Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Waist Not, Want Not

By Jay Hardwig

illustration by Walt Holcombe

OCTOBER 20, 1997:  I look at my belly today with a strange and uneven affection. It is a good belly, I'll allow: small, nicely rounded, with short soft hairs set about -- not too thickly but not too thinly -- and a playful nature that only the least perceptive fail to notice. Who would I be without my belly? I shudder at the thought. And yet... (and here the so very ironic shadings of the story truly emerge) and yet I try to kill it just the same. Mine is the all-too-familiar American story -- a few too many nights at the Dunkin Donuts and the body begins its slow dance away from the Spartan norm. Cheese fries and a six pack, I know thee well. I was not long out of my childhood home when I sprouted the belly of which I sing -- soft, supple, and incurably mischievous, it has been with me for the better part of 10 years. Hear me well: I have loved that belly, and it has loved me.

But I am human; so too I am frail. Even when my belly and I are at our happiest, my eyes do wander. Soon enough my eye lights upon some lean and rangy buck and the old feeling returns --familiar to the well-bellied set -- as I covet his tapered midriff. (God only knows why, paid for, as it is, in the coin of effort and denial.) At these moments I am weak, and with a sudden shame I begin plotting the demise of my own gut (a pejorative word, and uncouth; a word I only use in keener moments of disillusionment). With a regularity that would startle those who think they know me well, I have embarked upon exercise programs of varying severity, all of them fruitless and ill-advised. They have ranged from simple jogging to "total workout" fiascos the sort of which invariably conclude with that cruelest of subhuman contortions, the sit-up. (And don't give me no bunk about the abominable abdominal crunch, either.) I rise from these sessions with my red and defiantly round belly heaving in righteous objection. "What do you want from me?!" it asks. "Where are the doughnuts?"

Why do I try so hard? What gain, and for whom? We all know thin men can't be trusted. For my part, I have always thought that a well-crafted belly revealed a man's essential goodwill. I feel that a paunchy form speaks volumes about its bearer -- good volumes -- and indeed I should count myself lucky to be among those so laden. Others, I sense, share my prejudice. As I advance upon strangers I can't help but notice that they smile a bit and allow a certain mirth to crouch into their eyes as they silently partake in my good fortune. And in the main I am happy to provide this service. But invariably my reverie is broken by the passing of some long tall Texan with an insignificant profile, a man who could hide behind a streetsign in a pinch, a man who, were he to walk into a wall, would end up with a busted nose sooner than a bruised belly. Such a man passes by and my gaiety fades, replaced by a creeping and nefarious self-doubt. The old envy, timeworn now and hardly bilious, hardly green, returns to its familiar roost. Within hours I am sprawled on the floor in the ridiculous pursuit of a flatter stomach.

In my clearer moments I hope that I never succeed at this awful task, never achieve that gauntness of form which will mark me as a sober and serious man. But should it ever happen, I do hold on to one comforting thought. If I, through some combination of design and circumstance, should somehow lose my belly -- wake up one morning to find it gone -- I know full well where to find it. It'll be down at Dirty's on Guadalupe, disguised as an O.T. Special with a side of rings and a mug of cold Shiner Bock.

Oh God, I can't wait.

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