Scatologically oriented individuals not familiar with the Pennsylvania Dutch Country (I have in mind people like Lady Kentfield) may be amazed, or at the very least pleasantly titillated, to hear that Shartlesville is a real place. It’s located on Interstate 78 between Allentown and Harrisburg. I’ve been through it a number of times.

It’s a place that, to be honest, has nothing whatsoever to do with this essay. It does, however, have a name that’s hella funny, if you’re thirteen, and disgustingly topical.

They can’t be avoided. They’re legion. You see them late in the evening at gas stations in East St. Louis, struggling to retrieve appropriate donuts from the bakery case. You see them piloting their scooters along Orangethorpe Avenue in Buena Park, opportunely stuffing another few onion rings into the pie hole just as they pass you in front of St. Pius V. There’s enough sidewalk, but not by a wide margin, because that part of the margin is theirs. Perhaps you wonder, a bit abashedly, how you can look down on them when you’re en route to Paul’s Place for an Ortega burger meal, one of the most gluttonous meals in Orange County, but it’s an impertinent question. Those who walk upright can’t help but look down on those who are scooterbound by fifty. Literally. It doesn’t help things that you’re walking close to two miles round-trip to get lunch and dude’s flying Old Glory off the back of his rig. His FICA deductions can’t be enough to pay the Scooter Store for his chair, his bus fare sure as hell won’t cover the cost of the delays OCTA suffers when he boards and alights through the center door (because OCTA’s procurement officers are the kind of dumbos who think that center-door wheelchair ramps make sense), and he’s probably on SSI, but at least he’s patriotic about being a net financial and social drain on his society. God bless America.

His kind travel by local bus. But of course. The British gutter press prefers to focus on those who buy custom pickups to accommodate their own girth, but those are outliers. As a spatial matter, there may not always be enough space to shoehorn another of the prematurely bescootered living a life of learned helplessness onto the bus, but as a legal matter, there is, because if there weren’t it would be a disability rights lawsuit waiting to happen.

These aren’t Queen’s big fat fatties. If they’re of the female perspective, BBW is a stretch, kind of like what has happened to their skin. If they’re shapely, it’s only because those beholding them have an unimaginable catholicity of taste when it comes to shapes. When I say that I like big girls, I–how can I say this?–I don’t mean that. Left to my own devices, I’d let the details go unspoken, since I’m attracted to women of various sizes and consider it rather gauche to stipulate technical specifications for my dates, but there’s a lot of size elision in the BBW community, and this is the same community that popularized “Myspace angles” and is notorious for refusing to countenance basic nuances about body size and attitude. They leave me no choice but to specify that my strong desire to spoon the living daylights out of certain self-confident, full-bodied women because they’re totally snugglable (okay, I’d bang them, too, especially if they took the initiative) does not imply a tacit desire to thus caress thoroughly insecure bathroom self-portraitists whose asses would envelop the spare tire that I carry around above a 36″ waist.

No. There’s fat, and then there’s holy shitballs I must be tripping on acid because there’s a guy at this Chinese restaurant who’s made up of all kinds of shapes that don’t exist in nature. Go figure that I ran into this guy while mildly sleep-deprived (not literally into him; I’m not sure I’d have made it back out), having just arrived in Los Angeles from Sacramento on a trip that started at 5:15 am. I was in an even worse state in East St. Louis, having driven all day from Colby, KS, on five and a half hours’ sleep; later that night, I drove the first four miles out of Brazil, IN, on Interstate 70 with just my running lights, but even so, my Civic and I made it to Indy intact. One does not simply keep a straight face around the well-rounded donut enthusiast in these circumstances.

This guy at the restaurant in Chinatown wasn’t just fat. He was cubist. He looked like something out of “Guernica,” probably a missing apartment block on the edge of town. I wasn’t trying to look at him; the waitress had seated me there, and I hadn’t had the presence of mind to check that there was no megafauna in my field of view and sit facing the other direction. Surprisingly, this guy had three fairly slender friends with him. Collectively, I’d guess that these guys weighed fifty pounds more than he did. He was Latino, as were one or two of his friends; I recall one or two of his friends being Asian, but I wasn’t paying much attention to them.

