Thanks, I had a nice birthday. “What do you want to do on your special day?” Alan asked.
“Take a road trip,” I said.
Why Port Huron? Because I’ve never been there. And now that I have, I don’t think I have to go back. Not that there’s anything wrong with Port Huron, except the fact that the downtown riverfront view is of an oil refinery on the Canadian side. Our part of Michigan is full of reminders that we’re not Santa Fe, with an economy based on art galleries and restaurants, but man — that’s a depressing sight for a Port Huronian, I’d imagine.
Anyway, we saw Port Huron. Shared a pizza with the fam later, had a super-delicious chocolate cake and watched “Thank You for Smoking” on pay-per-view. It was exactly as I remember the book — a fine good time when it was going on, almost instantly forgettable afterward, which makes it a three-star flick in my book. Nothing wrong with that. Aaron Eckhart has quite the chin dimple.
Somewhere along the course of the weekend, I made time to watch “Thin,” a documentary airing on HBO. It’s about women at an eating-disorders clinic in Florida.
If you’ve known anyone with an eating disorder — what am I saying? Everybody has known someone with an eating disorder. I met my first one in college, one of my roommates. She was recovering from anorexia, although she obsessed about food more or less constantly and had a million strange eating habits, including munching on carrots to the tune of a pound a day. The palms of her hands were orange. Another friend shared an apartment in Manhattan with a bulimic. The layout of the apartment was symmetrical, with a bedroom/sitting area on either side and a bathroom in between. A couple nights a week, the roommate would binge and purge, binge and purge, all night long. A few weeks of listening to vomiting and flushing sent my friend back to the closet she was sleeping in, in Brooklyn.
Anyway, it’s very common. And like all problems, it occurs along a continuum. The women in “Thin” are at the shithouse-rat end of the spectrum; one has a tube in her stomach, which her parents had inserted to keep her alive, although it didn’t take long for her to figure out how to flex her stomach muscles to make it work the other direction. The shots of her gaunt belly, with both the tube and the belly-button ring, were ghastly.
What interests me about eating disorders is how mainstream they are, not just in their frequency but in the increasingly open acceptance of them in regular society. For all the dying supermodels, it’s becoming clear that some people don’t really see anything wrong with it. Supportive pro-anorexia and bulimia websites are out there, and unashamed. Victoria “I’m not anorexic” Beckham claims to have a 23-inch waist. A British writer noted this was the exact circumference of her head. I just got a tape measure and checked — mine, too. Women come in all sizes, but this is ridiculous.
Lately I’ve read about something called “exercise bulimia,” no barfing involved, just obsessive exercise to nullify every calorie ingested. This was reported with a shrug; if you have to be bulimic, might as well be this variety.
But I really goggled at a review of “Thin” in the New York Times, in which Virginia Heffernan noted the infantilizing atmosphere at the treatment center where these women are housed, and then writes:
And after all this restraining of their evil ways, the women can only conclude that they are undisciplined, depraved and out of control, though to look at their gaunt forms and hear about their seriousness of purpose, you can hardly imagine that willpower is what they lack. …Why do these so-called professionals talk like carping schoolmarms? Anorexics notoriously inspire annoyance in other people; it’s not clear why. Maybe, in their self-discipline, they make the rest of us feel slovenly.
Calling anorexia “willpower” and “self-discipline” is like saying someone who washes hands 400 times a day has an impressive commitment to personal hygiene. All you have to do is watch these women eat. They ingest every forkful as though it’s toxic waste. One has to polish off a birthday cupcake and takes forever to do so, complaining throughout that it’s “too sweet” and looking, by the last bite, as though she’s just eaten a turd.
It’s true — anorexics inspire annoyance. It puts me off my feed to see someone at the table mopping butter off an English muffin with a thick stack of napkins. It’s annoying to see someone who can’t spend five minutes without thinking about what she won’t be eating for her next meal. All the women in “Thin” came across as girls, even one who already had two children of her own. One was made that way by her own mother, who taught her the tricks of the game, and another hinted at unspeakable trauma in her past, but in all the family sessions you got the feeling their loved ones were trying hard not to slap faces.
Anyway, in a weekend devoted to overeating, it was an interesting contrast.
Gene Weingarten diagnoses John Kerry’s humor problem in a tight paragraph:
The man is as strait-laced as a whalebone corset, as rigid as Formica. His business is politics. He should never be anywhere near a joke.
Actual Jerry Seinfeld joke– The problem with mall garages is that everything looks the same. They try to differentiate between levels: different colors, different numbers, different letters. What they need to do is name the levels like, “Your Mother’s a Whore.” You would remember that. You would go: “No, we’re not. We’re in ‘My Father’s an Abusive Alcoholic.'”
The same Jerry Seinfeld joke, as would be told by John Kerry– The problem with mall garages is that your mother’s a whore.
Elsewhere in the WashPost, the fascinating story of the AK-47, portions of which I stumbled across in the past. If you saw “Lord of War” you got a nutshell version of this in a Nicolas Cage voiceover, but the story is far more thorough:
The story of the gun itself, from inspiration in Bryansk to bloody insurgency in Iraq, is also the story of the transformation of modern warfare. The AK blew away old battlefield calculations of military superiority, of tactics and strategy, of who could be a soldier, of whose technology would triumph.
Ironically, the weapon that helped end World War II, the atomic bomb, paved the way for the rise of the lower-tech but deadlier AK-47. The A-bomb’s guarantee of mass destruction compelled the two Cold War superpowers to wage proxy wars in poor countries, with ill-trained combatants exchanging fire — usually with cheap, lightweight and durable AKs.
When one war ended, arms brokers gathered up the AKs and sold them to fighters in the next hot spot. The weapon’s spread helps explain why, since World War II, so many “small wars” have lingered far beyond the months and years one might expect. Indeed, for all of the billions of dollars Washington has spent on space-age weapons and military technology, the AK still remains the most devastating weapon on the planet, transforming conflicts from Vietnam to Afghanistan to Iraq. With these assault rifles, well-armed fighters can dominate a country, terrorize citizens, grab the spoils — and even keep superpowers at bay.
And all Mikhail Kalashnikov was after was a decent, non-jamming weapon.
On a more peaceful note, NN.C reader and sometime commenter Jeff Gill turns up in the Columbus Dispatch, defending the Hopewell Indian mounds of Newark, Ohio. Well done.
And now we are 49. Sigh. Oh well — maybe I’ll have a career again by 50.