WHEN FAT MEN FLY by Peter Nolan Smith / Chapter 3

In the morning Sookie and I ferried over to Staten Island. She loved the boat ride across the harbor. The Statue of Liberty was bigger than I remembered from my last trip to New York. Nick met us at the terminal in his Mini-Cooper. He looked splendid in his hippie dealer clothing; patchwork leather jacket and shiny boots. We had breakfast at his parents’ house in New Dorp.

His mother fried eggs in bacon fat. I loved them crackling crisp. She fed Sookie, until her tight belly extended over her hiphuggers. The skinny twenty year-od disappeared into the bathroom for several minutes. When she emerged, her face was red and she said, “I need some air.”

After lunch Nick drove to Shooter’s Island and we smoked a joint among the shipwrecks. The three of us strolled across the rotting wharves pretending we were pirates. The harbor water glistened with oil. The faint clouds in the blue sky hinted at an evening snow.

There were only a few hours left to 1970.

“What are you doing tonight?” Nick jumped from a rotting ferry to a half-sunken tugboat.

“No one’s really playing at the Fillmore, so we’re watching the fireworks in Central Park.” Wayne had mentioned this alternative.

“And your friend has some more of this reefer? Selling a pound here will pay my rent in Brighton.

“Yes, sure.” I held out my hand to help Sookie over a gap in the planks.

“Sounds like a plan. I’ll drive you into the city.” Nick climbed onto a stranded pilot boat. We followed him into the shattered wheelhouse. The walls were covered with moss.

“Can’t we stay here?” Sookie was in no hurry to get back to Manhattan.

“Why would you want to stay here?” Nick had lived most of his life on this island.

“She’s scared of Wayne’s friend.” I stood at the helm. The wheel was slimy with rot. “He’s a little fat.”

“A little fat? He weighs as much as a walrus.” Sookie shivered from the cold. “I have a thing about fat people.

“One in the freak show tried to eat her,” I joked, but she wasn’t smiling.

“The clowns are the ones who scared me.”

“Clowns are scary?” I had been on BOZO THE CLOWN three times.

“It’s called Coulrophobia. One tried to pull me into the ring. I kicked him in the shin. My mother and father laughed and so did everyone else in the audience. The clown called me a little shit under his breath.” A long-buried hatred burned his eyes. “I kicked him again. So I understand about the fears.”

“Are you prejudiced against fat people?”

“You ever hear me call Wayne fat?” Sookie was the complete opposite of Wayne’s friend. Eddie was probably five times her weight.

“Wayne’s not fat.”

The wind off the water blew hard.

“I’ve met Wayne.” Nick was a movie buff. “He’s like Ernest Borgnine in FROM HERE TO ETERNITY. Borgnine’s character kills Sinatra for calling him ‘fatso’. And then Montgomery Cliff calls him ‘fatso’ and kills Borgnine.”

“He didn’t kill him, because he was fat. He killed him because he was mean. Wayne’s not fat.”

“What about Eddie?” Sookie cocked her head to the side.

“He’s obese and will have to drop 200 pounds before he can fly in a glider.”

“What glider?”

“Eddie wants to fly a glider.”

“He’s on a cocaine diet. He’ll never lose that weight.”

“Maybe you could train him.”

“What you mean?”

“Teach him how to be thin.”

“You don’t like me this way. I don’t either. Let’s get out of here. I’m cold.”

Sookie stormed away.

Nick clapped me on the back.

“You really have a way with women”

Sookie sulked in the back seat of the Mini-Cooper on the ride over to Manhattan. I half-expected her to drive home, but once she was with Marie at Eddie’s apartment, Sookie reverted to herself again. She was even a little affectionate as she changed into tight jeans and a white turtleneck sweater for our excursion to Central Park. I helped her put on the silver necklace. It hung slack on her flat chest.

“I do like the way you look.” I brushed a wandering strand of hair from her face.

“I’m sorry about this afternoon.” She nestled her head into my chest. Her half-nakedness answered most men’s dreams. “I’m scared of fat people. I know it’s not right, but I can’t help it. Later I’ll be a good girl.”

We went into the living room and smoked reefer in a bong. I opened the two bottles of wine. Jolee Wayne showed up in biker gear. Outlaw life ran in Wayne’s family. She brought a bottle of tequila. Everyone had shots. Eddie cut us lines.

