Sunday, June 24, 2007


I just found out from the site that Koko's best friend Michael died, all of seven years ago, and I knew nothing about it. I'd been looking for information on how things were going with him and Koko. He was only 27 years old.

For those who didn't grow up with Koko, she is a gorilla who was trained from an early age in sign language. If she were human, she would have been in my class in school, born just a few months after me. I heard about her for the first time when I was in grade school, probably when the story first aired about the amazing ape who could talk to people. The usual naysayers delivered the usual opinions to the contrary: 'learned by rote...' 'just aping the researchers, har har,' but it was clear to me, even at that age, how alarmingly close to human Koko was. She had strong attachments, to people and to other animals - she seemed to understood abstract concepts, like love and grief, and even angst, and to be able to communicate about them. Koko had a kitten that she adored. She called him "All Ball," because of the way he looked, curled up, sleeping. Her description of him? "All Ball cat. Tiger cat. Koko love."

Koko was 2 years old when Michael came on the scene. Koko's affection for All Ball had spawned an interest in babies, and when she told the researchers that she wanted to be a mother, they set to work, like a highly-educated gorilla dating service. They rounded up photos and profiles of all the likely unmated captive male gorillas and showed them to Koko. Koko's response was unequivocal. Michael was The One.

I remember wondering at the time just what exactly had made Michael so much more appealing to Koko than all those other gorillas. Today, seeing the picture of Michael on his memorial page, it dawned on me for the first time that, by god, Michael was a really handsome gorilla.

The researchers sent away for Michael, and everyone waited with high hopes, especially Koko. Once he arrived, it didn't take long for excitement to turn to dismay. Koko didn't seem to know how to approach Michael, and Michael was not helping any. You could see on her face, as she cased Michael's pen, that something about this whole situation just seemed wrong - not what she'd expected at all. This was so much like my own experience with online dating that I wanted to give her a call, but I'm not sure what I would have told her. Imagine that you had only one shot - you had to pick out a guy from a picture, and you were so young and clueless that you just automatically picked the cutest one. What if he turned up, completely out of the loop on the marvelous family-building plan you and the researchers had concocted, and you suddenly realized this person was a total stranger.

The whole situation completely fascinated me. It was so complicated. Human beings tend to assume that animals are less discriminating than we are when it comes to choosing mates - that bad plumage or conformation will queer the deal, but not personal differences. Clearly, in this situation, though Koko seemed reasonably nice looking and Michael was kind of a hot gorilla, and they both were the only game in town, neither of them could stomach it. They preferred to do without. Proximity did lead to friendship eventually, however. On Koko's web site, Michael is listed as her best friend, more beloved than the researchers, or the other gorilla later introduced to the family.

Michael had an artistic streak. There's a clear difference between paintings made by him and those made by Koko. Michael's paintings have a great sense of energy and movement. One of them, which he named "Apple Chase" is supposed to depict a chasing game he liked to play with a pet dog. You can see the dog, all black and white patches in a blur of motion. 'Chase' was one of his favorite words. When asked by the researchers what he thought of visitors, he replied, succinctly, "Chase chase squash hit-in-mouth." Both he and Koko seemed to think visitors' interest in them was prurient.

Koko lived, as friends, with Michael for almost 30 years. I can't even imagine how lonely she must be without him.


Many people know how upset Koko was over the loss of her kitten, All Ball. To describe her sorrow, she would often use the signs for "sad" and "frown." Her grief for Mike is much deeper, and she sometimes seems inconsolable. Following Mike's death, Koko has expressed her grief with the words "sorry" and "cry." For example, she held up one of Mike's blankets, looked at Penny and signed "Sorry." Three weeks after Mike's death, Penny's sister visited Koko. When she asked Koko how she was feeling, Koko replied "Cry."

In one conversation Penny had with Koko soon after Mike's death, Penny called Koko an "angel" as she sat near Koko who was in her room at bedtime. (Koko and Mike shared the same structure but had separate rooms.) Penny continued, "Angel in blue room (Koko's room), and "Angel in this room" (indicating Mike's room). Koko signed, "Imagine."

