I was born big, issuing forth at nine pounds, 13-and-one-half ounces—nearly three pounds more than the average full-term Caucasian baby. I was pudgy as a kid and got called "Fatso" on occasion. When my mother took me to buy clothes at the old Desmond's men's store in Westwood Village, they measured me for "husky" sizes. There were lots of jokes from my parents' friends about what a great linebacker I'd make for UCLA.
If my weight at birth was determined, as I imagine it must have been, partly by genetic factors, there's no great mystery about why I grew up big. I have a large frame and obviously haven't been blessed with one of those just-throw-it-in-the-furnace-and-we'll-burn-it-up metabolisms that some of my friends apparently possess. But I'm big today mainly for one reason: because I eat a lot.
Cheese may well be my greatest culinary vice. I love it, all kinds of it, soft-ripe and hard, goat and sheep and cow, hand-crafted and occasionally even Kraft (in the form, for instance, of Texas queso). If I go a day without making its acquaintance in some form or other, I feel diminished. If I could give up cheese entirely, I'm firmly convinced that I'd drop 40 pounds in a year. But me giving up cheese is no more likely than me giving up alcohol.
Speaking of alcohol: I've moderated my intake somewhat in recent years, but there was a period during which I was truly a prodigious drinker. While visiting London back in the 1970s, for instance, I made this entry in my journal: "I went to bed quite drunk.… I computed that I had had, in this order: a glass of sherry, a half-bottle each of white and red wine, an armagnac, a cognac, a third of a bottle of red wine, a pint of lager, a brandy, another pint of lager, a one-third carafe of red wine, a sambucca, and a double cognac—all between about 1:30 pm and midnight."
Drinking didn't just add lots of calories to my diet—it also made the eating worse. I gained a lot of weight during my days at Ports, my regular hangout in West Hollywood in the 1980s, and not only from the watercress and cheese pie and the albondigas en chipotle (which came with a thick layer of melted cheese on top; I would always eat this first, then send the dish back to the kitchen for more). Often, in fact, I wouldn't eat at the restaurant at all—just drink. But I'd almost always drink for entirely too long and develop a raging alcoholic hunger, of the kind that can only be satisfied by protein and grease. To assuage it, I'd stop for tacos at the AstroBurger on the way home—or pull into the Boys supermarket and buy a bag each of tortilla chips and shredded sharp cheddar, then, at my place, make an immense plate of nachos, which I'd eat sitting up in bed.
Maybe if I had been more physically active, the effects of this behavior wouldn't have been so dire, but I've never been particularly athletic. I love tennis, and, in the late '70s and early '80s in L.A., I was on the courts at seven in the morning most weekdays—but, after I moved to Greenwich, Connecticut, in 1994, I pretty much gave it up. (There were fewer places to play, you had to use expensive indoor courts much of the year, and I simply had less time.) For a year or so in the late '90s, until work pressures intervened, I also took up fencing. And I'll deny this if you tell anybody, but, a few months ago, I began working out with a trainer a couple of times a week at the local health club. The best thing about this is that it gives me an excuse to go out afterwards and have a nice lunch.
It is my opinion that whoever said "Nothing tastes as good as thin feels" has probably never sat down with three ounces of Iranian osetra, a stack of freshly made blinis (the kind that aren't made with pancake mix), a small bone spoon, and nobody else in the room; or attacked a steaming plateful of fettuccine alfredo made the right way (with only very rich butter and the best parmigiano-reggiano, no cream); or addressed a big, juicy bacon-cheeseburger with homemade fried onion rings and a bottle of Cornas on the side.
Or maybe that person has done all or some of the above and just didn't like the experience. It's possible, I guess. We all have blind spots in our appreciative abilities. Vladimir Nabokov apparently didn't see the point of music. François Truffaut, in so many ways the quintessential Frenchman, considered food a necessary annoyance, and probably would have preferred watching an Ozu movie for the fourteenth time to eating lunch. Me, I wouldn't care if I never saw Cirque du Soleil again in my life.
Ah, but you might point out that, while I may know how good a lot of food tastes, I probably don't know how good thin feels. That's not quite true. I've never been thin enough to wear a Speedo or my wife's jeans, but I've lost enough weight on several occasions in my adult life to have experienced the feeling of well-being that comes with comparative physical lightness. I like that feeling. I like being able to wear clothes better, to have more energy, to feel more attractive and faster on my feet.
But those are not the only things I like. The way I figure it, life isn't about weight; it's about balance. Like most of us, I'd love to be not just slimmer but also richer, smarter, happier, and a better human being overall; and I work at all of these, with varying degrees of success. Food helps: My culinary adventures over the years have certainly brought me pleasure, but they've also enriched me in other ways—connected me with wonderful people, taught me much about the world, even made me some money now and then. Food, I might go so far as to say, is one of my paths to self-improvement. If the results show up on the bathroom scale and in my bill at the Big & Tall shop more than I'd like—well, nobody's perfect. I'm trying. Maybe I'll get the equilibrium right one day. Maybe you will, too.