As a rule, there are three things I try to avoid talking about: money, religion and weight. You thought I was going to say politics, but the truth is that I don't mind talking politics. It is much more awkward and horrifying to talk about dieting than who you might be voting for. But I'm going to break my own rule here, and I won't do it very often, I promise.
Before we moved to Asheville, I admit I had a stereotype in my head that people in the South were probably overweight. I thought, "Finally, I won't be the fattest person in town." In Los Angeles, everyone is a fitness model and everyone talks non-stop about what they're eating or not eating or what diet they're trying or personal trainer they're doing. Imagine my disappointment when I realized that the people here in Asheville are really in very good shape. They're active and physically fit, and I'm still the fattest person in town.
If you are overweight in Los Angeles, people will avoid eye contact and turn away. It's not unlike the Amish practice of shunning. I thought that was bad, but didn't realize how good I had it until I moved here. In Asheville, people want to poke my stomach. I don't know why. I guess they think there will be some sort of Pillsbury Doughboy reaction. Or maybe they've seen people rubbing the bellies of Buddha statues for luck. For whatever reason, people here have a compulsion to poke the fat guy.
It's gotten so bad that I've developed a whole system for heading it off. I can usually detect when someone is coming towards me for the sole purpose of poking me. They come at me, arm outstretched, finger pointing, eyes transfixed on their target. I've learned that if I turn quickly and catch the poke in the ribs, it will deter them or give me enough time to get away. Anyway, it's extremely humiliating. It's like they're saying, "I don't know if you've noticed, but you're fat."
I've noticed, thanks. But who knows? Maybe my weight is as novel to them as my being from Los Angeles. Or maybe it's an old Southern sign of respect. In either case, at the next social function, I'm wearing a suit of armor.