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Mergers and Acquisitions

Number 39 on this list of things that make me feel bewildered and old: the new candy bars. About 2 hours into a four-hour bike ride today, I stopped at McCall's General Store (Boring, OR's finest, and your best local source for plaster statues of eagles attacking mountain lions and hats that say 'git 'er done'). I grew up in Boring, and remember McCall's as a magical fantasyland of candy, where anything you could possibly think of could be found. Unlike most of those 'you can't go back' things, the glamour of McCall's candy bar aisle is just as vivid today as it was in my childhood. I saw bars there that I thought had disappeared from the market years ago (Clark's Bar, Rocky Road, U-no, Lik-M-Sticks).

There was also a raft of new candy bars that looked like they had been genetically engineered by the spiritual heirs of those guys in the old Reese's commercials whose peanutbutter and chocolate accidentally collided. I can't even remember the names of these things. All of them were packaged as some mutation of another, dominant bar (Reese's, etc.).

Used to be back in the day when someone invented a new candy bar, it had a whole new name, new concept - - even if some of the ingredients were similar to other candy bars, there were only vague, half-assed attempts to cross market. Even Milky Way, which was just Snickers without nuts, got its own whole look and shtick - and Milky Way/Snickers with nothing but nougat was sold, for reasons entirely unknown, as 3 Musketeers. Did the utter lack of content in this candy bar somehow help swashbuckling highwaymen achieve peak performance? In what way was nougat with caramel more like the starry night sky? Why, if nuts were added to the caramel and nougat, was the result apparently mirth?

Anyway, out of curiosity, I did buy one of the frankenbars. I have no memory at all of its name - it was packaged like a Reese's product, but was actually an unholy amalgam of Reese's peanutbutter cup, Butterfinger and Nestle Crunch. Tasty, but just...wrong. Equally troubling - those bags of chips containing multiple different kinds of chip in them, but all in weird, stunted sizes and peppered with ranch.

Big ass vs. big-ass car

Tonight, for about the five-millionth time, someone honked at me as I rode my bike down the dreaded Milwaukie Ave on my commute home from work. Depending on what kind of day I've had, my reaction to this varies. Often, I just boil. After all, it's not my fault that busy Milwaukie Ave is the only street that goes through, or that its flow is congealed by parked cars, or that the sidewalks are virtually unusable. I avoid it as much as I can, detouring onto side streets, but there is one quarter-mile section I have no choice but to use.

Today, I was in a philosophical mood. I'd just finished a proposal at work, and had that nice cat-just-out-of-the-litterbox feeling (frisky and fine). So when some asshole in a lumbering 'light' truck decided to school me (i.e. place my life in jeopardy to teach me a lesson, the object of which was 'you don't belong here'), first I was furious, then I started thinking. How nice for this rat-bastard to feel so entitled to all the space on this, the only road for five miles in either direction that crosses the ugly freeway I'd rather weren't there. How nice for her that she feels not a drop of guilt for trying to run someone off the road who takes up a fraction of the space she does, causes no wear and tear on the pavement and puts in taxes each year to help repair the damage her snow tires create every winter.

Mid-rant, something occurred to me. I sounded just like an anti-obesity apologist - only for cars. Isn't it interesting how sometimes it's okay to take up more than 'your share' of space and sometimes it's not? Even the most fluffed-up figures on the supposed cost of the obesity crisis are nothing compared to what we, as a nation have paid for the privilege of being able to go virtually anywhere in a huge, heavy, stinking vehicle. Gas is approaching $4 a gallon, greenhouse gases are destroying the planet, highways are falling into disrepair from overuse and hundreds of thousands of people have died through our efforts to secure a steady supply of oil. What dollar amount can you place on all that?

I am well aware that it is almost impossible to conduct a normal life in the U.S. without a car, especially if you have kids, or more than one job, or live in a neighborhood where you can afford to buy a house. I don't consider it the fault of individuals that the roads are clogged with cars - that's an infrastructure problem. If it were easier/more appealing to get around other ways, and maybe a little less appealing to drive, I think people would respond to that. But until that day, it's really not fair to fault people for taking advantage of the convenience of auto travel, while turning a blind eye to the human, economic and environmental costs.

I've been a bike commuter for almost 10 years now, and was a transit junkie before that (I had a car once, from 1988-89, when I was living with my mom up the mountain and driving an hour and a half every day to get to school). My whole life, at this point, is shaped in a way that makes this workable for me. When I bought a house, I bought within easy biking distance of the city. A whole room in my tiny house is full of bikes, trailers, racks, bike repair stuff and gear for various kinds of weather. I have no children and only one job, and I am relatively young and healthy. I also have the privilege of living in super-casual Portland, Oregon, where 'formal wear' means a clean t-shirt with no slogans on it and no holes, and of working in an office where people sometimes go all day without putting on any shoes. I never wear makeup or complicated hairstyles that wouldn't survive crushing by a helmet.

