My mother is fat. She is not plump. She’s not heavy or stout, slovenly or rotund. Just fat. A fat fucking pig. Just go and see her or, better yet, watch her eat and you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. My father? An obese, tallow-faced whale who breathes like a humpback breaching, and takes mind-blowing, inhuman shits up to seven times a day. Other family members: Leon, my older brother, a walking-talking manatee, the blubber blubbing out at the seams in all sorts of creepy directions. And, last but not least, is Sarah, my younger sister, actually the fattest of the bunch, an undulating, cellulite immensity making you think that God lost a bet with the Devil where the payoff is a pox of fatness beyond the human DNA. Yes, Sarah can truly be classified as a freak of nature, a living sausage-person looking like somebody stuck a meat pipe in her ass and just kept blowing in meat until the nails on her fingers and toes were rendered all but invisible. In fact, one of her biggest complaints other than, “where’s my food” is pain in her toe and fingernails.
And then, there is me: not only the thinnest one of my blubber tree but the skinniest kid in the entire eighth grade. Sure, some kids will say that Juan Rodriguez, who everybody calls, “Flaco,” is skinnier than me, but this is simply not true.
How did something like this happen? How come I was born to be thin and my family so fucking fat?
“Maybe you’re adopted?” you might say.
Nope. Highly unlikely. Because if you use a little imagination and visualize sucking out all the blubber, you’ll find us three kids looking pretty much the same. Same thing if you can visualize stuffing a meat pipe up my ass—I’ll look exactly like my little sister, Sarah, sans the Beatles-bowl haircut that she thinks is so perfectly cute.
So again, how does something like this happen? How can two obese breeders, after producing two freakishly fat pig children, end up with a blubberless spawn like me? This is something that perplexed me for many a day until my eyes were opened by Mrs. Seltzer, my Science teacher.
We were learning about genetics and working with Punnett squares for figuring out blue and brown eye possibilities. I was keenly interested in our genetics chapter. What made it especially fascinating was that the Nazis were also interested in genetics and I was interested in Nazis, thanks to my History teacher, Mr. Ostacher who, being a Jew, was likewise obsessed with the Nazis in his own kind of way. So, through Mrs. Seltzer, I was able to see how two brown-eyed parents can produced a blue eyed offspring. But more importantly, it was through the Seltzer-Ostacher connection that I came to be inspired by the Superman (Ubermensch) theory that directly resulted in my first great artistic endeavor: a comic book about my fat family. The Family of Fats. Again, here I must give a nod to Mr. Ostacher who told us about Hitler and how he wanted to gas and burn all the Jews in the world—no small feat to be sure. And then, to drive home his point, he had us read this comic book by a guy named Spiegelman where all the Jews were rats and the Nazis were the cats. In real life, Spiegelman’s father survived Hitler’s death camps. So even though Spiegelman was using rats and cats, it was a true story, which is strange when you think about it…
So again, through the Seltzer-Ostacher connection, my mind was inspired by a whole world of possibilities involving genetics and history and art and how truth is sometimes something made up to show things how they really are or were… My focus being on the Ubermensch theory that Mr. Ostacher said was made up by a onetime genius that went insane after seeing a horse getting beat by his master. Mr. Ostacher never got around to explaining why he went nuts (something I intend to fully investigate in the future). Mr. Ostacher said that the Nazis used this theory to help defend killing off everybody in the world who didn’t have blue eyes and blond hair so that they could make a superman race of Nazis to take over the world. Strangely enough, the boss man, Hitler, had black hair and dark eyes—go figure…
I found myself thinking a lot about the Nazis and their Ubermensch strategy and I figured it made some sort of sense. But not because I was particularly fond of blue eyes and blond hair. My interest and subsequent creative endeavors centered on the fact that the Nazi Superman was a glorified bully. Now normally, bullies are hated persons to be avoided and shunned (with the exception of Bugs Bunny who is a bully that nobody cares to label as such. In fact, you could say that Bugs Bunny is also a kind of white racist for his endless tormentation of Daffy Duck, the black duck). But the Nazi guys, they clearly elevated the idea of a bully to something magnificent. That’s what really struck me. That, and the fact that somebody actually got the notion to create a whole race of bullies to eventually take over the world. Talk about an idea!
