Beggars Would Ride
The Fatted Calf Must Die
Right up until about ten minutes before cracking open the laptop to write this column, I had always believed that the term “to kill the fatted calf” had meant to talk, converse, engage in verbal dialogue, bend the ear, shoot the breeze, chew the fat…
It’s probably because of that last synonymous phrase that I had got the wires crossed in my head way back when as to the meaning of The Fatted Calf, and so it is with regret that I confess it is no longer an adequate title for this piece. See, I was hoping to tie together the idea of flapping my gums with the flabby gut check realization that I’ve gained a pant size of marbled goo around my middle in the course of the past two months, and the idea of a Fatted Calf getting sent to the great beyond would have served as an apt metaphor for the cycle of shame, deprivation and catharsis that I am going to once again have to suffer through in order to fit into my new duds.
Buuut, the phrase “to kill the fatted calf” actually means to engage in celebration. Derived from the Parable of the Prodigal Son, somewhere around Luke 15:23; “Bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” So, that kind of shoots the whole metaphor in the foot. Nevertheless, here I am, with a brand new pair of Endura Singletrack Trousers to wear, and they fit great everywhere except AROUND MY WAIST.
They would have fit just fine six weeks ago. But here, in the dead of winter, at the tail end of something like 8000 miles of driving between six weeks ago and now, in the spiritual doldrums following the orgy of consumption known as “the holidays,” things are not looking quite as svelte as they were just an eyeblink ago. “Svelte” being relative…
My primary caloric intake during this time spent driving from one weather hammered location to the next has consisted mainly of gas station food and lots of coffee heavily supplemented with sugar and cream. Meals have consisted of lard-based flour tortillas, tacos al pastor, chilaquiles and mole poblano, washed down with a steady sluice of margaritas. Do this just for a couple days, and it’ll leave a mark on the slowing metabolism of an old burnout who really oughtta know better. But SIX WEEKS? Helloooo, fatso.
It does not matter one bit that I have also ridden enough in the past six weeks to decently chew up a rear tire, or that I am actually getting faster on my rides at the same time as I am gaining weight. Gaining somewhere between 10 and 15 pounds, by the way, in case you were asking. Much as exercise influencers on Instagram will promise that their workout routines will burn all those unsightly calories right away, anyone who has gone to war with their own bulging midriff and flagging self-esteem knows that caloric austerity measures are really the only thing that’ll turn this fat boat around.
Inexact as the phrase may be for the title, the Fatted Calf is still gonna have to go down for the long sleep. This isn’t the time for gentle sentimentality. Brutal measures will need to be undertaken. Wish I could say this is the first time I have fought the Battle Of The Bulge, but it isn’t. I’m not naturally an athlete. I never was. It could be argued that even at my leanest and most disciplined, during my highest wattage years, I still was never really an athlete.
The real athletes that I’ve known have come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but one of the commonalities almost every single one of them possessed has been a high caloric burn rate, for lack of a better term. Turbocharged metabolisms. They run hot. They are big engines, and can ingest calories by the thousand that readily and rapidly convert to energy and heat. They have trouble sitting still, exertion and motion and expression of energy from potential to kinetic are existential bread and butter for them. Being active is not something they aspire to. It is just what they are; manifestations of energy, burning fuel with a physical restlessness that is hardwired into their DNA.
Me? Not so much. I can gain weight just by looking at a glazed donut. I question the observational powers of anyone who sees a pint of ice cream as being sufficient for more than one person, or to be consumed in more than one sitting. But instead of immediately turning all those calories into heat and motion, I can pound down 16 ounces of Ben and Jerry’s tastiest poison and then nap like a champion, while my digestive tract converts all that sugar and fat into a squishy layer of insulation around my middle. A real athlete may look at the word “inertia” and envision perpetual motion. I see “inertia” and think of a boulder at rest, requiring monumental effort to get moving. The same heavy leg reluctance that used to well up in me as I trudged up the long gravel hill coming home from school every afternoon is there the day after every big ride, and has been there for as long as I can remember.
Going full Kafka here, metamorphizing myself into an actual mountain bike, I spent a couple decades pretending to be a Trek Supercaliber, or maybe an S-Works Epic, when really, I was more like a Transition Smuggler with chunky tires. I could pedal okay, but I couldn’t ever fully light the afterburners the way the real fast kids could. Eventually, I kinda got used to my place in life. Some months I was an alloy Smuggler, at other times I was a little snappier, let’s say a Yeti SB120, perhaps a Rocky Mountain Element at my sharpest. Not a bad place to be. I know my limits, can pedal long if not furiously, and have enough circumspection to no longer try to get too sendy.
Yesterday, as I stared aghast at my stomach straining the (thankfully) double snap button AND hook closure of my new pants, I realized I had morphed in a few short weeks into something more like a Sentinel, or hell, maybe even a Spire. With MaxxGrip Assegais front and rear. DoubleDown casings. If I knew how to actually handle this newfound mass, convert it somehow into awe-inspiring momentum, turn that jelly roll into wattage, I wouldn’t really care. But no. Alberto Tomba, I am not. Same old slow reflexes, a lower back and hips that really are sick of all this driving, and a genuine fear of broken bones; all phobias and limitations still fully intact and now nicely padded. I may look like a Forbidden Dreadnought, but really, I’m still just a Smuggler, being ridden poorly by a fat old man.
This is no time for celebration. The Prodigal Son has come home, after partying way too much, squandering goodwill and his fortune. In this case, the Prodigal Son is the spare tire around my waist, evidenced in an uncomfortable bulkiness when I reach down to ratchet my shoes tight. It is time for that tubby slacker to fear his brother, atone for his frivolous and wasteful ways, and make himself scarce. In the parable, the brother of the Prodigal Son is mortified at the waste of the Fatted Calf, killed in celebration of the return of the Original Bad Penny. He does not understand his father’s joy:
“Now his older son was in the field. And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf.’
“But he was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him. So he answered and said to his father, ‘Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends. But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.’”
Exactly, older brother. There is nothing to celebrate here. The Fatted Calf is dead for no good reason and your useless brother has forgotten how to suffer. Now he needs to starve. No more harlots. No more sugar. No more ice cream. No more lard. No more second servings. No more chilaquiles. No more margaritas. Chew on gravel, breathe in dust, sweat out the toxic winter. Atone. Make those damn pants fit. Then, and only then, may you once again enjoy the sweet luxury of indulgence.