In short, I think it would be difficult, and in many cases impossible, for many people to get rid of their cars and live like me. Besides the monster stumbling blocks, like getting the kids from place to place or negotiating routes that are miles and miles long and friendly only to cars, there are the small things: women I know who would rather die than go without makeup, or have flat hair, or get sweaty on the way to work. Men who wouldn't be caught dead in those bike pants (so ass-saving those pants). Then there's the vulnerability factor - it's frightening having impatient people in cars gunning for you because they don't realize you have no choice but to get in their way (even for only a quarter of a mile).

In fact, giving up driving in America is a spot-on perfect analogy for losing weight and keeping it off. Next time someone tells me 'it can be done, fatty - so do it!' I plan to say to them: 'Okay. I will lose 30 pounds in the next five months if you will leave your car in the garage for that entire time.'

It can be done. You can get rid of your car forever. Look at me: I did it! But look at what I had to do. My life is drastically different now than it would have been had I spent most of my adult life driving a car instead of riding a bike. I would be a different person. I would look different, I'd probably dress better, I'd go different places, maybe even with different people. I might have a different job, and a pretty guest room in my house instead of a muddy, greasy bike room - though I would never have been able to afford a house. I would probably have more credit card debt. My health and strength would be nowhere near as good. And what if I had a baby, or married a man who didn't ride a bike? Well, I, personally, would figure out a way to deal with it without getting a car - this is the only life I know - but it would be punishingly hard in all kinds of ways, great and small.

The thing is, though I would be thrilled for anyone who took up a biker's life and gained the benefits I've gained, I certainly don't think other people are inferior to me because their legs aren't as strong, or they can't get past wanting to have nice hair. Sure, we'd all be healthier if we had bikers' legs, but so the hell what?

So after your friend, who has kindly pointed out to you that you just aren't trying hard enough, has chewed on this for a minute or so, calmly advise her to multiply the sheer enormity of going without her car (forever) by 10. Then she will have some inkling of what she is expecting you to do.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Better Living Through Evil

This is just for fun. Thanks to littlem for the lovely compliments, and the multitudinous comments! You made my work day. MG

ATLANTA - "Goody two shoes!" shouts little Greg Northenby, kicking savagely at Kathy Stebbens' calves, as the Southern Baptist minister's daughter runs for safety into the tool shed behind her family's house. As she makes good her escape, Greg and the other little boys "baa" like sheep, throwing further epithets at little Kathy. Finally, they grow tired and go away.

This is not an uncommon occurence in the life of little Kathy Stebbens, for, like an increasing number of children in America, Kathy is good.

Preparing dinner in the family kitchen, Kathy's mother shakes her head with pity. "My heart hurts for Kathy," says Mrs. Elle Stebbens. "Kids can be so cruel."

"We're planning on sending her to a camp," adds her husband, Rev. Jim Stebbens, who has just returned from stealing the morning paper off the neighbor's front porch. "We saw a segment on Inside Edition."

Since 1981, goodness rates in children ages 5 to 12 have risen alarmingly. Is it the American diet? Is it too much television? Honestly, it's impossible to know, so it seems most reasonable simply to blame the children themselves.

"Kathy was such a mean, superficial little baby," says her Aunt, Kelly Jazelby, plaintively. "I can't think where Elle and Jim went wrong. It's hard to look at her and think of her as a pretty little girl anymore, and if I'm thinking that, and I'm her aunt and I love her, what must other people be thinking?"

In 2001, the Department of Health estimated that stress-related illnesses were responsible for over 300,000 American deaths a year. Once it was discovered (in January, 2002) that many of the symptoms of stress can be alleviated by careful cultivation of an evil nature, the Department, aided by many organizations dedicated to evil (such as Amway and Walmart) began an all-out campaign to revitalize the American public.

"If you don't do the work," says Stet Billsworth Bunson, a personal trainer certified in both weight-bearing and aerial evil, "you've got no one to blame but yourself for whatever happens to you. I'm sorry, but that's just life. Goodness is not just ugly to look at, it's unhealthy, and it's costing the healthcare system millions of dollars a year."