Wayne ignored Jolee’s flirting with his girlfriend, as he played DJ with his new LPS. BITCHES BREW lasted one track. The Stooges FUN HOUSE two. Spirit’s 12 DREAMS OF DR. SARDONICUS was our favorite, but at the end of the B-side Marie asked, “When you playing a record we can dance to?”

“Right now.” Wayne cued up Isaac Hayes HOT BUTTERED SOUL. The girls danced go-go style. Nick and I trotted the standard male two-step. Wayne wiggled his legs, doing the ‘funky Chicken’. The Black Moses infected Eddie and he rose from his lounge chair with a groan.

“Damn, I haven’t been on my feet in days. Thank God for cocaine.”

Eddie jelloed in front of the fish tanks and the floor trampolined under his weight. He lifted his arms, only getting as far as his shoulders. His face was flushed with blood and he wheezed with every breath. We couldn’t tell if he was about to have a heart attack, until he broke into a smile and sang along with Isaac Hayes. His soprano voice was hilariously out of touch with his 10X body.

“What? No one ever see the hippos dance in FANTASIA.”

“I love FANTASIA.” Sookie pulled Eddie to the middle of the room.

“You’re killing me.” He broadened his stance to support his shifting weight.

The two danced a polka to the Kink’s LOLA. I laughed at the spectacle of a fat man and a skinny girl swirling around the living room. At the song’s end Eddie’s lungs were scorched by the exertion, but he didn’t sit down.

“No way can I walk like a woman, but I can speak like a man.” Eddie lifted his coat from a nail banged into the wall. “It’s 10:30. If we’re going, then we should go.”

Everyone threw on their jackets and climbed down the stairs. Jolee cut out to a dyke bar. The descent for Eddie was more exercise than his body could handle at one time. I bought four bottle of wine in the time it took him to make the street. Nick waited in his Mini-Cooper. The girls and Wayne were squashed into the back seat.

“No way I’m getting into that tin can.” He regarded the small car with a claustrophobic horror.

“You’ll fit.” Nick already had the car in 2nd gear, since shifting would be impossible once Eddie was in the car.

“I might fit, but I’ll never get out.”

We pleaded for him to get in the car. It would be a tight fit, but not as bad as the four of us in the back. Several passers-by watched our circus act. Eddie was not happy with an audience.

“We’re not leaving without you. Get in back.” Nick opened his door and I squiggled underneath Sookie who said to Eddie, “Hurry up or you’ll miss the fireworks.”

Her smile prodded Eddie into a decision against his better judgment. He shrugged under the layers of fat and he heaved himself into the passenger seat. The over-loaded Mini-Cooper tilted under his mass like the car might capsize, then it stabilized slanting to the right. A hippie closed the door. We flashed him the peace sign.

“We’re all in.” Nick revved the engine. “Eddie, one favor. No fast moves.”

The trip up to the park was slow. A single bump would have torn the suspension off the chassis, but no one ribbed Eddie. He was longer fat. He was only big.

For Sookie too.

She had Eddie under her thumb.

My position was someplace else.

I kissed her on the back of the neck and she trembled on my lap.

New Year’s revelers were surging into the 5th Avenue entrance across from the Plaza Hotel. The cops had a barricade across the road. Nick showed them this father’s MD pass. They waved us into the park and we drove to the boathouse. It was quarter to 12.

Eddie got out of the front seat and was breathless after this epic effort. We helped him over to a park bench with a clear view of the lake. Strains of rock music faded in and out on the wind. People headed in its direction. One group of hippies ridiculed Eddie.

I told them to shut up.
Eddie motioned for me to let it go. He was used to the abuse.

“That’s as far as I go.” The air whooshed in and out of his lungs. His face was soaked with sweat.

Another ten steps might kill him. “You go on without me.”

“No way.” Wayne joined Eddie on the bench. Marie sat on his lap. Nick pulled some blankets out of Mini-Cooper. I opened the bottles of Boone Farm. Wayne lit up joints. Sookie cuddled closer to me for warmth. Her body seemed starved for heat. Nick draped us with a quilt.

“All we need is a fire and we could have a picnic.” Nick rubbed his hands together fast enough to start flames.

