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Robert St. John

Restaurateur, author, enthusiastic traveler, & world-class eater.


July 11, 2018

Life is full of changes. From the moment we are born until the day we die, our bodies, minds, and lives are in a constant state of transformation. My trainer has always stated that humans are either adding muscle or losing muscle mass every minute of every day. There is never a static state when it comes to muscle growth and development. The gains or losses might be minute, but they are always one or the other.

It was sometime in the mid-1990s that I realized I wasn’t going to be able to eat a large pepperoni pizza at midnight several times each week without suffering adverse consequences. That sounds crazy, but I actually made it into my mid-30s with a 34-inch waist, while eating a large pizza almost every night around midnight.

Several years earlier in 1987, when I opened our first restaurant, I was 26-years old, with a 30-inch waist. I was working 90 hours a week in the kitchen from early in the morning until closing time. I usually collapsed into my one-room, garage apartment sometime around midnight. When one has been around one’s food all day— and especially if one is cooking that food— one typically wants to eat something different. The guys at the pizza delivery joint knew my name and knew my order. I probably spent six or seven years eating four or five large, midnight, pepperoni pizzas each week, with no apparent detriment to my physique or health. Somewhere in my mid-30s, that stopped working for me.

Aging doesn’t really bother me. I’ve discovered different things to enjoy and experience at every stage as I grow older. Some things, however, occasionally catch me by surprise.

A few years ago, I was walking across the parking lot outside of my office on my way to one of the restaurants when it started to drizzle. I increased my gate from a brisk walk to a light trot, though something was different. It wasn’t the jog that I was born with, or the jog I had all my life to that point. It wasn’t even the jog I had the day before. It was awkward, jerky, and stiff. It was an old man’s jog. It was as if one day I had a cool, light, bouncy run, and then overnight it had turned into an old man’s lope. I was running like someone who had one leg that was six inches shorter than the other. Crossing the parking lot, I felt as if I looked like a newborn colt bumbling through the hay in the stable minutes after being born. To date, my cool run has not returned.

Furthermore, the hair that used to be on my head now grows in my ears and on my back. If I don’t keep my ears trimmed, they end up looking like stand-ins for Tom Selleck’s chest on an episode of Magnum PI. Actually, I just showed my age by giving that cheesy 1980s television reference. Though I’ll bet Tom still has his cool run.

Additionally, I have no backside. None. I used to have a fairly impressive backside if I do say so myself— and I do. My backside made the high school yearbook (fully clothed of course). Yet one day I woke up in my mid 30s and it was gone. Vanished. Disappeared. Departed. Nowhere to be found. It was there one day, nicely filling in the seat of my blue jeans, and the next day it was gone. Seriously, I woke up one morning and it was if all I had left were two legs that connected to my spinal cord. No backside.

I was in my 40th year when someone first called me “big guy.” As in “Ok, big guy, I’ll get that done for you…” I didn’t really mind it too much, they could have been using it in a “boss” style reference. A couple of years after that, someone called me “big ‘un.” There was no doubt to what that person meant. But, in a strange sort of way, I feel like I’ve earned that title. It’s an investment. There’s a lot of money from a lot of different restaurants tied up in this expanded waistline. This is an extremely expensive spare tire that I’m carrying around above my belt.

So back to the large pepperoni pizza at midnight. I used to have the metabolism of a hummingbird. It didn’t matter what I ate and when I ate it, it never showed up on my waistline. These days I can look at a donut and have to loosen my belt a couple of notches a few minutes later.

That 30-inch waist has grown about a half an inch a year over the past couple of decades. But here’s the deal— I gave up drinking in 1983. I gave up other detrimental recreational habits that same year. A decade later I quit smoking. Soon thereafter I got married, and basically gave up sex. I’m hanging on to my last vice— food— like a vertigo-stricken tightrope walker in the circus.

These days I shop in the Big and Tall store, and I’m only 5’10”. They know— straightaway— why I am there. Every night I sleep with an air hose connected to a CPAP machine stuck up my nose. My feet occasionally ache after a busy day at work, and I have to wear eyeglasses. Though life is good. Really, really good.

Sure, I miss my backside when I sit on a wooden bench for longer than three minutes. I miss the hair on my head, though I’ve done the middle-age-grow-a-beard-to-compensate-for-the-hair-loss-upstairs maneuver. I know it’s not fooling anyone, but I don’t have to shave every morning and that’s cool. It was nice buying clothes straight off of the rack and not having to have them altered and hemmed in all sorts of weird manners back in the day, but it’s not that big of a hassle to purchase t-shirts that are XXL (or as I call them, “triple medium”).

What I am grateful for is that I have— against all odds— somehow survived on this planet for 56 years. There were days in my wilder late teens and early 20s that people could have taken bets against me reaching 30. I’m here. I’m happy. I have the love, dedication, and companionship of a good woman, two wonderful kids, hundreds of friends, a few businesses that I am passionate about, a certain degree of inner peace, serenity, joy, and happiness, and a well-earned 40-inch waist. I’m relatively healthy according to my doctor, and extremely happy.

Though I do miss midnight pizzas a little. For old time’s sake, I might try to stay up past 10:00 p.m. and order a large pepperoni pizza. And if you see my cool run anywhere, please send it back to its original owner.

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