November is the cruelest month. Summer abandons the beach. The sun angles more sharply through the kitchen window. The beautiful people on the magazine covers make way for roast turkeys. A chill gathers over yesterday’s Halloween candy, and we contemplate that enduring question: Would it be so wrong to have just one more leftover miniature Snickers? Because November makes us want to eat.
Mmmm, food. Nature’s blessing. But here in the land of the lithe and the lean and the lovely, we struggle with our food-based holidays. On one hand, there’s that nip in the air, that harvest bounty-the fat pumpkins, the fragrant pies, the towering supermarket displays of Stove Top stuffing. On the other, there’s our Eleventh Commandment: Thou shalt weigh 20 pounds less than thou would normally weigh anywhere else in the United States.
This is probably why Thanksgiving poems aren’t set in Orange County-over the pool deck and through the gym is no way to go to grandmother’s house for a bellyful of turkey and mashed potatoes. Yet gluttony is a national tradition, and we are a traditional people. It weighs on us: The scale demands a morsel of fish topped with a dab of steamed spinach, but the season urges pot roast. And spaghetti and meatballs. And lentils with sausage from that recipe by the Barefoot Contessa, who, in case you haven’t gotten a good look at her lately, is not from Orange County.
The dissonance takes a toll. The other day, a friend was describing the workout that had brought her to a state of Gumby-like svelteness, and all I could think of was her resemblance to a freshly baked breadstick. It’s hard out there for a waist.And I can testify. “None for me, thanks” has felt like my middle name in the years since I bowed to the regional norms. Oh, I swore I’d resist them. In fact, for a while I was defiant. Muffins for breakfast, whole sandwiches at lunch hour, actual dinners. With starches. Cookies at bedtime. And I didn’t share, either. Our last address had been in a fattening city and I had gone native; if moving weren’t so naturally stressful, I’d look like the Great Park Balloon.
As it was, I became merely, shall we say, strapping. Then one day, as I was yet again “tiding myself over,” one of the kids gently observed that we now live in Laguna Beach, a town where, if your mom’s backside looks like Homer Simpson’s, people assume she’s a tourist. “Whaffat fapoffa mean?” I demanded, sputtering bits of brownie. But I knew.
So I learned to embrace O.C.-style starvatio-er, I mean, nutrition: the seaweed salads, the small plates, the “skinny” margaritas. My cholesterol fell, my blood pressure dropped. I missed eating like a farmhand, but at least I was saving on Spanx. And now here I am-liberated from the 10 pounds I didn’t leave at my old address, naked even of the layer of chub that, on bad days, could make me feel like either the fattest skinny person or the skinniest fat person I knew. I can even fit into some of my ’80s wardrobe. Unfortunately, this also is a place where, if your mom’s clothes look like Cyndi Lauper’s, people assume she’s homeless. So I’m living in yoga pants, which apparently is what middle-aged Southern Californians now wear to not eat carbs. And being thin in those yoga pants was fun, back in June.
But June is gone now. Literally and figuratively, we’re talking autumn. And autumn flies in the face of everything Southern California represents. It isn’t hot. It isn’t youthful. It doesn’t look good on a beach towel. It’s just fattening and delicious. So here’s to health and life and my default tradition: feasting now and ritually regretting it later. I love you O.C., but as God is my witness, I just can’t do Thanksgiving seaweed. Bon appétit and best wishes, Pilgrims. Let the season begin.
Illustration by Brett Affrunti
This article originally appeared in the November 2010 issue.