Thankfully, there is help for children like Kathy. The camp Rev. Jebbens has enrolled her in for the summer is the famous Camp La Jella. In the 20 years since its founding, Camp La Jella has helped hundreds of children from ages 8 to 17 learn the new habits and life skills they need to maintain a healthy level of evil. "These children are going to have to show inner strength every day for the rest of their lives," says Camp Counselor Reggie Beerbotham, who has just uncovered a stash of Unicef boxes under the mattress of one of the campers. Sighing, he piles them on the child's pillow and goes outside to find some dog feces. "I honestly believe that evil doesn't come naturally to some of them. But what are you gonna do? You can't let them be good. What kind of lives are they going to have? Who's going to love them?"

Enrolled in the camp for only two weeks, Kathy is already showing encouraging signs of improvement. At first, she was unable to steal without eventually returning to the scene of the crime and either tearfully confessing or returning the item stolen. Now, she coolly pockets the craft counselor's reading glasses with only the faintest of guilty expressions and casually strolls out of the room.

One young woman is on the road to recovery, but many remain, and the future of America's youth remains uncertain. Ulcers are becoming as common on the playground as they once were in the Elks Lodge (where now a standard of rude good health is rigorously maintained). One thing is certain, however: good people are worthy of spite and disgust. It is your duty as a responsible American to shun and jeer at them, and to remind them, as forcefully as possible, that you are better than they are.

Monday, June 18, 2007


I first heard the term 'cougar' last week from a younger woman at work. I figured it was just another in a seemingly endless list of terms the generation just below mine has generated over the past 10 years or so and, as usual, I kind of pretended I understood what she was talking about until I figured it out from context. Once I managed that, I was surprised by how much it bothered me.

'Cougar,' for those as out-of-the-know as myself, is a term applied to single women in their late 30s or early 40s - women who are, presumably, desperate and 'on the prowl' for a man. The sense of the word is that this is a truly pathetic state of affairs.

I can't actually account for why I found the term so viscerally repugnant. The obvious answer would be that I am a single, 36-year-old woman who will, according to the lights of our culture, become completely obsolete in the next four years, if I weren't already beneath notice for my weight. But, because of my weight, I have already spent so many years of my life as a punchline, being a joke for another reason should not be so hard for me. Should it?

In the usual way of these things, I have suddenly started hearing 'cougars' discussed everywhere, usually followed by gales of laughter. The word has featured prominently in ads for a rancid new reality show called "Age of Love" (NBC). In it, a group of 40ish women (the cougars) are arrayed against a group of 20ish women (the kittens) in a battle to the death for the affections of a famous and incredibly boring man (Australian tennis pro Greg Philippoussis), aged 30. I made the mistake of watching the show tonight, and it depressed me for so many reasons that I don't think I can muster the energy to write about them all right now.

The 40ish women are genetic marvels - all gloriously beautiful, freakishly youthful and groomed to within in an inch of their lives. Philippoussis' initial response upon seeing them? Dismay.

Okay - so, I don't actually think there is any reason to expect a younger person of either sex not to think someone 10-18 years their senior is too old for them. Normal, healthy as far as I am concerned. The thing that depresses me is the sinking feeling that Philippoussis could have been 10 to 18 years older and his reaction would have been the same.

The other depressing thing was the squealing. Oh merciful god, the squealing. I stopped punctuating my conversation with squeals somewhere in my mid-20s, and I think I stopped using that self-consciously excited 'omigod!' voice some time in junior high. When did 40 become so incredibly old that you had to sacrifice all your dignity to be forgiven for it? When I was 10 years old, I had my first celebrity crush - on Harrison Ford, who was 40 at the time, and starring in "Raiders of the Lost Ark." In the old Mediaeval concept drawings of the stages of life, 40 sits at the pinnacle, dressed in robes and at the radiant peak of human development - and this was when people, even wealthy people, did not live so long as we do now. My Aunt Mette lived to be 104. My grandmother lived to be almost 100. That means I could have, conceivably, 60 years, almost twice again as many as I've lived so far, in which to be completely beside the point.

Are we all frickin' insane? Nobody gets younger. Youth is not something anyone deserves. We all go through it, and we all get old, and the American qualifying threshold for youth goes down every year. I now know 28 year olds who talk as if they are about to enter the geriatric ward. You would think some of us would start paying some big-time attention to older people, if for no other reason than self-preservation.

