Do you believe that pride is a deadly sin? I imagine that most people
feel pride at one point in their lives and don’t take the “sin”
part too seriously. I had a buddy who used to be so proud of every
little thing he did that he couldn’t help but share it with everybody,
like a peacock strutting his stuff all the time. On the other hand, I
had a girlfriend who was just the opposite. She was quiet and humble,
but at times her face beamed with joy while sharing facts about teeth.
She was a dental student and proud to be able to pick out gingivitis and
gumboils from color photos. Even my high school’s motto was
“pride.” We were the Burbank Bulldogs, and pride was painted in
large white letters all over the campus, on our school T-shirts, and in
the middle of our football field.
Deadly sin or not, I couldn’t help but feel extremely proud after
losing twenty-five fluke pounds in 1992—like the “proud parent of an
honor roll student,” I imagine. I didn’t feel better than anyone
else for doing this (not yet anyway), which is the type of pride I
believe the “experts” classify as a deadly sin. I just felt good
enough (proud enough) to finally take a chance at getting my childhood
confidant to like me.
My childhood confidant was something I loved to hate: the weight scale
that sat on my parents’ bathroom floor. For me, this confidant, this
mentor, this evil weight loss tool, ruled over much of my obsessive
behavior, especially in the early years. I first accepted the scale’s
strong opinion on things in 1985, when I was eleven and just coming to
grips with my super fatness. It assumed its power position the very same
day I got all worked up over my hanging belly and plump man boobs.
Instead of comforting me when I stood on it, the scale took on the
personality of Hannibal Lecter (the mind-twisting psychiatrist) and
communicated with me through the scale’s digital screen (like an
electronic message sign you see in Times Square). These messages
registered more than a weight total too. To me, they were raw bits of
emotional truths that were packed with influence.
The first thing it ever said to me was, “Hey, fat boy! Did you like
E.T.? Of course . . . I can tell. You look like you ate the little
booger!” What kid wouldn’t react to that?
Hannibal’s edge did dull at times, which is why he (it) reminded me of
one of my buddy’s pets. My friend’s family owned a dog and a cat.
Spot was their black-and-white Dalmatian that lived to be one hundred
dog years old. Despite becoming senile in his old age, he was the type
of dog that would gladly grab you a beer out of the fridge when he was
up. Friendly and affectionate, Spot never met a person he didn’t like,
and he never had anything bad to bark at anybody. He was a joker too.
Spot often waltzed through the den with a big smirk on his face. Within
seconds, his Puppy Chow farts usually followed, invading our nostrils
and proving that Spotsy also believed in the universal truth of,
“Whoever smelt it, dealt it.” We loved him for his antics; Hannibal
was nothing like this.
Their cat’s name was Tiger. She was an indoor/outdoor cat that had a
matching personality. Actually, I always felt that Tiger had a split
personality: soft and affectionate at times, aggressive and dangerous at
times—perhaps like a real tiger. Once you got to know her, Tiger was
the type of cat that would snuggle up and loved to be petted. She could
purr for hours while you stroked the back of her ears or the soft fur
under her chin. Tiger would close her eyes and bask in the comfort, like
a person getting a great Swedish massage. Within a split second, though,
she would open her eyes, lift her head, and quickly bite your fingers or
scratch your forearm with her razor-sharp claws as if you were a
dangerous predator that she needed to attack. Tiger could only purr so
long before she scratched; she could only sleep so long before she
pounced; and she could only love you so long before you hated her.
Hannibal was a tiger, and I always wanted him to purr like one. So what
if he had a mind-bending edge? I always figured that his sharp tongue
was just a defense mechanism because he was sentenced to lying on the
floor and licking people’s feet all day. So what if we had longer than
normal conversations? I was more concerned with what Hannibal thought
about me, and I was sometimes scared of what he would say and ask me to
do. But still, there was something in the way he talked to me—or
talked down to me. I was vulnerable to it, and I always wanted his
approval. At first, I just wanted him to be nice. In time, though, I
wanted him to love me even when I thought there was a better chance of
becoming a five-hundred-pound man with an air filter lodged in my butt
crack. Somehow, Hannibal, that scale, had the ability to draw me in like
the Bermuda Triangle and make me talk as if I had taken three shots of
Perhaps it was the fact that I could be insecure in front of him as I
got older. In junior or senior high school, if I whined to Hannibal, all
I would risk is a few insults thrown at me across his digital screen. It
was the perfect relationship for an insecure binger like me. Hannibal
didn’t go to my school, and we didn’t know any of the same people;
he wasn’t in my circle of friends at all. If I opened up to him and
complained about my pregnant belly or Texas toast-filled butt cheeks,
which I often did, he could never blab about it to my other friends. So
in the end, being vulnerable to Hannibal was as safe as talking to a
priest in confessional—except that he didn’t listen very well and
his advice often made me feel like ass.
