Thanks a Lot Mom, I’m Chubby Again

Mansaf

Mansaf, Jordan’s signature dish. Stewed lamb, topped with jameed, a tangy sauce, served over rice and garnished with toasted almonds. Too delicious not to eat the whole thing.

My partner would be the first to admit she’s no fan of the gym. Luckily this isn’t a problem for her because she’s so petite and perfectly proportioned despite her, um, lack of enthusiasm for exercise. She’s also Sicilian, and is running in her sleep apparently, because her lack of exercise during waking hours hasn’t taken the ‘bella’ out of her ‘figura’.

I am glad to avoid having the awkward conversation when she asks “do I look fat in this?” If she were, my penchant for brutal honesty combined with the lack of a functioning mouth filtration system would not catch the words “a little actually, since you asked” before they had already passed foolishly from my lips, as so often happened in my failed marriage. Instead, I can honestly say “No, and I loathe you a little. Mia amore.”

It’s not fair. I could eat nothing besides lentils and celery for weeks but if I didn’t exercise like a hamster to burn off the calories I’d be husky, pudgy, hefty, have a great personality or any of the other euphemisms for “fat.”

My partner doesn’t exercise in the mornings before work because she’s not a morning person. I am the morning person. I am incredulous there are people in the world who aren’t, and I use The Force (of Annoying Persuasion) to win more people over from the Dark Side. Who wouldn’t respond favourably to morning musicals performed in their bedroom? Who doesn’t want their toast and coffee with a side of jazz hands, juggling poodles, and flaming sword-swallowing? Her, that’s who. “Lasciami in pace!” and a flicking of her hand from under her chin is all the response I get.

Zaatar

Za’atar Manakeesh. Za’atar is a combination of crushed oregano, thyme, marjoram, and toasted sesame seeds. You mix with olive oil and spread over the flatbread (manakeesh). I don’t know how I lived so long without it.

My morning enthusiasm is fuelled more by neurosis than genuine fervour. It’s hard to accept my partner hates me in the morning, that I will be doing yoga and meditation alone again, so I intensify the zeal to turn her frowns upside down, hoping she’ll at least leap out of bed at five thirty to kick me in the crotch. At least she’d be out of bed. Then, just then, maybe she’d work out with me. Alas, the gimmicks in my tickle trunk – which are legion – fall flat. Tough crowd, those Sicilians. It isn’t personal, she tells me, but I’m pretty certain “sta ‘zitto buffone” is not the nicest way to say “Please stop, dear.”

She works for a large multi-billion dollar profit-making bank by day. You’d think that she’d have a cushy life and drive Lambourghinis. Think again. She works the retail side. All the back office staff were cut because a few billion in net after-tax profits was underwhelming to the greedy bastards who run the place. She’s essentially a white-collar slave who works countless hours a day to get paid slightly more than a Wal-Mart greeter. So she’s almost dead when she comes home, which is why she can’t work out then either.

But you know what sucks most of all? She’s not fat, despite the nothing she does to burn off all the pasta, pannetoni, prosciutto, provolone, and other fattening foods beginning with the letter ‘p’ she routinely consumes. I mean, she’s not even a little chubby. Sure, in the winter months a barely noticeable undulation collects on her mid-section, what she and her mom call a “panza.” Pfft. You call that a belly. This, is a belly (lifting up my shirt).

At last, spring has finally descended upon the Arctic wasteland in the mid-western Canadian city my stupid ancestors set down roots to curse the following generations for their easier lives. This week, my petite, Sicilian girlfriend who burns calories in her sleep and hates me in the morning has been walking to and from work. Way to go, eh? Not really. I mean, she only lives about one kilometre away from her office. Because her legs aren’t much longer than the members of the Lollipop Guild it takes her about twenty-five minutes to walk that distance.

It seems to her like she’s doing a lot of walking, but she’s really not. She likes to meander and ogle other people’s gardens and landscaping to get ideas for her own house along the way. After walking a whole eight kilometres this week you know what happened to the little panza? Arrivederci. Addio. Ciao. That’s what. It was gone, as quickly as a tray of fresh cannoli in an Italian cucina.

It ain’t fair. The oxford shirts that hung breezily over my relatively firm, somewhat mildly-toned body last summer cling to me like spandex. The buttons struggling to hold my shirts closed are poised to take out an eye when they finally bust loose. When I button up my pants, the mini-muffin tops I had before have turned into sacks of dough big enough to make ciabatta bread for all fifty of my partner’s cousins. My hairy “gulo” springs out of my pants like a moron whenever I bend over – usually to pick up one of the poodles I’ve been juggling to impress mia amore in the mornings. Ah, there’s a smile, at my hairy, fat ass. I am learning she uses Sicilian words when she’s laughing at me.

The Hulk - My Clothes Don't Fit

Damn it, my clothes don’t fit.

Now, when I put on my favourite black blazer, once the centrepiece of my “If this doesn’t make one in twenty ladies take a second look, nothing will” outfit, it looks like I put it on just before I became The Incredible Hulk. ‘Don’t run ladies, I’m not angry, I’m just heftier than I once was. I swear, I’ll fit my clothes again by the end of summer.’