Oh well. Time for bed.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Krishna Kremes

I've been thrilled to note that my highly scientific sidebar poll has drawn three whole votes (one of them from me)! Fascinatingly enough, everyone is open to buying cookies from Hare Krishnas, as long as the cookies are really good. I'm going to take this information to headquarters, and I hope very, very soon to see an earnest young man in an orange drapery approach me on the street with a box of Krishna Kremes for sale. Religion always go down a little smoother with a big dose of sugar.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Fellow Travelers

Watching the much-discussed Fox News debate in which some woman named MeMe Roth registers moral indignation that a girl who is not a perambulating skeleton won American Idol, my internal pinball finally hit 'tilt.'

Any day now, I am fully expecting to see one of these freaky Anne Coulter clones appear on television criticizing fire plugs for encouraging the Obesity Epidemic because they are short and squat, unlike the tall, slender telephone poles. It really is getting that bizarre. I'm reminded, constantly, of those stories from the McCarthy era, where some poor bastard is subpeonaed for buying a carton of milk from a grocer who might be Communist.

Since when has it been the responsibility of art and artists to encourage 'health'? Since when do we punish artists for not being 'healthy'? People may get pissy about smoking in films, but they don't look at Heath Ledger and say "He's a smoker. He's a bad example. He shouldn't have a career."* Gwyneth Paltrow freely admits eating what sounds like an anorexic's diet. I don't hear anyone saying she shouldn't be in pictures. Elliot Smith wrote some very affecting songs about how it disgusted him the way people romanticized his heroin addiction.

I think MeMe Roth should dye her hair. She is encouraging Aryanism in broadcasting, which is, in fact, a real problem. Why do female pundits always have to be struck from that same mold? Young, leggy, white, blonde, sometimes with glasses added for 'seriousness.' She should be ashamed.

* I don't actually know if Heath Ledger is a smoker or not - he was just the first person who came to mind, and I can't say I'm sorry about that...rrrowr! But I am sorry if I'm saddling him with a bad habit he doesn't get to enjoy.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Game, Set Point and Match

I just finished reading Gina Kolata's excellent book, "Re-thinking Thin." Being a fat girl, I was, naturally, looking for answers about myself, and I came away flummoxed. I don't seem to fit with the book's conclusions in any way except for my inability to keep weight off after losing it.

Kolata presents compelling evidence that weight is genetically determined, like hair color, ability to roll one's tongue, singing ability, etc. She seems saddened by the people in an experimental diet group who have found psychological explanations for their obesity, in essence blaming themselves, their pasts, their family lives, for something that is probably as natural as their height, or their hitchhiker's thumb. She made me sad for them, and for myself. I was so enthralled by Kolata's conclusions that I hopped right on her bandwagon for the duration of the book. It was only once I set it down and started trying to think of myself as a person who was 'born to be fat' that I ran into trouble.

The set point theory - the idea that bodies tend to cling like grim death to within 10 and 30 pounds of a set point, and that no amount of dieting or overeating will sway them in any permanent way - receives a lot of space in the book. I started thinking about what that set point might be for me, and I am stumped. I want to believe it's around 190 lbs, a weight at which I liked how I looked and felt, and that seems like such a reasonable call - way more reasonable than if I looked at the insurance charts and decided that I should weigh 145, which I haven't, since junior high. But the fact of the matter is that, as an adult, I have weighed anywhere from about 180 to 311 pounds, and have spent significant amounts of time at various weights without seeming to work that hard to maintain it. At two different times in my adult life, I've lived comfortably at my preferred weight for about three years, then something happens and I start gaining again. My set point seems to migrate.

Kolata also brings out the well-documented fact that fat parents have fat children, and that people with fat biological parents tend to get fat even if they are adopted by thin parents. Here again, my family history is at best unhelpful, at worst, totally confusing. My mother did not come from a fat family. Her family was effortlessly slender. When she married my dad at 18, she was 5 foot 3 and weighed 103 pounds. Her waist was a little over 18 inches around. She gained some weight after having a few children, but stayed relatively thin/normal until her late 30s, when I was born. Then she started getting really fat - fat like I am now, and, as far as I know (I have not seen her in 10 years), continues to struggle with her weight today. My dad's family bears out the 'inherited tendency' thing, but again, none of them started putting on weight until middle age, all maintaining 'normal' weights up to that point, and their mid-life weight gains tended to be relatively modest. Five of my brothers and sisters followed that pattern, effortlessly thin until their late 30s, then having to struggle to maintain a state of modest overweight. The other brother is like me.