“Try some of this to get warm.” Sookie handed him a small bottle of tequila. We each had a nip. The alcohol boiled in our stomachs. Eddie was about to light another joint, when a cop appeared behind him.

He was about our age. Young.

“That looks like marijuana.” His nightstick tapped the bench.

“It is.” Eddie craned his neck without being able to see the officer.

“The rest of you hippie scum holding?” The thin cop beamed a flashlight in our eyes.

Other longhairs gathered around us.

“No, just me.” Eddie admitted his guilt. “You can arrest me and I’ll resist the only way I know. By being heavy. But if you shine us on, we’ll wish you a Happy New Year.”

“Let the big man go free!” one longhair shouted and the crowd chanted for Eddie’s release. The cop surveyed the shadows for back up. He was outnumbered 50-1. His hand twitched on the handle of his .38, then an older cop pushed through the hippies and assessed the scene with veteran eyes.

“That a joint in your hand?” His flashlight shined on the reefer.

“Yes, officer.” Eddie excelled at playing ‘good boy’.

“And the officer wants to arrest you for possession.” He flicked off the light.

“That’s correct, officer.”

“You put away the joint.” He lifted his open hands to show this problem wasn’t a problem. “My partner and I will leave you alone.”

“Thank you, officer.” Eddie put the joint inside his coat and nodded his gratitude. “And Happy New Year.”

“Same to you.” The older cop escorted his fellow officer from the bench and the mob parted for the policemen to leave the area. The hippies cheered Eddie and two seconds later the first rocket for the fireworks arced into the night sky.

It was 1971.

The pyrotechnic display lasted a good half-hour and Eddie cried at the finale.

“What’s wrong?” Wayne stood by his friend.

“I haven’t been out of the apartment in so long I forgot what it’s like to be around people. To be with friends.” Eddie struggled to his feet and dried his eyes. “I don’t want my eyelids to freeze shut.”

“Eddie, you don’t have to stay in the apartment all the time.” Wayne was half Eddie’s size. His problems with weight were manageable.

“I can barely walk to the Mini-Cooper.” His steps were tentative, as if he expected the earth to crumple beneath his feet. “You should have seen me at Woodstock. I could only make it to the rim of the crowd. Wayne stayed with me the entire time.”

“It was nothing.” Wayne had never mentioned this sacrifice. He always spoke about the festival, as if he had been in the front row.

“You had to stick with me instead of seeing all those bands.” Eddie pounded his chest with his fists.

“I heard the music.” Wayne seized Eddie’s wrists. His hands barely reached halfway around the thick joints. “Plus Woodstock was more than the music. It was about brotherhood and man.”

“Horseshit. I’m trapped in this body, but I wasn’t this way always. Chubby, but not fat like this, and when I was 12, I ate a Devil’s Dog. It was so good I would do anything to get them. I started dealing drugs on Jerome Avenue to finance my eating habits. Within two years I weighed 200. By the time

I was 18 I was over 300. I have no idea how much I weigh now.”

Eddie was on the verge of crying. Wayne slipped under Eddie’s arm to steady him and I held his other side. Eddie tried to shake us off, except his sense of balance wandered with every step.

“I’m telling myself the truth. I’m a big fat fuck and I’ll never be able to get into a glider.”

“Shut up, Eddie.” Sookie stood in front of us. “When I first saw you, I thought you were a big fat fuck, but now I know you have a good heart. Fly or not fly, it’s not the end of the world. You’ll still be our friend. Do you really want to fly?”

“Yes.” It was a simple admission.

“Then I’ll help you starve.” Sookie caressed his face. “Starting tomorrow.”

I didn’t have the heart to tell him that it was already tomorrow and said, “You have to start someplace.”

“I guess so.”

We drove back to St. Mark’s Place. Nick returned to Staten Island. We stood on the sidewalk. Eddie’s eyes were fixed on the 24-hour diner down the street. He turned to his apartment instead. We had to speak about anything else other than his hunger. Marie helped us push Eddie up the stoop. Wayne was getting red in the face. He wasn’t in such good shape either.

