Once upon a time I thought of myself as a reasonably handsome young chap with an acceptable sense of style. I was slim and had plenty of hair. Somewhere along the way, though, sometime in Japan, I let myself go. I’m not sure how it happened or even whether it was gradual or sudden. I just know that I went from being a fashionable man about town to being an overweight bald fellow who thinks nothing of being seen shuffling to the rubbish collection place in pyjama trousers and slippers while carrying his wife’s pink umbrella. In my mind’s eye, of course, I am still the young swashbuckler of my early twenties. In the eyes of others, however, I am just another sad, old middle-aged man. I am a gaijin oyaji.
I had noticed the weight creeping up on several occasions in the past. ‘I think I’m getting fat,’ I would say to my wife. But when you have been getting fat for a decade, there is a fairly good chance that at some point you have to admit that you are fat. There comes a point when you have to concede that you are not ‘just very unphotogenic’. That photo makes you look fat because that is what you look like. Fatty.
Other people have even commented on my weight gain in a less than tactful manner. A Japanese customs officer once looked at my passport and handed it back with a chuckle commenting how I was quite a bit heavier than I looked in the picture. The photo wasn’t even a year old. Likewise, an ex-student, a high school girl I hadn’t seen for some time, once spotted me in the street and, after doing that thing high-school girls sometimes do – running towards me in a pigeon-toed, can’t-lift-my-feet-just-shat-my-pants shuffle whilst giving me a double wave – said abruptly, ‘Are you fat?’ She wanted to ask if I had gained weight, but didn’t have the appropriate vocabulary and so it was the rather blunt, ‘Are you fat?’ And I had to concede, ‘Well, yes, I suppose I am a bit.’ In fact, my portliness has even seen me try to remedy matters at times. I have written before at my failed attempt at swimming in Japan, and I do enjoy a long walk now and again. But my efforts have been sparse and of limited effect. I am still, therefore, a man who shaves with the difficulty of distinguishing where his face ends and neck begins.
All of this hasn’t bothered me much until the last few weeks. I am, after all, already married. But then, about a fortnight ago, I began feeling a bit dizzy, a bit off balance. It was nothing too debilitating and apart from checking dubious medical home pages and discovering I had every fatal disease it was possible to get, I ignored it. Until Sunday, when I had recurring bouts of feeling that I might actually pass out. I told the wife and we decided to pay a visit to the emergency surgery. I felt I might be wasting the doctor’s time and was reluctant at first, but what with the Internet affirming my imminent death I decided to heed my wife’s advice.
The doctor couldn’t have been more pleasant. He checked my balance and reassured me that it was unlikely to be my brain or ears. That was good. He took my blood pressure and said it was extremely high. That wasn’t so good. And neither was the fact that he thought he better give my heart the once over. I was taken to a small room next door where a nurse put manacles on my wrists and ankles (apologies perverts, if a search engine picked up on that last phrase and led you to this rather dull-by-comparison site) and stuck things on my chest. The doctor said it looked okay and gave me some pills to bring down the blood pressure. He also suggested ever so gently that I might want to lose a bit of weight as my stomach ‘sticks out a bit’.
Now, here’s the thing. If you were to see me in the street you would not stop and stand mouth agog at the fat fucker in front of you. I am tall and, when clothed at least, can carry it reasonably well. As long as I don’t tuck my shirt in too tightly. I am overweight, yes, but I am not the sort of chap that needs somebody to wipe his bottom for him. I am not sumo fat. But I’ve had a tiny wake-up call – nothing major, nothing dramatic, but a small reminder that letting yourself go doesn’t just encroach on your vanity, it affects your health, too. So, it’s a proper diet now – cut down on the salt and the calories and do a bit more exercise. Just because I am married doesn’t mean I can stop making an effort. And just because I am a bald man who occasionally earns his keep by singing The Wheels On The Bus Go Round And Round doesn’t mean I have no use for vanity. I don’t want people to see me as a gaijin oyaji. I want to be a swashbuckler again. But a bald one that sings nursery rhymes.