Although C. is about 15 years my senior, he could almost be my twin, and he is the only other family member, besides me, who started struggling with weight at a very early age. Reading Kolata's book made me start thinking more about C.'s and my similarities. I wish I knew when he started gaining weight, but it was something we did not talk about in our family.

I had always assumed that my weight gain started (at about age 9) because of the breakup of my parents' marriage, and my mom going to work the night shift at the hospital, leaving me alone in the house all night. Mom let me sleep in her bed, for comfort, and gave me a children's aspirin every night, as kind of a placebo device to help me sleep. I wore a big silver crucifix to bed because I was deathly afraid of vampires, and suffocated all night long with the covers pulled over my head on the principle that the vampires might be Muslim or Buddhist and completely unimpressed by crucifixes.

Mom left me snacks to eat when I got home from school, and she was usually sleeping. After the early stages of mom's return to work, it got hard for her to prepare a special snack for me every day, in addition to seeing to meals, the house and everything else, AND working a demanding job. I started making my own snacks, and the easiest thing to do was to butter a slice of bread. I wish I could remember what went through my mind the first time I finished my slice of bread and butter and decided to go get another one.

I remember not being an overeater before that point, and my photos show a normal little girl - not a sylph, but far from fat. I have a clear memory from when I was fairly little of eating a couple of bites of mac and cheese (my FAVORITE at the time), getting bored and going away from the table, then being surprised and delighted when I caught sight of it again a couple of hours later. I cannot, now, imagine walking away from my favorite food like that and so completely forgetting about it.

I also remember being babysat at the house of a neighbor girl a year older than me, who was a compulsive eater - she was constantly suggesting we get 'a little something to nibble on.' About half the time, I was for it, but the rest of the time I wasn't, and I remember thinking it was weird and tedious that Annie always wanted to get 'something to nibble on,' when we could be doing something more interesting.

Even at that age, though, I thought of myself as fat. The first time I clearly remember thinking I was fat was in ballet class at age 4. Except for me and Annie, the neighbor girl, all of the rest of the girls were skinny, with ribs that poked out, making their waists look incredibly tiny, and bony little hands that always seemed cold and damp. My body was a brick - solid up and down, sturdy, but not what you'd call fat - but compared to those other little girls, Annie and I looked like whales. Annie started consciously sucking in her stomach all the time, actually receiving praise for doing so from both of our mothers. I tried it, but I couldn't stand it. It was so hard to breathe. When my pre-school photos came back, my dislike for my solid little body was sealed. My arms, protruding from a mass of pink ruffles, looked like sausages. I remember actually thinking that, if not for those arms, I might actually be pretty. The thing is, I was not completely out of my mind. I was bigger than most of the other girls my age. I did not have protruding bird bones. But I didn't actually get fat for another five years, which at that age is a lifetime.

I honestly don't know how much constantly thinking I was fat had to do with my actually getting fat. The fact that so much time passed between my deciding I was fat and my actually getting fat leads me to believe it didn't have as much impact as I've always thought. What really seemed to tip the scales for me (no pun intended) was finding myself alone for vast stretches of time for the first time in my life. I think, in a way, I was looking for some advantage to being alone all the time. Naturally, every advantage in that situation has to do with not being observed. I knew my mother already thought I was fat. Maybe on some level I knew that sneaking food would be one of the most forbidden things I could do. I also found the drawer with the dirty book in it (Jean Auel's "Valley of the Horses", hawt! Sort of) and rearranged the living room furniture. The thing that's funny about a lot of these adventures in solitary confinement is that there is no way I could have concealed my activities. Food doesn't just disappear, and it's pretty obvious something has changed when you come home to find the living room furniture rearranged.

Bread and butter (actually margarine - cheap, gross margarine, like Imperial or Blue Bonnet) was my poison for quite a while. Eventually, I worked my way up to eating through a half a loaf of bread in one afternoon. I don't know how, but I did become aware that this level of consumption was too conspicuous. A half a loaf of bread gone in one day is hard to miss. I started getting stealthier - using less bread and more margarine. I started spreading margarine on both sides of the bread. Then I started sprinkling cinnamon and sugar on it. Then I ditched the bread entirely, mixing up sugar and margarine in a bowl and eating it straight until I felt mortally ill and had to lie down. Other binge foods I concocted in this 'advanced' phase were sugar drizzled with lemon juice, margarine-buttered cheese, and leftover chex cereal from the Christmas Chex Mix making (we usually had those partially-full boxes for months after the holidays) microwaved with margarine, cheese and worchestershire sauce.

