Eating the Sun

 

When I was a kid I once imagined that if there were to be an apocalyptic disaster and subsequent worldwide food shortages, all the morbidly obese people in the world could be repurposed as cinnamon rolls. Because that was what they were shaped like, and, presumably, what they chiefly consumed. It's not a moment in my young life I'm terribly proud of. But there it is. Disaster was the tenor of the time, or at least the tenor of my young brain and, raised in Oklahoma as I was, the morbidly obese occasionally seemed to be in greater supply than natural food sources. Once, at the extremely tactful age of six, while attending a high school basketball game with my grandfather, I spotted from afar an excessively rotund man sitting in the opposite bleachers whose body seemed to be perfectly shaped into three descending tiers so wonderfully sculpted that I imagined one could safely set a cup of hot chocolate on one of them. I pointed and shouted up to my grandpa: Look! it's a cinnamon roll man!  

These days, in Seattle in the year 2016, I rarely see the generous in body fat, the excessively portly, or those shaped like pastry items. There are only relentlessly fit people everywhere. I stroll past fit women stretching gracefully in their yoga studios, wearing their contour-hugging, camel toe-prone yoga outfits; I see fit men run past me in bright neon spandex as I walk slowly along the bike path, their dicks bulging, all of them generally looking quite miserable yet determined, their muscles pulling and yanking themselves along into a fiercely healthy future—a future which includes no suffering or pain of any kind, and certainly no possibility of an early death. Through office windows I see fit men and women nipping hesitantly at healthy snacks made from oats and flax seed. I see them, those blessed creatures of the morning jog, the evening child’s pose and the weekly juice cleanse, turning in ever-widening gyres on the sidewalk around smokers, holding their breath, finding their center, which is holding fast.

Slumped in my office chair now I recall nothing and see nothing except my younger self. He could be found at any moment perched on a river stone eating a log of summer sausage, if it was warm enough, that boy. Or with his best two friends collecting mussels and crawdads, and smashing the living shellfish onto the lifeless river stone halfway across the little river. With the soft texture of the mussel slimy in my hands, it didn’t occur to me feel guilty until I recalled the incident years later—I’m sure the local raccoons appreciated the gesture. Or perhaps they didn’t, having missed out on the sport of it. I can see that boy, too, crashing his bike while riding down the steep hill next to his friend Grant’s house, ripping a good sample of skin off both shins, and laughing with his friends, laughing at him.

I can see him getting a hernia while helping carry a railroad tie for one of his dad’s landscaping projects, feeling a portly nurse his mother’s age poke him nakedly in the groin. That hurt? she asks. He pulls his pants up, relieved to have that over with. His belt safely buckled, she asks the young man if he smokes. Won’t tell your folks, she promises. Sometimes, he says. Okay, she says, and writes it down on her clipboard.

And then long stretches of nothing are what I remember. But, unlike the adult nothing I experience now, which is relentless in its fullness of somethings which add up to nothing, back then, the nothing had substance. My empty space had serious meat; it was a gristly clog of chewy nothing. That vast, sumptuously fatty expanse of unlimited time—what is properly called boredom, the boredom of longing, of waiting for one-knows-not-what—propelled me headlong into a future rich with headily concrete possibility. It makes me sit up straight to think about. I was naked then, but I wasn’t vulnerable, I was womb-like, with an umbilical cord tied to the infinite, the metaphorical equivalent of a childhood spent in a hot shower.

What I miss most about the endless boredom of being incredibly young was my capacity to notice. I was free to laugh at the Cinnamon Roll Man because my worldview accepted him for what he was; he was the sum total of abstract absurdity exemplified in its most greasy, physical form. I didn’t denigrate him for being grotesque.

I loved his fatness, his brave and honest fatness. He was what he was. Nothing else. I felt no pity for him, no impulse to morally censure him, no self-righteous urge to tell him that his fatness was slowly drowning him, damning him to an early death. The Cinnamon Roll Man was reality; he couldn’t be anything else.  

*

We are made to eat the sun. We are made to be ourselves endlessly; we are creatures who need to define ourselves by what we are, as opposed to what we are not. This is not a timid acceptance of the facts. It is unhealthy to eat precisely what one wants, unhealthy to drink to excess, unhealthy to find oneself consistently existing amidst a haze of cigarette smoke, unhealthy to go out into the cold rainy night just for the feel of it, for the rapture of standing on small wet stones on a rocky beach after midnight as rain slaps the shore, as the wind slaps the face and the hands and the body. But such storms slap the body, and even if the body suffers, the mind is better for it. 

 

Nathan Knapp Biography

May-June 2016 Issue, BOAAT