Realize that the restaurant where this scene unfolded was not a buffet; they probably would have been barred from the premises if it had been. Lunch was a la carte, and no kidding, the boys were there for lunch. Biggie didn’t distinguish himself just by his size; whenever I glanced in his table’s direction, he had a fork in hand. He ate with great gusto. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen another person eat so heartily.

Shovel all the coal in, gotta keep it rollin’. The absurd pathos of it all was too much for me in my sleep-compromised state. Like a friendzoning ex in an overwrought eighties power pop ballad by Chicago, I had to look away, baby, look away. Of course I didn’t want him to see me that way; it was just common decency. I continued to steal a glance now and then when I felt an unusual degree of self-control. I stayed long enough to see his party get up and leave. To my relief and slight surprise, even Biggie up and left the table on his own two feet; I might not normally describe his manner of movement as “walking,” but for a man of his girth it was close enough. Verily, as he waddled away from lunch, he left replenished with fuel for the journey that we call life.

Throughout this grotesque scene, I felt smug in an Old Testament sort of way: Thank you, God, that I am not a woman, or a gentile, or an ass, or of a size and shape that have never been described in the Torah since we ancients simply haven’t seen such people. It was certainly a nice feeling while it lasted. Just by sheer contrast, Biggie made me figure that I had my shit together. Another thing I figured was that I’d probably make it to the Starbucks in Little Tokyo without coming into any significant intestinal discomfort. I figured I’d have to shit before long, but probably not within a half hour. Right?

Wrong. As I stood on the platform at the Chinatown Gold Line station, I felt the need to fart. Not to urgently shit; just to fart. No one else was nearby, and the station is outdoors: so far, so good. But when I cut it loose, it had that tell-tale warm, moist feeling. Oops, I realized, I think I just went poo in my asshole a little bit; I do believe I just beshat myself slightly on a fucking light rail platform. I knew that I could easily hop off at Union Station for an emergency ass-wiping, but I also knew that doing so would turn my circumstances from slightly disgusting to powerfully disgusting. I did not feel like mixing it up with disheveled crazies in a filthy restroom right then, so I held on, walked a bit more smoothly than usual through Little Tokyo, and made it to Starbucks. There I confirmed my fear: I had kept the mess off my underwear, but only through utmost discipline; as I thought, I had sharted.

It felt for all the world like karma. I gawked and snickered at Biggie, discreetly, for his uncontrolled gastrointestinal activities as a differently-sized American. Not half an hour later, I lost bowel control, discreetly, in a rapid transit station. The punishment seemed proportional to the crime, fifteen minutes of private-enough grossness for fifteen minutes of private-enough haughtiness towards an unimaginable mouthstuffer of unimaginable proportions, give or take. And it seemed appropriate that karma should come anally. It’s true of any karma, but especially so of karma for rudeness over alimentary failures of the flesh. At the one end, Biggie couldn’t keep it out, and at the opposite end, I couldn’t keep it in. It was embarrassing (for him, too, if he had any introspection), but in my case it felt instructive.

Of course, I’ll still laugh at the morbidly obese; if I’m not a slave to the sinful nature, I’m a slave to the point-and-laugh-at-the-unnatural nature. But with any foresight, I’ll do some abdominal floor exercises beforehand. Look, it’s not like I’m trim and ripped. I’m no Channing Tatum. It’d be really cool if more women looked at me more than skin deep, especially the hot ones, but I can understand why they don’t. If they looked less superficially at Biggie, say, at an autopsy or a gross anatomy lab, they’d discover that he has mad muscles; the blubber doesn’t move itself, now. A lot of us actually are ripped; it’s just hard for the superficial to see it beneath the insulation.

I’ll laugh at them, but I’ll laugh at them cautiously. We all laugh at larger-than-life Americans at our own peril. They’re among us.

Put more accurately, we are among them. If it were really our world, would the rest of us have to vacate the good seats near the rear bus door to make way for Scooter Store customers who could probably walk well enough if they tried? Would Southwest Airlines have come to grief over that passenger spillover surcharge nonsense? I think not. These things happen for a reason. We are but small, substanceless men living in a land of giants.

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