Friday, January 17, 2014

A Treat For My Readers

If you all remember a day or two ago I told you about the free download of 40 books coming out in the Spring/Summer. If you look back in the archives you will see the article and the link.

I noticed that you loved the part of Lemony Snicket's new book that I posted. So, since there were so many authors I had not heard of, I picked one at random and it turned out to be good. It is very funny. More for the younger crowd I think but us adults may like it too. So here is an excerpt of How I Got Skinny, Famous, and Fell Madly In Love by Ken Baker. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

“Thick. Heavy. Big boned. Plump. Full figured. Chunky. Womanly.” Living on a Southern California beach with her workout fiend dad , underwear model sister, and former Laker Girl mother, Emery Jackson is surrounded by euphemisms for the big “F” word of “fat.” Her family’s logical solution : signing her up for a reality show in which Emery will have to lose fifty pounds in fifty days in order to win a million dollars. When the pounds start to come off and the ratings skyrocket, Emery can see the end prize in sight. However, no show is complete without a few twists, and Emery is determined for all the important ones to be of her own making.

I. Appetizer

Sunday, October 27 Another day, another driving “lesson” through the mean streets of Highland Beach. And it’s a group effort with Mom shotgun and Angel riding appropriately in the Backseat Bitch Seat.

As I turn right onto Sea Spray Avenue, Mom scans the row of McMansions for sale. “Look at all the signs! All foreclosures. It’s like no one can afford to live in California anymore. Honestly, Highland is going to hell in a sand basket.”

“Hand basket,” I correct her.

“Oh, right,” she says. “Well, whatever. You know what I’m saying.”

“It’s just depressing,” she continues. “Your dad has lost almost half his clients in the last year. When money gets tight, people stop taking care of their bodies. Another six months and everyone in this town is gonna be a big fat pig!”

Mom puts her hand in front of her mouth, as if trying to catch the F-bomb she just dropped onto the lap of myself, her fat daughter. But I don’t flinch. Instead, I just keep driving, my elbows resting atop the rolls of blubber that billow out from the sides below my bra like squishy armrests.

She taps the tip of her right heel on the floor mat. I would tell her she probably has Restless Leg Syndrome, but then she would just use it as an excuse for another prescription and two more days a week with her shrink.

Despite her flaws, I do love her. How could I not? She wants nothing more than for her two daughters to be happy (aka “skinny” like her) and to follow in their mother’s footsteps and not have to get a real job like in an office, or something horribly civilian like that.

Even though Mom’s got a heart of gold— okay, more like a heart of platinum—when you look up “Hot Mess” in the dictionary, it should read “Brandi Jackson” accompanied by a picture of Mom being wheeled out of her facelift surgery last summer with white gauze bandages wrapped around her face like some sort of MILF mummy.

Sea Spray comes to an end at Coastal Highway. I roll gradually to a stop, look both ways, and execute a perfectly vectored left turn. Locals call this stretch of CH the “coronary row.” Pretty much every greasy, artery-clogging eatery is located here, making this what I call My Favorite Place in the World.

There’s In-N-Out, where normally I like to order two “Double-Doubles,” large fries, and a chocolate shake . And there’s Old Faithful: Mickey D’s and its to-die-for vanilla shakes and Big Macs with blissful special sauce. Across the street sits the twofer culinary heaven of Carl’s Jr. and the Green Burrito, a genius concept featuring an all-American burger joint and a Mexican eatery— under the very same roof! Then there’s Carl’s Jr., whose Double Western Bacon Cheeseburger and its glorious stack of two beef patties, two slices of American cheese, crispy onion rings, and “tasty BBQ sauce on a toasted sesame seed bun” is so good California should legally classify it as a narcotic.

Technically, I’m not allowed to go to such dens of deliciousness anymore, at least not since Dr. Hung read me the riot act a couple months ago. That’s when our family doctor informed me my daily lunch delight of the Double Western Bacon Cheeseburger and its one-thousand calories (half of which come from saturated— aka “bad”— fat) were in large part responsible for making me more than fifty pounds overweight and, “clinically speaking,” an obese tub of lard.

That’s right, kids. I’m officially the Big O. And I don’t mean Oprah.

After my exam, Dr. Hung even opened up his iPad to show me something called a “BMI Chart.” It apparently explained that I was five foot six inches, 192. 2 pounds, with a “BMI” (Body Mass Index) of 31, which meant I was basically yet another large-and-in-charge teenage American statistic.

