You’re getting too skinny! My dad’s desperate words prompted me to buy a five-dollar nutella crepe on the outskirts of central park while he used the restroom in a nearby hotel. From across the street I could not miss, as no one could, the awkward urgency of his movements. His stiff, dress shirted arm waved at me over the heard of yellow taxis and horse-driven carriages. When I finally made it to my dad, he lead me to the spectacle that, on the Upper East Side of Manhattan would only be a spectacle to people as poor as us (which is not even poor at all.) Escaping the sirens and honking and preaching homeless men out on the streets, my ears needed a moment to adjust to the clinking of china inside this five-star hotel tearoom. There were two sets of stairs ascending to meet at the top of an arched walkway, painted with a Grecian scene of purple grape vines snaking overhead a green garden, and in the center of all the polished porcelain tables was a quietly trickling fountain. “Pretty nice, huh?” my dad nudged my skinny arm with his elbow. All the while with my eyes on my dad, understanding, I answered “Yeah.”
I have always liked hotels. Just like my dad. When I was little, my Dad used to take my sister and I with him on business trips to anywhere from Los Angeles to London. We would always stay in the most upscale places where huge baskets of fruit would be waiting on the smooth mahogany table, set right in front of the balcony with the view of the entire city skyline. If my dad had a meeting, he always made sure my sister and I were set up comfortably in our respective king sized beds, with an On Demand movie ready to go, and exuberant amounts of room service on it’s way. “Well sure you’re going to want the nachos and the pancakes,” He would answer our entirely joking protests, “Sure you do.”
He would also always make sure we had time for a trip down to the indoor swimming pool, too. My dad would take advantage of the endless supply of warm, fluffy towels fresh out of the dryer. He would plop me onto a lounge chair, the one’s with the gaps between the seating so that my little butt nearly slipped through. Then he would grab five or six towels and dump them on me while I screamed and giggled in the fresh scent of laundry detergent, right before he sufficiently wrapped me up in them, making me look like an Eskimo.
Still to this day I wander aimlessly around hotels even in my own town. They are a mega center of movement, of progression. I feel like I am going somewhere when I am in a hotel. I should have guessed a long time ago that my dad liked them for the same reason. He also likes the overwhelming indulgence of the interior design that my mother always steers away from in our home. The Black marble floors with thin veins of white sparkles running through them, and the giant Chandeliers that are surely borrowed for local performances of The Phantom of the Opera. Everything in our house is understated, classic and unquestionably tasteful. I believe my mother’s aim in decorating our home was “always leave them hungry for more.” My dad has always had a fear of being left hungry.
Hunger can run deep. I believe my mother fears that once she uncorks the bottle of indulgence, she will not be able to plug it back up. She is this way with all indulgences in life. With food, with her clothing, with how much she allows her presence to be noticed in a room. And my father is always the opposite. He will finish the breadbasket at dinner that my mom wont touch, and order two deserts, and follow the meal up with a stop at the nearest vending machine for a bag of peanut m&m’s. He once actually requested in a clothing store a shirt similar to some “black, silk number one of the Backstreet Boys wore.” His laugh is violent and abrupt, and having worked as a radio talk show host for years, his voice is booming. My mother always did her best to tone him down. To slim him down. To quiet him down. Hunger, in every sense of the word, has become a lifestyle she is accustomed to and logically she was only comfortable with her husband living the same way.
My dad, however, was well acquainted with hunger long before my mom came into the picture. My father’s mother got cancer when he was eleven years old and that’s when she said to him “you were the start of all my problems,” so he left. He moved in with his grandparents on a ranch where he helped with work around the place. At fourteen he began riding the public bus all over town with a worn out suitcase in hand, going door-to-door trying to sell radio airtime. At a very young age a fire was lit under my dad and it burned him to try to get as far away from hunger as possible and to never go back.
