Apparently, doing laundry makes my father philosophical. He called to impart some profound thoughts to me as his clothes are drying. “The only constant is change,” he says, which is something he’d read in a book about a famous coach who embraced Buddhist teachings. It’s hard to argue with that quote, given that one has only to look at one’s own life, let alone venture into the lives of other people or back into history, to see that this is so. One moment, for instance, you look at your hand and see an unmarked surface, distinguished only by its complement of nails; a moment later, it seems, and you look back and your hand speaks of all of your adventures, from the scar in a finger whose tip you almost sliced off or the mole from too little sunscreen, to the general wear and tear: the wrinkles, the spotting, the general sagginess of that once smooth, unremarkable surface. Change happens not only to your body, but to the bodies and lives of the people around you. Friends move in and out of your life, children arrive, houses are bought and sold, torn down, and moved. You look away for one moment and suddenly everyone has two plus kids and a lab, it seems, and the next moment their kids will be going off to college or becoming entrepreneurs or finding themselves. This open converse with change just makes me feel old and cranky, and I find it best to pretend that time isn’t going by, even as I mark its passage in deepening wrinkles and puffy thighs. Unfortunately, more exercise will be required to try to combat what I can, which is a problem, as I dislike exercise almost as much as I dislike my Alabama kitchen, which I dislike a very great deal.
Other changes are, however, more unexpected, such as going into a store that is part of a national women’s chain and finding that all of the sizes have changed once again. I wish I could say that the reason I used to fit size Y but now fit size X has something to do with a fabulous fitness regime, but given my comments above it’s easy to say that this is not so. Given that I have not become thinner but have, if anything, swelled a bit, though desperately trying to stave off such puffing up and out, this means that this store, and possibly other stores, has shifted its sizes. I know that, in reality, I’m still a size Y, but now Y is magically transformed to X, and the old X is now W, and so on. It makes one feel foolish to step into a dressing room, arm full of size Ys, only to find that when one puts on size Y pants they look like clown pants—forcing a need for giant red suspenders to keep them up, which would, no doubt, get one on a “Just don’t” list.
I remember that I encountered this size flimflam some years back, when my previous size, which I had been since I first began to refuse my mother’s desire to dress me herself, was changed. At this rate I will be a size 0 in no time, through no effort of my own; this is rather nice to contemplate, until I remember that I am really a size Y, and probably, if I have any more peach crumble, a size Z. If I want to be generous, I might think that the stores are trying to be gentle to shoppers, giving them a nice surprise when they find that they have, miraculously, shrunk. My more cynical side says that this granting of nice surprises is only a means to get people to buy more, waving their credit cards at the retailers as sweep through the stores on a vast wave of artificial size satisfaction. Even more cynically, such size shifting might be a way of dodging the fact that, as a nation, we are getting larger, which not only requires, truthfully, larger, not smaller, sizes, but also indicates a host of health problems that are discussed, albeit all to superficially, by the media.
Such discussions are sometimes heartening, despite their brevity, in that they often mention problems such as processed foods and sugary drinks, and the need to be more conscious about the quality of one’s food, its origins, and portion sizes (am I the only one so old that I remember when dinner plates were not the size of flying saucers?). Certainly, my fellow Alabamans might welcome some help in this area, given the dicey combo of a tradition of fried foods joined to a profound car culture that sees walking to a store, or even walking across a parking lot, to be a strange, even deviant, desire. I hope that the size flimflam doesn’t lull too many people into a sense of false security that all is well when rates of diabetes, heart disease, and other ailments are soaring. To keep this in mind, I’m going to hang on to my old size Ys as a reminder that not all change is true, profound, or necessary, and I’ll try to eschew the elevator for the stairs and resist the temptation to take the bus rather than walking. Of course, I’ll probably reward myself for such efforts with some peach crumble; in a world of constant change, real and imaginary, there’s one thing I know for sure: I love dessert.