The doctor probably didn’t want to hurt my feelings. Never once did he drop the “F-bomb.” Instead, he tried to make me feel better by using synonyms like “an unhealthy weight” and handed me a pamphlet that said 17 percent of all teens are obese. Apparently, texting and video gaming doesn’t burn calories like it used to.

Let’s face it, “obese” is a very polite term, but the bottom line is that it was Dr. Hung’s way of informing me that I am so big I could have my own zip code . . . so big that skydivers could use my panties for parachutes . . . so big that my butt could get me arrested at an airport for carrying 200 pounds of crack.

Thick. Heavy. Big-boned. Plump. Full-figured. Chunky. Womanly. Large. Curvy. Plus-size. Big. Husky. I’ve been pretty much called it all at one point or another. By the time you get to high school, most people have learned it’s not nice to hurt people’s feelings and so they come up with words that won’t break your chubby little heart.

Plus, by the time you turn sixteen and you’ve spent your whole life in a pretty-people city like Highland Beach, where the official municipal logo depicts a surfer and bikini-clad volleyball player prancing beneath a yellow sunburst, you’ve learned that being overweight is tantamount to being Bin Laden— you know, sexually speaking. Add the fact that my father is a former L. A. Laker and now full-time workout freak who hasn’t eaten a potato chip in seventeen years, let alone a juicy burger with onion rings, and you can imagine that I would have to be wickedly in denial not to realize I am a skinny-challenged individual.

I know I’m fat, okay? Unlike Angel, my fashion choices are limited to whatever I can find online or at Sears and JCPenney (aka Not-Cute Clothing Stores). I know the mean girls at Highland High think it’s funny to giggle behind my back about how my gut hangs over the elastic waistband of my pants, an unsightly phenomenon that in seventh grade earned me the unfortunate nickname “Muffin Top.” I also know that guys— except for my amazing boyfriend, Ben—treat me like I am sexually invisible. I may be a lot of things, but I am definitely not in denial about my public image.

Cruising right through CH’s fast-food nirvana with my mom isn’t helping to curb my appetite for globular goodness. I try not to look at those golden arches, and luckily the waft of vegetable oil gurgling from the fryers doesn’t make its way inside our car. This has become my life: a series of small victories based on trying my best not to eat food I know is bad for me but that I enjoy as much as my sister enjoys wearing skimpy bikinis with dental-floss butt patches.

“I think the costume store is up here on the right,” Mom says. “Slow down. Remember, gradually like.”

I tap up the turn-signal handle and hook a sharp right into the parking lot of the strip mall . We’re shopping for my Halloween costume. My family is a bunch of Halloween freaks, so much so that every year my parents host a party at our house. And yet, I still don’t have a costume.

My older sister, Angel, who picked out her costume weeks ago, stays in the car, texting her new boyfriend. Mom and I step inside, where the store looks more like a sex shop than a costume store. Sexy nurses. Sexy cats. Sexy cops. Sexy cowgirls and Indians. Stripper shoes and stripper shorts. But in the back of the store, wedged next to the kids’ costumes, are a few racks of decidedly unsexy outfits for adults— and big girls like me.

“There’s Chewbacca!” Mom grabs the furry creature from the rack and hands it to me. I look at the tag. It’s a size medium. I shake my head and hand it back to her. “Too small, huh?” she says in a conspicuously nonjudgmental tone. “Well, let’s keep looking.”

Mom rifles through and finds an XL and holds it up to me. “This should work,” she says. It doesn’t. Turns out it’s a youth XL. Too small.

The pickings are quite slim in the Star Wars section. I see a couple of Stormtroopers and an Obi-Wan Kenobi, and also some larger-size Princess Leias and Darth Vaders made of material that looks about as comfortable as construction paper.

“Do you have any Han Solos?” I ask the clerk, who is dressed as Pocahontas.

“Um, I think we got some fake hands in aisle six,” she says, smacking a wad of overly pungent peppermint gum.

“Han Solos,” I repeat slowly. “Like the guy in Star Wars. You know, Chewbacca’s sidekick.” She has a Confused Puppy Face. “My boyfriend wants to be Han Solo.” The chick stares at me like I’m speaking a language she doesn’t understand— such as, say, English.

“I don’t know . Whatever we have is on the racks. There’s no, like, secret stash or anything.”

They aren’t kidding; it really is hard to find good help these days.

“You need to find Ben something appropriate for the couples theme,” Mom says as the useless store chick walks back to the register.

Last year’s theme was “historical.” That meant we had a lot of bearded Abe Lincolns and white-wig George Washingtons stumbling around. I came as Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. You might think that “Halloween” is enough of a theme for a costume party, but no, no, no. Not at the Jackson household, where making things more complicated than they need to be is taken very seriously.

