While Rome burns

I just came back from a week in Myrtle Beach, where I attended the Horry (that’s pronounced “orry”) County Home and Garden Show and spoke at the new convention center, just down the road from Broadway at the Beach.

Let me make it clear that it wasn’t Myrtle Beach that troubled me — after all, it’s a resort city and everything a resort city is supposed to be! I had great food, saw a great show at IMax (Asheville should have one of these theaters so that, as a tourist mecca, we have something to offer visitors under age 65), and enjoyed walking on an almost empty beach.

No, the problem was not in the stars but in the passing parade. Because one of my sponsors was a Myrtle Beach Nursery called Cactus Sands, I helped man their booth a few hours each day, while the owner, Jack Bonner, went back to the greenhouses for watering chores.

I sat at a small table, surrounded by Jack’s display of blooming azaleas, hawthorns and clipped boxwoods, on a seat that put the waists of the majority of passers-by right at eye level — and what waists they were! It wasn’t Myrtle Beach, it was Tub-Tub City that paraded past! For whatever reason (bad food, poor nutrition or unhappiness — and medical authorities assure us that, except in extremely rare cases, obesity isn’t glandular), I watched the fatso brigade slowly walk or, in some cases, ripple on by.

I realize that one or two of them may have been in training for a run at the Guinness Book of Records or an appearance on the Jerry Springer Show, but the majority of these warp-and-waddles were in that state because of one simple fact: They ate themselves into their present condition!

And it’s one thing to see the boomers and the retirees saluting Pork City, but it’s quite another to see these marshmallow teens, unable even to tuck in their shirts, and slopping along in unlaced Nikes because they can’t bend over to tie them up.

Don’t get me wrong — the Adipose Tissue Gang are legion in Asheville, too. But somehow the excess poundage seems less obvious with mountains as a backdrop. But set against sea and sky, these female (and male) Venuses of Willendorf stand out like defrocked peacocks at a feather bar-b-cue.

Aren’t those fat fashions cute, too? Yards and yards of stretch cottons with expandable waistlines, worn with down-at-the-heels sports shoes and loose jackets with broken zippers.

Of course, some of the blame rightly accrues to the many fast-food joints and popular restaurants whose portion-control experts think big-time — places where the amount of food consumed is in direct proportion to the amount piled on oversized plates, and it’s expected that most diners will return to the buffet tables at least three times for refills.

But I don’t buy a lot of the current psychological explanations of why people overeat. Back when I was in college, there were very few fat people on campus. And in high school, only two members in a graduating class of 99 were heavy hitters. And things are supposed to have improved since the ’50s and ’60s, right? Kids are smarter and life is easier, right?

So why does one person eat for five? Why do people invite problems with arthritis, high blood pressure, ulcers, stomach disorders, broken arches and flat feet, not to mention diabetes and kidney problems? After all, there must be a reason that obesity is second only to smoking among the leading causes of preventable death.

I haven’t really got an answer. But I am now convinced that the Republican Right has recognized the problem and decided that what we need is a return to Star Wars. After all, if an enemy attacked us tomorrow, what would we do? Send the newly conscripted Porker Parade out to fight in the trenches or fly the jets or drive the tanks?

Now I realize that most intelligent people understand that constructing a colossally expensive missile system to protect us from rogue rockets fired by insane Third World dictators is just a bit wacko, especially when we can’t get adequate highways built, our bridges are falling apart, and we’re supposed to just accept the terminal pollution of the air because it’s too expensive to stop the polluters. Not to mention the fact that 12 years ago, a lot of cars got 40 miles per gallon, and now we’re stuck with SUVs that guzzle gas like there’s no tomorrow (which might just be right on) and, regardless of all the political promises, are more in dept to OPEC than ever before.

We also know that bacteria and viruses are again on the upswing, having adapted to the overuse of all kinds of medication, yet we insist on buying germ-killing soaps for the kitchen and bath.

But what’s the alternative when a third of the nation is well on the way to being obese, if they haven’t already arrived at the Stuffy Station?

So instead of boning up on how to keep track of, or predict the actions of, that insane idiot who will make a suitcase bomb and drive it into a crowded airport, we’re poised on the edge of the big-money cliff, ready to catapult ourselves into yet another oversized debt! We’ll spend billions on a missile-based defense system so a lot of Americans can believe they’re safe enough at home to continue eating themselves into early graves.

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