone. The man-cave you waited forever to get was now history. The harness you had installed to hoist the Mrs. In a gravity free position for the benefit of your knees and her hips is now unhooked and in a burlap bag in the attic. They are no longer the ambitious go-getter you had sent out to earn their fortune. They return not broken and heads hung low, but with their heads held high, admonished in the fact they gave it the old college try; Even if they never attended a college other than for a Frat party or to buy some weed in the south end parking lot. They give you the same look they had when they got that participation trophy in 3rd grade little league, even though they were put back in the draft every year with a batting average of .006.

They tell you how hard it is today, “Everything is so expensive!!”  Yea I know! Weed has tripled in price since the 90’s…life’s a bitch. They will tell you how hard it is to get a career; you tell them “then get a job!”  They ask for gas money with an empty Gatorade bottle half filled with the rancid remnants of dip spit. Hmmm, had the money for the Gatorade and dip…just none for gas??

Did we do this? Hell yes we did! We gave them all the modern conveniences we never had, like a Xbox, Cell Phones in Pre-K and GPS for their Big Wheels…Oh course we did this to them, it’s our fault, must be…who else?  Them?  Nahhh… couldn’t be!

I think it all goes back to leg warmers… sweaty shins somehow affected the DNA of this generation. That warm and cozy feeling their mother’s enjoyed from knee to ankle somehow made them yearn for that same feeling in everything they do.  Maybe it was the massive overdose of fluorocarbons their mother’s were exposed to from excessive Aqua Net application. Nah I think it’s more nurture than nature. It started back when we put them #1 in everything we do, which is normal, except we had to let everybody else know just how special little Connor was!! We stuck suction cupped signs to the windows of our cars stating boldly to the world, “Baby on Board”! Who Cares? Everybody! They Better! My child is in this car, strapped down with belts, buckles and a sign!! He’s special! So cut off somebody else…flip someone else the bird as your pass on the right, I can use this lane…I have a Baby on Board…I’m carpooling bitch!

We made our little daughter’s Mothers as soon as they could clutch a cabbage patch doll, they couldn’t just have a dolly, we had to teach them something…not maternal instinct, but the Law. They had to sit down and go over the adoption paperwork at 4 years old. You are now responsible for Eunice; she is your child from this moment on…so the foster parent payment will stop immediately!! “Mommy what’s a dead beat Dad and what’s this stuff called child support?”

We have over-stimulated these Rubber Nesters from birth, scratch and sniff stickers were born with them. You shouldn’t have your first olfactory memories preceded by scratching, it started an entire generation of finger sniffers, regardless of what they touch they smell it…what have we done?  We sat them down in the playpen with Teddy Ruxpin, a robotic bear that more scared them into silence than entertained them. I often thought the expression on their face was more of a, “Is this thing going to eat my face?” look than anything else.

As we try and assess the blame on ourselves, society, culture, the one person we’re not hammering is the one that takes the last beer in the fridge EVERYTIME, The one that takes your laundry out of the dryer and stuffs it in a basket to put their stuff in, making your new shirt have more wrinkles than Dorian Grey’s Portrait, The one that  always shows up as the third as soon as the Chinese take-out for two arrives.

We will never be empty nesters…we have become rubber nesters with them bouncing in and out whenever you think you’re home free!  I’m willing and ready to share tips on how to get them out!

More to come…………………………………….