Using Spiegelman as my guide and mentor, I went on to create my own comic book, The Family of Fats. But unlike Spiegelman, instead of rats for the emaciated Jews, my victims were fat. And instead of a cat for the typical fat Naziman, there was skinny me. For the cover, I drew a dead and withered, family tree: in the leafless branches the members of my family nested in their own food refuse, lounging like slobs and eating like pigs, their total tonnage straining and near about snapping their individual branch lairs. Yes, creatures indeed they were, a bizarre cross-species of human, orangutan and hippo. At the trunk of the tree was my skinny-looking human self—piling up fire wood and getting ready to set the whole dead tree ablaze with the blubber of my family as added fuel for the inferno. Turning the pages it was all me, the heroic bully, a Ubermensch Bugs Bunny on a mission to create havoc and mayhem on the family of fats, each chapter a separate adventure leaving nothing but death and destruction in my wake… And I tell you, this comic book was a smash hit throughout the entire seventh and eighth grades, passed around and lauded in the cafeteria, the soils and stains of greasy fingers only adding to the overall flavor of my drawing and coloring. Indeed it made me as popular as Hitler in his heyday.
It was my art teacher, Mrs. Ward, who told us that art imitates life. Fair enough. But I’ve also found that life can also imitate art. Sometimes if you pretend to be something often enough, you end up becoming what you started out only pretending to be. Let me explain…
In my comic book, The Family of Fats, the hero—me—goes from one chapter to the next bullying his fat family in a variety of ingenious ways that, like I said before, made me something of a legend in the school cafeteria. One of my biggest fans was Donald Barron, the biggest, baddest real-life bully in the school. Everybody except for the teachers just called him Barron or, when he wasn’t around, “the Barron.” Now, the Barron was what you would call a big, fat bully. But unlike my family who would be considered “weak-fat,” the Barron was “strong-fat” like his father, the butcher, who was not only a real-life butcher but who also was a near famous NHL player with the nickname, “The Butcher,” known to wield his hockey stick like a battle ax on unsuspecting enemy team’s necks. Sadly, Barron the Butcher was kicked out of the league before his career got a chance to really take off. However, this expulsion added a certain hometown awe that he parlayed into a successful meat shop. To this day, you can go inside Barron’s Butcher Shop and see the yellowed newspaper article about his NHL expulsion and a broken hockey stick mounted on the “Wall of Fame.” Naturally, my fat family is great patrons of Barron the Butcher, their fondness for his homemade “kielbasa” bordering on the psychotic. Kielbasa is a polish type of sausage from the Barron’s homeland. Interestingly enough, both the father and son Barrons resemble pigs, especially in the snoot and cheek. The reason I find this interesting is because in Spiegelman’s comic, the Polish people that turned against the Jews were drawn as pigs. Of course, Spiegelman might have been making some kind of particular point in his choice of animals for people—obviously that—but what’s so fascinating is the fact that many times people do in fact resemble one kind of animal or another. Sometimes they are born looking like animals and sometimes they grow into it, like when a master starts looking like his dog (or maybe the master just happens to pick out a breed that looks like himself—I’m not really sure on this, something I’ll have to investigate further)… Mrs. Seltzer once said that everybody—people, great apes, monkeys, mammals, even maggots—are all descended from a common ancestor way back in time. We are all like leaves on a tree of many branches coming out of a common root that ended up evolving in different ways. So maybe the Barron looking like a pig has something to do with his evolution as a mammal to a primate. Maybe his branch has branched out from a common swine branch (and my family branched out from whales or hippos?). Not quite sure on this point. In any case, I’ve always had my doubts about this whole evolution thing. I once got Mrs. Seltzer quite vexed when I asked her why there are so many ugly people in the world.
“I don’t understand what you mean by that?” she said.