The thought of eating any of this stuff now makes me queasy. I wouldn't want it, and I wouldn't be able to keep it down. Also, I am now an adult. No one is stopping me from going to the store and getting some candy or cheet-ohs - so maybe the fact that I don't want buttered cheese anymore is not significant.

I don't remember my mom ever talking with me about the binge eating. I do remember her staring me down whenever the family went out to an all-you-can-eat buffet and I took - man - incredible quantities of food. Way more than I would be able to eat now. I would go back several times, and fill my plate full each time. Afterward, I would feel horribly sick and have to lie down. The stare-down made me feel like a little pile of shit, but it didn't stop me from eating as much as I could.

Thinking about it now, I wonder if it was startling for my mother when I started binge eating. Seeing me swell from a bigger-than-average but healthy 60-pound 7-year-old to a 110-pound 9-year-old who now wore a larger jeans size as her 17-year-old sister (who, granted, was an anorexic) must have been alarming. She thought I was fat before - what did she think now? Did it occur to her that my size and habits before had actually been pretty normal, or did this just seemed like more of the same to her?

Over the next few years, I inchwormed - getting fatter, then gaining inches to compensate. Then, at about age 13, I stopped getting taller. I went in and out of what I thought of as 'pretty phases' for years after that - fluctuating between a size 11 and a size 16/18. I started gaining weight in earnest in 1994, when I remember being surprised/depressed to find that my weight had risen to 220 lbs. Between 1995 and 1996, it rose to 255. By 2000, it was 311. Then, in 2004, I lost 120 pounds. I kept it off for a year, then started to regain.

Looking at this, I see less a steady, lifelong progression of weight gain and more long periods of maintenance at one weight or another punctuated by stress-induced periods of drastic growth. I gained 50 pounds (almost doubling my body weight) when my parents divorced and my mom went back to work, leaving me home alone at nights. I gained 91 pounds after the breakup of my family in 1994, and now I've gained 70 pounds following the greatest period of stress I've experienced since then.

My mother started gaining weight in her 30s as her marriage unraveled. My oldest brother put on weight toward his death as he grew more and more depressed about what surgery for a brain tumor had done to his wonderful mind. My favorite sister, who had always been a reed-thin athlete, put on almost 80 pounds in a deep, suicidal depression after the breakup of our family. We are not, by nature or nurture, happy people in my family, and our response to life-shaking crises seems to be putting on weight. A LOT of weight.

There's an interesting discussion going on over at The F-Word about set point theory. I really welcome the way popular culture seems to be embracing this idea, in spite of the fact that it's such an oversimplification, and kind of insulting ('well, okay...I guess if you can't help it, maybe we'll have to let you be fat').

Repeatedly drawing people's attention to the fact that some gay people are born that way (e.g., 'they can't help it') increased mainstream understanding and acceptance of homosexuality. It's now much more possible than it was 20 or even 10 years ago for someone who probably 'could help it if they had to' to contemplate and pursue happiness with a member their own sex. If people begin to accept that fat people are often born, not made, maybe we'll eventually get past that humiliating prerequisite (which isn't even offered yet at this point) and it will become more permissible for all kinds of people to stop policing their bodies. I think that has to be the real goal.

I still agree with Kolata's implication that it was sad to hear fat people flogging themselves with psychology, but I have to say, I think my getting fat was 90 percent psychology/10 percent biology, and that biology mostly brain chemistry and a tendency to become depressed and then gain weight while depressed. My brother C. and I probably have a slightly greater genetic physical tendency to gain weight than the others, but the rest of them demonstrated the same pattern - they just didn't have to start paying the fiddler until they reached middle age. It's not sad to me that the 'why' for me is, in fact, psychological. It is sad though that I've always thought of it as something I should have been able to rise above. No one should have to prove the morality of their weight gain anymore than they should have to prove the morality of who they choose to love.

Anyway, Gina Kolata "Re-thinking Thin" is a kickass book, and chock full of terrific material for arguing with people who say they just want to help you. I totally recommend it.