* * * * *
“My fat stage.” This is something I have heard almost all women say they went through at one point in their lives. Showing me photo albums, my friends will flip through the section of their freshman year of college, or the months following a break up, and chuckle (with relief), “and this was my fat stage.” My mother never had a fat stage. I remember early in the morning hearing her gasp and shriek as she dipped into the pool. She would swim laps almost daily. I think of myself in the mornings with my most recent boyfriend. These were the moments of highest intimacy. We whispered, although no one was around to be woken up. But quiet speech is just the natural tendency of people in the mornings, so it gives every conversation held at that time the air of a secret. The world does not know you are up yet—it doesn’t know it can ask things of you yet—so you can steal a few extra, precious moments with the person you share a bed with. I realize now that my dad shared the bed with no one early in the mornings. My mom’s side of the bed was empty long before my dad awoke. She was swimming laps. Or running on the beach. Like I said, my mom never had a “fat stage.” She has always looked frail enough to be broken down by a whisper from across the room.
* * * * *
The definition of the word recession is “the act of withdrawing or going back.” My mother had withdrawn her request to be full, and her slender body, along with her empty side of the bed, are testimony to this.
A study done on how ideals of beauty change over time has found that during recessions “older, heavier, taller” Playboy Playmates of the Year are chosen (Pettijohn 1). I have seen photos of my dad’s current girlfriend. Measuring at about five foot, seven inches, a size twelve, and sporting a short blonde bob, she is a modern Marilyn Monroe.
* * * * *
My mother had been trying to condition my dad to accept hunger and to be left wanting more, but he could not live like that again. He wanted to be full. The clear fullness of decoration in his beloved hotels, fused with the prospect of escape, makes it no wonder my father is so fond of them. The white pianos and regal-looking chairs fit for a person of 400 pounds, beckon to my dad. They say “it can be like this, and this place can take you there.” It came as no surprise to me that he cheated on my mom, in hotels no doubt, and with a plus-size woman. He was hungry, and he wanted to be in the company of a person, and surrounded by the walls of a place that told him it was ok to be full.
* * * * *
I recently went to a strip club for the first time. I got a lap dance from a girl wearing underwear somewhere between a thong and full panties, a black corset top, and a Hawaiian flower in her hair. Her voice was sweet, even a little concerned. She asked me about what I am studying and what I would like to be some day. She had an adoring, caring smile on her face; I think she may have kissed me on the cheek occasionally.
As I wandered back out into the more public area, I saw in one of the small cubicles with mirrored walls and red, velvet chairs, a white-haired man in a nice, pressed work suit. He wasn’t getting a lap dance though. His stripper sat on his lap, while he held her with both his arms and had his face permanently pressed against the fleshy upper-part of her arm. Through my drunken-haze, I think I perceived that he was crying. Crying because he was so happy to have such a beautiful, sweet woman in his possession for that magical forty dollar, 3-minute song. Crying, perhaps, out of self-disgust for being there. And crying, most likely, out of gratitude for this one place, and this one woman, that didn’t make him feel disgusting for wanting these things. I wondered if my dad had every cried in one of these cubicles.
* * * * *
During my last visit home I had dinner with my Mom. I ordered a wedge salad, lamb sausage fettuccini, and a heaping slice of Coconut cake.
“The white fish please. Sauce on the side, extra spinach instead of potatoes,” my mom fidgeted with her silver wear after ordering. Then she added “Nice and light, just the way I like it.”
I looked around the restaurant. There was a gray marble fountain trickling in the center of it, and people were dinging their tiny teaspoons against their elaborately decorated porcelain. Families and couples passed around beautiful, rich deserts to share. A slice of chocolate cake as tall s a small dog, wading in a puddle of chocolate sauce, and Red Velvet cupcakes with raspberry sauce bursting from the inside when cut open. Even in a place like this my mom could not be swayed to indulge.
My mom adjusted her crème, crew neck sweater from Banana Republic and turned to me to ask, “anyways, have you seen your father lately? Is he still loud and pushy like he always was?”
A bemused grin swept from one of my cheeks to the other as I shook my head toward my lap in amazement. I imagined the pristinely white napkin in my lap expanding into a big fluffy towel, and then five fluffy towels, wrapped around my head and body. Then I looked up at my mom and I answered, gladly, “Yeah he is.”