Weebles Wobble, But They Don’t Fall Down (unless they keep eating)

My taste buds love to travel. I reward them with chicken nuggets in the airport, eat deserts at the banquet meals, and have a full breakfast every day (get the open yolk sandwich with cheddar cheese on sour dough bread next time you are in Patachou’s. Lord. Because an egg isn’t bad enough: we need cheese on it, too. On sourdough bread. My brain said wheat but that’s not what came out when I ordered).

It’s like paradise in my mouth the entire trip. Two days into the trip and the taste buds have this pavlovian response every four hours. It’s like “Little Shop of Horrors” except my taste buds are the plant. I don’t know or understand the chemical or metabolic reaction caused by hunger. I only know my taste buds somehow short-circuit the part of my brain that makes good choices. When I’m at home, the brain wins. I eat smaller portions, push the plate away, and I’m able to walk away. I am master of my desires!

On the road, there must be some kind of sly, secret taste bud insurgency team (Taste Team 6?) that sneaks in and occupies any sense of restraint I might normally show. I can see Jimminy Cricket in my mind’s eye, but he looks like a piece of chocolate mint candy not the voice of reason. I like to tell myself I’m just being economically responsible. After all, I paid for the food and I should eat it. There are starving kids in China, the voice in my head screams!

My belt, on the other hand, shouts out like a metaphor torured by a bad writer (kind of like the one I’m strangling in this post). At home, my wife and I, when we eat out, will split a meal. We show restraint and respect for our waistband.

On the road, I’m eating alone. (Don’t despair. They encouraged us to sign up for some group meals for Friday night. “Our big fear is someone ordering room service and eating in their rooms alone,” they said. Hell, I thought that was the goal–room service, cable, and peace and quiet.)  Away from home, I sit looking at my plate of food and my taste buds overwhelm my better judgment. I start with the best of intentions. “I’ll order water,” I tell myself. Then the waiter tells me about a local brewery and I feel compelled to shop local. (I’m helping the economy, darnit.) So, to make up for it, I’ll order half a meal and get the least expensive thing on the menu. That’s what my brain whispers, but the mouth says something different. “Feed Me, Seymour, Feed Me!” Sure, the waiter might back away slowly from the crazy guy, but the food shows up anyway.

And there’s no sharing of a meal. (Partly because that would be totally creepy. Hey, perfect stranger, want my leftovers?) I follow my mom’s advice and clean that plate. Even as my legs push back from the table, even as my body says no more, even as I can hear the leather in my belt creak, I shovel that one last bite down the hatch and then waddle back to the room with self-loathing, hoping the snap on my jeans doesn’t pop off and injure someone.

Yet, there I was again tonight. Walking Indianapolis: took a look at the NCAA office building on the shores of the White River, headed past the Indiana State Museum where they were playing Janis Joplin’s version  of “Me and Bobbi McGee,” hoofed it down to Veteran’s Memorial Plaza (an awesome site at night), and circled back to Monument Circle and window shopped. I take back anything bad I might have implied about the city. I was out two hours and never really noticed the time.

I told myself the walk was good. Cleanse the system and burn some calories. The exercise gave me confidence. I walked up on a bar and I could see a band setting up. Easy decision. Step in, get a PBR ($2.00!) and a burger. Small expense so if it was too much food I could walk away guilt free.  As I stepped inside, I looked across the street and saw Mo’s: A Place for Steak.

Resist, my brain said. Stick to the plan. Low cost, small portion. Live music. Cheap beer. I had those taste buds whipped.

Until I turned around. Mo’s had a piano player so the live music was a wash. Indianapolis has two kinds of places to eat: steak and Irish pubs. I’ve had Irish. And the pub. But not the steak. I need to fully experience the city, that voice whispered. Nothing like taste buds that have evolved into logical, independent thinkers.

By the way, if you go to Indianapolis, St. Elmo Steak House is famous. I’m sure it’s delicious. My taste buds recommend Mo’s. They keep it simple there. Salt, pepper, a hint of garlic and they rub the steak with olive oil. They let the meat speak for itself. Get the creamed spinach. It goes well with the steak melting in your mouth.

So here I sit, sprawled out in a food induced coma, and wonder why my brain loses every time when I’m on the road. My waist band is begging to go home. I better leave soon or shop for new pants. I’ll walk an extra mile when I get home, I argue with myself. Eat more salad. Water with every meal. And I feel better as I drown out the little voices. The biggest lie in the world might be the lie to yourself, but it’s also the most satisfying.

By the way, I wonder when room service stops delivery?


About John Wegner
John Wegner is a Professor of English where he also serves as the Dean of the Freshman College. He and Lana, his wife, have been married over 25 years. They are the parents of two great sons who (so far) haven't ever needed bail money.

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