One Fat Summer
I always hated summertime. When people take off their clothes. In winter you can hide yourself. Long coats, heavy jackets, thick sweaters. Nobody can tell how fat you really are. But in the summertime they can see your thick legs and your wobbly backside and your big belly and your soft arms. And they laugh.
I never would have gone to the Rumson Lake Community Association Carnival on the Fourth of July if it hadn't been cool enough that night to wear a long-sleeved knit shirt outside my pants. At the start of that summer, my fourteenth, I couldn't button the waist of any of my pants without getting a stomachache. I weighed more than 200 pounds on July 4th. I don't know exactly how much more because I jumped off the bathroom scale when the number 200 rolled up. The numbers were still climbing past the pointer when I bailed out.
I was tall for my age and I had large, heavy bones, so I didnt look like a circus freak. Just like a very fat boy. When my pants weren't strangling my belly, and if there were no scales or mirrors around, I could forget for a while that I was fat. But sooner or later there'd be someone around to remind me. The wise guys started up as soon as we got to the carnival, at Marino's Beach Club and Snack Bar.
"Hey, it's the Crisco Kid," yelled one of the older teenagers hanging around the snack bar.
"Why do you call him the Crisco Kid?" It sounded like a comedy routine. I knew what was coming.
"Because he's fat in the can."
They all laughed. My face got hot, but I pretended I hadn't heard. Rule number one: never let people know they can get to you or they'll never stop trying. Joanie pretended she hadn't heard, either.
"Look at that girl he's with. The nose knows."
"She's the one who blew the wind in."
I felt embarrassed for Joanie. Someday I'd wake up thin, I believed that. But poor Joanie was stuck with that nose for her whole life. It was long and crooked. The rest of her face was pretty, but who ever looked at the rest of her face?
"Hey, let's go to the booths," she said. "I feel lucky, tonight." Joanie was a terrific pretender, too.
It was early, there was still light in the sky and the crowds hadn't arrived yet. Strings of colored bulbs danced in the breeze off the lake. The jukebox was playing "Little White Cloud That Cried."
"There's that dumb song again," I said.
"It's not so bad, when you're in the mood," said Joanie.
"I'm only in the mood when I've got an umbrella."
"That's a joke, son," said Joanie. "It was only funny the first twenty-seven times you said it."
"Then how come you never laughed?"
Then we both laughed.
I've known Joanie since we were three years old. Our parents were best friends. In the city we lived in the same apartment house and we were always in the same classes in school. Somewhere there's a picture of us taking a bath together when we were four. It's cute. I wasn't so fat then, and her nose wasn't so huge. Joanie and I not only grew up together, we grew out together. That's my joke, but I've never told it to her.
A few years ago, when my parents bought a summer house on Rumson Lake, her parents bought one, too. And after that we were together summer and winter. She taught me to dance, but I never danced with anyone except her. We did our homework together. When her father took her mother on a business trip, Joanie stayed at my house.
Joanie and I talked about almost everything; she was a great talker, but only with me. Otherwise she was shy. The only things in the world we didn't talk about were her nose and my fat. When we were alone together I felt thin, and I think she felt pretty. I guess that's why we were such good friends.
"Step right up, ladies and gentlemen, the wheel of fortune is spinning, spinning, spinning. For one thin dime you can win a beautiful doll to call your own." It was Pete Marino himself, as usual dressed in nothing except a little bathing suit and a St. Christopher medal around his neck. He was pointing at us. "Now here's a couple of gamblers. Step right up, folks, you look lucky to me. "
"Let's go try the ringtoss," I said. Muscles like Pete Marino's gave me a stomachache. Cannonball muscles with big blue veins over them. I didn't have any muscles, and my veins were buried in fat.
Joanie slapped a dime on number fourteen.
"I thought six was your lucky number."
"Not anymore. My age is my lucky number now."
"Round and round it goes, where it stops nobody knows," chanted Pete Marino. He was waving his arms at the wheel and doing a little dance. He must have known how all the muscles on his back twitched and jumped under his smooth bronze skin.
"He's not conceited," I said. "He's convinced."
"C'mon, he's very nice," said Joanie. But then she looked at me. "He's not as smart as you, though."
"The wheel is slowing down, soon we'll have a winner. Who's it gonna be?" He turned around, grinning. He had big white teeth, like Chiclets, and curly golden hair. He looked like a movie star. "Who'll be the lucky one?"