“You told us, Mrs. Seltzer, that evolution works by natural selection. You told us that the male peacock has evolved a beautiful tail to attract the female peacocks. So why hasn’t evolution favored beautiful people since they’re the ones that everybody secretly or not so secretly wants to have for a mate? I mean, in the caveman days, males just went around raping females just like dogs and cats do, right? So wouldn’t you think that if you were in the business of raping, you would rape the most attractive victim? Therefore, over the thousands or millions of years of evolution, doesn’t it make sense that the beautiful ones would be the one’s picked so that genetically only beautiful people would end up being left? Is there such a thing as a male peacock with an ugly tail?”
Mrs. Seltzer didn’t have an answer for that. She just screwed up her face like she sucked a lemon and said, “That’s a very odd yet very interesting thought, Joseph, but we have to move on to the next topic now.”
Since then, I’ve been very skeptical about this whole evolution thing. There are just so many holes in the theory. But here I am again, going off on another tangent (as Mr. Ostacher always says about me).
So, getting back to life imitating art… One person who is not a fan of my comic book is a real life Jew named Marty Schwartz. “Schwartz” is the German word for black. Which makes me think that sometime, back in the olden days, before the Nazis, the Schwartz Jews were maybe some kind of African immigrants (even though Marty and his entire family have skin the color of glue paste which once again throws even more doubt on this whole evolution scam). Anyway, Marty Schwartz, in addition to being a pasty looking Jew, is also fat. So naturally, you could understand why Marty is no fan of my Family of Fats (although he did enjoy reading Spiegelman’s comic—which I found hypocritical and told him so). With that said, Marty is not only my next-door neighbor but also a long-time friend who shares my keen interest in science (we have been partners on a number of science projects over the years, even winning a prize for our exploding volcano, and we are currently lab bench partners. In this capacity it is me who has done all the knife work in dissecting frogs and fetal pigs since Marty is entirely squeamish when it comes to cutting dead animals). Mostly, however, we are friends outside of school due to the fact that I am not so secretly embarrassed by having a pasty-fat Jew friend that everybody else makes fun of. Marty, like most Jews, is pretty smart so he knows this and, much to his credit, never has called me on it. In fact, Marty entrusted me with the secret of his real name. A secret I faithfully kept for many years.
Marty’s real name is Moshe, which is a Jewish name for Moses. And the reason why Marty kept it secret was that when he was a little kid he was often teased for having this name. He was teased so much, in fact, that it made him have diarrhea all the time and especially when he had to go to school. He even told me that his mother took him to a psychiatrist to help cure his stomach problems and when Marty moved into our neighborhood, Marty’s mother contacted the principal of the school to make sure all his teachers called him Marty instead of Moshe so to not let history repeat itself (as Mr. Ostacher likes to say). On many occasions, Marty confided in me that he wished he had a normal name like mine: Joe (which is short for Joseph which, if you are a Jew, refers to Joseph in the Old Testament who was sold into slavery in Egypt by his brothers but who then went on from being a slave to being a bigwig advisor to the Pharaoh himself. And if you’re a Christian, Joseph refers to Joseph, the stepfather of Jesus, whose real father was said to be God himself—another thing that definitely needs further investigation. There was also another interesting Joseph of note, a Joseph Lumbroso, that according to Mr. Ostacher was a crypto-Jew who was burned at the stake—auto-da-fe—in Mexico during the time of the Spanish Inquisition. Joseph Lumbroso was the name that Luis de Carvajal used as a cover for his Jewishness. Mr. Ostacher also pointed out that this Joseph actually circumcised himself with a pair of old scissors to further his disguise—yet another item that behooves further investigation. Mr. Ostacher explained that Joseph Lumbroso was tortured on the rack until he denounced everybody he knew, including his family, but then, after the torturing was over, he recanted his denouncement and tried to commit suicide, unsuccessfully, by throwing himself out a window only to be burned at the stake in the end—auto-da-fe. Mr. Ostacher said that this Joseph was the first Jewish author in the New World and, in my opinion, a most excellent topic for a comic book.)
