Reasons for hating people: bad morals, bad manners, bad breath. The first category covers a lot of ground. But you can safely hate immoral people without being hated yourself. You can hate a serial killer or pederast without compunction. You can hate a tyrant or a Nazi without warrant. Manners may be a question of taste, or cultural proclivity. Still, if manners dictate decency and grace in speech and interaction with fellow human beings, it is logical to hate one who lacks decency and grace. Perhaps it is wrong to hate someone for bad breath, but it happens nevertheless. That said, a breath mint or a visit to the dentist can often remedy that condition.
But reality is often illogical, or counterintuitive. Some people are hated not for immorality, bad manners, or bad breath. They are hated for other, more pernicious and arbitrary reasons. When I walk, the air around me moves. People around me move. That is also understandable. They imagine what it would feel like if I stepped on their toes. They also shirk shoulder to shoulder contact. They know that they might get flattened should they test my solidity. They seem put off, aesthetically speaking, and this is also understandable, for they have been conditioned to loathe the obese. Obesity results from gluttony and sloth, as goes the story, and indicates a lack of self-control and discipline, perhaps even a lack of intelligence, for what reasoning creature would want to balloon to appalling proportions, curbing mobility and life-span, verily eating itself to death?
Bulk truths: people are vain, people are shallow, no one is perfect. I walk my beat keeping this in mind. If I hear titters from behind or from the flanks, I pretend they are sounds made by birds common to the city, featherless things, with skinny, pimpled necks. Tee-hee. Tee-hee. Ha ha. I have thick skin, these chirps bounce off me like paper planes.
Someone once asked me if when I die they will bury me in a piano case. I replied that I wished to be cremated and scattered to the winds. The person retorted that it would be like that fire at the tire depot back in the day—the one that went on for months. I told this person that I hoped with the entirety of my being that a piano would fall from a high rise and onto his pointy little head. It brings to mind the remark that a woman made some time ago about my coitus with a likely candidate creating a tire fire. There have been no fires save metaphorical ones.
Someone else asked me how I sat on a conventional toilet, and I said, I get on my knees and straddle it. This works. It crushes the knees, but I’m tough enough to endure it. People don’t realize how tough I am. The person recoiled. Get over yourself, I wanted to say. I made it home and my dog Cheetah greeted me with furious squirming and whining. I had been gone for most of the morning. I let him out back for a pee. He raced around the yard and then gave it to the apple tree. He came in all frisky and I fed him a pepperoni stick to calm him down. I needed a little snack myself. My blood sugar drops if I don’t munch every couple of hours.
I layered a ciabatta bun with mortadella, provolone, hot pepper spread and three anchovies, grabbed a carton of chocolate milk and parked myself on the sofa. It was a hell of a sandwich. I tried eating it slowly, but that’s like trying to go down a water-slide at an amusement park slowly. Once you hit the slick, zoom, you’re gone.
A knock at the front door interrupted me. Cheetah went mental, because that’s what he does. People say he’s poorly trained; I say he’s a free spirit and that I never want him to be otherwise. The knocker turned out to be the neighbour, Walt Hendricks. Hendricks looked like a man who had survived a scabies outbreak, though not unscathed. Telling reddish scars ringed his neck and wrists. His head, scored with little ruby welts, was shaved clean, perhaps a prophylactic against another scabies attack. But more distracting were his eyes, entirely composed, it seemed, of green phlegm.
“Elefante, how are you today?” he said, in his squishy voice.
“Shut the fuck up, Cheetah. Goddamn, dog. It’s just Hendricks.” I gave the pooch a nudge with my shin and he retreated. “I’m eating,” I told Hendricks.
He smiled with tea-stained teeth. “Not surprising.”
“Haha. What do you want, friend-o?”
“Raccoons got into my garbage again.”
“And what do you want me to do about it, have a word with them, since they’re such close and personal friends of mine?”
“Listen, Elefante, you don’t have to always be so mouthy. I just came to say I saw them busting into your garbage cans this afternoon, when you were out.”
“How do you know I was out?”
“Because when I came and knocked on your door to tell you the fucking raccoons were into your garbage, no one answered except your yappy dog.”
“I see. Well, raccoons gotta eat, too.”
Hendricks rubbed his chin. He appeared to be thinking, though the peculiar condition of his eyes made it impossible to tell whether this was true or not. He could have been merely staring at something, perhaps at my physique. I was used to people staring at me, needless to say. They’d see me coming from a mile away, transfixed by my nearing presence and gravity. But then again, Hendricks must have also been used to people staring at him. I know I would have stared at him had he passed me in public.
“Elefante,” Hendricks said, “I want to ask you something.”
