"I'm six feet five," Powell said, "and I weigh 252. That's the best shape I've been in for a long time. At one time in my career I was up around 290." I plunged into my immolated steak au poivre with renewed faith, as if the numbers themselves were a form of magic. "I just couldn't stop eating."
There is a story about Boog's irrepressible urge to eat that should be dear to the enlarged heart of any fat man. One recent winter Powell went on a cruise through the Caribbean. On the trip from Miami down to Key West a rough sea blew up. The ship was an emergency ward of seasickness. Few passengers were able or willing to go to the dining room that evening, but Powell put in an appearance. He ate well and vastly. The next morning one gray-faced passenger was heard to complain that he could not sleep. A large person kept running to the rail over his cabin. "It sounded like a wounded buffalo," he said. Even in the adverse conditions of hurricane, tornado, sleet, hail and the postman euphemisms for impossible weather, the biggie always manages to chow down. Even at the price of his own discomfort.
Back in 1965 the Oriole team doctor became concerned about Powell's rapid weight gains. Boog assured the doctor that he was as mystified as anyone about it. What Boog did not reveal was that the mystery, as old as gastronomy, was that the more you put in your mouth, the bigger your body gets. This is a mystery that has not yet found its savior, and the doctor did what he could: he sent Powell to a specialist. The endocrinologist reported, after a series of nothing-to-drink-after-midnight-and-no-breakfast tests, that there was nothing wrong with Powell. He suspected furious eating to be at the root of the weight gain.
As Powell wavered on the brink of 280, a natural breaking point between "being big" and "he's fat," the team doctor sent him to consult a psychologist who dealt exclusively with the fat and famous. Through several sessions she and Powell probed his swelling psyche for the deep-seated, or wide-seated, reasons for his discontent. There was the usual tossing about of terms; oral orientation, insecurity, success replacement, autoeroticism, automat.... At the last session the psychologist declared that she could show Powell how to curb his desires and eat well. She pulled from a desk drawer a hard-rubber fried egg, painted in perfect detail. Then a rubber glass of orange juice and rubber toast with rubber margarine. "I couldn't believe it," Powell remembered with amazement. "Here I was a grown man and she was using visual aids on me. She was just pulling out a rubber b.l.t. when I split for the door."
The misery of rubber food piled up on us like storm clouds, and before the rain broke in a shower of loss of appetite, we began a furious chowing down. Veins stood out on the temples, powerful jaws committed meat to memory, a thin sheen of perspiration under the eyes appeared. The second bottle of M�doc smelled of old life preservers in a flooded locker, but we drank it gratefully. There was some worry that if we complained, Hank might set the wine afire.
Cognac was served by a cocktail waitress. She brought shot glasses of brandy and dumped them into those joke-shop snifters that usually have I BET YOU CAN'T painted on them. By this time Powell was feeling better. The steak Diane had blurred the recollection of his hitless day, the rubber food, the still pressing problem of being DH. We decided to retreat to Powell's house for coffee. Hank forgot to set the check on fire.
In the Powells' sprawling ranch home with its 20- by 20-foot kitchen, the dining room is in a separate county. The decor is Spanish, and there are filigreed iron gates on the dining room entrance. "Those are to keep me out or in, depending on the season," Powell explained. He put a stack of Dave Dudley truck-drivin' records on the elaborate stereo, and we settled down with coffee.
"A friend of mine once brought over some raw tuna," Powell remembered. "I was pretty suspicious, but we got some beer, put lots of salt on the tuna, and it was damn good." His eyes lit up. "In fact, raw tuna and raw grouper are my favorites now." Would you show this man a rubber b.l.t.?
The major problem for Powell, as it is for most fat men, is that great nemesis, grease. "Sometimes when you're driving, the car just seems to turn by itself into a McDonald's, and while you're there, you might as well get a large order of fries." This is not a legal definition of insanity, but it helps define the overpowering urge for butter, fat, bacon and pork roast that lurks in a king-size body.
All the talk of food was making me hungry. Dave Dudley was mooning a lament about the loneliness of the American truck stop, the sun was making getting-up motions and Powell obviously was restless. "I've got a game against the Yankees today," he said, "and I probably ought to get something in my stomach first." Soon we were zooming down an interstate to one of those gigantic truck stops that have truck-washing buildings, sleeping barracks and tons of hash browns. A fleet of idling diesels had emphysema in the parking lot.