Getting back to Moshe which is really Moses, the prophet in the Old Testament who grew up as a secret Jew who was adopted by the Pharaoh’s daughter and lived pretty good until he killed an Egyptian slave master for smiting a Hebrew (Jew) to death. This Moshe then went on a number of great adventures that included God-talking burning bushes, plagues, parting seas and leading his people to the Promised Land after wandering around in the desert for forty years. It is significant to note (according to Mr. Ostacher—unsurprisingly a big fan of Moses) that Moses never got to the Promised Land himself (a fateful irony, according to Mr. Ostacher). So you would think that Moshe would find some sort of pride in being a Moses. I tried to point this fact out to him on a number of occasions with no avail. Moshe made it clear to me that he only wished for a “normal” name like Joe or Harry or Bob…
Life imitating art… Inspired by my Family of Fats, the Barron anointed himself the real life tormentor of the real life fat kid, Marty. Using a method described in Chapter Four, the Barron, along with a few of his cowardly minions (throughout history bullies always seem to be supported by a host of cowardly minions—why this is so deserves further investigation) held down Marty and pulled up his shirt, exposing his big fat stomach. Next, the back bicycle tire was positioned above the belly with the Barron manually manning the peddles with his hand. Peddling furiously, the back tire gained speed as it was slowly lowered down onto Marty’s belly causing anxiety, friction, pain, howling and a thick rubber mark across Marty’s torso. Although I didn’t condone this action, I didn’t stop it either. Which, in retrospect, makes me not unlike the millions of Germans who watched the train cars rolling across the flowery countryside and into the death camps before going back to their coffee and strudel. Mr. Ostacher calls this kind of thing, “complicity.” I am very guilty of complicity. But I am not the only one.
The one thing about Marty that you had to respect was actually two things: (1) I never saw him cry and (2) Marty never snitched. That says a lot because Marty was constantly tormented by bullies for as long as I knew him and even before that when he went by the name of Moshe. In our Junior High, it was not uncommon for Marty to be slapped in the back of the head; punched in the arm, ass, or thigh; have his books unceremoniously “dumped” from his arms while walking down stairway; locking him in closets and girl’s bathrooms; stuffing him in the janitor’s trash bin; stealing his food and lunch money—almost always when he was caught unawares and not ready for it. However, the most constant and favored indignity that Marty suffered was the five degrees of Wedgiehood, to which the Barron and other assorted bullies attempted with various levels of glee and success: 1. Regular Wedgie. 2. Frontal Wedgie. 3. Mervin (front and back wedgie). 4. Atomic Wedgie (underwear put over the head). 5. Hanging Wedgie. However, it was me, in Chapter Nine, that created the “Flagpole Wedgie,” a credit that I certainly have mixed feelings about after its attempt (and technical failure) by the Barron. The flagpole wedgie is just as you might imagine it. Take a normal, Hanging Wedgie, but instead of hanging him on a fencepost or traffic sign, hook the wedgie to the flagpole rope and hoist him up like ol’ stars and stripes. Lucky for Marty, this did not work because the flagpole clip bent and broke before he was barely off the ground. (The flagpole wedgie was later used with moderate success on “Flaco” who they got a full six feet up the flagpole before he was rescued by Mr. Fucci, the gym teacher—the Barron getting a full five day suspension for the affair, his minions, three days a piece).
Following the Chapter Four and Nine incidents, you could say that Marty and me had a falling out. It wasn’t stated but understood. A definite cooling of relations… I believe he held me responsible for putting the bicycle wheel and wedgie torture notions in the Barron’s brain (rightly so as the Barron didn’t have much of a brain to begin with).
It was during this time when Marty found a new friend by the name of Ronald Reagan. No, not the President of the United States. Just a kid with the same name who was born when the Ronald Reagan was only famous for acting with a chimp named Bonzo. Mr. Ostacher once said that if you told anybody that Ronald Reagan was one day going to be president (back when he was cavorting with Bonzo) people would think you were crazy (Mr. Ostacher also said that, at first, the Germans thought Hitler was a clown too). Another ironic point was that the parents of Ronald Reagan, the kid friend of Marty, only named him that because his Uncle was named, Ronald, too—the man dying tragically when he was rammed by a ram shortly after trying to start a sheep farm in Montana. This Ronald Reagan had turned into a hippie and quit a good job in the city to become a sheep farmer and while the rest of the family were not hippies they were all very liberal minded and I imagine totally horrified when their son’s namesake ended up being a chimp co-starring president.
