Friendly’s has six menus, and one of those menus is dedicated to appetizers and entrees whose principle ingredient is melted cheese. Why they need the other five is beyond me, but my best guess is that we need other food items to help us understand how the absence of melted cheese can sadden and dismay a restaurant goer.
I, and I imagine many of you, struggle daily with trying to eat not-terribly-unhealthily. I tell myself that I’m not doing a bad job. I’m right in the median weight for my height, people don’t get panicky when I step onto elevators with them, their heads jerking around looking for the maximum weight capacity.
No, I think it’s fair to say that I’m a reasonably trim fellow, and when I successfully hide the fact that walking up a long flight of stairs has me breathing heavily, I can often fool people into believing I’m even in fair shape.
But then from time to time I am reminded just how far behind I am lagging.
Today, for instance, I am on my way to the University of New Hampshire to give a talk up there. The HarperCollins Speaker’s Bureau arranges all the logistics, and anytime it’s possible I request a train over a flight. That’s how I found myself at 7 a.m. kicking back on the Acela train to Boston, together with what I considered my fellow sophisticated travelers, businessmen and women who preferred to work in a civilized atmosphere of a train.
I nodded to them as I passed, indicted that I, too, abstained from air travel when possible. I opened my own laptop and set to writing, which lasted all of eight minutes until I fell fast asleep and woke a few hours later, realizing I had dozed off and that we had just pulled into Boston, where I had to transfer, and I scrambled out of my seat as if it had just caught fire, yanked my bag out of the overhead bin without closing it and literally ran down the aisle, bonking people on the head as I went until I leapt out the train door, only to have the train stay there for several more minutes.
That’s how I found myself in Boston, where I would be changing trains. And as it was almost 11 a.m., I was hungry.
I figured I’d have lunch when I got to Durham, so I went to the convenience store to find something light and healthy, a snack to tide me over until then.
That’s when the stress levels began peaking. The aisles are tight in these little kiosks, and I insist on picking up each product and investigating the caloric value and the percentage of fat in them, hoping against hope that the bag of pizza-flavored Combos will somehow be the nutritional equivalent of a Nutri-Grain bar. I had ruled out candy bars all together, knowing that I would only be disappointing myself. I thought that perhaps the TGIFriday’s brand Cheddar Loaded Potato Skins might be somewhere in the ball park. But they were not.
Then the decision became – do I need to eat healthy? Nobody’s going to see me. I’m not trying to impress anyone here. And if I was ever going to eat a big bag of chips it would be in Boston’s North Station, with Bruins Stanley Cup gear everywhere you turned. But still, I just couldn’t. Not after I’d visited Dunkin’ Donuts that morning at 6:30 and wolfed down a few doughnuts before my guilt mechanism was fully awake.
I settled on what I thought was the perfect compromise. It wasn’t that yogurt-covered pretzels are at all healthy, but the packaging was so enticing. First, it was called Healthy Life – so there’s that. Second it had a picture of a mountain on it – one of those rolling purple mountains, and you can’t put that on something un-healthy or you could get sued. I took it up to the cashier, feeling pretty good about myself.
I saw the product on the cashier’s table before I saw the guy – the product was called Muscle Milk. The hand that reached for it was attached to a heavy muscled, heavily tattooed arm that, in the words of a friend of mine, would have ripped the sleeve off anything I owned. He handed he woman a twenty dollar bill, and picked up the Muscle Milk, and – I kid you not – downed the entire thing literally before the woman had time to hand back his change. She gave him his sixteen dollars and he gave her a crushed Muscle Milk bottle and asked if she had a trash can.
And for that moment, I have to admit that really wanted that guy’s life. I wanted to look down at my forearm and see the elaborate tattoo of a shark snapping in half a giant Sequoia, or the tattoo of the voluptuous mermaid princess – herself tattooed – riding a leopard, leaping over the colossal valleys of Jupiter in a single bound. I wanted to know what it would be like to see an entire shelf dedicated to Keebler and not even hesitate as I reached for a whey bar. I wanted to know what it would be like to punch through a cinder block.
I do that all the time, you know – I covet other people’s lives. I want their cars and their houses and their jobs and their four already grown kids and their vacations and their brains and their initiative and their work ethics. It’s amazing how much of my life I spend wanting those things.
But the other side is that it fades pretty quickly, and almost always at the exact moments. (Because it is too sacchariney, I’ll refrain from telling you that those moments have everything to do with my wife and my children.) Because aren’t those people who I’m jealous of, aren’t they jealous of other people too? It just seems so useless to me, envy, yet I suffer from it, stupidly and repeatedly.
So I fight the good fight against myself. I got my yogurt-covered pretzels and I got on the train to Durham, NH, where I am right now, happy and blessed that I just got a sweet email from my wife, that the wallpaper on my iPhone is my favorite photo of all time of my 5-month-old daughter Lucy, and that I’m traveling because I’ve been invited to share the story of Next Generation Nepal and Little Princes with a great university. That’s amazing to me.
I’ll be fighting that envy again in the next few hours, to be sure, but at this moment, I’m content, and even feeling happy for that Muscle Milk guy, who’s probably on the streets of Boston at this very moment, lifting up cars and tossing them over houses.