Cincinnati, Ohio, 9 AM, Friday, September 15, 20– : Doug Simms is at an especially crucial point in his professional and personal life, about to finish his Ph.D. in nutrition science, and engaged to the lovely, slender Belinda Adams. Doug is also ordering breakfast at the Denny’s off I75 many miles from where he lives and works – alone, ravenous, anxious, and for good reason. No sooner does the waitress return with his order – cheesy omelet, sausage, bacon, chocolate chip pancakes in a stack – than the BMI police are at his table, reading his rights, jingling handcuffs, should he not comply.
9:20: Doug Simms, age thirty-one, has eaten the teaspoon of omelet, and the one-fourth bacon slice as measured by the police. He pays full price for the order then slips the waitress, Candy Spee, a twenty to meet him out back and give him the rest in a doggy bag.
9:25: Doug meets Candy, sweating, shifty-eyed as she warily passes him the contraband.
9:25 ½: Doug runs to his car, tears off in the direction of Louisville to foil the police, should they be watching.
They are watching.
9:30: Forty-five miles from Cincinnati, Doug pulls over at a rest stop, scarfs down cold eggs, breakfast meats, pancakes, then pops a few chocolate-coated coffee beans, a treat from Candy, because she’s that kind of person.
10:45: “Congrats Doug. Make that double congrats!” This from Rick Needleman, Doug Simms’ colleague at the university’s College of Health Sciences. “Set a date yet? After the promotion, right?”
“Thanks, Rick. No, no date. Fingers crossed for associate professor.” Doug holds up two hands, four sets of fingers crossed.
Rick slaps him on the back. “Lucky dog,” he says. “Belinda Adams. Jeez, a bird, writsts like little branches.”
Nervous about the changes in his life, Doug begins clucking down coffee beans – caffeine calms him – as if they are water.
“Whoa, man,” Rick says, “the BMI police might – “
“’Nuf said,” Doug says and offers Rick the bag.
“No thanks,” Rick says, two hands on his abdomen, shaking to show there’s no flab. “Gotta stay at a 24.”
Doug sees Rick check out his love handles, paunch, his bra-needy breasts, and feels a pie craving coming on.
11:05: Doug reaches the bakery. Although he has difficulty getting out of the car, he is not worried. He stands at the entrance and sees Irene step from the order room. He gives her the look: At the trash bin in five.
11:16: Doug is way over BMI. Everything he wears is tight: Tee-shirt, underwear, dress shirt with button-down collar, khakis, so that seen, even from a distance, he would not deceive the most near-sighted eyes. Rick is conferencing with students, a line of them in the hallway since Rick always goes over the allotted fifteen minutes. Doug shuts his office door and forks in the last blueberry.
11:21: Doug whiffs popcorn in the air coming from the faculty lounge. He follows his nose to it. It is a bowl of Orville Redenbacher’s Gourmet in the hands of a moving grad student and as he approaches the woman, she walks on, so he stays on her trail.
11:22: Doug Simms is gone. It might be for the good because the department head would certainly be skeptical about hiring a tenure track nutrition teacher who is bursting out of his clothes.
11:25: Belinda Adams phones Rick after Doug does not answer her call to say she’ll meet him in thirty minutes at the Green Tea for lunch. Rick checks Doug’s office. He calls, “Doug? Simms? Doug Simms?”
11:26: No Doug.
11:27: Rick Needleman apologizes to his students to search for Doug.
11:33: Rick calls Belinda back to say he can’t find her fiancé.
12 PM: Belinda arrives. After an hour of hunting, she concludes that Doug hasn’t forgotten about their green lunch, he has either had an accident or is kidnapped. She summons campus police.
2 PM: Doug is still missing.
In another part of campus, a fashion design professor approaches a favorite coffee spot. She sees someone chunky and unwieldy; he’s as wide as the door she tries to enter. Before she can stand aside to let him exit, the oversized spectacle tilts to one side, juggling muffins, doughnuts, a grande caramel macchiato, shifts to the other side, and accidentally spills all over her.
2:45: Two old lady librarians are startled by unusual noises coming from the stacks, sounds of finger licking and lips smacking, along with big sighs of pleasure. When loud crunches and bone crackings begin, they blurt the details to an eye-rolling campus security guy, who golf carts them to psych services.
At the sound of what they take to be a thunderbolt, administrators at a power lunch return to the reception room to find their desserts missing, whole cakes, trays of fudge. They decide this is the work of a drug addict undergrad, but are unsure when they discover a dress shirt left by the thief, though the burst buttons might confirm their junkie theory.
3PM: BMI police join campus cops to spread out over the college in search of Doug Simms, a man so far over BMI he is endangering others. The criminal’s fiancé arrives to flesh out Rick’s description: there is a polo player on his shirt and alligators on his pants and socks. The search is complicated because once Doug is found, Belinda Adams will no longer have a fiancé.
