This is not a funny story. I think it says something about human nature, but it doesn’t say anything particularly nice about human nature.
Once when Jake was young and we were still into traveling a lot by car, we were driving down the 101 to visit Karen’s parents, and we stopped for dinner at a hotel restaurant. It was someplace between Garberville and Santa Rosa . . . Ukiah perhaps. We were one of about six families there. The place had a window-wall overlooking the pool, and it was early enough and warm enough for there to be people at the pool.
The odd thing is, we — all of us, all six tables at the restaurant — noticed at the same time a woman wearing a bikini who really should not have worn a bikini. You know those tiny rubber bands we use to put jaw fracture patients into elastics? Well, maybe you don’t know. So imagine a rubber band, the loop of which has perhaps a 1 centimeter diameter. Now imagine a few of those rubber bands stretched around a marshmallow. Not an ordinary marshmallow, either, but one of those new and improved humongous marshmallows that comes eight to a package.
Every time she got up out of her lounge chair, there would be a collective over-dramatic gasp followed by laughter. We couldn’t have coordinated it better if there had been one of those live studio audience prompters telling us to LAUGH or GASP. It was really uncanny and really mean but many people there were near tears and it just kept going on and on, maybe for twenty minutes or longer before she finally went back to her hotel room.
We weren’t the only young family in that restaurant. We weren’t the only ones who had apparently forgotten our responsibility as example-setters. I’m quite sure that if you cornered any one of us and asked him if it was okay to laugh at a fat person, he would disagree strenuously. And yet there we were, laughing.
I think about this scene every now and then, and I still don’t quite understand it. I’m guessing that if we had seen this in a movie, very few of us would have laughed. If we had been out there past the window-wall, sitting pool-side with her, no closer nor farther than we were in that restaurant, we definitely would not have laughed. Something about the fact that it was real and we had that wall of glass between us. Something.
I’d compare it to the sleazy feeling you might get laughing along with an audience for a racist or misogynistic comedian, except I know (from experience) that I don’t laugh in such circumstances. Do we have a less well developed sense of political correctness regarding obesity? Or is obesity not the issue here — were we merely laughing at someone with poor taste in swimwear?
I like that last possibility, of course. But it seems overly generous.