It was a chilly evening in October and I was well into my near-nightly ritual of heading downstairs to the Dunkin’ Donuts that sits at the base of my apartment building. (Yes, I live above a Dunkin’ Donuts. It’s super convenient; I have coffee, donuts and bagels within short reach. And also, probably diabetes.) Most nights after dinner, I’d run down the four flights of stairs — OK, it’s more like a sugar-starved zombie stupor — to get a donut and a coffee for my fiancée and myself. Along with making the bed and working the Netflix machine, it is literally one of the only ways I prove my worth to her. That’s right, ladies. I’m a provider.
I’m friendly with most of the employees at the store, but on this particular night I saw none of the regular faces behind the counter. Instead, a man of vague foreign origin who I had only seen maybe once or twice before took my order. He was perfectly pleasant — all smiles as he dutifully pivoted on his back foot to retrieve two glazed donuts from the picked-over racks behind him. He got my coffees, then began making conversation as he rang me up.
“You come in a lot, yes?” I nodded politely, assuming he was referencing the past few times he had seen me in the store. To my horror, he clarified. He pointed at my body as he proudly announced, still smiling, “I can see your belly.”
And then, time stood still. It was like the part in Saving Private Ryan when a bomb goes off right by Tom Hanks and all the sound cuts out. A bloody limb flew this way…a hunk of dirt and shrapnel, that way…
Now, to say I’m in shape would be a gross distortion of the truth, but I wouldn’t exactly call myself fat. Yes, my belly tends to jut out from my silhouette in a very Alfred Hitchcock Presents kind of way. And yes, sometimes the buttons on my shirt are pulled just a little too tightly. And yes, there is some confusion over where my chin ends and my neck begins. But having a man — the very man who was selling me donuts, even — suggest I was fat is something I never thought possible. So, I did what I do in nearly every situation I’m made to feel uncomfortable — laugh nervously and blindly agree to whatever is being said.
Maybe sensing my discomfort, he offered, “Don’t worry, I have a belly too,” and proceeded to pat his own. It was a failed attempt at commiseration. He was in a lot better shape than me. He continued the therapy session, saying, “For every donut you eat, you must exercise for 15 minutes.”
Despite knowing that that’s not how fitness works, I agreed and smiled, all while hoping beyond hope that this interaction would end before another customer entered the store. I was practically willing his hand to grab the receipt that the cash register had spit out and place it into mine so I could make my escape. He finally did, and I was gone — belly first into the night.
I looped around the other side of the building, but stopped before going into the lobby. I wasn’t mad about what happened. Maybe it was a sign that I had been going to Dunkin’ Donuts a little too much. Maybe the guy behind the counter, albeit very clumsily, was trying to do me a solid and watch out for my health. And maybe I should listen. I’d stop being so lazy. I’d stop eating so many donuts. I’d make a pledge to start exercising more and being more physically active from that moment on.
I put my key in the door and walked into the lobby with a renewed sense of purpose. I thought about taking the stairs back up to the apartment, but opted for the elevator instead. I mean, it was getting late, and I had a lot of donuts still to eat.
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