Rendering the fat

The photograph that accompanies this NY Times article is an amazing, implicit commentary on what a bunch of Southern people look like to (I"m imagining things here) a thin, reedy New Yorker.  It's ironic because the article itself is a commentary on lingering racist attitudes in the South. Is the photograph a commentary on lingering regional stereotypes in the Northeast?

I am quite sure the photographer was going for this exact look, by taking the photograph from street level and using a wide angle lens.

Still, I can not fault the photographer too much, because pretty much the same thought strikes me when I come back home after a week or two abroad.  The plane on the last leg of my trip -- from Dallas or Chicago or Houston to OKC always seems to be full of large people.

But you don't  need to travel to other countries to see how we cease to see how large the normal Southern person is. You just need to go back in time a bit. Alfred Hitchcock used to be considered fat.  So was the actor who played Hardy in "Laurel and Hardy".

If you saw either of these people at lunch on Monday, would you even notice? Or would their supposed fatness simply be what you see day in and day out?

Living in the South, one becomes accustomed to the girth of the population, and it is only when you come back after time spent outside that you are struck by the contrast between what people look like anywhere else.  Or what people used to look like just two or three decades ago.

Becoming My Father

The kids made cards for Father's Day.

S2's card was strips of gift-wrap paper pasted to look like a tie. The  background of the card was another gift-wrap paper

"Your watch is so boring," S2 informed me, "you need to get watches like these ones on my card."

"These are not watches," I told her, "these are compasses."

"My teacher said they were watches," said S2.

S1, who never misses a chance to put his sister down chimed in: "S2's teacher doesn't even know the difference between a watch and a compass!"

"No, the teacher probably said it was a compass, but S2 heard it wrong," I said.

This is exactly what my father would have said.  When I was growing up, my teachers were never wrong or even mistaken. If they'd said something that was incorrect, I would be told that I must have misheard the teacher or missed some nuance of what the teacher was saying.

"Listen properly in class next time!", I would be told.  Looks like I am carrying the lesson forward.

Happy Father's Day.

Illicit happiness of other people

Manu Joseph's "The Illicit Happiness of Other People" is a witty look at the meaning of life, youthful idealism, adult ennui, talent (and talentlessness), and male aggression and its aftereffects.

As a bonus, the book is set in Madras (now Chennai). Manu Joseph is a wonderful writer, and his observations of Chennai life are incisively drawn: of crowded lower-middle-class apartment complexes, men leaning languidly and starting their scooters in sudden jerks, housewives on balconies making distinctions between the "front-facing" and "back-facing" balcony, youthful rides along deserted nighttime streets ... they all ring true of Madras as it was when I went to high school and college there.  Chennai is different now, of course, but the book is a wonderful look at the city of my youth. Well, he also pokes fun at IITians (actually more of the parents who desperately push their kids to get into the IIT), but I suppose I can forgive him that.

It would give away the plot to say more of the story, and you need to read the book knowing nothing of what it really is about. Instead, you follow a father as he desperately tries to figure out why his older son committed suicide. And you learn more and more as the father learns more and more.  For a book about the larger meaning of life and happiness and the sort of things that can destroy such happiness, this is a wonderful, literary device.

This is a book that is worth savoring. Read it slowly.