Andy Stone: A Stone’s Throw
December 24, 2008
We were on the highway south out of Taos, on the outskirts of Espanola, when we saw it: an enormous billboard (aren’t they all?) blaring (don’t they all?) the perfect slogan for our times.
It was right there in huge letters. White on black. With nothing to distract from the message, except, way down in the bottom right corner, the logo ” surprisingly small ” of a third-tier fast-food chain.
I’d like to think the modest size of the logo was a sign that the company knew they had created a masterpiece, a philosophical home run, something that had to be said and had to be read and understood ” with no crass commercialism to get in the way.
There were no pictures of their theoretically alluring food. No tawdry bragging about low prices. Nothing at all to distract from the vital message, a motto for America in these troubled times.
“Stop dreaming. Start eating.”
Wow. They nailed it. Right on the button. Aristotle, eat your heart out.
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Plato himself couldn’t have said it better.
The perfect one-two punch.
One: Stop dreaming!
No kidding. These are desperate times. Forget your dreams, kiddo. They’re dead. Start scratching and biting and gouging. Whatever it takes.
You’ve lost your job. You’ve lost your home. You’ve lost your savings. Who has time for dreams?
Oh sure, dream about getting your job back. Dream about getting a place to live. Dream about being able to dream again.
And then forget that noise and get back to the grind of getting by.
Dreams are a luxury at times like these.
So stop dreaming, fool!
And now the knockout punch.
Two: Start eating!
Chow down. Stuff your gullet. Fill your piehole. Pack on those pounds. Take on some ballast for the rough seas ahead.
Whatever it takes to get you through the bitter cold of the coming winter ” and I’m not talking just about the Winter of ’09. I mean the Winter of Our Discontent, the Winter of the Brutal Recession.
The Winter of No Dreams.
When times get tough, the tough start stuffing.
We yearn for the comfort of the full belly.
As Princess Diana said (really, she did), having a full stomach ” an over-stuffed stomach ” “gives you a feeling of comfort. It’s like having a pair of arms around you.”
Of course, for Diana, whose needs were emotional, not financial, the comfortable “hug” of a full stomach was in deep conflict with the need to be fashionably thin. So she wound up bulimic ” vomiting up all that food.
But that’s not where it’s at today. Diana got the first half right, but now we can forget that bulimic “purge.” We eat it and wear it proudly.
When hard times hit, thin is no longer quite so fashionable.
Sociologists and anthropologists tell us that over the millennia, when times are difficult fat becomes fashionable. Pudgy is pretty.
(And, yes, on a personal note, this is a development I yearn for ” since society is more likely to change its vision of beauty than I am to change the shape of my body.)
Think back to the great Gilded Age of America’s past.
Those were the days when the upper classes were plagued by gout ” the disease of over-indulgence. The heroes of the day were the bankers, vast men with vast fortunes and vast waistlines.
Those men were fat! They were well-stuffed. Well-upholstered.
They were the original fat cats.
In lean times, the well-fed fat cat is someone with a fat bank account to match that fat belly. And so fat becomes fashionable.
Admittedly, times have changed and the rules changed. More recently, as we have progressed into a culture of excess, we’ve gotten a new rule: “A woman can never be too rich or too thin.”
And, while we’re on the subject of the changing rules of fashion, we should remember that big muscles and tanned skin were once the mark of a man who worked long hours in the hot sun ” in other words, a peasant, a common laborer.
The rich were pale and well-fed.
But then those rules were turned upside-down.
More recently, the rich were thin (and tan). And the poor were pasty pale and obese.
Yes, America as a whole has been getting fatter, but the poor have been nearly twice as likely to be fat as the wealthy.
Some blame that on the tidal wave of high fructose corn syrup that has flooded the nation. Some blame it on the rise of fast food.
(Passing note: On the same drive that took us past that “Stop dreaming. Start eating” billboard, we stopped for gas at an interstate exit that offered the usual array of nothing but gas stations and fast-food franchises as far as the eye could see. My wife, on a whim, thought she would try McDonald’s new, much advertised “up-scale” coffee drinks. She ordered a cappuccino, took one sip and threw the rest in the trash.
It was undrinkable. Too sweet. Much, much, much too sweet. More corn syrup than coffee. McDonald’s knows its customers. If you eat at Mickey D’s, you like your meals fast, fast, fast ” and sweet, sweet, sweet.)
But whatever you blame it on, America’s wave of obesity has been on the rise. And now that wave is engulfing the rich, as America’s fortunes are on the wane.
I have already seen at least one news story about how the formerly wealthy are also becoming the formerly fit.
They’re giving up their personal trainers. And, more to the point, they’re giving up their careful, persnickety diets and stuffing themselves ” in search of that warm embrace of the over-stuffed stomach.
America’s vast wasteland is rapidly becoming a vast waistland.
And now, since this is, after all, my Christmas column, I will end by pointing out that this is the time of year when you should be eagerly waiting for that most famous fat man of all. That jolly old elf. Santa Claus himself.
But this year, the gifts he brings may not be quite as spectacularly indulgent as in years past. Santa’s tightening his belt. And laying off a few elves.
So stop dreaming!
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