First of a weekly series
The Harry Potter shirt is one of those button-downs that you’re supposed to wear untucked. At least I think it is. Fashion has never been my thing. But I saw the Harry Potter shirt in a Target a few months ago, and though I wasn’t clothes shopping, I thought the girls would like it. The shirt is kind of beige and it has the symbols of the four Hogwarts houses — Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff and Slytherin.
Our youngest daughter Katie is a Hufflepuff.
Our oldest daughter Elizabeth, is a Slytherin.
I, obviously, am a Gryffindor.
And my wife, Margo, has vacillated on her Hogwarts house so many times that at this point we just assume she’s a Ravenclaw because that completes the set.
The girls take all this quite seriously; we take all things Harry Potter quite seriously. Margo loves to tell the story of how I got into Harry Potter … because it’s one of those times that she was right. She loved Harry Potter long before I did. She would often say to me, “You really should read these Harry Potter books; they’re wonderful.”
And I would say to her that I absolutely would, just as soon as I ran out of adult books to read.
So what happened? Two things. One, our first daughter was born. You don’t need me to explain how children change the way you view the world. Two, though, an entirely unlikely source recommended that I read the books: Bill James. Bill loves Harry Potter.
It still grates a bit on Margo that Bill James telling me to read the books jolted me into action, while her suggestion was brushed aside with an obnoxious retort. Ah, the bliss of marriage.
So I read the books for myself. I read the books to Elizabeth. I read the books to Katie. Sometimes, even now, when I want a break, want to escape, I’ll read my favorite passages — the time turner sequence in No. 3, or the shocking turn in No. 6, or the beautiful and haunting flashback in the last book.
But, of course, it meant the most of all when I read the books to the girls. I did this thing, this unbelievably annoying thing, when I read to them. I would climb into bed with them, they would snuggle up, and I would say, “Harry Potter was a highly unusual boy.”
This is the opening to the third book, “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.” The point was to pretend that I was going to start from there, which always led them to shout out, “DAD, WE’RE WAY PAST THAT!”
I don’t like one bit that they’ve grown older.
So, yes, I knew they’d love the shirt, and as a bonus, it came in XXL. Few shirts like that do. That has been my size for a few years now: XXL. It’s not my size because I like wearing T-shirts that are big. It’s my size because it’s my size. I’ve long stopped worrying about it. In life, you can fix the potholes or drive around them, and I’ve been driving around this pothole for a long, long time. Sometimes, I would diet and lose some weight. Then I would gorge and gain some weight. And in the end, I became someone, and that someone wears XXL shirts.
I bought the Harry Potter shirt. I could not wait to show it to the girls. I put it on as soon as I got home.
And … it didn’t fit.
I don’t mean to say that the shirt didn’t fit well — like my stomach bulged through it or it looked ridiculous. I mean it didn’t fit, period, I could not button the shirt. When you’re an XXL person, you do come to understand that there are different kinds of XXL. Some fit loosely (which makes you think, “Hey, I must have lost some weight!”) and some more snugly (“Hey, this shirt wasn’t made right!”). But I had never put on an XXL shirt that was too small to button.
My first reaction was to curse the people who absurdly called this hand towel an XXL shirt, and to put the shirt on a shelf where I would later return it to the store.
And then it hit me.
That shirt absolutely WAS an XXL.
I had become an XXXL.
Motivation, motivation, I have absolutely no idea what inspires motivation. A few months ago — well, I can tell you the exact date because it was Thanksgiving Day — I had my second bout with kidney stones. Let me say, I would not wish kidney stones on anyone. This is how I check myself in life. Someone will do something particularly nasty, and I will think, “Wow, I really don’t like that person.”
And I will hear an inner voice ask: “Do you hate them?”
And I think: “Do I wish they had kidney stones?”
So far the answer has always been no.
In a way, kidney stones are kind of bad luck — healthy people get them too sometimes. But, you will note, healthy people get them A LOT LESS than XXL people like myself. The doctors have told me pretty simple steps that, at the very least, would make kidney stones less likely. You would think, having gone through kidney stones once — at Disney World, no less — that maybe I’d be motivated to try a slightly different lifestyle.
You would think.
On Thanksgiving Day, I sat in a chair in sheer agony, the pain was pretty close to indescribable, and to double the fun, I felt so nauseous that it took me back to the time when Margo dragged me on a boat to the Great Barrier Reef, shortly after we got married. I also had the kind of headache that inspires poems like “The Tell-Tale Heart.” It was a life low point, the worst I have ever physically felt. I sat there with my brain on fire. If ever there was a moment to reconsider the way I was living, that was it.
And as soon as the stone passed — the strangest part of a kidney stone is that the instant it passes, you feel 100 percent fine — I drank a Diet Coke and ate pasta. Then I had a big old piece of chocolate cake.
The striking part of it all was not that I didn’t quit eating badly. It was that I didn’t even THINK about quitting. I mean, seriously, if getting a kidney stone is not enough to get you to quit guzzling Diet Cokes by the liter and treating your body like a mall food court, I’m not sure anything can.
But as it turns out, there was something.
The Harry Potter shirt.
For days, I couldn’t stop thinking about that shirt. I had decided not to return it, though the word “decided” is misplaced. I was too lazy to return it. But every morning, I would see it, and I would feel this overwhelming sadness. I had to think about why it bothered me so much.
I came up with this: I was really looking forward to wearing that shirt for the girls. I had imagined their faces. I had imagined the way they would laugh when they saw it. The girls are older … almost 17 years old … 13 years old … they won’t be in the house much longer … they break away in subtle ways … not-so-subtle ways. The goofiest stuff gets to me. People say, “Oh my gosh, it must be so strange now that Elizabeth is driving,” but that doesn’t get to me. You know what does? Servers no longer give us crayons in restaurants. Katie just got braces and looks like she’s one step away from wearing caps and gowns, and that doesn’t overwhelm me as much as the sadness I get when we go into bookstores and never go back to the children’s section. They’re so much older, so much more independent … and yet, what breaks me up inside it’s that a few weeks ago we went to an amusement park, and there wasn’t even the slightest question that they’re both tall enough to ride every ride.
Katie stood by one of those “ARE YOU THIS TALL?” signs, but it was a joke. She towered over the sign.
And now, that shirt — I had romanticized it. Of course I had. That shirt was going to make them young again, even for an instant. They would see their Dad in a funny Harry Potter shirt, and, well, it sounds silly to put words to the feeling. All I can tell you is that the Harry Potter shirt filled my thoughts in a way that few things do. It wouldn’t go away.
And then it hit me, the most obvious idea in the world, the idea you came up with back in paragraph one.
I began the Harry Potter diet.
Next week: Diet Coke
This public post is the first in The Harry Potter Diet series. To follow along and read all the baseball, pop culture and nonsense we offer, you can join here.