Damn, I did it again. I emotionally-ate my way through the winter. Frankly, I don’t know why people choose heroin or alcohol when you can just eat a whole extra large seven-meat pizza and be totally fine, at least until Type II diabetes spoils the party. Until then, you get to douse your existential pain in buckets of saturated fats, salt, and sugar.

I had a good excuse this winter; I did work stints in Jordan and Lebanon where I gorged on delicious, rich, restaurant-made middle eastern cuisine nearly every day because it was absolutely necessary. The word ‘no’ in Arabic was too counter-intuitive to really learn (‘Laa’), while the word for ‘yes’ (Na’am) sounded eerily similar to the noises oozing from my soul as I inhaled the delicious food. “Do I want the mega-shawarma platter for six? Nom, nom, nom.”

Kanafeh

Kanafeh. Nabulsi cheese swimming in syrupy water, topped with light coat of pastry, and sprinkles of pistacchio. One JD at a little stall in the gold souk in Amman. Delicious.

This winter my self-discipline and I took a flying leap into the Dead Sea, which made me grateful on many fronts. First of all, it was a remarkable experience. Second, my skin was really, really soft for days after. Third, and most importantly, when I was in the water I didn’t sink like a lead weight despite the fact I had gained fifteen pounds. Even though I looked fatter in front of my colleagues than I would had we done this months earlier, I splashed like a joyful gimp as I bobbed on the surface, wincing in pain as the salt-water instantly desiccated my eyeballs and began to singe my skin after twenty-five minutes. I didn’t sink. How fat could I really be?

Obviously, I was a little more sad than I had anticipated, which fueled my appetite. I was away at Christmas. I’ve never been away from my kids for the season. I missed them; I missed my partner. I heard countless tragic stories from the Syrian refugees I was meeting every day. The kids were so joyful and resilient, totally unaware of the gravity of their situation, what terrible fate they had barely averted. Their fathers were crestfallen for having to leave their home, a place where they toiled and made a good life for their families until it was stolen by war. As a man and a father it broke my heart to personally meet thousands of people uprooted by calamities I’d spent a lifetime watching on television. I was overwhelmed by the unexpected flurry of emotions.

So I ate. And ate. Then, I ate some more to keep the scary emotions at bay.

Shwarma, halloumi, and za’atar oh my.
Mansaf, and mezze, and zarb oh my.
Kanafeh, baklava, harissa, oh my.  
Fattoush, and falafel, and fwal, oh my.
Taouk, and tabbouleh, and toum, oh my.
Hommous, and hommous, and hommous, OH MY!

Shawarma

Shawarma. Instant ecstasy.

Masha’Allah they shun pork in the Middle East, otherwise I would have had to buy two seats on the plane to get me home to Canada. Who knew chick peas could taste so good? They probably use Dead Sea salt in that too. I smoked shisha because the fruity, spice-infused tobacco was more breathable than Amman’s exhaust-filled air, more pleasant than the putrefying garbage dotting Beirut streets since the country had been without a waste disposal contract since last August. Take note, Donald Trump, the Lebanese have discovered Beirut’s garbage makes an outstanding wall along the Syrian border, giving refugees pause before they hold their nose and flee into Lebanon, if a little more fastidiously these days than prior to last August.

This may come as a surprise, but eating in restaurants every single night, finishing off bags of Al Rifai™ crunchy-coated peanuts when dinner is postponed an hour because you’re stuck in Beirut traffic, drinking three beers with every meal because you’re on an expense account, and sleeping cat hours are not recommended for those in their forties interested in maintaining a decent body. That is, unless you’re my Sicilian girlfriend, in which case, carry on as you were. You’ll only need to do ten minutes of exercise to burn it off.

Almaza - better than tap water

Almaza. Lebanese beer. Since I didn’t trust the tap water in Beirut, I drank this instead, hydrating liberally with every meal.

Since I got back, I have resumed my regular routine. I do at least an hour of exercise every day, except for those mornings after I drink too much, stay up reading a good book, or watch entire seasons of something on Netflix. Other than those mornings, I do Ashtanga yoga. I go for long hikes with my kids. I walk home from work, which isn’t one kilometre but four. I go up and down the stairs instead of using the elevator at work. In other words, I work my gulo off to get back in shape, but it’s still there, leering out of my pants.

So now my partner gets to sleep in without any guilt because she exercised for a whole frickin’ week and her winter weight is gone. Meanwhile, I feel like a sausage all the time and am filled with self-consciousness whenever I bend over to tie my shoes. It may put a smile on my partner’s face, but it’s a pyrrhic victory.

It’s all my fault. I didn’t have to eat each and every heaping plate of Middle Eastern cuisine to the last bite, but I did because it was so bloody good and there are people starving in Africa. Hey. Wait a minute. That’s what my mother used to say when I was a kid so I wouldn’t waste food. That’s why I always feel such an intense need to lick my plate clean. She needed me to be chubby so she wouldn’t feel like a bad mother who starved her children. Dang it mom, look what you made me do again. I hope you’re happy.

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