For my birthday this year, I’m getting a bus.
Renting it. Not buying it. I do this every year. I don’t get presents. I don’t want presents.
I want a bus full of friends and family to join me on an annual excursion. We do one thing and one thing only, all day long:
That’s right. From sunup until midnight, we eat junk. Cake. Chocolate. Greasy sandwiches. Fried foods. It may sound weird. It may make you queasy. But for more than 20 years now, I mark the day I was brought into this world (which is coming up this week) by listing everything in it that I don’t eat the other 364 days of the year and consuming it ALL in one day.
I take the rest of the year to recover.
Now the list of my pigout foods is long. That’s because my regular diet is about as exciting as C-SPAN on a Sunday afternoon. Whole grains. Salads. Fish. Chicken.
I know. Boring. But healthy. At least that’s what the doctors say.
But a birthday should be different. A birthday should break the rules. Let’s face it. After a certain age, birthdays become less about celebrating growth than bemoaning the distance between your carefree years and your worrisome ones.
Which is why an annual pigout can be good for your mental health, if not your waistline.
Like the old expression says, you’re only as young as you feast.
Oh, to be young again
So think about what we consumed as kids, teenagers, or college students. Pizza. Cookies. Sugared cereals. Hot dogs. Cheesesteaks. French fries. Ice cream. We never thought about how much, how often, or how unhealthy. We just ate. And eating was fun, wasn’t it? We actually smiled when scarfing down a slice of pepperoni in a parking lot, or woofing a meatball sub at 3 a.m. in the dormitory. Remember when food tasted so good you made satisfied noises?
Well. All the stuff that made us feel that way — milkshakes, pasta in cream sauce, banana pudding — you’re supposed to eliminate as a mindful adult. Unless you have an odd love of blood pressure medication and liposuction.
And I get why a steady diet of this stuff can kill you. But that’s why a birthday is so great. You only get one a year. You can’t cheat. You can’t call friends to insist they join you for waffles and ice cream by saying “It’s my birthday” if they counter with, “Wait, wasn’t your birthday last month?’’
But once a year, you can have it all. Or at least as much as you can stomach. Which is why every May, I make a list of all the fattening foods I’ve denied myself the previous 12 months. Then I gather my family and friends and — ta-da! Off we go.
Gentlemen, start your enzymes.
Taking the show on the road
Now I wrote about this once, 17 years ago. Back then, I was mostly doing the pigout from home. But as the years passed, more and more loved ones decided they, too, would like a place at the birthday trough. We became more sophisticated.
We began to visit other cities, first in Michigan, then other states, exploring the finest unhealthy foods those places had to offer. Over the years, we’ve binged on cheesesteaks in Philadelphia, buckeyes in Columbus, deep-dish pizza in Chicago, sandwiches stuffed with French fries in Pittsburgh and banana splits in Ann Arbor.
We search out every city’s best onion rings, fried chicken, gooey pasta, fancy candy, gourmet popcorn, greasy burgers, French pastries, chocolate chip pancakes and nachos.
We dive into massive milkshakes, bulging brownies, and monster cookies. We try three ice cream places in one day. We compare fried pickles, biscotti, mac and cheese. No food is off limits — except the healthy ones. Sorry. No low-carb, no-sugar or vegan options allowed. The bus goes from one “best of” junk spot to the other. We hop off, woof down the desired delicacies, and hop back on.
Now, I hear what you’re saying. “Aren’t you sick to your stomach by 10 a.m.?” No. The trick is not to finish anything. Just taste and pass. You cover a lot more menu that way. And, after all, the whole idea is to remind yourself how delicious that first mouthful is. After that, the thrill fades as your colon expands.
Honestly, the best part is seeing each other’s bulging eyes and huge smiles just before diving in to a decadent doughnut or a gooey hot fudge sundae. That’s the memory I’m after. For one day, we’re kids again: We see it, we eat it. We don’t read the nutrition box.
It makes me appreciate how much we have in this country. It makes me appreciate the discipline it takes to eat healthy.
Mostly, it makes me appreciate one more birthday in this amazing world, with the wonderful people I’ve been blessed to share it with.
Like the old Beatles song goes, and in the end, the love you take, is equal to, your slice of cake.