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Everything In Moderation

In the spirit of imposing a moratorium on the introduction of toxins and insalubrious elements into my own personal constitution, I have almost completely eradicated sugar from my diet. I say “almost” because I have been allowing myself the enjoyment of one specific type of dessert which occurs four times throughout the six-week revolving menu, a confection unique in its composition relativeb to the various cakes, pies, puddings, and cobblers which comprise our dessert catalog. It gives me something to look forward to, and every time it rolls around — although, to get it to actually roll, even though it is served in roughly spherical form, would require an extremely steep gradient and some kind of friction-free substrate, its specific gravity and adhesive properties being what they are — I get inordinately excited about dinner.

"Short Round," I recently said to my neighbor on one of these rare and special evenings, "ask me why I'm so stoked right now."

"Do I have to?" he said.

"Yes, I insist. Ask away."

"Okay, why are you so excited?," he said, really less inquisitively than wearily.

"Bread pudding! " I chirped. "My one dessert! I freakin' live for this shit. It is the very crux of my existence . My raisin d'etre, if you don't mind."

"Okay. Gross, but okay. You can have mine, too."

"Thanks, but I'm going to need you to acknowledge my pun. See, 'raison d'etre' is French for 'reason for living' and I said raisin d'etre, because the bread pudding has raisins in it. It was very clever."

"I'm going to go ahead and take your word for it," said Short Round .

It's not that it's so delicious; actually, it's kind of disgusting. Like most institutional bread puddings, it has the texture of modeling clay, the density of mortar, and the adhesive properties of mastic. It's a struggle to choke down and an even greater challenge to digest and dispose of, but it is sweet, and its obvious shortcomings give it a built-in penance for people like me, who feel they need at least a symbolic dessert to underscore the sacrifice they've made in the name of health. Plus, it strengthens my resolve to resist any tastier, less glutinous confections that might follow.

As I generally eat two servings, an easy thing to obtain (if not accomplish) given most people, exhibiting far better sense than the rash and thoughtless behavior that landed them here, throw it away, the bread pudding asserts itself well into the succeeding days. I can be witnessed in the chow hall post-pudding poking listlessly at my food as the stuff clangs and bangs around my digestive apparatus like a tennis shoe in a dryer, seeming to say, "Alright, goddamnit, I'll go, but you're damn sure going to know I've been here."

Parallels between this illogical behavior and my earlier patterns of addiction could certainly be drawn, but as it is, relative to those dark days, microcosmic and harmless, I choose to use it as a learning experience. I say “relatively harmless” because if you could unmake a quantity of meth and restore it to its constituent components, ingestion of any one of them would result in instant death. It is only through the laborious, arcane, and perilous process of “cooking” that it becomes “safe” to introduce to the human body where it can work its magic and put death onto a more attenuated timeline. If you deconstruct bread pudding, you get bread, milk, eggs, sugar, vanilla, and baking powder. Also transformed by cooking but into something far beyond and below the sum of its humbly innocuous parts. So, it's sort of the same and yet opposite.

I'm not sure what prompted my entirely illogical behavior on the aforementioned night — maybe a rare sufficiency of sleep the night before had given me the confidence to act foolishly, or the fact that it was Friday made caution seem uncool, but I elected to eat three servings. Three large servings, plus a dollop in my cup to take back to the dorm for later. Neighboring diners observed my laden tray and slight frame and made grim calculations. One concerned fellow attempted to intervene. "Don't do it, man. It's not worth it. You've got a lot to live for," he said.

"Oh, I know," I said. "I've got tons to look forward to. This is just something I do."

"Your funeral, bro."

I pooh-poohed the doomsayer's dire prediction and fell to with gusto, dispatching all three puddings in record time and listing only slightly to port as I made my way gingerly back to the dorm. I felt like I had a gut full of quicksilver, and if it got to sloshing it'd founder me. Slow and steady, that's the course.

I made it back home and prudently stretched out on my rack, figuring to give the various acids and enzymes a level playing field, as it were, and a decent shot at rendering the offending mass into disposable form.

What began as ominous rumblings, like distant thunder, before long developed into a full-scale naval battle between warring superpowers. The pain, if you can wrap your mind around this, was what I imagined sewing a couple of angry and frightened hedgehogs inside my abdomen would feel like (though I expect those would be the default emotions of anyone sewn inside of anyone else). This impression was bolstered by periodic subcutaneous extrusions as the skin of my lower torso bubbled and stretched as if being poked from inside, recalling the movie Alien or a Tom and Jerry cartoon where Jerry has been swallowed whole and is trying to punch his way out.

Either way, the effect was quite shocking and I poked back experimentally. I was rewarded with a vicious, stabbing pain which I took as a warning not to touch my belly. Chastened, I closed my eyes, put my arms at my sides, and went to my happy place .

The bodily unrest and upheaval lasted a full three days. What little sleep I got was plagued my nightmares of be-raisined amoebic blobs the size of city buses, oozing through the city streets and engulfing everything in their path.

When it was all over, I took a look at myself and said, Flynn, old shoe, prison sure has softened you up. I can recall a time when you'd've topped those puddings with hot fudge and Brazil nuts, washed 'em down with a few beers and asked for more besides. I guess my body has gotten used to being coddled and cosseted like a little Victorian lordling and can't be bothered to even deal with some sweetened spackling compound, much less any of the real poisons I used to cheerfully introduce into my system all the live-long day. It's a shame, is what it is, and I feel as vulnerable as a trailer in a tornado.

What happens if I get ahold of some tainted food or am otherwise poisoned? I'm supposed to just tip over like a citizen, all those years spent bolstering my immune system and galvanizing my constitution by allowing absolutely anything into my body wasted? Harumph, I say, and fiddlesticks besides.

To illustrate the open-border policy formerly in place, one morning I woke up on my dear friend Sandman's couch, feeling sharply out of sorts and being quite vocal about it.

Sandman, always solicitous of his guest's well-being, asked me what was wrong.

"Aaaugh. Incipient howling greaves, it looks like.Rampant ionization. Sub­ acromial distress. You name it, bro.I'm a mess," I said.

"Hmm. I recommend food," Sandman said. "There's Pop-Tarts in the kitchen."

Heeding his sage advice, I polished off nine in a trice, topped them off with another to make ten, said screw it and downed an even dozen. I definitely felt different.

"How's that bro? Better?" Sandman asked.

"Now I feel nauseous, bloated, and lightheaded," I said.

"I prescribe marijuana for those symptoms," Sandman said.

"You're the doctor." I sucked down a bong hit and did a somatic inventory. "The nausea is gone, but I feel isolated and confused now," I said.

"Alright, well, let's get some booze into you, stat."

I had a tall Malibu rum on the rocks, then another. "Yum. now I feel cocky and belligerent, a little unsteady, and slightly maudlin."

"Okay, we're closing in. Do a big shot of crank, see what happens ."

Having done that little thing, I said, "Now I feel jagged, jittery, paranoid, and anxious. Oddly optimistic, though."

"Alright, now take three Valium dissolved in a glass of warm maple syrup, followed by 90 seconds of downward dog."

Damned if that wasn't just the ticket! I was restored to homeostasis, albeit an exactingly compiled and precariously maintained one. The beauty of it all was that I could easily sustain and metabolize all that garbage and incorporate it into a cooperative, cohesive whole, and just look at me now. Laid low by a few pounds of industrial dessert.

I suppose the lesson here is one about moderation, and I guess it even makes sense, in the finally-getting-it-in-my-late-fifties way I have of stumbling over life's eternal truths via reflection and writing. Better late than never, I guess.

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