Marty’s new best friend, Ronald Reagan, had moved from Florida and entered our school in November of that year. Like me and Marty, Ronald Reagan was keen on science so it did not take long for him and Marty to hit it off. This was just fine by me since I didn’t hang around with Marty inside of school much anyway. Also, Ronald Reagan was also a typical nerd with a slovenly build and “coke-bottle” glasses. Thinking back on it now, however, I do believe I was not so secretly jealous of their friendship. Especially when we examine the event of the Barron’s smiting Ronald Reagan during a fateful game of two-handed touch.
The game began in Stephen Griggs backyard, a yard devoid of trees and excellent for football playing. Me, Marty, Ronald Reagan and a few other guys from the neighborhood where playing three-on-three. Marty and Ronald Reagan were at the loser, “hiker/blocker” and “rusher” positions reserved for the fat or uncoordinated. They played against each other on opposing teams because they were the last two to be picked. But they did not seem to mind and I do suspect that they were each giving the other easy thoroughfare in equal turns. No matter. The game went along without incident until the Barron and his friend, Dirk McCracken showed up. Of course, they immediately put themselves into the game but, in the interest of equality, put themselves on opposing teams. Fair enough. But not for long. Within a couple of downs, both the Barron and Dirk began to get rough on Marty and Ronald Reagan whenever they were in the hiking position. Without much creativity, they basically would come slamming into their victim just as they had hiked the ball and were coming out of their crouching position. Truth be told, it was really a kind of slaughter, not only due to the difference in speed, strength and malice between predator and prey, but also due to the degree of disadvantage being the “hiker” put you in. You would really have to see this to fully appreciate the “shooting fish in a barrel” nature of the thing. In any case, it got pretty bad and bloody for both Marty and Ronald Reagan.
Interestingly enough, the Barron put himself on Marty’s team so that his victim ended up being Ronald Reagan. I find this interesting because it seems that the Barron, for the first time in his bullying career, showed some sort of evil creativity in being able to punish Marty even more than usual by punishing his friend. The Barron, like everybody else, knew that Marty was never one to cry or snitch so I do believe it was the Barron’s intent to finally break him via the annihilation of Ronald Reagan, his new best friend. Again, as countless times before, I was complicit in the goings on because I did not raise a finger or mutter any objection to the mayhem unleashed by the Barron and Dirk.
Unlike Marty, Ronald Reagan was not one to hold back his tears and it didn’t take long for him to be balling like a newborn. I felt bad for Ronald Reagan, I really did—but again, I did nothing to help him. In fact, I did something I will regret for the rest of my life…
Soon after Ronald Reagan started hysterically weeping, Marty took the football and threw it over the fence (barely). He said, “This fucking game is over.” I felt like clapping but I remained, for the moment, silent.
“Who the fuck are you?” said the Barron. “Who the hell do you think you are throwing the ball over the fence? I should slap you silly for that alone.”
“I’m not afraid of you,” said Marty.
“Yes, you are,” said the Barron who quickly raised his hand, making Marty flinch. “See?”
Dirk McCracken found this flinch exchange quite funny.
“I oughta beat the shit out of you and your crybaby friend just to teach you both a fucking lesson.”
“What lesson is that?” I thought to myself. “I wouldn’t mess with him,” I said to the Barron.
The Barron turned towards me, “What did you say?”
I said, “I said I wouldn’t mess with Marty.”
“Why the fuck not?”
“Because his real name is Moshe which means Moses which means you don’t stand a fucking chance.”
“What the hell is he talking about?” said Dirk McCracken.
“I don’t fucking know,” said the Barron. But, surprisingly enough, the physicality ended there. The Barron just pointed a finger at Marty’s head and walked away with Dirk McCracken grinning in his wake.
“You’re name is Mush?” asked Stephen Griggs.
“Moshe,” said Marty. “Yeah, that’s my name.” Marty wouldn’t even look at me. He just put his arm around Ronald Reagan’s shoulders and walked him home.
