When I was young, I was hysterically depressed about my lot in life. If they made plus-size Toughskins, I was wearing them. Being chubby can be hard on a fragile ego, and what ego is more fragile than a budding gay one? Visibly wrong, invisibly wrong—internal questions about how on earth I was ever going to get away with being gay could only be drowned out by the sound of peanut M&Ms knocking against each other in my belly. It was a self-feeding cycle.
Convinced I was having the worst life ever, a life even worse than those being had by the Ethiopians Cyndi Lauper was well-well-well-WELLing about, I indulged.
Food was the obvious indulgence, but I sought out other obsessions into which I could lose myself, and/or forget about pressing issues like my need to lose weight and my lurking sexuality. One of my indulgences was pop music—I bought 45s like they were going out of style. (Who knew they were?) Another was star idolatry—I covered my walls and my ceiling with posters and even whole magazines in plastic bags. I was attracted to Marilyn Monroe, believing it was for her tragic flaws (which is a common explanation for why queers dig her) and not realizing till later it might’ve been because she was an idol from my parents’ day and so might have represented a hope that I would not lose them once they knew my secret.
Eventually, I lost weight and gained confidence. I was so cocky I actually performed in my high school’s lip-synching contest—called the Mock Rock—in full drag as Samantha Fox. My version of “Touch Me (I Want Your Body)” would be unperformable these days, considering I writhed on silky sheets as if on a bed, had enormous fake breasts made from balled-up T-shirts and baby-bottle nipples and grasped my crotch for the line: “You made me feel so good/Made me feel myself.” Despite a palpably homophobic air in my school—I remember a punker girl who was constantly, brutally called out as a lesbian simply for having short hair—there was something about seeing a formerly quiet, formerly ectomorphic kid dressed up like a woman that really turned on the c/o ’87. My performance is hard for me to remember because I couldn’t hear the music; everyone roared their approval. A guy on whom I’d long had a passionate crush came up to me in the men’s room and bear-hugged me from behind to jokingly grope my amazingly lifelike moneymakers. I was egged on to repeat my performance in my suit months later at prom.
The only down side was that I lost when the teacher judges voted for a girl in blackface doing Janet Jackson. But the positive damage was done. Ironically, one of my indulgences—pop music—had helped me conquer one of the things I was escaping, my shyness.
I wanted to have some fun, to move my body all night long. I was Sam Fox for a night. The Mock Rock at Flushing Senior High School was videotaped, but no one has copies. If I could, I'd pay $500 for a copy.
I went on to gain confidence in other, less sensational ways, none of which included women’s clothes (I never did drag again), and while my weight has gone up and down and up and way down and way up over the years, even during the down times I’ve tended to indulge myself in various obsessions as if I were still that depressed, stressed-out teen-with-a-secret.
Food-wise, one of my most exalted indulgences is Tasti D-Lite. Haven’t heard of it? Must not be a Sex & the City fan. It’s a lower-calorie, low-fat, low-cholesterol, low-sodium, lactose-reduced, ice-cream-like treat that, done right, tastes better to me than Haagen-Dazs. I first discovered it here in NYC while walking home from my former place of employment every day. There is a small Tasti D-Lite storefront in the Village that was always crowded with 0%-body-fat dancers. I gave it a shot and liked it right away. For a treat that’s defined by what it’s not more than by what it is, it’s incredibly sweet. Though they have countless exotic flavors like Baby Ruth, they seem to be limited variations on a core handful with the names suggesting most of the difference in taste. Along with the out-there flavors, Tasti D-Lite stores are distinguished by their refusal to sell more than a few of them per day. Develop a favorite and you’ll be dropping in every day on the off chance that your #1 will be one of the ones available.
I quickly discovered that peanut butter Tasti D-Lite is orgasmic. It’s like eating a spoonful of real peanut butter, except cold and creamy. I got addicted to it, and the more I consumed, the more of a connoisseur I became. I was also a snob, growing intolerant of the dancers whose flocks had clued me in to the treat in the first place, resenting their cheapskate demands for free tastes when I was standing behind them, only too happy to pay $4 or more for a pint. I found other Tasti D-Lite stores in the city, but it didn’t take long for me to determine that most were pale imitations of the mother store in the Village. The key is that the peanut butter must look nearly brown. If it’s not, then that is a sign that the Tasti has too much vanilla in it. Those Tastis are likely to serve a multitude of flavors that all taste like vanilla, and there is no getting around their inability. I was such a pro and I felt such a sense of relief when handed a perfect pint, I stopped being too embarrassed to speak up.
“I want a pint of peanut butter, please. Make it dark.”
If they didn’t or wouldn’t or couldn’t, that Tasti location was off my imaginary “approved” list. As it stands, there are only two approved locations (the other is on W. 72nd St.) and both are peopled by East Asian employees, not the South Asian or—give me a break!—white employees who work at the unsatisfying Tastis. I love this frozen dessert treat too much not to allow glacial profiling.
I have a pint of Tasti kicking around in my freezer as I write this, and it’s comforting. But this latest indulgence in a string of indulgences is one that I know I’ll have to do without soon enough. It’s been years since I first started eating this stuff, and knowledge of the proper way to make it (which is actually the improper way—I’m sure the more delicious, more peanut buttery variety is the result of way too much calorie-laden Tasti sauce) is not something reliable. Big Macs will always taste the same, but the dark Tasti exists only as long as the girls who know how to make it are employed at those locations, or as long as those whom they train are.
It’s funny how much though I’m willing to give just about anything, even the fleeting pleasure of some fake ice cream. But as I’ve learned from my childhood indulgences, many of which survive in some form to this day, anything that one seeks as an escape is important for one reason or another. Pleasure is woefully underrated, and it’s also a good idea to figure out what one is attempting to escape. In the case of Tasti D-Lite, my plan is to quit the stuff cold turkey. Unlike pop music, which helped to socialized me and to expand my creativity, or star idolatry, which challenged me to analyze human responses as well as become an art critic and yet which has drawbacks of its own, I have to believe such an intensely developed food fetish can only be empty. It’s fun while it lasts but it doesn’t last.
In place of Tasti D-Lite—which, after all, is really just a stand-in for all excessive eating—my new indulgence re-begins tomorrow morning at 7:00 a.m. when I go back to my trainer. True change is glacial, as the Ice Age in my psyche that separated my early teens from my late teens will attest. But hopefully my new “indulgence” will take me to the next level with a little more six-pack and a little less “Touch Me.”