We had many heart-to-heart conversations, but not before Hannibal
greeted me with his warmest welcome when I stepped on him: “Hello, fat
boy. Well, you’re still nice and blubbery to me.” He thought he was
a real comedian with the “nice and blubbery” routine. In my most
insecure moments, I would ask him if he thought I was fat or how fat he
thought I was. He wasn’t a great counselor at all, but he tried to
comfort me with his best one-liners.
“Hey, fat boy, you’re so fat, you make Big Bird look like a rubber
“Hey, fat boy, you’re so fat that when you haul ass, do you have to
make two trips?”
“Hey, fat boy, you’re so fat that if you get a flesh-eating disease,
you’ll have ten years to live.”
Accidentally losing twenty-five pounds as a fresh high school graduate
in 1992 during the Halloween Horror Nights at the Studios was just the
news I could share with Hannibal. Naturally, I ran to him to show off my
smaller gut the minute Lovable Louie told me to switch out my uniforms
for ones that fit. I stood in his presence and prepared for his insults.
“Hey, Hannibal, how do I look?”
“Hello, fat boy. Well, you’re still nice and blubbery to me!”
“Yeah, yeah—I know. Guess what?”
“Umm, your lunch waitress gave you an estimate instead of a menu?”
“Stop it. No, I think I did something . . . something impossible.”
“Did you finally do a handstand without your belly hitting your face?
No, wait . . . did you lose a little weight, fat boy?”
“Can you tell—really?”
“Of course, numbnuts. I’m a scale, remember? How did you do it?”
“I got really busy at work and didn’t eat, I guess.”
“I got busy at work!” he mocked in a high voice.
“Seriously—do you think I can lose more?” I stood clutching my fat
“Do you think you can keep forgetting to eat?”
“Maybe. Maybe this is my chance. How much do I have to lose before
you’re nice to me?”
“Fat boy . . . really? But you love it when I make you feel pitiful!
I’ll think about it, but you’d better keep forgetting to eat.”
I wasn’t playing with Hannibal. I did believe that this was my chance
and whether he was nice to me or not, I had my eye on another love
affair. I didn’t tell anybody but I was falling in love with the idea
of becoming a United States Marine. Maybe I was romanced by all the
stuff I learned from Louie, or perhaps their recruiting campaigns were
designed for young men like me. Their slogans spoke to my newly awakened
ego and stoked my competitive flames in ways that nothing ever had. Can
you blame me? The hairs on my neck would literally stand at attention
and my skin would ripple in awe when I imagined the crisp snare drum
roll playing behind phrases like “The Few. The Proud. The Marines.”
“We don’t promise you a rose garden.” “Only the best can claim
the title. Do you have what it takes?” “Devil Dog!” “Shock
Troop!” “Warrior!” “Leatherneck!” I was romanced; I was in
love; I was horny for it.
The Marines offered the right amount of validation I needed. Becoming a
badass would put me in another class. Instead of being fat, weak, and
the butt of all jokes, I thought I would be lean, mean, and the cream in
girls’ jeans (my apologies, ladies, but that’s how my arrogant young
mind worked at the time). I could prove to myself and to my dad and
brother that I wasn’t a quitter like the one I had demonstrated on the
football field. I could be strong like them too. I would be important. I
could serve my country and experience true sacrifice. I could earn my
freedom. I loved these ideas, and I wanted it! I wanted it more than I
wanted food, and I took the next eight months proving that point to
No matter what Hannibal said, I left that conversation with a new
perspective. I had caught lightning in a bottle by losing twenty-five
pounds, and I wasn’t going to let it go. I was going to lose weight
and make him be nice to me once and for all. Why? Because I was sick and
tired of being super fat.
How was I, of all people, going to pull this off?
Excerpted from "Tuna Breath: A 275-Pound Teenager's Coming of Age Story" by Doug Pedersen. Copyright © 2013 by Doug Pedersen. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.