I go to plan B and wander the store as my mom tries on a pair of Lucite stripper heels. A few minutes later, I find costume gold buried in a bin underneath a pile of cheap masks.

I walk over to Mom and slide a white plastic mask onto my head.

“What’s that?” she asks, confused.

“Quack, quack.” I fashion my elbows into wings.

 “A duck?” she guesses.

“No.” I slide the mask up and rest it on my head.

 “I’m a duck face.”

"What's a duck face?" she asks.

“You know, that model face Angel makes when she’s posing for a picture.” I pucker my lips and push them outward like a come-hither Daffy Duck. “Sexy, huh?”

Mom rolls her eyes and sighs. “Whatever makes you happy, Emery. And if putting other people down to make yourself feel better does it for you, that’s your choice.”


I text Ben. He’s working at his parent’s surf shop down by the pier.

Ur gonna love my costume. But for u: No Han Solo, sorry :(— Just Darth or Princess Leia. Pick 1

It only takes him about 4. 8 seconds to reply. Must be a slow day down at the pier.

Def go w Leia

Gosh, I really do love Ben . And not only because he’s up for wearing a curly-Q hairdo wig, not just because he is the only boy who has ever found me attractive, but mostly because his XXL-size costume, which will barely fit his giant body, comparatively, makes me feel like a totally skinny babe.

Monday, October 28

My mom watches a lot of TV. And I really do mean “TV.” As in the 57-inch mega-appliance with the flat-glass screen screwed to the wall of our living room like some sort of monument to Best Buy. Unlike most modern-day human beings, Mom never watches videos on a computer or— gasp!— a phone.

Another way that Mom kicks it old school is that she actually pays attention to commercials— and totally believes the propaganda in them. In fact, the commercials make more of an impression on her than do the shows. It doesn’t matter what’s being sold. If the commercial makes it look super awesome, she will plunk down a credit card on the spot or write it down on a piece of paper, and the next time she is shopping, she’ll buy it.

Fabric softener that makes your sheets as soft as a baby’s bottom! Skin moisturizer that erases years from your face! Breakfast cereal that will get your family making a fast break to start their day! There really is no product in the consumer universe my mother couldn’t be convinced she just absolutely needs to have. A few years ago, when our garage filled up floor-to-ceiling with boxes of crap she had ordered from watching Home Shopping Network, my dad, in a rare show of balls, had HSN blocked from our satellite.

Mom’s gullibility explains why, after suffering through an already very long day, we are now standing in an absurdly long line on a sidewalk. We are numbers sixteen and seventeen waiting for our lucky chance to step up to the glass-encased counter and order deli sandwiches that leave you feeling about as satisfied as a Twitter addict whose keyboard is missing the “@” key.

“What kind of bread, dear?” Mom asks, patting my back like I’m three.

“Does it really matter? They all taste like cardboard.”

“Emery.” Mom hikes her black Gucci purse back up her right shoulder and crosses her arms. “Don’t be so negative.”

The green -and-yellow glow of this glorified cafeteria contains all the charm of a highway rest stop. To be fair, the so-called “Subway diet” is popular; my mom isn’t the only fool convinced that these sandwiches are healthier than they really are. The people in front of us look excited as they tell the poor dude behind the counter exactly what they want.

I’ve left my phone in the car (by accident, trust me) and so have nothing to distract me from the pain. No texting with Ben. No checking Instagram to see what fascinating pictures my friends might have posted in the last eight minutes since I last saw them at school.

I look past Mom and across the parking lot to Carl’s Jr., which I can see through the glass. Carl’s is totally empty, mouth-wateringly ready for me to come and order my favorite burger with large fries and a Coke. Mom notices me staring in the direction of the Temple of Tastiness. When I glance back at her, her eyes dart forward nervously.

“Don’t worry, Mom.” I pat her on the back. “I’m not eating there.”

“Well, good,” she chirps. We have since moved closer to the front— close enough to get a glimpse at the “fresh” bread choices.

“Wheat,” Mom thinks aloud, though there are still five people, including a bratty seven-year-old girl, ahead of us. “With turkey maybe .” She purses her lips. “Then again, I probably shouldn’t have bread.”

A few minutes that seem like hours later, it is our turn. The little brat in front of us has just ordered the most complex sandwich ever made— with pickles and olives and lettuce (toasted) with provolone cheese and pepperoni (but NOT salami) and just a little bit of vinegar and a squirt of mustard. Intricate stuff for a second grader. Finally, Mom steps to the counter and places her well-rehearsed order.