“What kind of a name is that?” asked Stephen Griggs.
“Shut up, Griggs,” I said. I was mad and confused and—until this very day—I can’t tell you why I said that, why I gave away the secret of Marty’s true name.
But, like it or not, there was no going back. The cat was out of the bag. From then on, Marty was referred to as Mush or Marty the Mush or Fat Marty the Mush. But unlike his earlier childhood days, Marty suffered no diarrhea on account of it. You could say he just endured it like all the other indignities that came his way.
Marty never spoke to me again. Not only that, he exacted his exquisite revenge by purloining The Family of Fats and handing it over to Mrs. Seltzer. He did this secretly (perhaps in cahoots with Ronald Reagan—I never did find this out). But I’m sure it was Marty. Who else could it have been? After reading my book, Mrs. Seltzer shared it’s pages with Mr. Ostacher before the two of them held me back from lunch to discuss it’s contents and my authorship. Mr. Ostacher first held it up (the image of Moses with his stone tablets came to mind) and asked, “Did you author this?”
I just stared at the cover of my book, secretly appreciating the grand flourish and minute details of my family tree…
“We would like to have a conference with you and your mother,” said Mrs. Seltzer. “It’s always been clear to me that you have a great imagination but I think there are some issues that must be discussed.”
“You’re not in trouble,” said Mr. Ostacher (yeah right, and those shower heads were for water, not poison gas). “We just think it might be best to have a small conference with you and your Mom.”
“Please give her this,” said Mrs. Seltzer, handing me a sealed envelope with my Mother’s underlined name on it. “And have her come in at her earliest convenience.”
I took the envelope to my breast feeling like Cleopatra with her asp. But I never gave it to my mother. No fucking way. But what I did do (before chucking it down the sewer) was rip it open and read its contents requesting a “conference” about “recent developments and issues with your son.” Now, in case you don’t know, having a parent conference when it isn’t “Parent Conference Day” means either you are some kind of psychopath and about to get kicked out of school or you’re getting some sort of high honor like being skipped a grade. I had no delusions that it was certainly not the latter…
But, what to do? I had already chucked the letter down the sewer and, using Marty’s childhood strategy, I feigned stomach trouble, staying home “sick” from school not one, not two, but three full days… On the third day, a Friday, my back was to the wall. I couldn’t very well try to fake sick forever. Thoughts of running away from home like Huckleberry Finn crossed my mind but I had no Mississippi and No Big Jim to facilitate my escape. Just as I was thinking these thoughts, the doorbell rang. Do not ask for whom the bell tolls…
The worst of all possible scenarios! Not only Mrs. Seltzer but also Mr. Ostacher, holding in his hand, my Family of Fats, my very own Sword of Damocles. As the bell continued to toll, I ran to my room and into my closet, hiding like one of Spiegelman’s rats, waiting on my doom.
Mrs. Seltzer, Mr. Ostacher and my mother talked for a very long time in the kitchen upstairs. Surprisingly enough, I was not summoned during the deliberations that in one sense was a relief but in another, only fueled my mounting fear and dread.
Immediately, after my mother closed the door on their exit, she called my name and, completely un-Marty-like, I broke into convulsions of tears and bitter wailing that rivaled those of Ronald Reagan (the kid) and Saint Peter (at the cock’s third crow).
She traced the sound of my sobs to the closet where I was buried beneath all garments pulled from their hangers. She pulled open the door and seeing my book in her hand, I buried myself deeper, no longer trying to stifle the flood of wailing that would not relent.
“Moshe! Oh, my Moshe, what’s wrong?” she said. “Don’t cry. Your teachers, they were just so worried about you.”
“Why can’t I be like the rest of you?” I cried. “Why can’t I be like you or Papa or Leon or Sarah?”
“What ever do you mean? Oh, Moshe…”
“I don’t want to be fat! Why would God do this to me? I’m nothing but a fat and disgusting little Jew!”
“This is not true. It is not for us to say or know what God does or does not do. You are alive and you are loved, my Moshe, and this is something only beautiful.”