“Yeah, well make it quick, I have a sandwich waiting.”
“Elefante, can you lend me a few bucks?”
I laughed aloud. It was a beautiful moment. I genuinely felt tickled. Hendricks knew better than to ask me for money; he was the last person to whom I would lend money even if I had an abundance of it. Known in the neighbourhood as a bit of a mooch, he was always asking to borrow my lawnmower or vacuum cleaner, and I didn’t mind letting him use these things provided he returned them intact, which he usually did. One time he borrowed a toilet snake and brought it back uncleaned. I told him he could keep it. When he said he no longer needed it I told him to stick it up his ass. When he asked me what I meant by that I told him to take the fucking thing out of my sight before I stuck it up his ass. You can’t mess around with the clowns of life. You have to be firm and straight with them, otherwise all hell breaks loose.
“By the way, Elefante.”
“Have you dropped a few pounds? Your sweatpants look loose.”
I wondered if he was being smart with me—most likely. But as mentioned, I have thick skin. A lifetime of gawking and hissing and fat jokes will do that. Nothing much can wound me, especially coming from the likes of him.
“Yeah, I dropped ten pounds this morning taking a dump.”
“No doubt, no doubt,” Hendricks said behind his hand, shoulders chucking.
He stalked off to his shitty bungalow across the crescent. Cheetah appeared at my side, growling in his throat.
“Now now,” I said, “be neighbourly.”
Cheetah turned around and skipped off to the den. I finished my sandwich and made another, as I was still hungry. So, hypothetically, people might ask, Elefante, why eat the second sandwich when clearly the first one was ample? Are you a glutton? And I would say, perhaps I am a glutton. Then again, perhaps my only source of pleasure in this life is food and an abundance of it. What does it matter to anyone what I do with my life?
After eating I washed up and told Cheetah I was heading out again to run an errand, that I’d walk him to the dog park later. He didn’t like the sounds of it, growling in his throat and staring at me hard, but was comfortable enough on his bed in the den that he didn’t insist on coming.
I’d been trying to walk more, and not merely to lose weight. I had no truck for losing weight per se—I abhorred diets—but I wanted to maintain my mobility. I wanted to be one of those peppy fit-fat people you see on television. It took me some time to walk to the bank, where I had to make a deposit to cover my rent. I didn’t monkey with online banking. I’m not one to trust a void.
At the bank, the next available teller, a thin dark man with an overbite, summoned me with a sudden hand gesture. Everyone in the bank watched me walk to his stall. Had I passed gas they would have all heard me. Had I lifted off and floated gently to the ceiling like a helium-filled parade float they would have gaped in wonder. I presented my bank card to the teller, a Mr. Gomes. He had very white, straight teeth that I admired.
“What can I do for you, Mr. Elefante?”
“I wish to make a deposit.”
“You know you can make deposits on the ATM, yes?”
“I want to see the money go from my hands to your hands and then straight into my account with no bullshit, yes?”
“No need to be prickly, sir.”
“Oh, now I’m sir? And, by the way, prickly is an interesting word choice.”
“I was merely—”
“You were merely being rude to a valued customer, I understand. I’m not a total nincompoop. But I’m also not a prick. Ask for forgiveness, and it shall be granted.”
My voice resounded in my ears. The other patrons and staff not only looked our way, but also seemed to be leaning toward us.
“I’m truly sorry, Mr. Elefante. Didn’t mean to insult you. But I’m human also, and only want to help you. I have your best interests at heart.”
“Are you put off by my obesity?”
“No more than you are put off by my biracial identity.”
“I am not at all put off by that.”
“Then we are in accord.”
As I walked away, a well-dressed woman with platinum hair and a face that had been vacuumed of juices, looked at me, goggle-eyed, horrified. I suppose we mirrored each other’s revulsion, for as much as she may have wondered how I ever reached my monstrous physical state, I could only speculate what malpractice and debauchery had led to hers.
“You want to take a picture?” I asked.
She turned her head as though witnessing a car accident. Then turned back as though desiring to see more of it.
“Yeah, you, I’m talking to you,” I said, pointing my bloated finger. “Had a look at yourself in the mirror lately? You’d scare wolves at night, lady. Two words for you: food and water. Try them sometime. They work wonders.”
Of course, she couldn’t respond without drawing more attention to us than we already had, which was abundant. Thus, she raised her hands in surrender. Satisfied I had made my point, I exited, puffing my chest a little as one is wont to do in light of a victory, however small. Every day is made up of victories, big and small. And while the big victories are causes for celebration and dancing, it is the little ones that sustain you.
Artwork by Wayne Thiebaud