The climb to the 4th floor exhausted Eddie and he collapsed into the lounge chair like it was a sarcophagus. Wayne headed into the back bedroom and fell asleep without saying a single word. I read

Kerouac’s ON THE ROAD. The girls went into the kitchen and it was a good 30 minutes before Eddie noticed Sookie and Marie emptying the cabinets and refrigerator.

“What are you doing?” He asked without any real desire to hear the answer.

“Cleaning out the junk food.” Marie held up ten bags of potato chips.

“You have to eat less and eat good. No more shit.” Sookie dumped the cookies into the trash.

“What will I live on?”

“Vegetables, fruit, no bread.” Sookie showed him a shriveled lemon.

“That’s been here since I moved in.”

“It’s mummified.” Sookie dropped the lemon on top of the cookies. “Eddie, you want to be the fat fuck you are today? Maybe even fatter? You want that?”

“No.”

“You said the magic number was 200 pounds.”

“Yes.” Eddie was her faithful slave.

“In six months.”

“Yes.”

“Then you’ll need help.” Sookie peered into his eyes, as if to touch his heart. “If you’re really serious, because if you are, then I’ll help you. And you’re asking why. You know I was scared of you at first. Scared because you reminded me of a freak show fat man. I was so scared by that man that I told myself I never wanted to be fat and stopped eating normal. I don’t eat. Same as you always eat. Opposite, but the same too.”

“How can you help me?” Eddie was eying the cookies in the garbage cam. “You live in Boston.”

“What if I lived in New York?”

“Live in New York?” I had seen us in a Commonwealth Avenue apartment.

“I can’t stand living at home anymore.” Sookie said to me, then turned to Eddie. “My parents understand. I have all my stuff in the back of the car. I have money. I can pay you rent. I’ll get a job too.”

“Helping me lose weight will be enough of a job.” Eddie’s reservation was an act of preservation for his fat.

“It’ll be easy.” Sookie flipped her hair off her shoulder. “I know how to not eat, remember.”

“Just yesterday you were scared of Eddie.” This didn’t make any sense. She had been horrified by Eddie. I almost loved her.

“That was yesterday. Today is a brand new year.” She was not returning to Boston. Her eyes said good riddance to that city.

“What about your car?”

“It’ll stay here with me. There should be enough room for Eddie.”

“Great.” My exit should have a slammed door, instead I pushed through the beaded curtains and flopped on the sofa bed.

Sookie followed a second later and shut out the light. I didn’t plan on saying a word. She was a free human being. Her shirt came off first. Her finger and index finger popped open the brass buttons of her pants. Each one made a small noise. She used both hands to slink from the leather. Her skimpy panties were white. Sookie sat on the bed next to me with bony arms across her chest.

“This isn’t about you and me.” The hushed words couldn’t travel farther than the sofa. “This is about me. I want to live in New York. You probably do too, but you have to go to college.”

My draft number was 39. College kept me out of the army. I didn’t want to kill any Vietnamese. John Wayne was no longer my God.

“If you sell that pot fast, then you have all the more reason to visit me.” She undid the buttons of my shirt. Her fingernails grazed my skin. “And now I’ll show you one more.”

I lost my virginity that night.

Wayne gave me a big grin in the morning.

“Everything cool.”

“I’m not sure.” I signaled Eddie and I had some talking to do.

“We have a problem?” Eddie was barely awake.

“No problem as long as you don’t give any cocaine to her.”

“I’ll try, but this is a free country.” He glanced at Sookie.

“I’m not into coke.” She sat on the sofa. It swallowed her whole. “It’s cool. Really.”

She was right. Everything was cool.

Two days later Sookie found a job at a used-clothing store. We made love again every morning and night.

On January 3rdNick picked up Wayne, Marie, and me in his Mini-Cooper. I sold him a pound for $160. The second I sold to the other taxi drivers and I returned to New York for two more pounds the following week. Eddie was eating vegetables and fruit. Sookie ate bread.

“I could use the weight.” She had gained 5 pounds in a week.

“Nice.” She was more comfortable in bed with the extra flesh.

“What about me? Eddie pulled on his loose shirt.

“You’re a shadow of your former self.”

Sookie and I saw Buddy Miles and Big Brother at the Fillmore. We ate steamed vegetables with Eddie. In bed she was different from before. I didn’t ask why she closed her eyes. Some questions are better left unasked by those not wanting the answers and I certainly did not want to know why.

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