“I’ll have a turkey sub,” Mom says. “Without bread.”

“Excuse me?” replies the poor man behind the counter. “I don’t understand.”

“A turkey sub with . . . no . . . bread,” she repeats slowly.

“Okaaaay . . .” The confused soul in clear plastic gloves struggles. “So you want a salad.”

“No, no, no. I’m sorry, but I don’t like your salads.” Mom smiles. “I would simply like turkey, avocado, lettuce— lots of lettuce— and tomato.”

The poor guy shrugs his shoulders and shakes his head , then grabs a bowl and starts filling it with her order. Mom peers through the glass.

“I had two pieces of toast for breakfast.” She rubs her stomach. “Too many carbs. I’m done with bread for the day. Protein time.”

Mom shuffles along the food line, down closer to the register, and I step forward, peering through the glass at the offerings.

“Good afternoon,” I say.

“What kind of bread?” the traumatized worker asks wearily.

“You pick,” I say. “Whatever you want, sir.”

The man turns to reach for the rack behind him. Midreach he suddenly stops, turns to me, and says, “Excuse me?”

“Pick my bread.” I point to the silver trays stacked against the back wall. “I trust you.”

He shoots an anxious glare at Mom, who is standing, eyes bulging. Mom doesn’t like to leave anything to chance. She is a perfectionist. A complete-and-utter control freak. She’s the lady who made a checklist from the first day of kindergarten that she taped on my mirror reading:


Make bed
Get dressed
Brush teeth
Use bathroom Eat breakfast (glass of soy milk)
Lunch, hand sanitizer, snack, and homework in backpack

By the time I was in seventh grade, Mom stopped making lists because I stopped paying attention to them. Angel, on the other hand, still loves lists. But her morning to-do has been replaced with more big-picture goals, such as the one she keeps taped to the wall next to her bathroom mirror. . .


Be famous
Always have perky boobs and a small butt
Maintain weight between 115– 118 lbs AT ALL TIMES
Host own TV show by age 22
Make cover of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue by age 21
Marry pro athlete by age 27
Have two babies (Jasper Jr. and Amber)

“Lists help organize your thinking and focus you to achieve your dreams,” Mom has always said. I’ve always been confused by this idea of following your so-called dreams. I mean, the only dreams I remember are nightmares that may or may not involve sketchy, inappropriate sex scenarios involving teachers and random guys. Hardly the stuff of list-making inspiration.

Anyway, you can understand that my mom is left mortified when I dare leave such an important choice as what carbohydrate I would have wrapped around my processed meat to a total stranger in a hairnet and green smock. I know this because her face is so white that the blood has clearly dropped from her face to her tanned, wickedly moisturized knees.

The poor guy locks eyes frightfully with Mom.

“Seriously, sir, just pick whatever you think tastes best,” I insist.

“Wheat,” he says/ asks.

I shrug.

“So, um,” he says. “Wheeeeat you want?”

“Sure!” I reply. “Wheat sounds healthy and fresh to me!”

Mom bites her lip and looks away.

The worker finishes my sandwich and then asks the question that certainly must ruins Mom’s day:
“Mayonnaise or mustard?”

“Mayo.” Before Mom can critique my condiment, I add, “And, oh, some cheese.”

“What kind?” the man asks.

“America’s finest will do, thanks.”

As he layers on slices of unnaturally yellow cheese, I grab a bag of chips on the shelf next to the register and place them on the counter.

Mom huffs and looks away.

“What?” I ask her.

“We talked about this, Emery.” Her delightful tone belies her frustration. She clenches her obnoxiously white teeth.

A long, awkward, icy Mother-Daughter pause.

“Remember? Emery. You know . . . “

“They’re baked Lay’s,” I argue. “They’re not gonna kill me.”

“What about the cheese? The mayonnaise?” She counts the sins with her fingers. “The bread. You just managed to make a healthy sandwich unhealthy. I give up."

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR Ken Baker is an E! Entertainment Television News Correspondent . He is the author of Fangirl, and his memoir, Man Made: A Memoir of My Body, is the inspiration for the upcoming film The Late Bloomer. He lives (and writes) in Hermosa Beach, California.

Imprint: Running Press Teens
Print ISBN: 9780762450145 Print price: $ 9.95
eBook ISBN: 9780762452033
eBook price: $ 9.95
Publication date: 4/ 1/ 14
Publicity contact:
Seta Zink seta.zink@
Editor: Lisa Cheng
Agent: Michael Bourret
Agency: Dystel & Goderich Literary Management
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