So it’s no secret that I’m obsessed with Bravo’s Top Chef. I’ve been known to watch the rerun marathons, just because, well, because I can. No matter that I watch each episode at least twice, I’ll still manage to leave on the marathon as background to my daily tasks. Last night the premiere episode of season three aired. I was busy cleaning out the office–as it’s soon to also become my arts & crafts studio–when Phil alerted me that Top Chef would be starting in six minutes. I cannot miss a beat of it. There is no talking allowed. No babies are permitted to cry. It’s just the way it has to happen. And I most always need to eat something while it’s on. Dessert. Meyer lemon miniature tarts.
"I think I know him," I said mid-way through the episode when I saw his full name appear in a caption as he was speaking. Phil stared at me, unsure if he was able to speak.
"Yeah, Howie. That’s Howie!" I said of contestant Howard Kleinberg, half-expecting Phil to know why and how I knew him. "I went to fat camp with him!"
Phil proceeds to the Top Chef web site to check out his bio. "Yeah, born in 1975, like you."
"I think I have a picture of him upstairs in one of my camp albums." I’d pawed my way through it recently in the writing of the second half of MOOSE, my second memoir about fat camp.
"Did you kiss him?" This is a question I would ask, not out of curiosity but out of a twisted sense of jealousy. An insecurity, worrying, as foolish as it is, that maybe (if it were reversed) seeing her on television might spark some juvenile memories, a fondness for a life he once lived that seems rosier than the one he’s carved out for himself with me. A life lived in curfew kissing, make-out sessions, and an eagerness to fall asleep knowing when you wake, you’ll see them again.
And I wish sometimes, as futile as it is, that I could control his thoughts. That I could shield all triggers to a past or possibility for an improved present or future. I most certainly know, of course, that we cannot control others, and that the minute we try to, we muddy things and maybe stop believing their choices. Once upon a much younger life ago, I used to rip the provocative pages out of my exes’ magazines. Maxim, I think it was. Well I minimized it. I was jealous of photographs in magazines. Insecure that he might become aroused by someone other than me. Of course he’d become aroused by others, as a physical involuntary response even. But I wanted to control what I could, and at the time, I thought I could control his thoughts, prevent him from straying even in his own head. And when you do this, eventually, you end up creating everything you’ve feared. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy really. If someone loves you, they stay because they want to, but at a certain point if you continue to oppress them, surrounding them with rules and expectations in an effort to protect what you have, you end up smothering it. It’s like rewarding children for coloring. It’s something they already took pleasure in, but once you begin to reward the behavior, they begin to expect it, and eventually without a reward, children lose their desire to color. Something they intrinsically loved becomes tainted. I lived in rewards and punishments, and I’m sure I do it still today because it’s hard to change. It’s hard to recognize when you’re doing it. And when it’s pointed out, there’s a quiet and heavy "oh" that falls inside me. "I don’t want to be her," I think. And then I apologize softly and want to hide my face. It’s a heavy weight.
Phil is not me. He would never think these things. Instead, I believe he asked the "did you kiss him?" question, not out of curiosity even, but to prove some kind of point. To mimic me, to teach me some kind of veiled lesson. Hold up a mirror and subtitle the scene with, "it’s about time you shed the extra weight."
And as an aside, I tried to post a comment on Tom Collichio’s blog, saying that we fat campers were rooting for Top Chef’s Howie, despite the fact that it all hangs on Hung and Tre. I mentioned that I was working on writing MOOSE and saw another former fat camper amid the season three contestant ranks, but it was not posted. Perhaps they thought I was trying to promote my book, or maybe they didn’t want it leaked that Howie was a former fat-camp-champ? Either way, here are his photos from way back then. He hasn’t changed much, and his accent is *exactly* the same.
UPDATE: My comment is on his blog now. It just took a while.