One in a series of posts on my struggles with maintaining a healthier weight, starting in early 2019 and working into the present day
Back in early 2019, I tended to stop working around 5 pm, though often more like 5:30 or 6. If I’d been good that day after lunch, sometimes I’d had a mid-afternoon snack, something along the lines of fruit or a slice of cheese. If not, however, I’d had something more. Either way, though, by the time I’d knocked off work (keeping in mind I was working from home), I was pooped.
That’s when it got harder for me to make good eating decisions. I could hear the scratching, scratching of the “other” Mark wanting to get in the door of the wheelhouse. I call that version of myself the Dogman.
The Dogman is kind of like the Wolfman, except not as scary to anyone but myself.
Let me start by saying I love dogs. I grew up with a black Lab who was, as the trope goes, my best friend. His name was Spiro. He was a character, and I could write a book on him alone. He was also a big eater and a bit of a drooler who would lay his jaw on my thigh when I was sitting down for a meal.
I fed him from the table, of course. How could I not? This was back in the days when having a trained dog just meant you could get him to “shake.” Screw discipline. We were the Vickers family. We ate what we wanted and we damn well fed our dogs what they wanted as well.
Hank the Dog
Later in my adult life, my wife and I got a yellow Lab named Hank. It was a different age and we lived in the city, so we trained Hank. It was easy, except when it wasn’t.
Like so many members of his breed, Hank was smart but impetuous when he was a young dog. We taught him to stay, heel, wait and a bunch of other commands. He was a natural, learning so fast you’d think he was just remembering commands rather than hearing them for the first time. We were grateful to have such a brilliant student. Or, at least, he was brilliant in the backyard.
In the “real world” it was a different story. I’d take him for a walk off the leash on the local college campus where I worked. We’d be soaking in the scenery, the grass expanses, the hibiscus and azalea, the palms and the tall oak trees. If I asked, he’d heel like a champ, like there was an invisible lead between us.
Until, that is, he saw a squirrel. I was, of course, usually able to see the squirrel first because of my height advantage. So, I’d tell him to heel, which he did…right up to the time he saw the squirrel. Then his eyes would light, his ears perk up, his feet start to dance.
“Hank, heel,” I’d say in a low, alpha-dog voice, practically a growl.
But, then, he just couldn’t take it anymore, and off he’d dash, running the squirrel or squirrels up the nearest tree.
It’d burn my ass. He knew better. He just wasn’t listening, damn it!
I’d bring him back and tell him what a schmuck he was. He looked truly repentant, as if saying, “Sorry, Mark, I’ll never do it again. Cross my heart and hope to…”
But then there’d be another squirrel and off he’d go.
Eventually, I learned to get him on the leash before he could see the squirrels. He’d yank on the leash at first but then realize he was stuck with me. At that point, he’d heel properly, though focusing all his attention on the squirrel.
“Good boy,” I’d tell him. “Good boy.”
So, what does the Hank story have to do with my eating issues? Well, there were two Hanks. There was backyard Hank who never failed to obey a command, and there was college-campus Hank, who sometimes gave my commands a big “screw you.”
Same dog. Different behaviors.
Hank could also be two different canines when it came to eating. He loved to eat, a true Vickers. He could wolf down a can of dog food in 30 seconds. He could even devour a dried pig’s ear (yes, those are a thing) in only a minute or two.
When it came to eating, there was Hank when you were around and Hank when you weren’t. When you were around, Hank wouldn’t beg at the dinner table, or eat the cat food, or even grab meat off the kitchen counter.
But when you weren’t around, he’d chow down on the cat kibble, beg from any houseguest who didn’t know the rules, and give into the temptation to pull down Publix slices of roast beef off the kitchen counter (which, in his defense, he only did once or twice–as he got older, he really became quite disciplined).
Well, you get the picture. As with the squirrels, Hank had impulse-control issues, especially as a younger dog.
And so it is that I refer to my “other” self as Dogman, the beast inside me who also has impulse control issues.
Oh, I don’t mean all the time. Not even usually. But enough of the time to get and keep me fat.
And it was usually after work that I could feel the Dogman scratching at the door of my mind in the same way Hank would use his big paw to scratch at the back door when he wanted to come in. It was a scratching sound that started off as a low sound, but got progressively louder as he grew more impatient.
Before long, it was a loud, drawn out SKERAAAATCH! A grating and subliminally frightening noise, something out of an Edgar Allen Poe story.
It was also a sound that would drive my wife into a fury. She’d jump up, fling up the door, and yell “Enough already!” at the Hank, who with a slightly sheepish but secretly triumphant look, walked by her and into the living room, where he’d jump up on our (increasingly worn) brown couch, deeply sighing as he sank into a comfortable sleep.
In the meantime, my wife would be examining the ever deepening gouge marks on the outside of the door and bemoaning her fate as the long-suffering owner of a “bad dog.” Which he wasn’t, really. But the scratching, oh, that scratching, was monstrous.
And so was the mental scratching of my hunger after work. It started as a low, barely perceptible scratching, but it grew progressively louder and more demanding. My wife couldn’t hear it, but she could hear me rummaging. What could I eat? Popcorn, perhaps. A piece of cheese, some fruit, a slice of salami. Maybe each of these, though not all at once. Just enough food to tamp down the inner, relentless scratch-scratch-scratching of the Dogman.
It was worse when I sat down or, usually, lied down on the sofa to watch some television before dinner, which my wife usually cooks. (Yeah, I know, traditional sexist role assignments. We’ll get to that.) This was part of stress relief after work: watching television or, to be precise, streamed television since we don’t have traditional cable, a distinction without a difference in this case.
This habit goes back, way back, to my childhood, where my big, fat-craving brain was first trained and nurtured, setting me on a road which I’ve since traveled for far too long. I’ll get into that in my next post.
Feature image from magazine illustration of Lon Chaney Jr in makeup as The Wolf Man. From Horror Monsters, volume 1, number 1, page 2 (inside cover). Edited in Photoshop to be black-and-white. Wikipedia.