Eat less, Live longer

Rick Barnes
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Are those pangs of hunger, or guilt?

I am haunted by the words of the Route 2 Fowler's Road Overpass Oracle. From the westbound lane, the warning painted onto the weathered concrete is, "Eat less live longer." On the eastbound side, encountered by many returning from a bout of overeating at the rural kitchens of friends and relatives, are the disturbing words, "Never get bloated."

I find the positioning of the warnings particularly effective. As the brain absorbs the text, the traveller enters a portal, the daylight momentarily eclipsed by the brief concrete tunnel before emerging on the other side, into the rest of his/her life, the guiding words, "Eat less live longer" instantly and permanently etched into each traveller's pliable brain with Orwellian efficiency.

I am haunted by the words of the Route 2 Fowler's Road Overpass Oracle. From the westbound lane, the warning painted onto the weathered concrete is, "Eat less live longer." On the eastbound side, encountered by many returning from a bout of overeating at the rural kitchens of friends and relatives, are the disturbing words, "Never get bloated."

I find the positioning of the warnings particularly effective. As the brain absorbs the text, the traveller enters a portal, the daylight momentarily eclipsed by the brief concrete tunnel before emerging on the other side, into the rest of his/her life, the guiding words, "Eat less live longer" instantly and permanently etched into each traveller's pliable brain with Orwellian efficiency.

The overpass postings are not the typical nonsensical phrases or profanity in the fat lettering of standard graffiti. Somewhere in our midst lurks a graffiti artist whose agenda is to save us from ourselves; a person who risks his/her own well-being to paint a chilling reminder that many of us in this part of the world are digging our graves with our mouths. The warnings are especially relevant at this time of the year, when the flood of rich food into our houses proves difficult to resist. Like the grotesque Mr. Creosote of the classic Monty Python flick, "The Meaning of Life," we sometimes gorge ourselves to the point where we cannot "eat another f***ing bite!"

Oddly enough, it is not repeated cautions from my doctor, or exposure to numerous expensive public service television messages and publications urging me to stay fit and choose smaller portions of healthy food that drives me from the dinner table. It is the stern warning from the Angel of the Overpass: "Never get bloated."

During the sober light of day, as with many choices in life, I find it relatively easy to park my fork before too much self-damage is done. But late at night, tucked away in bed with a book, I am distracted by the gnawing need for a nighttime treat, and the only cure is chocolate.

I learned through experience that if I stack the night table with chocolate bars, they are gone in the morning. So, striving to live by the Oracle's wisdom, "Eat less live longer," I opt for a stash of chocolate-covered raisins. While clutching a book with one hand, the small chocolate delicacies are more difficult to corral and pick up with the other hand, so they last longer, but still make a satisfying treat. And of course, I insist the morsels of dried fruit buried under the cheap chocolate are good for me.

On the other side of the queen size is Wife, a high school teacher. Her side of the bed is littered with binders and folders, stacks of papers to correct, things to read and write. While one hand scratches with a pen, she grazes on a fruit called the Asian pear. It's much crunchier than a pear, but juicier than an apple - a horrible thing to eat in bed.

Wife, an unrepentant grazer, is unaffected by the Overpass Oracle, or any other advice on what, how much, or how often to eat. I have given her the bovine-inspired pet name, "Bossy," as in, "What are you munching on now, Bossy?" On a busy night, the rattle of Costco raisins and crunching and slurping of foreign fruit easily drowns out the traffic noise from nearby Topsail Road.

The problem with chocolate raisins is that even if just one gets away unnoticed, it will eventually sift its way down to the sheet to be melted by my body heat and mashed into the floral pattern. The aftermath of a good night of reading is not pretty - streaks of dark brown ground into the 300 count. It doesn't look good.

I've left chocolate skids right across Canada, too. Visiting my children from Pasadena to Calgary and Vancouver, I've left my mark - the chocolate streak of Poppy Rick's midnight munch. But, for the young ones, it is a foreshadowing of sheets to come. The sheet-streaking Poppy Rick is well-positioned to segue into incontinence.

Early in the days of water conservation practices, hoteliers gave guests an opportunity to help out by providing a "Please Change My Sheets" card to hang on the door. Once, in an Upper Canadian hotel, after a night abed with Laura Secord, there on the hospital white sheet was her signature, not looking at all like chocolate. So, just for a laugh, I left the stained sheet exposed and didn't hang the sheet change card. Sure enough, when I returned to the room that evening, workers had remade the bed, suspicious stain and all. I left a good tip, guessing they were really serious about conserving water.

Recently, my slovenliness spilled outside the bedroom. On a visit to the Provincial Archives, I streaked one of their blue chairs. The offender on this occasion was a wayward morsel of chocolate-covered ginger. I swear I didn't buy it to eat while researching at The Rooms. I intended to try iit that night in bed. But I found the bulk barn beauties while rooting in my bag for a notebook and the temptation was too great. Again, the results of my recklessness looked appalling. The archivist handled it well, though. No admonishment, just "Move the chair aside, I'll have someone take care of it."

Bossy doesn't complain about stained sheets, either. She knows it is chocolate - or it has been, so far. She is liberated far beyond laundry concerns, so as long as the chocolate fallout is confined to my side of the bed (where she never strays for fear of a chore even worse than laundry). She is happy marking papers and masticating the night away.

Now the New Year has overtaken us all, bringing with it the desire for self-improvement and a renewed interest in a healthy lifestyle. But I won't be ordering the Shopping Channel gazelle, or videos of a sweating Richard Simmons. For my inspiration, I will try to live by the simple cautions of the Cassandra of C.B.S. concrete - "Eat less live longer" and "Never get bloated."

Organizations: Oracle, Costco, The Rooms

Geographic location: Topsail Road, Canada, Pasadena Calgary Vancouver

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