5:45: Doug is hungry. Nervous by nature, he has been going along with his life until now, earning the degrees, getting the girl, the job, the next job, the next. Now, he wonders why he didn’t go to vocational school all those years ago for culinary arts then cook with Candy Spee at Fat Daddy’s House of Bones (Bones and brew. Who’s your fatty? Who let the hogs out?) after they got married, and now he’s always hungry. What’s more, he’s feeling sleepy because he’s missed his mid-day coffee (he hopes he didn’t burn that woman). He closes his eyes. In breath, a tick; out breath, a tock. He begins to snore.
5:45 ½: With a sixth sense known to all fiancés, the distressed Belinda hears. “It’s Doug!” she says.
At the sound, campus police break out their regulation riot gear – face shields, helmets, bullet proof vests – and put them on. Every officer feels the ground shake. One patrolman says, “He’s joined the terrorists.”
“Nonsense,” says Belinda. “It’s just Doug.” She calls, “Dougie, it‘s your Little Bee.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure, lady. It don’t sound like no over-BMI.”
“I know my Dougie.” She makes a grab for his bullhorn. “Dougie, it’s me, Belinda. Doug? Dougie?”
From across the quad, Doug hears.
6 PM: The WLW-T news helicopter reports a huge shirtless man moving near the Chemistry Building.
6:10: In the middle of the quad, police check their weapons as the ground under them seems to vibrate. Students flood 9-1-1 with calls of tremors, the Hulk, a Big Foot sighting.
Police prepare to shoot.
6:30: Belinda Adams rushes before the policemen, waving her arms in front of herself, saving the way over BMI guy - who is her intended? Because that’s no fanny pack of middle age, that’s a suitcase, a whole set of luggage.
7PM: The Federal Alliance to Stamp Out Observed Obesity (F.A.T.S.O.O.O.) is summoned when Doug’s BMI, scanned from a distance, comes in at a grand 45.2, and a few loose cannons in the organization humiliate the big man by shooting bullets at his feet to make him dance.
7:15: The BMI sheriff arrives and tries to get a handle on the problem. Doug Simms spreads his hands wide over his jitterbugging legs and makes his way to the sheriff on feet as big as baked potatoes exploded from their skins. A crew of BMI police surround Doug, cuff him, stuff him in a cruiser, whisk him away.
7:45: Doug lands in BMI jail.
One week later: Doug Simms’ lawyer tells him Belinda Adams has fallen for a man who has many advantages over Doug, such as his BMI is a 22. Too bad for Doug, who is resisting his liquid diet.
When the judge asks Doug why he did it, he tells her it was a misunderstanding over nutritional values. She says, “Since you are attempting to make a mockery of this court and show no remorse, three to five years.”
His lawyer says, “Keep it up, Mr. Simms, and this will be the start of Life on the Installment Plan.”
Afterward: Before Doug Simms came to Harrysville Reformatory for Over BMI Men, he thought he’d be chained to the wall. But it’s not near as bad as he imagined. You’ve got your shrubbery, your birds, your skunks. There’s soy fields, kale, alfalfa. One stone building after another. It looks like a small town here, except for the razor wire.
Earn your keep while reducing into the right BMI is the motto at Harrysville, so Doug cuts hair at the prison barbershop. He’s in haircut training. So far, he pretty much sticks to your basic crew cuts, cornrows, mullets. Dos that don’t clash with your prison shirt, your prison career.
He started out as a 45 BMI green shirt, almost got promoted to a 40 blue, instead he got bumped back up to 48. All over a tiff with a correction officer. A few days ago, Doug swiped another packet of sesame seeds from the Christmas party and added it to his booty. During the night, he woke up in a panic and started cramming seeds inside his mouth. Right then this c. o. named Kurt birddogged it to his cell, slapping his billy club, beaming his flashlight over Doug’s face. “I’m sorry,” Doug said, “I’m just so tense.”
“You’re so full of cheese, man,” Kurt said, “you’re about to be past tense.” Then he confiscated Doug’s plunder and wrote him up.
At work the next day, Doug filched a sharp and sawed on his wrist.
“It wasn’t a serious death wish,” Doug tells the warden. “I barely nicked my vein. Nothing Mercurochrome and a band-aide couldn’t cure, maybe throw in a tetanus booster or two, a grande caramel macchiato.”
The warden says Doug’s just a big BMI in a giant pokey, still, due to Doug’s fleecing disorder, he has a thick F.A.T.S.O.O.O. file on him. That’s why he’s putting Doug in Doctor Hellman’s therapy group.
“Wall-eyed Hellman?” Doug says. “Watch me lock my lips and throw away the key. Did you see? Laugh if you want, but the time I told Hellman my favorite joke – Yo’ mamma so fat, she got arrested at the airport for ten pounds of crack – he went – “Hey, Warden, no need to call Kurt. Just please, not Hellman, not rehab, not rehab with Hellman, not Kurt, Warden.”
Then Kurt bursts in, billy raised high. Doug’s heart cramps like a Charlie horse and he keels over, begging, begging, begging for forgiveness.
Patty Houston teaches creative writing and composition at the University of Cincinnati. Recently, her work has appeared in The Louisville Review, The Oxford American, The Fiddlehead, Witness, Greensboro and other journals. Her novel A Short Family History and her short story collection Wakigatame are in search of good homes. She is at work on a second novel.